OUR TERRIBLE MUSIC LOSSES

It’s always sobering to see those year-end lists of the musicians who died that year. But like so many other ways, 2020 was a record setter for the decimation of our great American music heritage. We lost giants, and we lost many with still a lot to offer. And yes, COVID-19 took a lot of them. Looks like about 20 percent.

We all know it didn’t have to be this way. I won’t say much more about that but when I heard that the great songwriter and performer John Prine had been taken by coronavirus, after beating cancer twice since 1998, my pervasive sadness flipped to anger. OK, that’s it Donald J.ackass Trump, I put this one squarely in your corner. You did nothing because you had no idea what to do, it would have been too much work, and you just didn’t care, if it wasn’t all about you.

And now, of the more than 350,000 Americans dead from COVID-19, so far, 250,000 could have been spared. One of them could have been

JOHN PRINE

Yes, I do believe that when it is your time… it’s your time. For me, there’s no sense arguing otherwise, unless you want to posit an infinite number of alternate universes. But Hitler was clearly responsible for all the death and destruction from his regime and the war he started, and Trump is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths, and I include John Prine. Such an immense loss. One of the very best songwriters ever. Ever.

Dylan once wrote, “Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mind trips to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs. ‘Sam Stone,’ ‘Donald and Lydia,’ nobody but Prine could write like that.” Someone I can’t recall accurately dubbed him the Mark Twain of songwriters. Every time I would stop and really listen to his words, it made me want to throw out my typewriter and find another vocation.

d. 4/7/2020, Nashville, 73, COVID-19 complications

TOOTS

In the same breath I have to include Frederick “Toots” Hibbert, not just a rock of reggae (he invented the word) but one of the best vocalists, of any genre, ever. Ever. I will leave it at that, because I want to note some of the others we lost who have a particular meaning for me. These are not “the best,” but perhaps the ones I will miss the most. In some cases my few words of description were borrowed from someone else, because they were perfect.

d. 9/11/2020, Kingston, Jamaica, 77, COVID-19

I also set these two apart because I saw three such “musicians we lost” tributes on television and none of them included either Toots or Prine. That is so ridiculously ignorant that the people responsible should be slapped and fired.

JACK SHERMAN

Not in the lofty artistic plane of the other two, but I have to put the Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist and songwriter up top too. He lived a few blocks from me in Ocean Park for many years, and we became friends. Though not until after he had moved back to GA. We never met in person, and now we never will. A chance encounter on social media uncovered our Ocean Park roots and we stayed in touch. He had an odd predilection to Photoshop-fiddle with some of my posted photos of myself, then ask me if they weren’t so much improved. I could rarely tell the difference.

He joined the band early on, after the mercurial Hillel Slovak left, played on their first album and first big U.S. tour and wrote their second album “Freaky Styley” but parted ways after Slovak returned a year later. He was not included on the roster when they were put in the Rock and Roll Hall of Lame and did not like that, and neither did I.

d. 8/18/2020, Savannah, GA, 64

Now, here are some we lost, in only the first half of the year. As Jim Ladd might intone, Lord have mercy.

NEIL PEART

I was never a fan of Rush because I too thought their vocals sounded like a gerbil on nitrous, but there’s no denying he was among the very best rock drummers. Was he living in SM? Died here.

d. 1/7/2020, Santa Monica, 67

JOSEPH SHABALALA

Founded traditional Zulu music group Ladysmith Black Mambazo that shot to worldwide fame from Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album. My friend and reggae authority Roger Steffens was the one behind all that, when he put a LBM recording in Simon’s hands and advised, I think you should listen to this.

d. 2/11/2020, Pretoria, South Africa, 79

BUDDY CAGE

Pedal steel master from the New Riders, who was all over Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks.” I love pedal steel and the New Riders-Grateful Dead concert I saw in Albuquerque in the early ‘70s is in my Top Ten.

d. 2/5/2020, 73

MANU DIBANGO

Cameroonian saxophonist who brought African pop to the West.

d. 3/24/2020, 86, COVID-19

IAN WHITCOMB

Turned ‘60s novelty hit “You Really Turn Me On” into a long career, but his talents were wide-ranging. Also a friend.

d. 4/19/2020, LA, 78

MILLIE SMALL

“My Boy Lollipop” was the worldwide smash hit everyone loved in 1964 long before most of us knew it was reggae-ska. I wrote an entire column about her, then more the next week when her daughter wrote me with some personal insights. https://www.smdp.com/noteworthy-vintage-small-treasures/194299

https://www.smdp.com/noteworthy-small-talk-redux/194596

d. 5/6/2020. London, 72

LITTLE RICHARD

The architect of rock and roll and auteur of outrageousness.

d. 5/9/2020, Tullahoma, TN, 87

WILLIE K (Kahaiali’i)

I love Hawaiian music and Willie was not only one of the best, he claimed to be royalty — how many Americans can say that? He graciously performed on my cable TV show, Not Just Another LA Music Show.

d. 5/19/2020, Wailuku, HI, 59

Charles Andrews has listened to a lot of music of all kinds, including more than 3,000 live shows. He has lived in Santa Monica for 35 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at therealmrmusic@gmail.com