Sunday, March 27, 2011

Rockers' Reunion

This week's The Reunion on Radi0 4 featured five of the original British rock and rollers who played at the 2 I's coffee bar in Old Compton Street, Soho, in the late fifties and early sixties. Vince Eager, Marty Wilde, Terry Dene, Bruce Welch and Clem Cattini told presenter Sue MacGregor about a time when British rock and roll was in its infancy. There were fond memories of Billy Fury and Eddie Cochran and the early TV shows such as Oh Boy, and Vince Eager recalled how he had resisted the sexual approaches of Mr Parnes Shillings and Pence - Larry Parnes, who gave many of the early rockers their stage names. Bruce recalled how the Teds had turned on him and the other Shadows because their girlfriends had fancied Cliff, and Terry spoke openly about the difficulties he faced when he was called up for National Service which led to a nervous breakdown and an early exit. An audio clip was played of Marty's mother talking about the success of her son Reg (Marty's real name), and Clem reminisced about how the Tornados' Telstar topped the charts in the US - something Cliff and the Shads never achieved.

Altogether a fascinating programme, with plenty of music clips from the era. The five originals chose Billy Fury's Maybe Tomorrow as their theme song for the show - a good choice I thought.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dennis the Menace at 60

Amidst all the bad news and deaths of famous people of late - the most recent being that of screen legend Liz Taylor today - I missed news the other day of the 60th birthday of someone who is not only still going strong, but who never grows old. I refer of course to Dennis the Menace, who first graced the pages of the Beano 60 years ago.

When I was a kid Thursday was a big day: it was the day that the Beano (a mere 2d in those days) slipped through the letter box. I would avidly follow the latest adventures of Dennis, Roger the Dodger, Minnie the Minx, Lord Snooty and his pals, Biffo the Bear, Little Plum and the rest. My favourite strip was The Bash Street Kids (known as When the Bell Rings when it first appeared) as the anarchic antics appealed to my rebellious spirit. Like the other characters, they were stuck eternally in a long lost era of teachers with mortar boards, angry fathers with slippers and decidedly non-PC attitudes. But it was Roger the Dodger was I really wanted to emulate, and I think I have succeeded more or less over the years.

The Dandy had Desperate Dan, Keyhole Kate and Korky the Cat, the Beezer had the Banana Bunch and the Topper had Beryl the Peril, but, good though they were, none of them could hold a candle to the Beano. It was a true work of art. Original 50s copies fetch a small fortune these days, and I always regret the day my mum threw my collection away. In an era when there was little of interest to kids on TV, comics were a central part of growing up, and the Beano held pride of place. There were others of course: Wizard, Rover, Hotspur, Radio Fun for example, all of which had a certain appeal, but for sheer juvenile amusement nothing could touch the Beano of the 1950s.

Later on I graduated to the Eagle, with Dan Dare and the Mekon, and Express Weekly, and they filled a gap for slightly older kids who today would be working feverishly on their Nintendos or Play Stations. They are long gone but the Beano continues, as does the Dandy, and long may they last. I would be interested in any comments on memories of the comics of old - especially your favourite characters.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pinetop Perkins gone

Pinetop Perkins, one of the last links with the early Delta blues era, has died aged 97 in Austin, Texas. I was lucky enough to meet him when I visited Hopsons Plantation near Clarksdale, Mississippi in 2005 with Ken Major and Alan Lloyd. My photo shows him with me and Ken Major (left). Here is his biography from

