Monday, September 30, 2013

Roddy Jackson rocks in London

Roddy Jackson must be one of the wildest original rockers to hit a London stage in many a long year. Last night's Tales From The Woods show in the downstairs room of the Spice of Life pub on the edge of Soho was the first time that this 1950s Californian rock and roller - dubbed the Central Valley Fireball - has played a central London venue, despite appearing at several rockabilly festivals over the years. It was a show to remember, with some exciting, raucous vocals, combined with Roddy's Jerry Lee Lewis-styled piano playing and frantic sax work. All of this was backed up by the Tales From The Woods house band, who were on top form as ever, with drummer Howard Tibble joining regulars John Spencely (excellent on lead guitar), Rob Davis on bass, ace keyboardist Claire Hamlin and sax men Alex Bland and Sid Phillips - a stellar line-up indeed.
Roddy had a brief recording career with Specialty in LA when he was discovered by Sonny Bono and introduced to label owner Art Rupe, but never quite made it despite three top class rockabilly 45s. He stuck mainly to his own compositions last night with a couple of nods to his idol and fellow Specialty artist Little Richard in the form of Lucille and Good Golly Miss Molly. Rod is fun, as well being a genuine rocker, as his first number, his own novelty song Hiccups, showed. He followed this with another early rocker Any Old Town, Juke Box Baby and the slower No One Else Will Do. His keyboard playing was nothing short of manic on Baby Don't You Do This To Me and he moved on to one of his 'love' songs (one of many, he said, as he would fall in love several times a day in those days), Gloria, and then to Larry Williams' She Said Yeah, a song he co-wrote with Sonny Bono. Other originals flew thick and fast - I Found A New Girl, There's A Moose On The Loose (the B side of Hiccups, with some great vocal sound effects), Love At First Sight, Johnny's Last Ride, She's My One And Only and Consider, before launching into his first 45 - one that would have made him a star, he said, if a promised appearance on American Bandstand had gone ahead - I've Got My Sights On Someone New. Finally he gave the band a chance to shine individually with Come On Everybody Let's Go Rock and Roll. They did!

The TFTW house band were tremendous throughout, with Claire taking over keyboard duties when Roddy moved on to the saxophone, and Alex and Sid reciprocating on horn duties when he played keyboards. As someone said, Roddy is the 'real deal' of rock and roll. I can't argue with that.
The show opened with one of the most authentic of British rockers Cliff Edmonds, again backed superby by the house band, who set a cracking pace on a selection of rock and roll and R and B classics: Corrine Corrina, Be My Guest, Sea Cruise, Fannie Brown Got Married, Hello Josephine, Clarence Gatemouth Brown's She Walks Right In, a delicious Tears On My Pillow, Sugaree, Smiley Lewis's Nervous Fellow (Real Gone Lover), the Platters' dramatic My Prayer, Eddie Cochran's Teenage Heaven and a great version of Little Richard's I Can't Believe You Wanna Leave as an encore.
This was possibly the best Tales From The Woods show to date and promoter Keith Woods deserves credit for putting together a genuinely rocking show in central London.
Here are Claire and Howard in action.
Words and photos by Nick Cobban.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Ready Teddy

A final word for Ready Teddy (real name Terence McQuiston), a New Orleans bluesman and DJ, who has died two years after breaking his neck. Regular visitors to Jazzfest and to the much-missed Blues Estafette in Utrecht will remember Teddy's unique style, which included standing on one arm when introducing the next act. He sang with a local band called the Swamp Daddys and was a regular DJ on WWOZ in New Orleans. One of the great characters of the Big Easy, he was a friend of Little Richard and took his name from his 1956 hit. As a DJ he coined colourful phrases such as 'hanging' like 'a spider on the wall,' 'ice cubes in your refrigerator' and 'wet clothes on a clothes line'. In 1996 he was suspended after being accused of accepting Payola for playing certain records but was later cleared.
Photo shows him at the Blues Estafette in 1997.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Good Old Days revisited

