Friday, February 13, 2009

Obituraries for Billy Powell, Delaney Bramlett and Ron Asheton

Lynyrd Skynyrd in their 1970s heyday before the plane crash happened. Billy Powell who just passed away is second man on the left holding a beer can.

The start of 2009 has not been a happy one for some classic rock fans as it has witnessed the death's of three very talented musicians; Ron Asheton the lead guitarist for The Stooges, Delaney Bramlett who formed Delaney and Bonnie, and, and Lynyrd Skynyrd keyboardist Billy Powell. It's hard to beleive that in less than two months all three of these great musicians could pass away. When you think of 2008 you think of the sad passings of original Pink Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright who died of cancer, and drummer Mitch Mitchell, who was the only original member left of The Jimi Hendrix Experience trio. Mitchell died of heart failure late last year in a hotel in Portland while he was on tour still playing the Hendrix classics he had mastered so many years ago. Now three more musicians have left this world and I will explain their importance to the world of music.

Ron Asheton 1948-2009

Ron Asheton was found dead of a heart attack in his Ann Arbor home. He helped lead The Stooges; possibly one of the most innovating bands from 1967 through 1974. The Stooges were one of the first bands to use elements in their music that would eventually come to defined later on as punk rock, alternative rock and even heavy metal. While the band was never that popular in their existence, it has been a cult following because of their musical impact similar to that of The Velvet Underground which has kept music fans interested in them after all these years. The Stooges formed in Ann Arbor Michigan and built up a following playing live in Ann Arbor, and then on to bigger venues with bands like The MC5 in Detroit. Their live performances were known to be wild and primitive with Iggy Pop the groups vocalist often cutting himself onstage or even flashing his genitalia.

The Stooges first record was much different then there next two in the sense that it was less punk rock psychedelic as it was the late 60s and they were obviously influenced by the times in songs like the ten minute plus "We Will Fall." There were signs of The Stooges heading towards a punk direction though with Asheton playing a great intro guitar lick in the second and best song on the album "I Wanna Be Your Dog." Iggy Pop talked about his late bandmate recently in Rolling Stone saying, "I saw those hands and thought, that guy can do it. His sound was the tone of the universe, the stars at night. It was a highly ambient tone. He was listening as much as he was playing." Ron Asheton's main influence on guitar was Jimi Hendrix as he was known to jam out to "Stone Free" and "Highway Chile" both off the first Jimi Hendrix Experience album Are You Experienced.

Asheton helped create the masterful sound on The Stooges second and best album Funhouse. The album was much more loud and chaotic than The Stooges self titled dubut. Songs like "T.V. Eye" and "Loose" were not noticed much by the public at the time but would go on to become punk rock anthems in decades to come. The Stooges were simply ahead of their time as not enough people appereciated them in 1970 when Fun House was released. There were also great experimental songs on Fun House like the title track which ran for nearly eight minutes and had great saxaphone solos going on. Also the out of control "1970" anthem is unforgettable where Iggy Pop yells "Out of my mind, Saturday night. 1970 rollin' in sight. Radio burnin' up above. Beautiful baby feed my love. All night I blow away. I feel alright."

It would be another three years until The Stooges would even record another album as every member in the band other than Ron Asheton sank deep into heroin addiction. Iggy Pop would often not even be able to stand on stage when the group performed live. Luckily David Bowie came to the rescue after The Stooges were released from Elektra records following their first two poor selling albums. Bowie was in the height of his Ziggy Stardust fame and wound up producing Raw Power the final classic Stooges album. While Raw Power didn't end up gaining much comercial interest at the time it might be the most influential Stooges album on our current genteration. Musicians over the years have given their tribute to songs off the Raw Power album. Red Hot Chili Peppers covered the song "Search To Destroy" and Guns N' Roses wound up covering "Raw Power" on their covers album The Spaghetti Incident? The biggest travesty of all is that The Stooges have yet to be inducted into the Rock N' Roll hall of fame despite six separate nominations over the years, including one in 2009. The only person to be inducted this year who had been around as long as The Stooges and had as much as an impact is Jeff Beck who has already been inducted once into the Hall as a member of The Yardbirds. You could also say Metallica deserves to be inducted this year as they were one of the only bright lights coming out of a horrible music scene in the 1980s.

Ron Asheton will be remembered fondly by the two surving membes of The Stooges Iggy Pop and Ron's brother Scott Asheton. The three had recently gotten back together in 2003 at The Coachella Festival in California and were popular than ever. Iggy describes this period of Stooges history in Rolling Stone by saying, "Ron had a lot of pride in the group. And in the end he made peopele happy. All those numbers we played when we got back together in 2003 sent people into another dimension. When we hit the openings of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" it was like a genie coming out of a bottle. Ron waited a long time for that. In these last six years he became a full fledged rock powerhouse. His dream came true."

