Monday, September 29, 2014

Earl Jackson at the Dublin Castle

When it comes to on-stage energy, there are few UK rock and roll performers who can match Nottingham-based Earl Jackson. Wearing a naval style peaked cap, he comes across as a latter day Chuck Berry - indeed he jokes that Chuck was his dad - but there is more to him than that, even if many of his numbers were written and recorded by Berry. There's more than a hint of Eddie Murphy in his toothy smile, his swivel eye popping grimaces and his humorous and at times manic approach. But he's a good guitarist and a pretty fair vocalist with bags of personality.
Earl and his band the Earl Jackson Four were the stars of the latest Tales From The Woods promotion at the Dublin Castle in Camden and from his first number, Chuck's Back In The USA, he had the audience hooked. There were several numbers from the Chuck Berry song book in his set, including Roll Over Beethoven, Nadine (complete with duck walk) and, as an encore, Johnny B Goode, and it was perhaps on these numbers that he seemed most comfortable. But there was also a good selection of blues and R and B songs, including Flip, Flop and Fly, the bluesy Please Let Me Explain, James Hunter's Don't Do Me No Favours, Roy Brown's Miss Fanny Brown and an excellent version of Howlin' Wolf's Howling For My Baby. He also included a couple of numbers from his 2010 album Bustin' Loose - I'm Dead Broke But I'm Satisfied and Clyde McPhatter's Deep Sea Ball. Born of Jamaican parents and originally a gospel singer, Earl has been popular on the rock and roll scene for many years, but he was an inspired choice by Keith Woods for his latest show, in a pub that used to host roots music shows regularly.
Support act on last night's show were Smiley Jacks, a four piece blues band featuring the excellent guitar of Iain 'Hound Dog' Terry, a founder member of Matchbox and a former member of various other groups over the years, including Shotgun and the Cruisers, as well as backing the likes of Muddy Waters and Charlie Gracie and recording solo. They kicked off with Down The Road Apiece and the set was solid rocking blues from beginning to end. The band has a new CD on Union records and this was an opportunity for them to play quite a few of the numbers on it, including Freddy King's Hideaway, Shotgun's Cadillac 55, Secret Service, Tore Down, the instrumental Smiley Jacks and The Dark Side Of Town. Bluesy versions of Matchbox, Hoochie Coochie Man and Walkin' The Dog were included, as well as an up tempo New Orleans, along with Down In The Jungle, which was a track on his solo album.
Once again Keith Woods (picture below) is to be congratuled on promoting the show and his choice of Deejay Wheelie Bag to provide music before and after the acts - playing vinyl 45s I was pleased to see - also worked well.
Words and photos by Nick Cobban.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Take Me To The River in London

