Those We Have Lost in 2020 – RIP Kenny, Bill, John and Richard

Because this year has been one like no other, my blogging has changed tack and I have not been keeping up with the sad roll call of people we have lost from the world of music. It is almost inevitable that many of them would have been written about here before, as most were elder statesmen of their particular genres, but time to pay special tribute I think.

My very first post of this year led me back to the chart music of 1970, and at the top spot was Mr Kenny Rogers with his excellent story song Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town. I am not however really that familiar with the First Edition era of Kenny’s career. The Kenny I am more familiar with was his late ’70s persona which gave us the hits Lucille, The Gambler and Coward of the County. Like Ruby these were all very much story songs and their lyrics have given us some great lines which are often quoted. After the news of his death on March the 20th, just ahead of all the upheaval and distress caused by the pandemic, there were many who noted that Kenny had followed the advice within his signature song:

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em

Ten days after the death of Kenny Rogers, news came through that we had also lost Bill Withers. Last summer, after a particularly lovely day out I shared many pictures in a blog post, so the obvious accompanying song choice was Bill’s 1977 song Lovely Day. To be honest I hadn’t realised until that point just how respected Bill had been in the music world, having won three Grammy Awards and been nominated for six more. His life was even the subject of a 2009 documentary film called Still Bill. Quite something considering he worked as a professional musician for just 15 years, from 1970 to 1985, after which he moved on to other occupations.

bill-withers-2
Bill Withers, 1938-2020

My Bill song choice is going to have to be this one however, Ain’t No Sunshine. They’re not for everyone I know, but I am a bit of a fan of Richard Curtis movies, and the song certainly fitted a particularly poignant scene in the film Notting Hill very well – Poor old lovelorn Hugh Grant straddles all four seasons whilst he walks through the market with Bill’s song playing the background [spoiler alert: all turns out well in the end].

Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers:

A week after the death of Bill, we heard of the sad loss of John Prine. John was someone I only discovered since starting this blog, and when I accidentally came across his song When I Get To Heaven one evening when on my way to visit my mum in hospital, I got a bit emotional, all because of these lines of lyric:

And then I’m gonna go find my mom and dad, and good old brother Doug
Well I bet him and cousin Jackie are still cuttin’ up a rug
I wanna see all my mama’s sisters, ’cause that’s where all the love starts
I miss ’em all like crazy, bless their little hearts

Yes, there was nothing more I wanted than to go find my dad who had died 15 years earlier, and ask for his advice on decisions that were going to have to be made. Listening to the song, even us non-believers are almost prepared to be converted, as there is a definite party atmosphere going on. John Prine had apparently been treated for cancer twice, and it was after his second bout that he wrote the song about some of the things he had to give up following his illness. Here is a quote: “I wrote that song because I figured there’s no cancer in heaven. So when I get up there, I’m going to have a cocktail and a cigarette that’s 9 miles long. That’s my idea of what heaven is like.

I hope John is up there right now, sitting with Kenny and Bill, enjoying that cocktail and extremely long cigarette!

When I Get To Heaven by John Prine:

Last but most definitely not least, on the 9th May we lost the artist known best to us as Little Richard. I can’t pretend to know that much about Mr Penniman, as he was a bit before my time, but I do know he was an influential figure in popular music, often nicknamed The Innovator, The Originator, or The Architect of Rock and Roll. His best known work dates back to the mid-1950s, when his charismatic showmanship, dynamic music and frenetic piano playing laid the foundation for rock and roll. He influenced numerous singers and musicians across musical genres from rock to hip hop and in a line-up he would have been easily recognisable because of his pompadour hairstyle.

Tutti Frutti became an instant first hit for him in 1955 but as we started off with Kenny Rogers, and mentioned his song Lucille, I think I’ll come full circle and end with Little Richard’s song of the same name. Lucille became a big hit for him in 1957 but he then abandoned rock and roll for born again Christianity.  When he was persuaded to tour Europe in 1962, the Beatles opened for him and Richard even advised them on how to perform his songs. He is cited as one of the first crossover black artists, and his music and concerts broke down barriers, drawing blacks and whites together despite attempts to sustain segregation. How sad therefore to see what is going on right now as I type, 60 years on.

Until next time, RIP Kenny, Bill, John and Richard, you will not be forgotten.

