Sunday, December 10, 2017

Otis Redding 50 years on

I have a 'pain in my heart' remembering Otis Redding on the 50th anniversary of his death. When Sam Cooke died in 1964 it was Otis who carried the flame so far as I was concerned, and it was his first UK 45 Pain In My Heart that first made an impact on me. His upbeat songs were great, but his slower ones were even better. Tracks like I've Been Loving You Too Long, My Lover's Prayer, Try A Little Tenderness, The Glory of Love and I've Got Dreams To Remember are achingly beautiful. There was no one quite like Otis, and Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay, despite me having heard it countless times, still has an impact.
I remember, of course, his TV appearances, on Ready Steady Go for example, but I treasure the memory of seeing him in 1967 on the Stax/Volt show at the Fairfield Hall, Croydon. I wrote at the time, in my review for the local paper: 'Suddenly there was Otis, doing his jigging routine on numbers like Mr Pitiful, Satisfaction and Shake. I could hear little because of the noise from the backing group and the crowd. It wasn't until he sang a couple of slow numbers, My Girl and I've Been Loving You Too Long, that I became really enthusiastic. On these, particularly the latter, he was brilliant. If anyone did not know before, they certainly knew then what soul music is all about. The climax of his act was Try A Little Tenderness, which started very slowly but became wilder and wilder.' 
Two years ago I visited Otis's home town of Gray, a few miles from Macon, Georgia. There's a plaque in Gray and a statue in a park in Macon. There's also a small museum in Macon dedicated to his memory. Here are some photos.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Christine, Johnny & the 2017 Death List

Every year at around this time the Vinyl Word includes a list of some of the music related people who have died during the year. As ever, this year's list is a long one and includes two rock and roll originators whose influence is still huge today, namely Chuck Berry and Fats Domino. Today saw the announcement of the deaths of two people who also had a big influence in their way - Christine Keeler and Johnny Hallyday. No doubt there will be more before the year ends.
Christine Keeler, who has died aged 75, was at the centre of the Profumo scandal in 1963 which
grabbed the attention of the nation and led to the resignation of a Cabinet minister and indirectly to the fall of Harold MacMillan's government. As a teenager I was fascinated by Christine and by Mandy Rice-Davies, avidly collecting any photos or news snippets that I could find. Among her lovers was another figure who died this year, Lucky Gordon, a Jamaican jazz musician who went on to work for Chris Blackwell at Island records. Lucky Gordon was attacked outside the Flamingo Club  in Soho by another player in the sordid affair, Johnny Edgecombe, so there are several links to music in this tale. Christine never came to terms with her notoriety and tried many times to put across her side of the affair. She was young when her affair started, just 19, and today she would be considered a victim. Then, however, she was regarded as just a prostitute. RIP Christine.
Johnny Hallyday, 74, was France's answer to Elvis and was the only convincing French rock and
roll singer of the sixties. His cover of Let's Twist Again was a big hit in Europe and he sold over 100 million albums during a lengthy career without ever becoming a big name in the US or UK.
And so, here is the Death List for 2017 (so far). Not surprisingly people who made their names in the fifties, sixties and even the seventies are now reaching the end of their lives. The Vinyl Word raises a glass to them all.
Greg Allman - Allman Brothers Band singer and musician; Tommy Allsupp - rockabilly musician and member of the Crickets; Jimmy Beaumont - lead singer with the Skyliners; Chuck Berry - the father of rock and roll; Big Cynthia - blues singer; Charles Bradley - Daptone soul man; Buddy Britten - UK skiffle and pop singer; Lonnie Brooks - blues guitarist also known as Guitar Junior; Sonny Burgess - Sun rockabilly artist; Glen Campbell - country star; David Cassidy - seventies teen idol; Larry Coryell - jazz guitarist; James Cotton - blues harmonica player; Cedell Davis - blues singer; Ronnie Davis - Jamaican reggae singer and member of the Tennors;  Johnny Daye - Stax recording artist; Fats Domino - New Orleans R and B originator; Jimmy Dotson - Louisiana blues singer; Raye Duval - British drummer; Bobby Freeman - rock and roll/R and B pioneer; J Geils - guitarist and leader of J Geils Band; Jack Good - creator of Oh Boy!, Boy Meets Girls and Shindig; Cuba Gooding Senior - soul singer with the Main Ingredient; Buddy Greco - jazz vocalist; Guitar Gable - swamp pop guitarist; Lucky Gordon; Tony Hall - UK sax player; Johnny HallydayRosie Hamlin - singer with Rosie and the Originals; Linda Hopkins - blues and gospel singer and actress; Richard Ingui - member of the Soul Survivors; Al Jarreau - jazz and R & B singer and musician; Brenda Jones - member of the Jones Girls; Christine Keeler; Robert Knight - soul man famous for Love On A Mountain Top; Willie Joe Ligon - leader of the Mighty Clouds of Joy; Earl Lindo - reggae musician and member of the Wailers; Tex Makins - skiffle player; Larry Marshall - reggae singer; Brian Matthew - influential DJ and TV presenter;  Maurice McAlister - Maurice and Mac and Radiants singer; D L Menard - king of Cajun music; Warren 'Pete' Moore - bass singer in the Miracles; Walter 'Junie' Morrison - Ohio Players member and P-Funk music director; Sylvia Moy - Motown singer and songwriter; Tom Paley - American folk singer; Anita Pallenberg - glamorous muse of the Stones; Frankie Paul - dancehall reggae artist; Tom Petty - singer/songwriter and member of the Travelling Wilburys; Sylvester Potts - member of the Contours; Della Reese - jazz and blues singer; Belton Richard - Cajun accordionist; Peter Sarstedt - British singer and brother of Eden Kane; John Schroeder - musician and record company executive; Bunny Sigler - Philly singer and record producer; Noel (Zoot) Simms - ska and reggae pioneer;  Peter Skellern - English singer/songwriter; Joni Sledge - member of Sister Sledge; Mick Softley - folk singer and guitarist; Clyde Stubblefield - James Brown's drummer; Tommy Tate - soul singer; Bobby Taylor - Motown artist and leader of the Vancouvers; Marvell Thomas - Memphis keyboardist and brother of Carla and Vaneese; Mel Tillis - country star; Thomas Tribble - jazz trumpeter; Robert 'Bilbo' Walker - blues singer/guitarist (pictured in 2013);  Leon Ware - soul songwriter and performer; Curtis Womack - brother of Bobby and member of the Valentinos;

