Sunday, September 16, 2018

Big Jay McNeely RIP

It's only four months since I was lucky enough to see Big Jay McNeely celebrate his 91st birthday at Joe's American Bar and Grill in Burbank. He had to be helped onto the stage, but his saxophone playing was still great, as were his vocals. Four years ago I met up with Big Jay at his home in Los Angeles and, together with Gordon Fleming and Paul Waring, we went with him to his local IHOP for a fascinating chat with one of the true greats of rock and roll.
Now Big Jay is dead. It comes to all of us but it's a sad day. At least, it can be said, Big Jay lived life to the full. He was still active until recently, both in terms of live performances and recording. He made an experimental album with an Austrian band shortly before I met him in his home in Watts in 2014. Jay began his career in the late forties and played as large a role as anyone in the birth of rock and roll. In addition to his exciting sax style, he was an innovator in terms of showmanship, lying on his back while honking his horn and painting it with luminous paint so that it would shine under black lights. It was a travesty that, despite his incredible influence on other artists, he was never admitted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, despite a campaign on his behalf. He certainly deserved such an accolade, as he was one of only a handful of artists who had been active before 1955 still performing.
I saw Big Jay in London 30 odd years ago, at Jazzfest in New Orleans and at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2011. At the Jazz Cafe in 1991, when he was a mere 64 (pictured below), he honked his horn at every girl he could find and even went outside and played his sax along Camden Parkway. When I saw him earlier this year (pictured above) he included some jump blues including Big Fat Mama and Flip Flop and Fly, his big hit There Is Something On Your Mind, some country and some blues, even some zydeco. Dressed in a red jacket and hat, he smiled and winked his way through his set and was clearly enjoying himself. It was a treat to see a living legend still sounding so good.
RIP Big Jay. We will miss you.
Here's one of Big Jay at the 2011 Ponderosa Stomp.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Dave Berry at the Water Rats

The latest Tales From The Woods live gig, at the Water Rats near King's Cross last night, starred Dave Berry, a man who had several hits during the sixties but is probably best known for 'The Crying Game', a song that was featured in the 1992 film of the same name. Now 77, he is still slim and has quite a bit of stage presence, with his trademark of toying with the microphone cord  still very much part of his act. His vocal range is rather limited these days, meaning that high notes have to be disguised, but he came across pretty strongly, due in no small part to the backing of the Tales From The Woods Band, on this occasion a three piece with guitar, bass and drums.
Dave came on stage wearing one white glove and began with Fats Domino's 'I'm Ready', moving on to his first hit, a cover of Chuck Berry's 'Memphis, Tennessee'. Most of his act comprised R and B standards, including 'Watch Your Step', 'Stormy Monday Blues', 'Route 66', 'Mona', 'My Baby Left Me' (his second single) and 'Let's Work Together'. But it was on his own material that he was most effective, notably 'This Strange Effect', written by Ray Davies, which proved ideal for his mesmeric mic cord movements. 'The Crying Game' was, not surprisingly the high point and he finished off with a rousing version of 'Promised Land'. An enjoyable, if not actually great, set I thought.
Earlier the Tales From The Woods trio (without their usual keyboard and horn players) performed a rock and roll set under the name of the Bi-Polar Bears, with John Spencely's excellent guitar work and first rate vocals coming across well on number's such as Chuck Berry's 'Come On' and 'Peggy Sue Got Married'. Not sure why they wore yellow and black stripey convict shirts (maybe they had just been let out for the night), but they sounded good and it was a great start to the evening.
This was followed by a rather strange shortish set by Johnny Stud, once of Rocky Sharpe and the Replays. Dressed in a black and white jacket. he seemed under rehearsed or nervous possibly, forgetting the lines at one point and reading the lyrics from his music stand on occasions. He began with Ritchie Valens' 'Come On Let's Go' and followed up with Rosie and the Originals' 'Angel Baby'. I happen to love Rosie's sweet innocent sounding original (to coin a phrase) but this was anything but sweet and innocent. Other numbers included 'I'm Walkin'', 'It's Only Make Believe', Roy Orbison's 'Ooby Dooby' and 'Who's That Knocking', first recorded by the Genies in 1959. Keith Woods, who once again promoted this show, said afterwards that this was the first time that Johnny had performed without a vocal group behind him, and it showed.
This is the last TFTW show until next June and, although poorly attended and uneven at times, it was good fun, thanks largely to Dave and those Bi-Polar Bears - John Spencely, Rob Davis on bass and Jeff Tuck on drums.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

