Monday, June 06, 2016

Gene Terry rocks in London

Gene Terry has never been to the UK before. In fact, he has never been out of the States until now. He has spent his life in and around Port Arthur in east Texas close to the Louisiana border, occasionally singing his brand of swamp pop and rockabilly in local clubs, before making a successful appearance at last year's Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans. It was a real treat, therefore, to see him take to the stage of the Borderline in London last night in the latest Tales From The Woods show, aptly titled Southern & Rockin'.
Gene went down a storm, singing no less than 19 swamp pop, rockabilly and New Orleans R and B styled numbers, with tremendous support from the ever excellent Tales From The Woods house band. Gene had his greatest success in the late fifties when he and his band the Down Beats recorded some excellent sides for the Lake Charles based Goldband label, including the classic Cindy Lou, and were a big name locally. He retired from the music business in around 1961 and joined the police force, but it's clear that his enthusiasm for the music is still there and his voice is first rate.
He kicked off with three Fats Domino numbers, My Girl Josephine, Did You Ever See A Dream Walking and I'm Ready, before launching into the swamp pop anthem Mathilde. Next came Woman I Love, his first recording and a record so rare that it goes for thousands of dollars when a copy turns up. Only 250 copies were pressed. After a lengthy search Gene found one at his house, he told me when I spoke with him last week, but it was broken. Next up came two more swamp pop and New Orleans classics in the form of Joe Barry's I'm A Fool To Care and Frankie Ford's Sea Cruise, and then Cindy Lou, a wonderful rockabilly track. There was more New Orleans R and B in I Hear You Knockin' and the superb Oh What A Mistake. Then came No Mail Today, a song which was inspired, Gene said, by a mail man who drove up to his house in his van, and then drove off without stopping. It took him five minutes to write, Gene said. Other originals included Cinderella, Cinderella and the swamp pop flavoured Guy With A Million Dreams, whilst there was rock and roll with Flip Flop and Fly and Slow Down and more New Orleans sounds with Blue Monday, Have You Ever Had The Blues and a wonderful version of Joe Jones's You Talk Too Much, before finishing with a reprise of Cindy Lou.    Here is Cindy Lou. And here is No Mail Today.
The band throughout Gene's set, and throughout the evening, was superb, with lead guitarist John Spencely on great form, Claire Hamlin sparking on the keyboards, Jeff Tuck immaculate on drums and Robb  Davis solid on bass. The three piece horn section, comprising Alex Bland and Nick Lunt (from Jools Holland's band) on sax and Barry Few on trumpet, were splendid throughout. If there's a better backing band in London at the moment I would be amazed.
The evening started with a two piece boogie woogie outfit called the Sweet Georgia Boys who got the show off to a good start, before impresario Keith Woods introduced the band to the stage.
First up was Billie Davis, making a welcome return visit with punchy versions of her biggest early sixties hits I Want You To Be My Baby and Tell Him, along with A Mess Of Blues.
Sadly one of the artists booked to appear on the show, Danny Rivers, was too ill to perform, but his replacement Terry Clemson, once a member of the Downliners Sect, was an excellent replacement. A great guitarist, the place really rocked to a selection of numbers made famous by Chuck Berry (Roll Over Beethoven, Carol, Route 66 and The Promised Land), Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Ricky Nelson and Conway Twitty. This was all familiar material, with no Sect numbers on show, but exciting, with two excellent guitarists on stage and a driving beat throughout. The crowd loved it.
Next up was Stephen Ackles, a new name to me but very popular in his native Norway and further afield apparently, as there were quite a few of his fans in the house. Stephen is a very proficient Jerry Lee Lewis piano player, who performed accurate versions of numbers such as High School Confidential, Great Balls Of Fire, Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On and You Win Again. But he showed that he is more than that with Johnnie Ray's Cry, featuring a great guitar break from John Spencely, and a Cajun flavoured Bettina, featuring Claire Hamlin on organ. Other Jerry Lee favourities included Mexacali Rose, No Headstone On My Grave and Rockin' My Life Away, featuring a great sax break by Alex Bland. At the end of his set Stephen introduced two other piano players to the stage who have a show in a theatre near Leicester Square soon. I didn't catch their names and it wasn't entirely clear why they were there, apart from plugging their show. Nevertheless Stephen went down well, ably supported once again by the house band.

Keith Woods can again by pleased with his show as Gene Terry was well worth the cost of bringing him and wife over from the States. There were fewer original artists on the show this time, a sad reflection of the fact that many of them are no longer performing or no longer with us. But an enjoyable evening none the less. Well done!


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