Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Linda Gail rocks on Dave Travis's big day

You'd better hold on to your hats when Linda Gail Lewis breezes into town. She attacks her piano with all the fire and energy of her older brother Jerry Lee in days gone by. So it was, last night at the Spice of Life in central London, when she produced an excellent set of rock and roll and country music which set this packed little venue alight. The occasion was a special celebration of the 50 years that another country and rock and roll artist, Dave Travis, has spent in the music business, both as a recording artist and as a record man discovering and releasing music by American greats of the 50s and 60s.
Linda Gail was in superb form as she ran through a selection of songs that differed from her usual set by including several associated with Elvis, as well as giving her own take on some made famous by Jerry Lee and other Memphis rockabilly artists. Backed by Newcastle rockabilly band Some Like It Hot she kicked off with Boppin' The Blues and Cadillac Rock before ripping through a storming Rockin' My Life Away. Then it was in to Elvis territory with One Night, All Shook Up, A Fool Such As I and Shake Rattle and Roll, interspersed with a slower number in the form of From A Jack To A King.
Linda was superb on her brother's I'll Sail My Ship Alone, George Jones's I'll Be There and a tribute to Wanda Jackson with Let's Have A Party. The slower You Were Always On My Mind (another Elvis cover) was followed by a storming version of High School Confidential which got the crowd on its feet and Patsy Cline's Pick Me Up On Your Way Down (she changed the line in the last verse to 'Kiss my ass on your way down' - at least that's what I think I heard!
More rock and roll followed with Ubangi Stomp and a great version of Old Black Joe, written by Stephen Foster but made even more famous by Jerry Lee. She reminisced about the day in 1957 when Sam Phillips gave her brother a cheque for $40,000 which allowed her family to move to Ferriday, Louisiana, and then to Memphis. She was just ten years old then and much in awe of her big bother, to such an extent that she became as good a boogie wooogie player as he was, and still is. Finally, with rocking versions of Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On and Great Balls Of Fire, she threw caution to the wind and put her feet on the keyboard, just as Jerry Lee would have done.
Earlier, on this night of rock and roll, Some Like It Hot gave the crowd a highly proficient set of rockabilly which included Big River, Sixteen Chicks, I Like Your Kind Of Love, Pat Cupp's Baby Come Back, Lee Dresser's El Camino Real, Money Honey and Fulsom Prison Blues.
Introducing Linda Gail to the stage, Dave Travis paid tribute to Keith Woods, who promoted this show to add to his other successes in recent years, and to the Woodies roots music network, of which I am pleased to be a member. He made the point that what unites its members is music and underlined how important music is the world over with a story about how, in a remote village in Burma many years ago, his guitar playing had attracted a big crowd who wanted to listen. This show was a demonstration of how much enjoyment genuine live music can create. Congratulations to Dave on his 50 years in the music biz, and to Keith Woods for organising the show. And to Linda Gail for a fantastic set.
My photo below shows Dave with Linda Gail Lewis.
Here are a couple of crowd shots, with Dave looking on as three ladies boogie to the beat, while Woodie Lee Wilkinson gets up close.

Nick Cobban

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Prestatyn Soul Weekender - 5th - 8th March 2015

