Monday, June 26, 2017

Catching up on a few more deaths

It's time to catch up on a few deaths that have occurred over the last few weeks - not as many as we've seen previously (although only a summer lull I'm afraid).
The most recent was that of influential Cajun accordionist Belton Richard at the age of 77. He was
one of the leading exponents of  south west Louisiana music and recorded extensively for the Swallow label with his group the Musical Aces. Originally from Rayne, Louisiana, he first recorded in 1959 with Un Autre Soir Ennuyant, a French version of Jimmy Clanton's Another Sleepless Night. Other Swallow recordings included Cajun Waltz, How Does It Feel To Be In My Shoes and Behind Closed Doors.
I really couldn't let the death of Anita Pallenberg, at the age of 75, go unremarked. Known as the muse of the Rolling Stones, she
had relationships with Brian Jones and Keith Richards and starred with Mick Jagger in Performance. But to me she is best remembered as The Great Tyrant in the 1967 movie Barbarella. She looked stunning, sharing the glamour stakes with Jane Fonda, and was bewitching as she called Barbarella her 'pretty pretty'. The only trouble was that it wasn't her voice uttering those seductive lines. It was most likely Fenella Fielding, although Joan Greenwood has also been credited. Either way, Anita was undoubtedly a gorgeous looking woman and it's not hard to see why she was such a favourite of various Stones.  Here is a clip from Barbarella
A belated farewell also to Curtis Womack, second oldest of the Womack brothers and a member of the family group the Valentinos, which also included Bobby, Harry, Cecil and Friendly, who recorded for Sam Cooke's Sar label. After Bobby left to go solo and Harry was murdered in 1974 the Valentinos broke up amid family tensions. Cecil, who went on to form Womack and Womack, married Mary Wells but Curtis had a long affair with Mary, an abusive relationship apparently. Curtis continued to support various artists and I well remember seeing him with Mary Wells at the Town and Country Club in 1989 on a show that also featured Marv Johnson, Kim Weston, Caroline Crawford and Martha and the Vandellas. Those were the days, especially as two days later I went back to watch a show with Willie Mitchell, Lynn White, David Hudson, Ann Peebles and Otis Clay. Those were the days indeed.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

2nd Blackpool International Soul Festival

The Impressions have always been my favourite soul group, so it's sad that they have now played their last ever UK show. But what a show it was. They headlined on day one of the 2nd Blackpool International Soul Festival at the Winter Gardens and were on superlative form. Long time members Fred Cash and Sam Gooden were joined by a new young lead singer Jermaine Purifory (pictured below), who has replaced Reggie Torian, who died last year. He has the looks of a young Sam Cooke or Eddie Kendricks and a voice that fits in perfectly with the traditional smooth harmonies at which the Impressions have always excelled.
Backed by the excellent Snake Davis Band, they ran through many of their back catalogue from the Curtis Mayfield era, including I Can't Satisfy, Woman's Got Soul and Nothing Can Stop Me. Fred took the lead on You've Been Cheating, but mostly it was the new boy who took that role with strong support from Fred and Sam, and fulfilled it to perfection. The inspirational Choice of Colors was included, along with This Is My Country, I Need You, I've Been Trying, Stay Close To Me and You Ought To Be In Heaven. There was no It's Alright, Amen or People Get Ready, but the encore, inevitably, was Move On Up, which brought a tremendous response from the large soul loving audience in the Empress Ballroom. The group members seemed to be enjoying themselves throughout, which makes it all the sadder that this final show should also be Jermaine's first in the UK. With his looks and voice he will surely go on to big things as a solo artist. All three of them spent several minutes after their set shaking hand with anyone they could, their faces beaming with huge smiles. The end of an era, but a great way to go out
As soul shows goes this was among the very best, but it was equalled the following night by Little Anthony, performing a full set for the first time in the UK apparently. 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. All his major hits with the Imperials were included, beginning with Tears On My Pillow, from 1958. His set was nicely balanced with up tempo numbers such as Gonna Fix You Good, doowop with Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Bop, classics such as I'm On The Outside Looking In, dramatic ballads such as It Hurts So Bad and It's Not The Same and the beautiful Going Out Of My Head. He left the stage, just 30 minutes after arriving, but returned to sing the Northern Soul favourite Better Use Your Head. So, only eight numbers in total, but all performed brilliantly and I don't think anyone felt short changed. This was a class act and a real pleasure.
One of the attractions at this year's festival was a chance to hear from Georgia-born George Kerr (pictured below with US music fan Noah Schaffer on his latest UK visit), an arranger and producer who was the man behind many Northern soul favourites by the likes of Linda Jones, the Shirelles. the O'Jays, Edwin Starr and many others. Interviewed by Kev Roberts, he proved to be an interesting interviewee, with detailed recall of his origins in New Jersey, time at Motown in the sixties, work with Jerry Ragavoy, prison recordings with the Escorts, a vocal group comprising long term inmates, and brushes with gangsters such as Maurice Levy and Joe Robinson of All Platinum. He came across as an engaging guy, who did everything wrong from a musical point of view but somehow made records that sounded great. Afterwards he signed copies of a typescript memoir which was also available as an audio book.
This festival looks destined to become a regular feature of the soul calendar and a star studded line up has already been announced for next year, including Patti Austin, Margie Joseph and Ann Sexton. The Winter Gardens is a perfect venue, with six rooms specialising in different types of soul, including crossover, modern and mod, ska and reggae. The attraction for many is the dancing, and there are many fine exponents of the Northern soul style, including a couple of guys in sleeveless T shirts and loon pants, who constantly spun round at excessive speed. Very dizzying. This year's festival sold out several weeks ago, so don't leave it too late to get your tickets for 2018.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

