Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Joe Louis Walker at the 100 Club

My first gig of the year featured blues guitarist and singer Joe Louis Walker at the 100 Club - part of this year's London Blues Week. In fact, Joe is the only visiting US bluesman taking part and his presence added some genuine blues credibility to the line up, which otherwise featured British R and B groups such as the Downliners Sect, Climax Blues Band and Stan Webb's Chicken Shack.
Now 68, Joe comes from San Francisco and began playing the blues aged 14. He gave it up in the seventies to concentrate on gospel music, but came back to the blues in 1986, since when he has recorded a couple of dozen albums for labels such as Hightone, Polygram, JSP and Alligator. I've seen him a few times over the years, most recently at the King Biscuit Festival a couple of years ago, and on his day he can be a dynamic performer. Last night's show didn't quite hit the heights, but it was a varied set and enjoyable.
Joe began with I'm Not Messin' Around from his Preacher and the President album, showing that both his guitar work and voice remain in good form, and he followed up with an extended instrumental featuring strong organ work from  keyboard player Steve Watts. Joe recalled that in his younger days we met up with Scotty Moore and the Jordanaires and his next number, rather surprisingly, was Don't Let Go, a song first recorded by Roy Hamilton in 1957 - more rockabilly than blues, but pleasant enough, and well supported vocally by bass player Lenny Bradford. His gospel routes shined through in Wade In The Water but the next number was another surprise in the form of George Harrison's While My Guitar Gently Weeps, which veered toward heavy guitar work at times. The soulful In The Morning, the title track of one of his albums came next, followed by the rather tuneless Soldier For Jesus, from the Hellfire album, which was monotonous and dominated by drumming which was a little too loud throughout.
Things picked up considerably with his next song, Black And Blue. from the 2015 album Everybody Wants A Piece, a slow, soulful number with a steady beat. Joe was joined on stage for one number by harmonica player Giles Robson, who contributed greatly to Young Girls Blues, another song from his recent album. Too Drunk To Drive Drunk came next, a track from Hellfire, which sounded remarkably Kinks like to my ears. The band left the stage and as an encore Joe performed I'm Tired before the band returned for Help Me, a song which Joe recorded with Peter Green's Splinter Group.
Overall, this was a set which showed that Joe Louis Walker is still very much a performer to see and enjoy. It was good to see the 100 Club so crowded, although I suspect that many of them will enjoy the ageing British bands rather more than I would. It seems Joe knew their taste and largely gave them what they expected and wanted.
+++ By the way, it's nearly 12 years since the first Vinyl Word was posted in January 2006. Hundreds of topics have been covered in the intervening years. Why not click on one of the months at the side and see what comes up, or type a word or words in the box at the top left to find out what's been written about a particular topic or artist.
Nick Cobban

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Farewell to the Queen of the Blues

Dreadful news today, from a reliable source, that Denise LaSalle, the Queen of the Blues, has died at the age of 78. It's been known for some time that she was unwell and that she had a leg amputated late last year. But this news is devastating for all of us who loved her unique personality, her risque stage act, her soulful voice and her all round talent both as a performer and as a songwriter.
Born in Mississippi near Belzoni, she went to Chicago in the mid 1960s. According to an interview she did at the New Orleans Blues and Barbecue Festival in 2014, she hooked up with Billy 'The Kid' Emerson, and spent what she described as an unproductive year with Chess, although her debut record, A Love Reputation, was a local hit. She formed a record production company, Crajon, with her then husband Bill Jones and had great success with Trapped By A Thing Called Love, released on Westbound in 1971. Recorded at the Royal Studio in Memphis, her follow up singles, Now Run and Tell and Man Sized Job, were also very successful. Other hits followed on Westbound, along with albums such as Here I Am Again, which included Married, But Not To Each Other, a song which reflected the theme of many of her self penned songs. She signed for ABC and in the early 80s joined Malaco, where she recorded a string of excellent southern soul albums, including A Lady In The Street, Right Time Right Place and Rain and Fire. In 1984 she had her sole UK success when her cover of My Toot Toot became a major top ten hit.
Denise developed a reputation as a dynamic performer, often with X rated lyrics and language, but asked about this during her New Orleans interview she was unrepentant. Her songs were about life and her audience enjoyed this realism. I saw her for the first time in 1993 when she came to the UK as part of the Malaco tour along with Little Milton and Latimore and enjoyed her immensely. More recently, in 2014 she starred at the Porretta Soul Festival (pictured above) where her brilliant set included the aptly titled Still The Queen, I Forgot To Remember, Down Home Blues, I Was Stepping Out, Trapped By A Thing Called Love, Drop That Zero, My Toot Toot and Man Sized Job. In New Orleans later that year, she included Juke Joint Women, Now Run And Tell and The Walls Were Paper Thin in another great set.
Below are photos of Denise at the New Orleans BBQ Festival and at the Mean Fiddler during the Malaco tour of 1993.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Rick Hall RIP

