Tuesday, January 31, 2006

My top 30 - 1962

Top 30 records for 1962 as recorded at the time in my personal top 10:
1. Sam Cooke Nothing can change this love - 126
2. Freddy Cannon Palisades Park - 120
3. Bruce Channel Hey baby - 110
4. Benny Spellman Lipstick traces - 95
5. Del Shannon Hey little girl - 94
6. Crystals He's a rebel - 92
7. Shirelles Soldier boy - 87
8. Shirelles Stop the music - 85
9. Chris Montez Let's dance - 83
10. Roy Orbison The crowd - 80
11. Johnny & the Hurricanes Salvation - 78
12. Del Shannon Cry myself to sleep - 77
13. Dion Love came to me - 76
14. Johnny Burnette I wanna thank your folks - 73
15= Roy Orbison Working for the man - 72
15= Freddy Cannon If you were a rock & roll record - 72
17. Sam Cooke Twistin' the night away - 67
18. Roy Orbison Dream baby - 62
19. Don and Juan What's your name - 61
20= Showmen It will stand - 58
20= Dion I was born to cry - 58
22= Neil Sedaka King of clowns - 57
22= Sam Cooke Havin' a party - 57
24. Little Richard He got what he wanted - 55
25= Bruce Channel Number one man - 54
25= Cookies Chains - 54
27= Lettermen Come back silly girl - 52
27= Brian Hyland Sealed with a kiss - 52
29= Dion The wanderer - 50
29= Ray Peterson I could have loved you so well
Other notable entries included Ritchie Valens La Bamba, Lee Dorsey Do re mi and Ya ya, Barbara George I know, Miracles What's so good about goodbye, Ben E King Don't play that song, Clyde McPhatter Lover please, Dr Feelgood Dr Feelgood, Solomon Burke Down in the valley, Lafayettes Life's too short, Gene McDaniels Point of no return, Beatles Love me do (1 week at no 10 - their only chart entry), Contours Do you love me and Chuck Jackson I keep forgettin'.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Jazzfest 1989 continued

Monday May 1: And so to Cajun country. Drove out of New Orleans through Houma (a dump) and as the sun came out decided to stop at a wayside restaurant on the bayou. I could hear a country band playing and as I walked in who should be there but the Festival lot on their Cajun trip.They were off on a boat trip to see alligators which was full so I drove on to the Chitimacha Indian reservation and the Evangeline Memorial in St Martinville. Later went to Mulate's famous Cajun restaurant in Breaux Bridge and met up with the Festival crowd again. Great cajun music from Beausoleil with guest appearance by Richard Thompson. Crawfish were great too.
Tuesday May 2: Went through Baton Rouge and into Mississippi, eventually getting to Natchez - rather disappointing - maybe I didn't find the right bits. Then on to Vicksburg and the Civil War battlefield - full of monuments. Drove along part of the Natchex Trace Parkway and looked at an Indian temple mound. Then to the Delta - Rolling Fork, Greenville and on to Clarksdale - very flat the Delta - where I booked into a motel.
Wednesday May 3: After a disgusting breakfast at Burger King I went to the Delta Blues Museum, upstairs in the Carnegie Public Library. Bought a poster and a badge - I felt I ought to since they didn't appear to have many visitors. Then on to Gracelands - from the sublime to the ridiculous.Toured the mansion - the dining room, music room with 15 foot settee and piano, TV room with 3 TVs, pool room, the Den with hideous carved chairs, trophy room with hundreds of gold records and costumes, racquet room and finally the grave. Upstairs somewhere Elvis's aunt lurked unseen. Next to Memphis and lunch (a hamburger) at the Sun Studios cafe which has only been open a week. To Beale St, which was like some weird film set, and to Schwab's store, an amazing old-fashioned hardware shop with everything you could ever want - or more probably not want. Further down Beale St I stumbled across the crowning of the Cotton Makers King and Queen in front of the staue of W C Handy. Who should be performing the ceremony (in front of a couple of photographers and...me!) but Rufus Thomas, himself the Cotton King of 1950. Spent the evening in Beale St - first to Big Mama's where there was a mediocre white band called the Terminators, and then to Club Royale, a black club (with me the only white customer) where a good soul band called the SROs was playing.
More on my trip later...