One Love Manchester

I don't have much interest in today's pop music. Most of it is sterile and dull compared with what I grew up with. I found myself watching the One Love Manchester concert tonight partly because I used to live in Manchester and worked at the Co-op HQ across the road from where the suicide bomber blew himself up and therefore felt a connection, But also because it was a chance to see quite a few of today's pop stars live all at once, as it were.
To be honest, I had never heard of Ariana Grande before the terrible incident two weeks ago. Most of the others, such as Miley Cyrus, Marcus Mumford, Pharrell Williams, Little Mix, Usher and Katy Perry I have heard of but know little about, although some of their records are well known. And, of course I am only too familiar with the likes of Coldplay, Robbie Williams and Justin Bieber. All of them did just one or two numbers and were received ecstatically by the crowd. The many video contributions from artists as famous as Stevie Wonder and Sir Paul, and many others who are way off my radar, all of them 'standing with Manchester' added to the excitement for the 50,000 people at Old Trafford cricket ground, who showed that, far from being cowed by the atrocity, it had brought them together like never before. I've always liked Don't Look Back In Anger, and Chris Martin did it well. I was wondering where Manchester's most famous band Oasis were, but fortunately Liam Gallagher turned up, even if the rumoured reunion didn't take place.
Following last night's atrocity in London the concert had an extra edge for many people, including me. I also worked just to the north of London Bridge in Lombard Street for many years and know Borough Market well.
Whether events like this have any impact on the maniacs who cause such destruction is doubtful. But I think it is important that life goes on as normal regardless of these evil individuals. We cannot let them impact on our way of life. So congratulations to Ariana and all the other artists who appeared at very short notice. And to the people of Manchester of course.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

New chapter for Fingerpoppin Soul

For over 20 years Hans Diepstraten and Harry Van Vliet have been presenting a weekly soul music show on Dutch radio called Fingerpoppin Soul. They've notched up over 1200 shows and their guests have included dozens of visiting soul stars, starting with Roland Alphonso and Tommy McCook of the Skatalites in 1993 and including Percy Sledge, Rufus Thomas, Sam Dees, Bobby Womack, Allen Toussaint and William Bell among many more. They have done many interviews for In The Basement magazine, run live shows for a couple of years, DJ'd at many locations including in England and Sweden, and are regulars at every soul show in the Netherlands, including the much missed Blues Estafette in Utrecht where I first met them.
Hans and Harry have now began a new chapter with the launch of a splendid new website which has details of every artist they've met or interviewed over the years, a timeline featuring the show's development and their many trips abroad and photos of some of Harry's huge collection of picture sleeve 45s. Here are some of them:
Their Thursday night show is a must for soul fans: this week (May 26), they are welcoming back DJ Moonshine, who brings his own Garrard record player to the studio and plays exclusively R and B, blues and gospel 78s. The title of the show is 'Going To Heaven with DJ Moonshine'. It's a fun show to be on, as I found out in 2014 when they invited me to spin a few records on one of their shows. And they are generous hosts. They presented me with a book of picture sleeve 45s - something Harry does on a regular basis with guests and at gigs. 
It's not long now until the Porretta Soul Festival and Hans and Harry will be attending - their first visit for a few years. It will be great to catch up with them. In the meantime I will be tuning into their weekly show, beginning with their 78s special this week.
Here's my blog entry from when I guested on the show.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Stax singer Johnny Daye and others RIP

