Wednesday, January 20, 2021

15 years of The Vinyl Word

It's exactly 15 years to the day since the first edition of The Vinyl Word. Since then there have been nearly 1400 posts, 1100 comments and nearly two million views. That first edition came the day after Wilson Pickett died and I speculated at the time on who might be the last soul man. Since then we've seen the deaths of many of those I named as possible contenders: Solomon Burke, James Brown, Bobby Bland, Percy Sledge and Ben E King. Of those who I listed who are still with us there are Sam Moore, Eddie Floyd and Clarence Carter. Of course we have also lost three of the big four survivors of rock and roll: Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Little Richard. Jerry Lee Lewis really is the last man standing. Over the last 15 years I have covered hundreds of gigs, including many in London and festivals in New Orleans, Memphis, Porretta, Las Vegas, Long Island and Torremolinos plus Blackpool and Cleethorpes in the UK. I have occaionally focused on records that I have obtained, often at car boor sales and charity shops; reminisced about events from my youth, especially those those involving music; and recorded the day to day activity of dozens of US road trips carried out with my Woodie friends, from as far afield as New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Austin, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. And I've reported on the great series of London shows put on by Keith Woods. All of these entries can be easily discovered by using the search box and it's amazing how many memories a few minutes of searching can reveal. I have tended to steer clear of politics, not because I don't have political views (very much anti Brexit for example) but because I don't want to alienate music fans who disagree with me. I will make an exception today as Donald Trump is leaving the White House for the last time. He was the worst President in history without doubt and his departure can only be good for the world. Of course the last year has been generally a real let down because of COVID. I haven't been to a gig in nearly a year and many entries focused on music deaths, some of them from the dreaded virus. The whole point of the blog originally was the celebrate those artists who are still with us by seeing them whenever possible, and by playing the vinyl records of those who have passed on. Needless to say there has been another death to report - that of Winfield Parker (78), a popular figure on the Northern Soul scene. He was a saxophone player in the Little Richard band, soemthing he spoke about at the interview session during the 2017 Ponderosa Stomp (pictured below). He recorded for several different labels and his most successful record, on Ru-Jac, was a revival of 'Stop Her On Sight (SOS)'. Other records, popular on the soul scene include 'Mr Clean', 'My Love For You' and 'Shake That Thing'. Winfield played the Forum in London in 2007 as part of the Kent Records 25th anniversary show, along with Mary Love, the Flirtations, Tommy Hunt and Maxine Brown. His act at the Stomp in 2017 featured him dancing around the stage wearing a sparkly jacket and gold shoes and he was excellent on 'SOS', 'Rocking In The Barnyard' and 'Mr Clean'. Another soul man has departed the scene: RIP.
*** Brian Clark has alerted me via Facebook to two further music deaths today. Jimmie Rodgers had enormous success, particularly in the UK, with a string of pop hits, including 'Honeycomb, 'Kisses Sweeter Than Wine'. 'Oh Oh I'm Falling in Love Again', Secretly', 'Woman From Liberia', 'Soldier Won't You Marry Me' and 'English Country Garden'. Born in Washington State, Jimmie was 87. The second death is that of Peter Wynne, once a member of the Larry Parnes stable of singers, who toured with Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent and appeared on 'Wham,, 'Boy Meets Girl' and 'Thank Your Lucky Stars'. His records included 'Twilight Time', 'Ask Anyone In Love' and 'Our Concerto'.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Phil Spector RIP: flawed genius

