Tuesday, April 28, 2009

More New Orleans memories

Some more photos from my New Orleans albums. Here's Clarence 'Frogman' Henry at Jazzfest in 2005.Coolest of the Neville Brothers, here's Charles Neville at Porretta in 2006.
Tommy Ridgley, whose debut record Shrewsbury Blues was released in 1949. He died in 1999.
A spine tingling moment - Phil Phillips singing Sea of Love at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2005.
Ace swamp pop recording star Jimmy Clanton at Jazzfest in the early 90s.
Willie Tee (Turbinton) performing at the Jazz Cafe. Willie died in 2007.
Ernie K-Doe in typical pose at Jazzfest.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

New Orleans photos

Normally at this time of year I'm in New Orleans for Jazzfest and the Ponderosa Stomp. This year, for various reasons, I haven't been able to make the trip. So to mark the first weekend of Jazzfest here are some of the many photos I've taken of great New Orleans artists over the years. First, here's the Tan Canary, Johnny Adams, taken in the mid nineties. He died in 1998. This is Eddie Bo in full flow at Margaritaville. Eddie sadly passed on a few weeks ago.
Allen Toussaint guested at Irma Thomas's Lion's Den club in 1991.
Mac Rebennack, aka Dr John, signed a copy of his book Under a Hoodoo Moon for me at Jazzfest.
Aaron Neville photographed when the Neville Brothers played at Porretta in 2006.
Snooks Eaglin, who also sadly died earlier this year.
Jessie 'Oop Poo Pa Doo' Hill on the Creole Queen riverboat in in 1991. Jessie died in 1996.
Benny Spellman, whose classic 'Lipstick Traces' is one of my favourite New Orleans records, pictured at the Sheraton Hotel during the Dewdrop Inn Revisited show in 1993, which also featured Roland Stone, Bobby Marchan and Lloyd Price.This is the great Irma Thomas pictured with me at the Lions Den club on Gravier St - now no more as a result of Katrina.Two New Orleans greats: Chuck Carbo and Sugarboy Crawford at Jazzfest.
Tha late Barbara George with me on the Creole Queen riverboat.
Three photos of Ernie K-Doe: 1) On his 'throne' at the Mother In Law Lounge with John Howard and myself in 1998; 2. With his minibus in downtown New Orleans in 2000, a year before his death - taken by Antoinette K-Doe, who died this year; 3) looking rather bored on the Creole Queen.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Record shops in decline.

It was remiss of me not to mention the Record Store Day held last week which celebrated independent record shops and mourned the passing of so many over the last few years. Over a quarter have closed in the last year alone and there are now only 305 left.
My interest is in collectable vinyl so I'm not much bothered by the decline in indy or dance record shops, but even the collectors' scene has been hard hit by the rise and rise of eBay. Reckless closed its shops in Islington and Soho some time ago (although Revival has risen from its ashes in Berwick Street) and rumour has it that Cheapo Cheapo in Rupert Street has closed or is about to. The irony is that good quality vinyl is getting harder to find and prices for the really rare, top quality stuff are rising, as more people look on it as an investment.
One of the two main issues is, of course, price. Record shops owners that look at the Rare Record Guide and automatically stick that price on their vinyl are bound to suffer because a) these prices only apply to Mint condition records (and these are few and far between from the 60s) and b) you can usually buy them much cheaper on eBay. The other is availability. Most people with good quality records that they don't want are now savvy enough to put them on eBay instead of getting a fraction of their value from a record store, so shops are finding it harder to get good quality merchandise.
I buy quite a bit of stuff from record shops, including the Video and Music Exchange in Notting Hill Gate, Alan's in East Finchley, DOC in Holloway and the afore-mentioned Revival and Cheapo Cheapo, but I tend to steer clear of top of the range collectable stores like Intoxica and Rough Trade in Portobello Road or those in Hanway Street on the basis of price, not to mention tourist rip-off stores like those clustered round the Beatles shop in Baker Street. Mostly I look in boot sales and charity shops. It's hard finding good stuff and there's fearsome competition from other dealers and collectors but it can be fruitful, even if both car booters and charity shops are now often asking unrealistically high prices. There's nothing quite like the thrill of finding a batch of desirable sixties singles or LPs in excellent condition at a knockdown price.
Here's a recent Guardian article on the topic: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2009/apr/13/rough-trade-independent-record-shops
* Talking of online record sales there is a copy of Frank J Wilson's ultra rare Do I Love You being auctioned on the John Manship site at the moment. Current bid is over £24,000 and there's still seven days to go. Fancy a punt?