It's not often that you get artists of the calibre of Memphis soul and blues legends Otis Clay, William Bell and Bobby Rush, along with the Hi Rhythm Section, in the UK these days. Sadly, that's a situation that is hardly likely to change any time soon, as the venue for the Take Me To The River show, the Brooklyn Bowl at the O2 in London, was barely a quarter full.
Take Me To The River is a new movie that puts old school Memphis soul artists alongside the new generation of rap artists coming out of the city. Produced by Lawrence Boo Mitchell, grandson of the great Willie Mitchell, as was last night's show, it's a brave attempt to link the soulful music of the older artists with the very different tastes of today's audience. Unfortunately as a concept, judging at any rate by the Take Me To the River show, it doesn't really work. The show didn't attract a younger audience and the inclusion of the rap artists only served to detract from the brilliance of Otis Clay, William Bell and, to a lesser extent, Bobby Rush.
The show began with a couple of numbers by the Bronfield Trio, a group of very young musicians from the Stax Academy in Memphis, who were followed on stage by the full Hi Rhthym Section, including Charles and Leroy Hodges, Ben Cauley and Marc Franklin on trumpet, Lannie McMillan on sax, Steve Potts on drums. Michael Toles on guitar and Archie Turner on keyboards. Veterans of Willie Mitchell's marvellous Hi sound, they produced some sublime sounds on 20-75, Soul Serenade and the Bar-Kays' Soul Finger, with excellent support from three female backing singers. One of them, Stephanie Bolton, then came to the mic and showed that she has a voice to rival any of the female Memphis greats with her version of I Can't Stand The Rain. She was then joined on stage by a slim young female hip hop singer called, I think, Iffy, who joined in on Al Green's Tired Of Being Alone, for no reason that I could fathom.
Rap came fully to the fore with the next act, an established hip hop singer called Al Kapone, who rapped his way through three numbers, including Whoop That Trick, for which he is apparently well known in Memphis. Then, on this somewhat chaotic show, we had British blues singer/guitarist Ian Siegal, a man who has played with a number of Memphis musicians. He was fine on Sitting On Top Of The World, but wasn't really what most of the audience were there for.
At last we got to the meat of the evening with the appearance of the ever brilliant Otis Clay (above), who gave us an impassioned version of Precious Precious, with brilliant support from Charles Hodges on keyboards. Otis was clearly annoyed with the booming sound of bowling balls on the adjoining lanes and I wouldn't imagine that his mood improved when he was joined on stage by Uriah Mitchell, great grand son of Willie, who did his best to spoil Tryin' To Live My Life Without You with his rap interruption. It was great to see Otis again, but if only he had been given a full length set, with no rapping!
Next on stage was the ever youthful Bobby Rush, now 80 but still full of beans. He was joined on stage by Al Kapone (pictured together above) for Push It, Pull It and on this occasion the pairing actually worked well, Bobby's bawdy, bluesy approach has always included quite a bit of saucy chat, and rap did not seem out of place as these two melded well together. Bobby went into blues mode next, with Don't You Wish You Had A Man Like Me, and then did a solo acoustic blues song, backed just by his harmonica, on Garbage Man. A master class if, again, much too brief.
The third soul legend, and one of the very first Stax artists, was William Bell, again looking ridiculously young and fit for a man of 75, wearing a smart grey shiny suit and trilby hat. He spent a lengthy and unnecessary ten minutes introducing the band, to the tune of Eddie Floyd's Knock On Wood, before moving to one of his own songs, I Forgot To Be Your Lover, which showed that his voice is very much intact. Once again, though, it was interrupted by the appearance on stage of Al Kapone, with his rap stuff.
Finally the three main stars came together on stage to sing Al Green's great Take Me To The River, a song perfectly suited to Otis Clay's gravelly, soulful voice. They were joined on keyboards by Jerry Harrison, formerly of Talking Heads, who co-produced the movie. It was the perfect way to end an evening which was brilliant in parts, but hard to take in others. Call me old fashioned, but I fail to see how great soul numbers can be improved by the presence of rap music mid way through. But what do I know?
Here's Ben Cauley, survivor of the plane crash that killed Otis Redding and other members of the Bar-Kays.
Archie Turner and Leroy Hodges.
Sax man Lannie McMillan.
Guitarist Michael Toles.
Producer Boo Mitchell.
Impressive soul singer Stephanie Bolton.
Young rapper Iffy (?)
Ian Siegal.
Otis Clay.
Bobby Rush.
The next generation - the Bronfield Trio from the Stax Academy.
Words and photos by Nick Cobban.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Farewell to some music greats

Time to catch up on a number of music deaths over the last couple of weeks.
Baton Rouge bluesman Rudy Richard (pictured above with C C Adcock) has died aged 75. Originally from Church Point, Louisiana, he played with Slim Harpo and his guitar licks can be heard on such classics as Rainin' In My Heart, I'm A King Bee and Baby Scratch My Back, but he never recorded under his own name. I first saw Rudy at Teddy's Juke Joint in Zachary, near Baton Rouge, in 2010 and the following year he played at the Ponderosa Stomp alongside Lazy Lester. A few days later I saw him again at a swamp blues show at the Rice Theatre in Crowley, La, which also featured Warren Storm, Carol Fran, Guitar Gable and C C Adcock.
From the world of rocksteady we have lost Jackie Bernard, founder member of the Kingstonians, aged 66. He recorded with Derrick Harriott in the late sixties and had great success with Sufferer and Singer Man, before the band broke up in the early seventies. Their only LP, Sufferer, was released in the UK on Trojan.
One of the architects of some of the greatest pop music to come out of the States, Bob Crewe, has died aged 83. Together with partner Frank Slay, he wrote and produced the Rays' double sider
Silhouettes and Daddy Cool and, with Swan Records of Philadelphia, had further success with Billy and Lillie's La De Da and Freddy Cannon's Tallahassee Lassie and Ofefonokee. In the early sixties he joined with Bob Gaudio and guided the career of the Four Seasons, who had huge success with Sherry, Big Girls Don't Cry, Rag Doll, Walk Like A Man and many others. In 1965 he formed Dynovoice Records and had hits with Eddie Rambeau (Concrete and Clay), the Toys (Lovers Concerto and Attack), Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels (Devil With A Blue Dress On and Jenny Take A Ride) and Norma Tanega (Walking My Cat Named Dog). Bob enjoyed success under his own name (the Bob Crewe Generation), with Music To Watch Girls By, which became a hit for Andy Williams, as did another Crewe song, first recorded by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Can't Take My Eyes Off You. In the seventies he was involved in forming Disco Tex and the Sex O Lettes and recorded Labelle's Lady Marmalade, as well as recording as a solo artist. Truly one of pop music's greats.
From the world of country music we have lost George Hamilton IV at the age of 77. A recording
artist since 1956, when he recorded A Rose And A Baby Ruth, George's many other hits included Why Don't They Understand, Fort Worth Dallas and Houston, Abilene, Canadian Pacific and Carolina In My Mind.
Finally we say goodbye to jazz keyboard player Joe Sample, a founder member of the Crusaders, who recorded with them until the early nineties.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The O'Jays at the O2, London

