Saturday, March 31, 2012

Dirty Robbers in Guildford

Many thanks to Dave Williams for inviting me along to his birthday gig at the Boiler Room in Guildford. It was an excellent evening and the band, the Dirty Robbers, were exceptional. Featuring guitarist and vocalist Oliver Darling, formerly with Mike Sanchez, and boogie woogie piano player Matt Empson, who played the role of Jerry Lee Lewis in the West End production of the Million Dollar Quartet, theirs was a varied set ranging from rock and roll (Slow Down, Nothin' Shaking, Sweet Little Sixteen, Ruby Baby and a great Runaround Sue) to blues (Love Me With A Feeling, The Walk, Shame Shame Shame) with some T Bone Walker guitar work and Jerry Lee styled piano thrown in for good measure. Despite their name, these are four clean cut guys who wear matching striped robber T shirts and white Chelsea boots. They really rocked and I look forward to catching them again. They have a track out called Going Fucking Nowhere, but I don't think this applies in their case. I think they could be around for a while.
Thanks again to 'Da Chairman' Dave for an excellent gig. I know John Spencely, who was with me, picked up a few ideas.
* A final word for blues harmonica player Jerry McCain, who has died aged 81. Jerry recorded for Excello in the 1950s and later with Okeh and Jewel. More recently he had success with Ichiban.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Earl Scruggs RIP

There have been mercifully few notable music deaths over the last few weeks, but one which is definitely worth a mention is that of Bluegrass banjo player Earl Scruggs at the age of 88. Scruggs joined Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys in 1945 but is best known for his partnership with guitarist Lester Flatt (see photo). His brilliant three finger picking style was featured to good effect in the Ballad of Jed Clampett, the theme to the Beverly Hillbillies TV show, and reached its widest audience with Foggy Mountain Breakdown (first recorded in 1949), which was played throughout one of my favourite films, Bonnie and Clyde. After breaking with Flatt in the late sixties, Scruggs formed a family band and recorded an album with Bob Dylan, the Byrds and Joan Baez in 1972.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

At last the 1952 Show

Daytime TV is usually fairly bland and in some respects the current series on BBC about life in Britain in the 1950s – the 1952 Show – is no different. Presenter Len Goodman of Strictly fame is rather annoying, with his constant arm movements and patronising script, but there are some interesting guests and some fascinating film of the era.
Yesterday the programme featured 50s pop star Marty Wilde and rocker Chris Fender Black, who showed off his Teddy boy suit and crepe soled brothel creepers. There was a fairly superficial discussion about these 50s fashions and rock and roll – but it didn’t go beyond the usual topics of Bill Haley and Elvis. Presumably the Beeb didn’t feel that anyone out there in TV land would recognise the names of anyone less well known. Nevertheless there was some good footage of jivers and early TV shows such as Oh Boy.
Today’s show featured the calypso and steel band music brought to the UK by West Indian immigrants and included interviews with a couple of musicians – Russ Henderson and Frank Holder. Frank played with the Johnny Dankworth septet and reminded viewers of the colour prejudice which was widespread in the fifties. Teddy boys were among the worst offenders, it should be remembered.
Like most Woodies, I was a child of the fifties – I was six in 1952. Rock and roll was still three or four years in the future and the first NME chart in that year was dominated by crooners and ballad singers. Rationing was still in place for some foods – it didn’t end until 1954 – and it was still the era of smog, gas meters, the wireless, trolleybuses, pig bins and warm school milk. It was a happy carefree time to be at primary school. I had a one mile walk to and from school which I did on my own from age seven, and there were no restrictions when it came to playing football or cricket in the woods on the way home. No one worried about paedophiles in those days.
You can catch up with the 1952 Show on BBC IPlayer and I would recommend it, if only for the original black and white footage.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Vinyl Obscurities 12 - Rivingtons v Trashmen