Monday, April 20, 2009

2Is reunion runs its course

The third 2Is gig at the 100 Club last night could well be the last. Attendance was well down on the previous two events organised by Keith Woods to commemorate the famous Soho coffee bar that sparked the first flush of British rock and roll. But without a Cliff Richard, a Marty Wilde or a Tommy Steele to draw the crowds it looks as though it has run its course.
Last night's show was not without interest, and some of the music was pretty good, but most of the performers had appeared before and their cover versions - good though many of them were - can never replace the originals. I missed the first couple of hours and arrived as Chas McDevitt's Super Skiffle group was running through a well thumbed repertoire of skiffle songs. Skiffle's time passed 50 years ago and it's tough getting anything new out of the genre but the guys tried hard. Next on was Sound of the Shadows featuring Licorice Locking and Clem Cattini, who performed note perfect versions of such Shadows hits as Apache, Wonderful Land and Atlantis, plus an impressive version of Telstar.
Vince Eager was one of the bigger names of UK rock and roll and still retains a strong voice and an exciting delivery. His was one of the more exciting sets of the night, but was running late and clearly annoyed Wee Willie Harris, who no doubt felt that he was the real star of the night. Willie is something of a national treasure and it's fun to see him in action. At least his Rockin' at the 2Is was an original, unlike his other numbers, and his lively stage act definitely belied his 76 years. The final act I saw, before tiredness drove me away, was Russ Sainty, making his 2Is reunion debut. He calls himself the 'King of the Cali' - a reference to his residency at the California Ballroom in Dunstable. Russ was a fairly obscure recording artist of the early sixties in the Cliff Richard mould who released around eight 45s without every having a significant hit, but still has a good act and effective stage presence.
Keith has to be commended for putting on the show, as do the acts, who showed that there's still life after 60 if you keep on rocking. Let the good times roll.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Phil gets that sinking feeling

So Phil Spector has been found guilty of murder at his retrial, despite apparently spending $50m on his defence. It's a tragic end for a musical genius who gave so much pleasure to millions yet was plagued throughout his life by a form of madness and paranoia. His gun waving episodes were well known but in the case of Lana Clarkson it went too far and she paid with her life. I believe that Ronnie, who suffered at his hands probably more than anyone alive, expected him to be found not guilty. But guilty he is and we await the sentence, which is likely to be at least 18 years in jail - rather tough for a man of 69. Will he be remembered more for this murder than for his music? I don't think so. His wonderful Wall of Sound records with the Crystals, Ronettes, Righteous Brothers, Ike and Tina Turner and others will live forever, although much of his later work probably won't. It's a sad day for Phil - the man of a thousand hairdos (as illustrated in the various pictures taken over the years) - and an even sadder one for music.

