It’s hard to believe, but it’s been thirty years since Bon Scott died. For a man who used to mark time based upon how long ago the Kennedy Assassination occurred, imagine how old I felt this morning when I realized that AC/DC has had a new singer for three decades.
So let’s accentuate the positive, shall we? I don’t know what it is about Memorial Day that causes such a spike in famous conceptions – maybe the exuberance of getting out of school – but February 19th has given us a boatload of charismatic, talented artists over the years. Here are ten people born today who bring me great joy, chronologically by birth year:
Louis Calhern, 1895 - You might not recognize his name if you aren’t a film buff, but Calhern was a solid and versatile actor that kept popping up in some of my favorite movies, from James Cagney flicks to Marx Brothers romps (Duck Soup) to classic film noir like his sleazy lawyer crime boss in The Asphalt Jungle.
Lee Marvin, 1924 - A tough guy’s tough guy and one of the best actors of his time. Far too many great movies to list – my favorite remains the lesser rated version of The Killers – but unforgettable in The Dirty Dozen, Cat Ballou and The Professionals as well as hundreds of TV appearances, including his own classic police series M Squad.
* The finale of The Killers – including the greatest last line ever.
John Frankenheimer, 1930 - One of my favorite film makers and one of the best action movie directors (Grand Prix, Ronin) who got his start filming over a hundred live television dramas. Some of his classics include The Manchurian Candidate, Birdman of Alcatraz and the political thriller Seven Days in May.
Sam Myers, 1936 - Sam grew up in Chicago and sat in with the cream of the blues legends from Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Elmore James; he was an incredible drummer and harp player and vocalist. Perhaps better known more recently as a key member of Anson Funderburgh & The Rockets, one of the best live blues bands around. Sam passed away in 2006.
* Video: Sam Myers
Smokey Robinson, 1940 - The word genius gets passed around far too freely, but Smokey Robinson is a genius. Equally adept as a songwriter and as a sweet soul singer, he helped put Motown (and several of its groups) on the map in the 60′s, and his catalogue of great music is simply staggering. Check out his entry at the All Music Guide where the list of covers of his material is forty-six pages long.
Lou Christie, 1943 - Christie’s trademark was singing the verses in his normal voice and then rocketing to a powerful falsetto voice for the dramatic chorus, and although “Two Faces Have I” was the first hit, it was “Lightning Strikes” that jumped out of that transistor radio for me. He only had two more hits ( “Rhapsody in the Rain” and “I’m Gonna Make You Mine”) but he remains a favorite of mine to this day.
Tony Iommi, 1948 - Hearing the first Black Sabbath album upon its release was a revelation, and Iommi’s signature guitar sound was the key ingredient in that mix; some credit him with inventing heavy metal guitar. I was never a big fan of the post-Ozzy group (or Ozzy post-Sabbath, for that matter) but the first four albums were incredible.
Mark Andes, 1948 - Not a household name by any stretch, but any music fan knows Spirit and Jo Jo Gunne and Firefall and Heart; not a bad track record for a wandering bass player. Most recently a member of Ian McLagan’s Bump Band, his first solo album was released last year.
* Listen to “Run Run Run” by Jo Jo Gunne
Ray Winstone, 1957 - For his own generation, a combination of the aforementioned James Cagney and Lee Marvin. Long revered by his homeland, roles in Sexy Beast and The Departed might be more familiar, plus he steals Mel Gibson‘s new film out from under him.
Benicio del Toro, 1967 - Quietly building an incredible resume of performances – although maybe not that quietly based on the award hardware he’s racked up. First saw him as Kevin Spacey‘s assistant in Swimming With Sharks, and he’s made great choices including Traffic, Sin City and The Pledge. Hell, he’s going to play Moe Howard in the upcoming Three Stooges movie! But I’ll always think of him as marble-mouthed Fred Fenster in that perfect film The Usual Suspects. (Check out this amazing Fenster montage someone put up at YouTube).
No slight to Seal, Jon Fishman, Justine Bateman, Jeff Daniels, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Merle Oberon, Carson McCullers or even Copernicus, but ten is ten.