Saturday, February 04, 2023

Rockin' Race days 1 and 2

With 41 acts, three stages and attracting thousands of rockabilly fans across Europe, the Rockin' Race Jamboree can surely claim to be the biggest rock and roll festival in Europe. Blessed with sunny weather and beauiful scenery Torremolinos is a great place for a Winter getaway. And much of the music has been excellent so far, despite the absence now, and no doubt in the future, of any original 50s and 60s artists. The festival started off in fairly low key fashion with some acts by the poolside at the Barracuda Hotel including the Tennessee Hotshots and Whistle Bait. And the first two acts at the Auditorium Principe De Asturias, the Western flavoured Boot Heel Playboys and the Rockin' Bonnie Western Bound Combo, didnt exactly set pulses racing despite being competent enough. The first act in the adjoining Paradise Hall was another matter. Les Greene was a contestant on American Idol apparently and his incredible high energy act, including somersaults and the splits, was a sight to behold. Backed by Deke Dickerson and his excellent band Les tore through medleys of songs by Sam Cooke, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis in exciting style. He is a latter day Little Richard in fact and I look forward to seeing him again. Another good act on day one were Nashville based Wild Records act the Hi Jivers featuring a female singer who certainly impressed. Undoubted star of the second night was Bobby Brooks Wilson who had 16 people backing him including five horns and five backing vocalists including three members of the Velvet Candles. Bobby has clearly inherited his brilliant showmanship from his dad Jackie and did an excellent job recreating his hits, starting with 'Reet Petite' and including 'That's Why', 'Baby Workout', 'Sweetest Feeling' and 'Higher and Higher' plus a couple of High energy Sam Cooke numbers including 'Twisting The Night Away'. Earlier I enjoyed the Roy Orbison stylings of Marcel Riesco, who had some help from the Candles on one number, and bluesy stuff from German band Smokestack Lighning, who were rather tuneless on some numbers but showed that they knew what they were doing on songs such as 'Polk Salad Annie' and 'Gentle On My Mind'.Back in the Paradise Hall I very much enjoyed the surf guitar and Bakersfield country music of the silver haired Mitch Polzac, who jumped around in the audience helped by Deke Dickerson quietly playing away in the background. Excellent stuff and a pretty good night all round with more to follow.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Charlie Thomas of the Drifters RIP

Sad to hear that Charlie Thomas, a member of the Drifters during their golden age of the late fifties and sixties, has died aged 85. Originally from Lynchburg, Virginia, Charlie was the lead singer on 'Sweets For My Sweet' and 'When My Little Girl Is Smiling' and sang tenor on many other classic hits, including 'This Magic Moment', 'Save The Last Dance For Me, 'Up On The Roof', 'There Goes My Baby', 'On Broadway' and 'Under The Boardwalk'. He joined a group called the Five Crowns along with Ben E King which won an amateur show at the Apollo and he sang lead on the group's 'Kiss and Make Up', written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman. This led to George Treadwell, the Drifters' manager, hiring the group as a new line up for the Drifters in 1958 and the start of their great run of hits. He left the group in 1967 but later led his own version of the group for many years, including at the Long Island Doowop Festival in 2014 (pictured above). He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. RIP Charlie.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Barrett Strong RIP

In the winter of 1959/60 my interest in music was just developing and I was blown away by one record I heard on Radio Luxembourg, namely 'Money' by Barrett Strong. It wasn't a hit and I was not to know that it was the precursor of the Motown sound that was to become so successful in the 1960s and 70s. It became one of the most covered songs of the era, with both the Beatles and Stones (among others) making somewhat unconvincing attempts at the song. As for Barrett Strong, he recorded some singles for Atco ('Seven Sins') and VeeJay and went on to become one of Motown's most successful songwriters with a string of hits for the Temptations in combination with Norman Whitfield, including 'Cloud Nine', 'Psychedelic Shack', 'I Can't Get Next To You', 'Ball Of Confusion' and 'Papa Was A Rolling Stone'. Other big hits included 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine' for Gladys Knight and the Pips and Marvin Gaye, 'War' for Edwin Starr and 'Wherever I Lay My Hat' for Marvin Gaye. When Motown moved away from Detroit Barrett resumed his recording career with the albums 'Stronghold' and 'Live and Love' for Capitol. I'm sorry to hear of his death at the age of 81. RIP.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Johnny Powers RIP - updated