Seamus McGarvey reports from an exciting show at the O2.
The O'Jays – Indigo2 at the O2, London: Thursday 18th September 2014
This was quite an occasion, the first night of a two-night run at London's O2 Arena for legendary soul vocal group, The O'Jays. They were appearing in London for the first time in over 20 years, with a classic line-up featuring original and founding members Eddie Levert and Walter Williams, plus Eric Nolan Grant who joined the group almost 20 years ago in 1995.
The trio hit the stage about 9.10 pm and went through a 90 minute set supported by a tight 11-piece band  including their own rhythm section, a 4-piece horn section from the UK and backing vocalists. They drew a good Thursday night crowd who cheered wildly as they came on in their white suits and matching shoes, opening with 'Give The People What They Want' from 1974, Eddie's voice still showing real edge, the rhythm giving them the pace and opportunity for some neat choreography. The smooth soul of 'Lovin' You' had the crowd cheering yet again while 'Forever Mine' elicited some nice gospel-styled testifying from Walter. The vocal harmonies throughout were sharp and strong, and tellingly so in the closing bars of 'Forever Mine', before 'Back Stabbers' raised the pace once more, the harmonies flying high behind Eddie's lead. 'Let Me Make Love To You' gave Eddie the chance for some 'getting close to the audience' time, which he used to good effect with some nice touches of humour, then it was the smooth choreography and harmonised vocals of 'Cry Together' and 'Stairway To Heaven', before 'I Love Music' lifted the whole feel yet again.
Eddie introduced the band members before each of the three took a solo spot with a song from each in turn including Eddie's 'Family Reunion'. There was even a reference to Scottish independence from Eddie ('as one we can always win') which segued into a snatch of Curtis Mayfield's 'People Get Ready' and a barnstorming 'Love Train' with Walter out front and Eddie and Eric doing some fast stepping. 'Use Ta Be My Girl' and 'For The Love Of Money' maintained the pace and took us through to the end with most of the audience up and dancing. A legendary act, still a potent force as performers, and an exciting show. Great to see them back in the UK; let's hope they return soon. Seamus McGarvey ('Juke Blues' magazine UK, with thanks to Cilla Huggins)
Eddie and Walter.
Eddie Levert.
Eroc Nolan Grant.
Walter Williams.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Soul Pioneers....Little Willie John

I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of this very rare Parlophone release by Little Willie John the other day so I thought I would select Willie as the second subject of my series on Soul Pioneers. Willie was a star of R and B in the late fifties and early sixties, but there's no doubting that he had an incredibly soulful voice and can rightly be considered one of the true pioneers of the genre.His first releases, Titus Turner's All Around the World and his original Need Your Love So Bad, both of them R and B classics, were not given a general release in the UK at the time, and in fact only a handful of Willie's singles were issued over the following few years. Fever, released in 1956, became much better known when Peggy Lee recorded it a couple of years later, but this first Parlophone 45 must have had a very small circulation. It's certainly hard to find, hence its mint value of £300. Later records such as Leave My Kitten Alone, Talk To Me, Talk To Me and Sleep enjoyed success in the US but went virtually unnoticed in the UK.
The older brother of Mable John, Willie's recording career came to a dramatic end when he was dropped by his record company, King, after suffering alcohol problems, and then, in 1966, convicted for manslaughter following a knifing incident in Seattle. Despite appealing the verdict and being released for long enough to record a comeback album (not released until 2008), Willie was sent back to prison and died, allegedly of a heart attack, in 1968.
Pictured are a couple more Parlophone releases in my collection and some of Willie's original King 45s, with Youtube links. First, here's a Youtube link to Fever.
Let's Rock While The Rockin's Good.

Leave My Kitten Alone.
(I've Got) Spring Fever.
Take My Love (I Want To Give It All To You).
Doll Face.
Selection of Little Willie John LPs.

