I’m still a little stunned about this week’s passing of some outstanding contributors to music: the great merenguero Johnny Ventura, Juan Chuchita of Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto, and Texas rock bassist Dusty Hill of ZZ Top. As difficult as these losses are, we should continue listening to and sharing their music in the spirit of preserving their memory.
Always oozing confidence, merengue legend Juan de Dios Ventura Soriana, a.k.a. Johnny Ventura, passed away Wednesday at the age of 81. Affectionately nicknamed “El Caballo Mayor,” he was a true ambassador of Dominican music. He was also heavily involved in politics in Santo Domingo. Following his passing, the Dominican Republic’s president decreed three days of national mourning beginning on July 29.
Johnny, who began his music career in the ’60s, was a beloved musician who had incredible success, composing more than 100 recordings, while earning more than a dozen gold records. He was adored in his country and beyond.
His son expressed the following message:
“Decirles que mi papá murió trabajando, estaba en una reunión de trabajo y luego de ahí iba a grabar una canción… La familia Ventura se siente orgullosa de todo el legado que pudo haber dejado mi papá, tenemos la frente en alto, no nos avergonzamos de nada de lo que pudo haber hecho. Decirle a la República Dominicana y al mundo que perdieron al más grande exponente de la música de la República Dominicana.”
(“To tell you that my dad died working, he was in a work meeting and after that he was going to record a song…. The Ventura family is proud of all the legacy that my dad could have left, we have our heads held high, we are not ashamed of anything he could have done. To tell the Dominican Republic and the world that they lost the greatest exponent of the music of the Dominican Republic.” )
Colombian cumbieros Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto lost their last original leader and singer this week, musician Juan Chuchita. Juan, who was unable to read or write, nevertheless composed some of the best songs that highlighted his unique vocal stylings as llamador of the group.
Born Juan Alberto Fernández Polo, he was the winner of the Latin Grammy in the Best Folk Album category in 2007 with the Gaiteros de San Jacinto, and was also awarded the Life and Work Award from the Ministry of Culture, who publicly regretted “the death of maestro Juan Alberto Fernández Polo. His legacy and contribution to the culture of our country will remain forever in the memory of Colombians.”
Emérita Fernández, one of Juan’s daughters, told RCN Radio: “He sang to me the day before he passed away. I had the opportunity to listen to it and even record it.”
Juan Chuchita was 91.
There is no doubt for me that that little ol’ band from Texas, ZZ Top, is a significant player in rock history. The trio’s song “La Grange” is so iconic of their sound, that smoky smooth Texas blues rock that made it a forever classic and will never go out of style. (And speaking of style, it mimics “Shake Your Hips” by Slim Harpo.) Released in 1973 on the album Bad Hombres, it was inspired by the Chicken Ranch brothel outside of La Grange, Texas.
It was a few years before that, though, when they made their debut with ZZ Top’s First Album. It turned 50 in January. On this album it’s a must to listen to “Brown Sugar,” because there truly is nothing sweeter in that sound (and they had a slightly different aesthetic). Bassist Dusty Hill (born Joe Michael Hill), was 72 when he passed away. He was co-founder of the band which formed in 1969.
In an interview for Louder in 2010, when asked what he would like written on his tombstone, Hill replied:
“I bet you’re expecting me to be surprised at that question, right? Because most people I know never think about these things. But I have been turning that over in my mind recently. It may sound morose, but you never get younger. I’ve come up with some ideas, and then rejected them all. There’s an inscription on a wooden marker over a grave in Boot Hill that says: Here lies Lester Moore. Four slugs from a .44. No Les. No more. I like the humour in that. I’ve come up with a few ideas of my own, but none of them are really that good.”
His bandmates released this message:
“We are saddened by the news today that our Compadre, Dusty Hill, has passed away in his sleep at home in Houston, TX. We, along with legions of ZZ Top fans around the world, will miss your steadfast presence, your good nature, and enduring commitment to providing that monumental bottom to the ‘Top’. We will forever be connected to that ‘Blues Shuffle in C.’
“You will be missed greatly, amigo. -Frank & Billy”