Monthly Archives: November 2010

Today in KC’s Music History: Virgil Thomson Born

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Virgil Thomson, the composer and music critic who collaborated with Gertrude Stein and won the Pulitzer Prize for composition, was born in Kansas City on Nov. 25, 1896.

Thomson helped develop the “American sound” in classical music in the 1920s and 30s, but he also composed for theater and film. He also was a music critic for the New York Herald-Tribune from the late 1930s to early 1950s.

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Vinyl KC: “Alabam” by Cowboy Copas

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Cowboy Copas is one of those “other persons” lumped together when a celebrity dies in an accident. In this instance, the celebrity is country legend Patsy Cline, and the accident is the plane crash that killed Cline, Copas, singer Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cline manager Randy Hughes after a concert in Kansas City, Kan.

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Today in KC’s Music History: “Cabaret” Opens on Broadway

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Cabaret, the Tony Award-winning musical, debuted on Broadway on Nov. 20, 1966. John Kander, Cabaret’s composer, was born and grew up in Kansas City, Mo.

Kander seems to have been overlooked in Kansas City’s music history, which is a shame. He’s a top Broadway composer and has had a significant career in film and television. And, irony of ironies, he wrote the city of New York’s de facto theme song.

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Today in KC’s Music History: Gene Clark Born

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Happy birthday to Gene Clark, one of the greatest musicians ever to come from Kansas City, born on Nov. 17, 1944.

Through his contributions as one of the Byrds’ lead vocalists and its main songwriter, Gene helped create folk-rock. He wrote most of Eight Miles High, which lead to psychedelia. In his post-Byrds career, Clark’s work was essential to the development of country-rock and the singer-songwriter movement. When Tom Petty covered a Byrds song, he chose Clark’s Feel a Whole Lot Better. The jangly pop bands of the 1980s and ’90s owe a lot to Gene Clark.

Clark was born in Tipton, Mo., about 110 miles east of Kansas City, but spent his childhood in Kansas City. Clark played in rock ‘n’ roll bands and became interested in folk music during its boom in the early 1960s. He played part-time in folk groups and worked as a golf course groundskeeper after he graduated from high school.

In August 1963, members of the New Christy Minstrels, then the country’s most popular folk group, were appearing in town when they heard Gene perform. He was invited to join the Christies and performed with them for about six months.

Clark landed in Los Angeles and soon met Roger McGuinn. Folkies who were smitten by the Beatles before the rest of the world was, they initially planned to perform as a duo. They then met David Crosby, which lead to the founding of the Byrds.

Gene Clark is buried in the town where he was born: Tipton, Mo., about 110 miles east of Kansas City. (Photo by Dan Torchia)

Clark’s commercial peak was with the Byrds, but his solo career produced a lot of important music. As a member of the Byrds, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and is only one of two Kansas City residents to be honored. (Big Joe Turner is the other.) Clark is also an inductee of the Kansas Music Hall of Fame.

Gene died in May 1991 and is buried in Tipton. His headstone simply reads “No Other.”

Learn More
The Byrds: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Page

Gene Clark: Fan Page

David Crosby: Web Site

Roger McGuinn: Web Site

Today in KC’s Music History: The Who Play at Shawnee Mission South High School

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During my years at Shawnee Mission South High School, I occasionally heard a story that I surely thought was a suburban legend: the Who played at my high school gymnasium?

The 1968 Shawnee Mission South yearbook devoted two pages to the Who's concert.

Yes they did, on Nov. 17, 1967. As the opening act. For the Buckinghams.

Before we laugh at this rock ‘n’ roll incongruity, it’s important to remember that in the fall of 1967, the Who was just another middling British singles band. And the Buckinghams’ best year was 1967, when they had four Top 20 hits, including two in the Top 10.

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Vinyl KC: “Shake Rattle and Roll” by Joe Turner

I just started collecting old records that have a connection to Kansas City’s music history. I’ll be spotlighting these in future blog posts.

First up is my prized possession and probably the most important record made by a Kansas City musician: Shake, Rattle and Roll by Big Joe Turner.

Turner had an amazing career, having a hand in most of the significant musical developments in the first half of the 20th Century, including blues, big band, boogie-woogie, rhythm and blues, and rock ‘n’ roll.

Born in Kansas City, Mo., Turner first sang in church. When he was about 14, he started singing in KC’s nightclubs. He performed at the important From Spirituals to Swing concerts at Carnegie Hall in 1939, which lead to his recording career.

A gig with the Count Basie Orchestra in the early 1950s resulted in Turner being signed to Atlantic Records. Turner recorded a number of R&B hits for Atlantic, but Shake, Rattle and Roll took his career to a whole new level.