The first big music death of the year has arrived already. And what a big name it is - that of Rick Hall, at the age of 85, the man who recorded countless great soul records at his FAME studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Rick played bass in an R and B group The Fairlanes, with saxophonist Billy Sherrill, fronted by Dan Penn, with Hall playing bass. He also began writing songs and had success with George Jones, Brenda Lee and Roy Orbison. In 1959, he and Sherrill went into partnership with Tom Stafford, the owner of a recording studio, to set up a new music publishing company in the town of Florence, to be known as Florence Alabama Music Enterprises, or FAME. In 1960, Sherrill and Stafford dissolved the partnership, leaving Hall with the rights to the studio name. Hall then set up FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, where one of his first recordings was Arthur Alexander's You Better Move On. The commercial success of the record gave Hall the financial resources to establish a new, larger FAME recording studio. 
Hall's successes continued with recordings by Tommy Roe, the Tams, Joe Tex and Jimmy Hughes. However, in 1964 Hall's regular session group, which included David Briggs, Norbert Putnam, Earl 'Peanuts' Montgomery and Donnie Fritts, left to set up a studio of their own in Nashville, but he got together a new studio band, including Spooner Oldham, Jimmy Johnson, David Hood and Roger Hawkins. In 1966 Hall helped license Percy Sledge's When A Man Loves A Woman, which had been recorded in Norala Studios in nearby Sheffield, Alabama, to Atlantic Records, which led to a recording deal with Atlantic. resulting in many Atlantic artists recording at Muscle Shoals. including Wilson Pickett. Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Clarence Carter and Arthur Conley. Rick fell out with Atlantic following a dispute with Aretha's husband Ted White, but FAME became the go-to place for soul artists and among those who recorded there (some courtesy of Chess) were Etta James, Irma Thomas, Candi Staton and Willie Hightower. In the seventies Rick moved away from soul music, recording acts such as the Osmonds, Paul Anka and Tom Jones, but FAME remained a significant recording studio. 
I visited FAME in 2013 but unfortunately Rick was not around. We arrived just in time for a studio tour hosted by studio manager John Gifford, who gave a fascinating talk about the studio's colourful history. I was sorry to miss out on meeting Rick, but there's no doubt that he was one of the most important names in all soul history. RIP Rick - you will not be forgotten.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Top ten music photos of the year

2017 has been a pretty good year music-wise. I've been to several interesting shows in London, including Betty Harris, Leroy Hutson, the Wiggins brothers and two Tales From The Woods shows, including an excellent one starring Tommy Hunt. I went to the Rockin' Race in Spain, the Doowop Weekend in Long Island, blues clubs in Chicago and to the ever brilliant Viva Las Vegas festival. The Porretta Soul Festival was as good as ever, as was the Blackpool International Soul Festival. And on my last US road trip I took in the Ponderosa Stomp, The New Orleans Blues and Barbecue festival, the North Louisiana Blues Festival and shows in Lafayette, Cleveland, Clarksdale, Jackson and a real find at Neal's Juke Joint in Baton Rouge.
I've taken hundreds of photos during the year, but here are a few of the best. First, here's Dale Watson, soon to be in London again, at the Rockin' Race in Torremolinos. I will be back there again soon. 'Looking very much the part of the Texas troubadour, his set ranged from rockabilly through Tex Mex and country.'
Betty Harris made a rare appearance at the 100 Club in London in February. 'Betty may be in her 78th year, but she can still hold an audience, even if her voice isn't quite what it was.'
In April I set off to the Doowop Festival on Long Island, where one of the stars was La La Brooks, former lead singer of the Crystals. 'She looked Fantastic for her near 70 years and sounded great on Then He Kissed Me, There's No Other Like My Baby, Da Doo Ron Ron and Proud Mary, during which she bounded around the audience like a teenager. I think I'm in love.' 
We travelled on from New York to Chicago and then along Route 66 to Las Vegas. As ever, Viva Las Vegas was brilliant, with stars such as Brenda Lee, Sonny Burgess, Wanda Jackson and Freddy Cannon among many others. Here's a photo of Larry Collins, once of the Collins Kids, with Deke Dickerson. 'Larry showed that he's an excellent guitarist with dramatic flourishes which created a moody sound.'   
One of the younger stars of Viva Las Vegas was Vicky Tafoya. 'First on at the festival was the wonderful Vicky Tafoya, who lights up the stage with her sparkly jewellery. huge eye lashes, red lips and bouffant hair.' 
In June I went to the Blackpool International Soul Festival for the second time. This event has quickly established itself as a must see festival and I very much enjoyed the last ever UK appearance of the Impressions along with Little Anthony, pictured here. 'Sounding very much as he did when his career began in the fifties, with a light but strong voice and a range which is still very much intact, his set was short but excellent.'   
The Porretta Soul Festival in July lived up to its previous level of excellence with a line up which included Carla and Vaneese Thomas, Falisa Janaye, Willie Hightower and Wee Willie Walker. One of the discoveries for me, not listed beforehand, was Terrie Odabi. Here she is with Wee Willie. 'I thought she was great and can't wait to see her again.' 
My second US trip of the year was jam packed with music - in New Orleans, Lafayette, Clarksdale, Cleveland, Baton Rouge and Jackson. The North Loiusiana Blues Festival in Monroe featured some southern soul artists who I am unlikely ever to see in London, including Theodis Ealey, Nathaniel Kimble and Sweet Angel. Here's another, less well known singer, by the name, I think of Lady Trucker. 'Southern soul is very much a black genre and fairly limited in its geographical range, but exciting and interesting. I love it.'   
 The Blues and Barbecue Festival in New Orleans is always enjoyable and this year's was no exception, with artists such as Robert Cray, Robert Finlay and Grady Champion, among others. Naturally the star was the ageless Bobby Rush, with two female dancers, including the wonderful Mizz Lowe. 'With Bobby was Mizz Lowe, looking fine as ever, plus a new lady dancer. Even though I've seen his act many times, Bobby remains a true delight.'   
This year's Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans was curtailed by a hurricane warning which meant that the second night did not take place as planned. The first night, though, was excellent, with Barbara Lynn, Roy Head and Doug Kershaw putting on great acts, and the second day was enlivened with some impromptu shows at the Ace Hotel, including Evie Sands, Gary US Bonds and rockabilly man Johnny Knight. 'Looking dapper with shiny black hair and matching moustache, (Johnny) was very good on Rock and Roll Guitar, Snake Shake and Whatever Happened Last Night. He was backed by Deke Dickerson, which helped of course.'   
That's my top ten, but I couldn't fail to include a photo from one of the Tales From The Woods shows taking place during the year, possibly the best yet, starring the excellent Tommy Hunt, the Velvet Candles, Zoot Money and Earl Jackson. Here is Tommy with Earl. 'The whole set was doowop at its supreme best - great vocals from Tommy and harmonies to die for from the Velvet Candles.' 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Keely Smith RIP

