The Haunting Guitar Sound of James Wilsey

It’s one of the great guitar intros of pop music: the haunting guitar on Chris Isaak’s Wicked Games. The man behind the unforgettable guitar sound is James Wilsey.

Check out his great album “El Dorado”, that is packed with wonderful instrumentals. James Wilsey tastefully combines acoustic guitar shades from the nineteen-fifties and sixties. You can hear influences from surf guitars, guitars from Italian western soundtracks, a little bit of Billy Strange, Duane Eddy, the Shadows and t. But still Wilsey manages to create his own sound and style.

Dynasties of L.A. Studio Musicians (Part 1): The Melvoins

Drummer Joe Porcaro, pianist Mike Melvoin and percussionist Gary Coleman worked extensively as studio musicians in Los Angeles. From the nineteen-sixties on they left their mark on countless pop songs, movie soundtracks and TV themes. Their music still can be heard daily on radio and television. But there’s another legacy: their daughter and sons who also became musicians.

In the next three days the story about the children of these musicians will unfold. The three families have one thing in common: musical talent. And each of the three families had to mourn the death of a talented son.

Let’s start with the family of jazz piano player Mike Melvoin. He recorded among others with Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Peggy Lee, Tony Bennett, Bonnie Raitt, Diana Ross, The Ventures, Quincy Jones, The Beach Boys, John Lennon, Tom Waits, The Partridge Family and Duane Eddy.

Mike Melvoin’s twins Wendy and Susannah (January 26, 1964) and his son Jonathan (December 6, 1961 – July 12, 1996) became musicians.

Wendy Melvoin is a guitar player, singer-songwriter, composer and producer. She worked with Prince for a while in the nineteen-eighties, together with her childhood friend, keyboard player Lisa Coleman. After their stint with Prince Wendy and Lisa founded Lisa and Wendy. They’re not only a band, but they also write scores for movies and TV shows (Something New, Crossing Jordan, Heroes). They both produce other artists and work as live and studio musicians. Lisa Coleman is also the daughter of a Los Angeles musician who worked many studio sessions. You can read more about her tomorrow.

Wendy’s twin sister Susannah is a singer, guitarist, songwriter and actress. Like her sister she worked with Prince for a while in the nineteen-eighties. She sang background vocals among others with Roger Waters, Eric Clapton and Mike Oldfield, Donna Summer. She’s married to guitarist and singer Doyle Bramhall II. Before she had relationships with Prince, Seal and John Cusack.

Wendy’s and Susannah’s brother Jonathan was a keyboardist and drummer. Like his sisters he also worked with Prince. While he was on tour with the Smashing Pumpkins he died of a drug overdose.

Read tomorrow about Gary Coleman and his three children who also played a crucial role in Prince’s career.

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Happy Birthday Tom Lehrer!

Tom Lehrer

Mathematics is not fun. But mathematicians are. At least Tom Lehrer is. He was born on April 9th in 1928 and majored in mathematics at Harvard when he was 19. Besides studying he sang humorous songs for his friends and colleagues accompanying himself on the piano .

He has the talent to make a funny song out of every topic: herpes (“I Got It From Agnes”), tango (“The Masochist Tango”), nazi scientists (“Wernher von Braun”), funerals and the atomic bomb (“We Will All Go Together When We Go”), religion (“The Vatican Rag”, “A Christmas Carol”) or racism (“National Brotherhood Week”) and – of course – mathematics (“New Math”).

During the nineteen-fifties Tom Lehrer became very popular, but he stopped performing in the early nineteen-sixties because he allegedly was bored of singing the same songs again and again. His last record came out in 1965. He worked as a songwriter for a while but left the music business for good in the nineteen-seventies and started teaching mathematics.

I you feel like laughing check out this splendid collection of Tom Lehrer performances on YouTube or read his lyrics.

Rhino issued a Tom Lehrer box set that contains most of his recordings.

Typing Errors Helped Starting The Monkees’ Career

Ex-Monkee, songwriter and novelist Michael Nesmith’s mother Bette Nesmith Graham invented the typewriter correction fluid “Liquid Paper” and made a fortune out of it. So Michael Nesmith didn’t have to worry about money during his teenage years. His mother’s fortune gave him the freedom of pursuing his artistic ambitions. Sometimes typing errors can be very helpful …

Happy Birthday, Hammond Organ!

Laurens HammondLaurens Hammond (1895 – 1973), the inventor of the Hammond Organ, was born on January the 11th. The Hammond organ was only one of his many inventions, but it’s the one that he still is remembered for today.

Besides the organ he invented a silent spring-driven clock, a system for projecting 3-D movies, and guided missiles controls. If you want to know more about Laurens Hammond check his interesting online biography.

Happy Birthday Marlene Dietrich

Marlene Dietrich Maria Magdalena Dietrich was born in Berlin on December 27th in 1901. As Marlene Dietrich she became an icon of the movie screen. She was one of the most important sex symbols of the 20th century. Her charisma was sensual and self-confident. Singing was an important part of her career. Her voice had a breathy timbre and her style of singing was unique. Actually it’s more speaking then singing, a style that was developed in the cabarets of Berlin in the nineteen-twenties. Her dark voice was an important part of her image.

In her breakthrough movie «Der Blaue Engel» (1930) she played a singer. In the same year she made her Hollywood debut in «Morocco». The song «Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuss auf Liebe eingestellt» («Falling In Love Again») from «Der Blaue Engel» made her famous as a singer.

Friedrich Hollaender«Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuss auf Liebe eingestellt» was written by the great Friedrich Hollaender, composer of countless songs and film scores. Hollaender’s songs accompanied Marlene through her whole life. When her movie star was fading she had a very successful second career as a singer. 1992 Marlene Dietrich died in Paris, Friedrich Hollaender died 1976 in Munich.

Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Museum: The Long Forgotten Past

Jimmie RodgersIf you happen to pass trough Meridian, Mississippi and are interested in country music be sure to stop at the Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Museum. It’s not easy to find, so be sure to take your time. But when you get there you will be rewarded by a nice little museum with wonderful staff. Not too many people come by, it’s nothing fancy, very down to earth and the whole place breathes the spirit of a long forgotten past. They have many music sheets, lyrics and letters on display, some furniture and one of Jimmie Rodgers’ guitars. In front of the museum there’s a steam engine, because Jimmie Rodgers used to work as brakeman for the railroad. That’s why he got his moniker «The Singing Brakeman». Meridian is Jimmie Rodgers birthplace and also the place were he was laid to rest.

Jimmie Rodgers (1897-1933) had a short but huge career. His early death was caused by tuberculosis. His music unifies influences from folk, country and blues and he tells stories of sadness, loneliness and unfulfilled romance. Still today his songs sound fresh and timeless.