“I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’ Oh, I am looking forward to that.”—
Mark Twain speaking with his first biographer Albert Paine about his unique “relationship” with Halley’s Comet.
The comet appeared on November 16, 1835, exactly two weeks before the author’s birth.
It returned on April 20, 1910. Twain died the next day.
In 1973, “Dueling Banjos” reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and remained in that spot for five weeks. Made famous in the 1972 film Deliverance, it featured Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandel on guitar and banjo. (In the film the banjo player was Billy Redden and on guitar was Ronny Cox. Neither of them played the instrument in the film*.)
There was just one problem, the writer of the song, Arthur Smith, was never given credit in the film. So Mr. Smith sued Warner Bros. and won an undisclosed amount.
But for Mr. Smith, “Dueling Banjos,” is trivial in comparison to the country music legend’s larger career.
Mr. Smith made his name with the 1945 recording of “Guitar Boogie.” Only 24 at the time, his playing on the song not only made the single a hit but it influenced future rock stars including Les Paul, Chuck Berry, and Tom Petty. Paul McCartney kept a copy of the 45 in his guitar case and called it “one of his favorite records.” (Click the link to watch a peformance of the song by Mr. Smith.)
Surrounded by music from early childhood, Mr. Smith first played trumpet before eventually learning fiddle, mandolin, and guitar. He began writing his own songs at the age of six, eventually writing and publishing 500 country and gospel tunes.
He recorded some of his songs at his own studio which he opened in 1957. It was the first in the Carolinas. James Brown used the studio in 1965 to record his hit “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.”
Mr. Smith gained a broader following with the syndication of his half-hour variety show, The Arthur Smith Show. The show began broadcasting in 1959 in 14 cities and by the 1970s was watched in 90 television markets nationwide.
Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith died on April 3, 2014 at the age of 93.
(“Dueling Banjos” is copyright 2004 Atlantic Recording Group)
* Ronny Cox chose not to play guitar on the film’s version because the banjo player, Billy Redden, could not play and to re-record the song at a studio was an inconvenience during filming. In the movie, another actor slipped his arms through Mr. Redden’s and played the banjo on-screen - the director used severe camera angles to hide the other gentleman.
Francis Nicholls and his friend Larry Philpot spent many late nights wandering from club to club in New York City in the 1970s. The teenagers were not only searching for the best music but were honing skills as DJs. By the end of the decade the duo, who now called themselves Frankie Knuckles and Larry Levant were two of the best in the business.
In 1977, at the height of disco, Mr. Knuckles headed for Chicago while his friend stayed in New York. Finding a job at the Warehouse, a membership-only club serving the gay community in the South Loop, Mr. Knuckles experiemented with mixes of soul, R&B, disco and gospel while overlaying distinct rhythms from a drum machine. The style was dubbed “house music” and it quickly made him one of the most popular DJs in the U.S.
As disco died - helped along by Chicago radio host Steve Dahl’s infamous Disco Demolition Night - record producers looked for new dance music. Mr, Knuckles provided that next wave of sound that would fill the clubs of Chicago, New York, and Paris and eventually influence electronic dance artists including Skrillex, Deadmau5, and Afrojack.
Leaving the Warehouse in 1982, Mr. Knuckles began laying mixes at the Power Plant where his following only grew. He also began re-mixing popular hits, which some have considered “better than the originals,” including songs by Whitney Houston, Depeche Mode, Michael Jackson, and Hercules & Love Affair.
As his talents were more widely recognized Mr. Knuckles traveled to London, Rome, and other far-flung locations playing music of his own or the dynamic re-mixes of others. Even into his 50s, his work as a DJ remained his first love.
In 1998, Frankie Knuckles eared the first-ever Grammy for Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical. The city of Chicago renamed the stretch of Jefferson Street where the Warehouse stood as Frankie Knuckles Way in 2004 after a push by then-state senator Barack Obama. And Mr. Knuckles was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame in 2005.
Frankie Knuckles, whose influence on music was compared to that of James Brown and Chuck Berry by critics, died on March 31, 2014 at the age of 59.
Obits of the Week correspondent Josh Eisenberg called hosts Molly Adamsand Brian Babylon for his weekly update on the recent deaths of notable figures. In this segment, Eisenberg filled us in about the passing of Ken Forsse, inventor of the popular 80s childhood toy Teddy Ruxpin. Also featured: the death of Josephine Serrano, the LAPD’s first Latina female officer and her lasting legacy.
Where we also talk about making real mix tapes and whether Teddy Ruxpin could sing “My Sharona.”
In regards to Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps, I presume.
But about Darrow.
He died on March 13, 1938. An atheist, Darrow cynically told friends that if there was an afterlife he’d return to tell them about it.
Every year on his death date Darrow’s followers meet at the Clarence Darrow Bridge in Chicago’s Jackson Park (where his ashes were spread) and await word from the cantankerous advocate. He has yet to arrive for a meeting.