Friday, October 09, 2015

Exploring The Delta and on to the Biscuit

Over the last few days the four intrepid road trippers (Alan Lloyd, Dave Carroll, Lee Wilkinson and myself) have been exploring the Blues in the Delta, looking at blues markers commemorating the artists, and yesterday we went to day one of the King Biscuit Festival in Helena, Arkansas.
On Tuesday we started in Canton, a sleepy town with a square at its centre which has been featured in several movies. We breakfasted in a tiny place on a red rose (red smoked sausage), egg and cheese sandwich and checked out Hickory Street, once the centre of black life in the town. From there we went to the Mississippi Petrified Forest, which wasn't that impressive, and checked out the Blue Front Cafe in Bentonia (featured in a new movie) and markers in Belzoni (Denise Lasalle),Inverness (Little Milton) and Moorhead, where the Southern meets the Yellow Dog (railroads). A look at the now derelict Bryants Grocery in Money, where Emmett Til allegedly whistled at a white woman, costing hm his life and sparking the Civil Rights movement, was followed by a stop at Dockery Farm, where many singers once worked. We stayed the night in Cleveland and went to a symposium at Delta State University, where Bobby Rush and Super Chiken were reminiscing about blues men and, in Bobby's case, women. Funny and bawdy, even though I've heard many of the stories before.
Next day we continued our tour of the Delta, taking in Greenville, Indianola, home of B B King, Holly Ridge, where Charley Patton is buried, and Leland, home town of Tyrone Davis and James Son Thomas. We came across Pat Thomas, his son, outside the museum there, and he complained about dental work he had had. From there, it was a quick look at Po Monkeys juke joint in Merigold and then Clarksdale where we are now staying. In the evening we caught the excellent Big Al Sherrod and Space Cowboy at Club 2000.
Yesterday was day one of the King Biscuit and a beautiful day weather wise. We caught a bit of Zac Harmon, who is good in a Robert Cray sort of way, and the Kentucky Headhunters. They are very popular locally but more rock than blues. Numbers included Big Boss Man, Strawberry Hill, Let's Go Stumbling and Little Queenie, from a recent album with Johnny Johnson. Next on were the Cate Brothers, who proved to be a melodic blue eyed soul band a little similar to The Band, with numbers including Yield Nt To a Temptation, There Goes The Neighborhood, The Weight and Am I Losing You. Headlining on the main stage (where the sight lines are appalling because of a big VIP area right in front) was the Bobby Rush Revue. Featuring his two usual dancing girls he was his usual bawdy, sexist,non PC and very funny self, on numbers such as Bg Fat Woman, I Ain't Scared Of You and I'm Crazy AboutYou.finally we went to the New Roxy in Clarksdale to see Lucious Spiller. The has been tarted up a bit but still has no roof. Great venue though.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Treme to Jackson, blues all the way

If anything, the two days since the Stomp ended has been even more remarkable than the event itself. On Sunday New Orleans was in the grip of football fever as the Saints played Dallas Cowboys. This meant that our first intended music venue - the Mother In Law Lounge, now taken over by Kermit Ruffins - was over run by noisy fans. Undeterred we went on to the Ooh Poo Pah  Doo Bar, a neighbourhood lounge in Treme run by Judy Hill, daughter of Jessie Hill. The TV was eventually muted (Saints won in overtime) allowing the band to play, and an excellent band it proved to be. The atmosphere, despite a small, mostly local black, crowd, was electric. Guitar Slim Jr was an impressive guitarist with a good voice, particularly on the Dells' Stand In My Corner, while Judy herself was truly excellent on her dad's big hit, plus Spencer Wiggins' Old Friend, Staggerlee and Fire. DJ Rabbit, New Orleans' oldest disc jockey, did a couple of Ray Charles numbers, keyboard player Bobby Love was excellent on several blues and New Orleans R and B numbers including Blue Monday, while Big Chief Alfred Doucette, soon to celebrate his 75th birthday with a big concert, was entertaining on Hey Pockaway and a couple of other numbers. This was a special evening,as it seemed that the bar is yet to be discovered by the rest of New Orleans. It reminds me of Irma Thomas's Lions Den club in its early days - indeed Bobby Joe, Irma's bass player, was in the band. A wonderful evening I thought.
Next day we headed north, stopping off in Crystal Springs, Ms, hoping to see the Robert Johnson museum. It was shut, just as it had been last time,but the local Mayor, Sally Garland, spotted us and let us in. Not only that, but she then led us way out into the country to the grave of legendary blues man Tommy Johnson, hidden away in the woods, almost impossible to find in the Warm Springs cemetery, a family burial site.  The headstone was lying on its back but was readable and it was quite a magical experience to visit such a remote and significant site.
We continued to Jackson where we took a look at Farish Street, the centre of black music in the post war years. It's as derelict as ever, but at least the AlamoTheatre, where the likes of Dorothy Moore once played, is still operating. In the evening we made a return trip to Hal and Mal's bar for their regular Blue Monday blues jam. I was delighted that J JThames, who I first saw there two years ago, accepted my Facebook request to be there. She was quite brilliant on Wang Dang Doodle and Neither Of Us Wants To BeThe First To Say Goodbye. Other acts,including Abdul Rashid , soul singer Bobby Lewis and The Rock, were also good, but what staggered us was that we bumped into Tommy Johnson's niece, Vera Johnson Collins, the very person who is in charge of the grave site. She has written about her famous forebear and is the keeper of the flame.Was meeting her coincidence, or was it something more in tune with the legend of the man?

