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Don Cusic

[Ragsdale, Harold Ray ]

(b Clarkdale, GA, Jan 24, 1939). American singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer, arranger, music publisher, television star, and entrepreneur. Harold Ragsdale began his musical career with a high school band that played R&B songs by the Coasters, Drifters, and other R&B groups. In 1955 the family moved to Atlanta, where publisher Bill Lowery signed him as a songwriter and secured his first recording contract with Capitol Records; Capitol’s Head of A&R, Ken Nelson changed Ragsdale’s name to Ray Stevens. After attending Georgia State University, where he studied music, Stevens had his first success with his recording of “Jeremiah Peabody’s Poly Unsaturated Quick Dissolving Fast Acting Pleasant Tasting Green and Purple Pills” (Mercury, 1961). In 1962 he moved to Nashville, supplementing his own recording career with work as a session musician, arranger, and background vocalist. He garnered a number-one pop hit and his first Grammy with his recording of “Everything is beautiful” (Barnaby, ...

Article

Ian Peel

(b 1967). American club DJ, musician, producer and entrepreneur . While at school in Brooklyn, he was a DJ for street parties as part of the Scooby Doo Crew, first gaining fame with a remix for the Jungle Brothers’, I'll house you, one of the first ‘hip house’ (hip hop with house) crossovers. Solo singles followed (released as the Todd Terry Project) including Bango (To the Batmobile) and Weekend (both 1988) which were popular in both Europe and the USA. By the mid-1990s, the popularity of hip house had waned but Terry created a garage groove for a remix of Everything but the Girl’s mid-tempo guitar track, ‘Missing’ (from Amplified Heart, 1994). The remix grew via Ibiza clubs into an anthem which achieved mass commercial success and revitalized the career of Everything But the Girl. Terry followed this success with the house anthem Keep on Jumpin' and continued working on remixes (Janet Jackson, Björk, Annie Lennox) and production (Browstone, Garbage). He co-founded the Freeze label (...

Article

Jairo Moreno

(b Puerto Padre, Cuba, Jan 1, 1946; d Miami, April 17, 2005). Cuban trombonist, composer, producer, and arranger. Part of the second generation (post-1959) of influential Cuban trombonists, Torres began his musical training with his father, a baritone player, and as an avid student of Generoso Jiménez’s playing. He attended the Escuela Nacional de Música in Havana (1965–7) and joined the groundbreaking Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna in 1967, under the direction of Armando Romeu and alongside Chucho Valdés, Paquito D’Rivera, and Arturo Sandoval. With his jazz group Algo Nuevo, he promoted the trombone as a lead instrument. In 1979, for EGREM, the national Cuban recording company, he coordinated and produced Estrellas de Areito, a collective of 30 renowned Cuban musicians dedicated to the improvisational form known as descarga. He defected to the United States in 1992, settling in the then thriving exiled Cuban musical community of Miami. From ...

Article

David Sanjek

(b New Orleans, LA, Jan 14, 1938; d Madrid, Nov 9, 2015). American songwriter, producer, arranger, pianist, and singer. It would be difficult to imagine what the repertoire of contemporary New Orleans–based popular music would be, were it not for the prolific pen of songwriter Allen Toussaint. He was responsible for the writing, and in many cases the production, of any number of the city’s best-known and best-loved songs, including “Mother-in-Law” (Ernie K-Doe), “Fortune Teller” (Bennie Spellman), “Working in the Coalmine” (Lee Dorsey), and “Ruler of my Heart” (Irma Thomas). Born in the Gert Town neighborhood of New Orleans, Toussaint received his initial professional break at the age of 17 when he filled in for Huey “Piano” Smith in a performance by Earl King’s band. He soon thereafter recorded an album of instruments under the pseudonym Al Tousan, which included the popular “Java,” re-recorded by Al Hirt. Initially, Toussaint established a professional relationship with local entrepreneur Joe Banashak and wrote numerous songs for his Minit and Instant labels. After those concerns broke up, he formed a firm variously known as Tou-Sea, Sansu, Deesu, or Sansu along with Marshall Sehorn. They also co-founded the Sea-Saint recording studio in ...

Article

Susan Fast

(Wister )

(b Clarksdale, MI, Nov 5, 1931; d San Marcos, CA, Dec 12, 2007). American songwriter, guitarist, pianist, bandleader, talent scout, and record producer. He began playing piano as a boy in Clarksdale, forming the Kings of Rhythm while still in school. His musical education consisted of listening to music and playing with blues musicians such as B.B. King. Turner is often credited with writing and recording the first rock and roll record (according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), “Rocket 88,” although the track was released under the name of Jackie Brenston (a member of Turner’s band who sang and played sax on the record). Recorded in 1951 at Sam Phillips’s Sun Studios in Memphis, this uptempo R&B song provided a template for the rock and roll emerging later in the decade. The modified 12-bar blues form, boogie woogie bass line, percussive piano, guitar distortion, and rowdy sax solo became standard features of songs by Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and others....