* See my earlier blog about Phil's first trial entitled 'Getting away with murder?' written on September 19, 2007, when it looked like he would get off.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Saturday morning pictures

Tales From The Woods supremo Keth Woods has suggested resurrecting the Saturday morning pictures ritual that some of us enjoyed in our childhood. I grew up at the tail end of the great cinema age just as TV was taking over and vividly remember going to the flicks on Saturday mornings at the Gaumont, West Wickham, which closed in 1957 to make way for a Sainsburys. The mixture of cartoons and adventure and cowboy shorts such as Flash Gordon, Zorro and Hopalong Cassidy, interspersed with community singing of such favourites as The Happy Wanderer and Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree, made this a great morning's entertainment.
At that time there were many cinemas within a few miles of home, including Odeons in Hayes, Elmers End, Croydon and Bromley, plus the Regal in Beckenham (later renamed the ABC - pictured), the Gaumont and Pullman in Bromley, the Gaumont, Eros and the Davis Theatre in Croydon and the Essoldo, Penge. My first memory of the flicks is being scared to death by the roar of a waterfall in Lorna Doone at the Eros. Later on I sneaked in under age to X rated so-called horror films at the Regal (anyone remember the dreadful Behemoth The Sea Monster?), or rather tame 'sex films' such as the poor remake of The Blue Angel with May Britt (pictured) rather than the wonderful Marlene Dietrich. Then there were the News Theatres in the West End where my parents would occasionally take me for a treat. After a cuppa at the Lyons Corner House we would go to the cinema for an hour to watch a mix of newsreels and cartoons.
Keith's suggestion is to arrange afternoon screenings of Saturday morning classics, rock and roll films of the 50s or the early TV shows such as Muffin the Mule, Woodentops, Flower Pot Men, Quatermass, Jims Inn, Grove Family, Phillip Harben, Sunday Night at the London Palladium (I would love to see Buddy Holly's appearance again) and Gurney Slade if any clips exist. A nice idea, even if most of these will now seem incredibly naive and amateurish.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Wasn't it Brill?

Seeing Carole King on the Jools Holland show tonight reminded me just how much 60s music lovers owe to the songwriters beavering away in the Brill Building on New York's Broadway. As it happens, I was talking to Bill Haines the other night about this incredible music factory. But I've somewhat lost track of Carole over the years and it was good to see that she's still alive and kicking.
Just think: she was the 'Carol' of Neil Sedaka's big hit, a top ten hit maker in 1962 with It Might As Well Rain Until September, and, with Gerry Goffin, wrote some of the greatest 60s pop and soul hits, including Take Good Care of My Baby. Will You Love Me Tomorrow, Some Kind of Wonderful, Halfway to Paradise, Every Breath I Take, Chains, Keep Your Hands off My Baby, The Loco-motion, He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss), Go Away Little Girl, Point Of No Return, Crying In The Rain. Hey Girl, One Fine Day, Up On The Roof, Oh No Not My Baby and I'm Into Something Good.
And that was just the sixties. In the seventies her recording career took off with the top selling Tapestry and her You've Got A Friend was a smash hit for James Taylor.
Of course, it wasn't just Goffin and King who made their living in the Brill Building. Others included Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller , Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman ,Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry , Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Burt Bacharach and Hal David , Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, Hugo & Luigi and Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. And other musicians based at Brill included Laura Nyro, Neil Diamond, Paul Simon, Bobby Darin, Phil Spector and Gene Pitney.
Now that is quite some line-up!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

'Legends' at Ladbroke Grove

To the Inn on the Green in Ladbroke Grove last night for a free Tales From The Woods birthday gig (for Dave Woodland's 50th) featuring, according to Keith, a couple of British rock and roll legends, plus one or two others who by no stretch of the imagination warranted such a description. The two 'legends' - Dave Sampson and Danny Rivers - were backed by the ever improving Tales From The Woods House Band with John Hills on lead guitar and Bunter Brian on drums augmented by the excellent John Spenceley.