Sixties surf rock band The Trashmen are appearing in London next month on the back of the campaign in late 2010 to get their 1963 nonsense song Surfin' Bird to the Christmas number one download spot ahead of that year's X Factor effort. In the event it went to number 3 - a remarkable success for a record which went largely unnoticed in the UK when it first came out, despite its manic, aggressive early punk sound. At the time, The Trashmen were riding on the backs of another group, a doowop outfit called the Rivingtons, who had US hits with Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow and The Bird's The Word - both of which were shamelessly copied (or more accurately trashed) by The Trashmen (without writing credits at the time) in both Surfin' Bird and their follow up Bird Dance Beat. All of the original UK singles are now quite collectable so here are three of them that I have in my collection, which don't quite fall into the category of vinyl obscurities, but certainly count as classics of their kind.
1. The Rivingtons - Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow/ Deep Water. Released in 1962 on Liberty LIB 55427. Mint value - £50.
The Rivingtons were previously known as The Sharps and backed Thurston Harris on Little Bitty Pretty One in 1957. They also provided the 'rebel yells' on several Duane Eddy records including Rebel Rouser. Their follow up Mama-Oom-Mow-Mow flopped and was unissued in the UK at the time, but they came back strongly with the very similar The Bird's The Word in 1963.
2. The Trashmen - Surfin' Bird/ King Of The Surf. Released in 1963 on Stateside SS 255. Mint value - £35.
Despite the obvious steal from both Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow and The Bird's The Word, this original 45 by Minneapolis band The Trashmen is attributed to drummer and vocalist Steve Wahrer (now sadly deceased). Legal action was threatened by the Rivingtons, who were later credited with the song. The record reached number 4 in the US and was resurrected in 2008 when it was featured in Family Guy, before becoming the focus of the UK Christmas campaign in 2010.
3. The Trashmen - Bird Dance Beat/ A-Bone. Released in 1963 on Stateside SS 276. Mint value - £35.
The anarchic style of Surfin' Bird was followed up in almost identical style by Bird Dance Beat, with the phrase Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow repeated endlessly. This time the song was credited to record label owner George Garrett.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Porretta line up looking good

This year's Porretta Soul festival is getting closer and I am beginning to think that I will be there, all things being equal, as the line up looks pretty good. Headliners are Otis Clay, Syl Johnson, David Hudson, The Bo-Keys, The Bar-Kays, John Gary Williams (from the Mad Lads), The Memphis All Star R&B Band, special guest Tasha Taylor (daughter of Johnnie Taylor), Larry Springfield and The Excitements featuring Koko Jean Davis.
I saw, and very much enjoyed, Otis Clay and the Bo-Keys at the Ponderosa Stomp last year (see photo) and I've seen David Hudson, the Bar-Kays and Syl Johnson quite a few times over the years, so it should be a good show - rather more Hi-orientated than usual. John Gary Williams sounds good and the others might be entertaining as well, depending on what numbers they do. There's always a tendency for acts at Porretta to do covers of Otis Redding material, so I hope there will be a fair amount of original material this time. But it's always a fun, laid-back festival and very enjoyable.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Car booty

I went to my local car boot sale this morning as usual and made a few vinyl finds. Nothing very amazing but quite interesting none the less. Here are the best bits of today's car booty:
1. Gene Chandler - Rainbow/ You Threw A Lucky Punch. Released in 1963 on Stateside SS 185. Mint value - £40.
This is a great double sider by one of the true soul greats. Side one is a Curtis Mayfield song and the B side is a slightly altered version of Smokey Robinson's You Beat Me To The Punch, first recorded by Mary Wells. Wonderful record.
2. Johnny Otis Show - The Light Still Shines In My Window/ All I Want Is Your Love. Released in 1958 on Capitol CL 14837. Mint Value - £25.
Another excellent double sider featuring the voice of Marie Adams. This is the relatively hard to find follow up to Ma (He's Making Eyes At Me) and the B side features the same screaming live audience as Otis's big hit of the previous year.
3. Stu James and The Mojos - Wait A Minute/ Wonder If She Knows. Released in 1965 on Decca F 12231. Mint value - £12.
After the Mojos' success with their big hit Everything's Alright, the line up of the band changed considerably. This was the only single by the band credited to leader Stu James, and by this time the band featured drummer Aynsley Dunbar and, more surprisingly, bassist Lewis Collins, better known as Bodie of The Professionals.
4. Motown Memories Volume 3. Released in 1970 0n Tamla Motown STML 11143. Mint value - £60.
This is the most interesting of the many Motown compilations issued in the early days, featuring mostly previously unreleased (in the UK) tracks from the early 60s by the likes of Mable John, Sammy Ward (check out the Youtube clip), The Vows, Gino Parks, Amos Milburn and The Darnells. The sleeve notes were by Mike Raven and the front cover photo is by noted Welsh photographer Angus McBean, who took the photo for the first Beatles LP. It's been suggested that the figure in flowing female robes on the cover is none other than Smokey Robinson. Does anyone know if this is true?
Finally here are some programmes from pop shows in the early 60s. I went to quite a few of these at the time but stupidly failed to keep the programmes, so these are quite collectable today. From left to right these are:
1. Top Twenty Hit Parade, featuring Bill Forbes, Roy Young, the Mudlarks, The Avons and Craig Douglas, with Alan Freeman as compere;
2. Jimmy Jones, star of Handy Man and Good Timin', also featuring Kenny Lynch, the Brooks Brothers, Michael Cox, Dean Rogers, the Trebletones, Mark Wynter and Janet Richmond;
2. Jack Good's 2nd Rock 'n Trad Spectacular, featuring Billy Fury, Georgie Fame, Johnny Gentle, the Four Kestrels, Duffy Power, Nelson Keene, Joe Brown, Tommy Bruce and Mark Wynter, and presented by Larry Parnes.
Those were the days!

