Monday, June 30, 2014

Looking forward to Porretta

I was listening today to the excellent interview with original Muscle Shoals Swamper Jimmy Johnson on the Right Track soul radio show and it's whetted my appetite for this year's Porretta Soul Festival. I must admit that at first I was unexcited by this year's line up, which focuses on the musicians behind the Muscle Shoals sound. But having heard Jimmy's reminiscences about the classic tracks recorded at the Fame studio it may be that my doubts were unfounded. Along with fellow Swampers and Fame gang members David Hood, Clayton Ivey, Will McFarlane and Mickey Buckins there's not much
doubt that the backing band this year will be excellent. After all they were the men behind classic tracks by the likes of Clarence Carter, Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, James and Bobby Purify, Arthur Conley, Bobby Womack and Candi Staton, among many others. The problem when the line up was originally announced was that there was a shortage of great
soul singers on the bill.
Fortunately the festival's organiser Graziano has put that right to an extent with a number of big, or fairly big, names, who should create something pretty special. There's Denise Lasalle, who is worth the trip in itself, regular Porretta favourite the ever-glamorous Toni Green, and Vaneese Thomas, daughter of Rufus. Donnie Fritts, another Muscle Shoals regular should also be worth a look, as should Guitar Shorty and Chick Rogers, although I am less sure about Jimmy Hall, formerly of Wet Willie, and I don't know much about Carla Russell, Jerry Jones and Chilly Bill Rankin.
I visited Muscle Shoals last year and enjoyed my visit round the iconic Fame studio so it will be interesting to see and hear the musicians behind so many wonderful records in person. But regardless of the overall quality I'm sure this year's Porretta will be a great experience as ever. Over the years I've seen many of the true soul greats perform there, including Solomon Burke. J Blackfoot, the Wiggins brothers, Irma Thomas, Isaac Hayes, Rufus Thomas and Oscar Toney Jr, and it's always a fantastic experience. Who of us who were there will forget David Hudson singing acapella in the Califfo Irish bar after the show? Let's hope we will have similar experiences this year. I'm sure we will. Here are a couple of photos from my visit to Muscle Shoals.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Farewell to Bobby Womack, the Last Soul Man

The last time I saw Bobby Womack a couple of years ago at the Jazz Cafe (pictured above with Altrina Grayson), his voice was strong and his career was enjoying a new lease of life as a result of the success of his work with the Gorillaz and his album The Bravest Man In The Universe, produced by Damon Albam and Richard Russell. But he was very frail. He had to be helped to the stage and sat on a stool looking anything but a well man, hardly surprising given his health issues, including diabetes, prostate cancer, heart trouble and colon cancer. But the fact was he was there, singing as well as ever, still looking forward to recording and playing as many venues as possible.
His death at the age of 70, therefore, is not a shock, but it's no less sad, because Bobby was a true soul great. His 1987 LP The Last Soul Man, proved not to be an accurate prediction, as there are still a few of the great soul singers of the 1960s alive, but Bobby was almost the last and certainly one of the greatest. His career began as a member of the Womack Brothers gospel group who, under the guidance of Sam Cooke, became the Valentinos, and recorded Looking For A Love and the original version of It's All Over Now. Bobby became a subject of controversy for Sam Cooke fans, me included, when at the age of 21 he married Sam's 29 year old widow Barbara just three months after his death.
Bobby's solo career took off in 1968 when he signed with Minit Records and recorded a couple of
LPs, Fly Me To The Moon and My Prescription, and enjoyed a hit with a cover of California Dreamin'. From there he moved to United Artists where he recorded Communication and had a substantial hit with That's The Way I Feel About Cha. More success folllowed with his Understanding LP, which included I Can Understand It and Harry Hippie. Then came Across 110th Street, Facts Of Life, Looking For A Love Again, I Don't Know What the World Is Coming To and BW Goes C&W - all featuring Bobby's throaty voice which could turn run of the mill songs into something special. Despite drug problems he continued to have success on various labels, including Columbia, Beverley Glen and MCA, with Home Is Where The Heart Is, The Poet, The Poet 2, Womagic, The Last Soul Man and Save The Children. In the 1990s his career slowed down, partly due to his drug addiction, but he continued to perform and I remember seeing him several times in London and New
Orleans during that period. Then came his new success in 2010 and suddenly Bobby was a star with a younger audience, leading him to appear at festivals and venues that would never have featured him in the past.
Through all that Bobby's voice remained just the same and his stage appearances were never less than magnetic, even when you feared for his health in his later days. The Last Soul Man has passed on. The Poet is no more. It really is All Over Now. But at least we have his records, a few of which are pictured below.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Teenie Hodges and Gerry Goffin RIP