One hundred years ago a good night out often consisted of a trip to the Music Hall, where comedians and singers entertained audiences across the UK. Stars such as Dan Leno, Marie Lloyd and Harry Champion were household names. Later, Music Hall moved towards what became known as Variety and made stars of Max Miller, Max Wall, Arthur Askey and many others, who in some cases cemented their fame via the popular radio shows of the day or on film. As many as ten acts, including jugglers, ventriloquists, conjurors and acrobats, would make up the bottom half of the bill. Then television came along and it killed the Music Hall and Variety Theatre stone dead.
Well, nearly. In 1963 the British Music Hall Society was formed to preserve this endangered species and prevent its extinction and 50 years on the society has succeeded in restoring one of London's first Music Halls - Wilton's, near the City - and a magnificent building it is too. I went there today for day one of a three day Festival of Music Hall and Variety, organised, in part, by fellow Woodie Bill Haynes, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Here are some photos from the day, beginning with the man who was, for me, the day's highlight - Jools Holland. Jools is a fantastic pianist and also, it would seem, a thoroughly nice man as well as being a Music Hall fan. He ran through half a dozen numbers ranging from Roses Of Picardy to a blues number, a Music Hall song and a Fats Waller selection, ending by accompanying the excellent and very funny Roy Hudd, president of the society, on a 19th century song by Harry Dacre about the poor of London.
Earlier in the day there was an interesting talk about the history of ventriloquism by one of the UK's top vents Steve Hewlett. Like Music Hall itself, the art had nearly died out, until recent TV talent shows gave it a bit of a boost. Steve ended his amusing talk, which included the stories of past vents such as Terry Hall, Arthur Worsley, Saveen and Edgar Berger, by bringing on one of the most famous dummies of them all - Archie Andrews: a name that will instantly bring back memories of Sunday afternoons and the radio show Educating Archie to anyone of my age. Archie is on the left, by the way.
After a break, the show resumed with a very funny act by a stand-up comedian from an earlier era named Joe Goodman, (taking the place at short notice of Freddie 'Parrot Face' Davies, who was ill), who cracked some good jokes which would go down well even in today's comedy clubs. He ended his act by putting on the greasepaint of a clown and here he is with Roy Hudd. Roy also did a hilarious double act with Music Hall enthusiast John Henty, who introduced a previously unknown film - actually a series of Mutoscope cards (better known as cards for a What the Butler Saw machine) - showing Dan Leno, which is believed to be the only moving pictures of him in existence.
Introducing some of the acts here is Wyn Calvin, vice president of the society, known as the 'King' of the pantomime dames.
After Jools Holland came a genuine Music Hall sequence featuring the Paper Moon Theatre Company, based on The Good Old Days TV series of years gone by. 'Chairman' of the show was one of the original hosts of the shows at the City Varieties in Leeds, Johnny Dennis.
The acts featured in the Paper Moon sequence included (left to right) a Gracie Fields tribute, Judith Hibbert; an old style, and very good and funny juggler, Micheal Pearse; George Formby-style uke act Andy Eastwood; bizarrely dressed 'Man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo', Peter John; former Good Old Days star singing 'Always the bridesmaid' Jan Hunt; and, guesting, Roy Hudd as Bud Flanagan. An excellent example of variety I thought, but, sadly, very much of an earlier time and it's not hard to see why it lost out to TV.
Originally opened in 1858 but closed for many years prior to restoration, Wilton's Music Hall is a wonderfully ornate theatre and the Festival featured dozens of original posters, as well as an exhibition of costumes, including Max Miller's famous floral coat (left).
Finally, here's a photo of me outside Wilton's, which is hidden away down a back alley near the Docklands Light Railway. 
Words and photos by Nick Cobban.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Marvin Rainwater RIP

It seems that not a day goes by at the moment without a singer or musician passing on. Today there are more to report, chief among them being Marvin Rainwater, who scored a number one UK hit in 1958 with Whole Lotta Woman.
Marvin was 25 per cent Cherokee and regularly wore Native American outfits on stage. Born in 1925 in Kansas, he began as a country singer and had a US hit on MGM with Gonna Find Me A Bluebird before heading toward rockabilly with Whole Lotta Woman, I Dig You Baby (also a top 20 UK hit), Nothin' Needs Nothin' (Like I Need You), Halfbreed and Boo Hoo. He developed throat cancer but recovered sufficiently to appear at rock and roll festivals in Europe, including the UK. He had four EPs and one ten inch LP released in the UK at the time. I bought the US 12 inch version (pictured below) of his classic LP earlier this year in the Hank Williams Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. Here's his biggest hit.
I've heard of two other music deaths today, one of whom is Bobby Mansfield, lead singer of New York doowop group the Wrens. Here's their biggest hit, Come Back My Love.
The other is Willie 'Slim' Ayres, lead singer of gospel group the Morning Echoes of Detroit.
On a happier note I picked up a couple of great London 45s which were gaps in my collection today at the car boot. First here's the great Solomon Burke with Cry To Me and its equally good B side I Almost Lost My Mind. Country soul at its very best.
Finally, here's the last Johnny Cash Sun 45 to be released on London - Oh Lonesome Me, backed with Life Goes On. Another excellent double sider.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

