Why is it that the months from November through February drag on like a caterpillar wending its way across a two-lane road while the months from June through September go by like a nitro powered funny car? Oh well, we are rounding the corner and heading to the end of another summer. Hope it was a good one for you. August was not especially kind to those who left us but here we pay some homage to them for your consideration and entertainment. Would have gotten this out timely had I not been stuck in five hours of traffic due to flooded roads last night into this morning.
Okay, I was going to start off the month with Charlie Watts because, well, he’s Charlie Watts, but then Ed Asner died at 91. Lou Grant, Mary Tyler Moore’s boss, a gruff-on the outside, soft on the inside, hard drinking, tough talking curmudgeon and I decided to go with him. I loved the Lou Grant character and even though I didn’t agree with Asner’s politics, I loved that he stuck by them even as Hollywood tried to stick it to him for his beliefs. I mean, his Lou Grant spin-off was doing well in the ratings when CBS pulled the plug on him to distance itself from his politics. Meanwhile, God knows what Les Moonves was doing to women in the broom closet back at the corporate offices. Anyway, Asner was a great actor who won tons of accolades in television, the movies and on Broadway. He and his iconoclastic self is in short supply in this world. He will be missed. That leaves Betty White, from MTM, as the last wo-man standing. Hope it’s for a good while.
Next up before Charlie, because he is more in keeping with the true purpose of this blog, is Don Poyntner. If you all thought that Ron Popiel was worthy, this guy was Ron Popiel on some sort of hallucinogen. While the best that Popiel could do was the pocket fisherman (and I mean that in a very respectful way), this guy Poynter was selling whisky flavored toothpaste. He hawked a talking toilet seat and a swizzle stick that was a scantily clad dancer who swiveled her hips to stir your drink. According to his New York Times obit, he understood that a hot water bottle would sell better if it was made from the likeness of “someone worth cuddling,” so he got Jayne Mansfield to act as his model and spent a week with her sculpting her likeness. He said he could have done it in two days but “why rush.” His biggest invention was a machine that did nothing but turn itself off. When you turned it on, a hand would rise up and switch the machine off. When the Addams Family had a character called Thing, which was nothing but a hand that came out of a box (very similar to Poynter’s turn-off machine) he licensed the name and sold 14 million of them. And I stupidly go to work every day. He had thousands of patents and was lucid till the end of his life. He had plenty of stories about his creations such that the social worker at the hospice he was at, after listening to him tell stories, called his son to say he was hallucinating. The son calmy told her that no, it was all true and part of his father’s rather amazing life. The one thing he thought about creating (as stated in a 1988 interview) but never got around to marketing is the one thing he needs now: a voice activated gizmo placed on a tombstone that is motion activated and invites the visitor to “come on down.”
Now it’s time for Charlie. We lost an iconic drummer, not so much because he was Neal Peart-like, but because he was the drummer for the Rolling Stones. Charlie Watts died at 80. I think so many were shocked by his passing because it reminded us of our own mortality. For me, I simply could not get the John Hiatt tune, “Slow Turning” out of my head. It has the lines: Now I'm in my car; I got the radio on; I'm yellin' at the kids in the back seat; 'Cause they're bangin' like Charlie Watts.” Alright, you have to hear it. Charlie was the class of the Stones and a heck of a pocket drummer meaning his time was impeccable and he played just behind the band which creates a certain tension in the music. His heart was in jazz while his livelihood was in rock n‘ roll so it made for an interesting juxtaposition of playing. His snare was the bedrock of the Stones sound. The one funny story about him was that Mick once called him up after a night of drinking with Keith asking him: How is my drummer? Charlie got up, dressed and went to Mick’s room and punched him in the mouth saying “don’t ever refer to me as your drummer again.” He may not have been the best drummer but like Ringo with the Beatles, he was the perfect drummer for the Stones. The Stones are due to tour next month and had announced a month ago that Charlie was ill and would not be playing. Steve Jordon will play the role of Pino Paladino. The show must go on.
Don Everly, who with his younger brother Phil, once rivalled Elvis (Presley that is) for airplay, left us at 84. “Bye, Bye, love,” as they say. With songs like “Wake-Up Little Susie,” “All I have to Do is Dream” and “When Will I be Loved” (made even more popular by Linda Ronstadt) their harmonies made their hits. Their sweet singing belied an undercurrent of drug abuse and friction that comes from 20 years of touring. In 1973, having had enough, Phil Everly smashed his guitar in an early Pete Townshend like fashion, leaving Don to finish up the set unharmonized. “The Everly Brothers died ten years ago,” Don told the California audience to end the show. That has now become a sad reality.
