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John D. Whitelaw

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John D. Whitelaw, Beloved Musician, Age 53 John Denniston Whitelaw, born in San Francisco on November 1st, 1952, along with his twin sister, was a lifetime Marin County resident. From the days when the cows roamed the hills, John resided in Reed Heights, Tiburon, as a child and as an adult. At the age of eleven, John picked up a guitar and never stopped making music. He became a highly respected bassist, well known in the United States and in parts of Europe. John graduated from Redwood High School in 1970. In 1969, he helped found an eleven-member band with a full horn section, "Beefy Red". John wrote "Beefy Red", their signature song. Onboard were some greats from Marin and beyond, including Jim Checkley, Barry Finnerty, Irwin Goldfield, Mark Isham (film soundtrack artist), Bruce Faxton, James Preston, Ned Appleby, and L.B. Kyle Kyleman. Opening at Bill Graham's Fillmore for Bo Diddley & Lightnin' Hopkins, the road was being paved. In 1971, John attended U.C. Berkeley for two years, then completed his studies, majoring in the classical contra bass, at Cal Arts. Under the tutelage of classical bassist Buell Neidlinger, John's musical talents grew exponentially. He received his B.F.A. and continued developing his musical expertise and repertoire over the next three decades. He toured with Shipstad & Johnson's Ice Follies, choreo-graphing and writing music for some of their principal skaters, then with The Royal Viking Line's orchestra. Playing with Jim Preston in "The Geoff Palmer Jazz Quartet" (Sons of Champlin) 1981-1988, The Sweetwater with Jackie King (Willie Nelson Band's lead guitarist), The Redwood Room at the Clift Hotel, and with Barry Finnerty's "Deep Down & Out" at Savanna Jazz 2005-2006, John contributed to countless jams and recordings, and his music proliferated. John was facile in many styles of music. Other musical collaborators included Michael Aragon, Jeff Franzel, Peter Graves, Kevin Hayes (Robert Hayes' drummer), Carl Locket, Dave Rokeache (Ray Charles' drummer), Pete Boyd and Ronnie Smith, to name a few. John died unexpectedly after a prolonged illness. His loss is deeply felt by his family and friends too numerous to count. John leaves a legacy of exquisite music, a compilation of his own compositions and countless recordings in every musical genre. An historical "John Whitelaw" web site will be formed in the near future. John's Bach cello transcriptions, which he performed at St. Stephens Church in Belvedere in the late 1980s, were considered by John to be one of his greatest accomplish-ments. Some of his favorite composers included Purcell, Handel, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Ives, and Copland. His R&B and jazz roots include such greats as Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, Buddy Guy, Paul Butterfield, B.B. King, Count Basie, Aretha Franklin, Charles Mingus, Cannonball Adderly, James Brown, and countless other jazz, blues, and big band legends. His music crossed all boundaries. John was preceded in death by grandparents Dorothy and Kimball Burr, and mother, Marjorie Whitelaw. John leaves behind parents, Mr. and Mrs. Seymour Whitelaw, sister Leslie, niece Oona and nephew Quinn, twin sister Alison, nephew Arlo, and the Alix and Eugene Doherty family.
Published in Marin Independent Journal on July 19, 2006
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