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Ponderosa Stomp, day two

And so another Stomp is over. Two nights of insane rock and roll, to quote the ads. Day two was another excellent one, with many lesser known acts performing just three or four numbers, each interesting in their own way. But it was the established artists, especially Irma Thomas and Barbara Lynn, who stole the show.
First on, backed by Lil Buck and the Top Cats,was Raymond George, a decent blues guitarist from Houma, whose sole record was Just Let Me Be. Jimmy Jules came next, a soul flavoured NO R and B singer with a deep voice who recorded several sides for Atlantic including Nothing Will Ever Change This Love Of Mine, Just One More Time and Take It Like It Comes, all of which were excellent. Blind organ player Lynn August played and sang a couple of soulful numbers - Guilty Of Loving You was particularly good - and he was followed by some great up tempo soul from Louisiana born James Alexander, including You've Got The Power and Slip Away. Then it was the turn of New Orleans soul man Tony Owens, a big man with a big voice, whose four numbers (I'll Be There, I Got Soul, Confessin' a Feeling and the funky Got to Get My Baby Back) went down well. Swamp pop drummer/singer Warren Storm also sounded good on Mama Mama Mama, Lonely Lonely Nights and Prisoners Song. His hair and moustache are still as black as ever.
The next act, Mack Banks, was a new name to me, an 82 year old who rocked his way through Be Bopping Daddy, Beer Drinking Blues, They Raided The Joint, Drinking Wine Spodey Oh Di and Johnny B Goode. Hard driving trucker music and very solid and enjoyable. Next up was Mike Waggoner, who appeared at Hemsby a while back. Backed by the excellent Deke Dickerson he came across quite strongly on primarily covers, including Good Rockin' Tonight, Let It Rock and Say Mama. I was interested to see the next act, Augie Meyers, whose organ playing with Doug Sahm was so expressive. He didn't disappoint, with rocking versions of Dirty Dirty Feeling, I'm In Love Again, the Sir Douglas classic Mendocino (played on keyboard rather than organ) and the biggie She's About A Mover featuring Speedy Sparks on vocals. Moving to his accordion, he finished with a searing If You Got the Dinero.
I didn't know what to expect of the next act, the San Antonio West Side soul revue with Rudy T Gonzales, Little Henry Lee, Rudy Palacios, Manuel Bones Aragon and Jack Barber, some time members of Sunny and the Sunliners. The answer was a mix of soft soul, rock and Tex Mex flavoured pop. Numbers included Smile Now Cry Later, Put Me In Jail If I Fail and Do The Jerk Like Me. It was listenable stuff but didn't really grab me, unlike the next two acts, left handed guitarist Barbara Lynn and the soul queen of New Orleans Irma Thomas. Barbara did a couple of her hits We Got A Good Thing Going and You'll Lose A Good Thing but otherwise it was covers, but her guitar playing and vocals were top notch. Even better though was Irma Thomas, bubbling with personality as ever, who stuck to her sixties material, including Ruler Of My Heart, Two Winters Long, Breakaway, Wish a Someone Would care, It's Raining and Time Is On My Side. A superb set, and not long enough. Next on stage was Texas wild man Roy Head who was his usual exuberant self on Treat Her Right and then came rockabilly guitarist Royce Porter, who was excellent. Another Great night at the Stomp.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Ponderosa Stomp, day one, part two

