Only the good die young

One of Billy Joel’s biggest hits was called “Only the good die young.” It actually was controversial in the Catholic Church, when he sang “you Catholic girls start much too late.” But, taking the title a little differently, there is a long list of very talented performers who left us way to early. The following is by no means a complete list, but illustrates the loss of music never written or sung.

Ritchie Valens died at the age of 17 after the start of a bright future. He had three huge hits under his belt, including a rock-n-roll version of the Mexican song “La Bamba.” Valens’ real name was Ricky Valenueza.

Buddy Holly died at the age of 22 on the same plane crash with Valens and the Big Bopper. This spawned the song “American Pie” by Don McLean when he sang of the “day the music died.” Holly was a meteoric talent and some say would have been bigger than Elvis, primarily because he wrote his own music. Before he died, he had a solid dozen big hits.

The class of age 27 deaths is profound. Jim Morrison of The Doors died at that age. He was the enigmatic leader that wowed the female audience. The Doors had a significant number of hits with very interesting lyrics. Morrison, though, did his health no service with his excessive alcohol and drug use which led to some rocky stage performances.

Jimi Hendrix died at age 27 as well. Hendrix was regarded by many as the greatest rock-n-roll guitarist ever. He matched his unique abilities playing a right handed guitar upside down as a lefty, with lyrics that matched the psychedelic age. He also does the best cover of a Bob Dylan song called “All along the watchtower.”

Janis Joplin was another talent that died at age 27. Her voice was spectacular and she put every pound and inch of her body into belting out her songs. I remember Dick Cavett interviewing her after one of her songs and she was still catching her breath. She was influenced by Bessie Smith, Nina Simone, Etta James and Aretha Franklin.

Kurt Cobain also died at age 27. He led a grunge rock movement from the Northwest that was gaining huge footing. It would have been interesting to see where his music went in the future.

Hank Williams died mysteriously at age 29. He was one of the more prolific country song writers, with many of his songs crossing over into more national appeal. If you ever have a couple of hours, watch “The Hank Williams Story,” with George Hamilton playing Williams.

Patsy Cline died in a plane crash at the age of 30. Her voice and style took country music more mainstream. While there is a movie on her career, I love how Beverly D’Angelo played her in “Coal Miners Daugher” about her good friend Loretta Lynn. Her version of Willie Nelson’s “Crazy” is legendary.

Jim Croce also died in a plan crash at age 30. Croce was a prolific song writer and talent who wrote every day music for the every day person. His wordsmithing and guitar driven music was a classic match. It should be noted the great guitar work was played by Croce and Maury Meuhleisen, who also died in the crash. If you ever get a CD of Croce’s greatest hits, you need to get a package set, as it will need two.

Cass Elliott of The Mamas and the Papas died at age 32. She was the lead voice on most of their biggest hits and her vocal talents could blend with a variety of music. I saw her and legendary crooner Andy Williams sing two different songs in harmony on his show.

Stevie Ray Vaughan, the great blues guitarist, died at the age of 35. The story goes he and Eric Clapton switched places on a helicopter ride from a guitar festival. We would have lost a talent either way. Vaughan still does not get the notoriety he deserves as he could match Hendrix and other blues legends. It should be noted, he gave homage to these legends when he played with them.

Harry Chapin died in a car accident at age 38. He was on his way to a benefit concert. If you are not familiar with his work, he was one of the best storytellers in song. Plus, he would talk with the audience between songs making them live more. People know “Cats in the Cradle,” but do check out “Mr. Tanner” and “A Better Place to Be.”

The final three need no introduction and deserve their own post – John Lennon was killed at the age 40, Elvis Presley died at the age of 42 and Marvin Gaye died at age 44. Three of the most legendary talents could have offered so much more.

If I left off someone, please add them in a comment. If you are not familiar with any of these performers, please check them out. You will not be sorry. If you are familiar, please revisit your past. Only the good die young.

A Night with Janis Joplin – a terrific tribute

My wife and I ventured to Durham this week and caught a sensational tribute to the late Janis Joplin. starring Mary Bridget Davies as the lead. She does a breathtakingly exciting and vulnerable impersonation of Joplin. When she broke into “Summertime,” with her bluesy variation of the “Porgy and Bess” song, we knew we were in for a treat. But, when she rocked us with “Piece of My Heart,” we felt that Joplin was indeed with us as she left everything on the stage.