Johnny Powers, the only man to record for both Sun and Motown, has died at the age of 84. Originally from Detroit, he recorded some rockabilly numbers for the local Fox and Fortune labels, including his best known record 'Long Blond Hair' before joining Sun, which released one single, 'With Your Love, With Your Kiss'. He became the first white male musician to joing Motown when he was signed by Berry Gordy in 1960 but focused on writing and producing. In recent years he was a regular on the rockabilly circuit and I saw him at Viva Las Vegas in 2018 (pictured above), when he sang 'Mean Mistreater' and 'With Your Kiss'.
There have been quite a few other deaths over recent weeks. These include Keith Beaton, who was a member of seventies soul group Blue Magic. Also Jeff Beck, widely regarded as one of the best British guitarists of the rock era, but who will sadly be remembered for 'Hi Ho Silver Lining', which is on a par with 'Sweet Caroline' as one of the most annoying sports anthems ever. Also Lisa-Marie Presley, daughter of Elvis, who also recorded (although nothing to compare with her dad). And Fred White, drummer with one of the most successful disco and funk bands of the seventies and eighties Earth, Wind and Fire.
Update March 20. Sorry to hear of the death, aged 81, of David Crosby, a key member of the Byrds in their earlier years and, of course, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Amazing to think that he lived as long as he did, given his history of drug taking. But he had a superb voice and was a political activist as well. Here are some of the Byrds albums that featured David.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Chicago Blues at the 100 Club

This year's London Blues Festival kicked off in great style last night with two Chicago legends - John Primer and Billy Branch - performing at the 100 Club, supported by rising guitar star Jamiah Rogers. Rearranged from this time last year because of Covid, the place was packed with blues lovers, many of whom had been holding on to their tickets for over 12 months. I noticed both Errol Linton and Little George Sueref among the audience members. Billed as a 'Chicago Blues Explosion' the show began with 27 year old Jamiah Rogers (pictured below), a guitarist in the Jimi Hendrix mould who is good to watch, with lively foot work and behind the head guitar playing, but a bit heavy for my taste at times. His set included the Rolling Stones' 'Miss You', 'What'd I Say' and 'The Sky Is Crying'.
A good start to the evening, but things stepped up a gear with the arrival on stage of John Primer (top photo), a very fine guitarist, who has played with everyone from Junior Wells to Muddy Waters, Magic Slim, Willie Dixon, Koko Taylor and Syl Johnson. He was born in Mississippi and moved to Chicago at the age of 18 becoming a member of the house band at Theresa's on the South Side, before joining the Junior Wells band. Now 77, I first saw him at the 100 Club in 1994 and he doesn't look a great deal different. His guitar playing too is as solid as ever and at times exciting: I particularly enjoyed his storming version of 'Mannish Boy'. Well supported by the band, with Giles Robson on harmonica, his set also included an excellent version of 'Stick Close Together'. This was Chicago blues at its best and it was good to see him again at the 100 Club.
Final act of the evening was ace harmonica player Billy Branch (pictured above), who was joined on stage by John Primer and Jamiah Rogers. Billy is a regular at blues festivals around the world and is a superb harp player. He was a member of the Chicago Blues All Stars, led by Willie Dixon, before forming his own band the Sons of Blues. His set included enjoyable versions of 'Blues With A Feeling' and 'My Babe' and he credited the UK with 'saving the blues' back in the sixties. His final number, 'Who's Loving You Tonight', featured an extended walk through the audience. Another excellent performance and much appreciated by the crowd. The trio are due to play another show this evening and the festival continues over the next couple of weeks with shows by Big Boy Bloater, Sister Cookie, Nine Below Zero, Sarah Brown, the Animals, Chris Corcoran and Dr Feelgood. Photo below shows John Primer and Jamiah Rogers together.