There will be many obituaries of Phil Spector, who has died aged 81 apparently from COVID, over the next few days and most of them will be negative, at least in terms of his private life. True, he had severe personality problems, as Ronnie Spector. who had the misfortune to marry him, will attest. And his imprisonment for the murder of Lana Clarkson marked the beginning of the final chapter in his troubled life. But it is hard to argue with his role as one of the most influential record producers of all time. He began as a member of the Teddy Bears who had a huge hit with 'To Know Him Is To Love Him' in 1959, but soon moved into production. Early successes were among my favourites at the time, including Ray Peterson's 'Corrine Corrina'. Curtis Lee's 'Pretty Little Angel Eyes', Gene Pitney's 'Every Breathe I Take' and 'I Love How You Love Me' by the Paris Sisters. Joining up with Lester Sill, who was a mentor to Leiber and Stoller, he formed the Philles label and the 'Wall of Sound' was born. Some of the most exciting records of the early sixties, or indeed any period, emerged from Phil's ability to combine massed amounts of intrumentation into an all encompassing sound. The Crystals, the Ronettes, Bob B Soxx and the Blue Jeans and Darlene Love (disguised as the Crystals on 'He's A Rebel') made landmark recordings produced by Phil. Sill departed but Phil continued his run of success with the Righteous Brothers, Ike and Tina Turner and Sonny Charles and the Checkmates. I remember hearing the Crystals' 'There's No Other Like My Baby' and being knocked out. All of the Crystals and Ronettes records at that time went straight to number one in my personal top ten, including 'He's A Rebel', 'He's Sure The Boy I Love', 'Da Doo Ron Ron', 'Then He Kissed Me', 'I Wonder', 'Be My Baby'and 'Baby I Love You'. Then came the Righteous Brothers 'You've Lost That Loving Feeling' and Ike and Tina's 'River Deep- Mountain High', which amazingly didn't become a hit in the US. Phil went on to work with the Beatles on 'Let It Be' and with John Lennon and George Harrison, both of whom regarded him highly, on various projects and also with Dion on 'Born To Be With You', but by this time Phil was decidedly flaky. Adter working with the Ramones in 1980 he faded from the scene before dramatically coming back into the public eye with the death of actress Lana Clarkson in 2003. His first trial was inconclusive but a second trial in 2009 resulted in a sentence of 19 years to life and he never regained his freedom. Despite his flaws, Phil Spector was undoubtedly one of the all time greats of popular music. His Christmas album, featuring all of his Philles acts, remains the ultimate album of the festive period year after year. Phil was a genius - a flawed one, but undoubtedly a genius. May he rest in peace.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Latest music deaths

It's a new year but nothing much has changed on the live music front. We're in another lockdown. Music deaths, however, continue, so it's time to catch up on a few. The latest is Sylvain Sylvain, aged 69, guitarist with the New York Dolls, the band that foreshadowed the punk era of the late seventies with their fuck you approach and loud and often out of tune stage act. Synvain was born in Cairo but grew up in New York where he was in a band called Actress, with Johnny Thunders before joining the Dolls in 1971. I never got to see them at the time, but I did catch Sylvain and singer David Johansen at the Forum in 2006. Here's what I wrote on The Vinyl Word at the time: 'Being at a loose end last night I went to see the New York Dolls at the Forum. It was a fairly ear splitting experience but an interesting one. The two remaining original members David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain showed plenty of energy and enthusiasm and the show improved as it went on. It would have been good to have seen them in their heyday in the early seventies when their outrageous camp appearance and in your face stage act paved the way for the punk era that followed. I have a soft spot for punk, because it re-awakened my interest in pop music at a time when the blandness of seventies music seemed to have killed it stone dead. But I was only marginally aware of the New York Dolls, who by that time had long since drifted into drug-fuelled oblivion. Today, Johansen continues to look like an ageing clone of Mick Jagger and his cigarette smoke ravaged voice is rough and out of tune but he still has a degree of stage presence. Highlights of the show were 'Pills', 'Trash', 'Fishnets and Cigarettes' and 'You can't put your arms around memories', a tribute to Johnny Thunders who died of an overdose in New Orleans during Jazzfest 1991. Many of the numbers were unfamiliar to me, but the ageing ex-punks in the audience seemed to know them all. I'm not going to rush out to buy their newish CD on the basis of this occasionally exciting but basically tuneless performance, but the New York Dolls can still put on a polished show, even if they do assault the eardrums mercilessly.'
Another recent death is that of Gerry Marsden of Pacemakers fame at the age of 78. He was a legend in Liverpool where his version of 'You'll Never Walk Alone' remains the anthem of the Reds and 'Ferry Across The Mersey' is also fondly remembered. They enjoyed mega hits with 'I Like It' and 'How Do You Do It', their first two records, and continued their success for a couple of years, including an appearance in the musical film 'Ferry Across the Mersey', before the group disbanded in 1966. Gerry continued a solo career but never regained the heights of his early days. Also passed away, aged 76, is Tim Bogert, one of the founders of Vanilla Fudge, who enjoyed success with distorted but interesting versions of 'You Keep Me Hanging On', 'Eleanor Rigby, 'The Look Of Love' and 'Shotgun' and recorded five albums. He moved on to the rock band Cactus and joined up with Jeff Beck in Beck, Bogert and Appice. Photo shows Vanilla Fudge's first LP produced by Shadow Morton.

