Saturday, August 30, 2008

Oh no, not again

It seems that New Orleans could be hit by Hurricane Gustav on Tuesday morning. Of course, the course and strength of the hurricane is uncertain at the moment, but apparently many areas of New Orleans are already being evacuated, with some districts ordering mandatory evacuations. I'm told (thanks Ken) that Fats Domino, Clarence Frogman Henry, Antoinette K-Doe and Al Johnson are among local artists who have been evacuated. All we can do is wait and hope that the wonderful city of New Orleans will escape this time around, but as the map shows the city is right in the firing line of Gustav.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Final farewells

The Final Word on three more artists this week.
First, bluesman Phil Guy, brother of Buddy, who has died aged 71 of prostate cancer. Phil played with Buddy, Junior Wells and Slim Harpo among others but never quite made it as a solo blues singer. I remember seeing him a few years ago - at Willesden Public Library if my memory serves me right - and he was an impressive performer but maybe lacking in originality. Sad to see him go.

Also in music heaven is Johnny Moore, former horn player with the Skatalites, who has died aged 70. What a fantastic band the Skatalites have been over the decades. Today only two original members remain but the band's sound is much the same - and it's ska at its very best. Johnny's death follows those of other great former members such as Roland Alphonso, Don Drummond, Tommy McCook, Jackie Mittoo and Johnny Opel - virtually a who's who of ska musicians. Here's his obituary in The Independent

Third artist to pass on is Pervis Jackson (left in the photo)of the Detroit (or Motown - take your pick) Spinners, one of the very best soul groups of the late sixties and early seventies. Like Phil and Johnny, The Final Word mourns his passing.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Mr Rhythm and Blues

If anyone deserved the title Mr Rhythm and Blues it was Jerry Wexler, who has died aged 91. Not only did he coin the phrase while a music journalist with Billboard magazine but he played a key role in its development as a partner at Atlantic Records. This white Jewish New Yorker record collector and music enthusiast produced records by dozens of great R and B acts, from Ruth Brown, Ray Charles, Chuck Willis, The Drifters, Clyde McPhatter, The Clovers and LaVern Baker in the 1950s, through to Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Solomon Burke, Dr John and Doug Sahm in the 1960s. as well as rock acts such as Led Zeppelin, Cream and Duane Allman.
Along with Ahmet Ertegun he made Atlantic the premier R and B label until its sale to Warner in 1967 and also helped to put Stax and Muscle Shoals on the map. Later he produced film tracks and albums with artists such as Etta James, Dire Straits and Bob Dylan. Truly one of the greats of 20th century music, Jerry Wexler's name will forever be associated with some of the classic recordings of the era. Here's Jerry's obituary in the Daily Telegraph
Another name from the past who has died is Lita Rosa, aged 82. A big star in the early 50s, she was one of the first big music names to come out of Liverpool. Her biggest hit was How Much Was That Doggie In The Window, which was a cover of the original by Patti Page. Says it all about the British music scene in the 1950s. Pop Britannia on BBC2 showed just how derivative and sterile the UK pop scene was throughout the 50s.

Monday, August 11, 2008

King of Rock Steady at the Jazz Cafe

For a year or two in the late sixties the infectious Jamaican ska rhythm gave way to a slower rock steady beat, only for that in turn to make way for reggae a short time later. The King of Rock Steady was, and still is, Alton Ellis, who appeared at the Jazz Cafe last night. Backed by an excellent Jamaican band (mostly UK based I suspect) Alton looked dapper in a white suit and pork pie hat and ran through many of his classic late sixties tracks, including Rock Steady itself, Let Him Try, Ain't That Loving You, Can I Change My Mind and Breaking Up Is Hard.

Alton professed tiredness after a busy schedule in Jamaica and disappeared halfway through his set, to be replaced by his son Chrsitopher who, it has to be said, was a decent replacement. The mostly young crowd didn't seem to mind but gave a big cheer when Alton reappeared for a couple of numbers at the end, before leaving the stage again for Christopher to finish off with his dad's early track Dance Crasher.

I've always thought that rock steady is an under rated form of Jamaican music, having been swept away almost completely by the tide of reggae. But last night's show was a reminder of just how good it was and how good a singer Alton Ellis was. He's not bad now, but let's hope he's not so tired next time he comes over.

Isaac Hayes RIP

He may not have had a great voice, but Isaac Hayes, who died yesterday aged 65, had a massive influence on 60s soul music and went on to become one of the biggest selling Stax artists. His partnership with David Porter as songwriters for classic Sam and Dave records such as Hold On I'm Coming and When Something Is Wrong With My Baby, and for other Stax artists such as Carla Thomas and Mable John, was one of the cornerstones of the Stax success. Equally important was his contribution as a producer and musician. Recordingwise his peak was his Theme From Shaft, a film that became synonomous with Isaac. I found his gravelly voice rather grating and out of tune yet despite the fact that he murdered, rather than sang, songs such as Walk On By, By The Time I Get To Phoenix and Never Can Say Goodbye, they sold in great quantities and retain a weird sort of appeal.

Isaac's debts were one of the causes of the downfall of Stax eventually, but his career continued through the seventies and he appeared in several films and TV shows as the cool black dude with attitude. His deep voice made him a star in the nineties as Chef in South Park, but he lost some popular support when he quit because the show poked fun at Scientologists, of which he was one.
I saw Isaac at Porretta a few years ago and he and his band put on a good show visually, although I have to admit that it was something of an assault on the eardrums. Nevertheless, he was one of the true greats of soul music and we will miss him. RIP Isaac.
Here's how The Independent reported Isaac's death today
An article on Fox News linked his demise to the Scientology movement and raises disturbing questions

Thursday, August 07, 2008

London Rock and Roll Festival

The Forum in Kentish Town comes alive this autumn with the first big rock and roll festival in London for many years. Jerry Lee Lewis kicks off with sister Linda Gail and Wanda Jackson on October 28. Jack Scott follows on November 8, with Frankie Ford as support. And Little Richard appears on November 20 with Little Willie Littlefield. Prices are a bit steep but the chances of seeing these legends are diminishing with each pasing year, so I'm tempted. Jerry Lee is also playing the 100 Club in a private show, but at £138 a ticket I think I'll give it a miss.
Meanwhile there's Alton Ellis at the Jazz Cafe on Sunday and Martha and the Vandellas at the same venue on the 14th, so things are looking up.
On the vinyl front I picked up some good original American soul 45s at a car boot sale on Sunday, including records by Tony Clarke, Albert King, Johnny Adams, Irma Thomas, 'Bishop' Joe Simon, Syl Johnson and Mitty Collier. But the best find was a white label test pressing 12 inch single of Temporary Secretary by Paul McCartney. That's gone straight on to eBay.