MAGIC SLIM, BLAZING CHICAGO BLUESMAN
By PETER KEEPNEWS
Published: February 22, 2013
- Magic Slim, a singer and guitarist acclaimed as a keeper of the flame of electrified Chicago blues, died on Thursday in Philadelphia. He was 75.
His death was announced by Blind Pig Records, the label for which he had recorded since 1990. No cause was given, but he was known to have been dealing with a variety of health problems and had been hospitalized a few weeks ago while on tour.
Magic Slim was one of the last in a long line of musicians who grew up in the Deep South and then moved to Chicago, where the blues evolved in the years after World War II from a folk music played primarily on acoustic guitars to a loud, raucous, distinctly urban music, played on electric instruments by the likes of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, that was a precursor of rock ’n’ roll.
He was known not just for his musicianship but also for the intensity of his live performances. The music magazine No Depression once described his music as “the in-your-face variety” of blues, noting, “Magic Slim doesn’t just play the blues, he body slams his audiences with a vicious guitar attack that pins them to the floor.”
His mentor was Sam Maghett, known professionally as Magic Sam, a Chicago blues star in the 1960s, whom he knew as a child in Mississippi and who offered early encouragement and instruction. “Magic Sam told me don’t try to play like him, don’t try to play like nobody,” he once recalled. “Get a sound of your own.”
It was also Magic Sam who gave a teenager named Morris Holt the stage name Magic Slim when the two performed together in Chicago in the 1950s.
Morris Holt was born in Torrance, Miss., on Aug. 7, 1937, and began playing the guitar as a child. He made his first trip to Chicago in 1955 but was unable to gain a foothold in the competitive local blues scene and returned to Mississippi, where he spent the next several years honing his craft.
Back in Chicago in the 1960s, he began developing a following and formed a group, Magic Slim and the Teardrops, that eventually became the house band at a local nightclub, Florence’s. They went on to tour and record regularly, headlining blues festivals all over the world, and to win numerous awards, including the 2003 Blues Music Award as band of the year.
Magic Slim lived in Lincoln, Neb. Survivors include his wife, Ann; seven children; and four stepchildren. His son Shawn had recently joined his band.
Magic Slim and the Teardrops’ last album, “Bad Boy,” was released in 2012.
PAT DERBY, CRUSADER FOR ANIMALS
Pat Derby in 2009 at her animal sanctuary in California.
By PAUL VITELLO
Published: February 22, 2013
- Pat Derby, a former animal trainer for television shows like “Lassie” and “Flipper” who became a crusader against animal exploitation in entertainment and founded of one of the largest privately operated wildlife sanctuaries in the United States, died last Friday at her home in San Andreas, Calif. She was 69.
The cause was cancer, said Ed Stewart, her companion and only immediate survivor.
Ms. Derby was among the first animal rights advocates to champion performing animals, especially exotic species like elephants, apes, monkeys, lions and tigers. Though trainable, those animals have never been fully domesticated, and often end up abandoned or ill-treated once their usefulness as performers expires, she contended.
In 1984, Ms. Derby and Mr. Stewart founded the Performing Animals Welfare Society (PAWS) and opened their first sanctuary on 30 acres in Galt, Calif., outside Sacramento, which was the first in the United States equipped to care for elephants. In 2002 they opened a second, more sprawling sanctuary called Ark 2000 in San Andreas, about 40 miles away.
Covering 2,300 acres, Ark 2000 has become a sort of retirement community for more than 100 exotic animals, most of them former film or circus performers, survivors of roadside zoos and former pets whose owners could no longer handle them. The facility is supported by private and corporate donations and a membership list said to number 33,000.
Among the animals there is an elephant, Maggie, who developed arthritis and became depressed after spending several years, mainly indoors because of the weather, at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage. Two bears at the sanctuary — a grizzly bear named Tuffy and a Kodiak bear named Manfried — were featured in the 1994 film “Legends of the Fall,” set in Montana. They had been sold after the filming and were rescued from a poorly ventilated horse trailer during a Southern California heat wave.
Ms. Derby trained animals for television in the 1960s and ’70s and recounted the experience in a 1976 memoir, “The Lady and Her Tiger.” Neglect and abuse, including violence, food deprivation and chained confinement, were routine among her fellow trainers, she wrote. (Domesticated animals like dogs were usually spared mistreatment. Lassie, at least as portrayed by the dogs she knew, she said, was always treated well.)
Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, said Ms. Derby’s many years as a witness gave her unique credibility as an advocate, and made her “fearless” in confronting animal abuse in the entertainment world. “Hollywood, Las Vegas casino owners, Ringling Brothers — she took them all on,” he said.