Shake, Rattle and Roll is one of rock ‘n’ roll’s foundational records. With this performance, Turner became one of the transitional artists between R&B and rock ‘n’ roll. According to legendary songwriter Doc Pomus, “Rock ‘n’ roll would have never happened without him.”

Shake, Rattle and Roll was recorded in New York on Feb. 15, 1954. Released in April 1954, it hit No. 1 on the R&B chart in June 1954. (Interestingly, Bill Haley & His Comets recorded their version the same week Turner’s version hit No. 1 and was released later that year.)

Turner continued to record and perform into the 1980s. He died in 1985 at age 74. He’s a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Kansas Music Hall of Fame.

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Big Joe Turner: Rock & Roll Hall of FameKansas Music Hall of Fame

KC Dominates 2011 Kansas Music Hall Inductees

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In October, members of the Kansas Music Hall of Fame voted on nominees for the class of 2011. The votes have been counted, and there’s a strong contingent of Kansas City musicians. In fact, seven of the 11 inductees have a connection to Kansas City.

Inductees will be honored March 5, 2011, at Liberty Hall in Lawrence.

KC-area inductees are:

Count Basie — Bill “Count” Basie was born in New Jersey, but he lived in Kansas City and his bands are the best example of Kansas City-style jazz. Lots of prominent musicians went through his bands, and Basie even had an influence on rock ‘n’ roll. Big Joe Turner, one of rock ‘n’ roll’s foundational artists, sang with Basie in the early 1950s, which lead to Turner’s record deal with Atlantic Records. Turner’s signature hit, “Shake Rattle and Roll,” was released in 1954.

James Gadson — Gadson is one of the most most recorded drummers in R&B history. He played on a ton of important records in the 1970s, including Bill Withers’ album Still Bill, which featured the classic Lean on Me.

Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker — Parker is one of the most important musicians ever to have come from Kansas City. He played a leading role in the development of bebop, a form of jazz characterized by fast tempos, virtuoso technique and improvisation based on harmonic structure.

The Rainmakers — Although they had limited commercial success in the United States, the Rainmakers had a good run in Europe in the 1980s and 1990s, particularly Norway. To my ears, their stuff stands up extremely well compared to other acts of the era. Their biggest hit was the song “Let My People Go-Go.” Writer Stephen King quoted the band’s lyrics in his novels The Tommyknockers and Gerald’s Game.

Riverrock — A great country-rock/electric bluegrass band that has been active since the 1970s. They were one of KC’s most popular bands in their day, and the band still performs around town. Their album Midwest Man is considered an area classic and has just been rereleased on CD.

Bobby Watson

Bobby Watson — Born in Lawrence, Kan., and reared in Kansas City, Kan., Watson is an alto saxophonist who has recorded 26 albums as a bandleader and plays on nearly 100 others.  He moved home in 2000 and currently serves as director of jazz studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. In addition to teaching, he performs around the world.

Chely Wright — Growing up in Wellsville, Kan., at the southwest edge of the Kansas City metro area, Wright began singing with local bands at 11 and eventually started her own band.  She joined the Ozark Jubilee show in Branson while still in high school, then moved to Nashville. Her debut album was released in 1994 and she received an Academy of Country Music award for Top New Female Vocalist that year. Her biggest his is Single White Female, released in 1999.

Full Disclosure: I’m a member of the Kansas Music Hall of Fame and voted in this election.

Today in KC’s Music History: Aaron Yates Born

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His given name of Aaron Yates may not ring a bell, but but his professional name might: rapper Tech N9ne was born on Nov. 8, 1971.

Tech was born in Kansas City and has remained here for his entire career. He is widely considered to be the best selling independent artist in hip-hop. He’s sold more than 1 million CDs during this career, an amazing accomplishment for an independent artist. He is the co-owner of, and chief artist for, Strange Music, based in Lee’s Summit, Mo., a suburb just south of Kansas City.

Tech’s latest release is an EP, Seepage, which was released on Oct. 25. His last full album, The Gates Mixed Plate, was released on July 27.

In addition to his birthday this week, the movie Vengeance, starring Danny Trejo, will be released on DVD on Thursday. In the movie, Tech plays Chaco, a “street thug, madman who is the wrong place at the wrong time,” according to the film’s web site. He was going to contribute at least one song to the movie, according to director Gil Medina in an August 2009 interview, but I’ve not been able to confirm if this is still true.

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Tech N9ne: Web SiteFacebookBlogTwitter

Vengeance: Web SiteIMDB Page