Monday, November 29, 2010

Farewell to Little Smokey and Gentleman June

A couple more music deaths to report:

Bluesman Albert 'Little Smokey' Smothers died on November 20 aged 71. Not to be confused with his elder brother, Otis 'Big Smokey' Smothers, Little Smokey joined up with Howlin' Wolf in 1958 and played on his Chess recordings around that time. In 1961 he founded Little Smokey Smothers and the Pipeplayers. and later met Paul Butterfield and became a founding member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. During the 60s he played with Buddy Guy, James Cotton, Earl Hooker and Junior Wells and after a period out of the music business he re-appeared in the 1980s with The Legendary Blues Band. His first solo album came in 1993 with the Chicago Blues of Little Smokey Smothers released on the Dutch Black Magic label, featuring Elvin Bishop. Later work included Second Time Around and That's My Partner on Alligator, a live album recorded in San Francisco. He appeared regularly at blues festivals and clubs, including Ground Zero in Clarksdale, before serious illness struck, resulting in his legs being amputated.
Another death is that of New Orleans drummer Gentleman June Gardner at the age of 80. He worked with a host of stars including Sam Cooke (Live at the Harlem Square Club - see photo), Lee Dorsey (Working In a Coal Mine). Edgar Blanchard, Lou Rawls, Roy Brown and Dave Batholomew. He also had his own band - June Gardner and the Fellas - and recorded 'Mustard Greens' and '99 Plus One'.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Roger Dean's Views

One of the few (perhaps the only) good things about prog rock in the early 70s were the album covers of Roger Dean. They graced LPs by Yes, famously, but also albums by Atomic Rooster, Magna Carta, Gentle Giant, Osibisa, Pete Dello and Friends and Uriah Heep among others. I mention Roger's exotic illustrations because I've just sold a 1970s book of his work (views) on Ebay. This prompted me to take a closer look at his work, which is wonderfully fantastical. Here are a few of his album covers.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Folk Blues at the Fairfield Hall

Browsing in a charity shop yesterday I came across an LP by Memphis Slim called Broken Soul Blues on the United Artists label. It was released in 1963 - the year that blues really took off in the UK with the visit of the first Folk Blues Festival (or American Negro Blues Festival as it was called at the time) to the UK, with an appearance at the Fairfield Hall, Croydon with a cast that included Memphis Slim. I was there, as I was for subsequent folk blues shows at the Fairfield Hall in the following few years, and it was a star studded line up, including Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Otis Spann, Lonnie Johnson, Big Joe Williams, Matt Guitar Murphy and Willie Dixon. The following year was just as good, with Howlin' Wolf, Sunnyland Slim, Lightning Hopkins, Sugar Pie DeSanto and Sleepy John Estes on the bill.

I already had an interest in the blues, but the show awakened me to a range of blues artists that I had previously had little knowledge of. It certainly helped to boost the blues boom in the UK, with every British act from the Stones downwards trying to emulate their heroes. It created a new phase in the careers of Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, and we even had the likes of John Lee Hooker's Dimples, Jimmy Reed's Shame Shame Shame and Howlin' Wolf's Smokestack Lightning in the pop charts. It also boosted the careers of the artists featured on the show: I remember seeing Sonny Boy Williamson a couple of times around that time, including a show at the Bromley Court Hotel (with whisky bottle close at hand at all times).
In the end it was the UK which led the worldwide revival of blues at a time when the music was increasingly being neglected in its homeland. The Memphis Slim album is a cracker, by the way. Here's Memphis Slim and Matt Guitar Murphy from the time

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Under-rated stars

One of the undoubted stars of the Ponderosa Stomp in recent years has been Barbara Lynn, the left handed guitarist/singer who made a string of great records during the 1960s, produced by Huey Meaux. I bought some of her excellent Jamie singles recently which show off her talent to perfection: A Letter to Mommy and Daddy, You're Gonna Need Me (pictured) and Everybody Loves Somebody. Here's the excellent You're gonna need me Barbara was a real highlight of several of my New Orleans trips in the last few years (here's a photo from the Stomp in 2008) and is one of those artists whose work has been neglected and under-rated over the years.
Another such artist is Oscar Toney Jr, who was a stand out act at the Porretta Soul Festival last year. One of my local record shops is closing down - yet another sad closure! - and in the closing down sale I bought some singles for £1 each, including Oscar's excellent cover of Clyde McPhatter's Without Love (There is Nothing) released on the Bell label. I'm not going to reveal the location of the shop as I hope to buy some more good vinyl in the next week or two, but it's a sad reflection of the times. More and more independent record shops are closing down as a result of the rise of Ebay and the decline of interest in vinyl. In this increasingly virtual age of music I can only hope that lovers of the real thing - vinly records - will keep the faith. I don't want just a sound in my ear with nothing physical to hold or look at - I want vinyl!