Day one continued with P F Sloan, another act I have never seen before, who was playing with the ever excellent Deke Dickerson and Eve and the Exiles, plus Woodie Armand St Martin on keyboards. After a minute's silence for the latest U.S. gun slaughter (when will they get real about gun laws?), he kicked off with his best known composition Eve Of Destruction and looked the part of the sixties folk rocker with his guitar and harmonica set up. This was a song that changed the law, with its line about being old enough to kill, but not for voting, he said. He soon proved that he is more of a pop singer at heart thought, with That's Cool, That's Trash and the surf sounds of the Fantastic Baggies' Tell Them I'm Surfing and Anywhere The Girls Are. Other songs included Kick That Little Foot Sally Ann. Live For Today, the gay rights favourite Let Me Be, Secret Agent Man and Take Me For What I'm Worth. An enjoyable and varied set I thought.
It was rock and roll non stop for the rest of the night, beginning with a great set from Freddie Cannon, backed by Los Straitjackets. Freddie was on top form as he roared through Tallahassee Lassie, Way Down Yonder, Shake Rattle and Roll, the great Buzz Buzz a Diddle It, Abagail Beecher, Blue Monday, Palisades Park, Action and a mix of Little Queenie and Roll Over Beethoven, with enthusiastic input from the crowd. A great set and better than the one I saw in Spain last year. He said he had open heart surgery a year ago and it seems to have reenergised him. Very enjoyable.
Next on was Jim Oertling, a new name to me, who straddled the line between rockabilly and country. Numbers included Back Porch, I Love You In My Own Kind of Way, Country Don't Live Here Any More and his best known number Moss Back. Not really to my taste, and I had my doubts about the next act, rockabilly singer Joe Clay. In fact, he was very good with lively versions of his hits Don't Mess With My Duvktail, 16 Chicks and Crackerjack, and the obligatory excursion into the crowd.
Final act of the night was drummer J M Van Eaton, the driving force behind dozens of Sun hits, including High School Confidential, Down The Line, Raunchy, Lonely Weekends, Flying Saucers Rock and Roll, Uranium Rock, Ubangi Stomp, Grest Balls of Fire and Red Hot, not forgetting Whole Lotta Shaking Going On, recorded in a single take. Vocals were provided by Deke Dickerson and there was some great keyboard work by Woodie Armand St Martin, to bring day one to a rocking close. We start all over again tonight!
Photos soon.

