Wednesday, September 30, 2015

From Atlanta to Mobile....and Frankie Ford RIP

We've reached Mobile on our U.S. road trip and for the first time the sun has made an appearance. On our second day in Atlanta we went out to Athens, a university town where a number of groups come from, including the B52s, REM and Widespread Panic. We enjoyed a drink at the Globe Bar, once voted 3rd best bar in the States, and had a look at 'the tree that owns itself', a strange local tale created when a tree was granted ownership of the land within eight feet of its trunk. Back in Atlanta, we went to Sweet Georgia's Juke Joint, an upmarket place frequented by urban blacks, where a singer called Ray Howard sang some sweet seventies soul and the soul food was expensive but tasty. From there we went on to the rather more basic Northside Tavern where a blues band called Uncle Sugar were playing who were entertaining and chose some interesting numbers to cover.
Next day we drove to Macon, stopping on the way at Gray to see a newly unveiled marker commemorating Otis Redding who was born there. Macon is associated not only with Otis (there's an Otis Redding Heritage centre there) but Little Richard and the Allman Brothers as well. The former Greyhound bus station where Richard once worked is now an impressive visitors centre and a road was named after him recently. It's a sleepy place where motorists stop if you so much as look as though you might be about to cross the road. From there we went Columbus, another quiet, attractive town where we stayed the night. Sadly there was no music to be had but we went to a bar where there was a quiz taking place, a rather easy one we thought.
Next morning it was still raining as we headed south but eventually it cleared up, after I'd spent more than I should have at Mobile Records.
As we sat in a bar in Mobile news came through that Frankie Ford had died, the fourth former star of the Ponderosa Stomp to have died in the last few weeks. Best known of course for Sea Cruise, Frankie was a regular at Jazzfest having performed every time I went. Wearing his trademark black and white piano key scarf he was always entertaining and amusing, even though he drifted into MOR territory at times. That wasn't the case when I saw him at the Archway Tavern in 1992 when he sang New Orleans R and B from beginning to end. The last time I saw him, at Jazzfest two years ago, he looked frail but put on a good show. As well as his big hit, where his voice was overdubbed on Huey Piano Smith's great backing track, he recorded many New Orleans styled numbers and was one of the last of the true New Orleans legends. He will be missed. RIP Frankie.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Blues and rain in Atlanta

I'm at the start of another U.S. road trip taking in a wide sweep of the South, beginning with Atlanta, a place I haven't explored before. I'm travelling with Dave Carroll, Alan Lloyd and Lee Wilkinson, all guys I've toured with in the past. We arrived too late to catch any live music on our first night, but three of us had a couple of beers at Smiths Olde Bar, a popular and noisy pub. It was a rainy day in Georgia next morning as we set out to explore the city, beginning with the Martin Luther King historic site around Auburn Avenue. There's a museum, which is ok but not as impressive as the Civil Rights museums in Memphis and Montgomery, plus his grave, the King Center and the house he was born in. We also checked out the impressive Fox Theatre and the closed down Royal Peacock, where the likes of Little Richard once played. Then it was time for a quick drink in the Northside Tavern, which features live blues seven nights a week.

In the evening, after a good meal of Southern Fried chicken in the Atkins Park restaurant, we went to the nearby Blind Willie's Blues club. Named after Georgia bluesman Blind Willie McTell, the place was crowded with a really mixed audience, both age wise and ethnically, but we managed to get prime seats to see Sandra Hall, Atlanta's 'Empress of the Blues'. Her backing band the Shadows didn't include Hank Marvin but were a pretty good four piece with a decent guitarist and warmed things up nicely with four or five numbers including I Wish You Would and Rib Joint. Then it was the turn of Sandra herself, who is something of a force of nature with a raunchy act and an earthy voice reminiscent of Ko Ko Taylor. She's been around Atlanta all her life and has recorded five albums, including three for Ichiban, and her performance was a lot of fun. Now in her late sixties, many of her numbers focussed on sex and the attractions of her full figure to the men in her life. She dragged several guys on stage, got them to place their hands on her hips and their heads on her bosom while she urged the females in the house to Use What You Got. Lee, who was sitting right at the front, looked nervous but was spared this indignity but others were less fortunate. Other numbers included Breaking Up Someone's Home, Walk Into My Fire and I'm Not A Size Five and she finished her second set with a rousing version of Wang Dang Doodle which got quite a few people dancing. Her voice is strong, indeed raucous at times, but she sure knows how to put on a show with her risqué and bluesy act. Definitely not to be missed if you are ever in Atlanta.
Watch out for further reports of our Stomping road trip and photos when I get back.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