More music deaths

The Grim Reaper has been busy again, taking away a number of musicians and singers of note.
Bobby Martin. who was 82, was synonymous with the Philadelphia Sound, working with Kenny
Gamble and Leon Huff, founders of Philadelphia International Records, to arrange and produce some of the greatest hits of the 1960s and '70s, as well as with many soul musicians of that era.
He is credited with being the first to record Patti LaBelle and creating her stage name in the early sixties and later arranged Philly hits such as Me and Mrs Jones, You'll Never Find A Love Like Mine, Cowboys to Girls and TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia). He composed the theme of the long-wunning Soul Train TV show and was the arranger, conductor and composer for the MFSB (Mother, Father, Brother, Sister) Orchestra and won a Grammy for his work on the Bee Gees Saturday Night Fever album.
Another death is that of Merseyside-born Jackie Lomax, aged 69, who was a member of a number of notable sixties and seventies bands, including The Undertakers, the Lomax Alliance, Heavy Jelly and Badger. As a solo artist he was signed to Apple and recorded a George Harrison song, Sour Milk Sea, which was unsuccessful. He also recorded a collectable Apple album, Is This What You Want?, with Hal Blaine in Los Angeles. After recording with Heavy Jelly, including an unreleased album featuring songs that he had written, he joined progressive rock band Badger which recorded an Allen Toussaint produced album, White Lady. He spent much of his career on the US West Coast but played at the Cavern Club in 2002 and released his first solo album for 25 years, The Ballad of Liverpool Slim.
One of the most popular British female singers of the 1950s, Joan Regan, has also died aged 85.
Most of her hits were covers of US hits but she appeared on 6-5 Special and had her own TV series. Her biggest UK hits were Ricochet (a Teresa Brewer cover), Someone Else's Roses, If I Give My Heart To You (both originally by Doris Day) and May You Always (a McGuire Sisters cover).
Another Merseyside singer has also died - David Garrick, aged 67, who released well over a dozen 45s in the late sixties and had minor hits with Lady Jane, the Rolling Stones song, and Dear Mrs Applebee, a cover of the record by Flip Cartridge.
* No sooner had I written this than I was told by Pete Gold that rockabilly singer Mac Curtis has died aged 74. Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Curtis made a number of excellent early rockabilly records for King in 1956, including If I Had Me A Woman, and went on to record for a number of labels in the sixties before making a return with some country records for Epic in the late sixties before having records released on Rollin' Rock in the 70s and other labels in the '80s and 90s, including Radar and Hightone.  Below is the LP featuring his King sides, along with those of Charlie Feathers, released in the UK on Polydor.
The Vinyl Word raises a glass to them all.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Skiffle EPs

Skiffle was the UK's first attempt to reproduce American blues (Leadbelly in particular) and folk material. It grew out of the trad jazz bands of the early fifties with Ken Colyer and Chris Barber leading the way and for a couple of years there was quite a boom. Lonnie Donegan was easily the best of the skiffle stars but others like the Vipers, Chas McDevitt and Johnny Duncan produced a few decent tracks. But for the most part the music was second rate and was quickly shown to be derivative and more often than not insipid. But it was influential, and it wasn't just the Beatles who claimed that it inspired them to take up a guitar, drums or tea chest but other sixties bands as well.
Some early skiffle singles were only released on 78 but there were quite a few EPs released with picture sleeves, many of them featuring tracks unavailable or hard to find as 45 singles. One of the rarest of these is Rock 'n' Skiffle with Jimmy Jackson, a copy of which I picked up at the car boot sale this morning. A former RAF drill instructor, Jimmy had half a dozen singles issued in 1957 and 1958 before disappearing from view. The sleeve is a bit tatty, as are those of many mid fifties EPs, but the record is fine. Best track is this one, California Zephyr, a Hank Williams song.

Here are scans of a few more skiffle EPs that I have, none of them particularly valuable but al interesting in their way.

