Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Death List update

The Grim Reaper has been busy while I've been away in the sun and sadly the 2010 Death List has got quite a bit longer.
The most recent death to come to my attention is that of white Motown singer Teena Marie who died on December 26 at the young age of 54. She came to prominence in the late 70s in partnership with her mentor Rick James with the album Wild and Peaceful and followed it up with more successful albums on Motown and then Epic, including Lady T, Irons In the Fire, It Must Be Magic and Robbery, among others.

Another female singer to pass away is Myrna Smith of the Sweet Inspirations. Formed in the early 60s by Cissy Houston the vocal group also included Doris Troy and Dee Dee and Dionne Warwick among its members in the early years before Myrna joined to replace Dee Dee Warwick in 1965. They backed a host of big names including Solomon Burke, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin and Van Morrison before releasing their own excellent records on Atlantic, including Why (Am I Treated So Bad), Sweet Inspiration and Sweets for My Sweet. They regularly backed Elvis both as back up singers and as a warm up act and this association ensured they got plenty of work in the years that followed. My photo shows Myrna with me at the Porretta Soul Festival in 2001.
Another female singer to have died is Dorothy Jones, one of the original members of The Cookies when the group was formed in 1954, who died on Christmas Day aged 76. During the 50s they did back up for Atlantic stars such as Lavern Baker, Ruth Brown and Ray Charles (with Margie Hendrix leaving to form The Raelettes), but had their greatest success in the early sixties including back up for Little Eva on The Loco-Motion and a string of great girl group hits on Dimension including Chains, Don't Say Nothing Bad About My Baby and Girls Grow Up Faster Than Boys.

Just as I left for my holiday news came in of the death of Captain Beefheart (aka Don Van Vliet) at the age of 69. A friend of Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart made a series of acclaimed albums with The Magic Band including Safe as Milk, Trout Mask Replica and Clear Spot. Beefheart was hugely influential and his fans included John Peel, who said: "If there has ever been such a thing as a genius in the history of popular music, it's Beefheart... I heard echoes of his music in some of the records I listened to last week and I'll hear more echoes in records that I listen to this week."
A final word too for Clay Cole, TV show host, DJ and performer, who had a hit during the twist era with Twist Around The Clock (also a film starring Clay, Chubby Checker and Dion). Also Bob Demmon, a member of The Astronauts, a mainly instrumental surf group who had a minor hit with Baja in 1963.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Death List 2010

As I'm away in sunnier climes for the next couple of weeks (The Maldives) it’s that time of year when The Vinyl Word says farewell to those artists in the world of music and entertainment who have passed away in the last 12 months. As ever the list is long and I apologise for any significant names I have missed. Suggestions are welcome.
Here's the list (at present): Ron Banks, Gene Barry, Barbara Brown, Solomon Burke (pictured at Porretta in 2009), Jerry Byrne, Roy Carrier, Bobby Charles, Rockie Charles, Alex Chilton (pictured playing with the Box Tops outside the New York World Trade Centre (as was) in 1999), Hank Cochran, Gary Coleman, Robert Culp, Tony Curtis, (Sir) Johnny Dankworth, Jimmy Dean, Kenny Dino, Diz Disley, Eddie Fisher, John Forsythe, Harvey Fuqua, Earl Gaines, Gentleman June Gardner, Charlie Gillett, Al Goodman, Cy Grant, Peter Graves, Mick Green, Dale Hawkins, Bobby Hebb, Lena Horne, Gregory Isaacs, Marvin Isley, General Norman Johnson, Robert ‘Squirrel’ Lester, James MacArthur, Kate McGarrigle, Malcolm McLaren, Alexander McQueen, Johnny Maestro, Mitch Miller, Sugar Minott, Willie Mitchell, Lattie Moore, Leslie Nielsen, Fess Parker, Jack Parnell, Don Partridge, Walter Payton Jr, Teddy Pendergrass, James Phelps, Dorothy Provine, Lynn Redgrave, Pernell Roberts, Crispian St Peters, Jean Simmons, Carl Smith, Little Smokey Smothers, Monty Sunshine, Lynn Taitt, Ari Up, Malcolm Vaughan, Albertina Walker, Phillip Walker, Sir Norman Wisdom, Marva Wright.

Raise your glasses to all of them , and let's hope the Grim Reaper is kind in 2011.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

John Lennon - and deaths to remember

It's 30 years to the day since John Lennon died. The Beatles were undoubtedly the biggest band of the 20th century and their influence is still felt today. John Lennon was the radical face of the band and his death was one of those moments that most people of a certain age still remember in detail. In my case the news came to me as I listened to the radio early in the morning. I was living in Bolton at the time and it was shocking that Lennon should have been shot dead outside his apartment. His career had been in decline since the Beatles broke up and his death turned out to be a good career move - for a while at least - as is so often the case when a star dies young.
The greatest example of this was Buddy Holly, who enjoyed (if that's the right word) far more success after his death in February 1959 than when he was alive. I can't remember the exact moment I heard that piece of news (I was only 12 at the time), but there have been a handful of high profile deaths over the years which bring back memories that are frozen in time, and still vivid today.

