Music industry obituaries for June 2012

By The Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Frances Williams Preston, who worked with top songwriters as president of the royalties company Broadcast Music Inc. from 1986 to 2004, died June 13, 2012, of congestive heart failure. She was 83.

Preston worked with dozens of artists, including Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison, Loretta Lynn, Waylon Jennings and Tammy Wynette. As BMI president, she oversaw a company that represented Paul Simon, Janet Jackson, Sting and others.

In 1998, Preston received the highest Grammy award given to a non-performer, the National Trustees Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. She was a member of the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

During her tenure as BMI president, the company served more than 300,000 songwriters and music publishers. She also helped pioneer the licensing of new digital media.

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Bob Welch, a former member of Fleetwood Mac who went on to write songs and record several hits during a solo career, died June 7, 2012, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, police said. He was 65.

Fleetwood Mac 1974 publicity photo

The 1974 lineup of Fleetwood Mac featured (from left) John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Bob Welch and Christine McVie. Publicity photo

Fleetwood Mac was started in 1967 by two former members of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Welch was a guitarist and vocalist for Fleetwood Mac from 1971 to 1974. The band’s career took off in the mid-1970s, after Welch left the band. When Fleetwood Mac was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, Welch was not included.

Bob Welch of Fleetwood MacA native of Los Angeles, Welch scored his biggest hit with “Sentimental Lady,” which reached No. 8 on the Billboard chart. His other singles included “Precious Love” in 1979 and “Hot Love, Cold World” in 1978. As a songwriter, Welch had his songs recorded by Kenny Rogers, Sammy Hagar, the Pointer Sisters and others. In 1999 he released a CD, “Bob Welch Looks at Bop,” a salute to bebop music of the 1940s.

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CHICAGO (AP) — Pete Cosey, an innovative guitarist who brought his distinctive distorted sound to recordings with Miles Davis, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, died May 30, 2012, of complications from surgery.

In the 1960s, Cosey was a member of the studio band at Chess Records in Chicago, where he played on Waters’ “Electric Mud” and Howlin’ Wolf’s “Howlin’ Wolf Album.” Cosey also worked with Etta James and Chuck Berry.

Cosey took a creative approach to stringing and tuning his guitars, and he liberally applied the distortion pedal to his licks. His explorations of sound drew the attention of jazz legend Miles Davis; Cosey played on many of Davis’ boundary-pushing recordings in the 1970s, including “Dark Magus,” ‘’Agharta” and “The Complete on the Corner Sessions.” Cosey was also in Martin Scorsese’s 2003 blues documentary, “The Blues: A Musical Journey.”

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BOSTON (AP) — Herb Reed, the last surviving original member of 1950s vocal group The Platters, died June 4, 2012. He was 83.

Herb Reed of The Platters

Herb Reed of The Platters.

Reed founded The Platters in Los Angeles in 1953. Then a quartet, the group won amateur talent shows and performed nights and weekends up and down the California coast while the members worked days at odd jobs. Reed came up with the group’s name, inspired by ’50s disc jockeys, who called records “platters.” The group underwent several lineup changes, even adding a woman singer to become a quintet, before signing its first major recording contract in 1955.

Reed sang bass on the group’s four No. 1 hits, including “The Great Pretender,” “My Prayer,” “Twilight Time” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” He was the only member of the group to appear on all of The Platters’ nearly 400 recordings. The group was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998. The group’s recordings are in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Reed credited his survival in the music industry to the poverty he experienced as a child in Kansas City, Mo. While other members of the group spent frivolously, he used his first big royalty check to buy a house. He also waged long legal battles with other artists who performed and recorded under the name The Platters. He finally won a court decision in Nevada last year giving him rights to the name. Until 2011, Reed continued to tour and perform up to 200 shows per year, often performing with younger singers under the name Herb Reed and the Platters or Herb Reed’s Platters.

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Folk musician Arthel “Doc” Watson, 89, died May 29, 2012.
Watson’s simple, unadorned voice conveyed incredible emotion, but it was his guitar playing that always amazed and intimidated.

Born March 3, 1923, Watson lost his eyesight by age 1, after he developed an eye infection that was worsened by a congenital vascular disorder. Watson learned how to play the banjo and harmonica from an early age, but he came to favor the guitar. His flat-picking style helped translate the fiddle and mandolin-dominated music of his forebears for an audience of younger listeners.

Watson learned a few guitar chords while attending the North Carolina Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh, and his father helped him buy a Stella guitar for $12. He started his musical career in 1953, playing electric lead guitar in a country-and-western swing band.

His road to fame began in 1960 when Ralph Rinzler, a musician who also managed Bill Monroe, discovered Watson in North Carolina. That led Watson to the Newport Folk Festival in 1963 and his first recording contract a year later. He went on to record 60 albums, and he wowed fans ranging from ’60s hippies to those who loved traditional country and folk music. Seven of Watson’s albums won Grammy awards; his eighth Grammy was a lifetime achievement award in 2004. He also received the National Medal of the Arts from President Bill Clinton in 1997.

Watson’s son, Merle, began recording and touring with him in 1964. When Merle Watson died in a 1985 tractor accident at age 36, the loss sent his father into deep grief and made him consider retirement. Instead, Watson kept playing and started MerleFest, an annual musical event in Wilkesboro, N.C., that raises money for a community college there and celebrates “traditional plus” music — traditional music plus whatever else the performers felt like playing.

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CHICAGO (AP) — Polka great Eddie Blazonczyk, 70, who began playing in the 1950s and went on to earn the nickname “Polka King” after starting his own band and label, died May 21, 2012. He was 70.

Blazonczyk retired in 2001 after suffering a stroke, and his son took over his band, Eddie Blazonczyk and the Versatones. The band formed in 1962, after Blazonczyk’s brief venture into pop music landed him on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” and led to a tour of the U.S., Canada and parts of Europe. His son described Blazonczyk as a kind of music mogul, a founding member of the International Polka Association, a disc jockey and polka music promoter who ran a publishing company and music school. The Versatones, which picked up a Grammy in 1987, played for the last time on Dec. 31, 2011.

Blazonczyk was born to Polish immigrant parents on July 12, 1941, in Chicago. His parents operated music clubs in the city and he started playing in the 1950s with “Happy Eddie and his Polka Jesters,” performing at Polish festivities. For a time, Blazonczyk performed pop music with Mercury Records as “Eddie Bell and the Bel-Aires,” when he appeared on “American Bandstand.” But he returned to polka in 1962, forming the Versatones and going on tour.

Blazonczyk played many instruments but preferred the bass, and he sang lyrics in both English and Polish. Some of his biggest hits include “Angeline Be Mine Polka” and “Poor Boy Polka.”

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MEMPHIS, Tennessee (AP) — Tenor saxophonist Andrew Love, who formed the award-winning Memphis Horns duo with trumpeter Wayne Jackson, died April 12, 2012, at age 70. He had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Love is best known for his work with Jackson as The Memphis Horns. The two were awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in February, only the second instrumental backup group in history to receive the honor.

Love, who was black, and Jackson, who is white, played together on 52 No. 1 records and 83 gold and platinum records, according to Memphis-based Stax Records. They backed up Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley, Otis Redding, Neil Diamond, Isaac Hayes, the Doobie Brothers, U2, Jack White, Alicia Keys and many other American pop music acts.

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