Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Swanee Quintet 75th anniversary Gospel show

Seamus McGarvey went to the Swanee Quintet's 75th Anniversary at the Bell Auditorium in Augusta, Georgia, recently. Here's his report and photos of the event.
The history of gospel group The Swanee Quintet goes back to 1939 in Augusta, Georgia, with founder-manager Charlie Barnwell, Rufus Washington and William 'Pee Wee' Crawford who travelled around Georgia and neighbouring states as the Hallelujah Gospel Singers. Around 1945 they added James 'Big Red' Anderson and Ruben Willingham to form The Swanee Quintet, with Willingham on lead and 'Pee Wee' on guitar. ('Pee Wee' still lives in Augusta but no longer performs.) In the 1960s The Swanees (pictured below) toured with James Brown who also wrote some material for them.
The Swanee Quintet's 75th Anniversary celebration saw the Bell Auditorium in downtown Augusta 90 – 95% full, a great turnout, and 'takin' charge' M.C. Rev. Eddie Harris keeping control, which included ensuring the CD sellers stayed in line! Amongst the younger groups, New York's June and The Sionettes (pictured below), led by June Rogers-Eliely with strong supporting harmonies, opened the show  delivering a variety of tempos from slow-stepping to stomping, and featuring some great vocal interplay across three numbers including 'Too Blessed'.
 The modern sounding Claude Deuce and his singers showed a wide vocal range and tight, near choir-like harmonies, despite just five voices, and hit with 'One Thing Only', a touch of 'A Change Is Gonna Come', nicely sung, and 'This Praise Is 4 U'.
The Gospel Legends were impressive, especially lead tenor Allen Pringle on the stomping 'Let Him In' revealing his ability as a strong testifier, and a stepper with real energy and style, before they changed pace to the slower moving 'Strengthen Me, Jesus'. Their closing 'When I Get In Glory' introduced a visual routine built around sudden jumps up out of a chair which got the crowd going and eventually had the rhythm section out dancing and stepping in unison. A talented quartet.
The legendary Sensational Nightingales drew huge applause for their opening 'What A Friend We Have In Jesus' from Joseph 'Jo Jo' Wallace, a member since 1951, plus his preaching intro to 'See You In The Rapture', a beautiful mid-tempo hand-clapper with his exhortation to 'come on, church – let's have a good time!' Horace Thompson's 'Hold On' and Larry Moore's slow-stepping 'Standing On The Promise' kept things moving through to a strong conclusion.
Peacock and Hob recording artists Tommy Ellison's Singing Stars, with original member Billy Hardie, emerged as highly active with leaping musicians and exciting choreography on the driving 'Closer' before the bluesy slow-stepping 'Anyhow' featuring lead tenor Justin Mickens amongst an array of rapid and sudden unison steps from the group. Mickens proved a strong testifier throughout, leading into the closing 'Holy Ghost' and a wild finale – there are simply no other words to describe it!
After a presentation of plaques to the members of The Swanee Quintet, they launched into 'A Man Called Jesus' with the formidable trio of leader Percy Griffin (pictured below), Eddie McCoy and Koby Weaver out front. The soulful 'Meeting Tonight' changed the pace (with Percy joking, 'it's our anniversary so we can sing what we want!'), 'Sit Down Servant' benefited from a wonderful blend of voices, plus help from a lady in the audience ('She took my show!' Percy joked), while 'Stumble And Fall' went over so well that Percy stepped down into the congregation 'to be close to you all'. With a testifying 'Prayer Changes Things', and given some exciting visual and vocal workouts from Eddie and Koby, it was a case of 'Follow that!', before Percy ended the set with 'Georgia On My Mind'. Excellent.
The inimitable Shirley Caesar's appearance was also highly anticipated and the mid-tempo 'I Remember Mama' was a fine opener, with 'God Will Make A Way' proving highly emotional as Shirley and her four backing singers delivered some impassioned vocals. She also sang 'Armour Of God', a real stepping piece which ended with Shirley leading her singers plus some 'volunteers' and one or two 'conscripts' from the congregation through various steps and manoeuvres, and 'Hold My Mule' and 'I Cannot Stop Praising Him' brought the auditorium to a higher level of excitement before the soulful 'Jesus, I Love Calling Your Name'. She said she 'might have to take [her] shoes off' for 'Heaven', which was almost the case, with the singers providing strong support – complete with choreography - while Shirley really got the congregation 'up' and around the stage. A memorable performance. 
Lee Williams and The Spiritual QC's featured Leonard Shumpert on their opening 'I'm Gonna Make It' before the medium-stepping 'Right On Time' brought Lee out front as his usual solid, unwavering self, with straightforward singing and no theatrics. The slow-stepping 'No Fault' featured low-key yet highly effective testifying with solid fervour and passion, as he 'reached out' to the congregation – and got a solid response. The rocking 'Good Time' developed into a pacey head-of-steam-filled hypnotic piece while Patrick Hollis picked up the reins for the slow-stepping 'Wave My Hand' with some highly impassioned pleading, before his father singer-guitarist Al neatly brought everything back down to ground level to conclude a highly enjoyable set.
Closing the event, Doc McKenzie and The Hi-Lites (pictured below) opened with a request from an audience member for the easy-stepping 'The Other Shore' before the beautiful 'Must Have Been Jesus'. Doc demonstrated his fine, edgy vocals and the tight supporting harmonies made it all work beautifully, lending the number an insistent hypnotic feel with Doc dropping to his knees at one point.  There was a chairs routine, and the hand-clapping 'Bless Me' was a real winner before 'Stand By Me', led by Robert Holland, had a large part of the audience up and crowding around the stage. An exciting conclusion to a memorable event.  Roll on the 76th Anniversary!  
Seamus McGarvey ('Juke Blues' magazine) with thanks to Percy Griffin and Eddie Bynes