In addition to “Lassie” and “Flipper,” which starred a dolphin, Ms. Derby had worked for shows like “Gunsmoke”; “Gentle Ben,” which was about a bear; and “Daktari,” set in a fictional animal preserve in Africa. In the ’70s she worked on commercials, including a campaign for Lincoln-Mercury featuring the actress Farrah Fawcett and two cougars.
Ms. Derby said she did not find much work as an animal trainer after her memoir was published. “I never ate lunch in that town again,” she told The Los Angeles Times in 1995.
She twice testified before Congress, however, and was appointed to California study commissions whose findings led to state laws restricting private ownership of exotic pets and setting minimum standards for some performing animals.
The laws did not go far enough, she contended. Ms. Derby believed that wild animals should not be in captivity, period — not even in sanctuaries like hers, which she considered a less onerous form of captivity but captivity nonetheless. “All I can do is make their prison as comfortable as possible,” she said.
Ms. Derby was born Patricia Bysshe Shelley on June 7, 1943, in rural Sussex, England, to Charles and Mary Shelley. Her father, a professor of English literature, said he was a descendant of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Patricia, who studied dance, moved to Southern California when she was 19 seeking work in film. From a brief marriage that ended in divorce, she kept the name Derby.
Ms. Derby was a lifelong animal lover who as a child helped her mother with volunteer work for animal rescue groups. She took up animal training as a way to earn money between dancing jobs, Mr. Stewart said. She loved elephants most. In her memoir, she described a near-mystical affinity with them: “I was born in love with all elephants. Not for a reason that I know. Not because of any of their individual qualities — wisdom, kindness, power, grace, patience, loyalty — but for what they are altogether. For their entire elephantness.”
KEVIN AYERS, PSYCHEDELIC ROCKER IN SOFT MACHINE
Members of the British group Soft Machine included, from left, Robert Wyatt, Daevid Allen, Kevin Ayers and Mike Ratledge.
Published: February 22, 2013
- Kevin Ayers, a wayward, witty British rocker who helped shape early psychedelia and was admired throughout his hard-lived life as a musician’s musician with little appetite for stardom, died on Monday at his home in the town of Montolieu, in the South of France. He was 68.
His death was confirmed by Bernard MacMahon of Lo-Max Records in London, which released his most recent album, “The Unfairground,” in 2007.
Mr. Ayers was a young misfit in Canterbury in the 1960s, with long hair (he would later become fond of eye makeup), arty interests and few friends, when he connected with the musicians, including the drummer and singer Robert Wyatt, with whom he would eventually form the influential band Soft Machine. The band’s first single, “Love Makes Sweet Music,” was released in 1967.
Mr. Ayers, who sang and played electric bass and guitar, wrote songs that could be jazzy, playful or dense, with unusual instrumentation, brooding choruses or spoken lyrics that may or may not have been intended as meaningful. He sang in a melancholy baritone, with clean diction.
“Why Are We Sleeping?,” which he wrote with two other members of the band, for the first Soft Machine album, starts:
It begins with a blessing, it ends with a curse
Making life easy by making it worse
“My mask is my master,” the trumpeter weeps
But his voice is so weak, as he speaks from his sleep
Saying: “Why, why, why, why are we sleeping?”
Authorities on British rock regarded Soft Machine and Mr. Ayers as crucial influences on the avant-garde music that developed in the late 1960s, including the psychedelia of Jimi Hendrix (who gave Mr. Ayers a guitar) and Pink Floyd. Mr. Ayers recorded at least one session with Pink Floyd’s early leader, Syd Barrett.
Soft Machine toured the United States as an opening act for Hendrix in 1968, but Mr. Ayers left the band soon afterward to live on an island off the coast of Spain.
Departure became something of a pattern for him. Just as he would near commercial success, or simply stability, he would display his lack of interest by disappearing. But he kept making music, including solo records throughout the 1970s that were critically acclaimed and beloved by his fans. Those efforts included “Joy of a Toy,” “Bananamour” and “The Confessions of Dr. Dream and Other Stories.”
There would be longer and longer stretches before Mr. Ayers emerged from his Mediterranean beach life. He struggled with drugs and drank heavily, and he was not afraid to mingle with the wives of other musicians. In a 2008 interview with Word magazine, Mr. Ayers said he saw little merit in ambition.
“Honestly, I just assume that whatever is going to happen to me is going to happen,” he said. “There it goes: someone is there, someone isn’t there. This girl is here. This food is here. I think the clever people are the ones who do as little as possible.”
