Saturday

BITS AND PIECES - NEWS ABOUT YOUR FAVORITE ARTISTS By Michael McDowell



MISS ME A LITTLE BIT EACH DAY: Long time Ventures guitarist and renowned session musician Gerry McGee (pictured above earlier this year) tragically collapsed on stage during a live performance in Japan on 12 October and succumbed to a heart attack that same day. Blitz Magazine Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell remembers his extraordinary career below. (Click on above image to enlarge).


MISS ME A LITTLE BIT EACH DAY:
LONG TIME VENTURES
GUITARIST GERRY McGEE
DIES FOLLOWING LIVE PERFORMANCE


Some months ago, in one of our frequent exchanges, Blitz Magazine was discussing with long time Ventures guitarist Gerald James "Gerry" McGee the career of his father, the renowned fiddler Dennis McGee. Blitz Magazine was researching a project on virtuoso fiddler Y.Z. Hamilton, the long time Alabama state fiddle champion who tragically died in June 1936 when struck by a bus when attempting to cross an intersection. The question had arisen as to whether or not the two visionaries had ever shared a stage together. 

"I think they did, I'm not sure", said the younger McGee of his father.

"He played with so many greats over the years that it's hard to keep track".

Indeed, the same could be said of Gerry McGee, whose list of session credits staggers the imagination. In addition to a trio of impressive singles for Reprise as Gerry McGee And The Cajuns (including the 1962 classic, Walkin') and subsequent solo projects for Pacemaker and A&M, McGee also worked alongside such fellow giants and visionaries as Tommy Boyce And Bobby Hart, Nancy Sinatra, the Hollywood Argyles, Delaney And Bonnie, the Monkees, John Mayall, the Everly Brothers, Marc Benno, Free Movement and the Everly Brothers, among others. 

But it is with the Ventures that McGee made his most enduring impression; an accomplishment that met with mixed reactions from him.

"Ahh, the Ventures", he noted to Blitz Magazine in February 2017 from his home base in Lafayette, Louisiana.

"My body of work is so much bigger".

It wasn't that McGee was discounting his enormous accomplishments with what arguably remains rock and roll's premier instrumental band. It was just that his affiliation with the group, significant though it is, ultimately comprised a small percentage of his recorded legacy.

Interestingly enough, the Ventures were already well established as a band by the time that McGee joined forces with them in 1968. Formed a decade earlier as the Versatones by bassist Bob Bogle and rhythm guitarist Don Wilson, the group ultimately settled on the definitive line up of Bogle, Wilson, lead guitarist Nole "Nokie" Edwards and drummer Mel Taylor (who succeeded Howie Johnson in that capacity). Through their prolific affiliation with Dolton Records and its parent company, Liberty, the Ventures amassed an astounding track record that includes such landmark singles as Walk Don't Run, Perfidia, Secret Agent Man, The 2000 Pound Bee, Damaged Goods and Diamond Head

The Ventures were even more prolific in terms of albums. Beginning with their Walk Don't Run LP for Dolton in 1960, the Ventures followed that instant success with such triumphs as Surfing, Let's Go, Mashed Potatoes And Gravy and their 1963 summit meeting with Bobby Vee for Liberty. In addition, the band's 1967 Guitar Freakout album for Dolton is widely regarded as a touchstone of first generation garage rock. The band augmented these successes with a series of instructional LPs, Play Guitar With The Ventures, in which the band would guide a prospective student through the process of not just learning the basics of, but mastering the instrument.

All of which made for an interesting set of challenges for McGee when Nole Edwards opted out of the band in 1968. McGee was already quite familiar with drummer Mel Taylor who, in addition to recording Young Man Old Man for Warner Brothers in 1966 as Mel Taylor And The Magics (the single that ultimately became the theme song to the great Robin Seymour's Windsor, Ontario-based Swingin' Time television series) had amassed an impressive session track record in his own right. Taylor's brother, Canned Heat co-founder Larry Taylor was also a prolific session musician who had worked some dates with McGee. And while McGee was at first reluctant to step into such an iconic role, ironically, his timing could not have been better.

In 1968, CBS premiered a crime drama series that became an instant and enduring hallmark of the genre, Hawaii Five-O. Although the show went on hiatus in 1980, it returned with a vengeance in 2010 (with Alex O'Loughlin, Scott Caan and Chi McBride as the masterful mainstays among the formidable cast's revolving line up) and is presently in its tenth season. True to form, the Ventures (with Gerry McGee, along with Five Americans co-founder John Durill on keyboards) tried their hand at the Hawaii Five-O theme for Liberty in 1969 and instantly created what is arguably not only their signature single, but arguably one of the greatest instrumentals of all time. Not surprisingly, the current version of the series continues to employ the Ventures' version as its theme song.

