Obituaries, June 9, 2022
This week's notices feature musicians Kelly Joe Phelps, Jim Seals, Alec John Such, and Trouble.
By FYI Staff
Kelly Joe Phelps, the celebrated singer and guitarist whose music traversed blues, country and jazz, has died aged 62. A post on his Facebook page said he died “quietly at home in Iowa”.
Phelps was raised in a musical family and first trained as a jazz musician, but broadened his playing after being inspired by artists such as Mississippi Fred McDowell.
His debut album, Lead Me On, was released in 1994 and has endured, earning millions of streams. He moved to the Rykodisc label for his 1997 release, Roll Away the Stone, and released nine further albums, ending with Brother Sinner and the Whale in 2012. Later in his career, Phelps suffered from a nerve disorder in his right arm.
Country star Jason Isbell wrote: “His beautiful music was certainly an influence and he was a kind man and generous with his time.” Phelps’ producer, Canadian Steve Dawson (who released two Phelps albums on his Black Hen label), described a mercurial and hugely talented musician: “I saw him go from a lap guitar-wielding bluesman to a hardcore troubadour to an avant-garde improviser to a pretty monstrous flatpicker, banjo frailer, and finally finding some peace and inspiration on bottleneck slide guitar. It was always a wild ride and he never took the easy path.” Sources: Facebook, The Guardian
Jim (James Eugene) Seals, who as part of the duo Seals and Crofts crafted memorably wistful 1970s hits like Summer Breeze and Diamond Girl, died on June 6, at age 80. No cause of death was immediately given.
Variety notes that “With Jim Seals as the primary lead vocalist of the harmonizing duo, Seals and Crofts came to be the very emblem of “soft rock” with a run of hits that lasted for only about six years. Although none of the pair’s hits ever reached No. 1 on the Hot 100, their biggest songs were for a time as ubiquitous as any that did top the chart. Summer Breeze in 1972 and Diamond Girl in 1973 both reached No. 6, as did a more upbeat song in 1976, Get Closer, sung with Carolyn Willis. Four more ‘70s singles made it to the adult contemporary chart’s top 10: “We May Never Pass This Way (Again)” in ’73, “I’ll Play for You” in ’75, “Goodbye Old Buddies” in ’77 and “You’re the Love” in ’78.
Both members of the duo were deeply embedded in the peace-loving Baha’i faith from the late ’60s forward. The duo broke up in 1980, followed by a couple of very fleeting reunions in the early ’90s and early 2000s, which generated only one album after their original run, the little-noticed Traces in 2004
For several years in the late ’50s and early ’60s, both Seals and Dash Crofts — who survives his partner — were members of the Champs, although they joined after that band had recorded its signature hit, Tequila. Seals played sax in that group and Crofts was on drums. Abandoning their former instruments for something more folk-rock-friendly, Seals took up the guitar and Crofts learned the mandolin.
Their first three Seals and Crofts albums, between 1969-71, went little-noticed, but their third album in 1972, Summer Breeze, caught on.
The duo stirred controversy in 1974 by recording an anti-abortion song, Unborn Child, as their album’s track in 1974 in the wake of the Roe v. Wade decision. The belief that abortion was wrong came out of their shared Baha’i beliefs, and they released it over the objections of their label, Warner Bros.
After they broke up in 1980, Seals moved to Costa Rica with his wife, Ruby, where they were reported to have run a coffee farm as they raised their three children, and Crofts and his family moved to Mexico and eventually Australia.
Seals, who later moved to Nashville, was considered to have been retired from a music career even before he suffered a stroke in 2017 that put a halt to his playing. But he did occasionally return to music in the intervening years, as when he toured with his brother Dan (aka England Dan) as Seals and Seals.
In a Facebook tribute, famed Toronto composer/producer Jack Lenz noted that Seals "was inspired by the Baha’i Teachings and expressed them in a poetic and enduring way. God bless his profound and creative soul." Sources: Variety, The Guardian
Alec John Such, a bassist founding member of Bon Jovi, has died at the age of 70, Jon Bon Jovi announced on social media on June 5. A cause of death is as yet unknown.
Bon Jovi posted that “He was an original. As a founding member of Bon Jovi, Alec was integral to the formation of the band. … To be honest, we found our way to each other thru him — He was a childhood friend of Tico [Torres] and brought Richie [Sambora] to see us perform. Alec was always wild and full of life. Today these special memories bring a smile to my face and a tear to my eye. We will miss him dearly.”
Born in Yonkers, New York, John Such played in an earlier band with Sambora, the Message, before ultimately joining Bon Jovi. In the early 1980s, he was the manager of what was then the Hunka Bunka Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ. Variety reports that "it was there where he booked Jon Bon Jovi & the Wild Ones, seeing the potential of a young musician with a mission. John Such brought Torres and Sambora into the band, while Bon Jovi brought in his childhood friend David Bryan, who had been a part of an earlier band, Atlantic City Expressway."
The band’s third album, Slippery When Wet, would end up selling 12 million copies and its follow-up, 1988’s New Jersey, scored even more hit songs. John Such remained in the band before his departure in 1994. He was replaced by bassist Hugh McDonald, who became an official member of the band in 2016.
When the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018, John Such was reunited with the group and gave an eloquent speech. “When Jon Bon Jovi called me up and asked me to be in his band many years ago, I soon realized how serious he was and he had a vision that he wanted to bring us to, and I am too happy to have been a part of that vision,” he said. Sources: Variety, AP
Trouble (real name Mariel Semonte Orr), an Atlanta rapper who recorded with Drake, The Weeknd and others, was shot and killed in a home invasion on June 5, aged 34.
As Trouble, Orr released his debut mixtape in 2011, the first in a series of nine mixtape releases interspersed with guest appearances with artists such as Lupe Fiasco and Young Thug. In 2018, celebrated producer Mike Will Made It signed Orr to his label and produced the entirety of his debut album Edgewood, which features artists including Drake, The Weeknd, Quavo, Offset and Fetty Wap.
Drake posted a commemorative image of Orr on his Instagram account, while Def Jam Records called Orr “a true voice for his city and an inspiration to the community he proudly represented”. Gucci Mane, Juicy J and TI were among the other rappers paying tribute to Orr. Sources: The Guardian, LA Times