Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Celebrating the Olympics

As the UK and the world is gripped by the Olympics taking place in London, The Vinyl Word takes a look at the other Olympics - the doowop group which made it big in 1958 with Western Movies and made a successful transition into a 60s soul group much loved on the Northern Soul scene. The original Olympics comprised Walter Ward, Eddie Lewis, Charles Fizer and Walter Hammond, with Melvin King joining to replace Charles Fizer and staying when Walter Hammond, brother of Clay Hammond, left in 1959. Charles Fizer was shot and killed in the Watts riots in 1965.
Dismissed at first as a novelty group, with humorous takes on American TV shows and teen dance crazes, it's hard to find an Olympics record which doesn't sound great even today - and that includes most of their B sides. They recorded initially for Demon, then had a string of hits on Arvee, before moving to more success on Tri Star, Loma and eventually Mirwood. In the UK their records were issued on a wide variety of labels, as the following photos show. Check out the Youtube clips as well.
1. Dance With The Teacher/ Everybody Needs Love. HMV POP 584. Mint value £20.
Recorded for Demon, this was the follow up to Western Movies and is a a great dance number written, as many of their hits were, by Fred Smith and Cliff Goldsmith. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y8-Qfb_1_B4
2. Private Eye/ (Baby) Hully Gully. Columbia DB 4346. Mint value £25.
This was their first record on Arvee and is similar to Western Movies, with gunshots kicking it off, but this time it's a homage to private eye shows of the time. The B side is a great slow dance number dedicated to the hully gully dance craze. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mhH3wOZiUno http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSNoXEpF8y4

3. Dance By The Light Of The Moon/ Dodge City. Arvee 5020. (Released on Vogue in the UK)
This is another great dance number which for some reason was issued in the UK with the title Dance With A Dolly. Either way it's a cracking tune. The B side is another hully gully number. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgTbRAPazAc
4. I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate/ Workin' Hard. Vogue Pop 9174. Mint value £20.
This song goes back to the early days of jazz but this frenetic up tempo number is a far cry from the original. Great record though, and a minor hit in the UK reaching number 45 in 1960. The B side is a Coasters style number a la Charlie Brown. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e89KQC3RnbE 

5. The Stomp/ Mash Them Taters. Vocalion 9198. Mint value £20.
Featured in my recent item on the Vocalion label, this was also issued on Vogue before it morphed into Vocalion.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Br-pgQeuUig

6. The Bounce/ Fireworks. Sue WI 348. Mint value £40.
Another dance number, this time recorded for Tri Disc and released belatedly on the Sue label in the UK. The B side features the sound effects much-loved by the band. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtK93v9jxxg

7. Secret Agents/ We Go Together. Fontana TF 678. Mint value £30.
I featured the official A side - We Go Together - in my recent blog on the Fontana label, but this is a record which is well worth flipping over. After cowboys and private eyes it was only a matter of time before the Olympics got round to secret agents. It's a Northern soul favourite, and deservedly so. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZ8dmbnXwRQ
8. Baby Do The Philly Dog/ Western Movies. Fontana 778. Mint value £30.
This is another Northern Soul hit, also recorded as an instrumental by the Mar-Keys around the same time. The B side is an inferior, speeded up version of the band's first hit. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-DpIjcUqnkA
9. Mine Exclusively/ Baby Do The Philly Dog. Action ACT 4539. Mint value £20.
I'm not sure if this was intended just as a reissue of the Fontana 45, but it has a different B (or A) side and is a really good Northern soul number with a Contours feel to it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIb9tlI5Fbs

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Sam Cooke finds

It's Sam Cooke week! Well, it's always Sam Cooke week really, as he remains my all time favourite singer and I've got most of his UK releases, both singles and LPs. But this week in the space of a few days I've picked up two of his LPs that I didn't previously own, both in excellent condition and both at knock down prices.
The first one was The Soul Stirrers featuring Sam Cooke, which came out on London in 1964 and is now valued at £90. I found it on a market stall in Porretta and paid 15 Euros for it.
The second one was Try A Little Love, Sam's last classic RCA Victor LP which came out posthumously in 1965 and is now valued at £40. I found it in a charity shop and that one cost me £2.99. A good couple of finds I think.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Photos from Porretta

