Saturday, July 30, 2011

Gene McDaniels and a last word on Amy

Gene McDaniels, a man with one of the classiest and smoothest soul voices of the sixties and seventies and a successful songwriter, has died aged 76. Gene made a long string of successful singles for Liberty in the early sixties, starting with A Hundred Pounds of Clay in 1961, and following up with A Tear, Tower of Strength, Chip Chip, Point Of No Return, Spanish Lace, It's A Lonely Town and the Northern soul favourite Walk With A Winner. Many of these suffered from inferior covers in the UK by the likes of Craig Douglas, Frankie Vaughan and Georgie Fame. Later he turned to the black consciousness movement and had some success with Compared To What. He recorded later albums for Atlantic under the name Eugene McDaniels and was a successful songwriter, including Feel Like Makin' Love for Roberta Flack. In recent years he apparently lived as a virtual hermit in Maine. In 1962 he appeared in the British pop film It's Trad Dad, in which he sang Another Tear Falls.

I was away when the news of Amy Winehouse's death came through, but I cannot let it pass without a mention. I was hardly alone in fearing for her life (see The Vinyl Word August 15, 2007, and June 27, 2008) but although sadly inevitable, it was still very sad when it came. She was a truly great talent. May she rest in peace. Here's Amy in happier times

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Photos from Porretta - 2

Here are some more photos from Porretta. This is me with Harvey Scales. And here is Harvey with Dave Thomas and Dave Carroll.

Here is Toni Green with me.

This one shows Harvey on walkabout in the audience with Julie Thomas.

Percy Wiggins, Toni Green and Spencer Wiggins.

Here's me with Sugar Pie DeSanto.

After the church service, here are the Wiggins brothers with (I think) Paul Martin Taylor of the Memphis All Star R and B Band.

Sunday's show ended with most of the artists on stage to sing Gotta Get A message To You.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Photos from Porretta - 1

Photos from the first two days of the Porretta Soul Festival. Here's Swamp Dogg. Sugar Pie DeSanto in typical pose.

Spencer and Percy Wiggins together.

Spencer Wiggins.

Harvey Scales.

Toni Green.

William Bell and Toni Green duetting on Private Number.

William Bell.

Percy Wiggins.

Chick Rodgers.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Porretta - Days 2 and 3

