Amoeblog

Hugh Hopper 1945 – 2009

Posted by Whitmore, June 10, 2009 07:09pm | Post a Comment
 
When I was about 13 years old I became a regular customer at Platypus Records on Hollywood Blvd about a half a block east of Vermont in Hollywood. It was all about their inexpensive used records. I still spent a small fortune from money I earned the old fashioned way; recycling cans and bottles, mowing lawns and stealing money from my mom’s purse. I found great records for pennies. And one that left an indelible mark on my rookie ears was the Soft Machine album, Volume Two, released in 1969 and featuring Robert Wyatt on drums and vocals, Mike Ratledge on piano and Hammond organ, Brian Hopper on saxophone and Hugh Hopper on bass and guitars. I think I paid 99 cents for the album.
 
When I bought that record all I knew about Soft Machine was that they were part of some mysterious and legendary English Canterbury music scene, they hung out with Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd and once toured the US as an opening act for Jimi Hendrix. Volume Two is still one of my all time favorite records. Over the years I’ve worn out more than a few copies.
 
This past Monday, idiosyncratic composer, art-rock bassist extraordinaire, veteran of some two dozen diverse solo albums and Soft Machine member, Hugh Hopper, succumbed to his year long battle with leukemia. He was 64.
 
In his years before Soft Machine, Hugh Colin Hopper, born April 29, 1945 in Canterbury, Kent, found himself immersed in the burgeoning Canterbury scene and emerging bands like Gong, Hatfield and the North and Henry Cow. In the mid sixties he was working with Daevid Allen and Robert Wyatt in the Daevid Allen Trio. That band evolved into the Wilde Flowers, an almost mythic pop and soul band consisting of his brother Brian, Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers and Richard Sinclair that spun off into two influential progressive rock groups, Caravan and Soft Machine.
 
Hopper joined Soft Machine in 1968 after their tour with Hendrix, contributed two compositions to their first self titled album, recorded in New York. Their sophomore release saw Hopper not only adding his virtuoso bass work to the mix but also composing half the tracks. He would remain with Soft Machine through 1973 and the album entitled 6. About the time Soft Machine was moving from a psychedelic, progressive rock sound into more of a jazz/fusion outfit, Hopper departed, recording his classic solo record 1984 at about the same time. His first effort was a decidedly non-commercial adventure filled with avant-garde soundscapes, tape loops, and free improvisation.
 
After his stint with Soft Machine, and in between his own solo projects, Hopper worked with some of the most original musicians of the last thirty years; Carla Bley, Keith Tippett, Robert Wyatt, Elton Dean, Pip Pyle, Stomu Yamashta, Phil Miller, Lol Coxhill, Allan Holdsworth, Chris Cutler, Yumi Hara Cawkwell and bands like Gilgamesh, Isotope and Soft Heap. In 2002 Hopper began a new association with several former Soft Machine members. Originally named Soft Works, they later renamed the reunion Soft Machine Legacy; besides touring extensively throughout Europe and Asia, they’ve also released four CD’s, two studio and two live recordings.
 
After his diagnoses last summer with leukemia, a benefit concert was held for him at London's 100 Club in December, featuring friends and many of his legendary musical collaborators from all phases of his career.
 
Just two days before his death he married his longtime companion Christine.




The Late Great Johnny Ace

Posted by Whitmore, June 9, 2009 10:16am | Post a Comment
Rock and roll has a long and ridiculous history of tragedy. And it probably all started with the accidental shooting death of R&B star Johnny Ace who would have, should have, been 80 years old today.
 
Born John Marshall Alexander, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee in 1929, Ace was a pianist and balladeer and the first postwar solo black male rhythm and blues star signed to an independent label, Duke Records, to attract a white audience. His first of many hits, "My Song," was released in 1952; other hits followed including "Cross My Heart," "Please Forgive Me," "The Clock," "Yes, Baby" and the classic "Pledging My Love," which was on its way to the top of the R&B charts when he died. Johnny Ace's career lasted barely eighteen months. He only recorded 21 songs.
 
On Christmas Eve in 1954, Ace was performing at the City Auditorium in Houston. Also on the bill was Big Mama Thornton. They had been on a long, grueling promotional concert tour for most of a year. Ace had put on a lot of weight and was exhausted by the schedule of performing more than 300 shows, playing successive one-night stands sometimes hundreds of miles apart. Ace had become fond of playing with his .22 caliber revolver. Members of his band said he often would point or even unload the gun in their direction or at roadside signs from their car.
 
In Houston during a break between sets, Ace was, as usual, playing with his gun. First he pointed the gun at his girlfriend and then at another woman who was sitting nearby. He then pointed the gun toward himself, said, "I'll show you how it works." The gun went off into the side of his head.
 
According to legend Johnny Ace was playing Russian roulette. But witnesses gave a different account. Big Mama Thornton's bass player Curtis Tillman was there: “I will tell you exactly what happened! Johnny Ace had been drinking and he had this little pistol he was waving around the table and someone said ‘Be careful with that thing…’ and he said ‘It’s o.k.! Gun’s not loaded…see?’ and pointed it at himself with a smile on his face and ‘Bang!’; sad, sad thing. Big Mama ran out of that dressing room yelling ‘Johnny Ace just killed his self; Johnny Ace just killed his self!”
 
Johnny Ace died several hours later on Christmas Day. He was 25 years old.



National Yo-Yo Day

Posted by Whitmore, June 6, 2009 05:30pm | Post a Comment
Carpe diem! If there is any day to walk the dog, pop the clutch, rock the baby, skin the cat, shoot the moon, or split the atom, today is the day, June 6th, National Yo-Yo Day. Flying Saucer, Around the World, Over The Falls, Buddha’s Revenge, Three Leaf Clover, Double On Trapeze, Brain Twister …

National Yo-Yo Day falls on what is believed to be the birthday for the entrepreneur who in 1932 got into the yo-yo business and built an empire, Donald Duncan Sr. Though the truth is the Duncan Company isn’t exactly sure the 6th of June is actually his birth date.

