Drummer and singer/songwriter Robert Wyatt was born Robert Wyatt-Ellidge on January 28, 1945, in Bristol, England. Wyatt is one of the founding members of the influential psychedelic-era rock band Soft Machine. During a party in 1973, Wyatt fell from a third-floor window, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. His U.K. hits include the 1974 version of The Monkees' "I'm a Believer" and the 1982 title "Shipbuilding," written by Elvis Costello. Collaborations include Brian Eno, Nick Mason, Carla Bley, Mike Oldfield, and Phil Manzanera. He is married to English painter and songwriter Alfreda Benge. Wyatt's voice is an extraordinary thing--his songwriting and production are nothing less than groundbreaking. "Just As You Are," from the 2007 album Comicopera, co-written by Wyatt and Benge, is eerie genius.
Artist: Robert Wyatt
Song: Just As You Are
Tony Joe White
"Swamp rock" pioneer guitarist and singer/songwriter Tony Joe White was born in Oak Grove, Louisiana, in 1943. White was raised on a cotton farm, cash-poor but rich with a love of gospel and country music inherited from his parents. As a young man, White hit the road to Memphis, but fatefully turned the wheel to Nashville, where he made his bones. In White's 40-plus-year career, his collaborations have included Waylon Jennings, Mark Knopfler, Shelby Lynne, Michael McDonald, David Briggs, and J.J. Cale. He has toured with Creedence Clearwater Revival, James Taylor, Eric Clapton, and Joe Cocker, to name a few. White's songs have been covered by Elvis Presley, Brook Benton, Tom Jones, and Tina Turner, among others. The 1969 recording of "Polk Salad Annie," from the album Black and White, is completely timeless and gets even better with age.
Grammy-winning "Queen of the Blues" Cora Walton (a.k.a. Koko Taylor) was born in 1928 in a small town near Memphis, Tennessee. Koko and her five brothers and sisters grew up poor on a sharecropper's farm. As a child, Koko developed a deep love of gospel, blues, and chocolate (hence her nickname). By the age of 11, Koko and her siblings were orphaned. After marrying, Koko held a variety of jobs, but would sit in with Chicago blues acts, until the early '60s, when Willie Dixon recognized her greatness, and she found her calling. With a career spanning five decades, she has collaborated with Junior Wells, Muddy Waters, Robert Plant, Howlin' Wolf, B.B. King, and Buddy Guy, to name a few. Her voice is a monument. The 1966 recording "Wang Dang Doodle," from the album Deluxe Edition: Koko Taylor, is a serious must-have.
Artist: Koko Taylor
Song: Wang Dang Doodle
Album: Deluxe Edition: Koko Taylor
Master composer John Williams was born on New York's Long Island in 1932, into a musical family, relocating to Los Angeles in 1948. After serving in the military, where Williams led the Air Force band, he studied piano at Julliard in New York City. On his return to L.A., Williams hurtled into his film career working with legends Elmer Bernstein, Bernard Herrmann, Henry Mancini, and Franz Waxman. Credits include Star Wars, War of the Worlds, E.T., Superman, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Valley of the Dolls. Williams, with 45 Oscar nominations, is the most-nominated living composer. He's won five Oscars, twenty Grammys, seven British Academy Awards (BAFTA), four Emmys, and four Golden Globes. The drama and timbre of the brilliant and classic Jaws (1974) to this day is utterly terrifying. Enjoy a good swim in the ocean with John Williams's "Theme (From 'Jaws')," from the album John Williams: Greatest Hits, 1969-1999.
Artist: John Williams
Song: Theme (From "Jaws")
Album: John Williams: Greatest Hits, 1969-1999
Chicago-based experimental instrumental band Tortoise was founded in 1990 by Doug McCombs (bass, six-string bass, lap steel), Johnny "Machine" Herndon (drums, percussion, vibraphone, xylophone, keyboards, drum programming), John McEntire (guitar, drums, percussion, EML 101, marimba, drum programming, melodica, etc.), and Bundy K. Brown (bass guitar). By 1998, when the iconic "post-rock" group released their third studio album TNT, Dan Bitney (drums, hand percussion, guitar, keyboards, drum programming), Jeff Parker (guitar, vibes, keyboards), and Dave Pajo (bass, guitar) had joined up, with Brown exiting. Tortoise's jazz-infused electronic sound leaves an alternatingly saturnine and joyful aftertaste. "Ten-Day Interval," from TNT, is an exquisite and elegant transmission.
Song: Ten-Day Interval
Pop singer and DJ Annie was born Anne Lilia Berge Strand in Trondheim, Norway, in 1978, the daughter of a church organist. Sadly losing her father to cancer when she was 7, Annie was raised by her mother, who moved the family to the rainy town of Bergen when Annie was a teen. She started her career at 16, and had a hit dance record in 1999, but then her recording partner/boyfriend DJ Erot, 23, suffered an ultimately fatal heart condition. Annie came back with the 2005 album Anniemal. Annie's sound is a balance of straight-up underground dance pop and striking melodies. Her voice is sugary and very listenable. "Heartbeat," from Anniemal, goes well with that first cup of coffee in the morning.
Genre: Dance Pop