Here's another review by Seamus McGarvey - this time featuring some great Northern soul. 
I've been attending the Prestatyn Soul Weekender at Pontins for over 15 years  and this visit was yet another memorable one. Richard Searling had managed to bring together an R&B hit-maker from 1965 who, almost unbelievably, was making his UK debut - Mitch Ryder - plus as The New York Northern Soul Revue, original members of two key soul vocal groups from the 1960s - Bobby Shivers from The Spellbinders and Gary Gant from The Invitations - plus Bob Blanding (a member of The Invitations since the 1970s) and newest member and M.D., Terry Roberts.
The New York Northern Soul Revue opened the 'live' music roster on the Friday night with a neat collection of Invitations and Spellbinders classics. Sharply suited, the first half of their set focused on The Invitations and largely the Dyno Voice, MGM and Silver Blue labels with a well-balanced set of six including Bob Blanding's lead on the medium-stepping 'Look On The Good Side' supported by strong backing harmonies, while Terry picked up the pace with 'Watch Out Little Girl', coming across as a confident stage performer. Gary introduced the medium-tempo 'Isn't It Just A Shame' which he had co-written with Gary Knight for Kenny Wells, before the classic 'Skiing In The Snow', a neat stepper with some well-crafted choreography. 
He also introduced former member of the Velours, Fantastics and Invitations Richie Pitts and his son Johnny in the audience (pictured below), before 'They Say the Girl's Crazy', co-written by Gary and O'Neil Johnson, once again capably led by Terry who also led the hand-clapping closer 'What's Wrong With Me Baby?' through an extended finish for The Invitations part of the set.
With a quick turnaround during which the excellent backing band, Snake Davis (pictured below) and The Suspicions, entertained us with The Contours' 'Just A Little Misunderstanding' and more,  they re-emerged in new outfits for a Spellbinders set, with Bobby Shivers out  front, sporting a red jacket and launching into 'We're Acting Like Lovers' and 'That's The Way You Make Me Feel', a couple of melodic, mid-tempo steppers out of a half-dozen numbers they would feature, mainly from The Spellbinders' great 1966 Columbia LP, 'The Magic Of... '. With some emotional words from Bobby about former members who had passed recently including Danny Austin (also of The Ad Libs) on February 22nd, Bobby took us into 'Baby, I Miss You' and the stepping 'Chain Reaction'. Telling a story about UK Northern Soul fans he met in the States wondering why they hadn't sung 'A Little On the Blue Side', for the first time ever on stage Bobby led the group into this fine number and - with an 'Are you ready to party?' - on through the stepping 'Help Me (Get Myself Back Together Again)' which brought a tight set to an exciting conclusion. A memorable start to the weekend from a group who looked sharp throughout, not least in terms of choreography, and sounded good, with all four capable and entertaining lead vocalists. They had worked hard rehearsing and putting the set together, they connected with the fans, and they deserved all the plaudits they received. Excellent!
Late on Saturday night I managed to catch part of a PA by Louise Mehan of Newcastle R&B duo SouLutions who had been together about 18 years and came to prominence thanks to their first single 'Listen' being re-mixed by dance music ensemble, Drizabone. Louise seemed at ease on stage and came across well, with good vocals plus some catchy songs, particularly 'Philly Line'.
An hour or so earlier came Mitch Ryder who admitted that, at age 70, since it had taken him 50 years to get here, 'you may never see me again... so let's make the most of it!' - and he did! Decked out in black shirt and jeans, plus cap and dark glasses, he hit us with a rocking opener, 'Little Latin Lupe Lu', and then with a wild rasping roar ('I don't know where that came from!') led into 'Sock It To Me Baby' which was banned from U.S. radio – in addition to which, he told us, his late father-in-law, a preacher, 'used to burn my records'! The set developed into what was virtually straight-ahead rock 'n' roll, and won a great reception from the audience when he sang his first Top Ten hit, 'Jenny Take A Ride', the number which, as he put it, made him 'a rock 'n' roll star'. His voice held out well and though there was no leaping about on stage (Mitch put this down to hip replacement surgery in the past), he did keep the pace up, and kept the fans onside with his humour and between songs chatter. The material was driving up-tempo stuff, including 'Too Many Fish In The Sea' and, after a few words about dance crazes, adding 'this next one was plain filthy', a hectic take on 'Shake A Tail Feather', plus another of his big hits, 'Devil With A Blue Dress On' seguing into 'Good Golly Miss Molly', complete with ear-shredding screams. Having earlier performed one of his Northern Soul hits, the driving 'You Get Your Kicks' with the fans really singing along, and having said this was the first time he'd 'ever performed that song in public', he closed his set with yet another number he'd never sung on stage before, and another stepper, 'Break Out'... for an encore he repeated it so he could say 'at least I sang it twice!' A friend from the U.S. who was also at the show told me that seeing Mitch with Snake Davis's excellent band was much better than seeing him in the States where he tended to work with a four-piece band with heavy rock leanings. I found the set highly enjoyable and entertaining: with the band in top form, a set of punchy numbers, Mitch in good voice and with a good smattering of humour thrown in, it all came together nicely. Maybe we will see him again!
And next year (3rd - 6th March 2016) it'll be The Volcanos ('Storm Warning' on Arctic) and legendary Philly producer Bobby Eli. One for the diary – and another visit to Prestatyn. 
Seamus McGarvey, with thanks to Richard Searling