Friday, January 01, 2021

Here's to a musical 2021

So it's new year and we can say good riddance to 2020 and look forward, hopefully, to a better 2021. I managed to get to the Rockin' Race in Spain in February before lockdown came in but that was the only live music i was able to enjoy during the year. It was a bad year too for my record hunting addiction as car boot sales and charity shops were closed for much of the time. And of course it was a year of more music deaths, including Little Richard, Toots Hibbert. Charley Pride and Roy Head among many others (see my recent 'death list' for the year). The latest deaths to have come to my attention include English songwriter Geoff Stephens at the age of 86. Geoff wrote or co-wrote such hits as 'Tell Me When' (Applejacks), Dave Berry's 'The Crying Game', 'There's A Kind of Hush', a hit both for Herman's Hermits and the Carpenters, 'Sorry Suzanne' (the Hollies) and 'Like Sister and Brother' (the Drifters). He also discovered and managed Donovan and formed the New Vaudeville Band, who had a worldwide smash with 'Winchester Cathedral'. Another who has died is Phyllis McGuire, last surviving member of the McGuire Sisters, who had a run of fifties hits (often cover versions) including 'Sincerely', 'Goodnight My Love Pleasant Dreams', 'Sugartime'. 'Volare' and 'Red River Valley'.
I saw the New Year in traditional style with Jools Holland's 'Hootenanny'. It was a scaled down show without the usual audience or American visitors and with several clips from the archives. I have a lot of time for Jools Holland and his regular singer Ruby Turner (pictured at the Jazz Cafe in 1999) was on good form with Joe Turner's 'Morning Noon and Night' and a duet with Jools on 'Alright, OK You Win'. Also on good form was Sir Tom Jones, whose voice shows no signs of being affected by his 80 years. He also featured a Joe Turner song 'Flip Flop and Fly' as well as Jimmy McCracklin's 'Think'. There was also an impressive contribution by Celeste on 'Love Is Back'. She has the potential to be the new Amy Winehouse perhaps. Other guests included the winner of the Mercury prize Michael Kiwanuka, Jools' old mate from Squeeze Chris Difford, who sang 'Cool For Cats', and Roisin Murphy who sang David Bowie's 'Let's Dance'. Rick Wakeman was also there but didn't contribute much apart from a duet with Jools on one number. Jools often features New Orleans artists and the archives featured Trombone Shorty from three years ago with Ernie K-Doe's 'Here Come the Girls'. My photo shows him at Cleveland, Mississippi in 2018. Other archive flashbacks included Jamiroquoi and Franz Ferninand. So what does 2021 have in store I wonder? Assuming I get a jab fairly soon I can at least start to think about foreign trips, indeed I've already booked my hotel for the Porretta Soul Festival in July. And maybe we can think about a US trip in the autumn. Let's hope so. In the meantime, Happy New Year to any readers who may be out there.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Carl Mann and Albert Griffiths RIP

One of the last of the surviving Sun artists, Carl Mann, has died aged 78. He first recorded for the Jaxson label in Jackson, Tennessee, in 1957 and arrived at Sun having been discovered by W S 'Fluke' Holland, Carl Perkins' drummer. Many of Sam Phillips stable of acts had already left by this time but he had great success with a rockabilly version of 'Mona Lisa', which competed with another version by Conway Twitty. He followed it up with 'Pretend'. which was also successful, and 'South of the Border'. He was drafted into the US Army in 1964 and his recording career stalled. He recorded one single for Monument and moved towards country music, having a minor hit in 1976 with 'Twilight Time'. He returned to rockabilly after signing with the Dutch Rockhouse label and had two albums released - 'Gonna Rock and Roll Tonight' and 'Rockabilly Country'. I saw Carl at one of the Sun showcases at Viva Las Vegas in 2018 when he came across strongly on 'Ubangi Stomp', 'I'm Coming Home' and 'Mona Lisa' plus a duet with Miss Ruby Ann on 'Baby I Don't Care'.
Another death is that of reggae artist Albert Griffiths, founder of the Gladiators. The B side of the Ethiopians' 'Train To Skaville' in 1966, 'You Are The Girl', was actually by Albert and when the Gladiators were formed two years later they had success with 'Hello Carol', produced by Coxsone Dodd. They recorded with various producers and other releases included 'Kicks', 'The Train Is Coming' and 'Bongo Red' among others. They were signed by Virgin in 1976 and several albums were released, including 'Trenchtown Mix, 'Proverbial Reggae' and 'Country Living'.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Death list for 2020