The latest addition to the list of musicians who have died this year is Keely Smith, at the age of 89, who found fame singing with husband Louis Prima for many years and as a solo singer. Of Irish/Cherokee parents from Virginia, she met Prima in New York in 1949 and the couple performed at the Sahara in Las Vegas and at the Mocambo in Hollywood and recorded together throughout the fifties, eventually having a major hit with That Old Black Magic on Capitol in 1958. 
As a solo artist she had success with I Wish You Love and made a string of recordings in the late fifties and early sixties, both with Prima, and Sam Butera and the Witnesses, and solo. Louis and Keely moved to Dot and after divorcing Prima in 1961 she signed for Reprise and enjoyed success with an album of Lennon and McCartney covers in 1964 and the single You're Breaking My Heart. She returned to recording in 1985 with the album I'm In Love Again and won a Grammy nomination for Keely Sings Sinatra in 2001.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Otis Redding 50 years on

I have a 'pain in my heart' remembering Otis Redding on the 50th anniversary of his death. When Sam Cooke died in 1964 it was Otis who carried the flame so far as I was concerned, and it was his first UK 45 Pain In My Heart that first made an impact on me. His upbeat songs were great, but his slower ones were even better. Tracks like I've Been Loving You Too Long, My Lover's Prayer, Try A Little Tenderness, The Glory of Love and I've Got Dreams To Remember are achingly beautiful. There was no one quite like Otis, and Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay, despite me having heard it countless times, still has an impact.
I remember, of course, his TV appearances, on Ready Steady Go for example, but I treasure the memory of seeing him in 1967 on the Stax/Volt show at the Fairfield Hall, Croydon. I wrote at the time, in my review for the local paper: 'Suddenly there was Otis, doing his jigging routine on numbers like Mr Pitiful, Satisfaction and Shake. I could hear little because of the noise from the backing group and the crowd. It wasn't until he sang a couple of slow numbers, My Girl and I've Been Loving You Too Long, that I became really enthusiastic. On these, particularly the latter, he was brilliant. If anyone did not know before, they certainly knew then what soul music is all about. The climax of his act was Try A Little Tenderness, which started very slowly but became wilder and wilder.' 
Two years ago I visited Otis's home town of Gray, a few miles from Macon, Georgia. There's a plaque in Gray and a statue in a park in Macon. There's also a small museum in Macon dedicated to his memory. Here are some photos.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Christine, Johnny & the 2017 Death List

