Sunday, July 22, 2018

Don Bryant's masterclass lights up Porretta

Saturday night is always a full house at Porretta and last night's show was no exception. It was an evening that began brilliantly, stalled in the middle and took off again towards the end. The brilliance came courtesy of Don Bryant, backed by the Bo-Keys, who gave a masterclass in high class soul singing. Don's voice remains in superb condition and it was pure delight listening to numbers such as Nickel and a Nail, Something About You, How Do I Get There and One Ain't Enough and Two's Too Many. Don's was the uncredited voice on Willie Mitchell's Everything's Gonna Be Alright and That Driving Beat and the Bo-keys, led expertly by Scott Bomar, let rip on both. Other excellent numbers included Am I Wasting My Time, I Die A Little Each Day and What Kind Of Love Is This and Don finished with Don't Turn Your Back On Me, from his recent album, and, of course, I Can't Stand The Rain. A great set, very nearly up to the standard of the show at Ronnie Scott's last year.
The Anthony Paule band took the stage for the rest of the show and things started to go flat, although through no fault of their own. Mitch Woods' piano spot, including House Of Blue Lights, didn't quite take off and numbers by Sax Gordon and backing singer Sandy Griffith took up valuable time, good though they were. An unannounced number by guitarist Alvon Johnson (Let's Straighten It Out)', including a tour of the audience, seemed superfluous as well, although he looked the part. Percy Wiggins appeared next, dressed entirely in white, including hat, shoes and, rather bizarrely, gloves. This was his third visit to Porretta and although his voice is good, his stage act is less so. Eight extended numbers, including Look What I've Done To My Baby, Book Of Memories, Never Gonna Find Me A Girl, Bring It On Home To Me and Love And Happiness, was too many. Brother Spencer then came to the stage, accompanied by Wee Willie Walker, and the three of them sang I Need A Lot Of Loving Every Day. Spencer looked decidedly frail but his voice remained pretty strong on Lonely Man, Uptight Good Woman (with the customary five false endings), What Do You Think About My Baby and Double Loving.
Next up was Swamp Dogg and we expected great things but it was not to be. He seemed a little off the pace on his slightly surreal material, including Synthetic World, Total Destruction Of Your Mind, Lover Man and Mama's Baby - Daddy's Maybe. He ended his set with Gotta Get A  Message To You, with much hand shaking in the audience, but seemed surprised when MC Rick Hutton pulled him off. 'Have I Gone Past My Time?' he asked. The answer, it seemed, was yes. The show livened up with the next act, a dynamic young southern soul singer called Lacee from Memphis. Wearing a sparkly cat suit, she came across well on Juke Joint Jump, Dr Feelgood, one of her self composed songs and Try A Little Tenderness. I would like to see her in a down home juke joint in the south some time. The final act of a very long night was Ernie Johnson, another singer in the southern soul mould, who wore an outrageous bright red suit and cap. He was full of life and excellent on numbers such as Bad Case Of Nothing But The Blues, If My Love Can't Make You Stay Move Along, You're Gonna Miss Me, Party Time and finally Otis's Dreams To Remember. Overall, it was an uneven night, made special by  Don Bryant and, to an extent, the final two acts. A night to remember none the less, if only for its post 2.30 finish.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Wonderful soul night at Porretta