As usual at this time of year I pay tribute to those musicians who have died during the last 12 months. As ever it's a long list, made worse by COVID 19 which has claimed quite a few. The latest casualty of this disease is black country star Charley Pride, who was RCA's biggest seller after Elvis with a string of hits in the late sixties and seventies. Charley brings back memories of the period in the seventies when I lived in Skelmersdale, an overspill town of Liverpool, where country music was incredibly popular. I had many Charley Pride LPs at the time, but the track that stays with me through the years is 'Crystal Chandeliers', a song first recorded by Carl Belew. It was a big hit in Liverpool for Charley and is credited with bringing together the two sides in Northern Ireland at the time. Charley was a remarkable singer - a black man in the pale world of country music - and it's a shame to see him pass on as a result of COVID 19, even though he reached the good age of 86.
Another recent death is that of Joseph 'Mojo' Morganfield. son of Muddy Waters. Here is a list of some others who have died during 2020. Barney Ales - Motown promotion man, Rance Allen - bishop and gospel singer, Tony Allen - Nigerian drummer with Fela Kuti, Bobby Ball - half of comedy act Cannon and Ball, Len Barry - lead singer of the Dovells and solo star, Charlie Baty - leader of Charlie and the Nightcats, Ronald Bell - singer/composer with Kool and the Gang, Rod Bernard - swamp pop artist best known for 'This Should Go On Forever', Frank Bey - soul singer who starred at Porretta, Hamilton Bohannon - disco band leader, Big George Brock - St Louis based bluesman, Hux Brown - Jamaican guitarist with the Maytals, Marvin Brown - member of the Softones, Van Broussard - swamp pop singer, Johnny Bush - country singer/songwriter, Edd Byrnes - actor in '77 Sunset Strip', Pete Carr - guitarist with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, Big Al Carson - bluesman from New Orleans, Lorraine Chandler - Detroit soul singer, Rudy Clark - songwriter and discoverer of James Ray, Terry Clemson - guitarist with the Downliners Sect, Freddy Cole - jazz singer brother of Nat King Cole, Bobby Comstock - 'Let's Stomp' singer, Eddie Cooley - R and B singer who co-wrote 'Fever', Max Crook - electronic music pioneer, Charlie Daniels - southern rock/country singer/songwriter, Eddie 'Ghetto Baby' Daniels - rock and roll pioneer, Hutch Davie - orchestra leader and composer, Mac Davis - country singer/songwriter, Spencer Davis - Welsh singer and musician, Jackie Dennis - Scottish fifties pop singer, Tommy DeVito - founder member of the Four Seasons, Manu Dibango - Cameroonian sax player, Joe Diffie - country singer, Carl Dobkins Jr - 50s pop singer, Georgia Dobbins - co-writer of 'Please Mr Postman', Dobby Dobson - Jamaican singer and producer, Bent Fabric - Danish composer and pianist, Julie Felix - American folk singer based in the UK, Tom Finn - singer with the Left Banke, Wayne Fontana - UK singer with the Mindbenders, Dominic Grant - Guys 'n' Dolls singer, Henry Gray - blues piano player, Marty Grebb - member of the Buckinghams, Juliette Greco - French singer/actress, Earl Green - UK based Jamaican blues singer, Herman Green - jazz saxophonist, Peter Green - founder of Fleetwood Mac, Dave Greenfield - keyboardist and singer with the Stranglers, Crazy Cavan Grogan - UK based rockabilly singer, Roy C Hammond - soul singer best known for 'Shotgun Wedding', Gordon Haskell - bass player with the Fleur de Lys and King Crimson, Roy Head - wild man renowned for 'Treat Her Right',
Ken Hensley - English singer with Uriah Heep & the Gods, Frederick 'Toots' Hibbert - reggae superstar with the Maytals, Gaynel Hodge - Co-founder of the Platters and writer of 'Earth Angel', W S 'Fluke' Holland - drummer at Sun records, Pamela Hutchinson - member of the Emotions, Bobby Jones - bluesman who recorded as Bobby Jonz, Al Kasha - American songwriter, Lee Kerslake - member of Uriah Heep, Hal Ketchum - country singer, Eddie Large - half of comedy duo Little and Large, Bunny 'Striker' Lee - Jamican record producer, Bobby Lewis - 'Tossin' and Turnin' hit maker, Raymond Lewis - New Orleans R and B singer, Little Richard - the 'quasar of rock and roll', Brian Locking - member of the Shadows, Trini Lopez - American singer and actor, Tami Lynn - soul singer from New Orleans, Vera Lynn - wartime forces sweetheart, Ellis Marsalis - jazz pianist, Barbara Martin - original member of the Supremes, Ian Mitchell - bassist with the Bay City Rollers, Phil May - singer with the Pretty Things, Dave Munden - drummer with the Tremeloes, Johnny Nash - American pop and reggae singer, Des O'Connor - English comedian, TV presenter and singer, David Olner - American folk singer, Rudy Palacios - Tejano guitarist from San Antonio, Lucky Peterson - Bluesman who played guitar and keyboards, John 'Bucky' Pizarelli - American jazz guitarist, Bonnie Pointer - member of the Pointer Sisters, Steve Priest - bass player and singer with Sweet, John Prine - American country folk singer/songwriter, Ronan O'Rahilly - founder of Radio Caroline, Helen Reddy - Australian/American singer, Al Rex - bass player with Bill Haley's Comets, Emitt Rhodes - American singer/songwriter, Diana Rigg - Avengers star and all round actress, Alfred 'Uganda' Roberts - conga player with Professor Longhair, Mike Sagar - British rock and roll singer, Barry St John - Scottish female singer, Florian Schneider - founder member of Kraftwerk, Billy Joe Shaver - Texas singer/songwriter, Hylda Syms - Uk skiffle artist, Millie Small - ska singer famed for 'My Boy Lollipop', Lucille Starr - half of Canadian duo Bob and Lucille, Cy Tucker - Liverpool based singer, Ricky Valance - 'Tell Laura I Love Her' singer, Eddie Van Halen - rock songwriter and guitarist, Jerry Jeff Walker - 'outlaw' country singer/songwriter. Ian Whitcomb - English singer/songwriter, Rev John Wilkins - soul gospel family group leader, Bo Winberg - guitarist with the Spotnicks, Mark Wirtz - French producer and singer, Bill Withers - soul singer/songwriter, Betty Wright - soul songstress, Edna Wright - singer with the Honeycone, Young Jessie - R and B singer and songwriter.

