Sam Phillips (1923-2003)
As founder and chief producer for the Sun Records label, Sam Phillips was a seminal figure in the development of rock 'n roll. Among the artists he signed to the label were Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Roy Orbison. Due to financial difficulties, he was forced to sell Elvis Presley's contract to RCA in 1955. With declining sales and recordings, Sam Phillips sold Sun Records in 1968. However, he became a wealthy man largely due to his early investments in the Holiday Inn hotel chain. Sam Phillips was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Blues Hall of Fame, and Country Music Hall of Fame.
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Wilson Pickett (1941-2006)
Wilson Pickett learned his forthright, aggressive style of performing as a gospel singer. He first hit the charts as a member of the group the Falcons, but he became a star as a solo soul performer signed to Atlantic Records in the mid-1960's. His two top 10 pop singles are "Land of 1000 Dances" and "Funky Broadway." Among other notable songs Wilson Pickett recorded are "In the Midnight Hour" and "Mustang Sally." Although he didn't reach the pop charts after the early 1970s, Wilson Pickett continued recording into the late 1990s. He died of a heart attack January 19, 2006.
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Gene Pitney (1941-2006)
Gene Pitney hit the charts as a solo pop singer while also writing major hit singles for others. His first major hit was the song "Town Without Pity" released in 1961 as the theme for the movie of the same name. It earned Gene Pitney an Academy Award nomination. He hit the pop top 10 four times as an artist with the #2 "Only Love Can Break a Heart" being his biggest hit. "He's a Rebel," "Hello Mary Lou," and "Rubber Ball" are among the hits Gene Pitney wrote for others. Although his last US chart appearance was in 1969, Gene Pitney continued to score hits in the UK well into the 1970s. He died of heart disease complications April 5, 2006 while on tour in the UK.
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Joey Ramone (1951-2001), Dee Dee Ramone (1951-2002), Johnny Ramone (1948-2004)
The Ramones were consider key pioneers among punk groups in the US. All members of the group adopted the last name Ramone. Joey, Dee Dee, and Johnny were the founders. The group formed in 1974 and recorded their first album in 1976. Although the group never gained major commercial success, they are one of the most influential American bands of all time. The album End of the Century was their biggest chart success hitting #44 in 1980. Perhaps the group's best-known song remains "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker" which edged inside the Billboard Hot 100 in 1977. The group broke up in 1996 and the three founding members died within four years of each other.
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Joe Strummer (1952-2002)
Reportedly Joe Strummer saw an early Sex Pistols performance and was impressed which led him to help form the Clash a few months later. In a flurry of signings of punk and new wave bands, the Clash signed with CBS Records in 1977. They soon earned tremendous critical acclaim as an exciting and politically aware band. The group's London Calling is considered by many to be one of the top albums of all time. The Clash scored major commercial success with the top 10 single "Rock the Casbah" and its top 10 album Combat Rock. After major internal difficulties, the Clash disbanded in 1985. Joe Strummer had some success with his group the Mescaleros. He died suddenly December 22, 2002.
Watch "London Calling"
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Ike Turner (1931-2007)
Although he gained a great deal of notoriety due to his difficult relationship with his former wife singer Tina Turner, Ike Turner is a rock and soul pioneer. He is given credit by many for recording the first rock 'n roll song "Rocket 88." In the late 1950s he met Anna Mae Bullock who later became his wife Tina Turner. Together the pair created one of the top high energy soul and rock acts of all time. They hit #4 in 1971 with their signature "Proud Mary." Although revelations of spousal abuse later dimmed his image among American music fans, Ike Turner continued to perform and record up until his death on December 12, 2007.
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Luther Vandross (1951-2005)
Luther Vandross began his long, successful career as a studio backup singer in the mid-1970's working on projects such as David Bowie's Young Americans album. With the emergence of disco in the late 70's Luther's silky smooth voice helped create classics by the groups Chic and Change. After the encouragement of friend Roberta Flack, Luther Vandross recorded his first solo album Never Too Much in 1981. That album's quick success turned Vandross into a star. Ultimately he released five top 10 pop solo singles and earned eight Grammy Awards. Luther Vandross died July 1, 2005 after having suffered a stroke two years before.
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Warren Zevon (1947-2003)
Although he never gained the commercial success to be considered a major pop star, rock singer and songwriter Warren Zevon put together a body of work highly respected by critics and his fellow musicians. His music is often marked by a sardonic approach and unique sense of humor. Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London," a top 25 pop hit in 1978, is his only major singles chart success. He continued recording completing the album The Wind when seriously ill with cancer. Warren Zevon died September 7, 2003.
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