Aside from that extraordinary success, being a part of the Ventures for McGee meant involving himself in the rigorous live performance schedule that defined the band from the onset. The Ventures have long been an enormous concert draw in Japan, outpacing even such formidable home grown greats as Perfume and Haruomi Hosono in that respect. 

The band's influence on successive generations of aspirants was indeed enormous. In 1980, the Ventures headlined at the Starwood Club in Hollywood, California. Cheering them on with no small amount of enthusiasm from his vantage point directly in front of the stage was Germs front man Jan Paul "Darby Crash" Beahm, who mentioned to Blitz Magazine that evening that he was an avid devotee of the Ventures' work. Weeks later, the Ventures would again enjoy yet another hit single, Surfing And Spying, which was also recorded by ardent Ventures fans, the Go-Gos. 

While their appeal as a live act (especially in Japan) continued unabated well into the twenty-first century, their longevity came with an inevitable price. Sadly, Bob Bogle, Mel Taylor and Nole Edwards are all deceased. In turn, Don Wilson was forced into retirement in 2015 due to ill health. And while Mel Taylor's son Leon has kept the group active since his father's passing in 1996 (with Bob Spalding, Ian Spalding and Luke Griffin rounding out the present line up), McGee opted to return for the most part to session work and solo performance.

A trooper until the end, in October 2019 McGee embarked upon yet another tour of Japan, playing to appreciative crowds. Tragically, during a performance on Saturday the twelfth of October in Fukuoka, McGee collapsed on stage from a heart attack. 

"Same scenario as Jackie Wilson", noted CKLW alumnus and current Michigan Music History News Director, Ric Allen, in reference to the iconic singer's collapse on stage in September 1975.

As was the case with Jackie Wilson, McGee soon lapsed into a coma and was pronounced dead in a Fukuoka hospital. He was 81.

FRENCH CAROUSEL:
DEBBIE GIBSON
PREMIERS EXTRAORDINARY
NEW INSTRUMENTAL ORIGINAL


Sometimes genius is borne as much of inspiration as it is perspiration.

Fresh off of five months' worth of nonstop activity that included the acclaimed multi-artist Mixtape Tour and a role as judge in Season One of the forthcoming Nickelodeon series, America's Most Musical Family, beloved vocalist, composer, arranger, producer and multi-instrumentalist Deborah Ann "Debbie" Gibson has been enjoying a well deserved break.

But as any creative visionary is fully aware, inspiration knows no such boundaries.

To that effect, on the morning of 16 September, Gibson entered her home studio, sat at her piano (which was once owned by the late bandleader, composer and keyboard virtuoso, Wladziu "Lee" Liberace) and pretty much on the spot created an original instrumental masterwork.

"This piece came to me in the moment", said Gibson, who has titled her latest composition French Carousel.

Rendered in a lilting 6/8, with a slight crescendo at the seventeenth measure that brings to the fertile imagination a most subtle undercurrent of strings, French Carousel then divests itself of any such potential distractions and crescendos in moderate to high drama manner; leveling off not at fever pitch, but in an otherworldly, dreamscape fashion that lends itself to multiple (and invariably euphoric) interpretations.

"My dream would be to hear it in a music box or carousel someday", said Gibson, thereby bringing to mind Frank Mills' duly inspired 1979 Polydor label single, Music Box Dancer.

Irrespective of what direction it may take, French Carousel in and of itself stands as an extraordinary testimony to the creative capabilities of a supremely gifted musical visionary who consistently thinks outside of any such box.

And here is that remarkable moment of inspiration. Recorded in her home studio on the 15th of September, the keyboard and compositional genius of Debbie Gibson with French Carousel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eaS3tEyvzRA



COMEDY PIONEER RUSTY WARREN
RECOVERING AFTER MAJOR SURGIERIES



Prayers are in progress for comedy pioneer Rusty Warren, who is recovering in intensive care in an Arizona hospital following two major surgeries on the eighth of August.

The eighty-nine year old Warren was a key component of the vaunted Jubilee label roster for more than a decade. While Jubilee's initial successes came via such groundbreaking vocal group artists as the Five Sharps, the Orioles and the Dreamers, as well as such top drawer solo artists as Harry Belafonte, Jimmy Boyd, Edna McGriff, Don Rondo and Della Reese, Warren's candid approach to comedy made her an immediate front runner in the genre and a top draw for the label. She continued to record for Jubilee well into the 1970s. 

"(Warren is) expected to fully recover", said a family spokesperson in a statement.

"Her finances are being depleted by legal and medical costs. Any amount (donated) to help Rusty will go towards her care and recovery".

To that effect, Warren's family has established a Go Fund Me page on her behalf, accessible via social media. Warren has also expressed gratitude for prayers and words of encouragement. The latter can be sent to her attention at 10497 East Superstition Range Road, Gold Canyon, Arizona 85118.