Friday, April 03, 2020

Bill Withers RIP + others

With coronavirus raging, the last thing we need is more bad news about the deaths of musicians, whether as a result of the disease or not. But sadly the deaths continue, the latest being Bill Withers, at the age of 81. Bill's distinctive, hypnotic voice and almost monotone, yet soulful, style brought him great success in the 1970s with several memorable massive hits.
He came to the music industry late, having served in the US Navy and working in an aircraft factory. Indeed, the photo on his first LP, 'Just As I Am', featured a photo of him at the factory carrying his lunch box. That album featured two of his biggest hits 'Ain't No Sunshine' and 'Grandma's Hands' and was produced by Booker T Jones for the Sussex label. Later hits included 'Lean On Me', 'Use Me', and 'Lovely Day', which was his biggest hit in the UK, on two occasions. Two more studio albums for Sussex followed - 'Still Bill' and '+'Justments', along with a 'Live At Carnegie Hall' LP.  Bill signed with Columbia and recorded a further five albums, including 'Making Music' and 'Menagerie', which included 'Lovely Day'. Eventually he lost faith in Columbia, whose executives he described as 'blaxperts' when they tried to control his material, and he did a number of joint projects, with Grover Washington, the Crusaders and Ralph MacDonald. Bill's style was unlike other singers of the era and divided opinion, but his hits were truly memorable and he won no fewer than four Grammys. A great loss.
Another death this week is that of Bob Andy, one of the most influential Jamaican reggae singers and songwriters. Best known in the UK for his duet with Marcia Griffiths on the Harry J produced 'Young Gifted and Black' in 1970, he began his career as a founder member of the Paragons and also recorded numerous solo numbers, including 'I've Got To Get Back Home' in 1967, 'Too Experienced' and 'The Way I Feel'. He enjoyed success as a songwriter, writing songs for Ken Boothe and Marcia Griffiths, and continued to create memorable solo records into the 1970s, as well as continuing to record with Marcia Griffiths, enjoying success with 'Pied Piper'. In 1978 he withdrew from singing and concentrated on dance and acting, appearing in 'Children of Babylon' and 'The Mighty Quinn'.
The Vinyl Word raises a (solitary) glass to both Bill and Bob and also to others who have passed away recently. These include:
Ellis Marsalis, New Orleans jazz pianist who was one of the biggest jazz names in the Big Easy and father of six sons, including jazz musicians Winton and Branford. I'm sure I saw him at Jazzfest on at least one occasion but can't figure out which year it was.
Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango, who died of COVID-19 aged 86. He was one of the key figures in African music from the 1950s onwards and was involved in the development of disco music.
Jazz guitarist John 'Bucky' Pizzarelli, who has died of COVID-19 aged 94. He played with many jazz greats, including Django Reinhardt and Benny Goodman, and his guitar solo on Connie Francis's 'Lipstick On Your Collar' has been described as 'the greatest pop rock and roll guitar solo of all time'.
Another COVID-19 victim is country singer Joe Diffie, aged just 61. Having moved to Nashville, he signed for Epic in 1990 and had 35 entries in the country chart as well as successful albums including 'A Thousand Winding Roads', 'Regular Joe' and 'Third Rock From The Sun'.
I guess I should also mention Eddie Large who, as the funnier half of the poor man's Morecambe and Wise double act, Little and Large, kept us amused on Saturday nights in the seventies and eighties. Another COVID-19 victim. Here's to more innocent days!