More on Ska

Thanks to Dave Carroll for his comments. If it's good enough for Dave it's good enough for me. Here are some more quotes that I found on a site called Gospelreggae.com which tend to back up his conclusions - or maybe not!
Ska: From the phrase (love) ska (voovie), greeting used by Jamaican bassist Cluet Johnson, one of the early creators of ska, or imitative of the sound of a guitar in tandem with a rim click on a snare drum.... The music of ska is known for the placement of the accented guitar and piano rhythms on the upbeats. The word "ska" may have onomatopoeic origins in a tradition of poetic or possibly even musical rhythms. Guitarist Ernest Ranglin said that "the offbeat guitar scratching that he and other musicians played was referred to as 'skat! skat! skat!'"

Friday, January 27, 2006

My first Jazzfest remembered

Any day now we will find out if New Orleans has recovered sufficiently to hold Jazzfest this year. Let's hope so. I made my first trip in 1989 - by myself, knowing no-one - although that was soon to change. Here's part of my diary of the first few days:
Friday April 28: Arrived New Orleans 5.30 local time, collected hire car and fought my way along the freeway to the hotel. In the evening I stupidly went out to look for the French Quarter without a map - and failed to find it. After eating chicken and biscuits (sweet cakes really) at a drive in I went back to the hotel. Had a few drinks in the bar. Just like Cheers - every sort of stereotype you could think of - vivacious fattish barmaid called Alice, drunk old construction worker with a piercing whine of a voice, greasy Iti justice agent, 2 fat ladies - one white, one black, and a man called Elwood who runs a bookstore in London, Ontario.
Saturday April 29: Woken by a thunderstorm. Pouring with rain. 8.30 went to the French Quarter (found it this time). Few people around but you could still feel the atmosphere - Walk on the wild side and all that. Weather started to clear up and then got very hot and sunny. Of course, I hadn't brought the sun cream. And so to Jazzfest. Acres of space, thousands of people, 10 sound stages. First on was Blue Eyed Soul Revue backing Eddie Bo, who was excellent, hunched up, beturbanned, playing NO piano. Then Ernie K-doe - 'Burn K-doe burn' - wearing an ill fitting suit and shirt, full of enthusiasm but seemingly out of practice. Looked like he wouldn't get off stage until dragged off by Milton Battiste who said 'Wave bye bye'. Next on was Walter Wolfman Washington, an excellent guitarist who played his guitar with his teeth (fangs), then Zachary Richard, a slick Cajun singer, popular with the locals. Took in some jazz including Henry Butler Trio, Alvin 'Red' Tyler and Willie Tee. Next was Buddy Guy and Junior Wells - crisp Chicago blues - then a highlight James 'Son Ford' Thomas, a superb old Mississippi bluesman, followed by the equally old Pete Seeger - the original folk singer. Ageing hippies were dancing along to Nathan and Zydeco Cha chas, then Lonnie Brooks - superb. Finally Ben E King who played a highly professional set with two sexy backup singers. In the evening went back to Bourbon St. It was heaving. There were queues for every bar and restaurant and was one seething mass of people filled from end to end with music - real live music blasting from every doorway. Had a drink in a place with female impersonators - very convincing - and just wandered around soaking it up.
Sunday April 30: I'm burning this morning from yesterday's sun. Had crawfish omelette and grits (yuk) for breakfast. Got to Jazzfest just in time to see Bobby 'Blue' Bland, He was excellent - grunts and all - as was guitarist Wayne Bennett. Next came the wonderful Aaron Neville in the gospel tent accompanied just by a piano. What a superb voice. From there to Clarence Frogman Henry - great happy good time New Orleans R & B. Just before Irma Thomas came on I spotted a Union Jack and joined some of the Festival Tours mob (Dave Thomas and Scotty Mick). Irma was great as the rain came down and she sang It's Raining. In the evening went to the Landmark Hotel and met up with the UK group including John Howard (yes - THAT John Howard), a sub on the Sunday Sport. We went off to Irma's club the Lions Den, a tiny dive in a rough neighbourhood. What a night! There was Irma waiting on and clearing glasses and then she did a fantastic 75 minute set -'like in your front room' to quote one of the guys. Bought an LP which she signed. Boz Scaggs was there
There you are - and all in the first three days. Let's hope Jazzfest continues and, even though many of the greats are now dead, may it survive and prosper. More later.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