Day 2 of Porretta, and a vintage one at that, with four top soul and blues artists and no filling.
The evening began with Harvey Scales, who I hadn't seen before and who had a soul hit in the late 60s with Get Down backed with Love-It-Is. Dressed in a lime green suit Harvey proved he is a real showman and any limitations vocally were more than made up for by his dynamic stage act. Kicking off with Sweet Soul Music, which got the crowd going, he moved into more imaginative territory with Wilson Pickett's I'm In Love and his own material - Spend The Nite Forever, What's Good For You, Broadway Freeze and snatches of Get Down and Love-It-Is. He finished with Disco Lady, a song he wrote for Johnnie Taylor and which was the first ever platinum single by an African-American artist.
Next on was the great Spencer Wiggins, Goldwax recording great and the star of Porretta 2009, who oozed soul as he performed Lonely Man, That's How Much I Love You, Love Attack and a sensational version of Uptight Good Woman who umpteen dramatic false endings. His vocal range is amazing, with deep growling soul suddenly soaring into brilliant falsetto. He was joined on stage by brother Percy and together they did excellent versions of Sam and Dave's When Something Is Wrong With My Baby and Hold On I'm Coming. Great stuff.
The next act, Sugar Pie DeSanto is a regular fixture at Porretta these days and a favourite with the crowd with her gurning, buttock clenching and contortions. Now 75, she is great fun, with a mischievous sense of humour, and doesn't take herself at all seriously. She started with Soul Power (or was it Go Go Power?) and moved through Life Goes On, Having A Good Time, I Don't Care, Let's Keep It Nice and Easy, her first hit I Want To Know and Hello San Francisco. She finished off with her big Chess hit Soulful Dress and In The Basement, which she dedicated to Amy Winehouse, who died that day, and co-singer Etta James, now suffering from dementia.
To complete a superb evening we had the unique Swamp Dogg. He describes himself on his website as the great misfit of African American music and you can't really argue with that. His lyrics are often challenging and sometimes surreal and probably lost on the mostly Italian audience. Kicking off with I'm The Lover Man, he then moved on to Crawdad Hole , which brought back memories, he said of his early heroes Joe Turner (whose song it was originally), Amos Milburn and Guitar Slim, who he remembered as driving a red Cadillac and being dressed all in red. He followed up with some of his own material - Did I Come Back Too Soon (Or Did I Stay Away Too Long), Sam Stone, Mama's Baby - Daddy's Maybe, Synthetic World, the amazing Total Destruction To Your Mind, The More (which he wrote for Solomon Burke - with whom he had a love/hate relationship, he said), finishing with an extended version of Gotta Get a Message To You, which saw him tour the audience shaking hands with many of them. Called back for 'Uan mor taim' by MC Rick Hutton, he chose Since I Fell For You, with In My Resume as a second encore. This was a vintage day at Porretta - one of the best that I can remember.
Day 3: The third evening of Porretta traditionally features all the artists of the previous two nights doing two or three numbers each, and this was no exception. But the day began with a service at the local church with some stirring gospel from the Wiggins brothers and backing singer Shontelle Norman.The evening was again highly enjoyable but there was little new material from the eight artists (Harvey Scales, Chick Rodgers, Percy and Spencer Wiggins, Toni Green, William Bell, Sugar Pie DeSanto and Swamp Dogg). An exception was William Bell's Everybody Loves A Winner and Rehab, a tribute to Amy by Austin Delone's daughter Caroline. As ever, the evening ended with all the artists (except Sugar Pie) joining in Swamp Dogg's Gotta Get A Message To You.
Yet again, the festival was a huge success - fantastic music, a wonderful laid back atmosphere and good company. Photos will follow soon.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Porretta Soul Festival - day one

The Porretta Soul Festival - Italy's annual tribute to Memphis soul - got off to a slightly faltering, and distinctly chilly, start last night, despite some impressive performances from William Bell, Toni Green, Percy Wiggins and Chick Rodgers.
First on was Chick Rodgers, a diminutive lady with a big voice, who ran through the Aretha Franklin songbook, including Respect, Ain't No Way, Natural Woman and Spirit In The Dark, plus a couple of Stevie Wonder numbers - All I Do (Is Think About You) and Superstition. Backed by Italian band Soul Village she came across strongly, but compere Rick Hutton foolishly demanded an encore when the band had already dismantled their equipment. She came back later for another Aretha number, Dr Feelgood.
Next on stage was the Austin Delone band. They are a great set of musicians and Austin is a very good keyboard player, but a selection of Booker T covers (Hip Hug-her, Time Is Tight and Chinese Checkers), Philly Dog and a rousing version of Wham (excellent work by guitarist Gary Vogensen) didn't quite hit the heights of previous years. Things degenerated somewhat when he sang a ragged version of These Arms of Mine and brought his daughter Caroline on stage to warble Soul Serenade and an Adele song, and went rapidly downhill when an ageing Italian singer received some kind of award (packed in what appeared to be a pizza case) and then did lengthy versions of Try A Little Tenderness and Satisfaction among others.
Fortunately the show picked up when the real stars of the show started to appear. First on was Percy Wiggins, who showed that he still possesses a strong voice. Looking sombre in a brown jacket, his numbers included his own They Don't Know, O V Wright's You Gonna Make Me Cry, a Sam Cooke medley of I Love You For Sentimental Reasons and You Send Me, and Al Green's Sha La La. Then, just as he was getting going, his set was cut short - a real shame I thought.
The biggest star of the night was William Bell who looked remarkably young and very dapper as he ran through some of his many hits including Easy Comin' Out (Hard Goin' In), I Forgot To Be Your Lover, Any Other Way, Tribute To A King, Private Number (a great duet with Toni Green), You Don't Miss Yout Water and Trying to Love Two. This final number turned into a medley (Stand By Me, Sad Songs, Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa, Havin' A Party and Any Day Now) and went on too long, but overall this was a highly professional and enjoyable set.
Final act in a, by now, very chilly arena was the glamorous Toni Green, who looked gorgeous as ever. She was maybe just a little too histrionic, and I felt the band (the Memphis All Star Band), were not entirely sympathetic to her, but I enjoyed her set, which included Breaking Up Somebody's Home, At Last, Say a Little Prayer and a final It's A Man's World. At one point she came into the audience and sat on someone's lap - an attempt to get warm, she said later!
I'll be putting some photos on later and there are two more days to go of what could well be a vintage Porretta. Here's hoping it doesn't rain and the weather warms up.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Jerry Ragovoy RIP