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Stranger and Patsy at the 100 Club

There aren't too many original Jamaican artists from the golden age of ska and rocksteady still around so it was a treat to see Stranger Cole and Patsy Todd at the 100 Club last night, backed by UK ska band the Paradimes. Beginning in 1962, Stranger recorded dozens of tracks for a variety of producers, including Duke Reid, Coxsone Dodd and Lee 'Scratch' Perry and had records released on many UK labels, including Blue Beat, Island, Black Swan, Doctor Bird, Amalgamated and Unity. Today he's as skinny as a rake and full of life - indeed his constant motto seems to be 'more life'.
Dressed in a shiny grey suit, T shirt from the Skamouth Festival and obligatory hat, his set included a cross section of his ska and rocksteady numbers, including Bangarang, Koo Koo Doo, the excellent Rough And Tough, Uno Dos Tres, When I Get My Freedom, Crying Every Night, finishing with Run Joe. He recalled that he came to the UK in 1970 to settle and had to fill in a form asking his name, address, occupation and sex. He entered six or seven times a week to the last question. Later he moved to Canada where he worked in a factory before opening a record shop and recording several albums for his own label.
Patsy Todd has not performed a great deal in the near 50 years since she gave up the music business and moved to New York, but she was fine on a solo number and on duets with Stranger (Tonight, Give Me The Right and their best known number When I Call Your Name). Patsy's role in ska history goes back to the early sixties too, when she recorded Housewife's Choice with Derrick Morgan.
Overall it was a highly entertaining night and brought back some great memories of the sixties.
Nick Cobban

