Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Denise Lasalle - Always The Queen

I have long been a fan of Denise Lasalle who died in 2018 and I've just finished reading her autobiography 'Always The Queen', written with David Whiteis. She grew up in rural Mississippi in poor circumstances, moving to the town of Belzoni  in 1947. She married young (twice) and has little good to say about her early relationships, but moved to Chicago where she met Billy 'The Kid' Emerson, who introduced her to Chess records. Nothing came of that but she gradually built a name for herself at Westbound and, later, ABC, Malaco and Ecko records. Her 1971 record 'Trapped by a Thing Called Love' was a bit hit and other successful and sometimes controversial records followed, including 'Married, But Not to Each Other', 'A Lady In the Street', 'Man Sized Job' and 'Someone Else Is Steppin' In'. By far her biggest hit in the UK and Europe was 'My Tu Tu' better known as 'My Toot Toot, a cover of a Rockin' Sidney zydeco hit. She set up the Crajon record label with her then husband Bill Jones. Her later marriage to James Wolfe lasted 40 years until her death and she set up several businesses in her adopted home of Jackson, Tennessee.
Denise was a regular performer at soul and blues festivals and she raises the interesting question of whether her music is 'blues', 'soul-blues' (a term she says she invented), 'southern soul' (which she doesn't much like) or just 'R and B' (which now means something quite different).. In later life she was was often called the Queen of The Blues but, although very proud of that, she is sceptical about the term. She says that the blues now appeals primarily to whites and black people do not like the term because it represents hard times and being downtrodden. She even set up a group called National Association for the Preservation of the Blues to try and reclaim blues, or soul-blues. 
She was a songwriter, record label owner and business woman and the book shines a light on many of the artists associated with southern soul and blues, including Johnnie Taylor, Bobby Bland, Z Z Hill, Latimore, Bobby Rush and Marvin Sease - even Bob Dylan - as well as various producers, most notably Willie Mitchell.
I first saw Denise in 1993 when she appeared at the Mean Fiddler on a Malaco show which also starred Little Milton and Latimore. Later I saw her several times including at Porretta in 2014 where she opened her set, aptly, with 'Still The Queen'. I also saw her at the Crescent City Blues and Barbecue Festival later that year (pictured below). She was interviewed there and was unrepentant about her often X rated lyrics, saying that they reflected real life. She remained a fantastic performer until the end. 
Sadly she suffered increasing bad health during her last couple of years and had a leg amputated. She died in January 2018, but there is uncertainty about her actual age. Her year of birth is usually cited as 1939 or 1941, but subsequent research showed that it may well have been 1934. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

More music deaths

There are a few more music deaths to catch on I'm afraid.
I'm grateful to Las Vegas singer Monique Brewster for letting me know about the death from COVID 19 of blues and soul singer Bobby Jones, who also recorded under the name of Bobby Jonz to avoid confusion with the gospel singer of the same name. I saw Bobby on a couple of occasions at the City Lights lounge in Vegas in 2015 and 2016 where he hosted a Monday night blues jam (featuring Monique among others) and was impressed by his smooth B B King sounding vocals. Born in Louisiana in 1936, Bobby moved to Chicago in 1959 and played in blues clubs with the Aces blues band. His first record, 'Sugar Baby' was recorded in the early sixties and others followed for Veejay, USA and Expo, for whom he also recorded an album. Moving to Florida he recorded a local hit called 'I'm So Lonely' and reportedly said that his friend Tyrone Davis's 'Can I Change My Mind' was originally written for him. He returned to Chicago and recorded under the name of Bobby Jonz before relocating to Las Vegas in 1986. Albums included 'I'm In The Mood For Love', 'Bobby Jonz Country' and 'Your Freak Is Here'. In 2007 he recorded 'Big Plans' with the Mannish Boys. Bobby's shows at City Lights showed just what a fine performer he was, with songs including 'The Turning Point' and 'Sweet Little Angel'. The picture above shows Bobby in 2016 while the one below dates from my first visit in 2015.    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yui_keAnDn8

