Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sky and Storm pass over

As the world continues to mourn Michael Jackson, two more deaths have passed rather unnoticed.

Sky Saxon was the leader of The Seeds who had a great 60s psychedelic punk rock hit with (You're) Pushing Too Hard. Also known as Sky Sunlight Saxon and Little Richie Marsh he was born in Salt Lake City but his age seems uncertain, although 63 seems most likely. The Seeds had a fairly short life and after their break up Sky formed the Sky Saxon Blues Band before joining a religious commune in Hollywood recording psychedelic tribal music later released on a series of CDs. Later albums under a variety of band names, including The Starry Seeds Band, Sky Saxon & Firewall, King Arthur's Court and Shapes Have Fangs were not particularly successful. Here's his obit in The Times http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/obituaries/article6604123.ece

Gale Storm, who has died aged 87, was basically an American cover artist who recorded quite successful but somewhat anaemic versions of R and B songs such as I Hear You Knocking, Dark Moon, Why Do Fools Fall in Love and Lucky Lips in the 1950s. She also appeared in a host of now forgotten movies as well as the My Little Margie TV series, which was an I Love Lucy type show of the early 50s. Here's her obituary in the Indy http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/gale-storm-actress-and-singer-who-became-the-leading-lady-of-choice-for-the-poverty-row-studio-monogram-1727955.html
Forgot to mention the death of Bob Bogle, guitarist and founder member of The Ventures, who died on June 14. Here's his obituary: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/obituaries/article6612052.ece

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mississippi Heat in London

Charlotte Street Blues is a new blues bar in central London and it has the makings of being a really good venue. It has tasteful decor, reasonably priced drinks and promises blues seven nights a week with major live US acts most Saturdays. If future bands are anything like as good as Mississippi Heat who played there last night the club can't fail.
Mississippi Heat hail rather confusingly from Chicago and are led by Pierre Lecocque who was born in Israel of Christian-Belgian parents and moved to Chicago aged 16 where he discovered the blues. He's an excellent blues harmonica player, but the key to the band's success last night lay with Carl Weathersby, a guitarist in the Albert King mould who showed just how proficient he is in a range of styles. Carl has recorded several albums in his own right and played Porretta a few years ago as Dave Carroll fondly remembered. Providing vocals was Rhonda Preston, a slim strong voiced blues warbler who could get deeply soulful when required. Rhonda must be a fairly new addition to the line up as I don't see her featured on the band's website http://www.mississippiheat.net/

Altogether a really enjoyable evening and a great start for the new venue.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Wacko Jacko won't be back-o

The Vinyl Word today says farewell to two of the greats of the last 30 or so years - Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett.
It all started so well for Jacko. Early Motown records and stage performances by the Jackson Five demonstrated Michael's amazing versatility and talent. And although his solo records weren't entirely to my taste, they made him the undisputed King of Pop in the 80s. Thriller will probably remain the top selling album of all time with the coming of the download revolution. I saw Jackson's Bad tour at Wembley Stadium in 1988 and his stage act was something to behold. But of course things were already changing by that time, from the colour of his skin to his increasingly strange behaviour and little boy antics. There was something rather tragic in watching him strive to be something he could never really be. And of course the child abuse allegations never went away. Now in his death we have the beginnings of a new Elvis type phenonema over the cause of his death. Was it pain killers or some other drugs? Not to mention the Jacko jokes. Apparently doctors found a note in his jacket pocket asking that after his death he be melted down and turned into toys.....so children can still play with him.

Farrah Fawcett will always be Farrah Fawcett-Majors to me, as she was known when she was a Charlie's Angel. The pin up come actress was a teenage fantasy in the seventies but she declined after leaving the show and died aged 62 of cancer. Farewell Farrah. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/obituaries/article6578438.ece