Ponderosa Stomp, day one, part one

Day one of the 12th Ponderosa Stomp was all I could have hoped for and more, with a wonderfully varied selection of acts and some great performances. The highlight was soul singer Willie Hightower, but there was much more to enjoy as well and organiser Dr Ike is to be congratulated on putting such an imaginative line up together.
The show began with a Blondie type group called Miriam and Nobody's Babies and continued with blues from Guitar Lightning Lee and R L Boyce. Things really got going with the swamp pop revue featuring the Mama Mama Mamas, who comprise the nucleus of Lil Band of Gold (the excellent guitar of C C Adcock, the Cajun styles of Steve Riley and Dickie Landry's sax). C C and Steve shared leads on Congo Mambo (a tribute to former drummer Jockey Etienne, who died recently), Cajun Twist and Bobby Charles' Teenagers. Newcomer Michael Hurtt then took the lead on Lonely Mardi Gras, before swamp pop legend Rod Bernard took the stage. Now 75, Rod's voice is not what it was, but he was fine on Recorded in England, his big hits This Should Go On Forever and Colinda, plus Nobody But You, originally recorded by Lil Bob (and the Lollipops), who also died recently. Next on was Gene Terry who absolutely nailed his hit Cindy Lou. Other songs included Never Let You Go, Sea Cruise (yet another tribute, this time to Frankie Ford), Fool To Care, Woman I Love and Teardrops In My Eyes. C C sang the Bobby Charles number Street People, before introducing the white bearded Tommy McLain to the stage. Still sounding good, his set included Jukebox Songs, the Woodies anthem Before I Grow Too Old, Baby Doll, I'll Change and Sweet Dreams, before he was joined on stage by Gene for the swamp pop classic Mathilde.
Two hours of quality soul followed with the arrival on stage of the Bo-Keys, including Scott Bomar, the incomparable Howard Grimes on drums, keyboard player Archie Turner and sax player Scott Thompson. First of three ladies of soul on stage was Betty Harris, who looked glamorous in a long turquoise dress. It was a short set, backed by three backing singers, comprising Mean Man, Cry To Me, the funky Break On The Road and a snippet of Im Gonna Get You - too short in truth - but she made way for the excellent Willie Hightower, a soul man who I haven't seen perform before. His voice is reminiscent of Sam Cooke, with a slightly rougher edge, and he was superb on Dee Clark's Nobody But You, the Cooke-ish Time Has Brought About a Change, It's a Miracle and Walk a Mile In my Shoes. Personally I could have done without the sing along on his biggest hit If I Had a Hammer, but there was no denying Willie's class and he would be perfect for Porretta. Next on was Brenda Holloway, looking great in a red gown. She struggled with the tempo of some her Motown hits, including Whar Are You Going To Do When I'm Gone, Operator, Every Little Bit Hurts and The rather dreary You Made Me So Very Happy. A pretty good set, but overshadowed a little by a sparkling set by 85 year old Mable John. Wearing a white lacy 'Miss Haversham' style dress, she wowed the crowd  with Able Mable, the Raelets' Bad Wate, a delicious Same Time Same Place, Another Man's Place and Your Good Thing Is About a To End.

Friday, October 02, 2015

The Stomp is here at last

The Ponderosa Stomp is finally here with tons of live music to look forward to tonight and tomorrow.
Yesterday saw the first  batch of interviews at the Stomp conference with some of the artists. The most amusing among them was folk rock singer and songwriter P F Sloan. He was a child prodigy but blamed Elvis for a less than happy home life. 'My mother and sister fell in love with Elvis and out of love with me. This man stole my family,' he said. It was Elvis though who taught him how to play guitar when as a 12 year old he met him in a store. He became the only white artist to sign with Aladdin and by the age of 16 he was working with Lou Adler as his assistant. Adler apparently failed to recognise the potential of the Beatles and the Stones and threw their demos in the trash can, but Phil (P F) retrieved them and got Veejay to release them. He was fired and rehired several times but got to work with Ann Marget and he and his friend became back up singers for Jan Berry. He wrote Eve of Destruction and four other songs, including his own hit Sins Of A Family - about a 14 year old cousin who turned to prostitution to buy food - in one night. He joined the Wrecking Crew in LA and formed the Grassroots, a group name that had been given up by Love when they changed their name and helped create the sound of the Mamas and Papas. A very entertaining interview I thought.
Other sessions included swamp pop artist Gene Terry, interviewed by John Broven, who proved a genial interviewee, and soul singer Wilie Hightower, a man whose voice closely resembles that of Sam Cooke. Interviewer Red Kelly played clips from many of his recordings. Others included blues man Billy Boy Arnold, New Orleans singer Tony Owens and bassist Chuck Badie.
The previous night we caught Walter 'Wolfman' Washington and his band at D.b.a who was in fine form, and last night we had a varied evening, which included looking in on a practice night by a group of very energetic and rhythmic Mardi Gras Indians at a tiny club room on the outskirts of town. From there we went to the Oo Poo Pah Doo club run by Jessie Hill's daughter Judy,and finally the Hip Drop record night at d.b.a featuring a bunch of DJs from around the world who spun some rare vinyl, the most entertaining of whom were Brothers InThe Groove, a 'double decking' duo who really moved to their soul sounds.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

