Sorry to be a humbug, but it seems that Christmas is becoming a magnet for musician death. This year Eartha Kitt, Robert Ward and Freddie Hubbard all expired around the holiday.
Kitt, well what can you say. She was like sex on two legs. She wasn’t chosen to portray the second Catwoman (after Julie Newmar) in the old Batman TV series for no reason. And you have to love the fact that she made Ladybird Johnson cry because she went to a White House luncheon and spoke her mind about the then-raging Vietnam War. That bit has always puzzled me. So a woman who was married to Lyndon Johnson, a man who practically had no equal when it came to towering, profane rages, starts bawling because little Eartha Kitt said “You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot.” Seriously, LBJ probably talked worse than that in his sleep. Anyway, the woman was quite a personality. One pass through her immortal 1953 Christmas tease, “Santa Baby” tells you that she was one of a kind.
Having seen Freddie Hubbard in the past few years, it was clear that the busted embouchure he suffered in the early 1990’s never healed right and his playing had changed for the worse as a result. The Indianapolisborn Hubbard started out in New York in 1958, playing with Sonny Rollins and Art Blakey and becoming one of a group of leading lights of the trumpet that included Miles, Dizzy and the great, Clifford Brown. In 1970 he signed with Creed Taylor’s CTI label and made what will now be his musical legacy, Red Clay. With a band of Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Joe Henderson, this is blues, fusion and some great blowing.
The name you may not recognize in the above list is Robert Ward. Even the obits that appeared after his death on Christmas Day at age 70, were very short on details about his life. Born in Georgia, which is also where he died, Ward spent much of his playing days in Ohio, where he played in a band called the Ohio Untouchables, which later morphed into the Ohio Players after he left in 1965.
While his early records with the Untouchables were reissued on Relic Records in 1995, it was Ward’s 1990 Black Top record, Fear No Evil, that really put him back on the map. His tremolo guitar is so unusual that some have compared it to Chinese music. It’s definitely not your daddy’s blue guitar playing. The fact that George Porter Jr. (The Meters) served as both executive producer and bass player didn’t hurt. Neither did a band centered on two veterans of the Austin, Texas music scene, saxophonist Kaz Kazanoff and drummer George Rains. Now out of print, a supposedly “new” copy of this record is now being offered on Amazon.com for $59.73.