Friday, December 19, 2014

Mandy Rice-Davies RIP

Another death - this time of Mandy Rice-Davies, who was at the centre of the Profumo scandal in the early sixties. I was very interested in the whole story and carried a photo of her around with me for some time. Of course, she is now best remembered for her comment at the trial of osteopath Stephen Ward, when Lord Astor denied having an affair with her or even having met her: 'He would, wouldn't he.'
There are still unanswered questions from the whole scandal (as there clearly are from other Establishment scandals that have been covered up over the years). Here's an entry from my blog on March 10th, 2006, when John Profumo died, which attracted some interest from Profumo obsessives (see the comments).

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Death List 2014

It’s that time of the year when The Vinyl Word pays tribute to those musicians and entertainers who have died during the last 12 months. And as ever, there are many on the list, including several who have died just within the last few days.
The latest batch includes Alan Bown, leader of the Alan Bown Set, a group that I can remember seeing on a number of occasions during the sixties. They had several 45s released but their only LP was one side of London Swings Live at the Marquee Club (pictured) on Pye. Other recent deaths include those of Wendy Rene, who had several 45s released on Stax, both solo and with her vocal group the Drapels; Bob Montgomery, boyhood friend of Buddy Holly, who recorded with him in the early days; Raoul Cita, a member of the Harptones; Graeme Goodall, influential Australian recording engineer and record label owner who was a co-founder of Island records and set up the Doctor Bird and Pyramid labels; and soul singer Freddie Houston.
Here is 2014’s list as it stands currently. The Vinyl Word raises a glass to them all and apologies for those who I haven’t managed to include.
Lauren Bacall – Hollywood actress; Claire Barry – member of the Barry Sisters; Alexandra Bastedo – star of The Champions;  Franny Beecher – guitarist with Bill Haley’s Comets; Jackie Bernard – member of the Kingstonians; Acker Bilk – trad jazz clarinettist;  Jeanne Black – He’ll Have To Stay singer; Alan Bown – leader of Alan Bown Set; Jack Bruce – solo performer and bass player with Cream; Nick Charles – Memphis bluesman; Raoul Cita – member of the Harptones; Little Joe Cook – R & B singer; Bob Crewe – songwriter and record producer; Don Davis – Motown and Stax record producer; Lynsey de Paul – British singer/songwriter; Reather Dixon – member of the Bobbettes; Lee Dresser – rockabilly singer;  Phil Everly – one half of the classic duo; James Garner – Rockford Files star; Anna Gordy Gaye – sister of Berry and ex-wife of Marvin Gaye; Gerry Goffin – songwriting great; Graeme Goodall – ska/rocksteady record man;  James Govan – Memphis soul singer (pictured at the Rum Boogie Cafe in 2011); George Hamilton IV – country singer; Wayne Henderson – trombonist with the Crusaders; Rosetta Hightower – member of the Orlons;  Teenie Hodges – Hi Rhythm Section guitarist; John Holt – reggae and lovers rock singer; Freddie Houston - soul singer; Deon Jackson – Northern soul favourite;  Bobby Keys – Rolling Stones sax man; Glen A Larson – TV producer and member of the Four Preps; Freddie ‘Fingers’ Lee – UK wildman pianist; Hopeton Lewis – rocksteady pioneer;  Johnny Mann – leader of his eponymous singers; Cosimo Matassa – New Orleans rock and roll recording engineer;  Rik Mayall – anarchic UK comedian; Mighty Hannibal – R & B singer; Bob Montgomery – co-writer/singer with Buddy Holly; Idris Muhammed – New Orleans jazz drummer; Frances Nero – soul singer; Jimmy C Newman – Cajun country singer; Geoff Nugent – member of the Undertakers; Duffy Power – British R & B singer; Tommy Ramone – member of the Ramones;  Larry Ramos – member of the Association; Frank Reed – member of the Chi-Lites; Wendy Rene – soul singer;  Paul Revere – keyboard player and founder of the Raiders; Rudy Richard – Louisiana bluesman; Mickey Rooney – Hollywood child star & actor; Jimmy Ruffin – Motown soul star; Jim Russell – New Orleans record shop owner;  Joe Sample – Crusaders keyboardist; Dave Sampson – UK singer; Little Jimmy Scott – high pitched jazz/R & B singer;  Pete Seeger – legendary folk singer; Horace Silver – jazz man;  Arthur ‘Guitar Boogie’ Smith – blues guitarist: Alvin Stardust aka Shane Fenton aka Bernard Jewry – UK pop  singer; Henry Stone – Miami record man; Floyd Taylor – soul singer son of Johnnie; Shirley Temple – Hollywood child star; Tabby Thomas – Baton Rouge bluesman; Jay Traynor – original Jay of Jay & the Americans; Jerry Vale – MOR American singer; Cherry Wainer – fifties Hammond organ player; Little Joe Washington – bluesman;  Houston Wells – British country singer; Robin Williams – film and TV comedian;  Jesse Winchester – US folk singer; Johnny Winter – white Texas bluesman; Bobby Womack – soul superstar (pictured at the Jazz Cafe); Rusty York – rockabilly singer; Saul Zaentz – controversial record producer.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Looking back to 1966

