Friday, October 10, 2008

Those Dear Departed - Chapter One

The common theme for today’s posts is a bit morbid in one way, but the three artists I’d like to highlight all contributed some great songs to the rich tapestry of popular music, and their respective careers deserve to be recognised and celebrated. So, let’s take a look at the career highlights of the late pop/rock stars Dan Hartman, Phil Seymour and Roger Voudouris.

Dan Hartman had honed his musical craft in a band called The Legends during the 60s/early 70s, but found his feet in the music business through the iconic hard-rock outfit Edgar Winter Group. Hartman joined the initial line-up during 1972, taking on bass duties alongside group leader Edgar Winter and guitarist Ronnie Montrose (later in Montrose with Sammy Hagar - see Sep’08 post). During Hartman’s tenure with the Edgar Winter Group they scored their biggest hit with the 1973 U.S. #1 ‘Frankenstein’. The group notched up another top 20 hit with ‘Free Ride’ (US#14-1973 - written by Hartman), and had a string of top selling albums, including 1972’s ‘They Only Come Out At Night’. After the final Edgar Winter Group album in 1976, Pennsylvania born Hartman embarked on a solo career that would see a marked change in musical style.

Dan Hartman released his debut solo album in 1976 with ‘Images’, featuring some guest playing from Edgar Winter (who would contribute to Hartman’s first three albums). The album didn’t set the world on fire, but Hartman bounced back in late 1978 with the disco/dance themed album ‘Instant Replay’ (OZ#55/US#80), featuring a title track which would become a major disco/club anthem. ‘Instant Replay’ hit the U.S. and U.K. charts at virtually the same time, managing to climb higher in Britain (#8), but still finding a respectable niche on the U.S. Hot 100 (#29). In January 1979 the song debuted on the Australian charts, more than likely due to its appearance on the TV show Countdown. I can recall the famed Countdown Dancers being featured as the promo clip was played - I must have been about ten at the time, so it would be one of my earlier Countdown related memories. ‘Instant Replay’ (which featured Edgar Winter on saxophone) counted down all the way to #6 on the Australian charts during the first half of 1979. The song was later covered by the U.K. group Yell!, who reached #10 on the British charts during 1990.

The follow up single ‘This Is It’ didn’t quite prove an instant replay of its predecessor, but performed well in Britain (#17/US#91), whilst his follow up album ‘Relight My Fire’ (another disco/dance effort-US#189) in late 1979 didn’t produce any hit singles. Hartman had already established his own recording studio called the Schoolhouse, based in Connecticut, and was soon focusing his creative energies on writing and producing for other artists. Hartman kept his name in the charts with a couple of minor U.S. hits during 1981, ‘Heaven In Your Arms’ (#86) and ‘It Hurts To Be In Love’ (#72), from the album ‘It Hurts To Be In Love’, whose country-pop sound was a departure from Hartman’s earlier disco themed efforts.

Hartman more often than not was wearing his producer’s hat during this period, overseeing albums from a diversity of artists, including Foghat, Muddy Waters, .38 Special, Average White Band, Rick Derringer and both Winter brothers (Edgar and Johnny). He’d also been a much sought after session player, appearing on albums by Ian Hunter, Stevie Wonder and Todd Rundgren, among others. During the 80s Hartman also branched out into writing/producing music for motion pictures, including the cult comedy classics ‘Fletch’, ‘Beverly Hills Cop’ and ‘Down And Out In Beverly Hills’, and the dramas ‘Bull Durham’ and ‘Rocky IV’. Hartman oversaw production on James Brown’s second biggest charting single of all time with ‘Living In America’ (US#4 - lifted from ‘Rocky IV’ in 1986).

1984 saw Dan Hartman release the biggest selling album of his own career with ‘I Can Dream About You’ (US#55), co-produced by Jimmy Iovine. The title track was also featured on the motion picture soundtrack for ‘Streets Of Fire’ (I purchased the picture cover vinyl 45 at the time, featuring artwork from the film). ‘I Can Dream About You’ was backed by a promo clip that didn’t actually feature Hartman (though he appeared in a cameo role as a bartender). Instead an actor by the name of Stoney Jackson (no relation to Michael) mimed to the lead vocals, and did a mean moonwalk into the bargain. The classy R&B style pop song put in a dream performance on both the U.S. (#6) and Australian (#3) charts during 1984, and at its second attempt reached #12 in Britain in 1985. The album also yielded the U.S. top forty hits ‘We Are The Young’ (#25) and ‘Second Nature’ (#39), rounding out a stellar year for the gifted singer/songwriter.

Hartman then returned to production duties for the most part, collaborating over the course of the next decade with Tina Turner, Paul Young, Jimmy Somerville, Joe Cocker and Holly Johnson. He released a low key album ‘New Green Clear Blue’ in 1989 on the independent Private Music label. In October 1993 Hartman’s 1979 song ‘Relight My Fire’, recorded by British boy band Take That (with Lulu), hit #1 on the British charts.

In the months leading up to his death (brain tumour related to HIV virus) in March 1994 (aged 43), Dan Hartman had been working on a new album of dance style music. The single ‘Keep The Fire Burnin’, featuring vocalist Loleatta Holloway, was posthumously released and peaked at #49 on the British charts in 1995. The album of the same name was also released, featuring a collection of Dan Hartman’s best known work.

2 comments:

Jon Lamoreaux said...

OK. I guess I'm going to have to bookmark your blog. I have an 80s themed blog myself (bigjonlam.blogspot.com), so I love this stuff. And I love Dan Hartman. I've also been exploring his catalog and it's full of goodies, especially Relight My Fire, an unsung masterpiece of 70s disco, if you ask me. It's a shame he left us so early.

A. FlockOfSeagulls said...

Hi Jon,
thanks for your feedback here and on the Men Without Hats post. It's always great to read the opinions of other retro 'devotees'. I agree with you it was a shame Dan Hartman didn't have the chance to record more. I'm a huge Beatles fan (in addition to 70s/80s music) and recently once again reflected on how much great music was lost to the world with the tragic death of John Lennon. I guess there's always comfort in the music that these artists have left us to treasure.
I'd like to add a link to your own blog if that's ok. I especially enjoyed reading your post on 'Duck Rock' - that was one of my favourite albums in highschool. For all his, let's say eccentricities, Malcolm McLaren definetely had a good intuition when it came to cutting edge music.
Thanks again for your comments.
A. FlockOfSeagulls