Jerry Ragovoy, record producer and writer of some of the greatest soul songs of the sixties, has died aged 80. After working for Chancellor records in Philadelphia with the likes of Fabian and Frankie Avalon, and writing A Wonderful Dream - a hit for the Majors - he collaborated with Bert Berns on a string of East Coast soul classics. His hits included Cry Baby, I'll Take Good Care Of You, It's Been Such a Long Way Home and My Baby for Garnet Mimms, Ain't Nobody Home, Get It While You Can and Stop for Howard Tate, One Way Love for the Drifters, Piece of My Heart by Erma Franklin, Stay With Me by Lorraine Ellison, and Time Is On My Side for Irma Thomas. Many of these were covered by artists such as Janis Joplin and the Rolling Stones, creating even wider awareness of his work. He worked again with Howard Tate on the 2003 album Howard Tate Rediscovered. As a producer his work included albums by the Butterfield Blues Band, Bonnie Raitt and Dionne Warwick. Here are a couple of his best.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Kinkdom Come

Not being a great fan of 60s British pop, I was never a great lover of the Kinks. They started as a fairly average rock and roll and blues band. But I have to admit that they were one of the better groups to emerge at the time, with some early punk-style hits such as You Really Got Me, and later some distinctively British sounding records including Dedicated Follower of Fashion, Waterloo Sunset and Lola.
BBC 4's programme Kinkdom Come, featuring the recollections of Dave Davies, brought back quite a few memories for me. He was born a few months later than me in North London and his early upbringing sounded quite similar to my South London life, apart from the fact that his family was more musically attuned than mine. The Kinks managed to plough their own creative furrow at a time when the Beatles and the Stones dominated the charts, and for that they have to be congratulated. They never moved me, but then no British group of the time did. Give me genuine blues and soul any time.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Jackie Lynton at Scratchers

Old British rockers never retire it seems: they keep on rocking until they drop. One such is Jackie Lynton, who I went to see playing with his band at a pub in deepest Surrey last night with John Spencely. Jackie made a string of unsuccessful, and mostly middle of the road, singles in the early sixties which were released on Piccadilly, Decca and Columbia, including Over The Rainbow, All Of Me (his best - see link below), Chuck Berry's I'm Talking Bout You and Teddy Bear's Picnic, and also sang with the Savoy Brown band for 18 months in the early seventies. As a candidate for Keith Woods' annual tribute to the legendary 2Is coffee bar his credentials are hard to beat. He had a residency there in his earliest days and his first manager was the 2Is proprietor Toni Littlewood. He was also one of the first British acts to play in Hamburg and one of the Larry Parnes stable of singers.