I took a trip back to 1966 the other day to revisit my life as a trainee journalist on the Croydon Advertiser, a local newspaper in south London. As well as my day job of reporting local news, I was part of the 'Young Outlook' team that the paper hoped would encourage a younger readership. My role was to review records as they came out and write about the pop music of the day. Searching through the micro film of the Advertiser at Croydon Library I came across quite a few record reviews that I wrote at the time. They are brief and to the point and focus largely on whether they will be a hit or not, but it was fascinating (to me at least) to read what I thought of records which are now well known but which were new to me at the time. Others, of course, are now forgotten. I received hundreds of 45s from record companies over a period of about three years, some of which I still have. If I had known then how valuable some of them would become I would have taken better care of them!
Over the next week or two I may print some of my reviews (if anyone is interested) but for the time being, here's a report I wrote about Chris Farlowe in January, 1966, a few months before he hit the big time with 'Out Of Time'.
'A star in his own right after five years of hard graft as a relatively unknown singer – that’s Chris Farlowe, a 25 year old from Islington, whose praises are sung by everyone from the Stones downwards, and whose latest record ‘Think’ is currently bounding up the charts (writes Nick Cobban).
Chris has sung in Croydon and Bromley more times than he cares to remember in the past five years, and it was on one of these occasions, at the Star Hotel, London Road, West Croydon, that I went to see him. Later, during the interval, we took refuge in a nearby fish and chip shop where Chris explained his sudden upsurge in popularity in the last few months.
Until last summer his name meant nothing to the record-buying public, although scores of people ‘in the business’  admired his gutsy soul singing. Suddenly last summer, however, things began to happen for Chris. He received a tremendous ovation for his live performance of ‘In The Midnight Hour’ on ‘Ready Steady Go!’ and all five Rolling Stones raved about the ‘coloured’ sound to his voice.
Since then, more RSG appearances and a bluesy recording of the old Jamie Coe song ‘The Fool’ have helped put Chris’s name even more in the public eye. Now with ‘Think’, a song specially written for him by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Chris seems to be making an impression on the charts at last. The results of ‘Think’ are already showing themselves. He has a tour of Scandinavia and a three day stint at the famous Olympia in Paris lined up.'