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Farewell to Jimmy Ruffin

Another Motown great, Jimmy Ruffin, has died, aged 78, at his home in Las Vegas. The rumour has been circulating for a few days but now it has been confirmed. Jimmy had considerable success, particularly in the UK, with superbly soulful recordings such as What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted from 1966, I've Passed This Way Before, Gonna Give Her All The Love I've Got, Don't You Miss Me A Little Bit Baby, I'll Say Forever My Love, Don't Let Him Take Your Love From Me, I've
Passed This Way Before, Farewell Is A Lonely Sound and It's Wonderful (To Be Loved By You). A couple of them were hits a second time around in the UK in 1974. Albums such as The Jimmy Ruffin Way, Ruff'n Ready and Jimmy Ruffin - Forever were among the classiest produced by Motown, as was I Am My Brother's Keeper in which he duetted with his younger brother David of the Temptations.
After leaving Motown he recorded for Polydor/Chess, enjoying further success with Tell Me What You Want. Like quite a few soul singers he moved to the UK in the 80s where he recorded with the Style Council and Heaven 17 and became an anti-drug advocate after the death of his brother in 1991. Farewell is truly a lonely sound Jimmy, we will miss you.
Another death is that of Hammond organist Cherry Wainer, who is fondly remembered for her appearances on the prototype TV music show Oh Boy. Originally from South Africa, Cherry played with Lord Rockingham's XI and later toured with her husband, drummer Don Storer. One of Cherry's claims to fame is that her Columbia recording of Money (That's What I Want) in 1960 was the first Motown cover to be released in the UK.
rnThe Vinyl Word also raises a glass to 'Mr' Acker Bilk, who has died aged 85. The Somerset-
born trad jazz clarinettist enjoyed enormous success in 1962 with Stranger On the Shore, a record that stayed in the charts for a year, and also with Summer Set, Buona Sera, That's My Home, Lonely and A Taste of Honey, among others.
It's farewell, too, to Houston blues wildman Little Joe Washington, aged 75, who played with the likes of Lightnin' Hopkins, Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Catching up at Rhythm Riot

The annual Rhythm Riot at Pontin's holiday camp in Camber, near Rye, attracts visitors from all over Europe, but no one goes for the accommodation. Even the luxury chalet where I stayed resembled an over-crowded prison cell, had no towels provided and was lacking in all but the most basic amenities. Most of those attending go for the jiving or to show off their tattoos, vintage clothing or classic cars. The music, even though the line up included three original American artists who made their name in the fifties, seemed almost incidental, although some of the younger European bands have an enthusiastic following. Neverthless it's a great place to meet up with old friends and wallow in music nostalgia, spend money on vinyl records and do a bit of people watching.
For me, it's the live music that is what appeals, and there were some interesting and, at times, excellent acts, although I've seen most of them during the last 12 months so there was little in the way of surprises.
Undoubted star of the first day was Charlie Gracie, now 78, who is as professional as ever and has a back catalogue from the fifties that still stands up well today. A regular visitor to the UK, he performed all his big hits, including Just Lookin', Butterfly, Wandering Eyes, 99 Ways, Fabulous, Cool Baby and Heart Like A Rock, plus a couple of others including Tootsie, which was co-written by Quinton Claunch and was the B side of the first Hi record by Carl McVoy in 1957.
First act on day one were the Revolutionaires, a rock and roll band featuring two sax players which set the mood for the evening. Numbers included Keep A Knocking, Shake Your Hips, Jump For Joy and, rather predictably, What'd I Say.
Another first day act, and a new one to me was Josh 'Hi-Fi' Sorheim from the US, who included several originals in his act but didn't quite live up to his Eddie Cochran looks in terms of excitement.
Final act of the first day was Spanish instrumental band Los Mambo Jambo. I saw them in Spain earlier this year and was impressed by their visual movement and instrumental brilliance and they didn't disappoint this time.
The star of day two was Specialty recording star Roddy Jackson, who played at a Tales From The Woods gig a few months ago. Roddy puts his all into his act and must be the only man alive who can not only play piano and saxophone superbly but also sing on Little Richard style numbers with total conviction. His set included early recordings such as Hiccups, Any Old Town, Juke Box Baby, I Found A New Girl, Moose On the Loose and I've Got My Sights On Someone New plus tributes to his idol Little Richard with Lucille and Good Golly Miss Molly. Roddy gave his all and it was disappointing to see so few of the audience paying attention.
Kicking off proceedings on day two were Nico Duportal and His Rhythm Dudes, a French band that comes across very strongly. Nico is an excellent guitarist and obviously doesn't mind being teased as he was wearing rather fetching shorts.
Next on stage were Dutch band the Bugalettes featuring three female singers. They looked OK and harmonised well but I found their Western swing material rather dull, but that's just my view.
Much more enjoyable, for me anyway, were Lil Mo and the Dynaflos, a tight, melodic young Californian doowop group who included some excellent new songs including Ding Dong Baby and, I think, Settle Down, Miss Magician and Hands Off plus some doowop classics such as You Belong To Me and Trying To Get To You. Excellent stuff.
The fifties original starring on the final day of the Rhythm Riot was Eddie Daniels, who I first saw at the Ponderosa Stomp last year. Eddie recorded several tracks for Ebb in the fifties and revealed that he had been to the UK three times before as a member of a version of the Platters. His act this time was very different from the last due, I'm sure, to a road traffic accident a few weeks ago which damaged his knee. He spent nearly all of his set seated at the piano, the music stand of which prevented anyone to the right of the stage seeing anything but the top of his red hat. His set included a couple of Ebb recordings including Whoa Whoa Baby and Mardi Gras (although not his best known number I Wanna Know) and one of his Jewel (Akens) and Eddie duets My Eyes Are Crying (although again, not their best known number Opportunity). After insisting that all the audience should believe in God he complained that he had been ripped off over Larry Williams' Bony Moronie and finished with several covers, including Oh Lonesome Me, What'd I Say, Lucille and Send Me Some Loving. Despite his obvious lack of mobility I enjoyed his set, although others I was with were less impressed.
Also on the final evening we had US singer Alex Vargas, performing with the Nico Duportal band. A pretty good singer, with a very fine band, but not outstanding.
Nick Cobban