Mr. Ayers was born on Aug. 16, 1944, in Herne Bay, Kent, England. His father, Rowan Ayers, was a BBC producer who helped create “The Old Grey Whistle Test,” a late-night television show that focused on artistically ambitious rock music.
Mr. Ayers’s parents divorced when he was very young, and he spent many of his early years with his mother and her new husband in Malaysia. He returned to England at about 12 and eventually met Mr. Wyatt and Mike Ratledge, another early bandmate. He said in the Word interview that those friendships were “the first experience of intimacy, the first family I ever had.”
His survivors include three daughters, Rachel Ayers, Galen Ayers and Annaliese Ellidge, and a sister.
It had been 15 years since Mr. Ayers released a recording when, in 2007, Lo-Max asked him to make an album based on some home recordings a friend of his had surreptitiously shared with the label. Mr. Ayers needed to be coaxed into doing it.
“He didn’t have any desire to make a big public statement, really,” Mr. MacMahon said. “His main concern was, were the songs good enough to be recorded? I got the impression that he did it for the satisfaction of doing something he was proud of.”
STEUART PITTMAN, HEAD OF FALLOUT SHELTER PROGRAM
A family examined a fallout shelter in 1960 on display at the New York Civil Defense headquarters in Manhattan.
By PAUL VITELLO
Published: February 18, 2013
- Steuart Pittman, a Washington lawyer who was appointed by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 to create enough fallout shelters to protect every American in the event of a nuclear attack, and who resigned in frustration three years later amid heated debates over the feasibility, the cost and even the ethics of such a program, died on Feb. 10 at his family farm in Davidsonville, Md. He was 93. The apparent cause was a stroke, said his wife, Barbara.
Mr. Pittman was appointed the nation’s first civil defense chief for nuclear war preparedness at the height of the 1961 Berlin crisis, when words like fallout, megaton and radioactivity became alarmingly familiar to every American schoolchild.
Kennedy’s predecessor, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, had made fallout shelters the responsibility of an agency that managed emergency and natural disaster planning.
But Mr. Pittman, appointed assistant secretary of defense for civil defense soon after Soviet and American tanks faced off in Berlin and the wall dividing East and West Berlin started going up, had one mission only. It was to give 180 million Americans access to shelters stocked with enough food, water and medical supplies to get them through the first week or two after a nuclear attack, when exposure to radioactive fallout was most perilous.
From the start, it was a controversial undertaking. Mr. Pittman would later call it one of the most “unappetizing, unappealing and unpopular” jobs ever created.
Many members of Congress balked at the estimated $3 billion cost to the federal government. State and local officials cringed at the matching $3 billion they were expected to provide. There was debate in the White House and the Pentagon over the proper balance between public and private, federal and local, and individual and community control of the shelters.
There were also ethical debates about whether it would be justified to use violence to stop a neighbor from forcing his way into someone’s shelter. Peace activists warned that building too many fallout shelters would hurt the cause of disarmament.
Mr. Pittman, an international investment banking lawyer, had been chief counsel for the Marshall Plan after the war, but had no domestic government or political experience. Still, within a year he had dispatched federal workers to every part of the country to inventory subway systems and public buildings that might be converted for shelter use; established specifications for shelter construction; collected vast amounts of information on public attitudes about shelters; and stocked about 100,000 model shelters in 14 cities.
During an Armed Services Committee hearing. Representative F. Edward Hebert, a Democrat from Louisiana, told Mr. Pittman: “I don’t know which way we are going, but if we decide not to go ahead, it will be in spite of your valiant efforts, and if we do go ahead, it will be because of those valiant efforts.”
Yet, hard as it was to combat opposition to the program, Mr. Pittman said, it was harder still to contend with the apathy and resignation he encountered.
“I hate to hear people say that they would prefer to die in a nuclear attack rather than face the horrors of survival,” he told U.P.I. in 1961. “This nation was built by people who left Europe to face the unknown hazards of a wilderness continent. Do we no longer have the courage to face an unknown challenge?”
Steuart Lansing Pittman was born in Albany on June 6, 1919, the second of Ernest and Estelle Pittman’s three children. He grew up on the East Side of Manhattan, graduated from Yale in 1941, and worked for two years in Asia for a subsidiary of Pan American World Airways before joining the Marine Corps in 1943. He was sent to China to train and operate with guerrilla groups behind Japanese lines.
Two days after V-J Day, Mr. Pittman was involved in one of the most unusual naval battles of the war, and possibly the last. Mr. Pittman was commanding two Chinese junks carrying guerrillas when they were fired on by a Japanese junk in the South China Sea. Mr. Pittman’s forces counterattacked, killing 43 and taking 39 Japanese sailors prisoner. He was awarded the Silver Star for valor.