The show is not just about Joplin, as in character, Davies speaks of her influences ranging from Bessie Smith to Etta James to Aretha Franklin to Nina Simone. Four very talented singers occupied the stage in tribute to these wonderful talents. My wife and I both thought it was done, in part, as singing as Joplin would take a toll on you if you sang for two hours plus. We also heard the variation between the operatic and bluesy “Summertime.” Plus, Joplin was influenced by Broadway show songs that her mother would play as they cleaned the house every Saturday with her brother and sister.

Joplin had a unique voice that was powerful, but bluesy and soulful, at the same time. Like a great blues singer, her voice was indeed an instrument and she held nothing back. If I had to equate it with someone else, she would be a female James Brown, in that she would give it all with her voice, body and expressions  Plus, Davies did a great job with Joplin’s stage presence and frank language, so we truly felt we were seeing Joplin in person.

We heard renditions of “Cry Baby,” which was sensational, “Try, just a little bit harder,” which was spot on, and “Me and Bobby McGee,” which had us all singing along. She ended the show after the accolades and applause, with a capella version of “Mercedes-Benz,” with the only the drummer giving us a beat. The audience was right there with he as we sung every note.

If you get a chance, please go see this show. If you cannot, here is a link to a few “real” Janis Joplin songs. It is a tragedy she died so soon.

https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=janis+joplin+songs+lyrics&qpvt=janis+joplin+songs+lyrics&FORM=VDRE

 

A taste of Janis Joplin

If you ask people today if they ever heard of Janis Joplin, it would be a safe bet that many would not know who she is. And, for those who have heard of her, many of those would likely remember her for a wonderful rendition of Kris Kristofferson’s song “Me and Bobby McGee.” While that song is marvelous, Joplin is one of the most unique, soulful and brassy singers to whom we have ever had the chance to listen.

Like two others artists of her era (Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison), she died of a drug over dose at the far too young age of 27, the same age Morrison and Hendrix died. She came to prominence during the flower child movement to San Francisco as the lead singer for a band called Big Brother and the Holding Company. So, her experimentation with drugs was not unusual for where she made a name for herself.

Her songs were powerful vignettes that would rock the house. “Me and Bobby McGee,” is a quieter version of her splendid talent, but she does provide glimpses of her soulful voice therein. Here are sample lyrics of three songs that better reveal her talent. At the end of this post is a link to a blog that will let you listen to these three and other songs.

Piece of My Heart

Come on, come on, come on, come on

Didn’t I make you feel like you were the only one, yeah
I said didn’t I give you nearly everything that a woman possibly can
Honey you know that I did
Well each time I tell myself that I, I think I’ve had enough
Oh, I am gonna show you baby, a woman can be tough

I want you to come on, come on, come on, come on
And take it, take another little piece of my heart now, baby

This is her most powerful song, which is about the man she loves treating her poorly. She wants to stay, but she wants him to recognize that he is taking another piece of her heart each time. And, clearly she says a “woman can be tough.”

Move Over

You say that it’s over baby, Lord,
You say that it’s over dear,
But still you hang around me, come on,
Won’t you move over.

You know that I need a man, honey,
You know that I need a man,
But when I ask you to you just say
That you think you can.

Please don’tcha do it to me babe, no!
Please don’tcha do it to me baby,
Either take the love I offer

This is my favorite Joplin song, although the other two noted here are very close. In this case, she is tired of the man saying he will change and is telling him to treat me better or “move over.”

Try (Just a little bit harder)

Try, try, try just a little bit harder
So I can love, love, love him, I tell myself
Cause I’m gonna try, oh yeah, just a little bit harder
So I won’t lose, lose, lose him to nobody else, yeah.
Hey, I don’t care how long it’s gonna take ya
But if it’s a dream I don’t want No I don’t really want it
Yeah if it’s a dream I don’t want nobody to wake me.

Yeah I’m gonna try, oh yeah, just a little bit harder
So I can give, give, give, give him every bit of my soul.
I’m gonna try, oh yeah, just a little bit harder
So I can show, show, show him love with no control, yeah.

You may have noticed a trend with her singing about challenging love. Here she soulfully sings that she will give everything she has to keep her man. I think her bluesy style is ideally suited for these kinds of songs. Give these three songs a listen (and view) from the attached link. If you are enthralled as I am, listen to her versions of “Summertime,” “Cry Baby,” “Down On Me,” and a fun song called “Mercedes-Benz” as well.

Please do enjoy her immense talent and unique style. And, if you listen to her while driving, please do use cruise control or you might find yourself speeding.

http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=janis+joplin&qpvt=janis+joplin&FORM=VDRE