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Spencer and Percy Wiggins at the 100 Club

Anyone who loves deep soul will have been spellbound by the Wiggins brothers - Spencer and Percy - at the 100 Club last night. It was a great night, featuring Spencer's moody and hypnotic singing and Percy's lighter, almost pop, vocal style, well supported by a seven piece band. The brothers were brought up in Memphis and began their long careers in gospel, something which was very evident, particularly in Spencer's performance. Now in their mid seventies (Spencer is 75, while Percy is 74) they showed that a dynamic stage act is not the only way to hold an audience's attention. Vocal purity is just as effective, perhaps even more so.
First up was Percy Wiggins, dressed in a bright red jacket and matching shoes, looking all the world like a retired bank manager on his day off. He began with the funky Can't Find Nobody (To Take Your Place), the B side of his only original UK release on Atlantic in 1967, and followed up with the deep soul of Look What I've Done from 1969. Next up was the Northern soul favourite It Didn't Take Much (For Me To Fall In Love), which was beautifully sung, and the A side of his Atco single Book Of Memories, another beauty. That was it in terms of original numbers, but he made an excellent job of Eddie Floyd's Never Found Me A Girl, which merged into Groovin' and brought about some audience participation. Sam Cooke's Bring It On Home To Me followed, and Percy finished with Al Green's Love and Happiness. 
After a break it was the turn of older brother Spencer Wiggins to take the stage. Wearing a broad check suit and looking well,  his face was sombre and unsmiling - not once did he even hint at a grin. His voice, though, was magical as he tackled some of his wonderful Goldwax sides recorded under the guidance of Quinton Claunch. The enigmatic Lonely Man was followed by Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham's Up Tight Good Woman. At Porretta, where Spencer has performed on a couple of occasions, along with his brother, he has been known to climax the song with up to ten false endings - 'Downright, Uptight Good Woman'. This time he contented himself with just five, but the effect was still sensational. Next up was the B side of his first recording, the upbeat What Do You Think About My Baby, which he followed with one of his most intense and powerful soul ballads, Old Friend. The serious face and the concentration he focused on the song reminded me of the performance by his label mate James Carr  at Blackheath back in the nineties. Just mesmerising. He followed with another song about age - He's Too Old, but upped the tempo with his next song, The Kind Of Woman's Who's Got No Heart. Spencer finished off his solo set with B B King's Sweet Sixteen and an excellent version of The Breaking Point, a Tyrone Davis influenced song he recorded for Fame. (Thanks to Tony Rounce for that information).
Spencer was then joined on stage by brother Percy as the band left them to sing James Carr's Dark End Of The Street to a backing track. Another spine tingling moment I thought as their voices harmonised perfectly. Percy said he was glad to be here in the UK for a fourth time (having appeared at Northern soul festivals in the past). Spencer said that he was just glad to be here at all. Finally, the band returned to the stage and the pair sang Double Loving, a song which Spencer recorded for Fame in 1970 and which was used in a Citi Bank TV commercial.
That was it, but it was a fine end to a double set which reached the heights at times and which was much appreciated by the fair sized audience. Apparently Graziano is hoping to include the brothers in next year's Porretta Soul Festival line up. I look forward to it as they are very much the real deal when it comes to Memphis soul.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Some more music deaths