Dave Sampson's claim to fame was a series of pop 45s on Columbia in the early sixties with backing group The Hunters, the best known of which were Sweet Dreams and the obscurely titled Why The Chicken. Dave is still a very solid rock and roller who laid down a good set made up of rock and roll standards.
Danny Rivers, the second 'legend' also recorded some now highly collectable singles in the early 60s on Top Rank, Decca and HMV and. as is usual, did a short Elvis flavoured set finishing with Little Sister. Danny definitely looks the part with a surprisingly full and black head of hair, but it would be great to hear him do a more varied set some time.
The non legends on show last night included Ed First (is that really his name?) who dived head first into cacophonous versions of songs made famous by such 'original' rock and rollers as the Rolling Stones and Bob Seger. Completing the evening's entertainment were some attempts at rock and roll standards by Rockin' Gerry.
Altogether, though, an enjoyable evening, and if I'm less than excited it's because I yearn for the real thing, rather than covers - enthusiastic though the performers may be.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Labels of love

Anyone collecting vinyl 45s issued in the fifties and sixties will have a soft spot for the record labels of the era. Beatles fans will no doubt regard the Parlophone label as the most ground breaking, while Stones collectors will feel the same way about Decca. For me, and for most rock and roll collectors, THE label of choice was London American, which issued classic tracks by Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino and literally hundreds of others.

As I've mentioned before I kept a record of my personal top tens for nearly six years from early 1960 to the end of 1965 and London stands out as the label with the most entries (243) - three times more than the next most prolific - Stateside with 85. Following along behind are RCA (77), Pye International (57), Columbia (47), HMV (44), Top Rank and Warner Brothers (both 28), Capitol and Liberty (27), Coral (23) and Brunswick, Mercury and MGM (all 22). Primarily UK issue labels such as Parlophone, Decca, Pye and Philips/Fontana lagged behind, demonstrating my strong preference for American recordings.

The peak years for the London label were from 1960 to 1963 and by 1965 it had shrunk to just a handful of top ten entries. By then the key labels - for me at least - were Atlantic, Tamla Motown, Chess, and, to a lesser extent, Cameo Parkway and United Artists. The era of a small number of EMI, Decca group and Pye labels issuing nearly every American record that came out in the UK was over and these US giants had established their rightful place as UK labels in their own right. Some less well known UK labels such as Vocalion and Oriole had their moment in the sun in the early 60s releasing Duke/Peacock and Tamla Motown records for a while, and of course Sue opened up a whole new range of great US soul and blues 45s. But by the end of the sixties, with the establishment of Stax in its own right, plus the Soul City and Action labels, the scene had changed completely and London American was a pale shadow of its former glory.

For collectors like me sifting through a pile of old 45s at a boot sale means looking out for the great 50s and 60s labels, most of which were issued without picture sleeves, but we also have to keep an eye open for the ska labels of the era, such as Bluebeat, Island, Black Swan, Doctor Bird, Ska Beat and Rio. And don't get me started on the great US labels to look out for - maybe some other time...

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Beat mining

Apparently I'm a beat miner. It's not a phrase I've ever heard before, but according to a BBC Radio 4 programme the other night my habit of scouring boot sales and charity shops for collectable vinyl records is known as 'beat mining' in certain quarters: namely a particular type of vinyl collector whose main aim is to find old records that can be 'mined' and sampled in new recordings. To be fair, the programme covered other aspects of collecting, such as the search in the US for rare Northern soul records. But the main thrust of the programme was the beat mining angle. To quote from the on line description: "Broadcaster Toby Amies digs into the archives to discover the value and significance of old vinyl. He uncovers a network of dealers and buyers, supplying a community of 'crate diggers' and 'beat miners' and a world in which samples from records bought for a few pence in a car boot sale can provide the basis for a million-selling hit."
As a vinyl addict I'm only too aware that the glory days are over - there are just too many collectors and dealers hunting for a shrinking number of vinyl classics - but the programme did at least throw some light on some of the people who have managed to make a business out of digging for vinyl and sampling. For me though, the thrill is in finding a rare piece of vinyl, be it 45, EP or LP, that I can add to my collection, or maybe sell on eBay, that costs me a fraction of the going rate. As the weather improves a new season is about to start and I look forward to the adrenalin rush that comes from stumbling over a choice item or two - and beating the opposition!