 Finally, here's a fairly rare 10 inch LP by The Vipers.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Stomping again

Not long now until my second US road trip of the year (starting October 1st), this time taking in the return of the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans and the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Arkansas. What a feast of good music is in store! Let's hope we don't get escorted out of a hotel at gunpoint this time!
The Stomp features an intriguing mixture of soul, rock and roll and garage acts, quite a few of which are entirely new to me. I've seen some of them before over the years, including Swamp Dogg, the Sonics, Chris Montez (in the early sixties), Chris Clark (on a Motown show a few years ago), Maxine Brown, Lynn August, Spencer Wiggins, James Alexander and Charlie Gracie (pictured below at the RNA Club in Plaistow in 1992, with D J Fontana on drums), and all of these should be excellent. But I've never seen the Standells, Baby Washington, the Sloths or Charles Brimmer and I know next to nothing about some of the other acts (Bobby Crown, Ty Wagner, Gaunga Dins, Eddie Daniels, Boogaloo, Richard Caiton and Sonny Green). If past Stomps are anything to go by it should be brilliant. Also looking forward to the Music Conference, where many of the acts will be interviewed, and to Hip Drop VI, where several DJs will be spinning their favourite tracks, including Pierre Baroni from Melbourne, who I first met in New Orleans several years ago.
After the Big Easy we will be driving north to Clarksdale, Mississippi, where we will be staying and taking in the King Biscuit Festival just across the Arkansas border in Helena. This is another excellent line up with several blues acts completely new to me, but several others who I'm looking forward to seeing again, including Robert Cray, Gregg Allman, Marcia Ball, Walter 'Wolfman' Washington, Travis Wammack, Sonny Landreth, Anson Funderburgh, James Cotton, Joe Louis Walker (pictured at the Shepherds Bush Empire in 1997 when he appeared with Ike Turner) and Bobby Rush (pictured at Porretta earlier this year).

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Blues and gospel on 78

Before vinyl there was shellac: heavy, extremely fragile and difficult to transport. Early rock and roll records were released on ten inch 78s and many of them today are quite collectable, although early Elvis and Bill Haley 78s turn up at car boots often. In most cases, if a record was issued on both 45 and 78 it is the the 45 that is more valuable, the exceptions being those 78s issued at the very end of their era, in 1959 and 1960. Elvis's The Girl of My Best Friend is valued at £750 on 78 but I've never seen a copy, and it's rumoured that 78s of It's Now or Never might exist.
I've got quite a few 78s in my collection, although several have been accidentally smashed over the years. I daren't sell them on Ebay as I don't trust sending them through the post, no matter how well packaged they may be. But then again, I probably wouldn't want to sell some of them anyway.
I'm featuring a few American and early UK issues this time, including some great 1950s gospel, with Youtube links where available. Enjoy!
1. Marvin Phllips & the Men From Mars - Wine Woogie/ Old Man's Blues. Specialty 445.
Released in 1952, this was the first release by the man who was the 'Marvin' of Marvin and Johnny. There were several Johnny's but only one Marvin. Great jump blues.
2. Little Esther & Junior with Johnny Otis Orch - Get Together Blues/ Johnny Otis Orch with the Vocaleers - Chitlin' Switch. Savoy 824. Excellent early R and B track by Little Esther Phillips with Johnny Otis. Discovered by Otis, Esther had one of the greatest voices of all time and went on to have a successful career after recovering from heroin addiction in the late 50s. Junior was apparently Junior Ryder but I don't have any solid info on him. Sadly I can't find Get Together Blues on Youtube so here's Esther's Double Crossing Blues from around the same period (1949).
3. Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry - Carolina Blues Blues/ Watch-Out. Savoy 826.  Brownie and Sonny were among the first blues men to make an impact in the UK and I remember seeing them on one of the Folk Blues shows of the early sixties. Sonny's whooping and smooth harmonica style are in evidence on this track.
4. The Gospel Clefs - Rock Me To Sleep/ Book Of Revelations. Savoy 4108.   Savoy was one of the leading American gospel labels and this excellent interpretation of a well known poem by Elizabeth (Akers) Allen is a gem. It's one of several gospel 78s that I brought back from the States on one of my trips.
5. The Gay Sisters - Oh Lord, Somebody Touched Me/ He Knows How Much We Can Bear. Savoy 4037. Another excellent gospel record by a trio who were big in the fifties and performed with Mahalia Jackson in 1954. Would a gospel group choose this name today I wonder?
6. The Banks Brothers - I've Got The Witness/ For My Sake. Savoy 4050. The Banks Brothers, Charles and Jeff, from Pittsburgh, were another leading gospel group of the fifties and sixties. Here, on Youtube, is the B side.
7. The Famous Ward Singers - Packin' Up/ Draw Me nearer. Savoy 4080. One of the best known and successful gospel groups, the Famous Ward Singers were led by Clara Ward and also featured Marion Williams. Great soulful voices.
8. The Orioles - In The Mission of St Augustine/ Write and Tell Me Why. London HL8001. Moving to the UK, this is the first London release in the 8000 series, featuring a soft doowop group led by Sonny Til who were pioneers of the doowop genre and influenced many later groups, as well as starting the trend for bird names. Best known for their original versionof Crying In the Chapel, this 1954 release was 78 only.
9. Muddy Waters - Rollin' Stone Blues/ Walkin' Blues. Vogue V2101. This was the record that inspired Mick Jagger and the boys to name their group after it and was Muddy's first UK release in 1953. B side is another blues classic.
10. Wynonie Harris - Lovin' Machine/ Luscious Woman. Vogue V2111. Lastly here's a record that can claim to be one of the first rock and roll records, by the great Wynonie Harris. B side is a great slow blues which is also worth a listen.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Cassette Store Day