Another victim of COVID 19 is Jamaican ska and reggae singer Dobby Dobson at the age of 78. Dobby recorded as one half of the duo Chuck and Dobby in 1960 and worked with both Coxsone
Dodd and Duke Reid as a member of the Virtues and Sheiks. He had great success with 'Loving Pauper', which became his signature song and had some UK success with 'Endlessly'. He moved into production, with the Mediations and Barrington Levy and later moved to New York where he recorded and performed occasionally. 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSRsB4vNpKU      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XkEVjuIcBNM
Emitt Rhodes - Mirror (1971, Vinyl) | DiscogsAnother death to report is that of singer/songwriter Emitt Rhodes at the age of 70.. He played and recorded with The Merry Go Round in the late sixties and then recorded a home produced album which was released by ABC/Dunhill. This was successful with one number, 'Fresh As A Daisy' achieving success as a single. Other albums included 'An American Dream' (comprising material from his earlier A & M period), 'Mirror' and 'Farewell To Paradise'. He released 'Rainbow Ends', his first album in 43 years, in 2015.    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFOA4URZFVQ

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

My first Porretta - 1997

Next week should have seen the 33rd staging of the Porretta Soul Festival, the world's greatest annual soul event. It's a time when the quiet hill town of Porretta Terme, 50 kilometers south of Bologna, comes alive with the arrival of top quality US soul acts and visitors from all over the world. Sadly this year's festival has been cancelled because of COVID 19 and we have a whole year to wait until next year's show takes place. But knowing Graziano Uliani, the man who has organised the festival since its beginning in 1988, it will be well worth waiting for.
My first visit to Porretta was in 1997, a couple of years after some of my friends first made the trip,  but I have been back many times since. The shows that year were held in the town football field as Rufus Thomas Park, where the festival is now held, was still under construction. It was appropriate, however that Rufus Thomas, the man who was first persuaded to appear at Porretta in what was described as a tribute to Otis Redding, was one of the stars that year (pictured above). Other artists appearing that year were the Bar-Kays, Mable John, Jackie Johnson, James Govan, Isaac Hayes, J Blackfoot, Otis Clay and the wonderful Irma Thomas so, as ever, it was a stellar line-up.
I remember that I had camera problems that year so don't have as many photos as I would like. But there are a few that came out, so here they are as a memento of that year's festival.
Here's one of me with J Blackfoot, former member of the Soul Children and a great solo act.
Here's one of Graziano with Isaac Hayes.
This is a photo of me with Mable John.
Much of the time when the festival isn't on is spent outside the local Irish bar, The Califfo pub. Here we are enjoying the local beer: L-R me (Nick Cobban), Mary Howard, Dave Carroll, John Jolliffe, Julie Thomas, Dave Thomas (obscured), John Howard.
This is the Sassocardo Hotel where I stayed that first year. It's now an old peoples' home.
Finally here are a couple of me - at the swimming pool at the top of town, and in the main street.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Three more Stomp artists pass away

Three artists who I saw at the much missed Ponderosa Stomp have died recently.
The first is Rudy Palacios (pictured above), who was a guitarist and vocalist with San Antonio band Sunny and the Sunliners. The band began as Sunny and the Sunglows and came to my attention via a UK release on London of Little Willie John's 'Talk To Me', which was produced by Huey Meaux for his Teardrop label. Whether Rudy was a member at that time I'm not sure, but the band went on to record several records under the latter name including 'Put Me In Jail', 'Smile Now Cry Later' and 'The One Who's Hurting Is You'. Rudy later played in a number of local bands and his appearance at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2015 was as part of the San Antonio West Side Soul Revue with Rudy T Gonzales, Little Henry lee, Manuel Bones Aragon and Jack Barber. It was a pleasant set with included some soft soul, rock and Tex Mex flavoured pop.    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RnxYScrIfxE
Another Stomp singer to have died is Tami Lynn, who is best known for her reissued 1971 hit 'I'm Gonna Run Away From You'. Born in New Orleans, Tami met Allen Toussaint and Harold Battiste and recorded for the AFO label. She was heard by Jerry Wexler who recorded her on 'I'm Gonna Run Away With You' which failed to chart when first released on the UK Atlantic label in 1967 but was a big Northern soul hit when reissued on Mojo. She recorded an LP called 'Love Is Here and Now You're Gone', produced by John Abbey, and sang backing for many major acts, including Dr John, the Rolling Stones and Wilson Pickett. I only got to see Tami perform once - at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2008 when she did a short set (pictured below).   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AeaZ3DEQEyo

