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.