Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Davy Jones RIP

The Vinyl Word raises a glass to the British Monkee, Davy Jones, who has died aged 66. In the sixties the madcap adventures of the group was a must-watch show on TV. It was silly and the group was artificial, having been hand-picked for their cheeky personalities, but they made some half decent records, including I'm A Believer, Alternate Title, Pleasant Valley Sunday, Daydream Believer and Last Train to Clarksville. Manchester-born Davy appeared as Ena Sharples' grandson in Coronation Street before becoming a jockey and then moving into acting, playing the Artful Dodger in Oliver. Both before and after his massive success in the Monkees he recorded under his own name (rather uninspiringly it has to be said) for Colpix and Pye. But the Monkees were, above all, fun, and it is for his contribution to their success that he will be remembered.
A belated final word, also, for two of the comics who appeared in The Comedians in the 1970s - Ken Goodwin and Frank Carson. Both of them had catchphrases that became ubiquitous - in Ken's case 'Settle Down' (said in a George Formby accent), and in Frank's case 'It's A Cracker' and 'It's the way I tell 'em'.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Another blues man gone

Blues man Louisiana Red (Iverson Minter) has died in Germany at the age of 79. Red's mother died when he was very young and his father was lynched by the Ku Klux Klan when he was a child. He first recorded for Checker in 1949, played with John Lee Hooker in the 1950s, and recorded as Rocky Fuller. He released the album Lowdown Back Porch Blues in 1963, followed by Seventh Son. He recorded throughout the 60s and 70s for Chess, Checker and various other labels and enjoyed recognition in 1983 when he won the W C Handy Award for Best Traditional Blues Artist. He continued to record and enjoy success into the 21st century with albums including You Got To Move in 2009 and Memphis Mojo last year. He moved to Hanover in 1981.
Also dead is songwriter, guitarist and arrange Billy Strange, aged 81. As a performer he recorded a string of instrumental records with GNP Crescendo (released on Vocalion in the UK) during the 1960s, many of them versions of James Bond and western movie themes. He also played guitar on records by the Beach Boys, Nancy Sinatra, The Everly Brothers and Wanda Jackson, among others. As a songwriter his credits included A Little Less Conversation for Elvis and Limbo Rock for Chubby Checker. He arranged and conducted records for Nancy Sinatra (including These Boots Are Made for Walking), Frank Sinatra, Duane Eddy and Elvis.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Great guitarists

Over dinner at the monthly Woodies meet-up last night the conversation turned to guitarists. Just who were the greatest guitarists of the rock and roll era? Opinions will vary, but I've come up with a list of the 50 guitarists who had the most influence during the period up to around 1970. This conveniently allows me to omit most, but not all, of the axemen who dominated in the era of prog rock and heavy metal. Additions and arguments for and against those on the list are very welcome. First, my top ten, then the others in no particular order.
1. Robert Johnson; 2. Chuck Berry; 3. Bo Diddley; 4. T Bone Walker; 5. Albert King; 6. Steve Cropper; 7. Scotty Moore; 8. James Burton; 9. Link Wray; 10. Ike Turner; 11. Sister Rosetta Tharpe; 12. Eddie Cochran; 13. Robbie Robertson; 14. Lightnin' Hopkins; 15. Mickey Baker; 16. Les Paul; 17. Buddy Guy; 18. Duane Eddy; 19. B B King; 20. Chet Atkins; 21. Elmore James; 22. Ernest Ranglin; 23. Albert Lee; 24. Lonnie Johnson; 25. Lonnie Mack; 26. Jimi Hendrix; 27. Hank Marvin; 28. Joe Moretti; 29. Duane Allman; 30. Eric Clapton; 31. Ry Cooder; 32. Jimmy Page; 33. Keith Richards; 34. Jerry Garcia; 35. Jeff Beck; 36. Carlos Santana; 37. Richard Thompson; 38. George Harrison; 39. Mike Bloomfield; 40. Freddy King; 41. Dick Dale; 42. Peter Green; 43. John Fogerty; 44. John McLaughlin; 45. Pete Townsend; 46. Hubert Sumlin; 47. Johnny Winter; 48. Cliff Gallup; 49. Neil Young; 50. Bert Jansch (or Weedon, according to taste).