Sadly there are a couple more music deaths to report.
Warren 'Pete'Moore not only sang bass in the Miracles as a founder member from 1955 onwards, but also co-wrote some of the group's best known records, including  Ooh Baby Baby, The Tracks Of My Tears, My Girl Has Gone and Going To A Gogo. He also co-wrote, with Smokey Robinson, It's Growing and Since I Lost My Baby for the Temptations, and Ain't That Peculiar and I'll Be Doggone for Marvin Gaye. He sang co-lead on several Miracles songs, including I Love Your Baby and Doggone Right, was the group's vocal arranger and also produced records for several Motown artists including the Miracles (Choosey Beggar and  and Here I Go Again), Marvin Gaye and the Supremes. Moore (pictured second from right above) died on his 78th birthday in Las Vegas, where he was CEO of an entertainment company and co-owner, with fellow Miracles member Billy Griffin, of a music publishing company.
Another death is that of country singer and songwriter Mel Tillis, at the age of 85, who first recorded in the 1950s. His songwriting credits include Ruby Don't Take Your Love To Town, Life Turned Her That Way and Detroit City, whilst successful recordings include These Lonely Hands Of Mine, She'll Be Hanging Around Somewhere, I Ain't Never and Neon Rose. He became a mainstay of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and my photo, above, shows him at the Ryman Auditorium in 2013.
** The latest addition to the growing list is Della Reese, who has died aged 86. Discovered by
Mahalia Jackson, Della had a long career as a jazz and pop singer, with early hits such as Don't You Know, Not One Minute More and Some Day. Later she became a major US TV star and starred in the drama Touched By An Angel.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Two more soul men pass on

Two more soul men have passed on in recent days, adding to the long list of those who have died in the last few years.
Chess recording artist Maurice McAlister was the leader singer of the Radiants, who made what in my opinion was one of the best records of 1965 (it made number one in my personal top ten), namely Voice Your Choice. He was also one half of the Chicago soul duo Maurice and Mac, who made a stunning version of You Left The Water Running at Muscle Shoals among other excellent recordings.
Maurice formed the Radiants in 1962 as Chicago's answer to Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, having previously sung in a gospel group. Their first record Father Knows Best showed Maurice's voice off to good effect and it was followed by other singles on Chess, including Shy Guy, I Got A
Girl and I Gotta Dance to Keep My Baby which failed to break through. Their first big hit Voice Your Choice reached number 16 in the Billboard chart and the follow up It Ain't No Big Thing did even better, reaching 14. The group's only other UK single release was Hold On in 1968.
Meanwhile Maurice had begun recording with Green 'Mac' McLauren, a former member of the Radiamts who had been drafted into the Army, as Maurice and Mac. The Chess brothers took them to Muscle Shoals where they recorded several tracks with Rick Hall, including You Left the Water Running, a minor hit, You're The One and Why Don't You Try Me. The duo's final record, very much in the Sam and Dave mould, was But You Know I Love You in 1970. It's clear from the Radiants and Maurice and Mac records that Maurice McAlister was a superb talent, but somehow he, and the groups he was in, never quite made it to the top level. RIP Maurice.
Another recent loss to the soul world is Robert Knight. Originally from Franklin, Tennessee, he recorded a version of Free Me in 1961 for Dot, a song better known by Johnny Preston. In 1967 he
recorded Everlasting Love for the Rising Sons label which made the US top 20. It was a huge UK hit
for the Love Affair reaching number one, preventing Robert's original from becoming a hit there. After a couple of relatively unsuccessful pop singles he hit the jackpot again in 1973 with Love On A Mountain Top which made the UK top ten. A reissued single of Everlasting Love also made the UK top 20 soon afterwards.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Woodies magazine reaches its century