Monday, December 08, 2014

Remembering Sam Cooke 50 years on

This Thursday, December 11th, marks the 50th anniversary of the death of the man who I, and many others, regard as the greatest soul singer of all time, Sam Cooke. His voice both on his gospel recordings with the Soul Stirrers and his later pop and soul records for Specialty, Keen and RCA was a thing of utter beauty, able to move people deeply. But he was not just a singer, he was a songwriter, producer and arranger, owned his own record labels and music publishing company and was the first black artist to retain his own publishing rights with a major record label. Add to that the fact that he was a dynamic performer and you have the complete package. Sam Cooke is one man who
truly deserves the term 'legend'.
I was too young to really be aware of You Send Me, his first smash hit, at the time so my love of Sam Cooke's music really began with his 1960 recording of Wonderful World, which was only a minor hit in the UK but reached number one in the personal top ten chart that I started that year. In the five years that followed every one of his releases made an impact on me, including Chain Gang, Sad Mood, That's It I Quit I'm Movin' On, Cupid, Feel It, Twistin' The Night Away, the great double sider Havin' A Party/Bring It On Home To Me, Nothing Can Change This Love, Send Me Some Loving, Another Saturday Night, Frankie and Johnny, Little Red Rooster, Good News, Good Times, Cousin Of Mine backed with That's Where It's At, the immense double sider Shake and A Change Is Gonna Come, It's Got The Whole World Shakin' and Sugar Dumpling. Not surprisingly Sam was the most successful artist in my top ten by a mile.
When he toured the UK in 1962 with Little Richard I went to the show and was hugely impressed by both Sam and
Richard, who were both fantastic live performers. I was lucky enough to go back stage at the Tooting Granada and meet both of them and get their autographs. The memory now is something of a blur and sadly Sam's signature, signed with a fountain pen, has faded over the years and is now barely legible, but it's something I will always treasure.
Recording-wise, Sam achieved greatness not because of his involvement with RCA, but despite it. The label wanted him to be a singer of standards and many of his LPs, produced by Hugo and Luigi, feature middle of the road material, but made special by Sam's fantastic voice and phrasing. His lasting legacy was in many ways A Change Is Gonna Come, originally a B side and a song which was considered too political at the time, which has become the ultimate civil rights anthem.
I was shocked when I heard of his death in 1964. He had achieved so much but still had so much more to do. I was on my way home from my first job in Croydon - shortly before I began my training as a journalist - and it was just a Stop Press piece in the Evening Standard. I could hardly believe that it was true, but sadly it was. 50 years later, he is still regarded as a major star, perhaps the first genuine soul singer and certainly an immense influence on everyone who has aspired to be one since. His life has inspired two major biographies -' Dream Boogie' by Peter Guralnick and 'You Send Me' by Daniel Woolf - and there have been rumours of a biopic, although nothing of note has transpired.
The circumstances of his death have been surrounded by much speculation and conspiracy theories abound. Was he really shot by Bertha Franklin, the manager of a sleazy motel, while chasing an escort Lisa Boyer, half dressed and drunk? Much of the story sounds far fetched and unlikely and theories range from involvement by the mob or the FBI to a set up by business associates or his wife. His nephew Erik Greene in his book 'Our Uncle Sam' has no doubt that there was more behind it than was revealed at the inquest, which appears to have been something of a sham. He claims that Sam was about to break his links with Allan Klein, who he had hired as his advisor (and who went on to play a major role in the careers of the Beatles, the Stones and others), and long time associate J W Alexander and that Klein in particular would have been financially out of pocket if he had done so. He also believes that Sam was on the verge of divorcing his wife Barbara, who had been having an affair with Sam's 20 year old protege Bobby Womack. Bobby went to Sam's funeral with Barbara in his mentor's Rolls Royce and wearing his clothes, causing considerable disgust in the family and Bobby and Barbara married just three months after Sam's death. Erik is dismissive of Bobby but is clearly unhappy with Barbara's actions after Sam's death.
We will probably never know the truth, although now that Bobby has gone perhaps more information will emerge, but whatever the reason, the fact remains that the world lost a unique talent 50 years ago this week. RIP Sam Cooke.
Nick Cobban

Thursday, December 04, 2014

More music deaths - Ian McLagan and others

Winter is here and with it another batch of music deaths. Most noteworthy is that of Ian McLagan, keyboard player with the Small Faces and the Faces, who also made records with his own band.
My friend Ronnie Cook dropped me an email about Ian which was a pretty good summary of his career. He wrote: 'No sooner had you paid tribute to the British R and B bands of the 60s another one passes. The death of Ian McLagan reminded me that it was through The Small Faces (particular Mac) that I first started listening to Brenda Holloway, Gladys Knight etc in the mid 60s. The first real R'n'B records I actually bought.  Always underrated, I would doubt there has been any other musician who has been a fulltime member of the Stones, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne's bands along with countless others. Pity his solo records were pretty crap.' McLagan was 69 and had been performing until recently with the latest version of the Faces and was about to start a US tour with Nick Lowe. Here's the BBC report of his death.
By a sad coincidence another Rolling Stones sideman has also died - sax man Bobby Keys, whose sax break on Brown Sugar is one of the most memorable in pop music. Keys originated from Texas and began his music career backing Buddy Holly. As well as playing on many hits in the 60s, including Dion's The Wanderer apparently, he backed Bobby Vee and joined Delaney and Bonnie's band before teaming up with the Stones in 1969. His wild lifestyle led to a temporary suspension from the Stones band but he was soon back in the band and also played on recordings by John Lennon, Marvin Gaye and B B King among others. He was 70.
Frances Nero, who was 71, had a record released on Motown's Soul subsidiary in 1965 (Keep On Lovin' Me) and also recorded with Gino Parks for the Shrine label, but it wasn't until 1991 that she had a hit with Footsteps Following Me, produced by Northern soul producer Ian Levine. She had an album released by Levine and also recorded for her own AJA label.
Another recent death is that of Glen A Larson, best known as the creator of hit TV shows such as Battlestar Galactica, Magnum PI, Knight Rider and Quincy M E. Less well known is the fact that he was a founding member of the Four Preps, who had a smash hit in 1957 with Big Man and success also with 26 Miles and Down By the Station. He was 77.