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Music pictures 1989-1992

My first trip to New Orleans was in 1989. Between the two Jazzfest weekends I drove around Louisiana and up to Memphis. I paid my respects at Graceland and Sun Studios and had a wander round Beale Street, which struck me as being like a film set. It wasn't crowded in those days and there were quite a few genuine black clubs, including the Club Royale where I think I was the only white patron and enjoyed a soul band called SRO. Just off Beale Street, byt the statue of W C Handy, I came across an intriguing ceremony taking place - the crowning of the 1989 Cotton King and Queen - apparently a tradition going back many years - by none other than Rufus Thomas. Sadly, Rufus died in 2001.During my journey around the deep south I kept crossing paths with the UK group who had gone to New Orleans with Festival Tours. One such occasion was at a gig at Mulate's restaurant in Breaux Bridge where Beausoleil were playing, with special guest Richard Thompson of Fairport Convention fame. Group leader Michel Duchet is to the right of Richard.
I knew no one when I arrived but quickly met up with a number of visitors from the UK which led on over time to the Woodies group that exists today. Here's a photo taken in the Landmark Hotel with John Howard, Dave Thomas and some others whose names I fear I can no longer recall.
Back in the UK there were some good gigs in the late 80s and early 90s. One such was on April 1, 1992, in quite a strange venue - the RNA Club in Plaistow - and featured Charlie Gracie, with D J Fontana on drums. Charlie is still performing at the age of 73.
In New Orleans that year one of the Jazzfest performers was blues legend Charles Brown, who also played a venue called Charlie B's. Charles died in 1999.
Also in 1992, the Tan Canary Johnny Adams guested at Irma Thomas's Lions Den club on Gravier St. One of many great nights at the club - now no more. Johnny is also with us no more - he died in 1998.
Back in the UK, slide guitarist Roy Rogers played the Mean Fiddler on July 8, 1992.
One of the highlights of 1991 was the appearance of the Texas Tornados at the Town and Country Club on July 7. The Tornados comprised Doug Sahm, Augie Meyer, Freddy Fender and Flaco Jimenez. Here's Tehano accordionist Flaco in full flow.
And here's Doug Sahm who sadly passed away in 1998. Freddy Fender is in the background.
The final picture of this particular trawl through the albums is of blues harp player Charlie Musselwhite, who played at the Town and Country 2 on July 22, 1991.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Three more obituaries

There are three interesting music obituaries in today's papers:
Huey Long, singer and guitarist with the Ink Spots, who died at the ripe old age of 105. Huey played banjo in a jazz band in the 20s and joined the Ink Spots in 1945. In 1996 he helped to set up an Ink Spots museum in Houston. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/huey-long-singer-and-guitarist-who-found-fame-with-the-ink-spots-1706870.html
Barry Beckett played keyboards with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section backing artists such as Aretha Franklin, the Staples Singers, Mel and Tim, Paul Simon and Johnny Taylor. He also co-produced Bob Dylan's Slow Train Coming album. He was 66. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/obituaries/article6513408.ece
Kenny Rankin was a session guitarist on Bob Dylan's early electric sides which appeared on Bringing It All Back Home. Later he recorded a number of solo albums beginning with Mind Dusters, which included Peaceful. later recorded by Georgie Fame. He was 69. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/obituaries/article6513472.ece

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Blues Estafette 1998

The Blues Estafette in Utrecht was an annual pilgrimage to witness some of the lesser known blues names plus one or two better known acts. The trip would begin in Dartford where we would meet up to begin the drive to Holland. Once there, the first evening would start with a 15 course Indonesian rijst-tafel, followed by an impromptu jam session in a local club with many of the acts from the festival taking part. Next day the festival itself was a marathon of 12 hours with virtually non-stop music on two stages. It was one of the great music events of the year, but sadly it no longer takes place.
Here are some photos I took at Blues Estafette in 1998. First, here's Betty Lavette, who first made an impression back in 1965 with Let Me Down Easy. She kept a fairly low profile for many years, despite some fine records including the Tell Me A Lie album on Motown, but in 2005 she suddenly made it big with I've got My Own Hell to Raise. She's now quite a star following the release of The Scene of the Crime at Muscle Shoals and even performed a duet with Jon Bon Jovi singing Sam Cooke's A Change is Gonna Come at Barack Obama's inauguration. I have something of a penchant for the country soul records issued on the Simms label, owned by Nashville DJ John Richbourg. One of the best of these was Strain On My Heart by Roscoe Shelton, who is pictured here. Roscoe died in 2002.
Lazy Lester is one of the few surviving swamp blues men who recorded for Excello and remains a regular visitor to blues festivals around the world.
And here is Guitar Gable, who also recorded for Excello. Pictured with him is C C Adcock.
Guitar Gable's vocalist was King Karl, who wrote This Should Go On Forever, a hit for Rod Bernard.
Roscoe Robinson, pictured here, was part of the Sound Stage 7 tribute, as was Earl Gaines, also pictured.
Finally this is youthful zydeco artist Chris Ardoin, who appeared with Double Clutching.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