Every year at around this time the Vinyl Word includes a list of some of the music related people who have died during the year. As ever, this year's list is a long one and includes two rock and roll originators whose influence is still huge today, namely Chuck Berry and Fats Domino. Today saw the announcement of the deaths of two people who also had a big influence in their way - Christine Keeler and Johnny Hallyday. No doubt there will be more before the year ends.
Christine Keeler, who has died aged 75, was at the centre of the Profumo scandal in 1963 which
grabbed the attention of the nation and led to the resignation of a Cabinet minister and indirectly to the fall of Harold MacMillan's government. As a teenager I was fascinated by Christine and by Mandy Rice-Davies, avidly collecting any photos or news snippets that I could find. Among her lovers was another figure who died this year, Lucky Gordon, a Jamaican jazz musician who went on to work for Chris Blackwell at Island records. Lucky Gordon was attacked outside the Flamingo Club  in Soho by another player in the sordid affair, Johnny Edgecombe, so there are several links to music in this tale. Christine never came to terms with her notoriety and tried many times to put across her side of the affair. She was young when her affair started, just 19, and today she would be considered a victim. Then, however, she was regarded as just a prostitute. RIP Christine.
Johnny Hallyday, 74, was France's answer to Elvis and was the only convincing French rock and
roll singer of the sixties. His cover of Let's Twist Again was a big hit in Europe and he sold over 100 million albums during a lengthy career without ever becoming a big name in the US or UK.
And so, here is the Death List for 2017 (so far). Not surprisingly people who made their names in the fifties, sixties and even the seventies are now reaching the end of their lives. The Vinyl Word raises a glass to them all.
Greg Allman - Allman Brothers Band singer and musician; Tommy Allsupp - rockabilly musician and member of the Crickets; Jimmy Beaumont - lead singer with the Skyliners; Chuck Berry - the father of rock and roll; Big Cynthia - blues singer; Charles Bradley - Daptone soul man; Buddy Britten - UK skiffle and pop singer; Lonnie Brooks - blues guitarist also known as Guitar Junior; Sonny Burgess - Sun rockabilly artist; Glen Campbell - country star; David Cassidy - seventies teen idol; Larry Coryell - jazz guitarist; James Cotton - blues harmonica player; Cedell Davis - blues singer; Ronnie Davis - Jamaican reggae singer and member of the Tennors;  Johnny Daye - Stax recording artist; Fats Domino - New Orleans R and B originator; Jimmy Dotson - Louisiana blues singer; Raye Duval - British drummer; Bobby Freeman - rock and roll/R and B pioneer; J Geils - guitarist and leader of J Geils Band; Jack Good - creator of Oh Boy!, Boy Meets Girls and Shindig; Cuba Gooding Senior - soul singer with the Main Ingredient; Buddy Greco - jazz vocalist; Guitar Gable - swamp pop guitarist; Lucky Gordon; Tony Hall - UK sax player; Johnny HallydayRosie Hamlin - singer with Rosie and the Originals; Linda Hopkins - blues and gospel singer and actress; Richard Ingui - member of the Soul Survivors; Al Jarreau - jazz and R & B singer and musician; Brenda Jones - member of the Jones Girls; Christine Keeler; Robert Knight - soul man famous for Love On A Mountain Top; Willie Joe Ligon - leader of the Mighty Clouds of Joy; Earl Lindo - reggae musician and member of the Wailers; Tex Makins - skiffle player; Larry Marshall - reggae singer; Brian Matthew - influential DJ and TV presenter;  Maurice McAlister - Maurice and Mac and Radiants singer; D L Menard - king of Cajun music; Warren 'Pete' Moore - bass singer in the Miracles; Walter 'Junie' Morrison - Ohio Players member and P-Funk music director; Sylvia Moy - Motown singer and songwriter; Tom Paley - American folk singer; Anita Pallenberg - glamorous muse of the Stones; Frankie Paul - dancehall reggae artist; Tom Petty - singer/songwriter and member of the Travelling Wilburys; Sylvester Potts - member of the Contours; Della Reese - jazz and blues singer; Belton Richard - Cajun accordionist; Peter Sarstedt - British singer and brother of Eden Kane; John Schroeder - musician and record company executive; Bunny Sigler - Philly singer and record producer; Noel (Zoot) Simms - ska and reggae pioneer;  Peter Skellern - English singer/songwriter; Joni Sledge - member of Sister Sledge; Mick Softley - folk singer and guitarist; Clyde Stubblefield - James Brown's drummer; Tommy Tate - soul singer; Bobby Taylor - Motown artist and leader of the Vancouvers; Marvell Thomas - Memphis keyboardist and brother of Carla and Vaneese; Mel Tillis - country star; Thomas Tribble - jazz trumpeter; Robert 'Bilbo' Walker - blues singer/guitarist (pictured in 2013);  Leon Ware - soul songwriter and performer; Curtis Womack - brother of Bobby and member of the Valentinos;