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Spine tingling moments - part four

Following on from my last post, here is the fourth instalment of my series of 'Spine Tingling Moments' - music gigs that were great at the time and which have stayed in the memory. 31. Bobby Womack - Jazz Cafe, 2011. I've seen Bobby on quite a few occasions dating back to the late eighties but this show was especially poignant as he was clearly unwell (he died three years later) although his voice was still in good shape. He had recently recorded with the Gorillaz - material that to my ears didn't suit him particularly well - but most of his set comprised the sort of material that made him so beloved of soul fans. I've always had slightly ambiguous feelings towards Bobby given his relationship with Sam Cooke's widow, but there was no doubt that he was one of the last great soul men.
32. Otis Clay, Ponderosa Stomp, 2011. Here's another of the great soul men and a man who I saw on numerous occasions. He never failed to put on a great show and this one, late in the evening at the 2011 Ponderosa Stomp was one of his finest (equal perhaps with his performance at Porretta the following year). I was devastated when he died in 2016 - yet another brilliant soul man who is no longer with us.
33. Bobby Rush - King Biscuit festival, 2013. Here is a soul/blues man who is thankfully still with us and who never fails to put on a great show. He is a throwback to the great R and B artists who played the chitlin' circuit back in the day, with his wonderful girl dancers, his lewd humour and his brilliant showmanship. I first saw Bobby at the New Daisy Theatre in Memphis in the nineties and vividly remember the impact he had. He was never more appreciated - or more over the top - than when performing to a predominately black audience as was the case at the King Biscuit Festival. I can't wait to see him again.
34. Dorothy Moore - Hal and Mal's, Jackson, MS, 2013. We struck lucky when we first visited Hal and Mal's for their regular 'Blue Monday' jam session in 2013. Dorothy Moore was about to go on a tour of South Africa and performed her full set as something of a rehearsal. We returned there several times on later trips as we were passing through Jackson and there was always great music from the likes of Pat Brown and JJ Thames. Dorothy sang one song on one of our later trips, but our first visit in 2013 was rather special.
35. Denise Lasalle - Porretta Soul Festival, 2014. Another great soul/blues star Denise Lasalle lit up Porretta in 2014. I first saw her on a Malaco show with Latimore and Little Milton in 1993 and her brilliantly earthy performances made her a must watch artist at various festivals in the south. Sadly Denise passed away in 2018.
36. Jerry Lee Lewis - London Palladium, 2015. This was Jerry Lee's 80th birthday tour and was billed as his farewell to London. When I first saw him - at Croydon's Fairfield Hall in 1963 along with Gene Vincent and Heinz (who was booed) - he was the most exciting performer I had ever seen with the exception of Little Richard. He didn't always live up to that billing, but on his day he could create genuine excitement. Now it's just a pleasure to see that he's survived and is still doing his thing and the Palladium show was highly enjoyable.
37. Santiago Jimenez - Carnitaz Uruapan, San Antonio, 2016. This was possibly the most unusual gig I've ever been to. Santiago, brother of Flaco, played regularly at this pork food place on a Sunday morning to an exclusively Mexican American audience. Four white guys from England were made more than welcome as we tucked into our roast pork and enjoyed Santiago's conjunto music. Truly a morning to remember.
38. Don Bryant - Ronnie Scott's 2017. Don Bryant and his wife Ann Peebles made some excellent records for Hi in the great Willie Mitchell days but it wasn't until his 'Don't Give Up On Love' album that he really came into his own as a solo performer. His show at Ronnie Scott's was a masterclass in soul music and other shows, such as at Porretta and the New Orleans Blues and Barbecue festival, showed what a sublime soul man he continues to be.
39. Big Jay McNeely - Joe's American Bar & Grill, Burbank, CA 2018. I was lucky enough to meet Big Jay at his LA home, along with Gordon Fleming and Paul Waring, in 2014 and enjoy his company at the local IHOP. Four years later John Howard and I saw what proved to be his last performance on the occasion of his 91st birthday. Despite having to be lifted on to the stage due to his infirmity, his sax playing and vocals were still top notch. Sadly he died four months later.
40. The Velvelettes - Detroit A Go Go, Detroit 2019. In 2019, the last year before COVID, I managed to make three US trips and enjoyed an enormous amount of great music. Add to those the Rockin' Race in Spain, the Blackpool Soul Festival and Porretta and it was quite a vintage year, despite the dwindling number of original performers still around. I'm choosing the Velvelettes as my spine tingling moment as, alone among former Motown acts, they comprise all the original members. There was a moment of drama when one of them, Mildred, slipped and fell backwards. Fortunately she was able to continue and 'Needle In A Haystack' sounded as fresh as ever.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Spine tingling moments - Part three

