Obituaries, Aug. 4, 2022
This week we acknowledge the passing of record industry executive John King, record label head Mo Ostin, producer/entrepreneur Sandy Roberton, and musicians Archie Roach and Jimy Sohns.
By Kerry Doole
John King , co-founder of famed Memphis studio and record label Ardent, died on July 31, age 78.
King joined John Fry and and Fred Smith (later founder of Federal Express) in starting Ardent as a record label and studio in the early 60s. After a modest beginning, both flourished in the '70s and '80s, and Ardent Studios remains in operation today.
Studio clients in the '70s included Led Zeppelin, Leon Russell, James Taylor, Big Star, Isaac Hayes, Sam and Dave, the Staple Singers, and Booker T. and the MGs. Ardent became a second home for Stax artists, and in the early 1970s, Ardent Records became a Stax distributed label. Unfortunately, Stax got caught up in its CBS Records quagmire, and some of Ardent’s greatest albums, including Big Star’s #1 Record and Radio City, did not reach a wide audience until years later.
By 1980, Ardent comprised three studios, and clients included ZZ Top, Freddie King, John Prine, Cheap Trick, and Joe Cocker, and, later, Bob Dylan, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Steve Earle and The Vaughan Brothers. After Ardent alumnus Alex Chilton brought in the Cramps, the studio became popular with such alternative and modern rock bands as Green On Red, the Replacements, R.E.M., the Georgia Satellites, the Gin Blossoms, the Tragically Hip, Cat Power, and the Afghan Whigs.
John King worked in promotion for Ardent Records in the 1970s, and he was the man responsible for the infamous 1973 Rock Writers’ Convention. Funded by Stax, it brought critics such as Lester Bangs and Nick Tosches to Memphis to see Big Star perform. King later published a radio magazine, and more recently, programmed internet radio.
King was also a record collector of note, and the gift of his archive — 30,000 45 rpm singles, 10,000 LPs, 20,000 CDs and more than 1,000 other pieces of musical ephemera — would form the foundation of the Memphis Listening Lab audio library which opened at the Crosstown Concourse in 2021. Sources: Ardent Studios, Wikipedia, Memphis Flyer, Memphis Commercial Appeal
– Mo Ostin (born Morris Meyer Ostrofsky) the famed US record executive who signed the Kinks and Jimi Hendrix and presided over Warner/Reprise records for three decades, died on July 31, aged 95, of natural causes.
“Mo Ostin was one of a kind,” said record executive Clive Davis. “And the company he chaired was totally unique in its very special management and, of course, the depth of artistry which affected contemporary music and culture so profoundly and so historically.”
The Guardian reports that "Ostin was headhunted from Verve Records by Reprise founder Frank Sinatra in 1960, where he worked primarily with classic pop and jazz acts. Sinatra had 'divined that the thrust of the company should be its artists,' Ostin said in Exploding, Stan Cornyn’s 2002 history of Warner Music Group. “It all seems logical today, but back then it was truly revolutionary.”
When the label was bought out by Warner Bros three years later, Ostin was promoted to an executive role and brought the label into the modern age, also signing acts such as the Fugs and Tiny Tim. In 1969, Warner/Reprise, Atlantic Records and Elektra Records launched a national distributor, WEA, which within five years spoke for nearly a quarter of the US record market.
Ostin was named chairman/CEO of Warner/Reprise in 1972, a role he held until 1994. During that time, the label released era-defining records by the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, the Grateful Dead, Paul Simon and Randy Newman.
The roster would later include Steely Dan, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Prince, Van Halen, the Who, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and – following a distribution deal with Sire – Madonna and Talking Heads.
In 1995, he joined DreamWorks Records, the entertainment company founded by David Geffen, Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg. Alongside his son, a former Warner A&R executive, and former Warner A&R chief and president Lenny Waronker, Ostin signed artists such as Elliott Smith, Rufus Wainwright and Nelly Furtado, while Randy Newman joined them at the label.
In 2003, Ostin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Paul Simon, Neil Young and Lorne Michaels. In 2006, he rejoined Warner Bros as a consultant, and received the Icon award from the Recording Academy “in honour of his contribution to the landscape of modern music”.
– Archie (Archibald William) Roach, an Australian singer/songwriter, Bundjalung Senior Elder, and Aboriginal activist, died on July 30, after a long illness, at age 66.
Roach became a campaigner for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. His wife and musical partner was the singer Ruby Hunter (1955–2010).
Roach first made a mark with his first ever song Took the Children Away, which featured on his 1990 debut solo album, Charcoal Lane. Telling the story of the Stolen Generations and his own experience of being forcibly removed from his family, it has been termed one of his country's most important songs. The album was certified gold and awarded two ARIA Awards at the 1991 ceremony.