It's high time that I caught up on some of the music people who have died over the last few weeks. The most recent is blue eyed soul singer Johnny Daye, who must rank as one of the unluckiest of Stax artists. Originally from Pittsburgh, he possessed a fantastic voice, as can be heard on the deep soul of Stay Baby Stay, his second and final single for Stax. He was discovered singing in a doowop
group the Itals by Joe Rock who brought him to the local Blue Star label where he recorded I'll Keep On Loving You. After a further 45 for Cameo Parkway and two for Johnny Nash's Jomada label, he opened for Otis Redding at a show in Pittsburgh when Wilson Pickett cancelled. Otis was so impressed that he took him to Memphis where he signed with Stax and recorded What'll I Do For Satisfaction (later recorded by Janet Jackson), produced by Steve Cropper. Still only 17, he looked certain to become a star, but Otis died leaving him without his main supporter. He went on to record Stay Baby Stay, a song he co-wrote with Rock and Steve Cropper, but the death of Martin Luther King in 1968 changed things in Memphis and he decided to leave. He recorded some more material in California for Steve Cropper and Leon Russell, but it went unreleased and that was the end of Johnny's brief career and he went back to normal life.
Among others who have passed away in recent weeks is blues guitarist and singer Lonnie Brooks. He began his recording career under the name of Guitar Jr for Eddie Shuler's Gold Band label where his records included The Crawl, Family Rules and I Got It Made. Moving to Chicago he changed his stage name to Lonnie Brooks and backed other blues artists as well as recording for several labels including Chess and Mercury. In 1969 he reverted to his previous name to record an LP for Wayne Shuler, Eddie's son, called Broke an' Hungry. His greatest success came in the late seventies and eighties when he recorded seven albums for Alligator and toured extensively. I remember seeing him at Jazzfest on several occasions and at the Town and Country 2 in London in 1991 and he always put on an excellent show. He continued to tour in the 1990's and made an album called Roadhouse Blues in 1996. He also appeared in the movie Blues Brothers 2000.
A belated farewell too to Rosie Hamlin of Rosie and the Originals who died last month. The group's
sole hit Angel Baby is one of my - and John Lennon's - favourite singles of 1961. She recorded sporadically after that, the group having broken up, but Angel Baby was their masterpiece. I've often wondered if the excellent B side, Give Me Love, with its rather slurred male vocals, had anything to do with Rosie. In any event the songwriting credits were initially stolen from her by the Highland label, which led to a long battle over royalties.
It's goodbye also to Cuba Gooding Senior, who took over as lead singer of the Main Ingredient when former lead singer Donald McPherson died, and sang lead on Everybody Plays The Fool and Just Don't Want To Be Lonely, among others. He later recorded as a solo singer for Motown.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