And now Ben Cauley of the Bar-Kays

Yet another star of Ponderosa Stomps past - trumpeter Ben Cauley - has died. Aged 67, Ben was the only member of the Bar-Kays to survive the plane crash that killed Otis Redding and four other members of the band in 1967. Ben and other members of the Bar-Kays had earlier backed many Stax artists, including Otis, Carla Thomas and Sam and Dave and the band enjoyed great success with Soul Finger. After the crash he reunited with James Alexander, who wasn't on the plane, and the band continued to back Stax artists such as Isaac Hayes and the Staple Singers, and recorded successfuly themselves.
Ben retired from music after suffering a stroke but came back strongly and the Bar-Kays played at festivals in the US and Europe, including the Stomp and Porretta. He was in London last year taking part in Take Me To The River (pictured above), a show featuring Otis Clay, William Bell and Bobby Rush. Yet another sixties link with Stax has passed and he will be sadly missed.
Here is Ben at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2008.
And here he is at the Porretta Soul Festival in 2012.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Farewell to Lady Bo

The Vinyl Word says farewell to guitarist Peggy Jones, aka Lady Bo, a star of past Ponderosa Stomps, who has died aged 75. A true female rock and roll pioneer, she played with Bo Diddley for several years to 1961 and can be heard on classics such as Hey Bo Diddley and Road Runner. When she left she formed her own group The Jewels and also played guitar on Les Cooper's Wiggle Wobble hit. She rejoined Bo in 1970 together with her band.
Here she is at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2005.
And this is Lady Bo at the 2011 Stomp.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Legends of Western Swing

The Vinyl Word welcomes Boston-based Noah Schaffer as a guest contributor. Noah is a regular visitor to soul gigs in the UK and to festivals in the US. He is a regular contributor to the Arts Fuse in Boston.
What’s a Texas western swing dance without the beer?
It’s still a lot of fun, at least if it’s at the annual Legends of Texas Swing Festival in Wichita Falls.
89-year old promoter Gloria Miers and her late husband Dewey started the event to provide a family-friendly alternative to the smoke-filled Texas ice houses and honky tonks where western swing was traditionally heard. Presenting live music with no alcohol sales revenue isn’t an easy task, and raffles, vendors and auctions help make up the difference.
The festival has switched homes a few times over its decades-long existence. It currently resides at the Wichita Falls Multi-Purpose Event Center, which true to its name was also hosting a dog contest in another part of the facility. While perhaps lacking the personality of a classic Texas beer hall, the MPEC had enough space for multiple dance floors and enough air conditioning to combat the intense June heat. While some patrons sat in folding chairs in front of the stage, many others brought lawn chairs which they placed around the circumference of the dance floor for easy access as soon as the band kicked into “Faded Love” – which happened during nearly every set.
Each of the three days featured three bands performing both an afternoon and an evening set. Thursday, which I missed, focused on some of the genre’s younger talent which is keeping western swing alive: the Hot Club of Cowtown, former Asleep at the Wheel fiddler Jason Roberts and bassist Jake Hooker and his Outsiders.
Friday included well-received sets from veteran area bandleader Eddie McAlvain and the Mavericks (including his annual salute to veterans) and hard-working multi-instrumentalist Bobby Flores and his Yellow Rose Band (pictured below), who besides his honky tonk showed off his impressive jazz chops with Wes Montgomery’s “Unit 7.”
Friday’s headliner was the most famous western swing band of them all, Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys. Today the aggregation is led by 87-year old Leon Rausch, who sang with Wills in the 50’s and then returned in the mid 70’s, and 83-year old guitarist Tommy Allsup. Besides his time with Wills, Allsup is perhaps best known for his role in a yarn which claims he lost a coin toss to Richie Valens and was denied a seat on the flight that crashed, killing Valens, Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper. (Allsup’s version of the somewhat-disputed story and the rest of his career are detailed in the 2010 book “Flip of a Coin.”)
Between Rausch’s classic country vocals and Allsup’s bluesy guitar sound, the current 9-piece Texas Playboys are as musically adventurous and rewarding as ever, with their revolutionary blend of jazz, blues and hillbilly music still at the forefront. Besides Wills classics like “Corrina Corrina” and “Milk Cow Blues” the group also offered the gospel of “How Great Thou Art” and their take on “Honky Tonk.” Allsup stepped to the mike for versions of “Raining in My Heart” and “Big Boss Man.”
Like many other classic American genres, western swing is just if not more popular oversees than in the land of its birth. This year the international scene was represented by the UK’s high-energy Swing Commanders, whose retro World War II-era presentation created a strong bond with the older audience members.
Saturday’s biggest star power came from Johnny Bush (pictured below), who at 80 is one of the last Texas country greats still performing. A former Ray Price sideman, Bush also co-wrote and first recorded “Whiskey River.” (Willie Nelson returns the favor by having Bush perform each year at his 4th of July picnic.) Surprisingly that song wasn’t on the set list during Bush’s afternoon set, but there were plenty of his other classics like “Jim, Jack, and Rose” and a moving version of fellow Texan Tony Booth’s “Secret Love.”
Bush also offered some tracks from his recent recordings on the Heart of Texas label, which has been issuing valuable new recordings from veteran honky tonkers. Especially effective was a cover of the Derailers’ tale of a hard-touring Lone Star troubadour “All the Rage in Paris.”
The afternoon session concluded with Dave Alexander, who is a major star in Texas but receives little exposure in the other 49 states. His versatile Big Texas Swing Band included everything from Merle Haggard’s “Today I Started Loving You Again” to a New Orleans-style “Just a Closer Walk With Thee.” And Alexander boasted yet another Wills album in his horn section: 92-year old Billy Briggs.
At the start of the supper break I departed for a very different musical experience on my itinerary: Dallas soul-blues great R.L. Griffin’s Blues Palace in Dallas, which features the infamous Hen Dance at the end of every evening. For more information on future editions of Ms. Miers’ festival visit her new website at or join the Facebook group. Photos courtesy of Beth Miers Hague.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Picks of the Ponderosa Stomp

