Death Race

Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, Sharon Jones, and 17 Other Musicians Who Died in November 2016

So much calamity this month. No time for chit chat. Not even counting musicians, we lost a Cuban dictator, several sitcom stars, a Man From U.N.C.L.E., an entire Brazillian football team and possibly our entire democracy as we know it. Chop and reap! Chop and reap! Chop and reap! That so many people should also die of cancer during Cancer Awareness Month is ironic enough to make Alanis Morrisette take out her notepad. Cancer claimed seven people in November that we know of, starting with:

Leonard Cohen, 82, Canadian singer-songwriter
The only thing I can add to my previously published obituary on Leonard Cohen is that you could hardly ask for a finer signing off song than this one — "Hineni, Hineni, I'm Ready, My Lord."

Sharon Jones, 60, American singer (Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings), pancreatic cancer
To think we had, in this age of neo-soul singers, the real thing in our midst. Sharon Jones had been fighting cancer since 2013, but she gamely toured after her chemotherapy, eschewing wigs, and still sang with the same level of commitment. She suffered two strokes on November 8 and 9, which she jokingly blamed on Donald Trump's Presidential victory. She died less than two weeks later.
Eddie Harsch, 59, Canadian keyboardist (The Black Crowes)
Harsch pounded the ivories for The Crowes during any of the years you would've paid attention to them, and then some. You would have had to have been paying attention to him whenever the band hauled out "Shake Your Money Maker."

Mike Bell, 35, American drummer, Lymbyc Systym
This one hits home literally. Lymbyc Systym, the Tempe instrumental duo, formed in 2001 and become a bicoastal band of sorts as it bounced from AZ to NYC and toured with bands like Crystal Castles, Broken Social Scene, and The Album Leaf. Mike Bell's brother, Jared Bell, told New Times, "I lost my brother and creative partner. He devoted his life to making music and was an unstoppable force behind the drums."

Jane Merial Hilton; 40; violinist, folk and Irish fiddle; a teacher, composer, announcer and public radio producer for classical KBAQ in Phoenix, cancer
Another local loss. According to Jane's sister Ingrid, "This may have been the very last song Jane professionally recorded. 'Grace' is a song composed and performed by Jane Hilton and Darin Mahoney. 'Grace' will always take a special place in my heart, as it was one of a few choice songs used to serenade my sister in the hospital ICU before her spirit left her body. Darin strummed his guitar, [and] Amber Dudley played her violin at Jane's bedside."
Leon Russell, 74, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame musician, session player in The Wrecking Crew and songwriter
The Man once dubbed "The Master of Space and Time" also loved you in a place where there's no space and time. He earned his session stripes in The Wrecking Crew, playing on Gary Lewis and the Playboys' big hits, even co-writing "Just My Style" and "Everybody Loves a Clown" for Jerry's kid. From there, he became everyone's go-to piano man, rising to stardom in Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour and movie. His name recognition was such that at The Concert for Bangladesh in 1971, George Harrison only needed to introduce Leon by just his first name and everyone went crazy. And he wasn't even a Beatle! Russell penned some evergreen standards, including "Superstar" (a hit for The Carpenters), "This Masquerade" ( a hit for George Benson), and "A Song For You," which more than 100 artists, ranging from Ray Charles to Whitney Houston to Amy Winehouse, have covered.

Mose Allison, 89, American jazz pianist, singer and songwriter ("Young Man Blues")

Though primarily a jazz artist, he seems to have been a blues touchstone for rock acts like John Mayall, Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt, The Yardbirds and Tom Waits. The Monkees bastardized his "Parchment Farm" for their R&B excursion "Goin' Down." The core of one of rock's most elemental riffs for the Kinks' "You Really Got Me" was, according to a 1981 Creem interview with Ray Davies, “influenced by Mose Allison more than anybody else. And I think there was a lot of bad feeling. I remember we went to clubs like the Marquee, and those bands wouldn't talk to us because [he] did it first." The Who immortalized Allison with their Live at Leeds reading of "Young Man Blues." Here is the original, recorded for Prestige Records in 1958.

Bob Cranshaw, 83, American jazz bassist (Blue Note Records, Musicians Union), cancer.

Said to be one of the most recorded bassists in history, he's done TV work (Sesame Street, Saturday Night Live), pit work on Broadway, jingle work, and film work. He's one of the first jazz bassists to play an electric bass (with Wes Montgomery in 1964), but that was only because he'd injured his back and couldn't play his upright up-right! He's done sessions with jazz greats like Dexter Gordon, Mose Allison, Joe Henderson, Yusef Lateef, Milt Jackson, and Stanley Turrentine, but it's his 50 years of playing with Sonny Rollins that are the highlight of his career. Watch Cranshaw take off on a solo about 3:10 into this clip from a 1962 live show and know what "in the pocket" truly means.