Porretta Soul Festival's reputation as the world's best of its kind was borne out by a wonderful night of great music on Friday. Things got off to a slow start with a blues set by guitarist Chris Cain and the Luca Giordano Band plus Sax Gordon. Chris was fine on numbers such as Movin' Back To Memphis and B B King's Sweet 16, but it wasn't soul and that's what we had come to hear.
When the Anthony Paule Band took to the stage things moved to a higher level. Soul Finger was followed by a good vocal number by Sax Gordon and two by backing singer Larry Batiste, a big man in a hat, including Al Green's Let's Stay Together. Then the first of five excellent soul acts took to the stage, Detroit based Booker Brown. Despite his origins he is very much a southern soul guy, with a voice reminiscent of Bobby Womack and an excellent stage act. Wearing a naval cap, his wardrobe began with a white jacket, reducing to a black and gold waistcoat before stripping to his shirt. Numbers included Love Is Blind But The Neighbors Aren't, Bobby Bland's I Take Good Care Of You, Never Too Much and the up tempo Stirr It Up. Next up was Missy Andersen, a slim young lady in a leopard print dress, who began a little uncertainly with O V Wright's Ace Of Spades. She grew in confidence with Stand By Me, Tell Mama, a good version of It's Alright, What Kind Of Man, and If You Loved Me Like You Said before finishing with Higher And Higher.
After a break the music went up a further gear with the superlative Wee Willie Walker, a diminutive deep soul man who first recorded for Goldwax in the sixties. He held the audience spellbound with I Ain't Gonna Cheat On You No More, Second Chance, the Goldwax track There Goes My Used To Be and Hate Take A Holiday. After A While and If Only, from his latest album, were intense and beautiful, as was Mable John's Your GoodThing Is About To End and Look What You've Done To Me. A great act, which was followed by the now familiar acrobatics of drummer D'Mar (Derrick Martin), who leaped over his drum kit and rampaged around the audience playing anything he could lay his drum sticks on.
The mood changed instantly with the arrival on stage of Oakland based Terrie Odabi, who sang Wade In The Water very quietly at first, before building to a dramatic climax. Terrie was one of the hits of last year's festival despite not being listed to appear, and this time she showed just how good she really is. Her set ranged from the jazzy Live My Life to Denise Lasalle's raunchy Man Sized Job, a brilliant and dramatic version of You're Gonna Make Me Cry, the social comment of Gentrification Blues and Ben E King's Don't Play That Song. This was a super set, confirming Terrie as a great soul singer. The final act of the evening was John Ellison, formerly of the Soul Brothers Six. I thought he might have peaked too soon by opening with his two biggest hits, Some Kind Of Wonderful and I Want To Thank You Baby, but I was wrong as the rest of his set was excellent and varied. He is a tall man with a high voice who strides across the stage, initially wearing a cloak, dark glasses and a black head band, and he certainly pleased the audience with I'll Be Loving You, the dramatic What Can You Do When You Ain't Got Nobody, the disco flavoured Love Line (involving audience members forming lines on stage), the love song Simply I Love You, It's Your Lips and finally If I Had Just One Wish. A great end to a wonderful evening and there's still more great artists to come.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Porretta time again

Once again I'm back in the usually sleepy Italian spa town of Porretta Terme for the annual soul festival, which never fails at attract great soul acts. This time we visited Siena on the way, along with San Gimignano, with its many medieval towers, and a stay with my friend Nick in Bologna. The weather is hot so far and the music looks pretty hot too.
The first evening always features Italian bands and the first of these, a seven piece outfit called Groove City were pretty good. They were here three years ago but this time they featured a different female singer by the name of Daria Biancardi. She is very popular with the locals and I can understand why as she possesses a powerful voice and a good stage act. She began with 'LoveThe One You're With' and other songs included 'Damn Your Eyes ', 'Spirit In The Dark' and a lively version of 'Son Of A Preacher Man'. She was loud but effective. After a duet with regular MC Rick Hutton, she gave way to piano player Mitch Woods, who has recently recorded an album with Van Morrisson, Taj Mahal and others. His set comprised jump blues and boogie woogie numbers, including 'Solid Gold Cadillac', 'Down Boy Down', the Professor Longhair styled 'Mojo Mambo' and 'Boogie  Woogie Barbecue'. A solid set and a good way to kick off the festival. The second act, the JBees, turned out to be a glitzy disco act and didn't appeal, but the best of this superb festival is yet to come.  More reports and photos will appear shortly.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Emmett Till case reopened

News that the Emmett Till case is to be reopened 63 years after the murder took place reminded me of the 2014 visit that Dave Carroll and I made to the museum dedicated to his memory in the hamlet of Glendora, Mississippi.
Emmett Till's death was one of the sparks that lit the Civil Rights campaign in the US. He was a 14 year African American boy from Chicago who was visiting relatives in the south. He allegedly whistled at a white woman in the nearby village of Money and as a result was murdered and thrown off a nearby bridge by two white men. His mutilated body was laid in an open casket when it was recovered. An all white jury found the two suspects not guilty of Emmett's murder, but they subsequently admitted to a magazine that they had committed the murder.
Glendora is, like so many villages in rural Mississippi, a run down place with many derelict buildings. It was the home town of Sonny Boy Williamson, who often played there. The Emmett Till Historic Intrepid Center (ETHIC), based in a former cotton gin, is little publicised, or visited. When we arrived it was closed and deserted and we were about to leave when a lady drove up at fast speed in a battered car. Word must have got around that there were visitors there. She opened up and we had a good look around the museum, which told the story of the murder, the racist attitudes that prevailed (and still prevail) in the south, and information about the civil rights movement.
Now, it seems that the Department of Justice has reopened the 1955 case following claims in a book that the woman at the centre of the wolf whistling incident admitted in 2008 that she had lied.
Here are some photos taken on our visit, none of which have appeared in The Vinyl Word before.
Here are a couple taken at the remains of Bryant's Grocery in Money, where the alleged whistling offence took place. Photos were taken in 2015.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Candi Staton shows she is 'Unstoppable'

