Fun_People Archive
27 Sep
Jimmy Witherspoon RIP

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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Sat, 27 Sep 97 04:13:59 -0700
To: Fun_People
Subject: Jimmy Witherspoon RIP

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 Blues Legend Jimmy Witherspoon died in his sleep of natural causes at
his home in Los Angeles on September 18. He was 74. Throughout his
career, 'Spoon managed to span the worlds of blues, R&B and jazz with
his deep baritone and unique style anchored in the big band blues
traditions. His collaborators ranged from Count Basie to Eric Burdon,
Gerry Mulligan to Van Morrison, and T-Bone Walker to Robben Ford.

 His 1949 hit "Ain't Nobody's Business" was one of the biggest records
of the era, a #1 R&B hit that stayed on the Billboard charts 34 weeks
that year. 'Spoon made at least 200 albums since and was one of the
few remaining true giants of the post-war blues boom. 'Spoon was born
in Gurdon, Arkansas in 1923, and raised in a musical family. His
father, a railroad man, sang in local choirs, while his mother played
piano. 'Spoon didn't pursue music professionally until after his World
War II stint in the Merchant Marines, where he had his first live
performance on an Armed Forces Radio broadcast from Calcutta, India
where he sat in with an American jazz group residing at the Grand

 On his return to the states in 1944, he replaced the great Walter
Brown in the Jay McShann Band (an earlier incarnation of which had
featured a young Charlie Parker) and performed with Big Joe Turner and
T-Bone Walker. He recorded with McShann for several years on the
Mercury label before striking out on his own. 'Spoon's first hit
record was  "Ain't Nobody's Business" which he followed in 1949 with a
reworking of the Leroy Carr blues "In The Evening When The Sun Goes
Down". He recorded prolifically for a variety of labels through the
fifties, including cornerstone sides with Swingtime, Federal, Chess,
RCA and even a dixieland session with the Wilbur De Paris New Orleans
Jazz Band for Atlantic in 1956.

 'Spoon played the gangster dominated nightlife realm of Newport, KY
in a band with another blues immortal, pianist Charles Brown. 'Spoon
appeared with an all-star group of jazz musicians at the 1959 Monterey
Jazz Festival that included Ben Webster, Roy Eldridge, Coleman
Hawkinds, Woody Herman and Earl "Fatha" Hines. This searing, emotional
performance was captured on the subsequent album, "Jimmy Witherspoon
At Monterey", and vaulted him into the jazz world's leading ranks of
blues singers. He appeared as a special guest the following year at
Monterey, singing a featured part in jazz composer Jon Hendricks'
celebrated "Evolution Of The Blues".

 The second act of 'Spoon's long-running career took place on jazz
stages around the world, from Carnegie Hall to the Newport Jazz
Festival, from touring Japan as vocalist with Count Basie to European
tours with the Buck Clayton All Stars. In 1963 'Spoon Recorded
"Evenin' Blues" with T-Bone Walker and in 1968 Recorded "The Blues is
Now" with his brother, organist Jack McDuff. In 1969, 'Spoon emerged
again, this time in the world of the blues renaissance, with an album
on ABC/Bluesway, accompanied now by blues-rock musicians from a new
generation: guitarists Harvey Mandel of Canned Heat and Danny Kalb of
Blues Project, organist Barry Goldberg of Electric Flag and harmonica
ace Charlie Musselwhite. The following year, he returned on Bluesway
with albums that featured guitarists Earl Hooker and Mel Brown,
pianist Charles Brown, rock icon Joe Walsh (the Eagles) and even
comedian and jazz aficionado Bill Cosby served as producer on one

 In the 70's 'Spoon met Robben Ford and brought him to the attention
of 'Spoon's management firm, the same team that handled Eric Burdon
and War at the time, and it was 'Spoon who provided Ford with his
ticket to Los Angeles. 'Spoon sang on the 1971 Eric Burdon album
"Guilty", and toured with the former Animals' vocalist. 'Spoon's 1975
Capitol Records album "Love Is A Five Letter Word", made the
best-selling charts. He made records for labels like Blue Note and
Fantasy, returned to the Monterey Jazz Festival and made regular
appearances on the European Jazz and Blues festival circuit.