Article

Andrew Flory

(Ronzoni )

(b New York, NY, April 20, 1951; d Edison, NJ, July 1, 2005). American rhythm-and-blues and pop singer, songwriter, and record producer. He was one of the most instantly recognizable African American male vocalists of the 1980s, often performing in a virtuosic style that was at once melismatic, improvisational, and precise. He began his career as a behind-the-scenes songwriter and vocalist, singing on commercial jingles, writing and collaborating on songs for other recording artists, and performing live and recorded background vocals. As backing vocalist he appeared widely, including on David Bowie’s “Young Americans” (1975), Chic’s C’est Chic (1978), Sister Sledge’s We Are Family (1979), and Roberta Flack’s Roberta Flack Featuring Donny Hathaway (1980). Vandross signed to Atlantic’s Cotillion label in the mid-1970s and released two unsuccessful albums with a self-titled group call Luther. He also worked as a vocalist with the disco-oriented band Change on several singles released during the early 1980s....

Article

Jonas Westover

[Mattern, David ]

(b Lancaster, PA, Aug 24, 1949). American dj, remixer, and producer. He began his career in music as a producer in the mid-1980s after a period working in the fashion industry. Immersed in the night life in New York, he was fascinated by the work of DJs and decided to try his hand, and he eventually secured a place at Club Bassline. Working alongside Shep Pettibone, he landed numerous high-profile opportunities to remix the music of such pop stars as Madonna and Janet Jackson. Vasquez then co-established his own club, the Sound Factory, which brought him wider exposure and more offers to remix music from major labels. The club closed in 1995, and Vasquez went to other venues, the most notable being the Twilo, where he spun records in a custom-designed booth. Throughout the 1990s he released several albums of remixes, including The Future Sound of New York...

Article

Charles K. Wolfe and Travis D. Stimeling

(Wayne )

(b West Plains, MO, Aug 12, 1927; d Nashville, TN, Oct 27, 2007). American country music singer, songwriter, and record producer. As a boy, he learned country songs of the 1920s from his mother and occasionally pretended to host the Grand Ole Opry. A performance on a local radio show in 1950 led to regular appearances on KWTO, a powerful station in nearby Springfield, and this in turn led to a regular job on Red Foley’s national Ozark Jubilee television show. He signed a recording contract with RCA Victor in 1952 and had early success with “Company’s Comin’” and “Satisfied Mind.” Gospel songs such as “What would you do?” became part of his repertory, and their success encouraged his penchant for including recitation in songs. During the 1960s, thirty-one of Wagoner’s recordings reached the charts, and, by the end of the decade, he produced his own television show, ...

Article

Barry Long

(b Boston, MA, Oct 3, 1925). American impresario, pianist, and singer. He took classical piano lessons with Margaret Chaloff beginning at the age of seven and studied jazz with teddy Wilson. As a teenager he led a dance band and played Boston nightclubs before attending Boston University. While a student he performed with Max Kaminsky and Wild Bill Davison; after graduation he opened his own club, Storyville (1950). Wein started a record label by the same name a year later and opened a second club, Mahogany Hall, in 1952 where he played in the house band. He also worked alongside Bobby Hackett, Sidney Bechet, Ruby Braff, Jo Jones, and Pee Wee Russell. He was invited and given financial support by Newport, Rhode Island, residents Louis and Elaine Lorillard in 1954 to organize a jazz festival that became an annual tradition and spawned a similar folk festival in ...

Article

Alyssa Woods

(Omari )

(b Atlanta, GA, June 8, 1977). American rapper, singer, and record producer. Kanye West burst onto the rap scene in 2004 with his debut album, The College Dropout, and has established himself as one of the industry’s most prominent artists. Immersed in the Chicago hip-hop scene, he learned to sample and program beats at the age of 15. While studying at Chicago State University, West began selling his beats to prominent rappers and decided to drop out of school to devote more time to his music career. West’s reputation as a producer was solidified by his work on Jay-Z’s album, The Blueprint (2001), where his sped up sample of the Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back” on the song “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” helped launch the single to the Billboard Top 10. West adopted the technique of speeding up samples from the Wu Tang Clan’s RZA, making this his signature sound....