When I Get To Heaven Lyrics
(Song by John Prine)

When I get to heaven, I’m gonna shake God’s hand
Thank him for more blessings than one man can stand
Then I’m gonna get a guitar and start a rock-n-roll band
Check into a swell hotel, ain’t the afterlife grand?
And then I’m gonna get a cocktail: vodka and ginger ale
Yeah, I’m gonna smoke a cigarette that’s nine miles long
I’m gonna kiss that pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl
‘Cause this old man is goin’ to town

Then as God as my witness, I’m gettin’ back into show business
I’m gonna open up a nightclub called “The Tree of Forgiveness”
And forgive everybody ever done me any harm
Well, I might even invite a few choice critics, those syph’litic parasitics
Buy ’em a pint of Smithwick’s and smother ’em with my charm

‘Cause then I’m gonna get a cocktail: vodka and ginger ale
Yeah I’m gonna smoke a cigarette that’s nine miles long
I’m gonna kiss that pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl
Yeah this old man is goin’ to town

Yeah when I get to heaven, I’m gonna take that wristwatch off my arm
What are you gonna do with time after you’ve bought the farm?
And then I’m gonna go find my mom and dad, and good old brother Doug
Well I bet him and cousin Jackie are still cuttin’ up a rug
I wanna see all my mama’s sisters, ’cause that’s where all the love starts
I miss ’em all like crazy, bless their little hearts
And I always will remember these words my daddy said
He said, “Buddy, when you’re dead, you’re a dead pecker-head”
I hope to prove him wrong… that is, when I get to heaven

‘Cause I’m gonna have a cocktail: vodka and ginger ale

Yeah I’m gonna smoke a cigarette that’s nine miles long
I’m gonna kiss that pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl
Yeah this old man is goin’ to town

Yeah this old man is goin’ to town

Author: Alyson

Whenever I hear an old song on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those days - I know I'm not alone here and want to record those memories for myself and for the people in them. 50 years ago the song "Alfie" was written by my favourite songwriting team Bacharach and David - The opening line to that song was "What's it all about?" and I'm hoping that by writing this blog, I might find the answer to that question.

6 thoughts on “Those We Have Lost in 2020 – RIP Kenny, Bill, John and Richard”

    1. There have been so many haven’t there but I just concentrated on the ones I would have probably written about had I not become distracted by all the other stuff going on. We have also lost a fair few stars from the world of light entertainment and comedy which I could have written about as they have sometimes released the odd novelty song.

      I wanted to included former Bond girl Honor Blackman as she has also appeared around here before with her novelty song Kinky Boots – One very classy lady.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Yes, so many losses already but it seems we’ve been distracted so much of the time this year, so it;s good to see your tributes (and lovely to see Honor Blackman above, a very inspirational woman). The musical losses which perhaps touched me most are those of Florian Schneider from Kraftwerk, Andy Gill from Gang of Four and Dave Greenfield from the Stranglers, I think because of the age I was when their music had the most meaning for me, so I had that sense of growing up with them and not really thinking of them as being that much older (even though they were). That’s when it really brings things home, isn’t it… I hope there will be some respite from it all for the rest of the year at least!
    Your comment about the lovely John Prine lyric and your dad is very moving…. I feel like that about my mum, so many years without her being there too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So many losses and yes, I spotted those you mention too, but stuck with the three people who have appeared around here before and of course Little Richard. Unlike in 2016 however the ones I wrote about here were what would be considered a good age (although the ones you mention not so much). I’m not sure whether there will be much respite as even without this virus we’re all sadly getting older. On a happier note, if John Prine is right, and it turns out that Heaven is a place where you can enjoy all the things you love with your favourite deceased musical heroes, it could be a lot worse!

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  2. Things have become so bad it does feel like our blogs have become a roll call for the dead musicians we revere. The same recently deceased artists that touched C’s life are the ones that come to my mind as well, but I did love Little Richard, especially during his era on Specialty. I can only imagine what shocked parents were thinking in the late ’50s when they saw him perform on television the first time. Let’s hope the loss of our heroes slows down during the second half of the year.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed and I would just say the same to you as I said to C above.

      As for Little Richard I was too young for him, as I think you were by a fair margin more, but yes, in the 1950s the homes of Middle America must have been well and truly shocked after getting used to a decade of crooners like Bing Crosby. The teenagers of the time must have just loved that though and fun for us to see him during his heyday in old footage today. Yes hope there is a slowdown as the year progresses but not holding my breath.

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