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Jonas Westover

(b Chicago, IL, May 31, 1963; d Skokie, IL, Aug 21, 2003). American songwriter and musician. Often described as an “outsider” musician, he is best known for his idiosyncratic songs that adhere to a strict repetitive formula. Willis struggled throughout his life with schizophrenia, but still produced an enormous amount of music and has served an inspiration for other musicians. He had an active musical childhood, but it was not until the 1990s that he started writing and performing his own music. In 1992, he formed the Wesley Willis Fiasco, a band that toured widely throughout the United States but released only one record, Spookydisharmoniousconflicthellride (1992); they broke up four years later. Willis composed music and lyrics for the group, and his output became so extensive that he began releasing his own solo albums on the American Recordings label. The result was over 50 discs of solo material. He typically employed the same repetitive song form and usually accompanied his raucous and raunchy lyrics, often delivered as punk-style rants, on a small Technics KN keyboard. Some of his most beloved songs include “I wupped Batman’s ass,” “Rock and Roll McDonald’s,” and “Kris Kringle was a car thief.” Willis is the subject of the documentaries ...

Article

Jonas Westover

(b Michigan, 1949). American composer, pianist, producer, and guitarist. He is best known for his evocative and introspective solo piano works. He often draws on nature for his picturesque titles, perhaps responding to his time in the Midwest and areas such as eastern Montana. He did not receive any formal training, but instead learned to play the organ by ear in 1967 by listening to records. In 1971, he turned to the piano, influenced by 1920s jazz and the stride piano style of Thomas “Fats” Waller and Teddy Wilson, among others. He studied music at Stetson University in Deland, Florida. The style he developed has been described by Winston as “rural folk piano,” and he was asked to record by John Fahey for Takoma Records in 1972. His first album, Ballads and Blues, did not receive much popular or critical acclaim, but it brought Winston to the attention of New Age guru William Ackerman in ...

Article

Andrew Flory

[William Harrison, Jr. ]

(b Slab Fork, WV, July 4, 1938). American rhythm-and-blues and pop singer, songwriter, and instrumentalist. An African American performer, he entered the music business while in his 30s, after nearly a decade of service in the United States Navy. Signing with the Los Angeles independent label Sussex, he released his first album, Just As I Am, in 1971. His single “Ain’t No Sunshine” received national attention and won a Grammy award for Best R&B Song. His album Still Bill (1972) included the singles “Lean on Me” and “Use Me,” both of which rose to the top of the Billboard “Hot 100” and Soul Singles charts. He performed these deceptively simple songs in a direct vocal style accompanied by a funky backing group. As the most prominent artist to release records on the Sussex label, Withers’s career suffered following its demise in mid-1975. He recorded for Columbia beginning in the late 1970s, including the uplifting single “Lovely Day” (...

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Jonas Westover

[Fred Lincoln Wray, Jr. ]

(b Dunn, NC, May 2, 1929; d Copenhagen, Denmark, Nov 5, 2005). American guitarist and songwriter. Part Shawnee Indian, Wray moved frequently throughout the United States, first with his family and then because of his own military service. This mobility exposed him to many different musical styles. After he was honorably discharged from the army during the Korean War, he and several friends (including his brothers Doug and Vernon) formed a band called Lucky Wray and the Palomino Ranch Hands. The group, later called the Wraymen, recorded on Starday Records and became house band for the television show Milt Grant’s House Party, where they played backup for many key musicians of the mid-1950s, including Ricky Nelson and the Diamonds. It was there that Wray came up with the music for his most famous instrumental, “Rumble” (1958), which featured heavy rhythmic pounding and Wray’s aggressive guitar work. Other notable songs included “Rawhide” (...