The Stooges in 1970

Delaney Bramlett 1939-2009

Delaney Bramlett who played with the influential band Delaney and Bonnie died at the age of 69, suffering complications from gaul bladder surgery. Bramlett had battled alcoholism in the past but had been clean since 1987 when he entered a detox program. Bramlett was a musician from Pontotoc, Mississippi who made his fame touring with his wife Bonnie Lynn O" Farrell forming the group Delaney and Bonnie. They toured with Blind Faith in 1967 and guitarist Eric Clapton was so impressed with their band he spent more time backstage jamming with the members of Delaney and Bonnie then he did with his own band members. This of course angered Blind Faith's organist and vocalist Steve Winwood and Blind Faith immediately disbanded following the tour. Clapton would then form Derek and the Domioes with three other members from Delaney and Bonnie drummer Jim Gordon bassist Carl Radle and keyboardist Bobby Whitlock. Meanwhile Delaney found himself jamming with some great musicians like George Harrison, Dave Mason, and Leon Russell on "Poor Elijah." George Harrison gave Delaney Bramlett the solid Rosewood slide guitar that he had played in the Let It Be movie as thanks that Delaney had taught him how to play slide. Delaney also worked with original Allman Brothers Band slide guitarist Duane Allman who would also wind up playing on that timeless Derek and The Dominoes album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Bramlett is one of the peopel who first told Eric Clapton he had to sing while he was producing his 1970 self titled debut ablum. Clapton has said,"Delaney told me I had a gift from god and that if I didn't sing God would take it away. All I was doing was really copying Delaney." As Bonnie Bramlett recently told Rolling Stone, "Delaney just opened the doors, and he didn't wait for you to step through them. To work with him you had to be on your toes. Delaney was the real deal."

Eric Clapton, Bonnie Bramlett, Delaney Bramlett and George Harrison

Billy Powell 1952-2009

Billy Powell called 911 a little after midnight on January 28th from his house in Orange Park Florida, saying he was having trouble breathing and had severe chest pains. By the time Police had arrived Powell had already died of a heart failure. He was due to see a doctor the following day for a heart check up as he had been experiencing heart problems for some time now. This now leaves guitarist Gary Rossington as the lone survivor of the original Lynyrd Skynyrd band that formed in Jacksonville, Florida back in 1972. Billy Powell had survived the October 17, 1977 plane crash that had killed Skynyrd vocalsit Ronnie Van Zant and lead guitarist Steve Gaines. Skynyrd had broken up after the plane crash but then reformed in the 1990s to tour with Ronnie's brother Johnny Van Zant as lead vocalist.

Billy Powell will probably be most remembered for his graceful keyboard intoduction to Lynyrd Skynyrd's most popular song "Free Bird," He also contributed to other classics like "Tuesday's Gone" "Whiskey Rock -Roller," and "Whats Your Name?" Before joining the band Powell was a roadie for Skynyrd but was invited in as keyboardist right before the bands debut album Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd. He added a whole new dimension to Lynyrd Skynryds three guitar booggie with Allen Collinss, Gary Rossington, and Steve Gaines. Skynyrd used an excellent blend of whiskey soaked rock, southern country harmony and blues. They didn't rely on the jazzy improvisations of their southern rock predesesors The Allman Brothers Band, they were more hard living, and hard playing. Unfortunately the talent Lynyrd Skynryd had was overshadowed by a redneck image they created by hanging confederate flags. Ronnie Van Zant also famously retorted back at Neil Young's "Southern Man" by writing, "Hope Neil Young can remember a southern man don't need him around anyhow in "Sweet Home Alabama," but who knows what he truly felt about Young as he would often wear a Neil Young-Tonights The Night t-shirt on stage. Whie Lynyrd Skynyrd did eventually decide to continue without Ronnie Van Zant it is unclear now if they will continue without Powell. Johnny Van Zant recently told Rolling Stone, "He took it to another level. I had goose bumps playing "Free Bird" with him every night. I don't think we can ever find anybody to replace him."

Lynyrd Skynyd on the back of their Nuthin Fancy album. Billy Powell gives the camera the finger.


  1. Wow man, these new entries are awesome! i like the links and the pictures. Also some of the articles were timely...good stuff! Are you going to do more articles about local Bay Area bands?

  2. Bob--this is just amazing--so much info coming out of one head. How do you do it? And you "care" so much about these people--it makes me the reader care too.

    I envy your power of FLOW, gds