Rant ‘N’ Roll: No One Gets Out Of Here Alive

“Those are people who died, died/They were all my friends and they died.”—Jim Carroll


                Soul singer Billy Paul, 81, died April 24 from pancreatic cancer, at his New Jersey home in Gloucester Township. He served in the Army with Elvis Presley. His Grammy-winning “Me And Mrs. Jones” was the #1 song in America for a few weeks in 1972 (the flip side was Elton John’s “Your Song.) A tale of adultery and secret passion, its dramatic and lush production was a staple of what came out of Philadelphia International Records, oftentimes called the Motown of Philly, run by the legendary Gamble and Huff writing team. Paul was so cool. He had an air of detachment about him that set him apart from his peers. I loved his “Am I Black Enough For You” and how he turned a children’s song (“Billy Boy”) into a hot jam on his live album, Feeling Good At The Cadillac Club (both in ’73). He turned McCartney’s “Let ‘Em In” into a plea for civil rights in 1976. His 1975 “Let’s Make A Baby” was so slippery and soulful and sexy that Jesse Jackson and his Operation PUSH overstepped their reach in trying to get it banned from radio.

Lonnie Mack, one of the most influential rock guitarists, despite never receiving the popular claim he deserved, a man who influenced Keith Richards, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Duane Allman, Bootsy Collins, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, died April 21 in Nashville at the age of 74. His 11 albums—and especially his giant “Memphis” and “Wham” 1963 instrumental hits—were blueprints of guitar heroism. In fact, you might call him the very first guitar hero. Famous for his 1958 Gibson Flying V guitar, he also played bass (most famously for The Doors on the studio versions of “Roadhouse Blues” and “Maggie McGill”).

What kind of godforsaken period of time has the first quarter of 2016 been? Natalie Cole (65) and Lemmy (70) got the death ball rolling a few days prior to 2016…and then it just never stopped. Glenn Frey (67), Prince and his protégé Vanity (both 57), Mott The Hoople drummer Dale Griffin (67), Tower Of Power trumpeter Mic Gillette (64), rapper Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest (45), Jefferson Airplane’s Paul Kanter and original singer Signe Anderson (both 74, and on the same day), Maurice White of Earth Wind & Fire (74), producer George Martin (90), Keith Emerson of Emerson Lake & Palmer (who took his own life at 71), Merle Haggard (79), Patty Duke (69), Gato Barbieri (83), Paul Bley (83), Jimmy Van Zant (59), Gib Guilbeau of The Flying Burrito Brothers (78), Papa Wemba (66), Leon Haywood (74), Robert Stigwood (82), Pete Zorn (65), producer David Gest (62), Terry Johnson of The Mar-Keys (72), Bongo Eddie Folk of Kid Creole & The Coconuts (66), Nicholas Caldwell of The Whispers (71), bluesman Otis Clay (73), doo-wop legend and father of Questlove Lee Andrews (79) and bassist James Jamerson, Jr. (58) are among those who have passed recently.

When Natalie Cole died three days after Lemmy (both artists whom I met and thought I understood), I felt queasy. The constant news, seemingly every other day, of another musician gone, started to get numbing after awhile. Bowie and Prince hit hard, although Bowie’s was expected. To think that two of the most outrageous provocateurs of all time passed within weeks of each other is hard to swallow. To think that Keith Emerson, clinically depressed because he could hardly play the piano anymore, blew his own brains out, is more than his fans should have to bear.

Come to think of it, I’m not feeling so damn good myself at 65.