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Music industry obituaries for April 2012

Obituaries for drummer and singer Levon Helm of The Band, Men At Work's Greg Ham, TV host and entrepreneur Dick Clark and amplifier designer Jim Marshall.

By The Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Levon Helm, the drummer and singer who brought an urgent beat and a genuine Arkansas twang to some of The Band’s best-known songs and helped turn a bunch of musicians known mostly as Bob Dylan’s backup group into one of rock’s legendary acts, died April 19, 2012, of complications from cancer. He was 71.

Levon Helm Electric Dirt

Levon Helm. Publicity photo/Vanguard Records/Paul LaRaia.

Helm and his bandmates — Canadians Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Robbie Robertson and Richard Manuel — returned to the roots of American music in the late 1960s as other rockers veered into psychedelia, heavy metal and jams. The group’s 1968 debut, “Music From Big Pink,” and its follow-up, “The Band,” remain landmark albums of the era.
The Band backed Dylan on his sensational and controversial electric tours of 1965-66 and collaborated with him on the legendary “Basement Tapes.”

The son of an Arkansas cotton farmer, Helm was just out of high school when he joined rocker Ronnie Hawkins for a tour of Canada in 1957 as the drummer for the Hawks. That band eventually recruited a group of Canadian musicians who, along with Helm, spent grueling years touring rough bars in Canada and the South. They split from Hawkins, hooked up with Dylan and called themselves The Band — because, as they explained many times, that’s what everyone called them anyway. Helm’s authoritative twang once was likened to a town crier calling a meeting to order.

The Band bid farewell to live shows with a bang with the famous “Last Waltz” concert in 1976. Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Dylan were among the stars who played the show in San Francisco, filmed by Martin Scorsese for a movie of the same name, released in 1978.

Without Robertson, The Band reunited in the 1980s but never approached its early success. In the 1990s, The Band played at a Dylan tribute concert at Madison Square Garden. and a collaboration among Helm, Danko and Keith Richards on the rocker “Deuce and a Quarter.”

While Helm’s illness reduced his voice to something close to a whisper, it did not end his musical career. Beset by debt, in 2004 he began a series of free-wheeling late-night shows in his barn in Woodstock that were patterned after medicine shows from his youth. Any night of the bi-weekly Midnight Rambles could feature Gillian Welch, Elvis Costello or his daughter, Amy, on vocals and violin.

He recorded “Dirt Farmer” in 2007, which was followed by “Electric Dirt” in 2009. Both albums won Grammys. He won another in 2012 for “Ramble at the Ryman.”

SYDNEY (AP) — Greg Ham, 58, a member of the iconic Australian band Men at Work, was found dead April 19, 2012, in his Melbourne. Police declined to say how Ham died or whether the circumstances were suspicious.

Ham was perhaps best known for playing the saxophone solo for “Who Can It Be Now?” and the famous flute riff in the band’s smash 1980s hit “Down Under.” But the beloved tune came under intense scrutiny in recent years after the band was accused of stealing the catchy riff from the children’s campfire song “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree.” The publisher of “Kookaburra” sued Men at Work, and in 2010 a judge ruled the band had copied the melody. The group was ordered to hand over a portion of its royalties. Ham later said the controversy had left him devastated, and he worried it would tarnish his legacy. In addition to flute and saxophone, Ham played keyboards and worked as a guitar teacher.


LOS ANGELES (AP) — Dick Clark, the ever-youthful TV host and entrepreneur who helped bring rock ’n’ roll into the mainstream on “American Bandstand” and later produced and hosted programs ranging from game shows to the New Year’s Eve countdown from Times Square, died of a heart attack April 18, 2012. He was 82. Clark had continued performing even after he suffered a stroke in 2004 that affected his ability to speak and walk.

Dick Clark American Bandstand

Dick Clark. Publicity photo courtesy ABC/American Bandstand.

Long dubbed “the world’s oldest teenager” because of his boyish appearance, Clark bridged the rebellious new music scene and traditional show business, and equally comfortable whether chatting about music with Sam Cooke or bantering with Ed McMahon about TV bloopers. He thrived as the founder of Dick Clark Productions, supplying movies, game and music shows, beauty contests and more to TV. Among his credits: “The $25,000 Pyramid,” “TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes” and the American Music Awards.

For a time in the 1980s, he had shows on all three networks and was listed among the Forbes 400 of wealthiest Americans. The original “American Bandstand” was one of network TV’s longest-running series as part of ABC’s daytime lineup from 1957 to 1987. It later aired for a year in syndication and briefly on the USA Network. Over the years, it introduced stars ranging from Buddy Holly to Madonna. Clark joined “Bandstand” in 1956 after Bob Horn, who’d been the host since its 1952 debut, was fired. Under Clark’s guidance, it went from a local Philadelphia show to a national phenomenon. As a host, he had the smooth delivery of a seasoned radio announcer. As a producer, he had an ear for a hit record. He also knew how to make wary adults welcome this odd new breed of music in their homes.

Clark defended pop artists and artistic freedom, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame said in an online biography of the 1993 inductee. He helped give black artists their due by playing original R&B recordings instead of cover versions by white performers, and he condemned censorship.

He was born Richard Wagstaff Clark in Mount Vernon, N.Y., in 1929. He began his career in the mailroom of a Utica, N.Y., radio station in 1945. By age 26, he was a broadcasting veteran, with nine years’ experience on radio and TV stations in Syracuse and Utica, N.Y., and Philadelphia. In the 1960s, “American Bandstand” moved from black-and-white to color, from weekday broadcasts to once-a-week Saturday shows and from Philadelphia to Los Angeles.

Clark’s clean-cut image survived a music industry scandal. In 1960, during a congressional investigation of “payola” or bribery in the record and radio industry, Clark was called on to testify. He was cleared of any suspicions but was required by ABC to divest himself of record-company interests to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.


LONDON (AP) — Jim Marshall, who helped shape the sound of rock ’n’ roll with his groundbreaking amplifier designs, died April 5, 2012, his family said. He was 88. Marshall had cancer and endured a series of strokes.

Marshall was long associated with the heavy guitar sounds his amps helped popularize in the 1960s, when Pete Townshend of The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and others turned to stacks of Marshall amps to create a thunderous hard-rock sound. Aficionados credit him with developing the “amp stack” that allowed garage bands to make a powerful noise in small dance halls and gymnasiums.

The first Marshall amps didn’t look like much — just a simple black box with a speaker inside and basic controls on top — but they packed a formidable punch. Marshall turned his amplifiers into a successful business, keeping much of his production in England.
He remained a fan of heavy metal rock — and of Cuban Montecristo cigars and single malt Scotch — well into his 70s. He kept a drum set in his office.

In his later years, Marshall became involved with numerous charities and in 2003 was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II for his successful export of British-made goods and his various charitable deeds.