Sunday, March 18, 2018

Latest music deaths

It's been a couple of weeks in which several famous people have died, including theoretical physicist and guest on shows such as The Simpsons, Stephen Hawking, Bullseye presenter Jim Bowen and the last of the music hall greats, Sir Ken Dodd. Doddy of course was not only a comedian but a very successful singer with no fewer than 18 top 40 records. His hits, such as Love Is Like A Violin in 1960, his only number one Tears (the third best selling UK hit of the sixties), The River and Happiness, were certainly not to me taste, but they sold in large quantities, as any visit to a car boot sale will attest. I prefer to remember him for his one liners.
More significantly, musically speaking, were the deaths of a number of musicians. Nokie Edwards,
who has died aged 82, was bass guitarist with the Ventures before taking over as lead guitar in 1961. The group's instrumental sound sold millions of singles in the early sixties, beginning with Walk Don't Run and following up with Perfidia, Ram Bunk Shush, Lullaby Of The Leaves and Hawaii Five-0 among others. Their regular stream of albums ensured that they remained popular for many more years, particularly in Japan, with variations on a theme, including titles such as The Colourful Ventures, Twist With The Ventures, Going To A Ventures Dance Party, Surfing, The Ventures In Space, Ventures A-Go-Go,, Guitar Freakout and Super Psychedelics. Nokie left and rejoined the Ventures a couple of times and found success as a solo artist in the early 2000s with two Grammy nominations. The Ventures were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. Nokie often appeared with  Deke Dickerson in recent years, including at the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans in 2005 (see photo) and on Deke's regular Guitar Geek events.
Dickie Bishop is something of a forgotten name in the early history of British pop music, having
replaced Lonnie Donegan as banjo player in Chris Barber's band, before forming his own skiffle outfit the Sidekicks. His real claim to fame is that he recorded and co-wrote what was probably the best British record of the era (1957), No Other Baby, a song, that was later recorded by Paul McCartney among others. No Other Baby was officially the B side of Dickie's version of Cumberland Gap, but still stands up today. Later records were unsuccessful and Dickie's moment of magic had passed. He later moved to Germany.
Another near forgotten name from the early sixties is Maggie Stredder, who was a member of the Vernons Girls and, later, the Ladybirds. She was instantly recognisable at the time as 'the one with the glasses' and the trio worked on the Benny Hill Show for many years. Their mostly forgettable singles included Lady Bird, The White Cliffs of Dover and Memories.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Farewell to the NME

Sad to hear that New Musical Express will no longer exist in print form. It's a sign of the times, as print journalism can't compete with online any more. But for someone whose passion for music began in the sixties it's a sad day. The NME reached a peak circulation of over 300,000 in 1964 with its coverage of the Beatles and the Stones. And music writers such as Tony Parsons, Julie Burchill and Charles Shaar Murray ensured that its place as a champion of progressive music and punk in the seventies, as well as its left wing stance, gave it a pre-eminent place as a thought leader of the era. It was the place where 'gonzo' journalism thrived.
Yet, for me, the NME was only of real significance for a few years in the early sixties when its top 30 chart was what I looked for when it dropped through my letter box every week. It had some good writers, but as soul and R and B developed I lost interest. I moved to the New Record Mirror, as it was called for a couple of years, because it covered black music, while the NME was stuck in the British beat scene. Record Mirror, the name it reclaimed in 1963, also had some excellent writers, including Norman Jopling and Peter Jones, but what swung it for me, as well as the coverage of soul, was the inclusion of the top 50 charts, for both the UK and and US, plus other music lists. I always was a fan of lists! Other music magazines of the era, such as Melody Maker (rather too jazz orientated for me) and the chart focused Disc, were occasional reads, rather than regulars, and NME became of less interest as the decade wore on.
I no longer have my original NMEs, or my Record Mirrors for that matter, But I came across the NME annual for 1961, which offers a glimpse of just how boring NME, and British pop music, was in those days. Writers such as Derek Johnson, Mike Gowers (who I later worked with at Barclays), and Keith Goodwin, wrote glowing, non controversial articles about stars of the day such as Elvis, Cliff, Lonnie Donegan, Tommy Steele, Adam Faith, Bobby Darin, Connie Francis and Eddie Cochran, and also artists who by no means could be described as teen idols. These included  Bing Crosby, Max Bygraves, Frankie Vaughan, Russ Conway and Sammy Davis Jr. There were inaccurate predictions of future stardom ( whatever happened to Dick Jordan or Johnny Shanly?), a look back to the first UK hit parade in 1952 (produced by the NME and topped by Al Martino), a run down of chart success in 1960 (the top five were Cliff Richard, Adam Faith, the Everly Brothers, Elvis Presley and Anthony Newley) and, in this pre-Beatles age, the rather thin successes of UK artists overseas. It was all rather lame, but at the time it was all we had. Or rather it was what the NME believed we wanted. Very little about rock and roll, nothing about R and B and precious little about US music.
NME will, no doubt, be missed by lovers of seventies music. It was ground breaking at the time. But for me, it lost its appeal a decade or so earlier and never really regained it.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