Monday, September 15, 2014

All star gospel show in Maryland

Thanks again to music journalist Seamus McGarvey for his report and photos from what looks quite some show in the US last month.
Gospel Program: Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, Lanham, Maryland: 23rd August 2014
Rosetta Thompson (pictured below), wife of The Sensational Nightingales' Horace Thompson, promotes gospel programs three times a year in Lanham MD and manages to bring to Mt. Calvary Baptist church some of the best-known gospel quartets in the country.
This program was no exception with supporting quartets including Maryland's Southern Gospel Singers who really tore the place up; Little Sammy and The New Flying Clouds from Philadelphia who had some exciting call-and-response numbers in their repertoire; and D.C.'s Nate and The New Generation displaying an exciting revivalist feel, with Nate really getting the congregation fired up. Later in the program, The Soul Messengerz (below) sang 'One More Time' from their new CD, and the title track 'Only The Strong Survive' which developed into a heated workout, with the lead showing his vocal range and power.
Doc McKenzie and The Hi-Lites (pictured below) opened their set with the mid-tempo 'The Other Shore' before moving on to 'one of our old songs... - and if you like it, let us know; if not, fool us!' - 'Ride With Jesus', complete with a nice bit of preaching, and soulful yet low key testifying. Doc joked that the next number was 'an old country song... even though I know we're way up North!' as he led into the mid-tempo stepper 'Must Have Been Jesus'. It was fine vocals and harmonies all the way, with some insistent preaching, which took him out  into the congregation. He was even hoisted up onto one of the benches at one point for more testifying, bringing their set to an exciting finish.
Darrell McFadden and The Disciples, (pictured below) a very active quartet with Darrell a formidable front-man, opened with 'Be Ready', a wonderfully pacey piece driven by Darrell and three backing singers. Suited in white, they exhibited wonderful verve and energy, their insistent 'I'm On My Journey Now' continuing the feel while Darrell, at times reminiscent of a young Solomon Burke, contributed some really hard-edged testifying  in 'Never Alone'. Finishing on the wildly sanctified feel of 'Shackles', they proved to be yet another exceptional quartet, prompting the M.C. to ask the congregation, 'You still enjoying Jesus?', to which the reply was a resounding 'Yes!'
The Swanee Quintet  were led by Percy Griffin, (pictured below) a member since the mid-to-late 1960s, who joked as he came onto the altar, 'I know I look good!' - and he did. He opened with the medium-stepping 'Eternal Life' and was in fine form, even singing someone a 'happy birthday', before another slow-stepper and a song he 'used to hear [his] mother sing round the house', 'Sit Down Servant', plus the mid-tempo 'Stumble And Fall'. Percy's godson Willie Jones, having overcome a lot of illness, delivered his version of 'Ups And Downs', providing a soul-stirring introduction to Percy's 'Dr. Jesus' which in turn gave way to some extended and exciting testifying from the two younger singers, Eddie McCoy and Koby Weaver. Percy closed beautifully with 'Georgia On My Mind', joking that 'this is probably sacrilegious!' but making for a great finish to The Swanees' impressive set.
The Sensational Nightingales (Joseph 'Jo Jo' Wallace, a member since 1951 (pictured below), Horace Thompson and Larry Moore) were recipients of a number of awards and presentations in  recognition of their 68th Anniversary before 'Jo Jo' led everyone through 'What  A Friend We Have In Jesus' with some passionate preaching. 'Something Beautiful' had a nice mid-tempo country feel, followed by the similarly-paced 'Hard Headed Jonah' and the effortlessly country-blues feel of' 'At The Meeting'. Larry led the beautiful 'He Was There All The Time' followed by Horace's tasteful treatment of 'See You In The Rapture' before slowing the pace to finish on 'Standing On The Promise'. A strong set from a classic quartet with a great history and sense of tradition.
Despite some recent voice problems, Harvey Watkins Jr. led The Canton Spirituals through a number of songs, demonstrating his abilities as a very expressive performer, using humour as a key part of getting his message across. 27-year-old lead singer Keenan Nichols (pictured below) shared some of the load, and - alongside Harvey's joke: 'you wouldn't believe I was 27 once!' - Keenan's 'Morning Dove' showed real vocal power and edge and the ability to testify, while Harvey responded with 'Show Me The Way' and 'Heavenly Choir', his late father Harvey Sr.'s song. They also performed 'Depending On You', written after his father died, and Keenan's handling of Harvey Jr.'s 'Hallelujah Square' was really impassioned. It was good to see them again.
Headliners The Mighty Clouds Of Joy featured legendary lead Joe Ligon who performed for half of the set, handing the reins over to younger members part-way through. One of the original members, Joe was in good voice, and with a stage presence befitting his years of experience in quartet performances. 'I've Been In The Storm Too Long' was taken at a measured pace and then it was 'back down memory lane', in Joe's words, for the testifying 'It's Another Day's Journey (I'm Glad About It)'. Still with a wide range and an edge to his vocals, Joe's closing' Heavy Load' really rocked the church. A great conclusion to a wonderful show.
Here are a couple of photos featuring Nate and the New Generation and Little Sammy and the New Flying Clouds.
Roll on the next program at the same venue on Saturday December 6th featuring Spencer Taylor and The Highway QCs, The Sensational Nightingales, The Swanee Quintet, The Mighty Clouds of Joy, The Canton Spirituals, The Pilgrim Jubilees and The Violinaires – quite a line-up! Seamus McGarvey (With thanks to Rosetta and Horace Thompson)