Monday, December 01, 2014

The Who at 50

I like to think that this blog represents all aspects of music from the late 50s and 60s, but I have to admit that British R and B groups of the 60s don't get much of a look in. I was too much of a purist to accept the cover versions of US soul and blues records by the likes of the Stones, Beatles, Yardbirds etc etc at the time. They were on the whole, I felt, rather poor imitations of what I considered, and still consider, to be some of the greatest records of all time.
Yet I have to admire the staying power of some of these 60s British groups, not least The Who, who have just begun their 50th anniversary tour. There was something anarchic about the Who's first few singles on Brunswick which even now sounds fresh: I Can't Explain, Anyway Anyhow Anywhere, Substitute and, especially, My Generation. In 1965 when it came out it seemed to sum up the mind set of most of us baby boomer teenagers. Live hard and die young. Yet here we are, still around (most of us), sipping our Chablis, eating our chicken tikka masala and still listening to music from the 60s. 'I hope I die before I grow old'. No chance. We still think we will live forever (although the aches, pains and hospital appointments tell us otherwise.)
I remember going to Paris in 1966 to see The Who play at the La Locomotive club and they were as anarchic as one would expect, smashing their guitars and generally making a lot of noise. It wasn't subtle but it was fun. Keith Moon was on good form as were the rest of the band.
In all the years since then I have taken only passing notice of The Who, the Stones or other British R and B bands. I love my original soul, blues, ska, rock and roll and R and B much more than I love British covers. Yet it's the UK bands that have largely kept the memory of that era alive over the decades. So begrudgingly I have to raise my hat to The Who, and to the Stones, and others, for continuing to keep the music alive. And to all the other baby boomers, of which I proudly admit I am one, who refuse to give up, despite the advancing years, let's keep on rocking.. Long may we last.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Swanee Quintet 75th anniversary Gospel show