It was followed by the albums Jamu Dreaming (1993), and Looking for Butter Boy (1997). He went on to release seven more albums, and earlier this year he released his career-spanning anthology My Songs: 1989–2021, which was subsequently nominated as the Album of the Year for the 2022 National Indigenous Music Awards two weeks before his death.
Roach's work has been recognised by numerous nominations and awards, including a Deadly Award for a Lifetime Contribution to Healing the Stolen Generations in 2013. At the 2020 ARIA Music Awards, Roach was inducted into their hall of fame. His 2019 memoir and accompanying album were called Tell Me Why.
His children, Amos and Eban Roach, announced the news of his passing on July 30 and stated "We are so proud of everything our dad achieved in his remarkable life. He was a healer and unifying force. His music brought people together. A private ceremony will follow."
Leading Australian and Canadian musicians were quick to post tributes on social media.
Paul Kelly: "Archie Roach. Big tree down. Weeping in the forest."
Vika & Linda Bull: "One of our first ever studio sessions was singing on Charcoal Lane with Archie Roach. He had one of the greatest voices we’ve ever heard, and it was an honour to sing with him. We will never forget you Archie."
Triple J Radio stated that "Roach was an unmatched artist and immense political force throughout his life. He leaves a legacy of empathy and tireless striving for justice."
James Keelaghan: "Archie Roach is a mighty voice. May his songs live forever. My heartfelt condolences to his family and community."
Canadian producer/musician Malcolm Burn produced Roach's 1997 album Looking For Butter Boy, and he offered this homage to FYI. "Archie gave the world the gift of understanding and respecting the earth through song. "Be careful where you walk because a child was born here" tells of the ancestral knowledge that wherever there is a tree, that is where a child was born. If you know the landscape of Australia this is something you will understand even more acutely. Thank you Arch for the beauty of your music and your life story."
– Sandy (Alexander William) Roberton, a British record producer, manager and music business owner, died on July 27, of cancer, age 80.
He is credited with pioneering the management business around producers and engineers, after making his own mark as a producer.
Early on, as a member of the duo Rick and Sandy, he recorded several singles for Mercury and Decca Records, including Lost My Girl. He also released a solo single for Columbia under the name Sandy, covering Neil Diamond’s Solitary Man, and then for Polydor as Lucien Alexander covering Bob Dylan’s Baby You’ve Been on My Mind.
From there, he entered publishing at the time of the late‑’60s British blues boom. He ran the London office of Chess Records’ publishing companies and Lowery Music, before partnering in the publishing companies of Mike & Richard Vernon’s Blue Horizon Records.
Through the ’70s, Roberton moved to production and management. He produced the first three albums by U.K. folk rock band Steeleye Span and launched his own company September Productions, where he worked with such acts as The Liverpool Scene, Andy Roberts, Decameron, Keith Christmas, Shirley Collins, Plainsong, John Martyn, and Harold McNair, among many others. He also formed his own record company, Rockburgh Records, releasing works by Gay and Terry Woods, Ian Matthews, Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons, and The Woods Band, to name a few.
By 1980, Roberton formed Worlds End Producer Management with his partner Paul Brown in Chelsea, London, then, in 1985, he moved the company to Los Angeles, becoming its sole owner. Over the following decades, Worlds End prevailed as one of music’s leading producer and engineer management firms with over 75 clients during the ’90s and early 2000s, according to the company’s website, including The Matrix — the producer collective of Lauren Christy, Graham Edwards and Scott Spock that broke out producing Avril Lavigne’s hits off the singer’s 2002 Let Go album.
– Jimy Sohns, singer of famed garage rock band Shadows of Knight, died on July 29, after a stroke, at age 80.
The Chicago Sun-Times noted that The Shadows of Knight were among the biggest garage bands and rockers to come out of Chicago in the late 1960s. The group was “one of the archetypes of garage rock and helped define Chicago rock ‘n’ roll,” according to Stevie Van Zandt of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band."
The Shadows remade Gloria, which Van Morrison wrote and recorded with his band Them, and their version was a major US hit in 1966. The group appeared on national TV and toured with Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars. The group performed with bands including AC/DC and the Rolling Stones.
Sohns co-wrote the “B” side of Gloria — “Dark Side,” a song later featured on the soundtrack for the 2019 movie Ford v Ferrari, starring Christian Bale and Matt Damon.
“He was a born rocker, an amazing singer, the loudest voice of any human being I have ever heard,” said Jim Peterik of the Ides of March.
In 1983, Sohns was sentenced to prison for selling cocaine to undercover agents. While serving time at East Moline Correctional Center, he led the band Jimy Sohns and the Cons. Sources: Chicago Sun-Times, Chris Morris