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Three very different deaths in music

April 22, 2012

The Rule of Three is at work again. The past week has seen the deaths of three giants of the music scene who probably had little else in common and are celebrated for completely different contributions to popular music – Dick Clark, Levon Helm and Bert Weedon. I can almost hear you saying “Who?” when it comes to at least one of the three. But the funny thing is that the names you don’t know will depend on which country you are from and what kind of music you listen to.

Dick Clark (1929-2012): Although probably the best known name among the three, Clark was relatively unknown outside the United States. An early DJ, he hosted a long-running U.S.  television show call “American Bandstand” which brought a staggering number of acts into American homes.(Someone has kindly listed them here , which kind of blew me away when I read it.) The show spawned many others, including “Soul Train”, which was the premier black music show on U.S. television, and , at least according to one citation, Britain’s “Top of the Pops” . (In fact, Brits who don’t know Clark might want to think of him as a U.S. Jimmy Savile, but without the strangeness and ridiculous hair.) The other thing about Clark is that he never seemed to get any older, almost Dorian Gray-ish. There was something very 1950s teenager about him.

Levon Helm (1940-2012): Anyone who has watched Martin Scorsese’s magnificent film “The Last Waltz” will know Helm as the bearded, gravely voiced drummer of The Band, originally a kind of super backup group for Bob Dylan but later the epitome of Americana. It is not by accident that the film, The Band’s last concert, attracted the likes of Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison and Dr. John onto the stage. The classics “Up On Cripple Creek,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and “The Weight” were part of Helm’s repertoire, although it was drumming, not singing, that was his main forte. Bizarrely, The Band is supposed to have once been Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s favourite groups, which led to the song “Levon” and also partly why John’s son is named  Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John.

Bert Weedon (1920-2012): This is the one that will have Americans scratching their heads. Weedon was a master guitarist who had a hit or two in the 1950s and early 196os, but is also the author of a self-teaching book called “Play in a Day”, which came out in 1959 and is still selling. Apart from the fact that Weedon was an amazing player, he is credited with influencing a pantheon of British guitarists, notably  Eric Clapton, Brian May, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, John Lennon, Pete Townshend, Keith Richards, Sting, Hank Marvin, Mike Oldfield, Mark Knopfler and Jimmy Page. For that alone, we should thank him.

Strange business, music, that three such diverse people could have such diverse influences yet be part of the same cosmos.

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