Article

Ed Wynn  

Jonas Westover

[Isaiah Edwin Leopold ]

(b Philadelphia, PA, Nov 9, 1886; d Beverly Hills, CA, June 19, 1966). American actor, comedian, composer, and lyricist. Best known for his character “The Perfect Fool,” Wynn created his stage moniker from his middle name, Edwin. He began his stage career in vaudeville and quickly moved into larger stage productions. Especially important were his starring roles in Florenz Ziegfeld’s Follies of 1914 and 1915 and the Passing Show of 1916. In the 1920s he appeared in revues including Ed Wynn’s Carnival (1920), The Perfect Fool (1921), and The Grab Bag (1924) and introduced spirited songs such as “When I Was Small,” “She loves me, she loves me not,” and “Sing, Sweet Juanita.” Although none of the songs were hits, the revues themselves were successful. Wynn turned to radio in the 1930s, hosting The Fire Chief for most of the decade. He appeared in numerous films during the 1940s and was one of the pioneers of television. Wynn had his own comedy-variety show (...

Article

Cathy Ragland

(b San Antonio, TX, March 2, 1945). American Accordionist, composer, and songwriter. Eva Ybarra is one of the very few female accordionists active in the male-dominated Texas Mexican conjunto tradition. No doubt she is the only one with over 40 years as a professional musician. She is also accomplished on the bajo sexto, guitarrón, electric bass, and keyboards. Ybarra was given her first accordion at age four, and by the time she was six, she was playing in restaurants, cantinas, and dance halls around San Antonio, Texas. She came from a musical family; her father and brothers played music and her mother was a singer and songwriter. Ybarra gained international notoriety via two recordings of original music for the independent Americana roots music label, Rounder Records: A mi San Antonio and Romance inolvidable. In particular, accordion fans marvel at her instrumental polkas, huapangos, and cumbia norteña, such as “A mi San Antonio,” “El gallito madrugador” (The Early Rising Rooster), “El perico loco” (The Crazy Parrot), and “A bailar con Eva” (Dance with Eva). In these songs, she embellishes even the simplest melody with rapid chromatic runs and subtle shifts in tempo with unlikely chord progressions, all indicative of her highly original approach to the tradition....

Article

Leah G. Weinberg

(b Exeter, NH, Nov 8, 1961). American Musician, songwriter, record company founder, and author. Zanes was raised near Concord, New Hampshire, and after attending Oberlin College for one year, moved to Boston. There, Zanes, his brother Warren, the bass player Tom Lloyd, and the drummer Steve Morrell formed the Del Fuegos. The roots-rock band produced five albums between 1984 and 1989, with singles “Don’t Run Wild,” “I still want you,” “Name Names,” and “Move with me Sister.” After the Del Fuegos disbanded and Zanes’s solo album Cool Down Time failed to sell, he began to listen to banjo songs, cowboy tunes, and traditional songs that he remembered from childhood. After his daughter Anna was born, Zanes’s dissatisfaction with the American children’s music market led him to form a family-oriented band that merged folk and rock styles and instrumentation. Initially known as the Wonderland String Band, the New York based-group underwent changes in title and personnel, first to the Rocket Ship Revue, and then to Dan Zanes & Friends. The seven-member band has produced nine albums on Zanes’s label, Festival Five Records, which include original songs as well as folk, traditional, and gospel songs from the United States, Jamaica, Africa, and Mexico. ...

Article

Max Paddison

(Vincent)

(b Baltimore, Dec 21, 1940; d Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles, Dec 4, 1993). American composer, rock musician and guitarist. His family moved to California in 1950, where Zappa played the drums and guitar in high-school bands with, among others, Don Van Vliet (later to become Captain Beefheart). He studied briefly at Chaffey College, Alta Loma, but left to write music for B-movies. In 1964 he formed his band the Mothers of Invention (originally the Soul Giants); the personnel changed frequently and Zappa disbanded the group in the 1970s to work with musicians selected for particular projects, including Ian Underwood (keyboards, saxophones, brass, guitar etc.), Ruth Underwood (percussion), George Duke (keyboards and trombone), Aynsley Dunbar (drums), Sugar Cane Harris (organ, electric violin and vocals) and Jean-Luc Ponty (violin).

The Mothers of Invention’s first release was Freak Out! (Verve, 1966), which savagely parodied both corporate America and hippy counter-culture in such songs as ‘Hungry Freaks, Daddy’ and ‘Who are the Brain Police?’, culminating in ‘The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet’, an extended improvisation using avant-garde techniques. It was followed by ...