During this pandemic that's got us all locked in our houses, the music world has lost three great performers. As someone who was influenced by all three of these amazing musicians, I feel like its my duty to write this blog entry.
First of all, the world lost country music superstar Kenny Rogers on March 20th. Born in Houston, Rogers started his music career in the late 1950s. His first band was called The Scholars. He went on to play in the jazz band for musician Bobby Doyle. In the 1960's Rogers played bass for a folk group called The New Christy Minstrels. A few members of this group broke off and formed The First Edition in 1967. They gave us the popular tunes Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Is In) and Ruby (Don't Take Your Love to Town). The First Edition broke up in the mid-70s and Rogers started his solo career. He would go on to work with Dolly Parton, Lionel Richie, Sheena Easton, and many more. Rogers' musical achievements are too numerous to list. He has won several Grammy Awards, Country Music Awards, and American Music Awards along with being inducted into both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Texas Music Hall of Fame. I posted a tribute to Kenny Rogers on my CBN page shortly after I heard the bad news.
Second, Bill Withers left a lot of fans behind on March 30th. Like Rogers, Withers was born in 1938, but he hailed from West Virginia. While serving in the US Navy, Withers discovered he had an interest in singing and playing guitar. After he got out of the service, Withers went to work for the Douglas Aircraft Corporation in California. The cover of his first album, Just As I Am, was a picture of Withers at work, carrying his actual lunchbox. Songs like Ain't No Sunshine, Use Me, Grandma's Hands, Lean on Me, Lovely Day, and Just the Two of Us will be known by many future generations. Withers songwriting was so simple and elegant. It will stand the test of time. During his musical career, Withers won 3 Grammy Awards and he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017. I remember the first time I heard a Bill Withers tune, I was mesmerized. I still feel that way when I hear his music. I opened my Cally Fest 2020 set with a cover of Ain't No Sunshine.
This past Tuesday, the great singer/songwriter John Prine passed away. Prine was born in Illinois shortly after the end of World War II. He had an interest in folk music and learned to play guitar when he was 14. Prine did a short stint in the US Army, then moved to Chicago where he worked as a mailman. He participated in the Chicago folk revival and was discovered by Kris Kristofferson. Prine's debut self-titled album was released in 1971 and it launched his music career. Over the next 47 years, he'd release 17 more studio albums. After overcoming cancer in his neck during the late 1990s, Prine's voice became deeper and more gravelly, but it didn't stop him from singing. In 2013, he beat lung cancer and despite a prominent shortness of breath... he refused to stop singing. Bob Dylan once said of Prine's music, "Prine's stuff is pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mindtrips to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs... Nobody but Prine could write like that." I don't think anyone could've said it better. Prine's accolades include 2 Grammy Awards and a Lifetime Achievement Award. Since I've not yet covered a John Prine song, I'll add a video of Reina Del Cid covering Illegal Smile.
I hate to leave everyone with a heavy note headed into the holiday weekend, but I do think its important to remember these great individuals' contributions to music - the passion that drives us all. This weekend, take a moment to remember these three talented individuals - and all the others who have gone before us. Sit down, close your eyes, and think of them. Listen to a song or two and just remember. It may bring a tear to your eye, but you'll feel better afterwards. Trust me.