Today is Cassette Store Day, an event designed to mark the 50th anniversary of their introduction and to resurrect the popularity of a form of recorded music which, only a few years ago, was ubiquitous. CDs, mini discs and downloads have virtually killed off the humble cassette tape, but in the wake of Record Store Day, enthusiasts are determined to bring the cassette back from the dead. There are a number of new releases being issued by the likes of the Flaming Lips, Deerhunter, At the Drive-In and the Pastels. But it was not pre-recorded albums that were the cassette's main attraction - LPs and, later, CDs, offered much better sound quality and a more accessible way of listening.
The main attraction was the ability that cassettes offered to make up your own compilation tapes. I can remember spending many happy hours recording tracks from Stuart Colman's radio shows and from Capitol Gold, as well as recording 45s and LP tracks to make up casssettes with a particular theme, be it soul, or blues or rock and roll. My last but one car would only play cassettes, rather than CDs, so they got plenty of usage until four years ago. But now they languish in a drawer and I have no cassette player on which to listen to them. In fact, I've been looking for one recently so that I can access these relics. My photo below shows just a few of what must be well over 100 that I have. I still love home made compilations, but nowadays I use mini discs to record the 45s that I pick up at car boot sales. The mini disc is another near extinct format which, in my opinion, has been unfairly neglected as quality-wise it is excellent. Maybe there will be a Mini Disc Store Day one of these days!
Like CDs and, even more so, video cassettes, most cassette tapes today are virtually worthless, unlike many classic vinyl records. But there are a few that are of interest. One such, is a cassette-only album I featured a while back by Barbara George called Bad Luck and Trouble which apparently was virtually unknown, even to aficionados of New Orleans music. I bought a copy, signed by Barbara, at a gig at Maxwell's Toulouse Cabaret in New Orleans in the early 1990s and it's a true collector's item, produced by Milton Batiste and also featuring Sunpie, released in 1990.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

David Frost RIP

The Vinyl Word raises a glass to Sir David Frost, a giant of television, who has died suddenly aged 74. Anyone who was a teenager in the UK in the early sixties will vividly remember 'That Was The Week That Was', a live satirical BBC programme broadcast late on Saturday evenings which revolutionised TV. For the first time it was OK to take the piss out of the great and the good, from politicians to members of the establishment, and what a refreshing feeling it was. The suave and sometimes vicious David Frost was at the helm, with his 'Hello, good evening and welcome' introduction, biting humour and hard-hitting interviews, and it was must-see viewing from its launch in November 1962. Backed up by a great cast (see photo below), including Bernard Levin, Roy Kinnear, Lance Percival, Willie Rushton and Millicent Martin, no one was safe from the barbs that came their way. It was a turbulent period, encompassing the Profumo affair, which gave Frost plenty of scope for satire, and the assassination of President Kennedy.

Frost followed TW3 with more satirical series, including 'Not So Much A Programme, More A Way Of Life' and 'The Frost Report', which started the careers of John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett, before going on to become perhaps the most important interviewer of the late 20th century on both sides of the Atlantic. Interviewees included most famously Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, several other US presidents, Colonel Gaddafi and eight British Prime Ministers. He was one of the founders of TV-AM in 1983 and hosted Through the Keyhole for over 20 years before hosting a regular series on Al Jazeera.
Final words too, for jazz and soul singer Donna Hightower, who was 86, jazz pianist Marion McPartland (94), Eydie Gorme (84), who enjoyed pop success both solo and with husband Steve Lawrence, and the Big Bopper Junior (64).