There's No Other...Barbara Alston and others

As the snow sweeps in from the east and we freeze here in the UK (quite unusual these days), it's time I caught up on a few deaths in recent weeks. These include two guys who were members of the Woodies roots music group, of which I am also a member, and who will be sadly missed.
But first, some music legends who have passed away. Barbara Alston, who has died aged 74, was the first lead singer of the Crystals and took the lead on There's No Other (Like My Baby), Uptown and the controversial He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss). Without asking, Phil Spector handed the group's name to Darlene Love and the Blossoms for He's A Rebel as the real Crystals were touring, and the naturally shy Barbara handed over the role of lead singer to La La Brooks, who still performs today and looks fantastic, for Da Doo Ron Ron, Then He Kissed Me and other later tracks. Barbara left the group in 1965, but her importance in one of the greatest of all girl groups cannot be underestimated.
Eddy Amoo, who has died aged 73, grew up in the largely black area of Toxteth, Liverpool 8, a place
I knew well in the seventies before it was largely destroyed by the 1981 riots, and formed the doowop group the Chants. Although they never had a major hit, Pye releases such as I Don't Care, I Could Write A Book and Sweet Was The Wine attracted quite a lot of interest and the band was popular in Liverpool, even having the Beatles back them on occasions. Eddie's brother Chris formed his own band The Real Thing in 1975 and won Opportunity Knocks on TV. Eddy joined the band and they had huge disco hits with You To Me Are Everything and Can't Get By Without You. Later hits such as You'll Never Know What You're Missing, Love's A Wonderful Thing and Can You Feel The Force, were written by the Amoo brothers.
Another death is that of Martin Willis, a Sun stalwart, who played sax with Billy Lee Riley and Bill Black's Combo. Martin began his career playing with Conway Twitty when he was still known as Harold Jenkins, and toured with him before becoming part of Sam Phillips' Sun stable.
Woodie Cliff White (left) was an award winning soul music journalist whose name can be found on the sleeve notes of any number of Charly compilations, from the Tams to the Showmen, and who was responsible for the ground breaking James Brown Star Time box set, for which he won a Grammy. He wrote for New Musical Express and Black Music, among other titles, and was just about the most knowledgeable soul man I've ever met - and I've met a few. A great loss, aged 72.
And now I hear that one of our American Woodies, Jay McCaddin has died. Jay lived in Mobile, Alabama, and, as a former Navy man, dressed in full naval uniform when he attended the Rhythm Riot a few years ago. I met up with Jay in the States on several occasions, including the 2013 Ponderosa Stomp and at a bar in Oceans Springs a couple of years later. Another great loss. The photo below shows Jay with me outside the Prytania Hotel in New Orleans in 2013.
The Vinyl Word raises its traditional glass to them all, and to crooner Vic Damone, who has also died aged 89.

Friday, February 16, 2018

In celebration of the EP

In the absence of any live music lately, I've been putting some photos of UK EPs on Facebook. The extended play record is something of the poor relation of the vinyl world - not as glamorous as a really good or rare single and rather short compared with an LP. Many of them were just rehashes of the A and B sides of a couple of 45s. But some of them contained tracks unobtainable elsewhere at the time. And, given the lack of picture sleeves for UK releases in the fifties and sixties, they were the only seven inch with a decent cover.
Here are a few of the EPs featured so far. There are some collectable items and some which are really quite naff, but hopefully some, at least, are of interest. More will follow.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Female soul stars of the future