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Joe Moretti

After Billy Fury, probably the most authentic early British rock and roller was Johnny Kidd, who was killed in a car crash near Bury in 1966. His biggest hit with the Pirates was, of course, Shakin' All Over, which featured the most exciting guitar riff to come out of a British beat group of the era. Joe Moretti, the man who produced that riff, has died aged 73. Nick Sands said on his Facebook page that it was Pirates guitarist Alan Caddy who was responsible, but I've always understood that it was Joe: apparently Caddy didn't have the confidence to attempt it. Whoever it was (and I certainly don't claim to be an expert on home grown rock and roll), Shakin' All Over was a great record, as was the follow up Restless, which also featured Joe Moretti's guitar work. Joe had close connections with the 2Is, having played with the likes of Vince Eager and Colin Hicks, as well as playing scintillating guitar on Vince Taylor's Brand New Cadillac, joining Johnny Duncan's Bluegrass Boys and, later, Nero and the Gladiators and backing Gene Vincent (apparently his band never knew which song was coming up as Gene started every one with 'Well-ll-ll-ll'). As a session musician he also played on Tom Jones' It's Not Unusual and Chris Farlowe's Out of Time. Here's Joe obituary in The Indy. and the record itself
* Talking of Out of Time, I see that Phil Spector has lost his appeal against his 19 year prison sentence for second degree murder. I guess his future is behind the wall of a jail, rather than a wall of sound.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

White House of Blues

As the US presidential election approaches I can only hope that none of the weirdo right wing bigots standing for the Republicans get anywhere near the White House. It just has to be Barack Obama for the sake of America and the world, and Obama didn't do himself any harm in my eyes with his blues event at the White House which was reported on TV news.
B B King kicked the event off with Let The Good Times Roll and Mick Jagger rocked his way through I Can't Turn You Loose before Buddy Guy reminded Obama that he had recently sung a line or two of Al Green's Let's Stay Together and he was persuaded to sing a few bars from his home town blues song, Sweet Home Chicago. Also taking part was Jeff Beck,Keb Mo, Trombone Shorty, Shemekia Copeland and Susan Tedeschi, with Booker T Jones acting as musical director.
Obama stands head and shoulders above any of the would-be candidates from the Republicans. Looking at the Republican race from across the Atlantic it's hard to understand how Americans could possibly choose any of the dangerous and downright barmy people who are standing, many of whom seem intent of turning the US into a sort of ultra far right Christian version of of Saudi Arabia.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Vinyl Obscurities 10 - Ska Classics

Growing up in South London in the sixties I was exposed to Jamaican music and came to love ska, rock steady and early reggae. As a teenager I would often go to Brixton and sometimes landed up in West Indian blues clubs and shebeens where the girls were sexy and the music was loud. I didn't buy many ska records new at the time, and by the time second hand ones turned up they were often knackered and with the title and artist scratched off so that rival would-be DJs wouldn't know what they were listening to. Today many of these 45s are highly sought after and I am always on the lookout for them.
At the time we called the music Blue Beat, as this was the best known label of the genre. But there were many other great labels of the period, many of which appeared and then disappeared within a few months. These included Doctor Bird, Ska Beat, Rio, Black Swan, Amalgamated, Carnival, Coxsone, Island (later to go global of course), Technique, Treasure Isle, and, slightly later, Trojan and Upsetter. Here are a few singles in my collection which bring back fond memories of that era.
1. Ethiopians - The Whip/ Cool it Amigo. Released in 1967 on Doctor Bird DB 1096. Mint value £45.
The Ethiopians (sometimes spelt with a middle E as on this record) Produced some great ska and rock steady sounds including Train To Skaville, Dun Dead A'Ready, Hong Kong Flu and this classic The Whip. Their labels included Ska Beat, Rio, Doctor Bird, Crab and JJ. Desmond Baker & the Clarendonions - Rude Boy - Gone Jail/ Sharks - Don't Fool Me. Released in 1966 on Island WI 295. Mint value £25.
There were quite a few 'rude boy' records in the sixties - songs about sharply dressed Jamaicans who often landed up on the wrong side of the law. The term spread to the 2 Tone ska revival of the late seventies and the Specials revived this song. This Coxsone produced record was the only UK single by Desmond Baker but is a classic of the genre.
3. Justin Hines & Dominoes - Rub Up Push Up/ The Ark. Released in 1965 on Island WI 194. Mint value £25
Another Duke Reid ska classic by Justin Hines (or Hinds) who had singles released on a number of labels including Ska Beat and Treasure Isle. It was featured on Club Ska 67, one of the classic LPs of the era. Justin died in 2005.
4. Heptones - Gunmen Coming To Town/ Tommy McCook & the Supersonics - Riverton City. Released in 1966 on Rio R 104. Mint value - £70.
This Coxsone Dodd single begins with a clip from William Tell and was the first Heptones 45 released in the UK. The trio went on to produce some of the best rock steady and early reggae records of the time and also recorded instrumentally as the Soul Vendors.
5. Prince Buster - Ten Commandments of Man/ Sting Like A Bee. Released in 1965 on Blue Beat BB 334 (reissue of 1963 record). Mint value £15.
Prince Buster produced and released a huge number of records during the 60s and became the best known Jamaican artist of the time. This rather non PC record was one of his biggest hits and other big selling Prince Buster classics included Madness and Al Capone. I saw Prince Buster play the Electric Ballroom in Camden Town in 1999 and the place was packed.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ponderosa Stomp cancelled

The Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans has been a fantastic event over the last ten years and has featured dozens of obscure and half-forgotten names from the world of rock and roll, soul, blues, swamp pop and garage. Last year's show may not quite have reached the heights of previous years (largely because so many great artists have died over the last few years) but it was nevertheless the highlight of the year for everyone who attended. So it's a great disappointment to hear that the Stomp will not take place this year.
To quote the official announcement: 'The Ponderosa Stomp Foundation has decided to dedicate our focus in 2012 to our educational and preservationist programs and activities. In the coming year, we will concentrate on building an online archive of the important videos and audio recordings we have collected, along with other projects that further our goals in these fields. We are very proud of the huge number of incredible musicians we've been able to showcase as well as building our film festival, music conference and record show. To prioritize the development these new programs, we will be moving the next Ponderosa Stomp Festival to fall of 2013. The extra year in between festivals will allow us the time and resources to focus on the Foundation's other activities.'
In other words Dr Ike - the man behind the Stomp - needs some time off. The cancellation of this year's show is a real blow. Who knows whether I, or others, will make it to the Stomp in 2013. We can only hope that the Stomp will return, and that we can make it back to New Orleans.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Vinyl Obscurities 9 - Charity shop finds

As regular readers will know, I make regular visits to car boot sales and charity shops on the look out for rare vinyl. Today was one of my better days, with three interesting, and fairly collectable LPs, turning up in three different charity shops in Andover. Here they are:
1. Johnny Otis - The Johnny Otis Show. Released in 1958 on Capitol T940. Mint value - 100 Pounds.
This is a fitting tribute to the great Johnny Otis, who died a couple of weeks ago. The cover is a bit tatty but the record is very good. This was Johnny's only UK LP release in his heyday and features Ma (He's Making Eyes At Me) and its B side Romance In The Dark, along with some other Otis greats including Shake It Lucy Baby, A Story Untold, Good Golly and Hum Ding A Ling. It's classic doowop and rock and roll from beginning to end and a great example of the Johnny Otis sound, with vocals by Marie Adams, Mel Williams and Jeannie Sterling, as well as Johnny himself.
2. Gary Lewis & the Playboys - Just Our Style. Released in 1966 on Liberty LBY 1322. Mint value - 30 pounds.
Gary Lewis - son of comedian Jerry Lewis - had quite a bit of success in the US with his rather middle of the road pop sounds in the mid 60s. This features several of their hits, including Green Grass, She's Just My Style, Count Me In and Save Your Heart for Me, plus covers of Everly Brothers songs and others by Bobby Goldsboro, Bobby Lewis and Bobby Vee. It's a decent album which demonstrates that Gary and his band didn't just trade on daddy's name.
3 Red Red Wine, Volume 2. Compilation LP released in 1970 on Downtown TBL-116.
Trojan and its Downtown affiliate (productions by Dandy Livingstone) issued quite a few compilations of reggae songs in the late 60s and early 70s. This one features melodic, if undemanding, reggae interpretations by Dandy, Audrey, Desmond Riley, Gene Rondo, Tony Tribe, Lyndon Johns, Blossom Johnson, Music Doctors and the Israelites.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Whitney Houston RIP