'I Need Your Loving' - Don Gardner dies

It's been reported that Don Gardner, who shot to fame with Dee Dee Ford on the brilliant Ike and Tina Turner influenced call and response song 'I Need Your Loving' in 1962, has died aged 87. Don
was already a musician in the late 1940s when he formed the Sonotones, which included as one of its members organ maestro Jimmy Smith. When Jimmy left he was replaced by Richard 'Groove' Holmes. After some records on Gotham and DeLuxe, Holmes was himself replaced by Dee Dee Ford and the band came to the attention of Arthur 'Big Boy' Crudup who recommended them to Bobby Robinson, owner of the Fire and Fury labels in New York.
'I Need Your Loving' became a big hit and was released in the UK on Stateside, as was the follow up 'Don't You Worry', which was also a fair sized hit in the US. After one more record Don and Dee Dee split with Bobby Robinson and eventually, after the death of his wife and a tour of Sweden, Don and Dee Dee split up. He came back in 1970 with a duet with Baby Washington on the Holland/Dozier song 'Forever' on the People label. Later, Don was a prominent
figure in Philadelphia's jazz scene.
I will be off on my next US road trip in a few weeks but unfortunately will not be able to attend my Boston friend Noah Shaffer's birthday bash which stars Willie Hightower and Thelma Jones. Should be one hell of a night! Here's Noah with Willie at Porretta in 2017.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Lazy Lester RIP

One of the last of the Excello bluesmen, Lazy Lester, has died at the age of 85. There was a time not so long ago when Lester appeared so frequently both in Louisiana and, occasionally, in the UK that it was said he would turn up for the opening of an envelope. He never disappointed, with his excellent harmonica and guitar playing and his Louisiana drawl which made his asides between numbers indistinct to say the least.  I first came across Lester when I'm A Lover Not A Fighter obtained a UK release on Stateside in 1964.
When I started visiting the US regularly in the late '80s Lester was an ever present at festivals and one off shows. He played the Ponderosa Stomp in 2005 and again in 2011 (pictured above) when he performed alongside fellow swamp bluesman Rudy Richard. Visits to London included shows at the 100 Club in 1989 and 1993, at the Metro in Oxford Street in 2006 and, memorably, a Tales From The Woods show at the Thomas Guy Club in 2012 alongside Little George Sueref. It was an intimate evening - there were only about 20 people in the audience - but, as ever, Lester put on a highly enjoyable show which included not only blues numbers but some country numbers including Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain, from his then current album, and Your Cheating Heart. Frustratingly he didn't play I'm A Lover Not A Fighter or Sugar Coated Love, its B side. (Photo below).
Lester played with pretty well all the great Excello blues artists, including Slim Harpo and Lightnin' Slim, when he recorded at J D Miller's studio in Crowley. When he made his comeback in the late 1980s he recorded with Kenny Neal, Lucky Peterson and Jimmy Vaughan, among others.
Here's another photo of Lester, this time at Rhythm Riot in 2013.
I haven't covered the death of the Aretha Franklin on The Vinyl Word as, quite rightly, the world's media gave it front page coverage with many tributes coming in from all sides (even Donald Trump apparently). She was, of course, the Queen of Soul and although she made a few crap records along the way, her most successful numbers such as I Never Loved A Man, (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman and I Say A Little Prayer, not to mention her version of Respect, will live forever. Much of her rather derided early recording career at Columbia was pretty good too. Here is a selection of her many LPs.
One other death worthy of mention is that of Eddie Willis, guitarist with Motown's in house studio band The Funk Brothers, who played on dozens of hits by the likes of the Temptations, Supremes, Stevie Wonder and the Marvelettes.
I gather from Tony Rounce that Jeanie Greene, a mainstay of Muscle Shoals backing singers, has also died. She only had one single release in the UK. It's co-written by Eddie Hinton and is a superbly soulful item. She began her recording career with three country singles under the name of Jeanie Johnson. She then recorded a couple of singles for RCA including one written by Dan Penn and future husband Marlin Greene. She went on to record backing tracks including at Chips Moman's American studio and backed various artists including Elvis.