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Phil Phillips RIP and others

One of the real highlights of the Ponderosa Stomp in 2005 was the appearance of Phil Phillips, a Louisiana singer who had not performed for many years. It took a great effort of will for him to sing his massive 1959 hit 'Sea Of Love', but so great was the audience reaction that he sang it a second time. It was truly a spine tingling moment. Now Phil has died on his 94th birthday and I regret that I was not among the group of Woodies who visited him at his home on a subsequent visit. 'Sea Of Love' has been widely covered, including by Marty Wilde at the time, and was the inspiration for the 1989 film of the same name starring Al Pacino. It was produced by Eddie Shuler and released on Khoury Records, before being picked up by Mercury when local sales exploded.
Phil's career failed to take off as an album he recorded was not released. Phil was unhappy about the unfavourable deal he had. But he did record intermittently. One such 45 was 'The Evil Dope', a
spoken word record released on the Lanor label about the evils of marijuana. Phil begins 'Little boy, little girl, this is THE Phil Phillips, king of the world' and goes on to recount how a young man loses his money and eventually his life as a result of dope. When I visited Church Point, Louisiana in 1998 I chatted to label owner Lee Lavergne and bought a brand new copy of the single.
Another much more high profile death in recent days is that of Kenny Rogers, aged 81, who can lay claim to being the most successful country singer ever, certainly so far as the UK is concerned. Starting off singing rockabilly in native Texas, he joined a jazz group called the Bobby Doyle Three and found success as a
member of the New Christy Minstrels. Kenny along with group members then formed the First Edition and, with Kenny's name in the lead, had a great success in the late sixties with 'Ruby Don't Take Your Love To Town', 'Just Dropped In (to See What Condition My Condition Was In' and 'Something's Burning'. among others. His career really took off when he went solo and recorded some of the most memorable songs of the era, including 'Lucille', 'Coward Of The County' and 'The Gambler'. Duets with Dottie West, Kim Carnes, Sheena Easton and, most notably, Dolly Parton on 'Islands In the Stream' merely cemented his star status. I saw Kenny on one of his London visits and was impressed: truly a star right up to his death.
There have been several other music deaths recently. The most recent is that of Liverpool based Cy Tucker, aged 76, who was the city's first coronavirus fatality. Cy played with the Beatles and Cilla Black and had a couple of 45s released on Fontana in 1963/4, including 'My Prayer'..
Another recent death is that of Californian folk singer Julie Felix, who became well known in the UK in the late sixties after signing for Decca and appearing regularly on TV shows such as 'The Frost Report' and her own series 'Once More With Felix'. Best known possibly for the children's song 'Going To The Zoo', and 'Some Day Soon', Julie's other hits, in the early seventies, included 'If I Could (El Condor Pasa)' and 'Heaven Is Here' and she had over 20 albums released.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Sixty years since my first Top Ten