Monday, January 09, 2023

Errol Dunkley at the Jazz Cafe

Jamaican rocksteady singer Errol Dunkley was just 14 when he recorded for the first time, his voice yet to break. He recorded with Prince Buster, Joe Gibbs, Coxsone Dodd and Jimmy Ranway among others in Jamaica before moving to the UK in the early seventies. He has said that he was one of the first people to bring a sound system out of Jamaica. Now 71 he continues to entertain and bring joy as his show at the Jazz Cafe last night demonstrated. Looking dapper in a brightly coloured jacket and wearing a hat Errol smiled throughout his one hour set, despite numerous false starts to his songs. Supported by an excellent band he started with 'Movie Star', a song he self produced for his own African Museum label (set up with Gregory Isaacs) in 1973. He continued with a trip down memory lane, as he said, with sings such as 'Darling Oh', 'Black Cinderella' (from 1972), 'Created By The Father', 'Betcha By Golly Wow' and 'Happiness Forgets' from 1981. The tightly packed audience swayed along to the rhythm as he continued with one of his best known songs 'Three In One', recorded in 1971, and one of his earliest numbers 'You're Gonna Need Me' from 1967. Next came 'Impossible', from 1973 and then his biggest hit, his cover of John Holt's 'OK Fred' which almost made the UK top ten in 1979, with audience members enthusiastically joining in the chorus. Errol showed some nice steps as he skipped across the stage during this one. His final number, 'Baby I Love You' also went down well and he was joined on stage briefly by Christopher Ellis, son of the King of Rock Steady Alton Ellis. This was a fun set which was highly enjoyable, despite a few ropey moments. Long may Errol continue.

Monday, January 02, 2023

Kingsize Taylor RIP

The new year has started in the same way as 2022 ended with the death of an artist who has appeared at Tales From The Woods shows in recent years. Ted 'Kingsize' Taylor. (83) was among the first Liverpool singer/guitarists to make his mark in the early sixties. A towering six foot five he enjoyed early success as Kingsize Taylor and the Dominos in his native Liverpool, with Cilla Black often singing with them. He played at the Star Club in Hamburg and it was there that he had his greatest success. He recorded for Polydor as the Shakers and for Ariola as Kingsize Taylor and the Dominos and had several records released in the UK, including 'Memphis Tennessee', 'Hippy Hippy Shake' and his biggest hit, a cover of Solomon Burke's 'Stupidity', plus an EP of live recordings at the Star Club (pictured below). After he left the music business Ted ran a butcher's shop for several years before returning to Germany to live. He starred at the Tales From The Woods show in 2012 and again at the Borderline in 2015 (top photo) where he showed that he continued to have a powerful voice and great stage presence. I wrote at the time 'Kingsize kicked off with a vibrant version of Bobby Parker's 'Watch Your Step' and his set included no fewer than four Larry Williams numbers ('Dizzy Miss Lizzie', 'Bad Boy', 'Bony Moronie' and, as an encore, 'Slow Down') plus a couple of Solomon Burke covers ('Down In The Valley' and his 'Stupidity' hit), Chuck Berry's 'Sweet Little Sixteen' and 'Mama Come Home', a track recorded by Ronnie Hawkins. So, nothing original, but with the Tales From The Woods band providing great support his was a set that really rocked and was a fitting climax to the evening.' Bear Family released a CD featuring 31 of his recordings. All were covers but they showed how Ted influenced other beat groups that followed their lead, including of course the Beatles. RIP Ted.
By coincidence another early Liverpool artist who led a beat group in the city and went on to play in Germany has died in the last few days. Brian Cassar led Cass and the Cassanovas and later Casey Jones and the Engineers (one of Eric Clapton's first bands) and Casey Jones and Governors, who also played at the Star Club and had success with 'Don't Ha Ha', a version of Huey Piano Smith's 'Don't You Just Know It'. Cassar opened a music club in Liverpool, the Cassanova, and legend has it that he advised the then Silver Beetles to change the spelling of their name from the earlier spelling of 'Beatals'.
Another death over the Christmas and New Year period is that of Anita Pointer of the Pointer Sisters at the age of 74. She was a founder member of the group and sang lead on 'Fairytale', 'Fire', 'Slow Hand' and 'I'm So Excited'. RIP to them all.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