Mr. Pittman received his law degree from Yale in 1948. In 1954, he became a founding partner of the firm Shaw, Pittman, Potts & Trowbridge (now Pillsbury, Winthrop, Shaw & Pittman), where he remained — with a three-year hiatus to serve in the civil defense post — until he retired in the mid-1980s. He later moved to Dodon Farm, a 550-acre estate in Maryland that has been in his family for more than 300 years.
Besides his wife, Mr. Pittman’s survivors include four children from his first marriage — Andrew, Nancy Pittman Pinchot, Rosamond Pittman Casey, and Tamara Pittman; three children from his current marriage, Patricia Pittman, Steuart Jr., and Romey Pittman; and 15 grandchildren.
His first marriage, to the former Antoinette Pinchot, ended in divorce.
Mr. Pittman resigned as assistant secretary of defense in March 1964 after the defeat of a $190 million budget appropriation to subsidize construction of shelters in hospitals, schools and other nonprofit institutions.
Mr. Pittman had always advocated the building of community shelters, rather than individual ones. But after returning to private life, he and his wife decided to build a fallout shelter at their home in Maryland.
“We started it, anyway,” Mrs. Pittman said in an interview Friday. “But after half a day’s digging, we gave it up.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: February 22, 2013
An obituary on Thursday about Steuart Pittman, the assistant secretary of defense for civil defense in the Kennedy administration, misidentified the location of a fallout shelter he and his wife decided to build after he returned to private life. It was on his family estate, Dodon Farm, in Davidsonville, Md. — not at their house in the Georgetown area of Washington.
W. WATTS BIGGERS, CREATOR OF ‘UNDERDOG’ CARTOON
By DANIEL E. SLOTNIK
Published: February 18, 2013
- W. Watts Biggers, who with a partner created the 1960s cartoon “Underdog” as a way to sell cereal and wrote its infectious theme song, died on Feb. 10 at his home in Manomet, Mass. He was 85.
“Underdog” made its debut on NBC in 1964.
The cause was a heart attack, Nancy Purbeck, his longtime companion, said.
Mr. Biggers was an account manager at the advertising firm Dancer Fitzgerald Sample in the early 1960s when he and Chet Stover, a copywriter, began conceiving a cartoon show to advertise General Mills cereals.
Mr. Biggers and Mr. Stover talked over dozens of ideas, but nothing seemed right. They knew that they would be competing for a morning time slot with Jay Ward and Bill Scott, who had created “Rocky & Bullwinkle.”
“We were going to be the underdog,” Mr. Biggers recalled saying to Mr. Stover. The idea stuck, giving birth to Underdog, a humble shoe shiner who would be transformed into a superhero, especially whenever the reporter Sweet Polly Purebred was threatened. It won the slot and made its debut on NBC in 1964.
Voiced by the character actor Wally Cox in rhyming couplets, Underdog battled villains like the evil scientist Simon Bar Sinister and the wolf gangster Riff Raff. Underdog’s segments on the show were interspersed with those of other cartoon characters like the Go Go Gophers and Tennessee Tuxedo.
“Underdog” proved so popular that Mr. Biggers and Mr. Stover left advertising to start a production company, Total Television, with Joe Harris and Treadwell Covington. They wrote more than 100 episodes of “Underdog,” and Mr. Biggers, the composer of the group, wrote the theme music for the company’s cartoons. (He also credited his partners Mr. Stovers, Mr. Harris and Mr. Covington.)
The show is syndicated worldwide, and an Underdog balloon has appeared in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. A live action movie based on the cartoon, starring Jason Lee as the voice of Underdog, was released in 2007.
The theme song (beginning, “There’s no need to fear! Underdog is here!”) pops up in unexpected places. The Blanks a cappella group performed an extended version of the song on the sitcom “Scrubs,” and the hip-hop artist RZA sampled it on the album “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers.)”
William Watts Biggers was born on June 2, 1927, in Atlanta to Rosemary and Bascom Biggers, a big band leader. In addition to Ms. Purbeck, Mr. Biggers is survived by a daughter, Victoria; a son, W. Watts Jr.; a brother, Bascom III; Ms. Purbeck’s children, Andrea Condon and Jeffrey Turgeon; and Ms. Purbeck’s four grandchildren. His wife of 39 years, Grace, died in 1989.
Mr. Biggers went to work for NBC in the late 1970s and left in 1984 to focus on writing.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: February 18, 2013
An earlier version of this article misstated the date on which William Watts Biggers was born. He was born June 2, 1927, not 1923.