Back in 2003 I wrote a piece listing 20 'spine tingling moments' - 20 gigs or music experiences that sent a shiver down the spine. The earliest of these was the Sam Cooke/Little Richard show in 1962 and the latest Roscoe Gordon at the Jazz Cafe in 2001. The list was published in the Tales From The Woods magazine at the time and later appeared in the Vinyl Word on January 29 and February 1, 2008. (check 'em out!)

With no live gigs this year my thoughts have turned to choosing 20 spine tinglers that I've experienced since I compiled my original list. Some of these were brilliant at the time, others featured artists who I thought I would never see in my life, while some of the shows were by artists who were at the end of their careers, perhaps past their best but who it was still a privilege to see. So here, again in two parts, are my 'spine tingling moments' over the last 15 or so years.

21. Phil Phillips, Ponderosa Stomp, 2005. This was my first visit to the Stomp, which took place in the old Rock 'n' Bowl that year, and was full of interest and excitement. Link Wray, who died soon afterwards, was incredibly loud, Blowfly was obscene and many others were great, including Scotty Moore, H Bomb Ferguson and Brenton Wood to name but a few. But Phil's act was truly spine tingling. He clearly hadn't performed much in recent years and he sang his big hit 'Sea Of Love' not once but twice. It was somehow magical as he stood stock still and sang his heart out. The audience was mesmerised.

Phil Phillips.

22. Pinetop Perkins, Hopson Plantation, Clarksdale, 2005. Later on in this trip I was in Memphis and rented a car to drive down to the Hopson Plantation, just outside Clarksdale, with Alan Lloyd and Ken Major. The occasion was Pinetop's homecoming: an annual event to mark Pinetop's return to the place where he had been a tractor driver before joining Muddy Waters' band and launching his solo career. There was plenty of blues to be heard, but not by Pinetop himself. He explained that it was a Sunday, and his pa had warned him never to perform on a Sunday. Later we went to Red's juke joint for the first time - the first of many enjoyable visits - and a few years later I stayed in one of the visitor shacks at Hopson's.

Ken Major, me and Pinetop.

23. Allen Toussaint, Jazz Cafe, 2006. I've seen Allen Toussaint many times over the years. Always dapper his piano playing was sublime and of course his song writing was second to none. One of the great memories I have of him was when he guested at Irma Thomas's Lion's Den club in New Orleans in the early nineties, but this show at the Jazz Cafe showed him at his best. He had recently recorded an album with Elvis Costello and was enjoying great success. Relaxed, smooth and always looking very fit, it was a shock when he died suddenly in Madrid whilst on a European tour in 2015.