Another clutch of music deaths to report I'm afraid. The last few days have seen the passing of Mabon 'Teenie' Hodges, Gerry Goffin and Jimmy C Newman.
Mabon 'Teenie' Hodges (68) was a key figure in Willie Mitchell's Hi studio in Memphis. He was rhythm and lead guitarist with the Hi Rhythm Section which, along with brothers Leroy and Charles and drummer Howard Grimes, created the unique warm soulful sound behind Al Green, Syl Johnson, Ann Peebles, Otis Clay and other Hi artists. He co-wrote Take Me To the River and Love and Happiness with Al, having begun his career in a band called the Impalas with his brothers, before being discovered by Willie Mirchell. In 1976 Hi Rhythm recorded an LP called On The Loose and in 1994 they made Perfect Gentlemen, featuring another Hodges brother, Fred, and Percy Wiggins on vocals. He became ill when playing at the South By Southwest festival in Austin in March. shortly after the release of the film of his life, A Portrait Of A Memphis Soul Original. The Hi Rhythm Section didn't often perform as a group away from their Memphis base but I was lucky enough to catch the whole band at the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans in 2008. Here's a photo of Teenie taken there.
Together with his then wife Carole King, Gerry Goffin, who has died aged 75, virtually wrote the sixties pop songbook, with a string of brilliant compositions for the likes of the Shirelles, Bobby Vee, Tony Orlando, the Drifters, the Cystals and the Chiffons. The couple made it big with Will You Love Me Tomorrow and followed up with such classics as Take Good Care Of My Baby, The Loco-
Motion, Halfway To Paradise, Oh No Not My Baby, Up On The Roof, Go Away Little Girl and One Fine Day. After his split from Carole he suffered mental problems brought on by drug use but had success with the Theme From Mahogany and Whitney Houston's Saving All Mt Love For You. In all he wrote 59 US top 40 hits.
Another singer to pass away recently is Cajun/country star Jimmy C Newman at the age of 86. Born in Mamou, Louisiana. his career began as a country singer in Nashville, with a hit called Cry Cry Darling in 1953. He joined the Louisiana Hayride and became a regular at the Grand Ole Opry As his career developed in the 1960s and 1970s he moved to a Cajun style with hits like Big Mamou, Alligator Man and Louisiana Saturday Night.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Fingerpoppin' Soul in Amsterdam

