From defining the blues to redefining pop music, these legendary musicians changed music history and will be recognized for their pioneering artistry at the Grammy Awards on Sunday.
When CBS broadcasts the 57th Annual Grammy Awards live on Sunday, February 8, at 8 p.m. EST from the Staples Center in Los Angeles, part of the show will be devoted to this year’s recipients of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, which include George Harrison, The Bee Gees and Buddy Guy, among others. Each will be honored at the Recording Academy’s Special Merit Awards in a separate, invitation-only event on February 7.
That ceremony will certainly be heavy with emotion, as two of the three Bee Gees have died, as has Harrison. George Harrison passed away in 2001 at the age of 58, while The Bee Gees’ Maurice Gibb died in 2003 at the age of 53 and his brother Robin in 2012 at 62. Barry Gibb is the only surviving member of the band.
In a press statement, Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow noted, “This year we pay tribute to exceptional creators who have made prolific contributions to our culture and history. . .whose timeless legacies will continue to be celebrated for generations to come.”
Here’s a look at these music legends and some facts about their incredible careers that you may not know:
For a man who name is nearly synonymous with the Chicago blues sound, Buddy Guy has one of the warmest smiles in the business. Rock titans, including Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Keith Richards and Stevie Ray Vaughan have all cited him as a major influence on their own music.
Now 78, the 2005 inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has barely slowed down as he continues to encourage and inspire a new generation of musicians.
A Self-Taught Legend
Born to Louisiana sharecroppers Sam and Isabel Guy on July 30, 1936, George “Buddy” Guy taught himself to play guitar as a young boy. He took a train to Chicago in 1957, and landed at the famous 708 Club where he became a sideman for legends such as Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter and Muddy Waters. By the early 1960s, Guy was a first-call session man at Chess Records.
After years of touring and recording, the musician opened Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago in June of 1989. As the premiere blues club in the world, its stage has hosted myriad blues greats (Koko Taylor, B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Dr. John and Junior Wells), rock stars (Bo Diddley, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Slash) and even pop stars (John Mayer, Sheila E and The Pointer Sisters).
Guy inked a deal with Silvertone for three albums that began with the 1991 comeback smash Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues (reissued in 2005), which he followed up with 1993′s Feels Like Rain and 1994′s Slippin’ In. All three earned Grammy Awards.
Keeping the Blues Alive
Guy has firmly cemented a blues legacy that places him squarely in the company of his heroes who came before. In 2012, he published his autobiography, When I Left Home: My Story. He has said he feels an obligation to keep their legacy alive.
Did You Know? At age 78, Guy is still touring and holds a 16-show residency at his eponymous Legends club in Chicago every January. After one of his shows seven years ago, Guy met then eight-year-old Quinn Sullivan, a budding blues guitarist. Now a mentor to the teenaged musician, Guy tours with him and produced his first album. “I learn from Buddy every day,” Sullivan says.
George Harrison was born in Liverpool in 1943. He joined John Lennon and Paul McCartney in the Quarry Men as lead guitarist at age 15. Though he was known as the quiet Beatle, Harrison’s contributions to the most famous band in the world spoke volumes. His early influences included rockabilly hero Carl Perkins and British skiffle legend Lonnie Donegan.
Harrison’s retooled rockabilly licks were key to the Beatles’ early sound, and he wrote some of the band’s best-loved songs, including, “If I Needed Someone,” “Taxman,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Something,” and “Here Comes the Sun.” Harrison also introduced Western ears to Indian music, first by playing the sitar on “Norwegian Wood” (1965).
Soon after the Beatles’ breakup in 1970, Harrison released All Things Must Pass, on which producer Phil Spector gave his spiritually slanted tunes the full “Wall of Sound” treatment. The album and the track “My Sweet Lord” went to number one on the music charts.
Harrison’s next studio album, Living in the Material World, contained the number-one hit, ”Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth).” Harrison often wrote and sang about spirituality and transcendence. He was the first Beatle to tour the U.S. as a solo artist and also launched his own label (Dark Horse Records).