 'Spoon was an indomitable figure who couldn't be stopped by the
tragic health setback of cancer, which he overcame to continue as the
reigning king of Jazz-Blues. After recovering, 'Spoon joined with
drummer Panama Francis to recreate the Savoy Sultans, recording and
performing with the group across Europe. He cut a remarkable 1986
album "Midnight Lady Called The Blues", written and produced by Dr.
John and Doc Pomus. He reteamed with guitarist Robben Ford in the
early nineties for "Live At The Notodden Blues Festival", and cut a
1992 album "The Blues, The Whole Blues and Nothin' But The Blues" for
Indigo Records.

 For the past few years, guitarist Robben Ford had been repaying a
long-standing debt to 'Spoon by throwing twice annual shows at the
tiny but legendary blues club in Los Angeles, The Mint, with 'Spoon at
the fore. The exclusive performance, formerly available "live" to a
few hundred lucky people at most, is memorialized for the rest of us,
on "Live At The Mint", 'Spoon's Grammy nominated (Best Tradional Blues
Recording - 1997) debut for On The Spot/Private Music. The
Witherspoon-Ford collaboration (both are four-time Grammy nominees for
their respective solo works) had been going on since Witherspoon first
met the then-teenage guitar phenom who was playing with his brothers
in the Charles Ford Blues Band in the early seventies.

 In the past few years 'Spoon made a special guest appearance on Van
Morrison's "Live In San Francisco" recording as well as performing
live with 'Spoon fans Morrison and Bonnie Raitt. He was also an
accomplished actor and appeared in many film ("Georgia" with Jennifer
Jason Leigh, Mare Winningham and John Doe) and television ("the Big
Easy") roles, as well as having his songs on movie soundtracks ("Devil
In A Blue Dress"). 'Spoon's last recording "'Spoon's Blues" featured
Duke Robilard and his band backing 'Spoon on all the tracks.

 'Spoons last two concerts were very special engagements. On July 12
he performed at Yoshi's in Oakland, California on a "Legends of the
Blues" show that featured 'Spoon with fellow blues icons Robert
Lockwood, Jr., Howard "Louie Bluie" Armstrong and Francis Clay.
'Spoon's son Lucky Witherspoon joined his father on stage for the
first time ever to sing "Going Down Slow". It was completely
unrehearsed and it was the first time 'Spoon heard his son sing.
"Spoon was surprised and enthralled by Lucky's performance and it was
a very emotional moment for the musicians and the audience. 'Spoon
invited Lucky to sit in for one song at the House of Blues in Los
Angeles on August 9. This time Lucky got to perform with his father's
band for the first time. This would be 'Spoons final engagement.

 Over the years, as jazz developed into a high and increasingly
abstract modern art, it's become too easy to forget that it all
started with the blues. As one of the legends of an American musical
tradition, 'Spoon was a singer who constantly reminded us that,
without the blues, jazz simply would not exist. Critics may differ
over whether Spoon was an unusually jazzy bluesman or bluesy jazzman,
but such arguments only reinforce the essential truth of his artistry.
Blues is at the very center of the jazz tradition. For the past 55
years 'Spoon was among the music's best singers. Up until his last
show, 'Spoon still had a big, rangy, booming voice, an intimate and
highly personal way with a lyric, and an ability to plumb the
emotional depths and soar to the ecstatic peaks that mark a true-blue
jazz performer as genuinely great. 'Spoon was the genuine article, the
real deal.

 Jimmy Witherspoon is survived by three children; Angela
Witherspoon-Ballard, Regina Witherspoon-Welch, and James "Lucky"
Witherspoon, Jr., Four grandchildren; Marcus Ballard, Michael Welch,
Alexis Witherspoon, and Ahkello Witherspoon. his sister Jimmie-Lois
Witherspoon, his brother Leonard Witherspoon and his wife Diana
Witherspoon-Atkins. A memorial service will be held on Friday,
September 26 at the True Vine Baptist Church (ph 310-672-9370), 1437
Centinela in Inglewood, California. You can send your regards to
'Spoon's family at 4200 Don Tapia Place, Los Angeles, California 90008
or call American Legends at 415-771-5891.

- - by  Michael James

This obituary can be reprinted and used in the media. Any payments for
this article shall be donated to Jimmy Witherspoon's family. Payable
to James "Lucky" Witherspoon, Jr. and mailed to: 4200 Don Tapia Place,
Los Angeles, CA 90008.

Please send a copy of any print articles to:
P.O. Box 640409  *  San Francisco  *  CA  94164

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