Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Sonny James and others who have passed through

It's high time that I paid tribute to some of the musicians who have passed on in the last few weeks. After the torrent of high profile deaths last month things have been a little quieter, but there are still quite a few who have made their mark and passed through to the other side.
Sonny James first came to my attention way back in 1956 when he recorded The Cat Came Back, a
good pop song of the era, which he followed up with Twenty Feet Of Muddy Water and a number one US hit with Young Love, which lost out to Tab Hunter's rather anaemic version in the UK. After that I rather lost sight of him as his country orientated material didn't really appeal, but he had huge success during the sixties after he gave up his pop pretensions and he and his group joined the Grand Ole Opry. Known as the Southern Gentleman he enjoyed 16 straight country number ones between 1967 and 1971 and, for his sins, promoted the career of Marie Osmond. A curious fact is that he was the first country artist whose music went into space, when he made a special recording for the crew of Apollo 14. He died aged 87.
Earlier this month we lost Maurice White, founder of Earth, Wind and Fire. Aged 74, he was the band's main songwriter and producer, and co lead singer with Philip Bailey, before he developed Parkinson's Disease in the late eighties and was forced to leave the group in 1994. Originally from Memphis, he worked as a session drummer with Chess Records, contributing to records by Etta James, the Impressions, Sugar Pie DeSanto, Muddy Waters and Betty Everett, among others. He joined the Ramsey Lewis Trio in 1966 and played drums on many of their memorable numbers, including Wade In The Water. He set up a band called the Salty Peppers which became Earth, Wind and Fire when he moved to Los Angeles and the band went on to sell over 90 million albums
worldwide. He co-produced Deniece Williams' first album, and the Emotions' first album with Columbia, as well as being involved with records by Minnie Ripperton, Weather Report and Barbra Streisand.
The Vinyl Word also raises a glass to Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson, both founder members of Jefferson Airplane, who coincidentally died on the same day. Anderson was the first vocalist with the group, to be replaced by Grace Slick when she left to have a baby. Kantner, however, stuck with the band and when it broke up
in the early seventies continued with Jefferson Starship.
Much publicity surrounded the death last month of Glenn Frey, founding member of another West Coast group the Eagles. Aged 67, he sang lead on many of their biggest hits, including Take It Easy and Lyin' Eyes.
Mississippi blues man L C Ulmer has also died, at the age of 87. He was a regular performer at blues festivals for many years, including the Ponderosa Stomp and the Chicago Blues Festival His only album, Blues Come Yonder, was issued in 2011.
Other deaths in the last few weeks include singer/songwriter Dan Hicks, who performed as Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks, and Joe Dowell, who had a US hit with a version of Elvis's Wooden Heart.
The Vinyl Word raises a glass to them all.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A Word (or two) about Vinyl

As this is The Vinyl Word I thought I really should give a mention to Vinyl, the new HBO series produced by Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger which started this week. Set in the New York music business of the early seventies, with occasional flashbacks to the sixties, it's sex, drugs and rock and roll in all its glory. Starring Bobby Cannavale as record man Richie Finestra on the brink of selling his ailing label, American Century, to a German company, it is typical Scorsese, with coke being snorted liberally, occasional sex, plenty of violence and central characters who would make anyone thinking of going into the music business think again.
This two hour opener featured Richie's attempts to sign Led Zeppelin in order to save the sale to the Germans. It didn't go well, as their foul mouthed manager Peter Grant hates Germans and Robert Plant is more interested in doing to a couple of girls what record companies have done to the band. There's also a scary radio station owner who is boycotting the label because he's been snubbed by Donny Osmond. He ends up smashed to a pulp after inviting Richie to his house. Then there are the Nasty Bits, a thinly disguised version of the New York Dolls (or possibly the Sex Pistols), their lead singer played by Jagger's son James, whose act is so electric that the building they are playing in collapses around them, with a coke-fuelled Richie wandering out covered in dust but uninjured. There are also flashbacks to how Richie started out in his career, managing a blues singer Lester Grimes, who is renamed Little Johnny Little and persuaded to sing pop styled twist numbers before being let down, and beaten up, when Richie was unable to take him to his newly formed label.
There's a hell of a lot of fantasy about all this of course. Most of the characters are so obnoxious or weak that they make the flawed Richie look halfway human, and in most cases they are cardboard cut-outs. The collapsing building is, presumably, symbolic, rather than real, but who knows? And there are various sub plots which may develop as the series continues.  But there's a tremendous energy about it and a lot of style.
The best part of Vinyl is probably the music itself. In episode one we had Chris Kenner (or rather a vocal group miming to I Like It Like That), a female singer miming to Ruth Brown for no apparent reason, Bo Diddley (Richie is given a square guitar as a birthday gift), Blue Cheer singing Summertime Blues, Chuck Berry and Otis Redding, plus Slade (who were rubbished by the A and R guys at the record company) and Abba.
'You can't always get what you want', to quote one of the characters, but Martin and good old Mick have put together a series that is well worth following, and I shall be tuning in over the next ten weeks - if only for the background music,

