Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Jerry Lee saves the Forum show

Last night's rock and roll triple header at the Forum featured three artists whose combined ages added up to 203. And it was the oldest of the three - Jerry Lee Lewis, aged 73 - who made the place rock. Looking fit and smart in a dark three piece suit he launched into a great version of Roll Over Beethoven and followed up with Headstone for My Grave and Sweet Little Sixteen. With his full band, plus an excellent young English guitarist (James someone - I didn't catch the name) he seemed at ease and beamed with almost fatherly pride during James's solos. As is usual with his sets these days there was as much country as rock and roll, with You Win Again and Crazy Arms the stand-outs, but he pleased the mostly ageing audience by finishing off with Great Balls of Fire and Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On. He was on stage for exactly 45 minutes - which again is par for the course these days - but no one seemed to be complaining.
Preceeding Jerry Lee was Wanda Jackson (71), who treated the audience to her hits, including Let's Have a Party, Mean Mean Man and Fujiyama Mama, an Elvis tribute (recalling the days in 1955/6 when she was Elvis's girlfriend), some country material and a bland gospel song. But it was a one paced, pedestrian performance, for which the band has to take much of the blame. There's nothing wrong with Wanda's voice - it's still as 'nasty' as ever - but this was geriatric rock and roll and lacking in excitement.
First act of the evening was Jerry Lee's little sister Linda Gail (a mere 61) who showed once again that she is an excellent female Jerry Lee impersonator. Keeping it in the family, background vocals were performed by daughter Mary Jean.
All in all the London Rock and Roll Festival got off to a slightly shaky start but was saved by Jerry Lee's professionalism and - a rare event - his broad smile. Next up it's Jack Scott on November 8.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Dee Dee and Rudy Ray

Two more artists have passed away, neither of whose deaths I have seen noted to date, but I may have missed them as I was away.

Dee Dee Warwick was just 63 and as the sister of Dionne, niece of Cissy Houston and cousin of Whitney Houston she was truly soul aristocracy. She recorded a string of excellent soul 45s in the 60s and early 70s, the best known being I'm Gonna Make You Love me. written by Gamble and Huff. She was also a two time Grammy nominee for Foolish Fool and She Didn't Know. Her most succesaful recording was a powerful version of the song, I Want To Be With You from the Broadway show, Golden Boy. Check this YouTube clip

Also dead, at the age of 81 (unbelievable in itself - he looked at least 20 years younger), was the foul mouthed singer/comedian Rudy Ray Moore, also known as Dolemite and Blowfly. Those who saw him at the Ponderosa Stomp at the Rock and Bowl a few years ago may recall that his sexist material was booed by some of the audience - me included - but he enjoyed considerable success. He began his career as an R and B singer in 1959 but found fame as the pimp Dolemite in the film of the same name in 1975, and never looked back. I remember buying a couple of his blue LPs at a roadside boot sale in Memphis but they were not really to my taste and I sold them on eBay.

I am still kicking myself for missing the New Orleans shows at the O2, not to mention Tommy Brown. Still, I intend seeing Jerry Lee at the Forum tomorrow so all is not lost.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