It's farewell too to Max Crook, who was an early exponent of electronic music when he invented the Musitron, which can be heard to good effect on one of the greatest pop records of that or any era, Del Shannon's 'Runaway'. Max also recorded in his own right under the name Maximilian. His best known number was 'The Snake'. which was mistakenly issued as the B side of 'Runaway' on some early pressings.     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASO9zzJg1tw
Another reported death is that of Charlie Daniels, who is best known for his 1979 hit 'The Devil Went Down To Georgia'. He played fiddle with the Marshall Tucker Band and also formed his own band, having some success with 'Uneasy Rider'. He recorded some political songs and his views became increasingly right wing. He was 83 when he died.    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBjPAqmnvGA
And now there's news of a third Ponderosa Stomp artist to have died - swamp pop singer Rod Bernard, at the age of 79. Born in Opelousas in the heart of Cajun country, Rod had a love of rock and roll and formed a band called the Twisters. He recorded one of the biggest swamp pop hits 'This Should Go On Forever' for Floyd Soileau's Jin label in 1958 and then recorded for the Hall-Way label with less success. He was a founder of local band the Shondells, along with Warren Storm and Skip Stewart (not be confused with Tommy James's band) and recorded for Huey Meaux's Teardrop and for Jin. He concentrated mostly on country music during the 70s but reappeared with a performance with the Li'l Band of Gold during the Ponderosa Stomp in 2007 and again at the Stomp in 2015 (pictured below).   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAkSxyG9qXo

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Mike Sagar RIP

Mike Sagar, one of the stars of a Tales From The Woods show in 2015, has died. He was best known for his 1961 record 'Deep Feeling' with the Cresters. He appeared with fellow Cresters member Richard Harding at the 2015 show, who himself had some success with a version of 'Jezebel'.
I recall that Mike and Richard put on an amusing and entertaining double act. Here's what I wrote at the time:
'The next act was something of an unknown quantity - a double act featuring Mike Sagar, who had a 1961 hit with 'Deep Feeling', and his guitarist friend Richard Harding, who had some success in the same year with an instrumental version of 'Jezebel'. Between them they brought some great Northern humour to the show with a series of amusing anecdotes and jokes. It was like Sunday night at the Wheeltappers and Shunters. Musically, both Mike and Richard proved highly effective, with Mike's voice and Richard's top notch guitar work working well together on a series of rock and blues numbers, plus their own hits of over 50 years ago. Mike began with Charlie Gracie's 'Fabulous''and followed with 'Bye Bye Johnny', 'One Night', 'Matchbox', 'Goofin' Around' (showing off Richard's expertise) and the country styled 'How's My Ex Treating You'. Richard again showed off his guitar playing with Jerry Reed's 'Guitar Man' and two tunes played together - 'Yankee Doodle 'and 'Dixie'. Finally it was 'Bony Moronie', with John Spencely joining them on guitar, and Chuck Berry's 'Carol' for an encore. A very good double act - and very funny.'
Freddy Cole - WikipediaRIP Mike.    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TwgMjT56j6k
Another who has died is jazz singer and pianist Freddy Cole, aged 88, who was the brother of Nat 'King' Cole and uncle of Natalie. His career spanned over 70 years.
Also, at the age of 75, Jamaican guitarist Hux Brown, a member of Toots and the Maytals for over 30
years. He formed early ska band the Vikings and played on successful records by Alton Ellis and the Jamaicans, as well as playing on 'Rivers of Babylon' by the Melodians and 'The Harder They Come' by Jimmy Cliff.    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWMtxknzGOk
It's farewell, too, to Tom Finn, bass player and singer with the Left Banke, and to Pete Carr, lead guitarist with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, who recorded on many records by the likes of Bob Seger, Art Garfunkel, Rod Stewart and Johnny Rivers. He also recorded two albums as half of the duo LeBlanc and Carr.
I mustn't forget a belated farewell to Dame Vera Lynn, aged 103, who kept the spirits up of many during the war and who was the oldest person to have a number one when aged 100.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Hybrid HMV 45s

Donald Trump's recent less than overwhelming rally in Tulsa brought to mind Gene Pitney's 1963 smash hit '24 Hours From Tulsa', which in turn made me wonder why the UK 45 came out both on the black United Artists label and a blue hybrid HMV/United Artists label. The US United Artists label was formed in 1957 to issue movie soundtracks but by the earlier sixties it had begun to release pop and soul records (Marv Johnson for example). In the UK these were issued on Decca's London label but distribution was taken up by EMI in 1961, who chose its His Masters' Voice label as the host.    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zugy2rkSM7g

