I feel badly that only three people showed up at the Tuscaloosa airport to welcome back the Crimson Tide after their off night at the Sugar Bowl. Jamon Smith apparently made it a quartet by covering the return last Friday for The Tuscaloosa News, wherein he reported that three more fans showed up just after the team had left for campus.
In the process of researching a couple of books about the history of Alabama football, I read many accounts of cheering throngs of thousands on hand to greet the team when it returned from this bowl or that, though the teams in those circumstances did tend to be victorious ones. Still, half a dozen fans out of a Crimson Nation of millions seems scant acclaim for a season of expectations surpassed, from A-Day all the way up to New Year’s Day.
But what do I know? I wasn’t at the airport Jan. 2, either.
It is a good idea, and excellent karma, to acknowledge the contributions of those who have striven. We try to do that hereabouts, right around this part of the calendar. The field we generally commemorate is music, following the practice of the old Black & White paper, which would devote an entire issue to obituaries of performers lost during the preceding year.
At the recording studio where I tend a loom weaving zeroes and ones into audio, ordinarily we craft a similar tribute, hanging Internet photos upon a desktop Christmas tree, but the season got away from us this year. Little tasks ate the clock up faster than we’d anticipated. We didn’t even get our regular tree up, let alone the diminutive version.
So when the new year turned and it was time to get on with whatever 2015 is supposed to be, the names of 2014 had been left in the lurch, which is to say, a file folder on the desk. Even a cursory look at the list is a reminder of how many chairs in the big orchestra opened up last year. Let us get to some.
There’s less harmony in the world, as headlines underscore daily, but some of it is the kind diplomats cannot contrive. I’m talking about Phil Everly, half of the most contentious, yet mellifluous, pair of siblings ever found on a jukebox. The younger Everly Brother passed on about a year ago, leaving behind a world full of admirers. Don’s still with us, but it’s just not the same when he’s singing solo.
Not long afterwards, a gaping hole opened in the roster of great folk singers when Pete Seeger sailed out of this realm. It was easy to think that Pete would always be with us, having endured to the ripe and active age of 94. President Obama called him “America’s tuning fork,” which seems a somewhat eccentric compliment. I imagine him more as a granite boundary marker, such as one might find along the Natchez Trace or the path of the Erie Canal; he, his banjo and his immense songbook pointing the way to the old, true America.
This past year was not an altogether good one for members of various bands. Subject to early checkout were Bob Casale, whose guitar and keyboard playing helped put the evo in Devo; Paul Goddard, the smoothly soulful bassist for the Atlanta Rhythm Section; and Scott Asheton, the raw power behind The Stooges, of whom Iggy Pop said, “I have never heard anyone play the drums with more meaning.” We lost less mainstream players as well, such as Joe Wilder, who played elegant trumpet with Lionel Hampton and Count Basie, among many other classic jazz ensembles; Acker Bilk, one of the few clarinet players to have a hit record after the swing era (his was the haunting melody, “Stranger on the Shore”); and Sean Potts, whose instrument of choice was the pennywhistle, played so richly for The Chieftains, the legendary Irish band he helped found in 1962.
If we’d put up our dead musician tree this year, Bobby Womack’s picture might have been on the very top. Bobby did a little bit of everything and played in every kind of style. He wrote a hit for his vocal group, the Valentinos, “It’s All Over Now,” that became an even bigger hit when the Rolling Stones covered it. An alarmingly good guitar player, he worked sessions and contributed songs for Aretha and Pickett and lots more, then in the 1970s started charting his own hits, such as “That’s The Way I Feel About You” and “A Woman’s Gotta Have It.” Drugs sidelined him for a while, but in 2009, Bobby introduced himself to a new generation by singing on Damon Albarnz’s Gorillaz projects. Pretty good run.
There would have been room at the top as well for other names you don’t know how to miss till they’re gone. There’s Tommy, the final Ramone, and Cosimo, the first name of Matassa, the last name in New Orleans R&B, thanks to his eternally funky recordings of Fats and Fess and all. Raphael, last name Ravenscroft, you remember for his immortal solo on Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street.” There were unusual names like Dave Brockie of GWAR and Wayne Static of Static-X, and exotic names, such as flamenco guitarists extraordinaire Paco de Lucia and Manitas de Plata. There were unassuming names as well: Johnny (Winter), Jimmy (Ruffin), Paul (Revere), Jack (Bruce), Charlie (Haden) and even a couple of good Joes (Sample and Cocker). Plenty more names, too, we haven’t the space to cite here.
It’s probably a good idea to show respect for what you love sooner than later. If it’s Alabama football, go meet the team at the airport some time. If it’s popular music, go visit some of the many places around town where it’s played. As Bobby Womack’s friend Sly Stone used to say, it’ll do you no harm.