Image result for brenda lee photos
Time to think about happier, less pressured times, when we were young.
It's exactly sixty years since my first Top Ten. Back in the day I made a note of my ten favourite records of the day up to twice a week, between 1960 and late 1965. But the very first Top Ten was a bit of a one off and the second personal chart didn't appear until mid April, by which time I had reached the grand old age of 14.
Here's my very first personal Top Ten.
1. Sweet Nuthin's - Brenda Lee
2. String Along - Fabian
3. Beatnik Fly - Johnny and the Hurricanes
4. What In the World's Come Over You - Jack Scott
5. He'll Have To Go - Jim Reeves
6. Who Could Be Bluer - Jerry Lordan
7. Summer Set - Acker Bilk
8. California Here I Come - Freddy Cannon
9. This Love I have For you - Lance Fortune
10. Cradle of Love - Johnny Preston.
A year later, on March 21, 1961, to be precise, the top ten was as follows:
1. I Told You So - Jimmy Jones
2. Once In A While - The Chimes
3. I'm Hurtin' - Roy Orbison
4. Tear Of The year - Jackie Wilson
5. Good Time Baby - Bobby Rydell
6. Lazy River - Bobby Darin
7. Pony Time - Chubby Checker
8. Ram Bunk Shush - The Ventures
9. Muskrat Ramble - Freddy Cannon
10. Havin' Fun - Dion.
Image result for bruce channel
Moving on to 1962, here's the top ten from March 21:
1. Hey Baby - Bruce Channel
2. Hey Little Girl - Del Shannon
3. B'wa Nina - The Tokens
4. Young World - Rick Nelson
5. Speak To Me Pretty - Brenda Lee
6. Lucky Star - Gene Vincent
7. Teen Queen Of the Week - Freddy Cannon
8. When My Little Girl Is Smiling - The Drifters
9. A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody - The Piltdown Men
10.  Dream Baby - Roy Orbison.
On to 1963. Here's my top ten for March 20:
1. Sandy - Dion
2. Good Golly Miss Molly - Jerry Lee Lewis
3. You Really Got A Hold On me - The Miracles
4. In Dreams - Roy Orbison
5. Walk Like A Man - The Four Seasons
6. He's Got the power - The Exciters
7= So It Always Will Be - The Everly Brothers
7= Baby Workout - Jackie Wilson
7= The Puzzle - Gene McDaniels
10= Let's Turkey Trot - Little Eva
10= Remember Me - Johnny Burnette
10= Why Do Lovers Break Each Other's Hearts - Bob B Soxx & the Blue Jeans.
Image result for beach boys
Here's my top ten on March 25, 1964:
1. Fun Fun Fun - The Beach Boys
2. High Heel Sneakers - Tommy Tucker
3. Heigh Ho - Big Dee Irwin
4. Good News - Sam Cooke
5. That Girl Belongs To Yesterday - Gene Pitney
6. Hoochie Coochie Man - Dion
7. I'm On Fire - Jerry Lee Lewis
8. Nadine - Chuck Berry
9. New Orleans - Gary (US) Bonds (reissue)
10. I Wonder - The Crystals.
Finally, here is the chart from March 20, 1965:
1. King Of The Road - Roger Miller
2. Little Things - Bobby Goldsboro
3. Voice Your Choice - The Radiants
4. My Girl - Temptations
5. Hurt So Bad - Little Anthony and the Imperials
6. Hold What You've Got - Joe Tex
7. Yield Not To Temptation - Bobby Bland
8. Baby Baby Baby - Anna King and Bobby Byrd
9. Don't Mess Up A Good Thing - Bobby McClure and Fontella Bass
10. Do You Wanna Dance - The Beach Boys.
My tastes changed over the years and there was a distinct absence of UK recordings after 1960. It's quite surprising, though, that my favourite singer, and top points scorer of the era, Sam Cooke, hardly gets a mention in these particular top tens. But it's just a snap shot of what was a fantastic musical time. Happier times!

Friday, March 13, 2020

Doom and gloom in the music world

This year, for the first time in many years, I decided not to make a spring music trip to the States. Turned out this was a good move, as we are now seeing the collapse of live music in the face of the coronavirus threat. Viva Las Vegas has been cancelled; so has SXSW in Austin; Jazzfest is under threat. The Tales From the Woods swamp pop show, starring Jivin' Gene, Johnnie Allan and Gene Terry, has been postponed until the autumn some time. Even the monthly Woodies meet up has been scrapped this month and a day out planned for next month has gone.
It seems unlikely that American artists will be able to perform in the UK for the foreseeable future, and of course, Trump's sudden ban on flights from Europe has cast another shadow over things. Will Porretta go ahead? Seems unlikely at this stage. So it's all doom and gloom really. Hopefully the situation will improve by the autumn and a Stomping USA road trip will be possible then - but I wouldn't bank on it.
Of course, music deaths have continued to take place. One of the most recent was that of guitarist Charlie Baty, leader of Little Charlie and the Nightcaps. Together with singer Rick Estrin the band, which was formed in 1976, recorded 14 albums and were a popular act at many festivals.
Another artist to have died is Cajun accordion player Ray Abshire, who spent many years playing with the Balfa Brothers band. On the day of his death he played alongside Steve Riley at a Mardi Gras event in Mamou.
Barbara Martin, who has died aged 76, was a member of the Primettes, the forerunners of the Supremes, when they were a foursome, and was with the group when they signed for Motown. She sang on many of the numbers on the Supremes first album but left in 1962 when she was pregnant and has been somewhat airbrushed out of the group's history ever since.
Image result for barbara martin
The Vinyl Word wishes RIP to them all, and good luck with avoiding the coronavirus to everyone.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Henry Gray RIP