Candi Staton has a new album out shortly called 'Unstoppable'. Judging by last night's show at the Omeara in London (a new venue for me, but an intimate one which has much to commend it), it's a very apt title, because, at the age of 78, Candi still has energy to spare, as well as a great voice and vibrant personality.
I missed the first couple of numbers as I was watching England do the unthinkable by actually winning a penalty shoot out, but I gather they were 'Honest I Do' and the Bee Gees' 'Nights on Broadway'. When I arrived Candi was going through some of her earlier recordings from her time at Fame, with her excellent version of Tammy Wynette's 'Stand By Your Man', followed by 'I'd Rather Be An Old Man's Sweetheart (Than A Young Man's Fool)'. It was immediately clear that we were in for something special. Candi has a terrific personality and it shone through. Backed by her regular band, which was excellent, as were her backing singers, she moved on to two numbers from the new album - the bluesy 'I Fooled You (Didn't I)' and Patti Smith's 'People Have The Power'.
Back in the early seventies, Candi had great success with a cover of 'In The Ghetto', a song, she recalled, that she performed with Elvis at the time. From that point onwards it was dance time, something the youngish crowd took to enthusiastically, initially with a good take on 'Suspicious Minds'. Then it was on to an extended version of her disco classic 'Young Hearts Run Free', with hints of gospel ('This Little Light Of Mine') thrown in, during which she introduced members of the band. The dance favourite 'You Got The Love' inevitably got the crowd going and by this time you could feel the love - both from Candi and from the adoring audience. Candi finished with a brief stab at Unstoppable - 'it's what I'm trying to be', she said. On this form Candi certainly is

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Eugene Pitt of the Jive Five RIP and others

Sad to hear of the death, at the age of 80, of Eugene Pitt, lead singer of the Jive Five who had a huge hit in 1961 with My True Story. The group recorded for the Beltone label and followed up their US hit (which failed to chart in the UK) with Never Never and What Time Is It? before having further success with I'm A Happy Man on United Artists. Further recordings failed to score but they adapted to the soul sound in the seventies, with Pitt always in an ever changing line up. In the 1980s they recorded a series of jingles for the American kids' TV network Nickleodeon. I've seen Eugene on several occasions in recent years and each time he was in superb form. He was at the Doo-wop Weekend in Long Island in 2014 and 2016 (pictured above) and appeared alongside Herb Cox and Bobby Lewis at Viva Las Vegas in 2015. At the 2016 doo-wop show, at which Eugene and the Jive Five sang My True Story, What Time Is It? and I'm A Happy Man, I considered them the act of a very busy day. In My True Story the lyrics name Sue, Earl and Lorraine as the protagonists, but that 'names have been changed dear to protect you and I'. Eugene revealed in an interview a few years ago that it was actually about his girl friend of the time, name of Phyllis Little.
The Vinyl Word also raises a glass to some other musicians who have died during the last few weeks. D J Fontana, who has died aged 87, was the drummer at the Louisiana Hayride and joined Scotty Moore, Bill Black and a young Elvis Presley to form the Blue Moon Boys at Sun Records. He went on to back Elvis on most of his fifties records and was with him at his 1968 Comeback Special. My photo shows D J backing Charlie Gracie at the RNA Club in Plaistow in 1992.
Another recent death is that of blues guitarist Matt 'Guitar' Murphy at the age of 88. Born in Sunflower, Mississippi, he moved to Chicago aged 19 and joined Howlin' Wolf's band, which included Junior Parker at the time. He recorded with many Chicago blues greats including Sonny Boy
Williamson, Buddy Guy and Chuck Berry, and was part of the 1963 American Folk Blues Festival which I recall seeing at the Fairfield Hall, Croydon. He recorded with James Cotton in the 1970s but reached a far bigger audience when he appeared in the Blues Brothers films, playing the husband of Aretha Franklin,  and toured with the Blues Brothers band.
It's farewell too, also at the age of 88, to Clarence Fountain, long time leader of the Blind Boys of Alabama. Clarence toured with possibly the greatest, and certainly the best known, gospel group of all time from the 1940s to 2007. I saw them at least half a dozen times and they were a joy on every occasion, with Clarence's voice and stage presence well to the fore.
The Vinyl Word raises a glass to them all.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Doo-wop Legends at the 100 Club