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Fatback Band in London

Seamus McGarvey reports on The Fatback Band at Nell's Jazz & Blues Club, West Kensington, London
It had been almost three years since I'd last seen The Fatback Band, so Saturday 6th February provided a great opportunity to catch them again at this club, a good venue in terms of proximity to the acts on stage, where they drew a large and lively Saturday night crowd. The eight-piece band, led by original founder-member Bill Curtis, with trumpeter Ledjerick Woods (pictured below) and guitarist Darryl McAllister from the 2013 line-up,  also featured a number of new faces: Roby Lock Jr,( tenor sax),  Desmond Humphrey (drums and lead vocals), Fancy Gemini (background vocals), Zack Guinn (bass and vocals) and Bob James (keyboards).
Right from the outset they hit a strong funky instrumental groove, keeping up the pace throughout, with Bill very much in charge of direction, rhythm and feel, keeping it all flowing smoothly. The numbers ranged right across their recording years, starting early in the set with movers from the 1970's like 'Wicky Wacky', 'Keep On Steppin'' and 'Do The Bus Stop', where Ledjerick, Roby and Fancy demonstrated the steps for the latter down amongst the energetically dancing fans. It was then on into the 1980s with the rap-oriented 'Is This The Future?', the neatly moving 'Backstrokin'' and, to close, 'I Found Lovin'' which almost lifted the roof off.
All the numbers were greeted enthusiastically, and the vocals, the leads handled mainly by Desmond, with support from Zack and Fancy, remained strong throughout, despite a few sound system problems. An encore of the funky 'Yum Yum (Gimme Some)' and 'I Like Girls' brought a 90-minute set of R&B dance music at its best from a  talented band of musicians to an exciting conclusion. Great band, great rhythms and great music – and the crowd loved them. Excellent! Seamus McGarvey
Pictured below are Bill Curtis, Fancy Gemini and Roby Lock.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Swamp pop singer Gene Terry to star in London

It's an interesting and imaginative choice by Keith Woods to feature swamp pop artist Gene Terry at the next Tales From The Woods show on June 5. Gene has never appeared in the UK and I'm hoping that the show attracts a good crowd. I will be there for sure, as I had the pleasure of seeing Gene sing recently at the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans, and can confirm that the man still has what it takes.
Gene is best known for the rockabilly classic Cindy Lou recorded in 1958 and released on the Goldband label, an original of which I was lucky enough to pick up at an Oxfam shop a few weeks ago. During the Stomp conference sessions he was interviewed by John Broven (pictured above) and he came across as a genial man with a wealth of knowledge about Louisiana music of the fifties and early sixties. He recorded his classic when he was 17, along with its flip side, the more typically swamp pop styled Teardrops In My Eyes. He described swamp pop as 'just white boys playing black music - and playing it pretty good' - a fairly accurate description I think. Brought up in Port Arthur, east Texas, one of his biggest influences was local DJ and singer Big Bopper (who of course died 57 years ago today), along with Elvis and Gene Vincent. Despite some success with Cindy Lou, which I must say still sounds great today, he gave up up music a couple of years later and had a job in the electric department in Port Arthur, occasionally playing local gigs.
At the Stomp he was backed by the Mama Mama Mamas, comprising C C Adcock, Steve Riley and Michael Hurtt among others, and absolutely nailed his big hit. Other numbers included Never Let You Go, Sea Cruise, I'm A Fool To Care, Woman I Love and Teardrops In My Eyes. It was an excellent set, if too short, and I have no doubt that he will make a big impression at the June 5 show in London, which also features British rocker Danny Rivers, Steve Ackles from Norway and the Sweet Georgia Boys. I would urge anyone who can make the show in June to come along. It will be a one off opportunity to see a swamp pop legend. Photo below shows Gene with me.
Nick Cobban