The Tales From The Woods online magazine reaches its 100th issue this month, a landmark that few thought it would reach when it was first produced as a brief newsletter umpteen years ago. For those who aren't familiar with it, the mag is an eclectic mix of gig reports, record reviews, music obituaries. personal invective and loads of other stuff, all put together in a way that defies any kind of logic or editorial control. Somehow it works and attracts regular contributors issue after issue. It 'borrows' from The Vinyl Word in each issue and I'm more than happy for it to do so. I doubt if many people read it from cover to cover (impossible now that it's on line of course), but there's something there for everyone, including the regular 'Hold The Third Page' entry from the eponymous Keith Woods, John Howard's often inflammatory Mr Angry column, Dave Carroll's obscure but highly knowledgable insights into jazz in his Jazz Junction reviews and John 'Soulboy' Jolliffe's soul column.
The Woodies themselves all share a love of roots music, although their preferences vary - from rock and roll to blues, soul and jazz - and some of us have a monthly meet up when we have a few beers and a meal in London. Membership is quite wide geographically and the roots music shows put together by Keith a couple of times a year (or more), are attended by far flung Woodies who sometimes never see each other the rest of the year.
Until a couple of years ago many Woodies made an annual pilgrimage to the Rhythm Riot which is taking place at Camber Sands this weekend. Then the organisers decided to stop inviting 'heritage' acts (artists from the original rock and roll generation) to the shows and many of us decided not to go any more. I'm sure those who are there are having a good time, but unlike Keith's shows, or Hemsby, or some US festivals that I regularly go to, such as Viva Las Vegas and the Ponderosa Stomp, all the acts are relatively recent ones. I won't be going again unless they change their booking policy.
On my 2011 visit to the Rhythm Riot, when the stars included the Bobbettes and Jivin' Gene, I took some photos of Woodies regulars and here are a few of them. As you can see, most of us are of a certain age (six years older now of course) but we still love great music and get to as many live shows as we can. The top photo shows Keith Woods (centre) with Bill Haynes, whose main interests are old time music hall and Chelsea FC, and Darren Vidler, who recently revealed a talent for singing at one of Keith's shows. Below is John 'Soulboy' Jolliffe, who's recently moved to Worcester, in typical pose.
Here are John Spencely (centre), lead guitarist of the Tales From The Woods house band, with R and B expert Gordon Fleming and all round musicologist and Juke Blues contributor Dickie Tapp (right).
Two old school rock and rollers, Lee Wilkinson, now living in Burnley, and Tony Papard, who has often contributed memories of his youth, theories about Princess Diana speaking from beyond the grave, and political views somewhat to the left of Jeremy Corbyn, as well as stories about pantomime characters.
Standing outside the record shop in Rye, here are Arsenal fan and jazz expert Dave Carroll, Sutton United supporter Brian Jessup, and me (Nick Cobban).
Here are Hastings resident Martyn Harvey, Gordon Fleming and IT specialist Alan Lloyd, a regular companion on my US trips.
This dodgy looking group are Shrewsbury folk lover Ralph Edwards, record collector Ken Major, accomplished drummer Brian 'Bunter' Clark and John Spencely. Don't know who the lady at the back is.
International Woodies Jay McCaddin from Mobile, Alabama, and Paula, with Ralph looking on..
Finally, here are Ace record man Ian Saddler and his American friend Chris, with music photographer Paul Harris and Dickie Tapp.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Doowop and more at the Tales From The Woods show

