Ben Sisario’s obituary of Estelle Bennett, the… More »
Estelle Bennett of the Ronettes was found dead in her New Jersey home on Wednesday. Although her sister Ronnie Bennett (later Spector) was the girl group’s star, Estelle and her cousin Nedra were undeniably part of its massive vocal presence on the group’s string of hits from 1963 to 1965, not to mention its tough-girl image. After the group broke up in 1966, Estelle recorded one solo single then retreated from the spotlight. While she chose not to perform with Ronnie and Nedra at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2007, she appeared in honor of the Ronettes’ induction, saying simply “I would just like to say, thank you very much for giving us this award. I’m Estelle of the Ronettes, thank you.” A few of the Ronettes’ classic tracks are below the cut.
Blossom Dearie, a jazz singer with an insousciant, kittenlike voice, passed away from natural causes over the weekend. Dearie’s career stretched from Paris cabarets to her establishing her own label, and her discography—which included a few tracks about grammar and multiplication tables that aired on ABC’s Schoolhouse Rock! in the 1970s—is about a mile long. She retired from performing in 2006, citing health reasons. A few selections from her career after the cut.
Cramps frontman Lux Interior passed away yesterday morning in Glendale, Calif., from complications stemming from an existing heart condition. Interior, real name Erick Lee Purkhiser, founded the Cramps with his wife Poison Ivy (née Kristy Wallace) in 1973, and they quickly became fixtures of New York’s emerging punk scene after playing their first CBGB show in 1976; their deft combination of surf-rock melodies, rockabilly swagger, and horror-film iconography was hugely influential on a lot of bands that came in their wake. Lux Interior and Poison Ivy were the only two constant members of the band, which stopped touring in 2004. (A comprehensive timeline of the Cramps’ history is here.) A couple of videos after the jump.
Chameleonlike English folk singer John Martyn, perhaps most known for his work with echoplex guitar delays, has passed away. Born Iain David McGeachy, he was a member of the vibrant late-’60s/early-’70s English folk scene that spawned Nick Drake (a friend of Martyn’s), Jackson C. Frank, and Fairport Convention, among others. Though Martyn enjoyed acclaim, his career, like many of his peers, burbled just under the surface of the mainstream, even though his influence shows up in the work of guitar players like The Edge and Michael Brook, as well as a whole generation of self-loopers like Andrew Bird and Final Fantasy’s Owen Pallett.
Music biz veteran Gary Kurfirst passed away on Tuesday while vacationing in the Bahamas. While the name might not ring an immediate bell, Kurfirst was a jack-of-all-trades, starting up the New York Rock Festival when he was 20 (headliners: Janis Joplin, Hendrix, the Who, and the Doors). He signed Shirley Manson (and therefore Garbage) and also launched the Radioactive Records imprint for MCA, which released records from Live, Dig, Elysian Fields, the Ramones, and Black Grape. His most important work was done as a manager, and it’s impossible not to be staggered by Kurfirst’s eye for talent:
Ron Asheton, guitarist for the legendary Stooges, was found dead in his Ann Arbor, Mich., home this morning. Asheton certainly performed with a number of acts between 1973 (when Raw Power, when he was bumped to bass guitar in the Stooges was released) and 2007 (when the Stooges reunited for The Weirdness), but in the end, what he was most known for was his songwriting and tough sounding guitar on the Stooges’ self-titled album and its followup, Fun House. Although I feel like I’m way too acquainted with frontman Iggy Pop, all I really ever knew about Asheton came from his contributions to his band’s records; even a recent interview with his hometown paper isn’t all that revealing, focusing on how the band reformed and the fact that they haven’t made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. So, probably fittingly, I’ll remember Asheton in death the way I thought of him in life: through the music of the Stooges. A few selections are after the cut.
“There are so many little dyings that it doesn’t matter which of them is death,” wrote esteemed poet/ author Kenneth Patchen. Yet the accrual of such dying over the course of a calendar year belies such “little”ness. As we nudge into the 21st century, the luminaries of the previous one begin to wane, the architects and innovators of prime American music forms: blues, jazz, folk, rock. The obituary page for 2008 may not feature so many marquee names, but the crucial people behind the stage—the gurus, the producers, the poster artists, the record executives, the session men—all continued to vanish as well.
We lost studio drummers like Earl Palmer and guitarist Robert Ward, Phil Spector’s engineer Phil Levine, jazz photographer William Claxton, Mothers of Invention drummer Jimmy Carl Black, Thelonious Monk saxophonist Johnny Griffin. Number groups diminished by one, be they the Count Five, the Four Tops, the Dave Clark Five, or the Kingston Trio. Here are a few of the folks-–some well-known, some never heard of— whose work and influence created a great resonance here and whose efforts will hopefully continue to reverberate in the generations to come.