First Time We Met The Blues

The early sixties were a frustrating time if you were living in the UK and interested in American blues and soul music. The music got little or no airplay and finding out what was available amd actually getting to hear it was no easy matter. There was Radio Luxembourg of course and , later, the pirate stations, but there was much great music that was practically impossible to hear on the radio. So it was very much a voyage of discovery for teenagers, like me, living in suburbia and delving into these exotic black US sounds.
Another such teenager was David Williams, who happened to live in the same street as Jimmy Page in Epsom, and came to know Mick Jagger, Brian Jones and Keith Richards long before they became famous. Dave (pictured above) has written a book about his early experiences, including a trip to Manchester with Mick and the boys to see the first American Folk Blues Festival in 1962. Called "The First Time We Met The Blues" it's an interesting insight into the developing blues scene in the UK at the time and an amusing reminder of those innocent times. It certainly brought back memories of some of the bands I saw at the time, including early appearances by the likes of David Bowie and Pete Frampton. And although I saw several of the later Folk Blues shows I curse not making the effort to go to Manchester for that first concert. Sounds like quite an experience.
Dave threw a party to launch the book last night which I and fellow Woodies Dave, Alan and Ken attended and throughly enjoyed (see picture). Now I'm enjoying Dave's book and also looking forward to getting stuck into John Broven's latest weighty tome on "Record Makers and Breakers", which I also picked up yesterday. The book chronicles over nearly 600 pages the men who put R and B on the map, both in terms of recording and promoting this music which had such an influence on the culture of the last 60 years. Fascinating stuff and well worth getting hold of.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Cricket lovely cricket

Here we are in the middle of the Twenty20 World Cup with typically cold, damp June weather and already Australia are out. Hooray! They will probably keep the Ashes later in the summer but at least we can snigger for the moment. Twenty20 may only be fun cricket, rather than the real thing, but it gets the public interested so it can't be a bad thing. I would like England to win, but if that's not possible I would like to see the West Indies triumph.
There was a fascinating BBC2 programme the other night (Empire of Cricket) which traced the rise - and fall - of West Indies cricket over the years, focusing on many of the greats, including Frank Worrell, Gary Sobers, Clive Lloyd and Brian Lara (pictured). When I went to Trinidad in 1996 Lara was very much the local hero, with a boulevard named after him in Port of Spain, but since then the game there has declined. I love the calypso cricket approach of the Windies and would love to see them rise again. But if it's going to happen it's likely to be in the short form of the game: I'm not convinced that West Indians - and Chris Gayle in particular - have the patience for test matches these days.

On the subject of the Caribbean, BBC4 broadcast a fascinating programme the other night marking 50 years of Island records, with contributions from Chris Blackwell and many of the artists he recorded over the years. Naturally the pinnacle of Island for me was the ska material in the early to mid sixties and I treasure any of those early 45s that I can find. When the label went pink and began to focus on British folk rock I rather lost interest, but no one can deny the incredible impact that the label had, with the likes of Traffic, Fairport Convention and, later on, Grace Jones and U2. An amazing success story and a UK equivalent in its way of Stax.