Classic doowop made a rare venture into London last night with the Tales From The Woods Rock & Roll Heritage Show at the 100 Club, promoted by Keith Woods. The headliner was former lead singer of the Flamingos Tommy Hunt (pictured above), who was backed by the excellent Spanish doowop group The Velvet Candles. But the show wasn't just about doowop: there was soul and R and B from Zoot Money, Chuck Berry flavoured rock and roll from Earl Jackson and blues from Ray Phillips. And they were all backed by the unrivalled Tales From The Woods band, featuring the 'lovely' John Spencely on lead guitar (pictured below with Rob Davis), Claire Hamlin on keyboards, Jeff Tuck on drums, Rob Davis on bass, Alex Bland on sax and Dave Priseman on trumpet. It was a terrific show - possibly the best yet in this long running series of rock and roll events.
DJ John Howard dedicated the show to Fats Domino, but it was another late lamented rock and roller, Chuck Berry, who dominated the first set by Earl Jackson. Earl describes himself as the 'love child of Chuck Berry', and he certainly has more than enough showmanship, excellent guitar work and vocal ability to back that up. He rocked his way through a series of Chuck Berry numbers, including Roll Over Beethoven, No Particular Place To Go, You Never Can Tell, Nadine (well supported by the horn section), Little Queenie and Johnny B Goode. He duck walked, played his original Gibson guitar (bought for £2.5k, he said) behind his head, popped his eyes and generally worked up a storm during his 45 minutes on stage, ending, not with Chuck, but with Howlin' Wolf's Howling For My Baby. An excellent start to the evening.
Following him was former frontman of the Nashville Teens Ray Phillips, who included quite a bit of blues in his set. He began brightly with Bo Diddley's Mona, but Red House, Hoochie Coochie Man, Little Willie John's Need Your Love So Bad and Parchman Farm showed he's a blues man at heart. He changed the tempo with Nadine (again), Route 66 and Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On and finished off, naturally enough, with his big hit Tobacco Road. Ray isn't a dynamic performer, but at 78 he showed that his vocal pipes are still good.
The next set, by Zoot Money, playing his Hammond organ, brought back memories of smoky sixties nights at the Flamingo and was a joy. Zoot demonstrated his love of Ray Charles with Hide Nor Hair and It Should've Been Me, and did a great version of Sam and Dave's You Don't Know Like I Know. Alex and Dave's horn breaks were a match for the Memphis originals on that one. Zoot had a light hearted moan about others making it big back in the day on the back of three minute 45s. His band's biggest hit Big Time Operator showed that on his day he was more than a match for some of the other sixties heroes. He rocked through Robert Parker's Barefootin', and brought a jazzy feel to Chuck Berry's Sweet Little Rock and Roller, giving John Spencely a chance to show off a different side to his always first class guitar work. Finally, Zoot sang If Age Brings Wisdom, a jazzy number with a wistful lyric: 'When will I find it?' was the essence. This was a highly enjoyable set and Zoot remains a master of the Hammond, well supported by Claire's piano work.
Doowop came to the fore in the next set with the Velvet Candles, a four man doowop group from Barcelona led by Augie Burr, who were making their London debut. Keith Woods rightly described them as the best doowop group outside New York. Dressed, for this set, in white jackets, their harmonies were just gorgeous on doowop classics like the Velvets' Tonight Could be the Night, Honey Babe, Dance Girl Dance, a note perfect version of the Gladiolas' Little Darling and Clyde McPhatter's A Lover's Question among others. They were joined on stage by Johnny Stud, formerly of Rocky Sharpe and Replays for their revival of Rama Lama Ding Dong and Never. The group's final number, Lock Up My Heart, really rocked and the band gave them superb support throughout. There can be little doubt that these guys are among the very best of modern doowop singers - quite possibly the best of the lot.
They were, in fact, the perfect support for Tommy Hunt, now 84, who has enjoyed successful careers both in the doowop field, as lead singer of the Flamingos, and as a soul singer. This was purely a doowop set and highly enjoyable it was too. The Velvet Candles provided superb support throughout, beginning with Kokomo and following up with the Sam Cooke penned Nobody Loves Me Like You,  Let's Make Up and the rocking Crazy Crazy Crazy. During A Kiss From Your Lips a young couple crouched down in front of the stage as the guy proposed to his girlfriend, and the tender theme continued with Lovers Never Say Goodbye. Tommy and the group were quite stunning on Ol' Man River, the Candles providing dramatic and quite brilliant support to Tommy's vocals. Other songs included Your Other Love, Heavenly Angel, Besame Mucho and the jive favourite Jump Children. And then it was time for the encore - a spell binding version of the Flamingos' biggest hit I Only Have Eyes For You. The whole set was doowop at its supreme best - great vocals from Tommy and harmonies to die for from the Velvet Candles.
What a show this was: great singing, magical moments of harmony, and wonderful backing from the band, who had to learn upwards of 60 songs for the evening. Keith Woods - take a bow!
Finally, here a photo of me with Earl Jackson.
Nick Cobban