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Obituaries: Fearless Music Photographer Dee Lippingwell, Talking Heads Engineer Eric Thorngren

This week we also acknowledge the passing of B.C. record label rep Bruce Bissell, MC5 drummer Dennis Machine Gun Thompson and New Zealand singer/guitarist Willie Hona.

Dee Lippingwell

Dee Lippingwell

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Dee Lippingwell, a B.C.-based rock photographer recognised as one of Canada's most prolific, died on May 9, at age 78, of cancer.

Over a 50 year career that began with work for The Georgia Straight and then national monthly music magazine Music Express, Lippingwell shot a Who's Who of major international rock stars, plus hundreds of Canadian artists.


Born in Vancouver, Lippingwell spent much of her childhood in Trail, B.C., before returning to Vancouver. In recent years, she lived in Surrey, B.C.

An obituary in the Surrey Now Leader noted that "early on, Bob Geldof was an admirer of her work, but didn’t have a chance to hire her at Vancouver’s Georgia Straight before the then-editor/writer bolted back to England to pursue a career on concert stages and, eventually, plan the Live Aid concert. 'When he came back with the Boomtown Rats to play the Commodore,' Lippingwell recalled, 'he saw me in the crowd and (mouthed), ‘Ah, you got the job!’"

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Her work in that underground paper caught the attention of Keith Sharp, managing editor of the then fledgling Calgary-based music paper Music Express. In an interview with SocialNRG, Lippingwell recalled that "Keith approached me in, I think, 1977. He came out to Vancouver and saw my portfolio. I was initially hesitant to be affiliated with a Calgary newspaper, but his partner, Conny Kunz, talked me into it."

As the profile and circulation of Music Express grew significantly across Canada and into the US in the 1980s, so too did the exposure of Lippingwell's concert photography.

Surrey Now Leaderreported that "in recent years Lippingwell worked to catalogue images of the estimated 3,500 concerts she’d photographed since her very first, a Pink Floyd gig in Vancouver back in 1973.

"The Rolling Stones, Queen, Aerosmith, David Bowie, Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Eric Clapton, KISS, Van Halen – Lippingwell photographed them all over the past five decades, for publications around the world. 'When I started, it was really difficult for me to get in because everybody thought I was a groupie,' she said in 2012. I kept saying, ‘No, I’m a mom and I want to do this for my career.’"

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She was inducted into the B.C. Country Music Hall of Fame in April 2011, an honour in part based on her extensive work with the Merritt Mountain Music Festival, the popular country music event in B.C.’s Interior. From 1992 to 2009, Lippingwell and her husband Paul were the fest's main photographers, and, during the Covid downtime, she collected select photos from the event for a coffee-table book on the event.

Published in 2021, Memories from the Mountain: Star Performance Editionfeatured photos of such country stars as Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Judds, Brooks & Dunn, Loretta Lynn, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, Dwight Yoakam, Tim McGraw, Randy Travis, Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Johnny Reid, Pam Tillis, Clint Black, Anne Murray, Ian Tyson, Dr. Hook, Merle Haggard, George Canyon, Dierks Bentley and many more. Thatwas Lippingwell's third book, following 1987's The Best Seat in the House, and 2012's First Three Songs… No Flash (the title alluding to the instructions oft given to concert photographers before a show begins).

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Back in 2004, a Georgia Straight feature noted that "With 30 years' experience to her name, Dee Lippingwell is one of Vancouver's most well-known rock photographers. The self-taught shutterbug is currently exhibiting some of her work at the Media Club in Vancouver, including concert shots of Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Rod Stewart, the Clash, Bob Dylan, Pete Townshend, Mick Jagger, and Eric Clapton."

In a feature on that show, The Georgia Straight wrote that "With all that time in the trenches, Lippingwell has some war stories to tell. 'I've had ribs cracked and toes broken,' she told the Straight. The photog recalled one stormy night in Buffalo in the early '80s when she was trying to get a shot of Mick Jagger at a Rolling Stones concert. The pit had been closed because of the weather and she was trying to get a shot from the audience, but every time Jagger came to her side of the stage 'the girls' hands would go up.' Aid came in the form of a Hells Angel who hoisted her up onto his shoulders. I got the ultimate shot of Mick Jagger, ta-da,' Lippingwell said. When she returned to her seat, though, she found she'd cracked a couple of ribs."