There's not much that Harry Van Vliet and Hans Diepstraten don't know about soul music. They have been jointly hosting their FingerpoppinSoul radio programme in Amsterdam for 21 years and have now racked up well over 1,000 shows. It was a real treat, therefore, to be invited onto the show as a guest while I was in Holland this week to play some soul 45s and chat about the genre that all three of us love. What's more, it deadened the pain of England being beaten by Uruguay and heading out of
the World Cup, as the match was taking place at the same time, flickering away on a small TV in the corner of the radio studio.
I've met Hans and Harry at the Porretta Soul Festival several times over the last few years and probably also came across them at the much missed Blues Estafette which took place annually in Utrecht for many years. They have met and talked to dozens of soul artists over the years and have an impressive collection of radio station messages from them. But then they are a generous pair of guys, who regularly take a wallet of European picture sleeve 45s by artists appearing at Porretta and present them during the festival - a gesture much appreciated by the artists. I was also treated to their fantastic generosity with a wallet of European picture sleeve records by the likes of Tommy Hunt, Tyrone Davis, Solomon Burke and the Impressions. Great stuff, and much appreciated!
The show I guested on featured half an hour of records picked by Hans and Harry and 90 minutes of 45s that I brought with me, covering Northern soul, the Memphis and New Orleans soul and R&B scene and some 1960s ska and rocksteady. After the show Harry gave me a bumpy ride back to my hotel on the back of his pushbike - an essential mode of transport in Amsterdam. Hey guys - many thanks for inviting me on to your show and for the records. Keep up the good work and hope to see you again in Porretta!
Here's the playlist for the show:
1st half hour: Conrad Benjamin, Thelma Houston, Larry Johnson , The Paragons, Jimmy Scott, Geo. Brooks, Willie Smith & Jesse Hill, Billy Harner, The Howard Lemon Singers
Guest spot by Nick Cobban:
The Invitations - What's wrong with me baby (Stateside)
JJ Barnes - Real humdinger (Ric-Tic).
Harold Hopkins - Ooh baby (Scepter)
Irma Thomas - Zero willpower (RCS)
Roscoe Shelton - Strain on my heart (Sims)
Joe Taylor & the Dominos - You don't love me (HMF)
Winston Francis - Reggae and cry (Coxsone)
The Ethiopians - The whip (Doctor Bird)
The Wrigglers - The cooler (Giant)
Barbara Lynn - Letter to Mommy and Daddy (Jamie)
Otis Redding - Pain in my heart (London)
Gene Chandler - Fool for you (Stateside)
Barbara Mason - Yes I'm ready (London)
Joe Simon - Teenage prayer (London)
James Carr - I'm a fool for you (Stateside)
Betty Harris - Nearer to you (Stateside)
The Heptones - Gunmen coming to town (Rio)
The Jamaicans - Peace and love (Treasure Isle)
The Ovations - It's wonderful to be in love (Goldwax)
Spencer Wiggins - That's how much I love you (Goldwax)
Inez & Charlie Foxx - My momma told me (London)
The Vontastics - Lady love (Moon Shot)

Here's the full show online
And a couple of photos.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Lost souls: Don Davis and others

Time to catch up on a few deaths that have occurred in the last few weeks.
Don Davis, who has died aged 75, holds an important position in the history of both Motown and Stax. Born in Detroit, he formed his own jazz trio before becoming a session musician playing guitar on some of the seminal soul records on the Ric Tic and Golden World labels, as well as on Barrett's Strong's Money and Mary Wells' Baby Baby Bye Bye for Motown. After joining Stax he enjoyed success by producing Johnny Taylor's Who Making Love and also worked on other Taylor hits including Judy's Got Your Girl And Gone and, after his move to Columbia, Disco Lady. He also worked with the Dramatics at Stax but proved to be a controversial figure by using the United Sound recording studios in Detroit, which he bought, and Muscle Shoals rather than Stax in Memphis. Through his Groovesville production company he recorded the likes of George Clinton, Aretha Franklin, the Dells, Carla Thomas and David Ruffin. He also set up First Independence Bank, the first African American owned bank in Michigan, which took up much of his time in later years.
Another recent death is that of Little Jimmy Scott, who has died aged 88. Jimmy was a jazz vocalist with an unusually high voice and came to attention in the Lionel Hampton band. After his career faded in the late 50s he left music but became a cult artist later in life when some of his previously unreleased or unavailable material was reissued. I remember seeing him at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2007 (see photo) and confess that I didn't find his high pitched warbling to my taste.