Monday, June 08, 2009

More photos

I've been trawling through my photos again and picked out some that might be of interest. First, here's Margaret Lewis and Kenny Bill Stinson at Jazzfest. Maggie was the undoubted star of last year's 2Is show at the 100 Club. Also at Jazzfest here's the photogenic zydeco queen Rosie Ledet.
Soul singer Maxine Brown performed at the 100 Club in the early 90s. She also starred in the Kent Records soul spectacular at The Forum in 2007.
Percy Sledge may not be the most dynamic of performers but his voice is the personification of country soul. Here he is at the Jazz Cafe.
I saw Bo Diddley many times during his illustrious career including some of his UK shows in the early 60s. Here he is at the House of Blues in New Orleans in 2000.
Next, three photos from the Blues Estafette in Utrecht in 1997. This is soul/blues man Frankie Lee.
And here's Hi recording artist Syl Johnson.
This is soul man Willie Clayton.
Finally, a couple of photos from the Porretta Soul Festival. This is Graziano, the man who makes this great festival possible, with Isaac Hayes.
The festival is dedicated to Otis Redding but came to prominence largely as a result of early appearances by Rufus Thomas, who had the arena there named after him.Here's Rufus enjoying one of the acts in 1997..

Friday, June 05, 2009

Koko goes to Blues Heaven

For the last month or so The Vinyl Word has had no significant deaths to report, but it was too good to last. The Grim Reaper has struck in earnest with a trio of significant deaths in the last few days.
Not for nothing was Koko Taylor known as the Queen of the Blues. Eight of her nine albums on Alligator were nominated for Grammy awards and she won no fewer than 25 Handy Awards - more than any other artist. But it was her first hit Wang Dang Doodle recorded for Chess in 1966 and written by Willie Dixon that really turned me on to her. She fairly belts her way through a story featuring such characters as Automatic Slim, Razor Totin' Jim, Fast Talking Fanny and Pistol Pete, with Buddy Guy ( not Little Walter as Wikipedia claims - see comments and obits) on guitar. And the B side Blues Heaven is just as good, as she pays tribute to Sonny Boy, Nat King Cole, the Big Bopper, Big Bill, Billie Holiday, Elmore James and Sam Cooke. I saw her a few times, including a great show in New Orleans at Muddy Waters club. But now she's gone, aged 80, to join that great line up in Blues Heaven. Here are a couple of obituaries: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/obituaries/article6440044.ece http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/koko-taylor-the-queen-of-the-blues-1698182.html

Another to bite the dust is New Orleans born sax player Sam Butera, who died aged 81 in Las Vegas. Sam was best known as band leader of the Witnesses, who added excitement to a host of records by Louis Prima and Keely Smith. He moved easily between big band and R and B styles and was known for his raucous style, and continued a successful career in Vegas after Prima died in 1978. Obituary in the Indy: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/sam-butera-saxophonist-and-entertainer-who-found-fame-as-louis-primas-big-horn-1700210.html

A third death is the somewhat bizarre demise of David Carradine, who starred as Kwai Chang Caine in 70s TV series Kung Fu , and in the two Kill Bill films. His death could have come straight out of a Kill Bill film. Carradine was found hanged in a wardrobe in a hotel in Bangkok, apparently the victim of an auto erotic asphyxiation session that went tragically wrong. He was aged 72. Here's the obit in the Indy: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/david-carradine-actor-who-found-fame-in-the-1970s-television-series-kung-fu-and-later-in-tarantinos-kill-bill-films-1698181.html

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Woodies at play

More photos from the album - this time of Woodies and friends pictured over the years. First, here's John Howard in deep conversation with Lazy Lester as John 'Soulboy' Jolliffe looks on.
Enjoying the sunshine in Holland during the North Sea Festival in 1990 here's Dave Carroll, Brian Jessup, Soulboy and me.
A group picture in New Orleans featuring among others, John and Mary, Jonathan Coke-Smyth, Dave Howard and wife and Soulboy.
Soulboy enjoyed a Mexican drink or two as he celebrated his 50th birthday in New Orleans - several years ago.
And Jonathan got an eyeful of one of the ladies in a Metairie bar the same year.
Here's Keith Woods puckering up to Warren Storm in New Orleans. "Warren, can I have the name of your toupee maker please?"
Paul Waring, Bunter and John soak up some music in New Orleans in 2005.
Soulboy poses beside the bust of a composer who looks uncannily like himself at Utrecht.
An early group shot taken on my first visit to New Orleans in 1989.