Presumably there was pressure from the US end for EMI to set up a separate United Artists label in the UK and as a compromise EMI agreed to a hybrid HMV/United Artists branded label. This was similar to an agreement with Verve, which had issued many mostly jazz LPs on a co-branded label. The new hybrid HMV/UA label featured records by, among others, the Phil Upchurch Combo, the Highwaymen (who gave them a UK number one with 'Michael'), Al Caiola, Kenny Dino, Jay and the Americans ('She Cried') and Steve Lawrence. The biggest name, however, was Gene Pitney. He recorded for Musicor, which had a distribution deal with UA in the States, and his records appeared on London, HMV, the separate United Artists label and, later, Stateside, when Musicor's US distribution deal changed (I assume).    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYPqEczbFHE
The curious thing, however, is why '24 Hours From Tulsa' appeared both on the UA imprint and the blue HMV hybrid label. It was issued many months after UA became 'independent' and carried the United Artists UP label number, rather than HMV's POP series number. Was this because sales were so good that they ran out of labels? Seems hard to believe, but if anyone knows the answer please put a comment.
Here are a few more examples of the hybrid HMV/United Artists label.
Some LPs appeared on the dual format, including the first albums by Gene Pitney and the Highwaymen.
Here's the LP label design, which again is similar to the HMV/Verve LP label.
The hybrid HMV/Verve had only a few 45 releases. Here's one of the best.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3IoGehtkQ2M

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Three months on...

It's exactly three months since I wrote about the 'doom and gloom' in the music business due to the corona virus. That was a full ten days before the UK government belatedly ordered a lockdown - a delay that no doubt contributed to the UK having the highest number of deaths in Europe. Now we see signs of the lockdown being eased, but there is little prospect of any live music, festivals or European or US travel in the near future. The imposition of new quarantine rules - months after other countries introduced them - has effectively put a stop to foreign travel.The government, led by Boris Johnson, undoubtedly the worst PM in history, has dithered and obfuscated and has done little to foster confidence that they know what they are doing. Despite the worst recession in history, they remain devoted to the disastrous plan to complete Brexit on December 31, regardless of the damage it does to the country. (Sorry for the political rant, but there you are). Hopefully there will be real light at the end of the tunnel soon.
Anyway, life goes on. And so, too, does death, with several music people passing on in recent weeks.
The latest is Welsh singer Ricky Valance, aged 84, who had a number one hit in 1960 with his
insipid cover of Ray Peterson's 'Tell Laura I Love her'. The song was banned by the BBC because of its death theme, but was widely played on Radio Luxembourg. It became Ricky's only hit, although he had several more pop flavoured singles released on Columbia, including 'Movin' Away' and 'Jimmy's Girl', a Johnny Tillotson cover, and one on Decca, a dramatic ballad called 'Six Boys'.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CKy8PeJjLg
It was a shock to hear of the death recently of Frank Bey, aged 74, whose appearances at the Porretta Soul Festival over several years beginning in 2014 (pictured above) were without exception excellent. Originally from Georgia, Frank opened for Otis Redding on several occasions but his music career stalled and he left the business. His first solo album, 'Steppin' Out', was recorded in Phildelphia in 1998 and after teaming up with Anthony Paule in San Francisco Frank recorded three albums: 'You Don't Know Nothin', 'Soul For Your Blues' and 'Not Goin' Away'. His first appearance at Porretta took most people by surprise, as here was a superb soulful relaxed singer performing mostly original songs who few of us had heard of. Performances, again with Anthony Paule's band, in 2015 and 2016 were equally impressive' Later albums were 'Back in Business' (2018) and 'All My Dues Are Paid', released earlier this year. It's incredibly sad that two great soul singers associated with Anthony's band (the other being Wee Willie Walker) have passed on in a matter of months.Here's Frank singing 'It's Good To Have Your Company' at Porretta in 2014.    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwmCfAgz7SQ
Me with Frank Bey at Porretta in 2016.
Another singer who has sadly died, much too young at the age of 69, is Bonnie Pointer, a founder member of the Pointer Sisters and a solo artist in her own right. She wrote the Pointer Sisters' 'Fairytale' in 1974 and after leaving the group in 1977 she joined Motown and had success with a remake of 'Heaven Must Have Sent You' in 1979.     https://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=613IzbUQuQQ   https://www.theguardian.com/music/2020/jun/10/bonnie-pointer-obituary
Bonnie Pointer of the Pointer Sisters Dead at Age 69 - Rolling Stone

It's farewell too to highly regarded Texas born country singer/songwriter James 'Slim' Hand, who has died aged 67.