Saturday, March 07, 2015

The Chi-Lites at the Clapham Grand

It's over 40 years since their heyday, but the Chi-Lites continue to bring their sweet soul harmonies to audiences around the world, even though there is now only one original, Marshall Thompson - the 'Last Man Standing', the name of his recent autobiography - still in the group. Last night they appeared at the Clapham Grand and the newer members, including Fred Simon and Tara Thompson, sounded exactly like their hit-making forebears. Dressed in snazzy lime green suits, contrasting with Marshall's darker green suit, and white hats, they looked the part as well.
Marshall, whose career goes back to 1959 with the formation of the Hi-Lites, as they were then called before changing their name to reflect their home town of Chicago, suffered a stroke last year and sat throughout the set, but his voice is still strong, as he showed when he took the lead on Homely Girl and in the spoken intro to Have You Seen Her. The other members shared vocal duties on most of the other numbers in this short, but enjoyable set.
The group began with the rousing (For God's Sake) Give More Power To the People, and continued with It's Time For Love, I Found Sunshine, Stoned Out Of My Mind and Hold On To Your Dreams, before getting the audience going with Homely Girl. Next it was their big hit from 1972 Oh Girl, before tackling their biggest hit Have You Seen Her with some beautiful harmonies. The show then disintegrated somewhat when they invited four men to come on stage. About eight did so, plus a couple of women, and their strangled singing attempts were pretty pathetic and really rather a waste of time - but the crowd enjoyed it.
Finally, the group sang their 1974 UK hit Too Good To Be Forgotten - as indeed the Chi-Lites are, even if their line up has changed many times over the years, with only Marshall Thompson, literally the last man standing (or sitting) given them a link to past glories. In terms of value for money the show did not rate highly, as they were on stage for less than an hour (part of which was taken up with the audience participation section), but they certainly looked and sounded the part.
Words and photos by Nick Cobban

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Family Reunion Gospel Festival, Albany GA

Seamus McGarvey has travelled once again to the US for a star studded gospel festival. Here's his report.
Humility Records owner Glen Stevenson was the man behind this gospel program attracting a near-capacity crowd recently to the Albany Civic Center, with Emcee Bro. C. T. Taylor keeping things moving along. Elder Dennis Miller opened the event with the hand-clapping 'Ain't My God A Mighty Good God' before The Leonard Brothers invited everyone to 'Reach Out And Touch The Lord', their 71-year-old mother Gracie taking the stage for an easy-rocking 'Stay With The Lord'. Humility artists Shawn Jones and The Believers (pictured below) hit with The Pilgrim Jubilees' 'Me, My God and I' and The Jackson Southernaires' 'Thunder', Jones also revealing both showmanship and preaching on 'I'm Standing On The Promises Of God'. Extremely popular, an upcoming, exciting and energetic quartet.
Maurice Yancey and One Accord also pleased the congregation with numbers like 'Praise The Lord With Me'.  There was some strong testifying on show, bringing a touch of a church service to the program with their closing 'Satisfied'.
The Gospel Imperials led by Thomas Holman Sr. opened with the mid-paced 'Here I Am' plus a nice bluesy feel on 'God Will Change Things', before their closing 'I Wanna Go Higher' had everyone joining in.
The McDonald Sisters brought the fans rushing to the stage and impressed with the sheer force of their visual and vocal attack. They opened with 'Give It Up', the slow-stepping 'I Need Him' and the driving 'Praise Him', featuring Valerie McDonald's strong lead vocals. Great preaching and singing, plus a highly visual quartet, extending their already strong following among the congregation.
Roy And Revelation, with the soulful duo of Roy Ladson Jr. and 'Jo Jo' Leeth, demonstrated good vocal interaction and harmonies, plus some neat stepping, on numbers like 'My God Knows It All', coming across as a popular quartet with real potential. There was a great rocking feel for 'I Thank You Jesus', complete with touches of The Isley Brothers' old call-and-response workouts, before the hypnotic 'Dr. Jesus' brought some sanctified clapping, their closing 'Prayer Will Change Things' taking Roy down amongst the fans. A fine act, keeping quartet music alive and well!
The Bolton Brothers showed lots of edge and vocal power, and an extended testifying finish, on the hand-clapping 'One More Time', with strong harmonies and unison vocals on display on the mid-tempo 'Anybody Leaning And Depending'. By the concluding 'Lord Done Delivered Me' such was the level of excitement generated, they almost had to be ushered off the stage. An exciting trio!