Here's a selection of photos from this year's Porretta Soul Festival.
First, here is Otis Clay, possibly the greatest living soul singer.
Here is fellow Hi recording artist Syl Johnson.
Former member of Memphis group the Mad Lads, John Gary Williams.
Atlanta-based soul singer David Hudson.
Larry Dodson, once of the Temprees, now vocalist with the Bar-Kays.
Backing group with the Bo-Keys - the Norman Sisters, with Archie Turner on keyboards.
The Bo-Keys' excellent horn section, with guitarist Joe Restivo.
Ben Cauley, trumpet player with the Bo-Keys and an original member of the Bar-Kays. He was the sole survivor of the plane crash that killed Otis Redding and the other original group members.
Some of the 30-odd members of the Australian girl band, the Sweethearts.
David Hudson performing to a backing track of his new album at the Irish bar in Porretta.
Woodie Dave Thomas with the plaque he picked up on behalf of In The Basement magazine.
Porretta's Dutch contingent, including Hans and Harry (second and third from the right) of the Fingerpoppin' Soul radio show in Amsterdam, which celebrates its 1000th edition later this year.
Here's me with the great Otis Clay.
And here I am with Syl Johnson.

Porretta - days 2 and 3

After its uneven start the night before, the Porretta Soul Festival really got into its stride on the second evening. It was all meat with no filler. Once again the Bo-Keys provided backing for two of the acts and after an opening Soul Serenade it was straight into genuine deep soul with the mighty Otis Clay - in my opinion the greatest living soul singer.
Dressed in a purple suit, he began with a tremendous version of Trying To Live My Life Without You, with the Norman Sisters providing background vocals, before launching into another of his all time great songs That's How It Is, with a bit of The Thrill Is Gone thrown in. Otis said that he had a new album many years in the making soon to come out and did a couple of numbers - Still In Love With You (I think is the title) and an impassioned soul drenched number called I'm Over you, with a great sax solo towards the end by Kirk Smothers. Otis finished off with I Got To Get Back To My Baby, with a crossover into She's Looking Good - another new record he said. His time on stage was all too short, especially as it was followed by Robyn McKelle doing You Can Have My Husband But Please Don't Mess With My Man, after which she received a Swarowski swan for some reason. (OK, so maybe there was some filling, but not too much).
Next on was Syl Johnson, another of my favourite soul men, who started brightly with That's Why and Straight Love, No Chaser, but then began moaning about unpaid royalties on sampled records and beginning a lengthy call and response session with the audience. Eventually he got his considerable act together accompanying himself on guitar with excellent versions of Any Way The Wind Blows, Sock It To Me, Is It Because I'm Black (with some Reconsider Baby thrown in) and Take Me To The River. All of these were excellent but the encore Sweet Home Chicago was rather average and he seemed unwilling to leave the stage at the end.
As the stage was reset for the Bar-Kays another presentation took place - this time featuring our very own Woodie Dave Thomas on behalf of In The Basement magazine. Dave bravely, and nervously, read out a speech of thanks in Italian.
The second half of the show featured The Bar-Kays, with Larry Dodson on vocals and original member James Alexander on bass and included another original member, Ben Cauley, in the line up for the first time in over 30 years. The band went through the Stax songbook and it went down a storm with the crowd, even if there was little original apart from the inevitable, and excellent, Soul Finger. Sweet Soul Music, Hold On I'm Coming, Soul Man, In The Midnight Hour, Green Onions, For Your Precious Love, You Don't Miss Your Water, When Something Is Wrong With My Baby, Mustang Sally, Last Night - they were all there, with a video of the original acts playing in the background. A tribute to Otis Redding included I Can't Turn You Loose, Try A Little Tenderness, Satisfaction, Dock Of The Bay and I've Been Loving You Too Long, before they signed off with the Theme From Shaft and an Isaac Hayes styled Walk On By.  Nothing very original then, but the band was tight and Larry put his all into the vocals, and it was much enjoyed by the audience.
After the show many of us retired to the Irish Bar, as usual, and were treated to David Hudson singing without a mic to a backing tape of his album. Slightly surreal, but great fun.
Day three was, as ever, a reprise of the main acts of the previous nights, although it began with an Australian girl ensemble called the Sweethearts - a group of around 30 schoolgirls from Geelong who played a variety of instruments and sang with gusto. They did jazzy versions of My Girl and I've Heard It Through The Grapevine, among others, and although not entirely to my taste, they were easy on the eye and full of youthful enthusiasm.
Then it was back to the main acts with the Bo-Keys on stage again and Ben Cauley singing one number. John Gary Williams sang accapella and then performed 'Shop Around' (specially requested by Dave Thomas) and The Whole Damn World Is Going Crazy. David Hudson reprised Let's Stay Together, Honey Honey and Try A Little Tenderness, and Syl Johnson was on great form this time with That's Why, Sock It To me and Take Me To The River, before Otis Clay brought the house down once again with Trying To Live My Life Without You, I'm Over You and Got To Get Back To My Baby. The Bar-Kays varied their shortened act by including Purple Rain and Freak Show On The Dance Floor and as usual all the acts joined together on stage with an Otis Redding tribute.
Another great Porretta - hopefully not the last.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Porretta Soul Festival - day one