Sad to hear that Henry Gray, one of the last of the original Chicago blues men, has died at the age of 95. Henry was born in Louisiana and grew up in Baton Rouge before moving to Chicago in 1946. His piano playing can be heard on many blues records of the early fifties by the likes of Jimmy Reed, Bo Diddley and Billy Boy Arnold. In 1956 he joined Howlin' Wolf's band where he stayed for 12 years before moving back to Baton Rouge. He became an important figure in the Louisiana swamp blues scene and recorded upwards of 50 albums. He was a regular performer at New Orleans Jazzfest, the Chicago Blues Festival, the King Biscuit and other blues festivals and I saw him several times in the 1990s, including one occasion at the World's End pub in Finsbury Park. He had a weekly residency at a bar in Baton Rouge but unfortunately when Alan, Dave, Lee and I visited a few years back he was indisposed. We did, however, see him in 2018 at the New Orleans Blues and Barbecue Festival when, at the age of 93, he played a 60 minute set backed by Terrance Simian, Li'l Buck Sinegal (now sadly deceased) and Bob Corritore. Numbers, of which there were over 20, included 'Sweet Home Chicago', 'Bright Lights Big City', 'Going Down Slow' and 'Blueberry Hill'. RIP to one of the blues greats.
Another death is that of Cavan Grogan of South Wales band Crazy Cavan and the Rhythm Rockers at the age of 70. Cavan's band played Teddy Boy rock and toured extensively since its original foundation in 1964. They played a major part in the rock and roll revival of the 1970s and were popular with many British rockabilly fans. Here he is at Viva Las Vegas in 2014.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Photos from The Rockin' Race

I'm now back from the Rockin' Race in Torremolinos. The weather got steadily warmer while I was in Spain, in marked contrast to the awful weather back in the UK. After the festival ended John Howard, Jonathan Battan, Gordon Fleming, Jackson Sloan and Naimi Scognamiglio took a trip to Gibraltar where the weather couldn't have been more pleasant. Anyway, now I'm back, here are some photographic memories of the festival. First, here is Rosia Flores.
This is Scottish band Rusty and the Riots, who played at the Barracuda Hotel.
Opening up on the first evening, this is Anita O'Night.
Star of day one was the Ragin' Cajun, Doug Kershaw.
Backing Rosie on double bass, and also making several more appearances on stage, here is Deke Dickerson.
Rosie Flores was joined on stage for several numbers by James Intveld.
This is Paul Ansell's Number Nine.
This is Darrel Higham, who sang several numbers and also backed Robert Gordon (below) during his set.
Richard Weize, founder of Bear Family Records, was interviewed on day two, and was joined for part of this by Doug Kershaw.
First act on the second evening was Charlie Rich Jr, who did a tribute to his dad's time at Sun.
Here's the lead singer of the Hi-Jivers.
This is the Dave and Deke Combo, featuring Dave Stuckey and Deke Dickerson.
Most exciting act of the weekend was Barrence Whitfield with the Mambo Jambo Arkestra.
Mambo Jambo, together with big 'Arkestra' also performed an instrumental set during the car show.
This is a lady called Lily Locksmith. who impressed.
Opening on the third evening were Sun and Lightning.
Here is James Intveld during his solo set.
Here are some of the members of MFC Chicken who did a tribute to the Fabulous Wailers.
This is The Country Side of Harmonica Sam.
Finally, the Barracuda Hotel basement was packed on Sunday evening for the Graverobber Revue featuring Deke Dickerson.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