Nashboro and AIR recording artist Troy Ramey and The Soul Searchers  opened with the mid-tempo 'Call Jesus' which had the congregation joining in, leading into the excitingly hypnotic 'By The Power Of God'. The second tenor handled most of the leads  including 'Prayer Changes Things' but Troy sang part of the closing 'Thank You Lord'. A gospel veteran, it was good to see him here. 
Although he has had some voice problems of late, Harvey Watkins Jr. led The Canton Spirituals through a number of songs, with the help of 27-year-old second tenor Keenan Nichols who sang the opening gospel ballad 'Morning Dove',  before Harvey took over for the mid-paced hand-clapping 'Clean Up'. With some reminiscing about the past, all with a humorous edge, other highlights included the hard-driving 'Show Me The Way' and the near-country feel of 'Fix It Jesus'. It was good to see Harvey back in fine voice on the closing 'Glad I've Got Jesus', bringing a great day of gospel and quartet music to an exciting finish.
Seamus McGarvey ('Juke Blues' magazine), with thanks to Henry Wesley, Willie Mitchell, Glen Stevenson and Darrell Luster.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Soul Pioneers - Marv Johnson

This is another in my occasional series on the pioneers of soul music, this time focusing on the early work of Marv Johnson. He was the forgotten man of Motown, despite being its first star, with 1959's Come To Me being the first ever Tamla release. It was an immediate success but Berry Gordy wasn't ready to handle a major hit so it was picked up by United Artists, who went on to release over a dozen singles over the next couple of years. These Gordy-penned numbers were all of a high quality and Marv's high voice was a thing of beauty, but because his records did not bear the Tamla Motown imprint he was rather overlooked at the time.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMdZ3Mzj3-8
After Come To Me, United Artists released I'm Coming Home in the States but not in the UK and Marv's first UK hit was You Got What It Takes, on London - the first 45 that I recall shelling out six shillings of my pocket money to buy. I bought the follow ups too - I Love The Way You Love, with its great piano intro, which was a minor hit, All The Love I've Got and (You've Got To ) Move Two Mountains. They, and the B sides, were all written by the likes of Berry Gordy, Eddie Holland, Smokey Robinson and Marv himself, but were issued so closely together that they had little chance of success. Happy Days and Merry Go Round (a song first recorded by Eddie Holland) completed his London releases, but UA continued to release fine records such as How Can We Tell Him, Magic Mirror and Come On And Stop which deserved a wider audience. Marv's sole London LP The Marvellous Marv Johnson is now highly collectable.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=At_dNoRKpqI
It was only in the late sixties, when Marv belatedly switched to Gordy, that he became widely recognised as a Motown star. His first UK Tamla Motown single, Why Do You Want To Let Me Go, didn't make an impression, but the follow up I'll Pick A Rose For My Rose in 1968 gave him his biggest since You Got What It Takes. Other Tamla Motown releases, I Miss You Baby and So Glad You Chose Me, did well, as did his solitary Tamla Motown LP.
Marv was very much a favourite of mine back in 1960 and remained so over the years. I enjoyed seeing him at the Town and Country Club in 1989, when he toured with Mary Wells, Kim Weston and Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. Prior to that he recorded a final album for Ian Levine's Motorcity label, which was rather disappointing, and sadly he died aged just 54 in 1993 after performing a tribute concert for Bill Pinkney of the Drifters.
Here are a selection of Marv's 45s from his golden period.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6lJexD9nUU and the much better B side I've Got A Notion https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YDBSzVYTes4