It's always a pleasure to get back to the Italian spa town of Porretta Terme for the annual Soul Festival - not least because the weather here is hot, unlike the dismal rain and cold of England. This is the 25th year of the festival, although rumour has it that it may be the last. Let's hope not.
This year's line up is well up to the high standard of previous years, although the first evening got off to a slightly shaky start. First on was an Italian lady from Turin named Silvia Zambruno, who billed herself as 'Me and Mrs Winehouse'. She looks uncannily like Amy with her petite figure and bouffant hair and has her mannerisms off to a T. Vocally she's quite similar as well, although lacking a bit of Amy's power. She sang a string of Any's songs including, inevitably, Rehab and did Our Day Will Come as an encore. A pretty good fake Amy and better than I feared she might be.
Next on was a rather similar act in some ways - Robin McKelle (with the Flytones) - who came across as part Etta James and part Amy but without, I'm afraid, the class of either. A vivacious redhead, she tried - in fact she tried too hard in the end, with her set dragging on for an hour and a half. She started well with some quite impressive versions of Ready For Your Love, Tell Mama, Nothing's Really Changed (from her album Soul Flower), Don't Give Up and I'm A Fool. But things went downhill with an over the top and inappropriately frantic version of Walk On By and I lost interest after that, although her act continued through several more numbers.
This was very much a game of two halves and the festival really came alive in the second part of the evening. The Bo-Keys, including Ben Cauley on trumpet, Howard Grimes on drums, Archie Turner on keyboards and bassist and band leader Scott Bomar (but sadly without Skip Pitts, who died earlier this year) played some rousing instrumentals, including Sundown On Beale, before Ben performed a couple of vocals - Never Found Me A Girl and These Arms Of Mine. He hasn't got the greatest of voices but it was definitely the real thing. Joining them on stage was John Gary Williams, formerly of the Mad Lads, who came across strongly on Fever, By the Time I Get A Phoenix, Closer To Me, a great version of the Mad Lads song Don't Have To Shop Around, finishing off with I Believe The Whole Damn World Has Gone Crazy. He's right. It was crazy to limit him to just five numbers, as he was worth a whole lot more.
Finishing off the evening, backed by the Bo-Keys, was David Hudson, dressed in a bright yellow suit, who set the evening alight with some classic Memphis soul, some of it taken from the Al Green songbook. Starting with Let's Stay Together, he moved on to a blistering version of God Blessed Our Love, through Love and Happiness, A Rainy Night In Georgia and Honey Honey, before climaxing with Try A Little Tenderness. David has great stage presence and a voice that has not been damaged by the years and was a joy.
Altogether, not bad for day one. Next it's Otis Clay, Syl Johnson and the Bar-Kays. Photos will follow when I get home.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Kitty Wells RIP