Allen Toussaint.

24. Ike Turner, Jazz Cafe, 2007. Ike was arrogant, ruthless, probably abusive towards Tina, but he was a true original and a great musician. His recording of  'Rocket 88' is often named as the first true rock and roll record. I saw him a number of times in London, including Ronnie Scott's and Shepherds Bush Empire, where he appeared with Joe Louis Walker. The show at the Jazz Cafe was one of his last as he died later that year, His voice had gone but as a keyboard player and guitarist he was still good and his band was excellent.

Ike Turner.

25. Dion, The Metro, Oxford Street, 2007. I've always been a fan of Dion and his under the radar acoustic show at this small central London venue was quite a surprise. He was promoting his blues album 'Son of Skip James' and showed that he had lost none of his vocal ability. I first saw Dion when he toured with Del Shannon in 1962 and the most recent show I saw was at Viva Las Vegas in 2015. On every occasion he was brilliant but this London show in 2007 was possibly the most memorable of the lot.


26. Betty Harris, Old Point Bar, Algiers, 2008. I had never been to this old fashioned place across the Mississippi in New Orleans before, but it was perfect for this low key show featuring one of the greats of New Orleans soul. 'Cry To Me' and 'Nearer To You were among the numbers that Betty sang to great effect. I was with my late girlfriend Maxine on that trip and we met up there with a group of Aussie DJs, including Pierre Baroni, who I've stayed in touch with ever since (although only meeting in the US). Betty performed at Porretta in 2007, the Stomp in 2008 and the 100 Club in 2017 and was due another visit this year I believe. Hopefully I will see her perform again.

Betty Harris.

27. ? and the Mysterians, Ponderosa Stomp, House of Blues, New Orleans, 2008. Another Stomp and another stellar line up, including Barbara Lynn, William Bell, Ronnie Spector and many others. The highlight though, for me, was Question Mark and the Mysterians, an act I thought I would never get to see live and who appeared so late in the proceedings that many people had gone to bed by then. He and the band were worth staying up for and it was fantastic to hear '96 Tears' performed by the original singer. Question Mark 'dashed around the stage wearing an outrageous orange frilly top' I wrote at the time. A great showman.

Question Mark.

28. Alton Ellis, Jazz Cafe, 2008. The 'king of rock steady' made his final appearance just two months before he died. He looked very smart in a white suit and hat and was fine as he ran through some of back catalogue, but handed over after a while to his son as he left the stage claiming tiredness after a hectic touring schedule. He reappeared for a couple of numbers to great applause but it was clear he wasn't 100 per cent. Great to see him though.

Alton Ellis.

29. Spencer Wiggins, Porretta Soul Festival, 2009. Porretta has never failed to live up to its potential with many appearances by soul singers who I had never seen before. One such was Goldwax recording artists Spencer Wiggins - a singer who I had admired ever since those great Memphis recordings first appeared in the 60s. Spencer's brother Percy, who was also at Porretta, had appeared with the Bo kays at the Stomp the previous year, but it seemed Spencer was only singing gospel these days and seemed unlikely to perform. When he did he showed that his voice was as pure as ever - and his numerous false endings to his classic 'Uptight Good Woman' got the hairs on the back of my neck standing up.

Spencer Wiggins, me and Percy Wiggins.

30. Sharon Jones, Festival Louisianne, Lafayette, 2010. Sharon's exciting stage act made her a must see act when she appeared on the scene with the Dap-Kings in 2002. Her performance at Lafayette was dynamic and energetic and showed that there was much to be enjoyed in the world of retro soul. Later, in 2011, she appeared with fellow Daptone artists Charles Bradley at the Barbican in London, but sadly Sharon died in 2016 and Charles Bradley passed away the following year. So many great artists have passed away including many this year (more of which later).

Sharon Jones.
'Spine tinglers' part four will follow soon.

Saturday, November 07, 2020

Johnny Marvel's Blues Groove - 'Live At The Tea Bar'

This year has been a disaster so far as live music is concerned. Since my trip to the Rockin' Race in Spain in February I haven't been to a single gig. And there's nothing on the horizon it seems as the virus shows no sign of going away. It's great, therefore, to get the opportunity to listen to a live LP recording - on vinyl no less -  of Johnny Marvel's Blues Groove recorded live at the Tea Bar in Basingstoke (Johnny Rock Records).