San Francisco blues

After a week in 80 degree sunshine in San Francisco it's tough coming back to cold, rainy old London. But I can't complain. I liked San Francisco a lot, despite the many beggars, potheads and junkies that seemed to be everywhere on the streets. It's been described as the most European of US cities, and the quaintness of the cable cars and the vintage tram cars certainly supports that impression. It's breathtakingly attractive in parts and has an arty and rebellious underbelly, fuelled no doubt by its hippy past and its gay present, that places it apart from other US cities I've visited. New Orleans has its laid back atmosphere and music and New York its frantic pace, but San Francisco seems more radical and edgy. Of course, the news was dominated by the Obama/McCain battle, with every word and action analysed in detail (although Proposition 8, on gay marriages, was also getting a lot of attention on the streets of San Francisco). There's no doubting where the sympathies of most San Franciscans lie, but I must say that if Obama fails to win on November 4 my faith in the US political system will be lost forever.
I did some of the things that tourists must do, like riding on the cable cars, taking the ferry trip to Alcatraz and taking a look at Haight/Ashbury, where, it seems, many of the original hippies still try to live the dream and smoke pot all day. There are several blues orientated music clubs - Biscuits and Blues was one with good live blues every night - but I didn't get to visit them. I did, however, do a tour of the vinyl record stores (thanks to Dave C for his useful information) and it's an excellent record town. The largest - Amoeba - is a huge former bowling alley with thousands of cheap 45s and reasonably price LPs, as well as an impressive range of CDs. Others that I visited included Grooves (pictured) and Rooky's Records - both good, but a bit pricey. I picked up a couple of dozen singles for around a dollar each, including originals of Sh'Boom by the Chords and Still by the Chantels and great blues by Bobby Bland and Z Z Hill.
My biggest regret was missing the New Orleans festival at the O2. It seems that Marcia Ball was her usual brilliant self and I'm waiting to hear about the others. Comments and reviews are always welcome.
Sorry to hear of the death of Levi Stubbs - one THE great voices of soul music. RIP.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

King of Rock Steady dies

It's only two months since I had the pleasure of seeing Alton Ellis, the King or Godfather of Rocksteady, at the Jazz Cafe, but now he's dead, aged 70. (See The Vinyl Word August 11 and my photo below). This was apparently his last appearance and we were unaware that he was suffering from lymphatic cancer. It was a thoroughly enjoyable show and I'm glad I had a chance to see him one more time, but it underlines why we should take every opportunity there is to see these great performers from the 50s and 60s when we get the chance.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Story of the Guitar

Interesting documentary on BBC1 last night tracing the history of the electric guitar up to the late 60s. Presenter Alan Yentob followed the Stompin' USA tour to the crossroads at Clarksdale where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil, on to Tutweiler, where W C Handy first heard a slide guitarist play the blues, and on to Beale Street in Memphis. There was some early footage of Charlie Christian and T-Bone Walker and interviews with Les Paul, still playing at the age of 91, and B B King, still as good as ever at 83. The battle between Fender and Gibson was explored, some early footage of Chuck Berry and Scotty Moore (with Elvis) was included, and Hank Marvin, Bruce Welch, David Gilmour and Mark Knopfler made an appearance. The programme finished with Jimi Hendrix, which for Woodies is probably the end of the road.
But overall it was an informative and interesting run through the evolution of the guitar in the 20th century, from the pre war Hawaiian craze. through the development of electric blues to rock.

Here are a couple of pictures from the Stompin' 2008 tour - of the group in Tutweiler, and of me at the crossroads in Clarks dale.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Otis to star in O V tribute

This month is my jet set month. I've just returned from a short trip to Johannesburg, holding a media workshop for my African colleagues. On the 18th I'm off to San Francisco - a city I've never been to before - for a week's holiday. I will be looking out for good music and would appreciate any suggestions for clubs or bars to visit. Then on November 1st I'm off to Jo'burg again, en route to Madagascar. I'm going with a group a journalists to Rio Tinto's new mine in Fort Dauphin, and then on to Palabora in South Africa, finishing off at the Rossing uranium mine in Namibia.
When I get back I probably won't go anywhere interesting for a while as the BHP bid is reaching its climax. But I wish I could be in Memphis on November 15th when there's a tribute night to O V Wright at the Ground Zero Blues Club. Performing is one my favourite soul singers Otis Clay, backed by the Hi Rhythm Section. Apparently the appeal to raise funds for O V's headstone has more than met expectations and the following day his widow will dedicate the stone to the great man's memory. It will be 28 years to the day since Overton Vertis Wright died at the tragically young age of 41. One of the true soul greats, without a doubt. But if anyone can claim to be the heir to O V it must be Otis Clay. When will he come to the UK again? Soon I hope.
O V is just one of many great artists featured on Ace Records' new 3 CD release Take Me to the River: A Southern Soul Story 1961 - 1977. Nearly all of the 75 tracks were cut at the Broadway Sound/Quinvy, Royal, Stax and Muscle Shoals studios and it looks like a brilliant selection: definitely one to buy - even for a vinyl collector like myself.