The Apollo Theatre in Harlem of the 1950s was recreated at the 100 Club in London last night when three original doo-wop singers appeared on stage at the latest Tales From The Woods show. Sadly there was a less than capacity audience, consisting mostly of older music fans, but the performances were top notch and this was definitely a night to remember.
Backed by the ever excellent Tales From The Woods Band, and supported by the superb Barcelona based doowop quartet The Four Candles (aka the Velvet Candles), John Cheatdom, Tommy Hunt and Gaynel Hodge, have a combined aged of over 240 years, but they have still got the sweet voices that served them so well back in the day. After an introduction from Keith Woods, who has masterminded all the TFTW shows over the last ten years or so, the band played four numbers, two instrumentals and two - Don't Come Knockin. and Chicken Shack Boogie - on which lead guitarist John Spencely took the vocals.
The sound seemed a bit muddy at this stage but it improved once the Four Candles (pictured above), who performed for the remainder of the show, took the stage.Their lead singer Augie Burriel took the lead on several classic numbers, including the Velvets' Tonight, Dance Girl Dance, Little Darling and She's The Most, while the soft tones of Miguel Garro sang Fools Fall In Love, Cry Cry Cry and the Cleftones' Heart And Soul. This was harmony group singing at its very best - something we've come to expect from this group over recent years. They look right, with their white jackets with bow ties and their choreographed stage moves, and they sound right too: a throwback to the doo-wop groups of the fifties.
First solo act on stage was John Cheatdom, who had spells with the Velours and Penguins and was with the Platters for over 30 years. Wearing a colourful music themed jacket, John has a light high voice, with a slightly unnerving falsetto at times, and came across strongly on ten numbers, including Tears On My Pillow, some Platters songs (The Magic Touch, My Prayer and Harbour Lights), the Velours' Remember and the Fiestas' So Fine. He followed with a solo effort on Unchained Melody, the soft Remember When, Can I Come Over Tonight and, as an encore, Gloria. John said he became a doo-wop singer after seeing Billy Eckstine and the Ink Spots 60 years ago, and he hasn't looked back since. But, he said, it was a pleasant change to be backed by a full band, rather than a backing tape.
Next up was the star of a previous TFTW show, the ageless Tommy Hunt, who has had careers both in doo-wop and in soul. Now 85 his sense of humour and vocal ability remains undimmed and he was an absolute delight. This was very much a Flamingos set and he described the Candles as the new Flamingos (someone in the audience suggested they should be called the Flamencos), and included many of their best known numbers. He began with Ko Ko Mo, moving on to the Sam Cooke penned Nobody Loves Me Like You, and the rather drone-like A Kiss From Your Lips. There was rock and roll with Crazy Crazy Crazy, sweet harmony with Lovers Never Say Goodbye, a baion beat on Your Other Love and Besame Mucho, and - a song he apparently hates - Heavenly Angel. Always a highlight in a Tommy Hunt/ Four Candles set, Paul Robeson's Ol' Man River went down a storm, and finally the upbeat Jump Children rocked the joint. Tommy left the stage, but obviously he couldn't go without singing the Flamingos' greatest hit, I Only Have Eyes For You, which completed a set of the highest class.
The third doo-wop legend, Gaynel Hodge, was a little late coming to the stage so we were treated to Shake Rattle and Roll by Jackson Sloan (pictured above with DJ John Howard), before the ex member of the Hollywood Flames and the Turks, dressed in a dark suit and sun glasses appeared. Gaynel, who I saw at Rhythm Riot a few years ago, kicked things off with The Hollywood Flames' Buzz Buzz Buzz, followed by the somewhat lugubrious Emily. Then came I'm In Love and the latin flavoured Hey Senorita. Gaynel was at one time a member of the Penguins and co-wrote the classic Earth Angel, a song he sang while taking Claire Hamlin's place on keyboards, before tackling the Platters' Only You, Little Bitty Pretty One, I'm A Fool, Rockin' Robin and It's You. Gaynel mumbled a little between songs but his vocals were good and this was another strong set.
Finally all three acts came on stage for a finale of So Fine, with enthusiastic applause from the audience. Keith Woods must again by congratulated on putting on this fine show, and the Tales From The Woods Band, this time augmented on sax by Nick Lunt, also deserves the highest praise, as do the Four Candles. Such a shame that a show of this quality wasn't sold out. Why is it that doo-wop doesn't attract a younger audience, whereas the equally venerable rockabilly does?
Here are some photos of members of the band, namely John Spencely, Claire Hamlin and sax players Alex Bland and Nick Lunt.
Here's Jackson Sloan on stage.
The man who made it all possible Keith Woods.
Finally, here's one of me with John Cheatdom.