Yo-yos have been popular toys for more than 2,500 years, probably originating in China around 500-1000 B.C., though there is some evidence the Greeks had yo-yos even before then. While yo-yos in one form or another have existed for centuries, the yo-yo as we know it today seems to have originated in the Philippines.

Early yo-yos had a variety of different names; sometimes they were called quizzes, bandelores or Jou-Jous. The earliest recorded account of the word yo-yo is from an 1860 Filipino dictionary. Webster’s Dictionary states that the word "yo-yo" probably derives from the Philippine Ilokano language word "yóyo." Other sources suggest that "yo-yo" is a variation of a Tagalog word meaning “come-come” or “return.” My favorite neo-fact about yo-yo's: the urban legend that they were sometimes used in the Philippines as a martial arts weapon.

In 1923 in Santa Barbara, California, Pedro Flores, a Filipino-American, went into the business of building yo-yo's by hand. Five years later in 1928, Flores started the Yo-yo Manufacturing Company and the first yo-yo factory. He also began to host yo-yo competitions. With in a couple of years Flores opened two additional factories in Los Angeles employing over 600 workers and produced 300,000 units daily. Donald Duncan recognized the potential of this yo-yo mania sweeping the west coast and bought out the Flores Yo-yo Corporation. Duncan is said to have paid more than $250,000 for all assets, a fortune in the depression era. He then hired Flores to run Duncan's promotional campaigns.

During the Second World War, sales dropped off, as did the availability of materials. But in 1946 yo-yo's again took off, the Duncan Company moved to Luck, Wisconsin, and quickly became known as the “Yo-Yo Capital of the World.” The Duncan factory produced some 3,600 wooden yo-yo's per hour.

The next big step in the yo-yo evolution was replacing the maple bodies. Duncan partnered with the company Flambeau Plastics in the mid 1950’s to produce the first plastic yo-yo's. Sales went through the roof. By 1962, the Duncan Company alone sold a record 45 million yo-yo's in a nation with only 40 million kids, and still could not keep up with the crazy demand. A couple of years later, Duncan Sr. retired and gave control of his company to his sons. The Duncan family sold the company name and associated trademarks in 1968 to Flambeau Plastics. Today Yo-yo competitions and exhibitions are held world wide. The 2009 World Yo-Yo Contest will be held in Orlando, Florida at the Rosen Plaza Hotel on August 13th, 14th, and 15th. Workshops and panel discussions, covering numerous topics of interest, will be held during the three days of competition. The event hall has over 10,000 feet of yo-yoing space with 22 foot ceilings and will be open 24 hours a day during the event. Sounds like a party about to spin out of control.

National Doughnut Day

Posted by Whitmore, June 5, 2009 09:30am | Post a Comment
 
The perfect complement to coffee in the morning, other than the New York Times, is that magically deep-fried (occasionally baked), fatty combination of flour, sugar and oil-- the doughnut, or if you prefer the donut.
 
Every year the first Friday in June is National Donut Day. And according to a few noteworthy sources, some national chains like Krispy Kreme, Dunkin' Donuts, Yum Yum Donuts, and Winchell's are giving away some of their cream filled goodies today for free.
 
Now, I am often skeptical about Wikipedia entries, and this time though I am more dubious than ever – but anyway, National Doughnut Day was started in 1938 as a fund raiser for the Chicago Salvation Army. Their goal was to help those in need during the Great Depression and honor the 250 or so Salvation Army volunteers, "Lassies," who in 1917 went to France during the First World War. Because of the difficulties of providing freshly-baked goods in trench warfare, the Lassies served doughnuts to soldiers behind the front lines. According to legend, the doughnuts’ being doled out to US enlisted men was the origin of the term doughboy, the nickname for the US infrantrymen in the First World War.
 
Anyway, you still have a couple of hours left to find a free donut somewhere along our great nation’s glazed ribbon of highways. So get out there, grab a cup o’joe and who knows, maybe you can talk your way into a free chocolate glaze twist, a bear claw, a glazed donut with rainbow sprinkles, a maple long john, or even a raspberry filled glazed cake, or a frosted strawberry filled glazed donut, and if not, be nice and maybe somebody will buy you one. Happy National Donut Day!

World No Tobacco Day

Posted by Whitmore, May 31, 2009 06:06pm | Post a Comment

It seems like every month, week and most any day is dedicated to something, and today is no exception. In 1987 the World Health Organization passed Resolution WHA40.38, "a world no-smoking day." Two years later Resolution WHA42.19 was passed and "resolves that each year 31 May shall be World No Tobacco Day." Every May 31st since has been designated as such. Observed world wide, it draws attention to the widespread prevalence of tobacco use and to its negative health effects. The day aims to reduce the 5.4 million yearly tobacco related deaths. In 2007 the tobacco theme was “Smoke-free environments.” Last year's WNTD theme was “Tobacco-Free Youth.” This year’s theme is "Tobacco Health Warnings," with an emphasis on picture warnings, shown to be particularly effective at making people aware of the health risks. More and more countries are requiring tobacco packaging to show the dangers as is called for in guidelines to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. As for tomorrow, June 1st, it is the start of the officially designated Turkey Lovers Month and here in Hollywood we’ll be celebrating with a wide concoction of turkey dishes, turkey activities and tossing around fun facts such as: wild turkeys can fly for short distances up to 55 mph and can run as fast as 20 mph.

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