Bands Lose Key Members & The New York Times Neglects An Obituary
The Grim Reaper has had a robust 2020 taking more than his normal share of victims.
Celebrities, especially rock n’ roll musicians who are all approaching the age of inevitable demise have been dying at an alarming pace. But you would never know it if you rely on the New York Times for the obituaries.
Mega-music stars are the exception and get some sort of recognition.
Eddie Van Halen was just too big to ignore. While the Times placed Van Halen on October 7th front page, it put him below the fold. When Prince died in 2016 the Times placed him above the fold. Van Halen, who leaves a colossal musical and cultural footprint deserved to be above the fold. The legendary Chuck Berry, arguably one of the the most important rock stars ever, also was placed below the fold when he died in 2017. Chuck Berry should have been on the top of the front page.
If you have access to the agendacized daily, you will notice how print space has dried up in the obituary section for truly deserving musical personages.
A few years ago we did a story on how frequently the Times will commemorate a person of questionable credentials, but ignore the death of many people in the entertainment industry who have made huge positive impacts on the world. This is especially true in rock n’ roll where the Times turns a blind eye and deaf ear, especially to hard rock and heavy metal deaths.
Somehow, over the past few months, the paper of record omitted obituaries for Steve Priest bass player, singer and co-founder of The Sweet; Pete Way bass player and co-founder of UFO, Fastway and Waysted; guitarist Paul Chapman, also of UFO; Lee Kerslake drummer for Ozzy Osbourne and Uriah Heep; and Franke Banali drummer for Quiet Riot and W.A.S.P..
They also omitted Martin Birch’s death in August, despite his position as a megastar rock record producer and engineer.
We’ll remedy the paper’s omission with a very brief summary and acknowledgment that the musicians we mentioned have passed. But they leave behind work that will be enjoyed forever by countless music fans.
Are You Ready Steve?
Steve Priest was always ready for wild shenanigans. The memorable drum beat beginning of Ballroom Blitz begins with The Sweet lead singer Brian Connolly asking each band member if they’re ready,
The British glam star Steve Priest died in La Cañada Flintridge, CA June 4, 2020, No cause of death was ever given by the family. He leaves behind wife Maureen O’Connor whom he married in 1982 and children Danielle and Maggie. Priest’s ex-wife Patricia Randall and daughter Lisa survive him as well.
Steve Priest was not just the bass player of The Sweet; he wrote songs, sang back-up and later was the lead singer after original singer Brian Connolly (b. 1945) left the band in 1979. Connolly who died in 1997, would have turned 75, today, October 5.
The original band was active from 1968-1982 charting numerous hits while selling more than 35 million albums. The Sweet were often cited for taking glam rock to new and outrageous levels. Priest once wore WWI German military regalia on the BBC’s Top of the Pops while performing their number one hit Blockbuster. When asked in 2010 about the performance Priest said, “It’s amazing how everyone still talks about the Nazi uniform. Good old BBC wardrobe department. People always want to know if I was serious. I mean, a gay Hitler. Hello?!”
Joe Elliot from Def Leppard, Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue and Gene Simmons of KISS have all credited The Sweet as their inspiration.
The Sweet’s songs have been covered by dozens of bands. When asked if there were any cover versions he particularly liked Priest replied, “Set Me Free by Saxon and Action by Def Leppard. I met Def Leppard and told them I like their cover.”
Priest settled in the United States after 1982 and returned to performing in 2008 after seeing Eric Clapton live. Realizing Clapton was older than him, Priest said there’s no reason I shouldn’t be up there doing that. The Sweet’s guitarist Andy Scott has his own version of the band which stays in Europe while Priest’s version of The Sweet stuck to touring the U.S.for the last dozen years.
Priest’s influence remained wide and his passing left the rock world saddened. When he died many musicians wrote tributes on their social media feeds.
Dave Ellefson of Megadeth said that Priest was “without parallel”. Sweet “gave me one of my earliest memories of great hard rock on the radio as a kid and 1974’s Desolation Boulevard still holds up as one of rock’s greatest albums from that period.”
“RIP Steve Priest,” wrote Nancy Wilson of Heart. “A brave glam rocker and man.”
“As you might imagine, I am definitely a Sweet fan,” said Dee Snider, lead singer of Twisted Sister. “Sad that so many of the original band are now gone.”
Sweet were usually required by the networks to lip-synch on TV performances. This video shows the prowess of the band, all four members playing and singing Teenage Rampage live in 1974.