End of an era...Wolfman RIP

The last few months saw the end of the Elizabathan era in September, after 70 years, and, it seems the end of a musical era too. Jerry Lee Lewis, the last major rock and roll star still surviving, died in October and since then two original American artists who appeared at Tales From The Woods shows in recent years have also passed away - Roddy Jackson and Charlie Gracie. The number of original artists still alive, never mind performing, has declined dramatically over the last few years as would be expected. I gave up going to Rhythm Riot several years ago when they stopped booking US originals and the Ponderosa Stomp has ended permanently it seems. The Porretta Soul Festival continues to be excellent but increasingly relies on a newer generation of artists. Other festivals, such as Viva Las Vegas and the Rockin' Race, are following a similar course. The pace of decline is relentless but I will continue to seek out original performers whenever I can.
One of the latest deaths is that of Walter 'Wolfman' Washington, (79) a performer who I must have seen on every visit to New Orleans since my first in 1989. Walter played in Lee Dorsey's band when he was still a teenager and made several singles for local labels in the sixties, including 'Mickey Mouse Boarding House' and 'Goody Man'. He joined Johnny Adams band in the 1970s and formed his own band, recording his first album 'Leader Of The Pack' for Hep Me in 1981. He went on to record several more albums for Rounder and other labels and was a regular performer at the Maple Leaf and more recently DBA in New Orleans. He was at heart a bluesman but his shows were often funky and soulful with jazz influences as well. He was a brilliant guitarist and never failed to entertain. His loss will leave a huge hole in the live music sector in the Big Easy. Top photo shows Walter in typical pose at Jazzfest in 2013.
It's farewell too to Gordon Fleming, who was my companion on several trips to the US and Spain, including to Viva Las Vegas and the Rockin' Race. Gordon had a fund of knowledge about early rock and roll and doowop and all of us Woodies will miss him. Photo above shows Gordon with Big Jay McNeely who we met in Los Angeles in 2014. RIP Gordon. There have been other deaths recently as well. One of these is Thom Bell, who was born in Jamaica but made his name in Philadelphia as a songwriter and one of the main producers, along with Gamble and Huff, of many of the biggest soul groups of the seventies, including the Delfonics, the Stylistics and the Spinners. Also: Luther 'Guitar Junior' Johnson, a Mississippi bluesman who moved to Chicago where he played with Magic Sam and Muddy Waters before forming his own band the Magic Rockers and recording albums with Bullseye Blues among other labels; and lap steel guitar player Freddie Roulette who recorded with the Daphne Ray Blues Band and artists such as Earl Hooker and Charlie Musselwhite.
Late addition: Leroy Calliste, better known as Black Stalin, has died aged 81. One of Trinidad's top calypsonians he was noted for his songs opposing colonisation and won the Calypso Monarch title on five occasions. I recall seeing him at the New Orleans Jazzfest in 1995 and was impressed.