Monday, February 01, 2016

P P Arnold stars in latest Borderline heritage show

The latest Tales From The Woods show at the Borderline in London last night - the 11th in the series of rock and roll heritage shows organised by Keith Woods - was yet another triumph, with a good sized crowd enjoying five hours of virtually non stop music. This time the star was not a rocker but a bona fide soul great in the form of P P Arnold. She was the final act in a show featuring no less than five performers from the fifties and sixties, all of them good in their way and all of them backed excellently by the Tales From The Woods House Band.
Originally from Los Angeles, P P (Pat) Arnold first found fame as a member of the Ikettes, backing up Ike and Tina Turner, before moving to the UK and enjoying a successful solo career. With great vocal support from Debra Lewis-Brown, she began her act with the Ikettes number Whatcha Gonna Do, moving on to an exciting version of River Deep Mountain High. Her voice remains completely intact and she looked glamorous in a black dress, red necklace and a feathered fascinator. She told the story of how Mick Jagger had taken her for a walk in Regents Park and made a proposition to her - a proposition which led to her recording for Andrew Loog Oldham's Immediate label. She recorded the first version of Cat Stevens' First Cut Is The Deepest, her third song on the night, and Am I Still Dreaming, as well as her biggest hit, Chip Taylor's Angel Of The Morning. Other numbers included Etta James' How Strong Is A Woman, Uptight and A Natural Woman, and P P came across strongly with a powerful and very soulful vocal style. Among the audience were members of the cast of All Or Nothing, a forthcoming West End musical about the Small Faces, which features a young P P Arnold.
First act of the night was 82 year old Wee Willie Harris, someone who has appeared at several previous Tales From The Woods shows. Introduced by MC for the night Stuart Colman as 'the Emperor of Rock and Roll', Willie's voice is still pretty good and his set included a couple of songs that he recorded in his late fifties heyday - Rockin' At The Two Is and Love Bug Crawl - plus some rock and roll standards including Blue Moon Of Kentucky, Kansas City, Splish Splash (which he attributed to Jerry Lee Lewis, rather than Bobby Darin), I Hear You Knocking, Razzle Dazzle and Rag Mop, before finishing with Shake Rattle And Roll. There was nothing there to write home about, but Willie went down quite well. As ever he had a moan about his lack of appreciation by the media: apparently the Piers Morgan show turned him down as a potential subject.
Next on was Ray Phillips, once of the Nashville Teens, who combined lively versions of rockers such as Nadine, Let It Rock, Forty Days and Bony Moronie with some quality blues numbers, including Red House ( featuring some Hendrix styled guitar from lead guitarist Iain Terry), Hoochie Coochie Man and I Put A Spell On You, which allowed keyboard player Claire Hamlin to shine. Of course the Nashville Teen's big hit Tobacco Road was featured, and performed well, and it was clear that Ray was enjoying himself immensely. A good set.
At the height of the sixties beat boom Dave Berry made a name for himself not only with some catchy and well performed pop sings, but also with a stage act which involved hiding himself behind a glove or wrapping the microphone lead around himself. Today he is no different it seems. His voice remains pure and the songs and stage act are much as we remember them. This was his TFTW debut and it proved an effective one. Dressed in a black jacket covered with a selection of chains he kicked off with Just A Little Bit before moving on to one of his bigger hits, Chuck Berry's Memphis Tennessee. Some amusing ad libs showed that Dave is an accomplished stage act - he's still performing on 'silver sixties' tours after all - with a good repertoire, which included another big hit of the era Little Things, a cover of a Bobby Goldsboro song which gave Dave more recent fame as a toilet paper ad. Other numbers included Chuck's Promised Land, This Strange Effect, written for him by Ray Davies, the Yardbirds' Heart Full Of Soul, Nick Lowe's I Knew the Bride When She Used To Rock And Roll and, finally, The Crying Game, which was featured in the film of the same name. Dave was joined on stage by former member of his band the Cruisers Brian Wood on steel guitar. At the end of his set Dave stripped off his jacket to reveal a shirt with the black imprint of a pair of hands on the back. And the crowd gave him a well deserved big hand.
The fifth act on last night's show was Cliff Bennett, making his third appearance on a Tales From The Woods show. Cliff's voice is rather ragged these days, with quite of lot of hoarseness, but it's well suited to the rock and soul numbers he performed, which included Turn On Your Lovelight, Knock On Wood, Barefooting, Slow Down, Good Golly Miss Molly, Watch Your Step, Why Me and Sam and Dave's I Take What I Want.  He was joined on stage by former Rebel Rouser 'Too Tall' Tony Hall and he, together with the band's horn section, gave him some top notch backing in what was an energetic and enjoyable set.
Once again Keith Woods can be pleased both with the show and the turn out. There were visitors from all corners in the UK and even, in the case of Boston-based Noah Shaffer, the USA. His fame is spreading! Photos below show Stuart Colman and Keith Woods.