'He began playing blues in the late 1920s, and is widely regarded as one of the best – and certainly most enduring – blues pianists. He has forged a style that has influenced three generations of piano players, and continues to be the yardstick by which great blues pianists are measured.
Born Willie Perkins in Belzoni, Mississippi in 1913, Pinetop started out playing guitar and piano at house parties and honky-tonks, but dropped the guitar in the 1940s after sustaining a serious injury in his left arm. He worked primarily in the Mississippi Delta throughout the 1930s and ‘40s, spending three years with Sonny Boy Williamson on the King Biscuit Time radio show on KFFA in Helena, Arkansas. Pinetop also toured extensively with slide guitar player Robert Nighthawk and backed him on an early Chess session. After briefly working with B.B. King in Memphis, Perkins barnstormed the South with Earl Hooker during the early ‘50s. The pair completed a session for Sam Phillips’ famous Sun Records in 1953. It was at this session that he recorded his version of “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie,” a song originally written and recorded by pianist Clarence “Pinetop” Smith – the influential blues pianist who had died from a gunshot wound at age 24 in 1929. Although referred to as “Pinetop” when he played on King Biscuit in the 40s, it was his sensational version of this song that secured his lifelong nickname.
Although he has enjoyed success as a solo artist since the 1980s, Pinetop is known for holding down the piano chair in the great Muddy Waters Band for twelve years during the pinnacle of Muddy’s career. Replacing Otis Spann in 1969, Pinetop helped shape the Waters sound and anchored Muddy’s memorable combo throughout the seventies with his brilliant piano solos. In 1980, Pinetop and other members of Muddy’s crew struck out on their own and formed the Legendary Blues Band – a group that recorded two records for Rounder and toured extensively, culling several GRAMMY® nominations.
After being labeled a sideman for most of his career, Pinetop eventually left the Legendary Blues band to concentrate on solo work. Within two years, he had cut his first domestic record as a frontman and pursued an ambitious tour schedule. He was featured on several nationally syndicated news and music programs, and appeared in numerous movie productions and TV and radio ads. He has also headlined nearly every major showcase room in North America and most of the major festivals around the world.
The great irony of Pinetop’s career is that he didn’t blossom as a headliner until his eighth decade – a phenomenon that resulted in the release of 15 solo records in 15 years, beginning in 1992. Born In the Delta (1997) – a multimedia enhanced CD released on Telarc International, a division of Concord Music Group – documented the life and work of an amazing historical figure and offered an abundance of entertainment value for a contemporary audience. On his 1998 release, Legends, Pinetop collaborated with master blues guitarist Hubert Sumlin. Together, they blended the traditional Delta blues sound with modern electric blues rock, showcasing the spirit and energy of the music. Born in the Delta and Legends were both nominated for GRAMMY® Awards – in 1997 and 2000 respectively. This was followed by a 2005 GRAMMY® nomination for Ladies Man, released by MC Records. That same year, he was also presented with a lifetime achievement award at the GRAMMYs®. Aside from his well-deserved GRAMMY® recognition, Pinetop also received a National Heritage Fellowship in 2000 from the National Endowment of the Arts.
He has been featured in the documentary Piano Blues, directed by Clint Eastwood for the Martin Scorsese PBS series, The Blues. In addition, he continued to win the Blues Music Award for best blues piano every year until 2003, when he was retired from the running and the award was renamed the Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year. In 2007, still on the road in his 94th year, Pinetop Perkins’ unique life was chronicled in Peter Carlson’s biographical documentary DVD, Born In The Honey, which includes a live CD with a rare studio outtake track.Pinetop Perkins and Friends, released on Telarc in the summer of 2008, positioned Pinetop in the midst of several high-profile guests – all of whom have been influenced by his music in some way or another over the past several decades. Included on Pinetop’s list of Friends were such luminaries as Eric Clapton, B.B. King and Jimmy Vaughan. His latest recording is Joined at the Hip, a collaborative project with Willie “Big Eyes” Smith released in June 2010. The album features Smith on harp and the majority of vocals, leaving the drummer’s chair open for his son, Kenny Smith. Joined at the Hip includes a mix of material written by Smith along with a few chestnuts from the annals of Delta and Chicago blues.Most recently, Pinetop received a Grammy in 2010 for his work with Willie "Big Eyes" Smith for Best Traditional Blues CD for Joined at the Hip with Telarc Records. '
** Music deaths are coming thick and fast and I have just read that the much-sampled soul/disco singer Loleatta Holloway has died. She was 64.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Two more music deaths

Sorry to hear of the death of Jet Harris of cancer at the age of 71. His bass playing was an integral part of Cliff Richard's Drifters (and apparently he suggested the change of name to the Shadows) but alcohol and other personal problems led to a split and he left the group in 1962. He had a number of solo hits and a couple of huge hits with another former Shadow Tony Meehan, including a number one with Diamonds, and although he spent many years out of music due largely to his drink problem, he returned to the music scene appearing regularly with the Rapiers and on Shadows nostalgia shows.

Another death to report is that of country star Ferlin Husky at the age of 85. His hits included Wings of a Dove, Gone, and My Reason for Living.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Two more bluesmen gone

Dave has alerted me to the deaths of two venerable bluesmen - Eddie Kirkland and Big Jack Johnson.