Monday, February 16, 2015

I'll cry if I want to

It's a sad farewell to Lesley Gore, who has died aged just 68. In 1963, at the age of 16, Lesley had a massive hit with It's My Party, produced by Quincy Jones, one of the most played songs of all time. But now the party's over. Her teenage angst hit a nerve with the public and she followed it up with a continuation of the party saga with Judy's Turn To Cry and She's A Fool, before bringing out what was later to be considered a feminist anthem with You Don't Own Me. Other hits in the mid sixties included That's The Way Boys Are, the excellent Maybe I Know and Sunshine Lollipops and Rainbows, the latter written by Marvin Hamlisch. She appeared in the Batman TV show a couple of times as Pussycat, one of Cat Woman's minions, but faded from the pop scene, before reappearing as the writer of songs for the 1980 film Fame - she received an Academy Award nomination for Out Here On My Own. She performed in the eighties and nineties and recorded an album called Ever Since in 2005. A sad loss.     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_PXIui8sa2U

Another recent death is that of Joe B Mauldin (pictured centre), bass player with Buddy Holly and the Crickets and, for another 50 years, as a member of the Crickets, as well as being a recording engineer at Gold Star Records.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Gospel Explosion – Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, Lanham, MD

Here's another contribution by Juke Blues writer Seamus McGarvey with a review of what sounds like a great gospel show in Maryland.
The most recent gospel quartet promotion at Mt. Calvary Baptist Church by Rosetta Thompson, wife of Sensational Nightingales singer-bassist Horace Thompson, featured a bumper package of performers. 
There were a number of excellent support acts including Pastor James Hardy with his Sam Cooke-styled lead on 'Stand By Me' and the beautiful 'He's Always There'. 
Nate and The New Generation hit a fine opening pace on 'Keep On Praising Him' which segued into a 'Holy Ghost'-themed workout, followed by the slower-stepping 'I Am Redeemed' and the driving closer 'Ask Him' with Nate's strong lead really grabbing the congregation.