With so many blues and soul artists from the classic era passing away - the latest being Dennis Edwards, lead singer of the Temptations on such monster hits as Cloud Nine, I Can't Get Next To You, Ball Of Confusion and Papa Was A Rollin' Stone - maybe it's time to look to a new generation to carry the flag. The Porretta Soul Festival has showcased several younger soul singers in recent years, including, last year, Oakland-based Terrie Odabi (pictured above), whose loss of community song Gentrification Blues was a highlight of her short set. I'm delighted that she's on the bill again this year, with more time I hope. Another young soul man who's impressed on a couple of occasions is Theo Huff, from Chicago, who has all the swagger of a Johnnie Taylor or Wilson Pickett and a voice to match. I would love to see him do more original material though.
I'm not a fan of TV talent shows, with their fake excitement, artificiality and overall blandness. To really shine, new artists need to go on the road, put in the miles and the hours and develop their acts on tour in clubs and theatres. Here are three female singers who have come to my attention, although in all but one case I have yet to see them live.
Bette Smith was born in Brooklyn but recorded her first album Jetlagger in Water Valley, Mississippi. It was produced by blues man Jimbo Mathus, with backing from Memphis musicians such as Marc Franklin and Kirk Smothers, and came out on Big Legal Mess, a subsidiary of Fat Possum, last September. Videos show that she has a powerful and very soulful voice and looks great as well. There's a rough, tough edge to her voice on tracks like the funky Shackles And Chains and her new track the moody Durty Hustlin' which suggests she has loads of potential. She's due to play the Borderline in London on April 30 so UK soul fans will have the chance to check Bette out. Unfortunately I will be away on my next US road trip then (all being well), but I look forward to receiving feedback (thanks Dave!).
Another young female soul singer who I like the sound of is Liz Brasher, who began in gospel and whose idol is Mahalia Jackson. Another Fat Possum artist, she's recorded with Scott Bomar and wrote all her own songs on her first album which is due out soon. Tracks of hers worth a listen include Body Of Mine and Cold Baby. Her publicist says she's a 'Memphian of Dominican descent who grew up singing Spanish in the church,, and synthesises the sounds of 60s garage, girl groups sounds, dirty blues, holy roller church music and Bob Dylan into something completely her own.'  Worth checking out I think.
The third female singer, with a wonderfully bluesy voice, is J J Thames, who I first came across at Hal and Mal's Blue Monday jam session in Jackson, Mississippi in 2013. Originally from Detroit, she made her name on the chitlin circuit appearing with the likes of Willie Clayton, Denise LaSalle and Peggy Scott-Adams, but it wasn't until 2014 that she made her first album Tell You What I Know for Dechamp Records. I bought a copy when I saw her again at Hal and Mal's in 2015 and it's a cracker. Since then she has been touring with her group, the Violet Revolt, and has by all accounts been going down a storm. Her latest album is entitled Raw Sugar. She has toured Europe but has yet to visit the UK. Hopefully she will do so soon.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Hugh Masakela and so many others RIP

This year has begun with a stream of music deaths which is rapidly turning into a torrent. The latest is South African jazz trumpeter Hugh Masakela at the age of 78. His 1987 anti apartheid song Bring Him Back Home, calling for the release of Nelson Mandela, became the anthem of the anti apartheid movement. He was a member of the Jazz Epistles, the first African jazz group to record an album in 1959 and the group attracted huge crowds. However, following the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 and the clampdown by the South African government he left for the UK and then to the US to study music. Big hits followed with Up Up and Away and Grazing In The Grass and he appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. He played with various jazz ensembles and helped organise the Zaire 74 music festival in Kinshaha. In the '80s he teamed up with African musicians and formed the Botswana International School of Music in 1985. He also toured with Paul Simon to promote the Graceland album. As well as Bring Him Back Home, he wrote another anti apartheid song Soweto Blues, sung by his ex wife Miriam Makeba.
Another death this week is that of soul and blues artist Preston Shannon at the age of 70. He played
regularly at B B King's club in Beale Street, Memphis, and was an excellent guitarist as well as the possessor of a soulful voice. He released his first Bullseye album Break The Ice in 1994 and followed up with Willie Mitchell produced records such as Midnight in Memphis and All In Time. His latest album was Dust My Broom in 2014. I saw him a couple of times at B B King's, the most recent occasion being in 2014 (pictured).
Edwin Hawkins, who died last week, was a gospel musician best known for Oh Happy Day, which became a huge hit in 1969, reaching number two in the UK charts.Originally from
Oakland, California, he recorded over 30 gospel albums from the late sixties to the nineties. He had a second top ten hit with the Melanie single Lay Down (Candles In The Rain) in 1970.
Another soul man with a gospel background who has died is Terry Evans at the age of 80. Born in Vicksburg, Ms, he had a long association with Ry Cooder and found success as one half of a soul duo with Bobby King, recording for Rounder with involvement from Ry Cooder. Prior to that he had written songs recorded by Pops Staples and Louis Jordan. Later solo albums included Blues For Thought, again produced by Ry Cooder. Come To The River and Mississippi Magic.
Other music deaths this year who I haven't mentioned on the blog include flautist and singer Ray Thomas, who was a member of the Moody Blues as well as recording solo. Also guitarist 'Fast' Eddie Clarke, the last remaining member of Motorhead's classic line up; bassist Jim Rodford, a founder member of Argent who later played with the Kinks; Dolores O'Riordan, singer with the Cranberries, and jazz guitarist Wilbert Longmire. A final word too for one of the TV acting names of my youth, that of Peter Wyngarde, who played the flamboyant author cum sleuth Jason King in 
Department S before graduating to his own series and whose career was badly damaged by a sexual liaison at Gloucester Bus Station in 1975. Let's not forget two footballers either - the trailblazing black player Cyrille Regis and Mr Blackpool, Jimmy Armfield. The Vinyl Word raises a glass to them all.

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