(Non) hits of 1961

Continuing with my personal top ten, we move on to 1961 - the in-between year. Rock and roll was by now a distant memory but the horror of the Beatles and the rest of the British groups was still to come. My top record that year - amazingly - was a classic piece of doo-wop. My top 30:
1. Chimes Once in a while - 124
2= Roy Orbison Running scared - 105
2= Roy Orbison Cryin' - 105
4. Johnny Burnette Girls - 101
5. Sam Cooke Sad mood - 98
6. Del Shannon So long baby - 96
7. Neil Sedaka Happy birthday sweet sixteen - 87
8. Neil Sedaka Calendar girl - 85
9. Bobby Rydell That old black magic - 81
10. Floyd Cramer On the rebound - 79
11. Neil Sedaka Hey little devil - 78
12. Chris Kenner I like it like that - 71
13= Jimmy Jones I told you so - 70
13= Bobby Vee Take good care of my baby - 70
15= Sam Cooke Cupid - 68
15= Johnny Tillotson Without you - 68
15= Don Gibson Lonesome number one - 68
18. Don Gibson Sea of heartbreak - 67
19= Bobby Vee Rubber ball - 66
19= Johnny Burnette Little boy sad - 66
21. Johnny & the Hurricanes Ja-da - 65
22. Marv Johnson Happy days - 62
23= Elvis Presley I feel so bad - 61
23= Sam Cooke Feel it - 61
25= Everly Brothers Walk right back - 60
25= Bobby Vee Baby face - 60
27= Elvis Presley Are you lonesome tonight - 58
27= Miracles Shop around - 58
27= Bobby Vee Run to him - 58
30= Ernie K-doe Mother in law - 57
30= Fats Domino Let the four winds blow - 57
Other entries in that rather forgettable year included Rosie & the Originals Angel baby, Shirelles Will you love me tomorrow, Dion Havin' fun, Carla Thomas Gee whiz, Maxine Brown All in my mind, Clarence Henry But I do, Jerry Lee Lewis What'd I say, Troy Shondell This time and the Marvelettes Please Mr Postman. Motown and Stax began to stir.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Ska comments

Thanks for the comments from Ken Major and ChrisB on the Origins of Ska. Hope you keep reading!. I guess I knew Ska as Blue Beat at the time (from the label) but according to Maureen Cleave it was Chris Blackwell (founder of Island Records) who called it Ska. He lived in Jamaica before making his fortune in the UK. Where he got the name from I don't know.

Nick's top 30 - 1960

Back in spring 1960 I started my personal top ten (which bore little relation to the actual record charts) and continued it once or twice a week until the end of 1965. Here's my top 30 for 1960 (10 points for no 1 down to 1 point for no 10):
1. Sam Cooke Wonderful World - 131 pts
2. Jimmy Jones I just go for you - 120
3. Roy Orbison Only the lonely - 99
4. Marv Johnson You gotta move two mountains - 90
5. Hollywood Argylls Alley oop - 89
6. Buddy Holly Learning the game - 86
7. Ventures Perfidia - 82
8= Hank Lochlin Please help me I'm falling - 78
8= Piltdown Men McDonald's cave - 78
10 Bobby Vee Devil or angel - 75
11= Eddie Cochran Three steps to heaven - 73
11= Marv Johnson It ain't gonna be that way - 73
11= Floyd Cramer Last date - 73
14. Paul Evans Hushabye little guitar - 66
15. Johnny Tillotson Poetry in motion - 65
16. Jimmy Jones Good timin' - 64
17. Four Preps Got a girl - 62
18. Connie Francis Robot man - 59
19. Johnny Burnette You're sixteen - 55
20. Billy Bland Let the little girl dance - 54
21. Fats Domino My girl Josephine - 53
22. Billy Fury Wondrous place - 52
23. Drifters Save the last dance for me - 51
24= Jim Reeves He'll have to go - 50
24= Marv Johnson I love the way you love - 50
24= Everly Brothers So sad - 50
27= Sam Cooke Chain gang - 49
27= Jimmy Jones Ready for love - 49
29. Elvis Presley It's now or never - 45
30. Billy Fury That's love - 44.
Other chart entries of note included Brenda Lee Sweet Nothin's (my first no 1), Gene Vincent Pistol packin' mama, James Brown Think, Ron Holden Love you so, Ivy Three Yogi, Jackie Wilson A woman a lover a friend, Shirley and Lee Let the good times toll. Mickey and Sylvia Sweeter as the days go by, Joe Jones You talk too much, Tracey Pendarvis Is it me, Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs Stay and Ray Peterson Corrine Corrina.
Next time - the (non) hits of 1961!