After a relatively quiet period in terms of music deaths we now have news of three notable artists who have died.
Kitty Wells, who has died aged 92, was the original Queen of Country with many country hits during the fifties and early sixties. The first was the early feminist song It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels, an answer song to Hank Thompson's Wild Side of Life. Nashville-born Kitty went on to have further US hits with Paying For That Back Street Affair (another answer song, this time to Webb Pierce's original), Hey Joe, Cheatin's A Sin, the massive Making Believe, Lonely Side Of Town and Heartbreak USA (with the Jordanaires). The singles hits dried up but she continued to make big selling albums such as Especially For You during the mid sixties. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XYij4OpOY6E
Another death is that of Bob Babbitt, best known as bass player with Motown's house band, the Funk Brothers and as a member of MSFB. Hits that featured his playing include Signed Sealed and Delivered, War, Tears Of A Clown and Ball Of Confusion. He was 74.
Also no more is Jon Lord, keyboardist with Deep Purple, who was 71.
The Vinly Word raises a glass to all of them, and to veteran British comedian Eric Sykes, who died recently aged 89.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Betty Wright cleans up at the Jazz Cafe

Betty Wright is one hell of a woman and a dynamic soul performer, as she showed at the Jazz Cafe last night. The Miami based singer had her first major hit Clean Up Woman over 40 years ago but she is still creating high class original music today: her recent album Betty Wright: The Movie, recorded with The Roots and featuring input from Joss Stone, Snoop Dogg and Lenny Williams among others, has picked up positive reviews.
Wearing a big Afro, short spangly dress and high heeled suede thigh boots, Betty stormed her way through a near two hour high energy set of new and old material. She has personality in spades and a great sense of humour. "Do I look like a male basher?" she asked. Well, yes, maybe!
Kicking off with her 1988 hit After The Pain she got the females in the audience going by urging them to join her in repeating "That's the way I like it."  She moved onto In The Middle Of The Game (Don't Change The Play), a track from The Movie album, before rocking into her 1974 UK hit Shoorah Shoorah, written by Allen Toussaint. After an exquisite version of Tonight Is The Night (allegedly about her first sexual experience) she told the story of how she had fought - and won - a legal battle when she found out it had been sampled in I Wanna Sex You Up by Color Me Bad and used in the movie New Jack City.
Betty slowed things down next with another track from her recent album -  Go - an emotional and intense song about domestic abuse. She seemed almost in tears as she acted out the fear and tension of being beaten by an abusive partner. Then it was back to the old days with a fantastic version of Clean Up Woman, with some James Brown style Licking Stick/Soul Power additions. Her last two numbers were her 80s hits Keep Love New and No Pain No Gain - both of them performed with great power and not a little humour. Her encore - a rather cacophonous tribute to Michael Jackson - was something of an anti climax, but overall this was a quite brilliant show, and definitely my gig of the year so far. Betty's backing band were excellent, as were her female vocal backing threesome, comprising her daughters.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

7/7 remembered

I'm surprised not to have seen more coverage of the seventh anniversary today of 7/7, especially with the Olympics just around the corner. The day before, I was in Trafalgar Square with thousands of others when the Olympics decision was announced, to great excitement. It may have been pure chance that I didn't get caught up in the bombings, as I changed from a Piccadilly train at Finsbury Park onto the Victoria Line just before the bomb hit a southbound Piccadilly Line train near Kings Cross. I was working at the Department of Health in Whitehall at the time and got off at Westminster as all hell was breaking loose. With no buses or tubes running I got home by a roundabout route involving a river boat to Canary Wharf.
Let's hope that the Olympics take place peacefully and there is no repeat of those terrible events.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Vinyl Obscurities - Vocalion label

