Mike Melvoin

The landscape of the music world is ever changing and so rapidly. The singers and musicians who so brilliantly and unselfishly performed the soundtracks of our lives – who were institutions and the thread that brought us together if  but for a spell – are leaving one by one.

We’re still reeling from the shockwave of the passing of megastar Whitney Houston, but as we salute her let us not overlook others whose contributions may not have had the same impact; who were not household names; and yet made a significant mark nonetheless.

Billy Strange

The Los Angeles Times reported on Friday February 24th the passing of two such musicians – Mike Melvoin (1937 – 2012), and Billy Strange (1930 – 2012). Coincidentally, they reportedly died on the same preceding Wednesday.

Excerpts from the L.A. Times obituaries: “Mike Melvoin, a pianist/composer/arranger whose credits reach from Stan Getz and Frank Sinatra to Michael Jackson and the Beach Boys…was the first active musician to serve as national president of the recording academy…Among the numerous sessions in his lengthy resume, [he] played on such memorable recordings as Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life,” Natalie Cole’s “Unforgettable,” the Jackson 5’s “ABC,” and “Pet Sounds” and “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys. Melvoin’s advocacy for the recognition of  instrumental musicians continued until his death. [He said] ‘studio guys get sold short…The truth is the great studio players are the authentic article in everything they do.’  His [late] son Jonathan [was] a member of the group Smashing Pumpkins…”

“Guitarist  Billy Strange [received a] phone call that thousands of musicians receive only in their best and wildest dreams. [The voice] said ‘Billy, this is Elvis. I’d like for you to stop by my studios and play some music with me…’ He not only was one of the hottest players but also a successful songwriter, arranger and recording artist working in L.A.’s’ top recording studios at what may have been the pinnacle of a long career in which he contributed to hit records by artists such as Presley, the Beach Boys, Phil Spector, Frank and Nancy Sinatra, the Everly Brothers, Dean Martin, Willie Nelson, and the Partridge Family. [He] is most widely known for his role as musical arranger of  Nancy Sinatra’s No.1 hit “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’,” in 1966 and her 1967 duet with her father, “Somethin’ Stupid.” He was elected to the Musicians Hall of Fame, and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, both based in Nashville.”

This year began with a bang as we lost another giant, legendary singer Etta James, and world-class bandleader Johnny Otis. We should be grateful for all those – famous and not so famous – who took the time and sacrificed (consider all the rehearsals, travelling all over in and out of hotels, polished performances, promotions, etc.) to develop their craft and share their talent whenever, wherever and with whomever they could as they passed this way.

Larry Buford is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. Author of “Things Are Gettin’ Outta Hand” (Steuben Pub) www.amazon.com. Available at Smiley’s Bookstore in Carson CA, Skylight Books, Los Angeles, and Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara CA. Visit the author at www.larrybuford.com. (213) 220-8101

larry buford