Thursday, November 28, 2013

Tales From A Woodie (Part Two): 1989

Unlike some Woodies I never played in a band or knew any musicians from the early sixties, and certainly none of the other Woodies who I met later, so I can pinpoint the start of my personal road to the Woodies precisely. It was April, 1989, when I visited the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival for the first time. I travelled independently, renting a car at the airport and staying in a hotel which turned out to be miles from the centre of town. In fact, on the first evening I set out for the French Quarter and failed to find it!

Next day, Friday, was much better though and I got to the Quarter and then to Jazzfest, where the first two acts I saw were Eddie Bo and Ernie K-Doe. Ernie, famous for Morther In Law, was the man who really inspired me to make the trip,after I read an interview in an English paper about his appearances at Jazzfest. In my diary I wrote that Ernie was ‘wearing an ill-fitting suit and shirt, full of enthusiasm but seemingly out of practice. It looked like he wouldn’t get off stage, so Milton Battiste said ‘Wave bye bye’ and dragged him off.’ That was Ernie: irrepressible, probably drunk, but absolutely what New Orleans was all about.
Two days later, on the Sunday, I made first contact with some of the people who were to become the nucleus of the Woodies some years later. Having been awed by Bobby Bland, playing with Wayne Bennett, Aaron Neville, singing in the gospel tent, and Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry (all of them legends), I went to see Irma Thomas and saw a Union Jack flying. I went over and met up with Dave Thomas and Scotty Mick (Mike McDonald) who had travelled to Jazzfest with Festival Tours. That evening I went to the Landmark Hotel where they were staying and met John Howard, then a sub on the Sunday Sport, and persuaded John and Co to go to Irma’s club, the Lion’s Den, in a rather dodgy part of town. To quote my diary again: ‘What a night! There was Irma waiting on and clearing glasses, and then doing a fantastic 75 minute set – ‘like in your front room’, as someone said.’
Next day I set off into Cajun country by myself and, quite by chance, came across the Festival Tours mob having lunch in a restaurant somewhere in Louisiana. I joined up with them that evening at Mulate’s in Breaux Bridge where Beausoleil were playing, with special guest Richard Thompson. Among the Festival group were John Jolliffe and Dave Carroll, both of them future Woodies and also Jonathan Coke-Smyth, who has come to meet ups on occasions.
On Tuesday I set off for Mississippi, stopping off to take a look at Jerry Lee’s place in Ferraday, and stayed overnight in Clarksdale, home of the blues. I visited the Delta Blues Museum, then located at the Carnegie Library, which was deserted apart from me. From there I drove to Memphis and toured Graceland – from the sublime to the ridiculous, as I noted at the time: the austerity of the blues museum contrasting so much with Elvis’s glitzy home. I had lunch in the Sun Studio cafe, which had only been open a week, and then headed for Beale Street. I wrote in my diary: ‘Had a look in Schwab’s store, an amazingly old-fashioned hardware store with everything in it you could ever want, but probably wouldn’t. Further down Beale Street I came across the crowning of the Cotton Makers’ Jubilee King and Queen in front of the W C Handy statue. Who should be there but Rufus Thomas, and a couple of photographers. No one else.’
I returned to New Orleans for the second weekend of Jazzfest for a host of great artists, including John Lee Hooker, Dave Bartholomew, Frankie Ford, Marcia Ball, the Neville Brothers (who I also saw at Tipitinas), Johnnie Allen, John Fred, Dr John, Snooks Eaglin, Johnny Adams and last but not least Fats Domino.
When I got back to the UK I started to go to gigs regularly, and there were some great ones. Many of them will be remembered fondly by other Woodies I’m sure. Here are a few, with my comments from my 1989 diary:
July 8: Malaco All Star Blues Blast (minus Little Milton who was ill) at the Hammersmith Odeon. ‘First on Mosley and Johnson, backed by the Muscle Shoals Horns, who were good on the Stax songs. Next Denise Lasalle – a large vision in purple – who gave it her all but never really lit things up. Not so Johnnie Taylor, dressed in a black and white jacket, who really knew how to handle an audience, even if his voice was a little weak. Finally Bobby Bland – smooth, immaculate singing as ever, supported by the superb Wayne Bennett.’
July 11: Lazy Lester at the 100 Club. ‘Few people there – maybe 100 but Lazy was pretty good if a little, well, lazy in delivery. Three blokes from New Orleans there.’ (Those three were probably Dave Carroll, John Jolliffe and Brian Jessup.)
July 12: Buddy Guy and Junior Wells at the Town and Country. ‘They had already started so I got in for nothing. The place was packed and very hot. Great reception – hard to believe there are so many blues fans around.’
July 26: Etta James at the Town and Country. ‘Really excellent – superb strong voice, funny/self-mocking, very fat – bulging out of her black cat suit.’
August 9: Jayne (formerly Wayne) County at Dingwall’s. ‘Felt kind of out of place. The star outrageously dressed in pink slip and torn stockings. Great act though – funny, very obscene and very punk, singing such classics as If You Don’t Want To Fuck Me Baby Fuck Off, Toilet Love and Paradise Paranoia.’
September 26: Dion at the Town and Country. ‘Super show – good mixture of new and old songs, great version of Runaround Sue. Bought Dion T shirt.’
October 21: Neville Brothers at the Town and Country. ‘They were superb as ever. Even got seats and a parking space.’
October 27: Motown show at Town and Country. ‘Mary Wells was on with her husband Curtis Womack. Also guesting were Marv Johnson, Kim Weston and Carolyn Crawford. Marv’s voice a little weak but great fun. Then came Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. Excellent, although Martha’s quavery voice was a bit disconcerting at times. Great duet with Kim Weston on God Bless The Child.’
October 29: Willie Mitchell’s Memphis Soul Revue at Town and Country.  ‘First on was Lynn White, an excellent soul singer, then David Hudson, a good if slightly inferior version of Al Green, then Ann Peebles, who was excellent on her oldies such as I Can’t Stand the Rain. Next on (surprisingly) was the lead singer of Wet Wet Wet (Marti Pellow) who was booed and retired after one song. Then Otis Clay – quite superb – finishing with all five together.’
November 21: Jerry Lee Lewis at Hammersmith Odeon. ‘I wasn’t expecting much but, after all, he is a legend. In fact he was great. He ambled onto the stage without his band (which included Dave Edmunds and James Burton) and started playing. He looked sullen, moaned about the sound and about the bass player. But then he started to enjoy himself – maybe because of the enthusiastic audience or the TV cameras or maybe the special guests (including Brian May and Dave Davies). Did Whole Lotta Shakin’ and Great Balls of Fire and then did another half hour. He kicked his stool away and thumped the piano, although he doesn’t climb on it these days, and the crowd, young and old greasers mostly, loved it. Eight guitarists on stage at times – a bit much really  - and some raucous shouting by Van Morrison.’

More to follow...


At 2:25 pm , Blogger Dave C said...

I can’t speak about who was at the Lazy Lester gig, but I do remember that John was not at Mulate’s as he did not go on the midweek trip. Of those that were on it, I remember ‘Brighton’ Bob (and his distinctive chuckle) and some Millwall supporters (a great bunch of lads whom I first noticed playing football outside the McIlhenny tabasco factory). We used to bump into these guys from the trip at the 100 Club during the great years when Steve Beggs was promoting there.


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