In 1971, Harrison organized The Concert for Bangladesh, rock’s first large-scale benefit concert, to raise awareness and money for the war-torn country. Held on August 1, 1971, at Madison Square Garden, the star-studded affair featured Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, Eric Clapton, and Ravi Shankar. It became a model for rock-benefit projects from Live Aid to The Concert for New York City. In 1972, the soundtrack won the Grammy’s Album of the Year Award, making Harrison the first solo Beatle to receive this honor.
A Low-Key Life
Never truly comfortable in the spotlight, Harrison kept out of it for much of the 1980s before releasing Cloud Nine in 1987. He followed it up by participating in the Traveling Wilburys, a low-key supergroup that also included Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison. The band put out two albums Volume One (1988) and Vol. 3 (1990).
His final solo album, Brainwashed, was co-produced by his son Dhani Harrison and Lynne, and released posthumously in 2002. Harrison died of lung cancer on November 29, 2001, at a friend’s home in Los Angeles at age 58.
Did You Know? In 1979, Harrison launched HandMade Films, a production company that debuted with Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Over the next 11 years, HandMade released 27 movies, including The Long Good Friday (1980), Time Bandits (1981) and Mona Lisa (1986). The company’s library has more than 106 films for which it continues to make distribution deals for video, television and online streaming.
The Bee Gees
The three Gibb brothers – Barry and fraternal twins, Maurice and Robin –were the sons of English bandleader and drummer Hugh Gibb, and started performing together in 1955. Their trademark harmonies helped the Bee Gees to sell more then 200 million records worldwide. Though their career was punctuated by commercial dry spells, and critics frequently dismissed them, their songs have undeniably struck a chord in the public consciousness.
Early Days and Harmonies
By 1958, the brothers were singing in talent shows and other amateur outlets. They signed with Australia’s Festival Records in 1962, and hosted a weekly TV show. Arriving in England in the late 1960s, the band had its first international smash, “New York Mining Disaster 1941.” The brothers developed a rock-pop sound, which featured their signature three-part harmonies.
By the mid-1970s, the trio had reinvented their sound by producing more dance-oriented music. “Jive Talkin” became a number-one hit in 1975. The following year, the group topped the charts with “You Should Be Dancing.”
In 1977, the brothers were asked to supply some songs for the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever, starring John Travolta. Driven by their chart-toppers, “Stayin’ Alive,” “Night Fever,” and “How Deep Is Your Love,” the album stayed on the charts for more than two years and eventually sold 30 million copies worldwide. The Bee Gees won six Grammys for their work on the soundtrack, which reigned as the top-selling album in history until Michael Jackson released 1982’s Thriller – which he in turn acknowledged was inspired by Saturday Night Fever.
Surviving the Backlash
After Saturday Night Fever, even the platinum album, Spirits Having Flown seemed anticlimactic. As of 1979, the Bee Gees had released five platinum albums and more than 20 hit singles.
Intense anti-disco sentiment created a backlash against the group and their phenomenal success. However, alone and together, the brothers continued to work steadily, and also wrote and produced hits for other artists, including Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick, Frankie Valli, and younger brother Andy Gibb as well as the title tune for the film version of the Broadway hit Grease.
In March 1988, the Bee Gees’ younger brother Andy Gibb died of a heart condition at age 30 and his surviving brothers retired for a time. They returned with 1989’s One – the title track was the trio’s highest-charting single of the 1980s.
The Bee Gees’ knack for creating hits earned them a belated critical respect. In 1997, the Bee Gees were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1994, they were inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame.
The Bee Gees continued to tour occasionally until January 2003, when Maurice Gibb died of cardiac arrest. Just weeks after his death, the Bee Gees received a Grammy Legend Award. The award was accepted by Robin and Barry. Robin Gibb died of cancer in London on May 20, 2012, leaving Barry, now 68, as the sole survivor.
Did You Know? Although widely known as Australians, the Gibbs brothers were all born on Douglas, Isle of Man, which is off the coast of England. After the birth of their youngest brother, Andy, the family moved to Australia in late 1958. There, the three oldest boys hosted a television show and recorded their first single.