It's been a long two years since the last one, but the 12th Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans is almost upon us. As ever there's a fantastic line up which includes some of the greats of female soul music such as Mable John, Irma Thomas, Brenda Holloway, Barbara Lynn and Betty Harris, as well as many names from rock and roll, swamp pop and blues, including Freddy Cannon, Augie Meyers, Joe Clay, Warren Storm, Rod Bernard and Roy Head to name but a few. John Broven will be interviewing some of the swamp pop stars during the conference sessions which accompany the Stomp.
Many of the artists I've seen before and I am looking forward to seeing them again, but there are some I've never seen perform live and never thought I would. Here are three in particular that I'm excited about.
Willie Hightower is one of the lesser known names of soul music who has a voice that has been compared to that of Sam Cooke, only with a grittier edge. Originally from Alabama, he began singing gospel but moved into R and B and was signed by Bobby Robinson in New York, who released a couple of singles on his Enjoy and Fury labels. The Fury single, featured here, So Tired (Of Running Away From Love), is a gorgeous piece of soul and shows just how good his voice is. His contract was transferred to Capitol but Bobby continued to produce him, including It's A Miracle, another great track. Capitol released an album named after the B side of his Fury release, If I Had A Hammer, but he lost out promotion-wise to bigger names on the label such as the Beatles and the Beach Boys. Capitol sent him to Fame in Muscle Shoals, with whom they had a distribution deal, and he recorded the third of the 45s featured - a great double sider comprising Joe South's Walk A Mile In My Shoes and the even better self-penned You Used Me Baby, produced by Rick Hall. Red Kelly, who has written about Willie on his excellent blog, will be interviewing him in the conference section of the Stomp. Should be fascinating.

P F Sloan became better known as a songwriter than as a singer, most notably as the writer of Barry McGuire's Eve Of Destruction. Together with his singing partner Steve Barri he came to the notice of Lou Adler who used them as backing singers on a string of Jan and Dean records - indeed he took the falsetto lead on The Little Old Lady Of Pasadena. He also sang with the Rip Chords and the duo released records of their own as The Fantastic Baggies. He became a member of LA's famed Wrecking Crew as a session guitarist and his songwriting prospered with hits by Johnny Rivers (Secret Agent Man), Hermans Hermits (A Must To Avoid) and the Searchers (Take Me For What I Am). He recorded under his own name and had two 45s released in the UK, including the folksy Sins Of A Family, which shows off his high voice to good effect. After Jan Berry's car accident he took his place with Jan and Dean and he and Barri recorded as the Grass Roots. He later recorded an album called Measure For Pleasure in Memphis but it failed to sell and he disappeared from the music scene. His mixed success is alluded to in 'P F Sloan', a song written by Jimmy Webb. Fascinating to see him perform at the Stomp and to hear him at the conference.
Finally, I'm interested to discover who was who in the San Antonio West Side soul scene, which is represented by Rudy T Gonzales, Little Henry, Rudy Palacios, Chente Montez and Manuel 'Bones' Aragon. It's a genre about which I know little, apart from Little Willie John's Talk To Me by Sunny and the Sunglows, who morphed into Sunny and the Sunliners. Other groups in this scene included Rudy and the Reno Bops, the Laveers and the Royal Jesters. My copy of Talk To Me on Huey Meaux's Tear Drop label has Pony Time by Sunny and the Sunglows on the B side, but others, including the UK release on London, has Every Week, Every Month, Every Year by Sunny and the Sunliners on the flip.