Monday, January 23, 2006

Origins of Ska

Balderdash and Piffle (BBC2 tonight) investigated the origin of the word Ska. Four theories were explored: 1) the sound of a guitar note (sk), 2) from scat (eg scat singing), 3) skavoovie (apparently a word used by a certain Jamaican DJ of the period), and 4) Scatter (a friend of Prince Buster of that name). Interesting to see not only Buster but Byron Lee and King Stitt interviewed by Benjamim Zephania on the programme. None of the theories totally convinces me so I would be interested in suggestions. The earliest recorded reference to the word was said to be in March 1964 in an article in the Daily Gleaner by Maureen Cleave, who was a journalist on the London Evening News and who probably wrote the piece for that paper before it appeared in the Gleaner. Anybody got any other theories or proof of an earlier reference? For what it's worth I have a 45 by Sugar and Dandy released in 1964 called Let's Ska.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Jesters - Little girl

On the subject of obscure records, can anyone tell me anything about this 45 that I also bought today. The record is on the RL label and is by The Jesters featuring, according to the label, Bob Allen and Eddie James. the A side 'Little girl' is a rocking little number with close harmony, a twangy guitar background a la Bert Weedon and lots of wo wo wos and yeah yeah yeahs.. B side Casa Pedro is a run of the mill guitar instrumental. The Rare Record Guide lists it as a £30 record released in 1962 so someone must know something about it but I've drawn a blank on Google.

Louis Paul - Reflections of the way it really is

One of the fascinating things about hunting for old vinyl records is that every now and then you pick up something obscure that extends your knowledge just a little bit. Today I picked a few LPs at a market stall including this one by Louis Paul on Enterprise, a subsidiary of Stax. Unknown to me, he's actually a well known Memphis musician having been a close friend of Elvis and having played with virtually anyone who's anyone in Memphis. This LP has never been reissued as a CD and although I wouldn't claim that it's a classic it's worth a listen. Here's what the Stax website had to say about it:
(issued in 1973, stereo, no CD re-issue)
Leave The Door Where You Found It/Hey Mr. Moon/Knight In Armor/The Stars Belong To You/I Cross My Heart (I Love You)/My Dream//I Like Rock And Roll/Killed In Action/Misty Crystal/Merry-Go-Round/I'll Be Leaving When The Morning Comes/There's A Light There's A Moon The Sun Above.
A mystery LP as you cannot guess neither at first glance nor at first listening that the singer is not black. It was Al Bell's idea to hide Louis Paul's colour of skin to kind of hoax the usual Stax / Enterprise record buyer. All the photos on the double LP cover are overexposed on purpose and Louis Paul is in a clown disguise, so you can't see his real face. The official Stax ads of the time just said that Louis plays all the instruments. In fact we can hear on some tracks Raymond Gann (bass guitar), Tony Adams (drums) and Jimmy Nolen (background vocals).
The LP is very pleasant to hear with some Beatles like sounds and melodies here and there. The long instrumental opening track is very soulful and the record is overall a very good crossover between 70's Soul, Pop and Rock & Roll.
Strangely too, this LP was not recorded at Stax, Ardent or Muscle Shoals as it was usual at the time, but at Sam Phillips' Recording Studios in Memphis (produced by Jerry Phillips).
Louis Paul is still well and living in Memphis. He hopes to be able to get again on the local music scene.
You can get more details about Louis Paul on his own site at