Rockin' Race 2

Take a mix of Barrence Whitfield, probably the most dynamic rock and roller currently around, Los Mambo Jambo, Spain's most exciting instrumental group, and a dozen horn players comprising the band's 'Arkestra' and what do you get? The answer is a blend of excitement and power second to none. Barrence's high energy screams were channelled into a set of pure energy from beginning to end, with the Mambo Jambo Arkestra providing thunderous and very loud accompaniment and visual brilliance. The band's front men on sax, bass and guitar drove the set throughout with no fewer than three trombones, three trumpets and half a dozen more sax men, all of them wearing a fez, causing mayhem and noise behind Barrence's exciting vocals. From the initial scream introducing 'Bloody Mary', through 'Georgia Slop', 'Have A Good Time', 'My Hi-F Baby', 'Big Fat Mama' to 'Stop Twisting My Arm' it was raw power all the way.  For an encore Barrence stripped into a caveman costume for one final number of the same name. A great, if loud, set and one which will live long in the memory.
That was the highlight of day two of the Rockin' Race but there was plenty more to enjoy too. Earlier there was a fascinating interview with Richard Weize, the founder of Bear Family records, who reminisced about his early visits from Germany to London and bemoaned the current state of the record industry. Richard has been responsible for a huge number of box sets over the years but has now bowed out of the company. He seemed disillusioned with the world of recorded music but still owns a massive personal record collection. A man after my own heart. He was joined on stage briefly by Doug Kershaw.
First music of the evening came from Charlie Rich Junior, who paid tribute to his dad's years at Sun and showed that he's a decent piano player with a fair voice. Numbers included 'Mohair Sam', 'Who Will The Next Fool Be', 'Big Hunk Of Love', 'Rebound', 'Lonely Weekends' and 'Break Up'. It was a fine start to the evening.
Next up were the Hi-Jivers from Nashville, a group with a bluesy feel to them and a female singer with a gravelly voice in the mode of Ko Ko Taylor. She made a very good stab at 'Long Tall Sally' and the more country flavoured 'Just One More Time' and the band made a very good impression overall.
Following them were the Dave and Deke Combo featuring Dave Stuckey and Deke Dickerson in their hillbilly mode. There was humour, rockabilly, rock and roll and even hints of The Shadows and Duane Eddy at times, all performed with great skill. Numbers included 'Hillbilly Twist' and the amusing 'Chew Tobacco Rag' which included whistles from Deke. Good fun throughout
Next day we walked down town to watch the Mambo Jambo Arkestra playing for free. This was a purely instrumental set but veered into Big Band territory with some numbers sounding like the Ted Heath band or Elmer Bernstein and others more like movie soundtrack scores. Despite the great skill of the performers, and the dynamic front men, the lack of vocals meant there was rather a lot of sameness about many of the numbers. A good way to wile away an hour however. Back at the Barracuda I took a quick look at a duo called Modern Sound, but they appeared to be doing MOR versions of Beatles songs so I didn't stay long. They were followed on stage by a lady called Lily Locksmith, a feisty R and B singer wearing a leopard print top and a sailor's hat who came across well.
Saturday evening's show started with Sun and Lightning, a competent and fairly pleasant rockabilly outfit. Next up was the ever popular James Intveld, once of the Blasters, whose set included some laid back country vocals, finger snapping, rock and roll, even Happy Birthday to his mum. Numbers included 'Stop The World And Let Me On', 'I Ain't Nothing But a Man In Love', 'Crying Over You' (a duet with Rosie Flores), 'Brown Eyed Handsome Man', 'Playboy' and an extended version of 'Polk Salad Annie'. It was an entertaining if less than overwhelming set.
MFC Chicken came next playing a tribute to Seattle band the Wailers (not the reggae group). Dressed in white suits there was something of  a garage feel to this largely instrumental set, which included 'Tall Cool One', 'Dirty Robber', 'Mau Mau' and vocal versions of 'Louie Louie' and 'Bama Lama Bama Lu'. Anita O'Night contributed one number. Finally, for our group at least, as we were nipping back and forth to a Spanish bar we had found, came the Country Side of Harmonica Sam, a rather plodding Swedish honkytonk band who weren't really to my taste.
Photos and a further report will appear soon.