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Quinton Claunch - The Soul Of Memphis

James Carr is often described as the greatest ever soul singer. Sadly James is dead and gone, but Quinton Claunch, the man who discovered him, wrote many of his songs and produced his classic recordings for his Goldwax label, is still very much with us.
Now approaching his 93rd birthday Quinton still lives in the same house on the outskirts of Memphis that he moved in to 53 years ago. I had the pleasure of visiting him there while I was in town recently and asking him about his long and varied life in the music business. This was the man, remember, who worked with Sam Phillips at Sun in the early days, set up Hi Records, which went on later to nurture the likes of Al Green and Ann Peebles, and founded Goldwax, which many people regard as the label that represents the pinnacle of sixties southern soul. All this time he was making a living working for a hardware company travelling around the south and regarded music as something to do in his spare time, but even today he is involved with music and is looking for a major label to distribute a blues and soul CD he has produced on his current Soultrax label by an artist called Alonzo Pennington.
Quinton’s story begins in Muscle Shoals in the mid 1940s where he joined a country band called the Blue Seal Pals (named after a locally produced flour). They were big names on radio and appeared at the Grand Ole Opry but didn’t make a record and after a couple of years he and fellow band member Bill Cantrell decided to move to Memphis, where his friend Sam Phillips had set up Sun Records.
‘I worked in pre-production and played guitar on a lot of sessions, including Carl Perkins and Charlie Feathers. Also the Miller Sisters, who should have been big,’ he recalled.  ‘Also tried my hand at songwriting . I wrote Sure To Fall In Love With You for Carl Perkins – worst song I ever wrote. But I found that the Beatles recorded it at the BBC so I got some royalties – they paid a few utility bills.’ While at Sun, Quinton got friendly with Elvis Presley and travelled with him to some live performances, including one at Helena, Arkansas. ‘I tape recorded a 30 minute show and it was a good tape, but I didn’t look after it like I should and it got lost along the way. Elvis was a super nice guy, and the girls loved him of course.’
He very nearly had one of his songs recorded by Elvis. ‘I made a demo of a song I had written which Elvis heard at Sun. He called my house and told my wife to get me to call round to his mansion. When I got there he said ‘I’m gonna cut your song’ and I replied ‘Have you got a soft place for me to fall!’ But this was just before Elvis joined the army and the song got lost in the shuffle.’ The song, The Voice Of A Fool, has now seen the light of day at last and is included on Alonzo Pennington’s Born With Nothin’ CD.
Quinton’s first songwriting success was a song called Daydreamin’, recorded at Meteor in Memphis by Bud Duckelman, which became a regional hit for Jimmy Newman and was also recorded by Wanda Jackson. He wanted Sam to record it at Sun, but he preferred to keep Quinton on pre-production work. He left Sun soon after and hints at problems with receiving royalties, which he said also led to other singers such as Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash moving on, although Quinton said that he got all his songs back in the end. Of Jerry Lee Lewis, Quinton said ‘He was alright, but an odd character. Crazy.’ He doesn’t see anything of Jerry Lee these days.
After Sun, Quinton, together with his old friend Bill Cantrell, Ray Harris and Joe Cuoghi, who owned Poplar Tunes in Memphis, set up Hi Records. They had big hopes with a record by Carl McVoy (You Are My Sunshine), a cousin of Jerry Lee, which was cut in Nashville and attracted interest in Philadelphia. But it wasn’t a hit and Quinton decided to leave Hi and concentrate on his hardware business. By the time Bill Black’s Combo gave Hi its first major hit with Smokie, Quinton was no longer a partner. ‘With a wife and two sons I couldn’t gamble on the music business,’ he recalled.