Eddie Kirkland, aged 87, died in a car accident whilst driving to a gig on February 27. He made his name as a session musician backing John Lee Hooker and numerous soul and blues stars including Otis Redding, Ruth Brown and Little Richard. Noted for his on stage acrobatics, he was known as the 'Gypsy of the Blues' because he toured extensively and he recorded a dozen or so albums. Here is his obituary in the Daily Telegraph

Mississippi bluesman Big Jack Johnson was 70 and died on March 14 after a long illness. He made his name in the 1970s when he recorded with Sam Carr and Frank Frost and released an album under the name of the Jelly Roll Kings. Subsequently he recorded albums both with Frank Frost and under his own name and performed and wrote 'Jack's Blues' and performed 'Catfish Medley' with Samuel L Jackson on the Black Snake Moan film soundtrack. Here's an obituary:
Another death that has come to my attention is that of Joe Morello, drummer with the Dave Brubeck Quartet, whose precise drumming in 5/4 time helped make Take Five an enormous hit in the early 60s and contributed a great deal to Brubeck's other experiments in unusual time signatures.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Another record man passes

Bob Marcucci, the record producer and label owner who invented the teen idol, has died aged 81. Bob owned Chancellor Records of Philadelphia and discovered and promoted Frankie Avalon and Fabian, who between them did much to end the first flush of rock and roll. Bob said that Frankie Avalon's first record, Dede Dinah was "the worst song I ever heard in my life", according to John Broven in Record Makers and Breakers. And Fabian famously could not sing a note - setting the trend for numerous pop acts right up to the present day.

Despite the lack of talent, Bob, together with Pete DeAngelis, had enormous success for a couple of years, thanks largely to the songwriting talents of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, who wrote songs that even the talentless Fabian could turn into hits, including I'm a Man, Turn Me Loose and Hound Dog Man. Chancellor later had a hit with Claudine Clarks' Party Lights but the conjuring trick did not last.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Sir Cliff gets soulful

It may be rather late in the day - he is 70 after all - but it seems that Cliff Richard is to record an album with some of the greats of soul music, including Percy Sledge, Candi Station, Freda Payne, Billy Paul, the Stylistics' original lead singer Russell Thompkins Jnr, Dennis Edwards of The Temptations, Peabo Bryson and Chanté Moore. The album will include covers and new material, with about half the songs produced by Motown songwriter Lamont Dozier.
A mere 52 years after Move It, Sir Cliff is set to play Las Vegas in a belated attempt to take America by storm, or so the indefatigable David Gest - the man behind the venture - claims. Gest also hinted that there may be one or two rappers on the album. According to the Mirror, Cliff is moving into hip hop at an age when many people are considering a hip op.

Cliff has long complained about the lack of airplay he receives these days and that it has become hard for someone of his vintage to get through to the music buying public, so maybe this will change all that. Personally I doubt it. Cliff was pretty good as a rock and roller, very successful as a rather bland pop singer, and has displayed incredible staying power and youthfulness. But surely his chance of being a big name in the States has gone. Good luck to him nonetheless.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Johnny Preston RIP

Johnny Preston, one of the biggest hit makers of 1960 with smash hits such as Running Bear and Cradle of Love, has died aged 71. Born in Port Arthur, Texas, Johnny formed a local rock and roll band and was discovered by J P Richardson, the Big Bopper, who offered him a song he had written called Running Bear. Several months after the Big Bopper's death in the plane crash that also killed Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens, Johnny's record, released on Mercury, became a huge hit, reaching number one in the US and the UK. The follow up Cradle of Love was also smash hit, reaching number two in the UK. Further singles such as Feel So Fine, Leave My Kitten Alone, Big Chief Heartbreak and Free Me were all of a high quality but were less successful.
Johnny toured the UK on a package tour in 1960 with Conway Twitty and Freddy Cannon and I saw him again on the Legends of Rock and Roll show at Wembley Arena in 1997 when he appeared alongside Little Richard, Lloyd Price, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Eva, Duane Eddy, Chris Montez and Bobby Vee.
Johnny's life, along with those of many other Gulf Coast artists, is featured on a display at the Museum of the Gulf Coast in Port Arthur (see photo).
Here's Johnny's obituary in today's Guardian

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Ponderosa Stomp dates

Dates for this year's Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans have been confirmed at last, but there is no news yet on the line up. The Stomp will take place from September 15 to 17 but the acts will not be performing at the House of Blues this year, but at the Howlin' Wolf club on South Peters Street, suggesting a smaller line up than in past years. It seems that there will be a conference on Friday the 15th with shows on Saturday September 16 and Sunday, September 17 at Howlin' Wolf, but full details are still awaited.

Still in New Orleans, I caught the first episode of Treme the other night on Sky Atlantic. It seems very authentic N'Awlins - so much so that sub titles are recommended for catching what the actors are saying. Episode one featured Kermit Ruffins and a guest role by Elvis Costello and a glimpse of WWOZ, the local community music station. I will try and catch other episodes over the next few weeks.

A final word for Hollywood sex symbol Jane Russell who has died aged 89. Famed almost as much for not wearing the special bra constructed for her by Howard Hughes as for her movies, Jane appeared memorably in The Outlaw and alongside Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, among many others.