Although this is a music blog I can't let the death of Rik Mayall at 56 go unremarked. His character in The Young Ones was of course a Cliff Richard fan and a brilliant character he was too, as were all his comic creations, from Kevin Turvey in A Kick Up The Eighties to the Dangerous Brothers, Flashheart in Blackadder and Tory MP Alan B'Stard in The New Statesman. A great loss.
A final word for some of the others who have passed away over the last coupld of months: singer Lee Dresser (a middle of the road singer beloved by the rockabilly scene), soul man Deon Jackson, American crooner Jerry Vale, Cubie Burke of the Five Stairsteps, Ernie Chataway of Judas Priest, Larry Ramos of the Association and doowop and R & B singer Little Joe Cook. We raise a glass to them all

Monday, June 09, 2014

Photos from the Screamin' Festival

Just returned from the Screamin' Festival in Calella, near Barcelona, with some excellent rock and roll and doowop. Here is a selection of photos.
First, here is Tommy Hunt who was absolutely superb in a Flamingos doowop set with the Velvet Candles.
Here's an excellent French band - Nico Duportal and his Rhythm Dudes.
Also on the first night this is a Spanish rock and roll band Double Six.
Stars of the second night were a doowop group from Sicily Freddy Velas and the Silvertones.
Here's one of Freddy and the boys singing an impromptu acapella version of I Wonder Why in the hall after their set.
Representing original rockabilly - Sun recordings artists Alton and Jimmy.
From Los Angeles this is Alex Vargas.
Perfoming with the Jets, here is Graham Fenton doing his tribute to Gene Vincent.
Star of the third day of the show was Freddy 'Boom Boom' Cannon, backed by Los Straitjackets.
Many of the scts took part in a doowop showcase on day three. Here is American R and B singer Gizzelle who also did an excellent solo set.
This is Big Sandy who appeared in the doowop set and also with Los Straitjackets.
Also in the doowop showcase, this is Junior Marvel.
This is British rockabilly act the Doel Brothers.
Also from the UK, this is R and B sensation Sister Cookie with Spanish band Los Mambo Jambo.
Hillbilly band the Starliters.
Rockabilly singer Don Cavalli with his band the Flatheads.
Finally a couple of photos of me with the artists - Tommy Hunt and Freddy Cannon.
Photos by Nick Cobban.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Boom Boom Cannon is back

Freddy Cannon was the headliner on day 3 of the Screamin' Festival and very good he was too. Backed by Los Straitjackets he kicked off with Tallahassee Lassie and went through several of his many sixties hits - all personal favourites of mine - including Way Down Yonder In New Orleans, Buzz Buzz A Diddle It, Palisades Park, Abagail Beecher and Action. I would have preferred more of his original numbers to versions of Shake Rattle and Roll, Little Queenie and Roll Over Beethoven, but it was great to see Freddy is still rocking, even if he isn't quite as explosive as in the old days.
Another highlight of the night was a Doowop showcase featuring a couple of numbers each by some of the acts on the bill, backed by the Velvet Candles. Highlights were I'm Blue by Sister Cookie, Think by Nico Duportal, Lonely Lonely Guy by Big Sandy, Sh-Boom by Freddy Velas and Ding Dong Daddy by Giselle, while other acts included Junior Marvel, Alex Vargas and the return of the great Tommy Hunt.
Young American R and B singer Gizzelle followed with a solo act which showed that she has the voice of a young Etta James. Highlights included stunning versions of Real Humdinger, Tough Love and duets with Alex Vargas on I Found A Love, Crawfish and If I Can't Have You.
Others acts on day 3 included the UK's Doel Brothers, whose Western swing style was infectious, and Spain's excellent instrumental act Los Mambo Jambo. Another great night and probably overall the best so far.
The final night - not a strong one - was brightened by Londoner Sister Cookie, a soulful rhythm and blues singer with a big voice. Backed by Los Mambo Jambo she was excellent on such numbers as Please Mr Jailor, the Little Eva b- side He Is The Boy and Bury Me Deep. Worth catching at The Blues Kitchen if you can. Other acts we caught on day 4 were hillbilly band The Starliters and a competent rockabilly man name of Don Cavalli.
Earlier John and I visited Freddy Cannon and his wife of 58 years Jeanette at his hotel and chatted about his life and career. He still performs about 20 times a year and recently recorded a song about the Boston Red Sox with Loa Straitjackets. He's excited about some work he's been doing with a Florida band called Rocky and the Rollers. They've recorded a shag tune called Beach Soul Music - and we were able to educate him about the alternative meaning of the word, much to his amazement. Look out for John's interview in Vintage Rock.
Nick Cobban.