Johnny Marvel, the band's singer and harmonica player, is well known to Woodies and others as John McGarvey and I've spent many happy hours in his company, along with his dad Seamus, at festivals as far afield as Blackpool, New Orleans, Porretta and Detroit. The nine piece band that he leads plays fairly regularly around the Basingstoke area and is immersed in blues, soul and New Orleans funk. Members are Phil 'Houndog' Howe on guitar, Lofty Spires on guitar and backing vocals, Dan Leese on keyboards, Tom Prince on bass, Matt Alexander on drums, Miguel 'All The Way From Venezuela' on percussion and the 'Cream Horns', featuring Andy Kennedy on saxophone and and Colin Berry on trumpet.. Together they make a groovy and powerful sound and the record captures the atmosphere of their show perfectly.

The album is an excellent representation of blues, soul and funk. Kicking off with Willie Dixon's 'I'm Ready' side one continues with a lively version of Leiber and Stoller's 'Love Potion No 9', which merges into 'Evil Ways'. Aretha's 'I Never Loved A Woman' follows and side one ends with an excitingly bluesy version of the Box Tops' 'The Letter'. Clarence Carter's 'Snatching It Back' opens side two, followed by Georgie Fame's 'Somebody Stole My Thunder'. 'The Next Time', a funky original number written by John, follows and the album ends with a glorious New Orleans celebration incorporating 'Hey Pocky Way and 'Iko Iko'. There's some superb keyboard work and great support from the horns is what is an impressive debut album.

Altogether this is an exciting first LP by a local band who deserve to be better known. I'm sure that, like the rest of us, they can't want to get back to performing live on a regular basis. And I look forward to seeing them again, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Friday, November 06, 2020

More music deaths including Len Barry

Not being a great fan of progressive rock I never paid too much attention to Uriah Heap, although various of their LPs have passed through my hands (and onto Ebay) over the years. I was therefore unaware until reading up on the life of guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Ken Hensley, who has died aged 75, that prior to Heap he was a member of two bands whose LPs are now highly collectable - The Gods and Head Machine - examples of which I picked up for next to nothing in charity shops a few years back.
Hensley founded the Gods in 1965 with future Rolling Stone Mick Taylor (another member was Greg Lake). The band recorded two LPs, including 'To Samuel A Son', and several singles before breaking up and a third LP featuring Hensley was later released under the name of 'Orgasm' by Head Machine. All three albums were produced by David Paramor. Hensley briefly joined Cliff Bennett's new band Toefat before joining prog rock band Spice, which changed its name to Uriah Heap in 1970. Hensley was the main songwriter with the band and Uriah Heap had great success in the seventies with albums such as 'Very 'Eavy ...Very 'Umble', 'Salisbury', 'Demons and Wizards' and 'The Magician's Birthday'. After leaving Uriah Heap in 1980 Hensley formed Shotgun and then moved to the US where he joined the hard rock band Blackfoot. Based in St Louis in semi retirement he recorded from time to time with WASP and Cinderella and took part in a Uriah Heap reunion in 2000. He recorded a solo album called 'Running Blind' in 2002 and was subsequently involved in various Uriah Heap related projects.

Another recent death is that of Bishop Rance Allen, (71) whose gospel group based in Ohio made many exciting recordings for Stax. Rance had an extraordinary vocal range which is shown to good effect on tracks such as 'Showdown' and 'I Got To Be Myself'. Rance's group featured in the movie Wattstax in 1972. I never got to see them live but by all accounts the Rance Allen Group's live act was superb.

The recent deaths of Jerry Jeff Walker and Johnny Bush have been something of a body blow for the Texas based 'outlaw' scene. Now a third singer/song writer of the genre has died - Billy Joe Shaver, at the age of 81. His song writing led to an album of his songs being recorded by Waylon Jennings and others such as Elvis and Kris Kristofferson also recorded his material. His own albums, recorded from 1973 onwards, included 'Old Five and Dimers Like Me', 'When I Get My Wings', 'Gypsy Boy' and 'Salt Of The Earth'.
The latest death is that of the great Len Barry, one of the best blue eyed soul singers of the sixties. He was lead singer of the Dovells, whose smash Cameo Parkway hits included 'Bristol Stomp', 'Hully Gully Baby', 'You Can't Sit Down' and 'Bristol Twistin' Annie'. When he went solo with US Decca he had a huge hit with '1-2-3' (a number one hit on my personal top ten) and followed up with another big hit in 'Like A Baby'. Other solo 45s included 'Somewhere', 'It's That Time Of The Year', 'I Struck It Rich' and, after moving to RCA, 'The Moving Finger Writes' - all of them excellent records.
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