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Mixed fortunes for faded 60s stars

A couple of big music names from the 60s have been in the news. P J Proby - best known for splitting his trousers while warbling Somewhere (or was it Hold Me?) - has been charged with benefit fraud. Meanwhile, fellow ballad singer Engelbert Humperdinck has been selected as Britain's choice for the Eurovision Song Contest.
Proby's plight - sad though it is - is perhaps unsurprising given the way he went through his cash when he was making it big. But the choice of Humperdinck is amazing, not to say laughable. Presumably, having failed to make an impact in the contest with dreadful pop acts over many years, the BBC is hoping that this 75 year old will get the sympathy vote. But my prediction is his performance will mark yet another year of UK underperformance in Eurovision. Either way, both Proby and Humperdinck represented what was worst about the UK pop scene in the 60s, standing shoulder to shoulder with Des O'Connor, Ken Dodd and Kathy Kirby.
Meanwhile, over in New Orleans, a new book by Ben Sandmel is to be published next month entitled Ernie K-Doe: The R & B Emperor of New Orleans. Ernie's 1961 hit Mother In Law marked the zenith of N'Awlins R and B and was apparently the only record from the Big Easy to top both the US pop and R and B charts, despite all the success of Fats Domino, Lee Dorsey, Ernie's collaborator and writer Allen Toussaint and the other greats of the era. Ernie was larger than life and I was lucky enough to see him many times at Jazzfest, on the Creole Queen riverboat and at his late, lamented Mother In Law Lounge and to chat to him on occasions. His catchphrase was 'I'm cocky - but I'm good'. And he sure was. He was the main reason I went to New Orleans in the first place: I just had to see this guy with the amazing voice and over the top personality, and - drunk or sober - he didn't disappoint. Here's the link to the book

Monday, March 05, 2012

Vinyl Obscurities 11 - The Twisters

The Twisters - Turn The Page/ Dancing Little Clown. Released in 1960 on Capitol 15167. Mint value £8.
I found this obscure doowop 45 in a charity shop today and was surprised to discover that it's worth a mere £8. Maybe that's because it presumably got little airplay at the time and the group's background is little known. It was the only release by The Twisters - cashing in on the dance craze of the time - but far from the only piece of doowop magic featuring its song writers Carl Spencer, Arthur Crier and Harold Johnson. Members of the group turned up in a wide range of doowop groups in the late 50s/early 60s, beginning with the Gay Tones, a New York street corner group which included baritone Arthur Crier, which changed its name to the Chimes and released A Fool Was I on the Royal Roost label in 1953, and also released Rosemarie under the name of the 5 Chimes (even though there were only four of them) on Betta. Arthur moved on to The Hummers and joined Harold Johnson among others and recorded Gee What A Girl, which was recorded for Old Town but never released. The next group to involve Arthur was The Mellows, which cut some sides for Celeste and also backed up future Twister Carl Spencer. In 1960 Arthur and Carl did a version of Alley Oop for Edsel, calling themselves the Pre-Historics, and it must have been soon after that the sole Twisters 45 was released, with Buddy McRae joining Arthur, Harold and Carl. Arthur's biggest success came with The Halos, comprising JR Bailey, Harold Johnson, Al Cleveland and Arthur Crier, which hit it big with Nag. The Halos were a prolific backing group, working with Curtis Lee, Barry Mann and Ben E King among others, and also had a record released under the name The Craftys, after producer Morty Craft. Arthur continued to have a varied career and died in 2004. I am indebted to Marv Goldberg's R & B Notebooks for the above information and for a much fuller resume of Arthur Crier's career check out
As for the Twisters record itself, the A side is a comic slowie about Little Orphan Annie, who refuses to grow up and is urged to 'turn the page', and features Tarzan yells and Superman references, as well as an excellent sax break. Dancing Little Clown is an Olympics style dancer - not really a twist song but good fun. All in all an excellent double sider.