Friday, June 06, 2014

From the sublime to the faintly ridiculous at Screamin'

Day 2 of Screamin' in sunny Spain was a varied one, with acts ranging from some sublime Doowop to the faintly ridiculous. The sublime aspect was provided by an instrumental/Doowop group from Sicily called Freddy Velas and the Silvertones, a band who not only have some of the sweetest harmonies around but play instruments, including guitar, bass, sax and keyboards, at the same time. They were superb on such numbers as Big Girls Don't Cry and an Italian version of Donna the Prima Donna whilst remaining note perfect instrument ally.  Chatting to them afterwards it seems they honed  their skills busking in London and they gave John Howard and I a super impromptu acapella version of I Wonder Why. They have incredible enthusiasm and are well worth seeing.
Representing old school rockabilly were Sun and Ace recording artists Alton (Lott) and Jimmy (Harrell),  Alton is a very good guitarist and was excellent on original material such as No More Crying The Blues and on the more recent Still Shaking. Jimmy was off stage much of the time but Alton had no trouble getting some genuine excitement going by himself, with backing by the Doel Brothers.
The faintly ridiculous act of the evening was Graham Fenton doing a Gene Vncent impression, complete with leather jeans and gloves, blue cap, microphone stand handling and upward pleading stares. He performed Rocky Road Blues, Be Bop A Lula, plus Rockabilly Rebel, which the rather sparse crowd enjoyed. Graham was good fun but unfortunately his performance, and that of The Jets who he was playing with, was ruined but a ridiculous amount of echo and loud volume. Not good for the eardrums.
Another act on day two was LA based Alex Vargas, who struck me as being a bit middle of the road despite having a good voice and performing a varied set including soft rockabilly and blues. Fortunately he was backed by the excellent Nico Duportal band so it was an ok set overall.
Photos will follow when I get back to the UK.
Nick Cobban.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Tommy Hunt gets Screamin' Festival off to a flyer

Legendary soul and Doowop singer Tommy Hunt was the highlight of the first night of the Screaming' Festival in Calella on the Costa Brava with a superb set of classic Flamingos material. Backed by the New Flamingos (aka the Velvet Candles) he set the place alight. Looking fit and very dapper - and considerably younger than his 80 years - he mixed it up with sweet soulful Doowop and pure rock and roll in a set which included a truly moving version of Old Man River with fine support from the Spanish vocal group. He began with the up tempo Kokomo, moved through Sam Cooke's composition Nobody Loves Me Like You, the slower A Kiss From Your  Lips and Baby Let's Make Up. I'll Be Home - a song which Pat Boone 'tried' to do, in his words - was a master class and Crazy Crazy Craxy really rocked along. Other songs included the beautiful Lovers Never Say Goodbye, the Latin flavoured Your Other Love, Heavenly Angel and the rocking Jump Children, before ending, inevitably, with I Only Have Eyes For You. A truly excellent set and probably the best I've seen this year.
Another very good set was that of Nico Duportal and his Rhythm Dudes. This six piece French band played a varied set with some bluesy numbers composed by Nico, an excellent guitarist, including Going Back To  You and Real Cool Woman. Guitar Junior's The Crawl was a surprise inclusion in a set which showed off the talents of the two sax men, bass player and pianist to good effect.
Also pretty good, and starting the festival off to a noisy and rocking start, were Spansh band Double Six, whose rather tubby late period Elvis lead singer's raw voice and in your face approach was effective if less than subtle. Songs included, surprisingly, such popular UK numbers as Baby Sitting and Dancin' Shoes.
Nick Cobban.