Seamus McGarvey went to the Swanee Quintet's 75th Anniversary at the Bell Auditorium in Augusta, Georgia, recently. Here's his report and photos of the event.
The history of gospel group The Swanee Quintet goes back to 1939 in Augusta, Georgia, with founder-manager Charlie Barnwell, Rufus Washington and William 'Pee Wee' Crawford who travelled around Georgia and neighbouring states as the Hallelujah Gospel Singers. Around 1945 they added James 'Big Red' Anderson and Ruben Willingham to form The Swanee Quintet, with Willingham on lead and 'Pee Wee' on guitar. ('Pee Wee' still lives in Augusta but no longer performs.) In the 1960s The Swanees (pictured below) toured with James Brown who also wrote some material for them.
The Swanee Quintet's 75th Anniversary celebration saw the Bell Auditorium in downtown Augusta 90 – 95% full, a great turnout, and 'takin' charge' M.C. Rev. Eddie Harris keeping control, which included ensuring the CD sellers stayed in line! Amongst the younger groups, New York's June and The Sionettes (pictured below), led by June Rogers-Eliely with strong supporting harmonies, opened the show  delivering a variety of tempos from slow-stepping to stomping, and featuring some great vocal interplay across three numbers including 'Too Blessed'.
 The modern sounding Claude Deuce and his singers showed a wide vocal range and tight, near choir-like harmonies, despite just five voices, and hit with 'One Thing Only', a touch of 'A Change Is Gonna Come', nicely sung, and 'This Praise Is 4 U'.
The Gospel Legends were impressive, especially lead tenor Allen Pringle on the stomping 'Let Him In' revealing his ability as a strong testifier, and a stepper with real energy and style, before they changed pace to the slower moving 'Strengthen Me, Jesus'. Their closing 'When I Get In Glory' introduced a visual routine built around sudden jumps up out of a chair which got the crowd going and eventually had the rhythm section out dancing and stepping in unison. A talented quartet.
The legendary Sensational Nightingales drew huge applause for their opening 'What A Friend We Have In Jesus' from Joseph 'Jo Jo' Wallace, a member since 1951, plus his preaching intro to 'See You In The Rapture', a beautiful mid-tempo hand-clapper with his exhortation to 'come on, church – let's have a good time!' Horace Thompson's 'Hold On' and Larry Moore's slow-stepping 'Standing On The Promise' kept things moving through to a strong conclusion.
Peacock and Hob recording artists Tommy Ellison's Singing Stars, with original member Billy Hardie, emerged as highly active with leaping musicians and exciting choreography on the driving 'Closer' before the bluesy slow-stepping 'Anyhow' featuring lead tenor Justin Mickens amongst an array of rapid and sudden unison steps from the group. Mickens proved a strong testifier throughout, leading into the closing 'Holy Ghost' and a wild finale – there are simply no other words to describe it!
After a presentation of plaques to the members of The Swanee Quintet, they launched into 'A Man Called Jesus' with the formidable trio of leader Percy Griffin (pictured below), Eddie McCoy and Koby Weaver out front. The soulful 'Meeting Tonight' changed the pace (with Percy joking, 'it's our anniversary so we can sing what we want!'), 'Sit Down Servant' benefited from a wonderful blend of voices, plus help from a lady in the audience ('She took my show!' Percy joked), while 'Stumble And Fall' went over so well that Percy stepped down into the congregation 'to be close to you all'. With a testifying 'Prayer Changes Things', and given some exciting visual and vocal workouts from Eddie and Koby, it was a case of 'Follow that!', before Percy ended the set with 'Georgia On My Mind'. Excellent.
The inimitable Shirley Caesar's appearance was also highly anticipated and the mid-tempo 'I Remember Mama' was a fine opener, with 'God Will Make A Way' proving highly emotional as Shirley and her four backing singers delivered some impassioned vocals. She also sang 'Armour Of God', a real stepping piece which ended with Shirley leading her singers plus some 'volunteers' and one or two 'conscripts' from the congregation through various steps and manoeuvres, and 'Hold My Mule' and 'I Cannot Stop Praising Him' brought the auditorium to a higher level of excitement before the soulful 'Jesus, I Love Calling Your Name'. She said she 'might have to take [her] shoes off' for 'Heaven', which was almost the case, with the singers providing strong support – complete with choreography - while Shirley really got the congregation 'up' and around the stage. A memorable performance. 
Lee Williams and The Spiritual QC's featured Leonard Shumpert on their opening 'I'm Gonna Make It' before the medium-stepping 'Right On Time' brought Lee out front as his usual solid, unwavering self, with straightforward singing and no theatrics. The slow-stepping 'No Fault' featured low-key yet highly effective testifying with solid fervour and passion, as he 'reached out' to the congregation – and got a solid response. The rocking 'Good Time' developed into a pacey head-of-steam-filled hypnotic piece while Patrick Hollis picked up the reins for the slow-stepping 'Wave My Hand' with some highly impassioned pleading, before his father singer-guitarist Al neatly brought everything back down to ground level to conclude a highly enjoyable set.
Closing the event, Doc McKenzie and The Hi-Lites (pictured below) opened with a request from an audience member for the easy-stepping 'The Other Shore' before the beautiful 'Must Have Been Jesus'. Doc demonstrated his fine, edgy vocals and the tight supporting harmonies made it all work beautifully, lending the number an insistent hypnotic feel with Doc dropping to his knees at one point.  There was a chairs routine, and the hand-clapping 'Bless Me' was a real winner before 'Stand By Me', led by Robert Holland, had a large part of the audience up and crowding around the stage. An exciting conclusion to a memorable event.  Roll on the 76th Anniversary!  
Seamus McGarvey ('Juke Blues' magazine) with thanks to Percy Griffin and Eddie Bynes