Friday, January 20, 2006

Dream Boogie - The triumph of Sam Cooke

If there is one music book that you really MUST read in 2006 it has to be Peter Guralnick's excellent 'Dream Boogie: The triumph of Sam Cooke'. In well over 700 pages it charts Sam Cooke's life and career in detail, from his early days as a gospel singer with the Soul Stirrers to his bizarre and tragic death at a seedy motel in LA in 1964.
Sam was truly a superstar of his day in the US and can lay claim to being the first soul singer, as well as writing probably the greatest civil rights anthem of all time 'A change is gonna come'. He was one of the first black artists to demand control of his catalogue and recordings in an era when the white music establishment regularly cheated black artists of their royalties. His had regular hits as a pop/soul star beginning with 'You Send me' in 1957 and running through the early 60s until his death. And although most of his LPs were disappointing because of his determination to show that he could compete with the likes of Sammy Davis Jr and Nat King Cole, his musical legacy included timeless classics such as 'Wonderful World', 'Bring it on home to me', 'Cupid' and 'Twistin' the night away'. His voice was unique and he could turn utter dross into gold. He was also suave, handsome and cool.
His downfall was women and he would apparently walk past a classy woman to get to a whore (I know the feeling). In the end it led to his death, as he chased half naked and drunk after a woman he had taken back to a motel, only to be shot by an apparently terrified motel manageress. 'Lady you shot me' were Sam's final words as he died in squalor. Conspiracy theorists were convinced that it was a set up - the mafia, someone wanting to take out an uppity nigger who was making waves, but Guralnick doesn't back these theories up. It seems that dapper Sam had a dark side and paid with his life.
Sam Cooke toured the UK in 1962 on a package show headlined by Little Richard, who was making his first of many comebacks after having turned to religion at the height of his success. Sam closed the first half of the show and got a great reception from the UK crowd (who couldn't clap on the beat apparently!) but it was Richard who stole the show. I was lucky enough to see the show at the Tooting Granada and went backstage because my friend's father was the manager. I met Sam and Richard and got their autographs - my most prized possession.
Sam can truly be said to be one of the fathers - if not the father - of soul music and his influence is felt to this day. His voice was matchless and simply beautiful. If he had lived who knows where his career may have taken him. It's one of the great 'what might have beens' of popular music.
Peter Guralnick is of course a great music writer with fantastic books such as Last Train to Memphis, Sweet Soul Music and Lost Highway to his credit. But Dream Boogie - clearly a labour of love - may just be his best yet.

The last soul man

Who will be the last soul man? The death of Wilson Pickett yesterday means that yet another sixties soul great has joined the celestial choir. Years ago we lost Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Jackie Wilson, Little Willie John to name but a few, and in the last couple of weeks alone we have lost Lou Rawls and now the Wicked Pickett.
Bobby Womack, who wrote 17 songs recorded by Wilson Pickett, famously recorded an album entitled 'The Last Soul Man' in 1987 and judging by the great show he put on at the Apollo Hammersmith 18 months ago he could be a contender to hold that title once all the other soul greats have died. There again it could be the King of Rock and Soul himself Solomon Burke, James Brown (the hardest working man in show business), Bobby 'Blue' Bland (still excellent, as I witnessed in pre Katrina New Orleans last year) or possibly Percy Sledge, Sam Moore (of Sam and Dave), Ben E King, Eddie Floyd or Clarence Carter. They are still alive (as far as I know), unlike James Carr, Tyrone Davis, and Arthur Conley who have all passed on in the last few years.
Sadly as time passes the list of living legends gets smaller. We must grab every chance to see them while we can. And dig out those original vinyl LPs and 45s to remind ourselves of just how great they were.

An Inaugural Word

People keep telling me that everyone should have a blog these days. Whether anyone will ever read it, other than myself, is another matter, but I hate to miss an opportunity to get into the 21st century, or, in my case, beyond the era of vinyl LPs and singles. The Vinyl Word is dedicated to the discs that we knew and loved before CDs came along, not to mention mini-discs, IPODs and MP3s.
Vinyl records may have surface noise, may have scratches, may even jump and skip, but they are the only way to fully appreciate the great music of the 50s and 60s. The vinyl was thick and heavy and the sleeves of LPs and even EPs (an almost forgotten musical format) told a real story and were often works of art in their own right. And is there anything to compare with a two minute 45 by Little Richard or Fats Domino blaring out from your record player? I don't think so.
They say vinyl is making a comeback - and about time too - but in truth it never went away, as testified by my record collection, which runs into thousands of singles and LPs. It's not just the plastic that makes this form of record so great of course, but the music itself.
I was born in 1946 and remember my sister buying the very first Elvis 78s. By the time I reached record buying age 78s had been replaced by 45s and I began to build up a collection of rock and roll, American pop, 50s R and B, blues, sixties soul and ska records during the 1960s, which I have expanded massively as a result of years of early mornings searches at car boot sales, and routine visits to charity shops.
The content on this blog will focus on the golden musical age of 1956 to 1969. I never did care much for British pop so it will have little flattering to say about the 60s British beat groups or middle of the road crap. But if your interests lie in original US and Jamaican music from that period this may be the place for you.
So welcome to The Vinyl Word - and keep on rocking.