Despite these concerns he stayed connected to the local music scene and he ran into Doc Russell at a Charlie Feathers recording session. Russell wanted to start a record label and Quinton put up $600 and came up with the name Goldwax. They cut a record (Darling by the Lyrics) and got a distribution arrangement with Bell, but it wasn’t a hit. Quinton was unimpressed by Doc Russell. ‘He didn’t know a pair of shoes from a bass fiddle, plus he was a borderline alcoholic,’ he said.
Goldwax really took off when the doorbell rang at Quinton’s house at midnight one night and he found three guys standing there – O V Wright, James Carr and Roosevelt Jamison. OV and James had been members of the gospel group The Harmony Echoes and Roosevelt was keen to record them. He had just the song for O V with That’s How Strong My Love Is. ‘I made up my mind as soon as I heard their voices,’ Quinton said. ‘Roosevelt had written some good songs and we recorded That’s How Strong My Love Is.’  O V Wright’s Goldwax career was cut short when Don Robey claimed he had a prior contract with his Duke record label, but James Carr (pictured at Blackheath in 1996) was to prove a fantastic find.
Quinton went on to write many of his biggest hits, including Love Attack and I’m A Fool For You, and recorded two albums with him at Sun. But James had his problems. ‘He had some kind of mental problem. I took him to the doctor every two weeks for his shots and he thought the world of me. He couldn’t hardly write his name but he could memorise words and get the phrasing just right. James was very intense. I took him to New York where he was booked for three nights  but on the first night he couldn’t hardly talk and I had to cancel the other two nights.’
Other successes at Goldwax included the Ovations, whose first record It’s Wonderful To Be In Love, sounded uncannily like Sam Cooke, who had recently died. ‘I knew it wouldn’t hurt sales people thinking it was Sam Cooke,” Quinton admitted. A third success was Spencer Wiggins, (still sounding great today, as two appearances at the Porretta Soul Festival confirm). Many of the Goldwax hits for Spencer and the Ovations, as well as James Carr,  were written by Quinton, although Dan Penn’s masterpieces, such as James’s Dark End Of the Street, co-written with Chips Moman, also made a strong showing.
Quinton closed Goldwax in 1969, partly because he and Doc Russell were not getting on well, and he returned to the hardware business. But Goldwax was to reappear in the early nineties when a businessman named Elliott Clark revived the name and Quinton briefly became president of the new company. Two further James Carr albums were recorded – Take Me To The Limit and Soul Survivor – both produced by Quinton, cementing James’s reputation as one of the all time greats. ’Despite his mental problems James never lost his voice and I recorded him at a little studio down in Mississippi which looked like an outhouse.’ Quinton has a low opinion of Elliott Clark, however. ‘He was as bogus as a three dollar bill. He tried to use me and he was just a crook.’
Now living with his son Steve, who is planning a biography of his illustrious dad, Quinton clearly misses his wife of 69 years who died last year. He still has a record label, Soultrax, and has made records with Al Green (Precious Lord) and Toni Green. He has also worked with a blues singer named Joe Thomas and with Johnny Nash in Nashville (although that last venture looks like it won’t see the light of day).He is particularly enthused by his latest discovery Alonzo Pennington (pictured above), from Kentucky, and is looking for a major distributor to release Born With Nothin’, recorded at Wishbone Studio in Muscle Shoals. He is hoping to hear back from Ace soon! One more success for this great music man as he approaches his 93rd birthday would be quite something!
Nick Cobban