Pete Way – The Reason So Many 80s Metal Bands Wore Spandex Pants
The supremely talented bass player Pete Way died at age 69 on August 14, 2020, several months after falling down the stairs in his home. Way had been married and divorced several times. His last wife Jenny, met Pete when she was assigned to be his publicist.
Way co-founded UFO in 1968 and played with them until 1982. He rejoined the band from 1988-1989 and once again from 1991 – 2008.
Way’s influence in bass playing and stage performance ran wide among rock n’ roll legends, from Geddy Lee of Rush to most notably Steve Harris of Iron Maiden. A generation of bands ran out to get spandex after seeing Way performing in his famous striped stretchy pants.
Despite selling millions of albums worldwide, UFO never really broke through commercially. Way went on to form Fastway, with “Fast Eddie” Clarke of Motörhead in 1983, but never recorded with the band, unable to extricate himself from his Chrysalis recording contract. Fast Eddie said Way, without explanation, never showed up when it came time to play in the studio. Instead Way went on tour with Ozzy Osbourne. Fastway, without Way, was still a success.
Way also created Waysted with former UFO guitarist Paul Chapman, vocalist Fin Muir, drummer Frank Noon and guitarist Ron Kayfield.
Herman Rarebell former drummer for Scorpions always believed Way would die an unnatural death due to his proclivity for illicit substances.
Rarebell told Blabbermouth.net, “Pete was a character. He was one of those rock stars like Keith Richards and those guys — everybody knows him.”
“Pete was our first bass player of Temple of Rock, Basically, he’s a really good bass player, but the problem always in his life was the alcohol and the drugs. That’s what me and Michael Schenker always thought — he would sooner or later die of that.” Rarebell continued, “When we rehearsed, Pete always had shorts on and a t-shirt — in the winter time. He never had a cold — nothing. So I said always to Michael, ‘I know why he has nothing. As soon as the bacteria flies in Pete’s mouth, the bacteria is immediately dead.’
Paul Chapman A Brilliant Guitarist
Paul Chapman, Way’s longtime band mate, passed away in Florida, on June 9 ,2020, his 66th birthday. Chapman’s third wife Debby, whom he married in 2001, predeceased him in 2018.
Chapman was not overtly flashy, but he was a force on stage and could rival any guitarist with his chops.
Lee Kerslake – Nicknamed The Bear But Described By All As A “Kind Man”
Lee Kerslake, drummer for Ozzy Osbourne and Uriah Heep died September 19, 2020 at age 73 after a five year battle with cancer.
In 1972 Kerslake recorded the album Demons and Wizards for Uriah Heep amd remained with the band for nine more albums until 1978. Kerslake drummed and sang back-up vocals on the band’s biggest hit Easy Livin’. He rejoined Uriah Heep in 1982 and remained with them until 2005 recording another 16 albums.
In between his gig with Heep, Kerslake joined Ozzy Osbourne’s new “solo” band in 1980 after Ozzy was dismissed from Black Sabbath. Kerslake recorded two masterpiece albums with Ozzy, Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman and a live EP.
Frankie Banali – Dedicated To Keeping Quiet Riot Alive
Drummer Frankie Banali died the day after Kerslake, September 20, 2020 at age 68. Banali had revealed the previous year he had pancreatic cancer. Banali’s first wife Karen died form heart failure in 2009 at age 40. He is survived by his second wife Regina Russell Banali whom he married in 2015.
Regina Banali made a great documentary Well You’re Now Here There;s No Way Back, about Banali and his quest to keep Quiet Riot going after the death of lead singer Kevin Dubrow. It is well worth watching to understand the dedication it takes to be a musician and in a band. It was recently still available on Showtime on Demand and Netflix.
Banali recorded 13 albums with Quiet Riot and eight albums with W.A.S.P..
None of these musicians was deemed worthy a Times obituary. They were simply ignored or passed over for more notable candidates in the days after their deaths.
The Times did however run an “Overlooked No More” obituary for the heinous, untalented Valerie Solanas who shot Andy Warhol. The paper also reported the deaths of Soraya Santiago Solla, “Transgender Trailblazer” and Neelanshu Shukla, Indian Television Journalist. While each of these people may have been important within their spheres of influence, are they really more noteworthy than musicians who bring joy to millions of people?
To the Times obit editors, apparently not.
ADDENDUM / UPDATE 10/6-7 This article was updated on October 7, to add the death of Eddie Van Halen.
I only recently learned that Phil May of the Pretty Things died. That was the band that David Gilmour said the Rolliing Stones wanted to be. They also recorded the first rock opera, “S.F. Sorrow”, before the Who’s “Tommy”.
The Times printed May’s obituary. Interesting. They still miss way too many musicians.
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