Poco has taken a Love Boat like hit. After losing Rusty Young a few months ago, this month, they lost their lead guitarist and singer, Paul Cotton, at 78. Mr. Cotton replaced Jim Messina in Poco when Mr. Messina left to join Kenny Loggins after the success of their “Sittin’ In” album. Poco has probably receive more Wall ink then they deserve but they did really help spawn the California country-rock sound that gave Linda Ronstadt (her second mention) and the Eagles their form.
Okay, this is another who-is-he moment but we lost Tom T. Hall this month at 85. He wrote one of those songs that once you get it in your head, you can’t get it out. Sorry for doing this to you but the Jeannie C. Riley hit, “Harper Valley PTA,” was a Mr. Hall composition. Now it will be in your head all day provided you are old enough to have been alive when it was a number 1 hit. Mr. Hall wrote a lot of other, somewhat less memorable, country hits but that is the one that gets him into this blog.
Nancy Griffith, a somewhat Poco-like figure, also passed this month at 68. She was more revered by musicians than by the public at large. That said, she had a loyal following who appreciated her blend of folk and rock music. Like Don Everly, she had a great voice. Her song, “Love at the Five and Dime,” was a country hit for Kathy Mattea. Like Tom T. Hall, her songs were often short stories.
Saxophonist, Dennis Thomas, known as Dee Tee, who co-founded Kool & the Gang, died at 70. Mr. Thomas grew up in Jersey City and started the band, first known as the Jazziacs. With hits like “Celebration,” “Jungle Boogie” and “Ladies Night,” you can’t go to a wedding without hearing their tunes. Mr. Thomas, died, where I might like to go, in his sleep. No telling if, like Nelson Rockefeller, he was with someone.
On the business side of music, Walter Yetnikoff, a mogul whose drug and drinking antics rivaled those of the acts he signed died at 87. In a time when the music business was run by thug types (think Morris Levy, Tommy Mottola) Yetnikoff was right there with them. His strength was in building relationships with the likes of Michael Jackson, Barbara Streisand, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel. He once said that he was weary of Springsteen’s manager telling him how they mixed the song “Hungry Heart” saying, I didn’t care if they mixed it with an egg beater, just so long as it was a hit. He eventually kicked drugs and alcohol and even volunteered at substance abuse recovery centers. Tamed in the end.
Ron Bushy died at 79. I know, I know, but he was the drummer for Iron Butterfly whose “In-A-Gadda-da-Vida” was a big hit in rock’s early days. The lead guitarist of the band Erik Braunn (dead at 52) was only 17 when the album, recorded at Ultrasonic studios in Hempstead, was released. The name of the song was “In the Garden of Eden” but when Bushy asked the song’s composer, Doug Ingle, who had consumed nearly a gallon of Red Mountain Wine (hardly Opus One) what the title was, he was slurring so badly that Bushy understood the title to be what it ultimately became. The song was never intended to be released but when the band was recording an album, the engineer wanted to set the mic levels and asked the band to play something. They played all 17 minutes of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” which was captured for the album and the rest is history. Bushy had a big solo in the middle of the song (beginning at 6:32 of the tune) and told the story that Ringo once took him out to dinner and said, I hope you don’t mind but I stole some of your drum solo and put it in “The End” on the “Abbey Road” album. Listening to the two (although I can’t imagine that Ringo ever listening to Iron Butterfly), you can hear the similarity. Were it me, I might have died right there.
Another drummer, a Nashville studio player, Kenny Malone, died at 83. He played on such hits as Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” Chrystal Gayle’s “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” and my favorite of the three, Doby Gray’s “Drift Away.” He played with everyone from Ray Charles to Emmylou Harris. These studio guys never get enough credit in my eyes. Thanks Kenny.
Tony Mendez. Yes, that Tony Mendez, died this month. When I grew up, I watched Johnny Carson nearly every night, probably from the time I was 12. That was back when the show was 90 minutes, from New York, and everyone on the show smoked. Carson in many ways had more to do with my upbringing then my parents. After some time, Letterman followed Carson and he was, while not Carson, pretty good. That was before he moved to CBS and went downhill. Anyway, Mr. Mendez makes it here because for years, until he had a run-in with writers, he was the cue-card guy for Letterman. I, frankly, never realized that flipping cue-cards was a career and apparently my guidance counselors never pointed this out as a possible vocation for me. I mean, what could be better than flipping cards for some celeb? According to Mr. Mendez, the key was the cadence with which one flipped the cards. Too fast and they miss the end of the line, and too slow and the monologue bogs down. I mean, genius. This is where we find ourselves this month.