Kay Starr, 94, American singer ("Wheel of Fortune," "The Rock and Roll Waltz"), complications from Alzheimer's disease
“The only white woman that could sing the blues.” So said Billie Holiday about Kay Starr, who is best remembered for two number one hits in the 1950s, "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Rock And Roll Waltz," the latter an earlier imagining of Cheap Trick's "Surrender" but instead of waking up to find your parents listening to Kiss records, Kay spies them trying to waltz to a rock 'n' roll record. Kay doesn't think mommy and daddy just seem a little weird — she thinks they're cute. She probably didn't think it cute when rock 'n' roll records prevented here from having another sizable hit after 1958.

Jean-Jacques Perrey, 87, French electronic music producer, lung cancer

An early proponent of the Ondioline, a forerunner of the modern Moog synthesizer, which he also helped popularize. You can see Perrey demonstrate the many instruments the Ondioline can emulate on a 1966 episode of I've Got a Secret. It's hard to watch this clip and not think the clarinetist, violinist and bagpipe player must be bumming about all the session work they're going to lose to this confounded machine in a few years.

Craig Gill, 44, British rock drummer (Inspiral Carpets)
Gill played in Inspiral Carpets, a focal band in the Madchester music scene. Afterward, Gill organized musical tours explaining landmarks relating to the Madchester scene and Manchester's musical heritage.

Al Caiola, 96, American guitarist and composer

Everyone who picks up a guitar has seen Al Caiola's name on a beginner's instructional book somewhere. Caiola has played on records with Bobby Darin, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Coasters and Dion, Johnny Mathis, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Glen Campbell. And don't get me started on all the Western themes he's flicked a plectrum on, such as "The Magnificent Seven," Wagon Train (Wagons Ho)," "The Ballad of Paladin," and "Bonanza," a song that is impossible to hear the opening strains of and not want to burn a map. In the interest of equal time, here's Al's superb rendition of "Apache."

Martin Stone, 69, British guitarist and bookseller, cancer

Martin Stone played with Snakefinger, Savoy Brown, The 101ers (the band that Joe Strummer left to join The Clash), Wreckless Eric, and Pink Fairies, but my favorite thing Stone is associated with was Rolled Gold, the collection of psychedelic demos The Action recorded just before breaking up and morphing into Mighty Baby. These tracks didn't even get heard until the 1990s, astonishing most Britphiles who couldn't believe there was something this essential sounding they'd never heard before.

Christopher "Mr. 3-2" Barriere, 44, American rapper (Convicts), shot

Yes, rappers getting shot in 2016 is still a thing. Sadly, the hater who hauled off and shot the Gov and injured another friend was said to be a friend as well. Barriere lived his last moments thinking they were just going on an alcohol run.

Raynoma "Ray" Singleton, 79, American songwriter (Motown) and record producer
Another person who gets glossed over in the retelling of the Motown story is Berry Gordy's ex-wife Raynoma, who was instrumental in running Rayber Publishing, which later became Jobete Publishing. But when the Gordys divorced, her involvement eroded. It didn't help that she was reduced to bootlegging copies of Mary Wells' "My Guy" because Berry Gordy wasn't sending enough additional funding ]to run the office out of New York.

Florence Henderson, 82, American actress (The Brady Bunch) and singer, heart failure

Technically not a musician, but if Carol Brady weren't such a cheery mom, would the two albums that The Bradys recorded for Paramount Records stand today as the most diabetically dangerous slabs of sunshine pop ever waxed?

Al Brodax, 90, American film and television producer
Also technically not a musician, but if we're trackingIn Beatle-related death news, this one is a biggie. Last month when I wrote about animator Ron Campbell, much of his success was due to the man who conceived The Beatles cartoon series for ABC-TV in 1965 and the full-length animated Beatles feature Yellow Submarine in 1968. The Yellow Sub animators gave their cigar-chomping producer a cameo of sorts in the film, during the memorable "Eleanor Rigby" sequence.

Fred Stobaugh, 99, American songwriter

A retired truck driver from Peoria, Illinois wrote a poem about his late wife of 73 years, "Oh Sweet Lorraine," some producers set it to music and it became a hit on the Billboard Hot 100.

Colonel Abrams, 67, American musician ("Trapped")

Abrams formed Conservative Manor and also 94 East in 1976, a band that featured a young Prince on lead guitar. Abrams joined Prince in the charts but on his own when his song "Trapped" topped the U.S. Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart in 1985. In 1987, he had his fourth number-one US dance hit with "How Soon We Forget." Flash pan to  2015, when fans and friends started a crowdfunding campaign to pay Abrams' medical expenses because he was homeless and suffering from poor health and diabetes.

Ray Columbus, 74, New Zealand rock singer (Ray Columbus & the Invaders)
I'll confess to never having heard of Ray or his Invaders, but I can't stop watching this video. This band had the dorkiest and yet coolest moves of all time. In 1964, this must've looked like space invaders idea of what rock band choreography was supposed to be.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Serene Dominic
Contact: Serene Dominic