Monday, September 07, 2015

The Killer says farewell to London

Jerry Lee Lewis played what he says will be his final show in London last night at the Sunday Palladium and he bowed out in style. The Killer played for a full hour at the London Palladium, seemed to enjoy himself (mostly) and, even though his voice is not what it was, his piano playing certainly is and he still retains a kind of stage magic.
It's 57 years since his disastrous first UK tour which was cut short when the press learned of his marriage to his 13 year old cousin ('the good old days', he said, tongue in cheek.). Despite that, his career recovered and I remember some amazing shows in the early sixties when he tore concert halls apart. He doesn't climb on his piano any more or create havoc but he is still magnetic. The entire audience stood as he began his set with Drinking Wine Spodie Odie and followed up with Down The Line, but then he slowed things down with She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye. Next came another slowie in the form of Before The Night Is Over. No Jerry Lee show is complete without a complaint about the piano and he claimed it was out of tune, and his curmudgeonly side was further exposed when he complained that his long time guitarist Kenny Lovelace was playing the wrong chord: whether in jest or for real it was hard to tell.
The Killer moved on to Don't Put No Headstone On My Grave - beginning slowly but quickly turning it into a rocker. Rather than a headstone, he would appreciate a 'gold monument', he said. More oldies followed with See See Rider, Sweet Little Sixteen and Why You Been Gone So Long. 'I don't drink no more', he revealed, but 'I don't drink no less either'. Whole Lotta Shakin' followed, with Jerry Lee's voice beginning to go off the note even more, and his version of Over The Rainbow was frankly dire. He recovered with Mexacali Rose before finishing his set with Great Balls Of Fire - an exciting performance which got the audience on to its feet again. As his set ended a huge 80th birthday cake appeared which was presented to him, with Ringo Starr and Robert Plant on stage. This was hardly vintage Jerry Lee, but it was a great show and we can only hope that his farewell tours become regular events. But, as compere Mike Read rightly said, this could be the last great rock and roll show that London will see.
Earlier, the packed hall was entertained by a Swiss boogie woogie pianist called Ladyva and a couple of numbers from Peter Asher and Albert Lee - Bye Bye love and Peter and Gordon's hit World Without Love. There was some fine guitar work from James Burton and Albert Lee on I'm Ready, That's Alright Mama, Hello Mary Lou Goodbye Heart, the instrumental Only The Young, Susie Q (recorded when James was just 14) and Tear It Up On The Dance Floor, and  a good attempt at Delbert McClinton's Why Me from pianist Elio Pace. Jerry Lee's sister Linda Gail Lewis gave her usual gutsy show with some rockers including Let's Talk About Us, Shake Rattle and Roll, Rip It Up, Good Golly Miss Molly and Old Black Joe, supported by her daughter Anne Marie.
But, good though they were, this was just a warm up for the great man, who, on this occasion didn't disappoint.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Rico Rodriguez RIP

The Vinyl Word raises a glass to ska trombonist Rico Rodriguez who has died aged 80. Born in Cuba, he grew up in Jamaica where he studied with the great Don Drummond at the Alpha Boys School. Moving to the UK in the early sixties he played on many early ska numbers and recorded a tribute to Don Drummond when he died in 1969 in the form of an LP called Reco in Reggae Land (credited to Reco Rodregrez) for Pama. Rico formed Rico and the Rudies and recorded the Brixton Cat album for Trojan, although this was credited to Brixton record store owner Joe 'Boss' Mansano's All Stars. Incidentally the photo on the cover shows Joe's sister in law standing at the corner of Electric Avenue.
Rico recorded the highly regarded Man From Wareika album in 1977, but he is best known for his work with the Specials. His trombone playing on such hits as A Message To You, Rudy gave the Coventry 2 tone band an air of authenticity and helped them relaunch ska as a musical genre. Later he worked with Jools Holland and also backed many other artists: my photo (above) shows him supporting Laurel Aitken at a gig in north west London in the early 2000s.