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An in-person encounter with Jagger some years later found Lippingwell the most starstruck in her career. In a 2021 interview with McGill University music publication Counterpoint, she recalled that "When I met Mick Jagger I discovered that I had cotton balls in my mouth. I couldn’t speak and my brain froze, and he laughed at me and walked away. That was in the concert green room down in Seattle, when I was working for Rock Express magazine out of Toronto."

A 2011 profile in The Trail Times observed that "Nowadays, she’s out of the dark room and hooked up to her computer more, editing her pictures to perfection. And while music still doesn’t pay her bills, she manages to balance mainstream photography – capturing weddings, family portraits and catalogue shots – with her passion to make music memories."

Lippingwell was a very popular figure in the Canadian music industry, and many biz notables have paid tribute in recent days.

Hitmaker and Bryan Adams writing partner Jim Vallance offered this to Billboard Canada: "If you were lucky enough to live a hundred years, you wouldn't come across a lovelier, more classy, more talented, more humble person than Dee Lippingwell."

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Canadian music business luminary Denise Donlon (MuchMusic, Sony Music Canada) was a longtime close friend of Lippingwell and she gave Billboard Canada this tribute: "Dee Lippingwell was not only a fiercely gifted photographer (it took more than stage barriers and a wall of security to keep her from her money shot) - but she was an adventurous, hilarious, and truly loyal human being who would ride with you to hell and back laughing all the way, and oh my goodness her laugh could light up a room.

"When I arrived in Vancouver all new and insecure, it was Dee who took me under her enormous wings and showed me who was who and what was what and I’ll be forever grateful. Wearing my Dee scarf with pride and grief and sending strength and love to her husband Paul, her kids and grandchildren."

Tonni Ferguson Maruyama of Epitaph Canada posted this on Facebook: "Dee Lippingwell, you captured infinity, and those artists will live forever in your photographs. You had the kindest heart. Farewell, for now."

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BC-based visual artist and photographer RaeAnne Schacter gave this tribute to Billboard Canada: " We published Dee's dynamic images when I was Photo Editor at Music Expressin Toronto. When looking at her images I could feel the energy of the show itself.

"Then, when I moved to Vancouver, it was immediately evident she was the Queen of music photography and a supportive member of the music community. She put my name forward to get work shooting Music West which helped me settle in nicely. Sincere condolences to her family and friends."

In an official announcement of her passing, Dee Lipingwell's family stated that "We would like to thank all of her friends for the messages over the last few months, we made sure she got each one."

"In lieu of flowers, please make a donation in memory of Dee to the Happy Liver Society or Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue. Celebration of life at a later date. Tributes and stories about Dee can be sent to noflashpublishing@gmail.com and will be passed onto the family."

Here is an extensive interview with Lippingwell from a couple of years ago.

Bruce Bissell, a B.C.-based musician, magician and record label promo representative, died on May 6, at age 81, of cancer.

A death notice in The Vancouver Sun noted that "He had the pleasure of knowing and working with many different people from around the world. From performing in bands, to looking after artists like Sonny & Cher, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Bobby Darin, Joe Cocker, Deep Purple, The Kinks, Trini Lopez, Rob Stewart & the Faces, Ozzy Osbourne and Gino Vannelli, plus many more.

"When he started his own business he loved performing his magic shows, theme packages to Halloween displays."

Bissell started his career in Kelowna with a rock group called The Kels, and went on to play on the CBC-TV show Music Hop as a regular for almost three years, prior to working for record labels on the promotion side.

Fellow BC record label rep Ray Ramsay (author of a memoir, Promo Monkey: My Life as a BellHop in the Waldorf Hysteria) told Billboard Canada that Bissell "beat the streets for A&M and Warner Music in the 70's and was highly dedicated. I knew him from 1970 and grew into friends and later great neighbors in the steaming metropolis of Ladner."

Ramsay recently visited Bissell in hospital, and he tells Billboard Canada that "we had a good chat and made plans for when he got sprung and his book came out; he’s already in mine. He had some GREAT Music/Entertainment stories, my favorite being his fracas with Led Zeppelin who tried to make off with his Gold record plaque! They picked the wrong night to bang heads with him.

"While Promo Reps are largely unknown to the great unwashed public (and so they should be) a ton of people in the Music and Entertainment bidness know Bruce or wish they did. Bruce and I were long term Vets from the Golden (or other precious metal) age of Music. While we were both competitors for various labels we got along very well and remained great friends."