I was highly impressed by The Southern Gospel Singers' set including the easy-stepping 'I Know What Prayer Can Do' with its tight harmonies, and manager Cle Pointer's grandson and bass-player Jeffrey who came out front for the deeply soulful 'At Calvary Jesus Gave Up His Life'. The closing 'Who'll Be A Witness Before My God' moved the congregation and drew some wild stepping from Jeffrey to end the set on a high.
Little Sammy and The New Flying Clouds from Philadelphia hit the 'spot' and tore the place up with the slow-stepping 'There's Not A Friend Like The Lord', 'I Got A Victory' and the driving 'No Time To Lose' with some great stepping and call-and-response vocals from Sammy and Bobby Walker. 
Ed Hines, promoter and publicist for The Temptations and The Violinaires, introduced Temptations' bass singer Joe Herndon before The Violinaires' Dwight 'Tito' Arthur led the quartet into their opening 'Children Are You Ready', moving on into the stepping 'I'm Going To Serve The Lord', typified by fine harmonies and high-flying backing vocals. Tito introduced a 'golden oldie' in the shape of the soulful 'Three Pictures Of The Lord'. Amongst many highlights, 'Dr. Jesus' featured a wonderful call-and-response workout from Tito and Lil' Sonny, making for an exciting set from a great quartet.
The Sensational Nightingales gave us 'Jo Jo' Wallace's 'What A Friend We Have In Jesus', plus some fine preaching, Larry Moore's mid-tempo, country feel of 'Something Beautiful', Horace Thompson's 'At The Meeting' with its country-blues overtones, before Larry slowed the pace for 'Standing On The Promise' which on this occasion developed into a highly emotional performance with a fine extended piece of testifying, and an exciting finish.
The Pilgrim Jubilee Singers are one of the scene's legendary quartets, fronted by brothers Clay and Cleave Graham, with veteran guitarist Bobby McDougle. Despite their many years on the road, they just get better and better and, if anything, more exciting in their own unique way. They opened with a mid-tempo 'Let's Praise The Lord' led by Clay before Cleave launched into the easier paced  'Holding On', featuring his soulfully expressive lead, still with a real edge to his voice. Clay had had some health problems and bore witness to the fact with 'God's Been Good To Me', his testifying raising the congregation's spirits for 'I'm So Glad Trouble Don't Last Always'. 'Don't Let Him Down'  featured the two brothers plus Clay's son Kevin out front for a great three-handed workout which really got the church 'up' before Kevin segued into an emotional encore. A great quartet, and a wonderfully exciting set.
Younger quartet The Soul Messengerz opened with an Impressions-style high-flying vocal feel on the mid-paced 'Take It Easy'. Lead DeCarlo Coley, a Baptist preacher, spoke movingly and  in a restrained manner about recent 'senseless killings',  leading into the testifying yet bluesy feel of 'Keep Your Arms Around Me'. His emotional introduction to 'Let Me Lean On You', got the pace going again and the strong rhythm section helped make the set work with DeCarlo demonstrating a great vocal edge and range. One of the best sets I'd seen from them – excellent!
It was also great to see The Swanee Quintet again, with longtime frontman Percy Griffin leading on 'A Man Called Jesus' for an easy-paced opener before the slow-stepping 'Meeting Tonight'. With an exhortation of 'we're going back to Georgia' it was onto 'Sit Down Servant' and a great version of 'Stumble And Fall' with the lead shared between Percy, Eddie McCoy and Koby Weaver for some tastefully  interwoven vocals. Percy's thoughtfully moving 'Prayer Changes Things' led into the hand-clapping 'Dr. Jesus' with Eddie and Koby going through some wild steps. A soulful and highly meaningful 'Georgia On My Mind' from Percy brought it all home.
The Canton Spirituals ' lead Harvey Watkins opened their set with a briskly paced 'Searching' before second tenor Keenan Nichols, now with The Cantons for about a year,  hit a more medium pace on Harvey's own 'It's In My Heart'. Harvey played more of a role throughout than of late, thanks to his voice remaining stable, enabling him to sing numbers like the mid-tempo 'Clean Up' before Keenan came back with 'Morning Dove'. Harvey spoke quite emotionally about the ups and downs of his life, said he'd a lot to be grateful for including thanks to promoter Rosetta for her help, and used humour effectively to get his thoughts across (e.g. talking about taking a drink of brandy at a party in his youth, he said, 'I've  got no Hennessy for you but I've got Jesus', which won both applause and laughter from the congregation). He brought the set to an exciting climax with the hypnotically stepping 'Glad I've Got Jesus'.
The Mighty Clouds Of Joy with legendary lead Joe Ligon (pictured below) closed the program with Joe still in good voice and able to stretch vocally and scream on numbers like 'I've Been In the Storm Too Long', a slow-stepper featuring strong, vibrant harmonies behind Joe's lead. Although the set was plagued by a number of sound problems (which led Joe to joke, 'I was just about to get hold of my hammer!'), they did manage to please the congregation with their repertoire, right down to the closing 'Heavy Load', a wonderfully stomping piece of gospel history. Joe interacted well with congregation, conversing with them, encouraging them and getting them up around the stage, with an extended 'Heavy Load' workout bringing the day to a great conclusion. Keep an eye out for a new set of 2015 programs in April and beyond.

 (Seamus McGarvey, 'Juke Blues' magazine, with thanks to Rosetta and Horace Thompson)