Monday, August 13, 2018

King of Ska Derrick Morgan at the Jazz Cafe

The Jazz Cafe was packed last night for the King of Ska Derrick Morgan. The atmosphere resembled a Jamaican blues party of the sixties with boisterous dancing,  especially from a contingent of ageing skinheads, exuberant singing and incessantly brilliant ska and rocksteady. It was a fantastic vibe and Derrick, now aged 78, seemed to thrive on it. Now unsteady on his feet, he sat for much of his 65 minute set, but his voice is as strong as ever. Backing by the Ruff Cutt Band, featuring Japanese sax player Miss Megoo (real name Meguni Manaku), a former busker in Brixton, was top notch, and the time flew by as classic track followed classic track.
Derrick was one of Jamaica's most prolific recording artists in the sixties and early seventies, with no fewer than 17 singles being issued in the UK in 1968 alone, so his set could do no more than scratch the surface of his back catalogue. But many of his biggest hits were included, including his first ska record 'Fat Man', released in 1960. First up was 'Reggae Train' and others included 'Miss Lulu', 'Don't Call Me Daddy', 'Conquering Ruler', 'Moon Hop', 'Greedy Gal', 'Be Still' and 'Tougher Than Tough'. There was a charming version of 'Houswives Choice', with Miss Megoo taking Patsy Todd's role and sounding quite similar, despite her Japanese accent. Derrick launched into a couple of medleys which included 'Wet Dream' and Desmond Dekker's '007 (Shanty Town)', along with a couple of his big rival Prince Buster's songs, such as 'Black Head Chinaman', a song which Buster, unhappy about Derrick's success, wrote to satirise Derrick's relationship with Leslie Kong. Derrick's retort, the classic 'Blazing Fire', followed.
Derrick was introduced by veteran Jamaican DJ Dennis Alcapone who said that Morgan was the man who had inspired him, who then came on stage to lead the very loud applause. Rather than leaving the stage, Derrick remained for his encore, comprising the skinhead anthem 'Moon Hop', which got the older skinheads dancing even more enthusiastically (unbothered by how many people they grabbed or shoved) and finally Toots and the Maytals' '54-46 Was My Number'.
This was the first time I had seen Derrick and I'm so glad that I've caught him at last. This was truly an evening to remember.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Latest music deaths

Time to catch up briefly on a few music deaths over the last month or so.
The latest is that of Louisiana swamp pop singer G G Shinn, at the age of 78, one of the stars of Ponderosa Stomps in 2011 and 2017 (picture above). I wasn't too familiar with him when he appeared in 2011, dressed in a velvet smoking jacket and coming across, as one of my friends remarked, like the 'Louisiana Liberace.' Once a member of the Fabulous Boogie Kings, he was a fine singer with star quality, as his 2017 performance showed.
Another former Ponderosa Stomp artist (in 2008) who has died is rockabilly singer Lorrie Collins, who was one half of fifties rock and roll act the Collins Kids. Lorrie was just 16 when she appeared as Ricky Nelson's girlfriend on the TV show 'The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet' and teamed up with her brother Larry as a successful rockabilly act. Larry is still in great form as a guitarist, as he showed at last year's Viva Las Vegas.
New Orleans piano player Henry Butler is another superb artist who has passed on. When I first saw him at Jazzfest as part of the Henry Butler Trio in 1989 he was playing jazz, but he was a very capable of New Orleans styled boogie woogie, as he showed at the Porretta Soul Festival in 2008.
One of the first pop singers who caught my attention way back in 1957 was Tab Hunter, whose
version of 'Young Love', was a smash hit. My sister brought it home as a 78, as she did with the follow up, Ninety Nine Ways. Tab wasn't a great singer but was very successful as a film actor, appearing in over 40 movies with the likes of John Wayne and Robert Mitchum. He was 86 when he died.
The Vinyl Word raises a glass to them all.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Porretta photo gallery

A final batch of photos, starting with some of people attending the festival. Here are Rod Jolliffe, Dave Carroll, Alan Lloyd, Noah Shaffer and myself, all wearing different Porretta T shirts ranging from the 1997 edition to this year's model.
A trip to the top of the hill outside Porretta is an annual event and this year 12 people took part (Garth Cartwright took the pic).
Here are Rod, Dave, Alan and myself at the Rufus Rhythm and Burgers restaurant, where you can buy burgers named after Rufus Thomas, Solomon Burke, Wilson Pickett and other soul stars. 
I don't go in for autographs but I do like to remember events with photos of the artists when I can, so here are a group of photos with the stars. First, Don Bryant.
Here's one with Missy Andersen.
With Booker Brown.
With Lacee.
With Percy Wiggins, Ernie Johnson and Spencer Wiggins.
Swamp Dogg.
John Ellison.
With Charles McNeal and D'Mar.
Terrie Odabi.
Alvon Johnson.
Finally, Wee Willie Walker.