Gary Vaynerchuck has long said that it is not the idea, but the execution that counts. A great idea, poorly executed, will fail while even a mediocre idea, well executed, can be a huge success. Our next three entrants to the hereinafter prove that adage amply. The Wall Street Journal highlighted a trio of folks who executed well on that which was rather obvious, certainly not especially innovative, and made fortunes. Wayne Hughes said once that “you don’t get money unless you have a lot of talent, which I don’t have, or you work hard, which is what I do.” Mr. Hughes and a buddy noticed a storage unit on the side of the road in the early 70’s and figured it would be a good way to make money. They pooled $50,000 and started Public Storage with a single storage unit. Mr. Hughes explained to the L.A. Times: “Storage buildings were cheaper to build than apartment buildings, and there was no need to repair toilets or replace carpeting.” Duh. When Mr. Hughes went to that big storage unit in the sky (at 87) Forbes estimated his net worth at $4.1 billion. Not bad for housing a lot of Ron Popiel’s Veg-O-Matics.
Trumping him on the lack of a real good idea side, if not the fortune side, was Jackson Aronson. Stuck for something to help his restaurant’s bottom line in 1997, Mr. Aronson took 15 minutes to concoct a salsa recipe that became the anchor product for his company Garden Fresh Gourmet. He sold it to Campbell’s Soup in 2015 for $231 million.
And then there is Maki Kaji who didn’t come up with anything, he merely saw a numbers puzzle (called numbers place) in an American magazine, refined it and gave it the name Soduko. He never bothered to trademark the name so he has not reaped all of the millions that the game has generated. Nevertheless, he has made millions off of refining that which already existed. Given that each time I have tried to play Soduko I wanted to kill myself, Mr. Kaji’s exit seems fitting.
Poco isn’t the only entity dealing with Love-Boat like losses. Night Court, a show I paid no attention to when it aired, lost Charlie Robinson, the actor who played Macintosh Robinson, in July. In August it lost Marki Post who played Christine Sullivan, the captivating public defender who was the romantic interest of the Judge Harry Stone, played by Harry Anderson (who died in 2018 at 65). She had great comedic timing and got her break being cast in the movie “Something about Mary.” She started her showbiz career writing questions for game shows (a step up from flipping cue cards), once noting that in researching the questions she learned more than she did in four years of college. Everyone starts somewhere. I note, to round things out, that Ms. Post did make an appearance on the Love Boat. Given that Mr. Anderson is also gone, I suspect that court is adjourned and there will no longer be any justice in prime time.
Sports also took it on the chin this month. One of the most rabid sports fans I know, Johnny A, called me to make sure that Rod Gilbert, Mr. Ranger, was included this month and I assured him that even without his call, Mr. Gilbert would have made the cut. Gilbert played all of his 15 years with the Rangers. He played in the heyday of the Rangers, not necessarily for winning Stanley Cups but for drawing supermodels to their games. Ahh the Carol Alt days. He was one of the most popular athletes in New York. He was also quite good at his craft, being the first Rangers player to have his number retired. His number 7 sweater (I would be in trouble from a Governor if I said jersey) hangs from the rafters in Madison Square Garden. To the end of his life, he was at nearly every important fundraiser, never having lost the love of the fans.
J.R. Richard, who Keith Hernandez has said had simply the best slider he has ever seen, and who was said to be the Sandy Koufax of his generation (and that is not a comparison I throw around lightly), died in August at 71. He learned how to throw the slider when, while walking along the road, he found a discarded pitching manual that explained how to throw it. He was an incredibly intimidating pitcher. At 6’8” with a 100-mph fastball he led baseball in strikeouts in 1978 and 79. During the 1980 season he suffered from undiagnosed lethargy and was criticized for dogging it until he had a stroke. Gary Matthews, who faced Richards more than any other hitter, was quoted as saying that “if he doesn’t have that stroke, he’s in the Hall of Fame.” Unfortunately, after the stroke he could not come back, suffered from depression and was homeless in 1994, living under a bridge overpass in Houston. He made it out with help and ultimately became a minister and spent his later years fishing, a lifelong hobby. Like Gilbert, the Astros inducted him into their Hall of fame.
Tony Esposito, or Tony O, the great goaltender for the Chicago Blackhawks, died at the age of 78. One of the rare hockey players of his era to join the pros after earning a college degree, Esposito was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame four years after his brother, the scoring great, Tony, also earned that accolade. His 423 wins places him 10th among goalies and his sweater, like Gilbert’s, rounds out the retired number hat-trick this month as it too was retired by his team.
Because I am a Jet’s fan, I will note that Joe Walton died at the age of 85, six years younger than Bobby Bowden who also died and who, unlike Walton, took his Florida Seminoles to greatness. Can’t blame the poor Jet’s play on Walton because they have been playing poorly regardless of the head coach. Perhaps Rob Saleh, their present coach, can alter the “same old Jets,” mentality.
And finally, Chuck close died. This thing is already too long so I’ll leave it at that.