Jackie's band today is very much a pub rock outfit with two good guitarists and his voice is strong and remarkably bluesy. I thought he was best on the rock and roll numbers such as Reelin' and Rockin', Nadine and Keep a Knockin', but his material, mixed with some very blue jokes in between numbers, ranged from blues to rock and an attempt at rockabilly. Now 71, it seems that Jackie is enjoying life as a rock and roller as much as ever - and long may it last.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Farewell to the Screws

As a former journalist I cannot but be saddened by the demise of the News of the World, affectionately known among hacks as The News of the Screws. Of course, no one can defend the phone hacking and bribery of the police, but the newspaper really has been part of the fabric of the UK throughout the decades. It was always there in my grandparents' house (my parents foolishly bought the crap Sunday Express instead) and as I grew up I would secretively check the paper to find out who had been screwing whom whenever I got the chance. Being intensely interested in Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies in the 60s (which teenage boy wasn't?) it was to the News of the World that I would inevitably turn. I often wondered if the journalists really did 'make an excuse and leave' just as they were getting to the exciting part of some prurient sex story.

Friends on the tabloids have told me in the past that phone hacking and other deceitful methods of obtaining juicy stories have been common for years. No one thought anything about it. All was fair in love, war and journalism. And any reporter raising concerns would quickly be out on his ear. The thought of an editor not knowing about this beggars belief.

Now though the lies, bribes and chickens have come home to roost. But instead of Rebekah Brooks and the like taking the flak it's the paper itself, and the journalists who work there. How convenient for Murdoch: he can close down the Screws and launch a Sun on Sunday in its place, thus getting rid of journos and saving costs in the process. A cunning plan, but maybe not quite as cunning as he thinks, as now everyone knows what many of us have always thought - that Murdoch and his cronies are crooked and not to be trusted in charge of a major broadcaster.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Sharon Jones + Charles Bradley

If James Brown was the hardest working man in show business, then Sharon Jones must be the hardest working woman. She shook, shimmied and boogalooed her way across the stage at the Barbican last night in a high energy show that was reminiscent of the sixties heyday of her inspiration, JB himself. Backed by the excellent Dap-Kings and vocal duo the Dap-ettes, Sharon never stopped moving and her retro soul/funk style was infectious. Her energy demands a stand up crowd, which is exactly what most of the audience did, although the venue is not suited to dancing (apart from half a dozen young ladies who were invited on stage at one point), which is what Sharon Jones is all about. I was very impressed when I first saw this 55 year old ball of fire in Lafayette, Louisiana, last year and she did not disappoint this time.
Kicking off with the smooth If You Call, Sharon launched into a string of high energy songs, many of them from her latest Daptone album (in vinyl as well as CD) I Learned The Hard Way, including Give It Back, the Prince song Take Me With U, When I Come Home, Longer and Stronger and I'll Still Be True. Midway through her act she moved into a frenetic series of sixties dances including the boogaloo, the jerk and the funky chicken, which must have exhausted the audience, never mind Sharon herself. She slowed things down with Mama Don't Like My Man, before tackling I'm Gonna Cry, Let Them Knock, the Northern soul styled Tell Me, I Learned The Hard Way and the excellent 100 Days, 100 Nights. After a short break she was persuaded by the enthusiastic crowd to return for an encore of It's A Man's World, and took us through some of JB's dance steps.
Opening the show for Sharon was fellow Daptone artist, the very soulful Charles Bradley, nicknamed the Screaming Eagle of Soul because of his swooping arm movements. Charles is no newcomer, having been through hard times for most of his 63 years, and his impassioned and heartfelt singing is a true throwback to the great sixties soul men. His set included deep soul songs that allowed him to show off his gritty voice to good effect, including Heartaches And Pain, No Time For Dreaming,Lovin' You Baby, This World Is Going Up In Flames, How Long, Golden Rule and the autobiographical Why Is It So Hard (To Make It In America.) I would love to see him in a sweaty club somewhere, rather than the staid surroundings of The Barbican, because his is an act that really gets into your soul.
Altogether excellent stuff all round and proof that true soul, like rock and roll, will never die.