America's lost music history

The news that the Gold Band recording studio in Lake Charles, Louisiana, has been knocked down is yet another example of how little value is given to the history of American popular music. Apparently some locals braved the demolition balls to rescue a few records, papers and pieces of equipment. Set up by Eddie Shuler in 1945, Goldband recorded a tremendous amount of Cajun, rockabilly and swamp pop music over many decades. It was where Phil Phillips recorded Sea Of Love, Dolly Parton made her first recording Puppy Love and numerous local artists began their careers, including Lonnie Brooks (as Guitar Junior), Jo-El Sonnier, Rocking Sidney and Al Ferrier. When I visited Lake Charles in 2005 the building was empty and deserted. Eddie was no longer recording and died a few months later. There was a sign on the outside saying it was a historic building, but it seems that since then no real efforts were made to save the building for posterity.
Sadly this has been the attitude in many parts of the US. The old Stax studio in Memphis was demolished to be replaced by a marker, but has since been gloriously rebuilt as a museum and education centre, showing what can be achieved if there is a will. Not far away, the site of American Studios is now occupied by a supermarket with just a plaque to commemorate it.
When I was In Chicago in April I visited the former site of Vee-Jay records, the label that produced blues by the likes of Jimmy Reed and John Lee Hooker, doowop by the Spaniels and the Dells, and soul by Jerry Butler, Gene Chandler, Dee Clark and Betty Everett. The building had scaffolding on it and was apparently on the verge of demolition to make way for upscale housing. There was no sign of its important role in black music (not to mention its involvement in releasing early Beatles tracks in the US) and was in a sorry state. Just down the road the site of Chess Records has at least fared rather better, being the headquarters today of the Willie Dixon Foundation.
In New Orleans Cosimo Matassa's J and M recording studio in Rampart Street is now a launderette, although there are photos of its former use around the place. I visited the famous Dew Drop Inn (pictured below), the night club where many of the great fifties and sixties black artists appeared, on one of my visits in the '90s and it too was semi derelict. Today, it seems, there is a campaign to restore it to its former glory. Let's hope it succeeds.
In Houston, the original site of Duke Records in Erastus Street was occupied by a church (pictured below) when I visited last year with no mention of its musical heritage, and I read recently that even the church has now been knocked down. In Los Angeles there is virtually no sign of the important role that Central Avenue played in its music history. And in Jackson, Mississippi, all that remains of the influential Trumpet Records in Farish Street is a marker.
There has been much controversy in New Orleans recently surrounding the decision to remove four Confederate statues, including that of Robert E Lee in Lee Circle. To some, this is another example of how America fails to mark its history, although there are undoubtedly two sides to this, as the presence of grandiose tributes to former slave owners and those who supported slavery is offensive to many. In the UK we've had similar debates recently with regard to Colston Hall in Bristol, named after a local slave trader and merchant, and the statue of the imperialist Cecil Rhodes in Oxford. Whatever the rights and wrongs of these historical remains, the recognition for posterity of places which were central to the development of music is surely something that everyone can agree on. 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Buddy Holly: Rave On BBC4

It's sixty years since Buddy Holly and the Crickets burst upon the world with That'll Be The Day. In just 18 months Buddy produced a string of ground breaking and highly influential records that still resonate today. The story of his life and death has been covered many times, so I was sceptical about last night's BBC4 documentary Buddy Holly: Rave On. In fact it was remarkably good, with contributions from just about everyone with a connection to Buddy who is still alive, including his widow Maria Elena, his brother Larry, Jerry Allison, Sonny Curtis and Sonny West, who co-wrote and recorded Rave On and Oh Boy. One of the most telling contributions came from Dion, who turned down the chance of taking the ill fated flight that killed Buddy, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper because of the cost - 36 dollars was a month's rent, he said. After travelling on the tour bus and hearing of the accident Dion went back to the bus to think, surrounded by the trio's possessions, including Buddy's guitar, Ritchie's jacket and the Bopper's hat.
Buddy's rise to fame from Lubbock via an unsuccessful set of recordings for Decca in Nashville and the Crickets' breakthrough relationship with Norman Petty in Clovis was well documented. Buddy's unconventional dampening effect on his Fender Stratocaster which gave his guitar work its unique sound was explained by Brian May. That'll Be The Day, on tri centre Coral, was the seventh record that he bought, he said, as he thumbed through his record box. Buddy's adoption of thick rimmed glasses was encouraged by the Everly Brothers, according to Don Everly, and there were contributions too from Duane Eddy, Paul Anka, Hank Marvin, Bob Harris and Don Mclean, who inevitably spoke about his song about 'The day the music died'. After recording with strings as a solo artist in New York who knows how Buddy's career might have developed. But it seems that financially his relationship with Petty had not gone well which led to him taking part in the Winter Dance Party tour. Maria Elena didn't travel with him as she was pregnant, later losing the baby. The plane crash was a sad end to an extraordinary and all too short career.
Buddy Holly and the Crickets toured the UK in 1958 but I was just a year or two too young to go to any of the shows so I never saw him in person. However I will never forget their appearance live on Sunday Night at the London Palladium, when they performed That'll Be The Day, Peggy Sue and Oh Boy. The first LP I owned was The Buddy Holly Story which I played endlessly. Whenever I hear any of the tracks today my mind still imagines the following one on the LP, so ingrained is it in the memory.
Earlier in the evening, BBC4 showed a compilation of live performances by rock and roll greats recorded at the BBC over the years which included some great ones I hadn't seen before and some I had. Among the best were Bo Diddley singing Bo Diddley is Crazy, Chuck doing Roll Over Beethoven, Dick Dale attacking Miserlou, Dion singing The Wanderer with Jools Holland in 2007 and Ronnie Spector with Don't Worry Baby. Also included were the Stones, the Who, Joan Jett, George Thorogood (a good version of No Particular Place To Go), Paul McCartney with a convincing version of Let's Have A Party, and Oasis. Good to see rock and roll back on the BBC