The world's media will no doubt cover her death in depth, so I won't attempt a full obituary, but The Vinyl Word raises a glass to Whitney Houston, who has died aged just 48. Whitney came from soul music royalty: her mother is Cissy Houston, cousins include Dionne Warwick and Dee Dee Warwick and her godmother is Aretha Franklin. She became the most-awarded female artist of all time and sold over 170 million records. Like other members of her family she began singing gospel before joining her mother on stage in clubs around New York.
Signed by Arista records she went on to have seven consecutive US number ones (Saving All My Love for You, How Will I Know, Greatest Love of All, I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me), Didn't We Almost Have It All, So Emotional and Where Do Broken Hearts Go) and successful studio and movie soundtrack albums. She made her acting debut in The Bodyguard and it seemed that nothing could go wrong for her with its lead single I Will Always Love You becoming the best selling single by a female artist in music history. The album makes her the only female act in the top 10 list of best selling albums of all time. Whitney continued to star in movies and contribute to their soundtracks, including Waiting To Exhale and The Preacher's Wife.
But during the nineties stories of drug use by Whitney and her husband Bobby Brown emerged and she became progressively less reliable. Her career suffered, but despite that, she continued to have music success. Her death is as yet unexplained, but no doubt the true story will soon come out. RIP Whitney.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Vinyl Obscurities 8 - Lewis Lymon

I came across an obscure doowop 45 yesterday - not in great condition unfortunately - but worth a mention in my Vinyl Obscurities series. Details are as follows:
Lewis Lymon & the Teenchords: Your Last Chance/ Too Young. Released in 1957 on Oriole 45-1419. Mint value - £500.
Lewis Lymon (or Louis as he was often referred to) was, of course, the younger brother of Frankie Lymon and was only 12 when he began his recording career. Together with the Teenchords (note the similarity in name to Frankie Lymon's group the Teenagers) he recorded a handful of Frankie Lymon soundalike singles in the late 50s, initially with Bobby Robinson's Fury label and shortly afterwards with George Goldner's End label in New York. Lewis impressed Bobby Robinson when he and the Teenchords auditioned at his Harlem record shop and released a couple of singles on Fury - I'm So Happy and Honey Honey. Another track recorded there was Your Last Chance, which went on to become the group's first release on End. It also featured in the rock and roll movie Jamboree (known as Disc Jockey Jamboree in the UK) and there's a great clip available on YouTube (looking remarkably like the model for the Jackson Five).
Lewis and his group played at the Apollo and made a further single for End (I Found Out Why) and a final one for another Goldner label Juanita (Dance Girl) but success eluded them and the group disbanded in 1958. After a spell in the army Lewis returned to obscurity, but at least didn't follow the drug fuelled demise of his brother and reappeared in oldies shows in the early 70s.
This 1957 release on the independent Oriole label in the UK - their only UK single release - does not credit the US recording label, or the songwriters, so it's not clear whether this originated from Fury or End, or exactly how it came to be picked up by Oriole, but it's a classic piece of doowop, very much in the style of older brother Frankie.
The B side is a doowop version of Too Young, a song made famous by Nat King Cole in 1951 and later recorded by artists as diverse as Sam Cooke, Michael Jackson and British DJ turned singer Jimmy Young.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

More final words

I've had no computer for a few days, hence no blog entries. But as ever there have been some music deaths to report.

David Peaston, who was the brother of Fontella Bass, has died aged just 54, a victim of diabetes. I remember seeing both Fontella and David at the Barbican in 1998 in a show featuring mostly gospel, but he also had a couple of soul hits in the late eighties and early nineties, namely Two Wrongs (Don't Make a Right) and Can I.

Another death is that of King Stitt, an early ska DJ and rap reggae performer who made his biggest mark with Clancy Eccles and the Dynamites on the Clandisc label with deejay tracks including Herbsman Shuffle and Fire Corner. He was known as The Ugly One because of a facial malformation.

Also dead is Don Cornelius, who was a big name in the US as presenter of the Soul Train TV show for many years.