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Brits (and Aussies) on tour

There were several groups of blues-loving Brits (and Aussies) touring around the US on my recent trip but I haven't put any group photos on the blog, my friend Ronnie Cook from Edinburgh has pointed out.
So to rectify this, here are some pix taken at various stages of the tour, beginning with one taken at the Carrollton Station bar in New Orleans towards the end of the trip. Pictured are (left to right) Nick Cobban, Ronnie Cook, Dave Thomas (from Shrewsbury), Dave Carroll and Julie Thomas.
Here are Alan Lloyd (originally from Brisbane), his brother Ken Lloyd (now living in Newcastle, New South Wales), Ken Wood (from Northern Ireland) and Ian Turnbull (from Biggleswade) at the King Biscuit Festival.
Also at the festival, here are Nick Cobban, Alan Lloyd and Dave Carroll.
This is Nick Cobban and Dave Carroll at Red's in Clarksdale.
Here are Dave Carroll, Ken Lloyd, Ian Turnbull, Alan Lloyd and Ken Wood in front of the crossroads sign (highways 61 and 49) in Clarksdale, where Robert Johnson reputedly sold his soul to the devil.
Here are Dave Carroll and Ken Lloyd at Hal and Mal's in Jackson.
Finally, here are Dave Carroll, Jay McCaddin (from Mobile, Alabama) and Nick Cobban at Ocean Springs on the Gulf Coast.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Bluesfest in London

After a couple of weeks in the States overdosing on the blues, including the King Biscuit Festival and the Crescent City Blues & BBQ Festival, the line up for London's own Bluesfest at the Royal Albert Hall looked rather synthetic. Leading names taking part in the five day event included Georgie Fame, Gregory Porter, Van Morrison, Andy Fairweather Low, Dr Feelgood, Elvis Costello and Sheryl Crow - all excellent acts but not exactly down home blues, although there was some of the authentic stuff on show in the form of Robert Cray at one of the evening concerts.
I attended on Friday, the final day and there were some interesting acts performing during the afternoon. These included some genuine Chicago blues in the form of Mud Morganfield, son of Muddy Waters, who proved well able to continue his dad's legacy, with a selection of his own songs, including the amusing Catfishing, and one or two of Muddy's. There was a good band playing with him and he was worth the admission price (£20) alone.
Most visual act of the day were the Excitements, an old school soul band, whose lead singer Koko-Jean Davis lived up to the band name's promise and looks great as well. I saw them at the Jazz Cafe a few months ago and this Spanish band, with a singer originally from Mozambique, made an excellent impression then, and did so again at the ROH.
Another excellent performer, and one who is popular on the rock and roll scene, was Si Cranstoun, who mixes a bit of Jackie Wilson with Louis Jordan. Worth seeing again.
Also worth a look were the Cadillac Kings, who played a varied set ranging from Bo Diddley to a Charleston number.
Playing solo in a small room in the depths of the Royal Albert Hall was Mike Sanchez, always a solid performer.
Finally, another photo of Koko-Jean Davis and the Excitements. Wearing a shocking pink mini dress, she's always worth a second look.