From Atlanta to Mobile....and Frankie Ford RIP

We've reached Mobile on our U.S. road trip and for the first time the sun has made an appearance. On our second day in Atlanta we went out to Athens, a university town where a number of groups come from, including the B52s, REM and Widespread Panic. We enjoyed a drink at the Globe Bar, once voted 3rd best bar in the States, and had a look at 'the tree that owns itself', a strange local tale created when a tree was granted ownership of the land within eight feet of its trunk. Back in Atlanta, we went to Sweet Georgia's Juke Joint, an upmarket place frequented by urban blacks, where a singer called Ray Howard sang some sweet seventies soul and the soul food was expensive but tasty. From there we went on to the rather more basic Northside Tavern where a blues band called Uncle Sugar were playing who were entertaining and chose some interesting numbers to cover.
Next day we drove to Macon, stopping on the way at Gray to see a newly unveiled marker commemorating Otis Redding who was born there. Macon is associated not only with Otis (there's an Otis Redding Heritage centre there) but Little Richard and the Allman Brothers as well. The former Greyhound bus station where Richard once worked is now an impressive visitors centre and a road was named after him recently. It's a sleepy place where motorists stop if you so much as look as though you might be about to cross the road. From there we went Columbus, another quiet, attractive town where we stayed the night. Sadly there was no music to be had but we went to a bar where there was a quiz taking place, a rather easy one we thought.
Next morning it was still raining as we headed south but eventually it cleared up, after I'd spent more than I should have at Mobile Records.
As we sat in a bar in Mobile news came through that Frankie Ford had died, the fourth former star of the Ponderosa Stomp to have died in the last few weeks. Best known of course for Sea Cruise, Frankie was a regular at Jazzfest having performed every time I went. Wearing his trademark black and white piano key scarf he was always entertaining and amusing, even though he drifted into MOR territory at times. That wasn't the case when I saw him at the Archway Tavern in 1992 when he sang New Orleans R and B from beginning to end. The last time I saw him, at Jazzfest two years ago, he looked frail but put on a good show. As well as his big hit, where his voice was overdubbed on Huey Piano Smith's great backing track, he recorded many New Orleans styled numbers and was one of the last of the true New Orleans legends. He will be missed. RIP Frankie.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Blues and rain in Atlanta

I'm at the start of another U.S. road trip taking in a wide sweep of the South, beginning with Atlanta, a place I haven't explored before. I'm travelling with Dave Carroll, Alan Lloyd and Lee Wilkinson, all guys I've toured with in the past. We arrived too late to catch any live music on our first night, but three of us had a couple of beers at Smiths Olde Bar, a popular and noisy pub. It was a rainy day in Georgia next morning as we set out to explore the city, beginning with the Martin Luther King historic site around Auburn Avenue. There's a museum, which is ok but not as impressive as the Civil Rights museums in Memphis and Montgomery, plus his grave, the King Center and the house he was born in. We also checked out the impressive Fox Theatre and the closed down Royal Peacock, where the likes of Little Richard once played. Then it was time for a quick drink in the Northside Tavern, which features live blues seven nights a week.

In the evening, after a good meal of Southern Fried chicken in the Atkins Park restaurant, we went to the nearby Blind Willie's Blues club. Named after Georgia bluesman Blind Willie McTell, the place was crowded with a really mixed audience, both age wise and ethnically, but we managed to get prime seats to see Sandra Hall, Atlanta's 'Empress of the Blues'. Her backing band the Shadows didn't include Hank Marvin but were a pretty good four piece with a decent guitarist and warmed things up nicely with four or five numbers including I Wish You Would and Rib Joint. Then it was the turn of Sandra herself, who is something of a force of nature with a raunchy act and an earthy voice reminiscent of Ko Ko Taylor. She's been around Atlanta all her life and has recorded five albums, including three for Ichiban, and her performance was a lot of fun. Now in her late sixties, many of her numbers focussed on sex and the attractions of her full figure to the men in her life. She dragged several guys on stage, got them to place their hands on her hips and their heads on her bosom while she urged the females in the house to Use What You Got. Lee, who was sitting right at the front, looked nervous but was spared this indignity but others were less fortunate. Other numbers included Breaking Up Someone's Home, Walk Into My Fire and I'm Not A Size Five and she finished her second set with a rousing version of Wang Dang Doodle which got quite a few people dancing. Her voice is strong, indeed raucous at times, but she sure knows how to put on a show with her risqué and bluesy act. Definitely not to be missed if you are ever in Atlanta.
Watch out for further reports of our Stomping road trip and photos when I get back.