I remember JFK's death in November 1963 clearly. It was a Friday evening - time for the weekly music gig at the Justin Hall, West Wickham - one of the first venues where David Bowie and Pete Frampton played (in the Konrads and the Herd respectively). As soon as I arrived I was told the news and was gob smacked. Nothing comparable had happened in my admittedly short lifetime. Kennedy was something of a hero to me (we didn't know much about his faults in those days) and suddenly world peace and the move towards civil rights in the US seemed under threat. Johnson quickly accelerated the Vietnam war but to be fair was braver than JFK when it came to civil rights, despite his Southern roots.
The next death that shook me to the core was the shooting of Sam Cooke in LA in December 1964. The event didn't get much coverage in the UK and my memory of receiving the news was a glance at the Stop Press column of the London Evening News on my way home working in Croydon. This was a couple of months before I joined the Croydon Advertiser as a trainee reporter and I was working in the toy department of Grants department store (I even had to stand in for Father Christmas on one occasion - at the age of 18!) Sam Cooke was and still is my favourite singer bar none, and the news was devastating to me. His prophetic anthem A Change Is Gonna Come was a posthumous release (with controversial lyrics removed in the version that came out on 45).
There were other deaths that hit hard over the years that followed, such as that of Otis Redding in 1967 and Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy in 1968, but the next big 'death to remember' was that of Elvis in 1977. I was living in Wigan at the time and I recall that the first I heard of it was a sort of 'And Finally' at the end of News At Ten, when Reggie Bosanquet (I think it was) said rather casually that news was coming in that Elvis had died - 'I hope that's not correct' he said. For some reason the natural place to go for further news and the right sort of reaction was Radio Luxembourg, and I spent the next couple of hours listening to Tony Prince playing Presley records non-stop and reminiscences from Jimmy Saville, among others.

Moving forward to 1997, the last celebrity death that left an indelible mark was that of Princess Diana. I was in the habit of going to a car boot sale in Barnet on Sunday mornings at an outlandish time, and it was still dark when I got there. Rumours of the fatal accident started flying round and it wasn't long before her death was confirmed. I met Diana once at a function for the London City Ballet of which she was patron (I was sponsorship manager at Barclays Bank at the time) and she was gorgeous in real life. The nation mourned as never before.
Of other events that sear the memory, of course 9/11 stands out (I was having lunch in the City and dashed back to watch the awful climax), and so does 7/7. I had been in Trafalgar Square the day before when the surprising news about the London Olympics was announced to thousands of spectators, and could well have been on the Piccadilly Line train that was bombed the next day had I not decide to change to the Victoria Line at Finsbury Park. I remember Roy Orbison's death (I was waiting for a tube when I came across the news in the Standard) and other music deaths such as Ike Turner and Bo Diddley, but none of the memories are quite so vivid as the deaths listed above. They really were deaths to remember.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Memories of the Mother In Law Lounge

They say bad news comes in threes, and so it would seem, with the threat of closure for the 100 Club (now hopefully lifted?). the end of Mark Lamarr's excellent Shake Rattle and Roll radio show, and, now, the final closure of the Mother in law Lounge in New Orleans.
The chance of seeing Ernie K-Doe at Jazzfest was a prime reason for me going to New Orleans for the first time in 1989, and in subsequent years up to his death in 2001. I went to the Lounge several times and it's sad that it is shutting down. It was a shrine to Ernie, with dozens of rather tacky K-Doe souvenirs, historic photos and his life sized mannequin taking pride of place. Under Antoinette K-Doe's energetic management it became quite a trendy night spot for a while, but once she died the end of the Lounge was an inevitability. I'm glad I and other Woodies made a pilgrimage there during out Stompin' trip in the spring.
In homage to Ernie and the Mother In Law Lounge, here are some of the K-Doe related photos I've taken over the years. First, here's K-Doe in typical slightly dishevelled pose at Jazzfest in 1989.
In 1998 John Howard and I paid a visit to the Mother in Law Lounge. We were the only customers, but Ernie put on a good show, featuring his own versions of the Jerry Butler songbook.
Here's John and I with K-Doe seated on his throne. Not for nothing did he call himself Emperor of the Universe.
Back in 1991 visitors to Jazzfest could take an evening riverboat trip on the Creole Queen. Here's Ernie in action. Other riverboat stars that year included Irma Thomas, Barbara George, Jessie Hill and Wayne Bennett.
And here's a photo of me with the great man, on board the Creole Queen.
On a trip to the Big Easy in 2000 I bumped into Ernie and Antoinette K-Doe in the French Quarter. Ernie was on his way to a TV interview. Antoinette took the photo.
Here's me at the Mother in Law Lounge in 2008.
At that time the club was doing well and attracting big crowds. Not sure who the band were, but the joint was jumping.
Here's the mannequin of Ernie in the lounge in 2008.
The outside of the lounge was covered with garish murals which really made the place stand in the somewhat run-down part of Claiborne St in Treme. Here's an example.
My last visit to the Lounge was in April of this year, along with the Woodies on the Stompin' 2010 trip. Here's local Woodie Armand St. Martin with two of the musicians who played with K-Doe before he became a star with his mammoth Mother in Law hit. Armand will be performing at the Lounge's final night next Sunday, December 12.
And here's a group photo of the Woodies at the Lounge.