In lieu of flowers, a donation to the WWF foundation in his honour to carry on his love of animals would be appreciated.

A celebration of life will be held in June or July. Please follow or reach out to his son Jason Bissell on Facebook for more details.

International

Willie (Wiremu) Hona, singer and guitarist for New Zealand reggae band Herbs, died on May 5, at age 70, from pancreatic cancer.

Hona began his career in Face with Mark Williams, a Kiwi vocal star who now fronts Dragon. In 1983 he released She Needs You and it reached #41 on the New Zealand Charts.

Hona joined Herbs in 1983 for their third album Long Ago. Their biggest hit was "Slice of Heaven" from the Footrot Flats movie featuring Dave Dobbyn on vocals, and the band's Polynesian take on the reggae form had a big impact in N.Z.

He appeared on two albums, Long Ago (1984) and Sensitive to a Smile (1987) and on multiple singles. He left the band in late 1988.

N.Z. music websiteAudioculture notes that "Hona toured under his own steam and released the 1991 album Keep An Open Heart, recorded at home with former and then current Herbs players and in California with members of west coast country rock bands The Rowan Brothers and Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen."

"Since 1996 he made his home in Australia, working nonstop as a solo artist, in duos or with pickup bands, firstly on the Whitsunday Coast, Queensland, and then in Northern NSW."

Hona was inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame with Herbs in 2012.

Read an extensive profile here.

Dennis "Machine Gun" Thompson, the high-energy drummer for the MC5 and the last surviving member of the pioneering proto-punk band, died on May 8, at the age of 75. He had a heart attack in April.

Q reports that "At the time of his death, Thompson had high hopes for being able to attend the induction of the MC5 into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in the Musical Excellence category, having learned the news from Becky Tyner, widow of MC5 vocalist Rob Tyner, while still in recovery at Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital. Thompson’s initial reaction, per Tyner: 'It's about f--king time!'"

TheBillboard obituary noted that "Thompson was the last surviving member of the band, who are set to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this fall. Thompson was preceded in death by singer Rob Tyner, guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith, bassist Michael Davis and guitarist Wayne Kramer, the last of which died in February of this year.

Thompson joined MC5 in 1965. While the band had little commercial success initially and its core lineup did not last beyond the early 1970s, its legacy endured, both for its sound and for its fusing of music to political action. During their time as a band, they released three studio albums, 1969’s Kick Out the Jams, 1970’s Back in the USA and 1971’s High Time.

From 1971-75, Thompson played alongside Ron Asheton of The Stooges in the band New Order (not to be confused with the post-Joy Division group of that name) and then in Australian-based New Race, The Motor City Bad Boys and The Secrets.

Read the full Billboardobituary here and a far-reaching interview here.

Eric (E.T.) Thorngren, an acclaimed record engineer, producer and mixer, died on May 6. His age and the cause of death has not been reported.

Talking Heads and Squeeze were just two of dozens of artists that Thorngren worked with over the course of his career.

In an extensive obituary, Q noted that "Born and raised in New York, Thorngren started his music career in his teens, making his first splash – albeit a small one – as part of a ‘60s band called Eric and the Chessmen. By the early ‘70s, however, he’d co-founded the band Bulldog with two former members of the Rascals, Gene Cornish and Dino Danelli."

He then chose to move into the engineering side, first having an impact at fledgling hip-hop label Sugar Hill Records. One important early gig there was recording the first record scratching on The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel.

He helped Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze mix their lone album as a duo in 1984, then selected and mixed the tracks for the Bob Marley and the Wailers compilation, Legend. While working on that project at Compass Point Studios, Thorngren met Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, who asked him to do a new mix of the soundtrack to Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense. In turn that led to him being asked to record the band’s next studio album, Little Creatures.


Q writes that "Thorngren's career continued steadfastly through the '80s and well beyond, working with artists including - but in no way limited to - Eurythmics, Violent Femmes, Public Image Ltd., Debbie Harry, Cyndi Lauper, Lou Gramm, David Cassidy, Wet Wet Wet, Hunters and Collectors, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and Robert Palmer.


Last year, Thorngren was back in the studio with Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads to work on the Dolby Atmos mixes of the band's work. You can read an extensive feature on Thorngren's work with Talking Heads here.

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