The Vocalion label dates back to 1916 and in the US issued many classic 'race records', including the  78s by Robert Johnson. In the UK the label made a comeback in the mid sixties, replacing the Vogue label, and was part of the Decca group, despite bearing the Vogue name on its labels. Many of Vocalion's UK releases were classic soul and blues records from the Duke/Peacock/Sure-Shot/Back Beat stable in Houston, although it also released rock and soul orientated singles on labels such as GNP Crescendo, Fat Fish and Vault. Other releases included an early 45 by a certain Davie Jones and the King Bees worth a cool £1000 (sadly I don't own a copy!).
1. The Olympics - The Stomp/ Mash Them Taters. Mint value £20.
This is listed in the Rare Record Guide as being on the Vogue label with the same label number but as you can see it also came out on Vocalion shortly after the change from Vogue to Vocalion. It's a typical up tempo dance number by this LA based doowop group who had a smash with the novelty Western Movies and went on to have mid sixties soul numbers such as Baby Do The Philly Dog. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Br-pgQeuUig
2. Joe Hinton - Funny How Time Slips Away/ You Gotta Have Love. Mint value £30.
It's a close run thing whether Jimmy Elledge or Joe Hinton did the best version of 'Funny'. Both of them sold a million with this Willie Nelson song and Joe's version is certainly more soulful and contains a fantastic high note at the end. Joe started off singing gospel before being signed by Don Robey but sadly he died of skin cancer in 1968 aged just 38. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9mA-6hHvZgc
3. Lisa Richards - Mean Old World/ Take A Chance. Mint value £70.
Very little appears to be known about Lisa Richards except that this was apparently recorded in New York and somehow ended up being issued on Sure-Shot. It's a mid tempo soul styled song with a certain charm I think, but a one-off recording by Ms Richards. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UREJHsEW59Y
4. Roy Head - Apple Of My Eye/ I Pass The Day. Mint value £50.
Texas wild man Roy Head scored Vocalion's biggest hit with Treat Her Right. This follow up didn't quite match it in terms of excitement but has a great guitar break midway through. Roy has performed in various musical styles over the years, including rockabilly, R and B and country. He's still performing today and remains a real showman on stage. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tfgk88pi3HE
5. O V Wright - Poor Boy/ I'm In Your Corner. Mint value £20.
Overton Vertis Wright had one of the greatest soul voices of all time and released a string of superb singles, initially on Goldwax (That's How Strong My Love Is) and then on Back Beat when Don Robey claimed he had him on contract. Most of his records were produced by Willie Mitchell and his death in 1980 deprived the world of a great talent. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0JkKfcNgGk
6. Miss Lavell - Everybody's Got Somebody/ The Best Part Of Me. Mint value £30.
Miss Lavell (Lavelle White) recorded extensively for Duke but only had one single released in the UK. It's a bluesy number which shows her exciting, raw voice off well. Lavelle is still performing and put on a great show at last year's Ponderosa Stomp. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f1LKxLwP-eQ
7. Junior Parker - These Kind of Blues part 1 and 2. Mint value £40.
(Little) Junior Parker was a giant of the blues, having been a member of the Beale Streeters in 1950 with Bobby Bland (another staple of Vocalion in the UK) and B B King. He recorded for Sun (including Mystery Train, later covered by Elvis) and produced a string of classic soul/blues records on Duke. He died aged just 39 in 1971. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebaK5BuxUos
8. The Challengers - Walk With Me/ How Could I? Mint value £10.
The Challengers were a surf music band famous mainly for instrumentals such as Torquay and The Man From UNCLE and LPs including Surfbeat and Wipe Out. Walk With Me is a vocal track and I couldn't locate it on YouTube, so here's something they recorded earlier. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=veVXkgcfHKc
9. Leon Haywood - Ain't No Use/ Hey Hey Hey. Mint value £30.
Leon is best known for his funk/soul records of the 70s such as I want To Do Something Freaky To You, but he started his career backing Guitar Slim and Big Jay McNeely and was later keyboardist with Sam Cooke. This mid sixties soul side on Fat Fish showed signs of the success he was to enjoy later and is popular with Northern soul fans. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=teOQudvTGvM
10. Tommy Neal - Goin' To A Happening/ Tee Ta. Mint value £50.
This is something of a Northern soul anthem and was popular in the Manchester clubs of the late 60s and 70s. Written and produced by Richard 'Popcorn' Wylie and Tony Hestor it was recorded for the Vault label in the US, but I know nothing about Tommy Neal.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ANmy0BTKVtw