Friday, December 23, 2022

Christmas top tens 1960 to 1965

As regular readers may know, I kept a record of my top ten favourite records from early 1960 to the end of 1965. So here are my top tens closest to Christmas in each of those years. Hope they are of interest - and Happy Christmas to my readers.
1960: 1. Hushabye Little Guitar - Paul Evans; 2. Last Date - Floyd Cramer; 3. My Girl Josephine - Fats Domino; 4. Stay - Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs; 5. Counting Teardrops - Emile Ford; 6. Like Strangers - Everly Brothers; 7. Corrine Corrina - Ray Peterson; 8. Why Why Bye Bye - Bob Luman; 9. Perfidia - The Ventures; 10. Poetry In Motion - Johnny Tillotson.
1961: Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen - Neil Sedaka: 2. So Long Baby - Del Shannon; 3= Run To Him - Bobby Vee; 3= The Avenger - Duane Eddy; 5. Multiplication - Bobby Darin; 6. Let There Be Drums - Sandy Nelson; 7. Language Of Love- John D Loudermilk; 8. Peppermint Twist - Joey Dee and the Starliters; 9. Walk On By - Leroy Van Dyke; 10. Happy Times - Tony Orlando.
1962: 1. Love Came To Me - Dion; 2. Stop The Music - The Shirelles; 3. I Can't Help it - Johnny Tillotson; 4. If You Were A Rock And Roll Record - Freddy Cannon; 5. Under Your Spell Again - Lloyd Price; 6. Spanish Lace - Gene McDaniels; 7. Don't Hang Up - The Orlons; 8. Your Cheating Heart - Ray Charles; 9. Nothing Can Change This Love - Sam Cooke; 10= Chains - The Cookies; 10= I'm Gonna Be Warm This Winter - Connie Francis.
1963: 1. Run Rudolph Run - Chuck Berry; 2. Swinging On A Star - Big Dee Irwin; 3. We Wish You A Merry Christmas - Big Dee Irwin and Little Eva; 4. Fine Fine Boy - Darlene Love; 5. Gotta Dance To Keep From Crying - The Miracles; 6. 24 Hours From Tulsa - Gene Pitney; 7. Little Red Rooster - Sam Cooke; 8. Hey Little Girl - Major Lance; 9. Drip Drop - Dion; 10. Don't You Know - The Lockets.
1964: 1. Needle In A Haystack - The Velvelettes; 2. The Jerk - The Larks; 3. Oh No Not My Baby - Maxine Brown; 4. How Sweet It Is - Marvin Gaye; 5. Dance Dance Dance - The Beach Boys; 6. Getting Mighty Crowded - Betty Everett; 7. Night Train - James Brown; 8= Sidewalk Surfin' - Jan and Dean; 8= Going Out Of My Head - Little Anthony and the Imperials; 8= That's What Love Is Made Of - The Miracles.
1965: 1. My Girl - Otis Redding; 2. Rescue Me - Fontella Bass; 3. You're Gonna Make Me Cry - O V Wright; 4. Don't Fight It - Wilson Pickett; 5. Everything's Gonna Be Alright - Willie Mitchell; 6. All Or Nothing - Patti Labelle and the Bluebelles; 7. 1-2-3 - Len Barry; 8. Ain't That Peculiar - Marvin Gaye; 9. Don't Have To Shop Around - The Mad Lads; 10= These Hands- Bobby Bland; 10= My Girl Has Gone - The Miracles.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Charlie Gracie RIP

No sooner have I paid tribute to the many musicians who have died this year than I hear that Charlie Gracie - possibly the last original rock and roll artist to be performing on a regular basis - has died at the age of 86. Originally from Philadelphia Charlie was a five times winner on the Paul Whiteman Teenagers TV show and recorded some singles for the Cadillac label in 1952, including one called 'Rockin' and Rollin', but his worldwide success began when he joined Cameo in 1956. Fantastic double sided 45s (or 78s) included 'Butterfly'/ 'Ninety Nine Ways', 'Fabulous'/ 'Just Lookin', 'Wandering Eyes'/ 'Love You So Much It Hurts' and 'Cool Baby'/ 'You Got A heart Like A Rock'. These singles alone would have ensured his place in rock and roll history but later sides such as 'Doodlebug', 'The Race' and 'Pretty Baby' were almost as good. Charlie first visited London in 1957 where he starred at the Hippodrome and was a regular visitor over the years. Every time I saw him he proved yet again what a great guitarist and singer he was.
These shows included the Rhythm Riot in 2014 and the Ponderosa Stomp in 2013 (pictured above) and memorably, a Tales From The Wood show at the Spice of Life in 2017 (top photo). On that occasion I wrote on the Vinyl Word: 'The star of the show was Charlie Gracie, a man who made his name at much the same time as Chuck Berry was making waves back in the fifties. Now 80, Charlie is still an excellent guitarist and has an easy stage manner. His first number, 'Caldonia', showed off his guitar playing to good effect, and he ran through many of his best known numbers included 'Just Lookin', 'Wandering Eyes', 'Butterfly', 'Ninety Nine Ways', 'Cool Baby', 'Heart Like A Rock' and, of course, his biggest hit 'Fabulous'. He's been to London many times over the years and has picked up a Dick Van Dyke type accent, which he put to use on snippets of 'Maybe It's Because I'm A Londoner' and even 'I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts'. Other numbers included 'Rock A Beating Boogie', 'Don't Worry About Me' (a tribute to his friend Eddie Cochran), 'I Love You So Much It Hurts', 'Tootsie', 'What'd I Say', 'Cottonfields' and, as an encore, 'Shake Rattle and Roll'. All of them were two minute master classes and much enjoyed by the packed crowd in this tiny venue. Charlie is welcome back any time. Well done Keith (Woods) on another enjoyable show.'
Charlie was due to headline at the Wildest Cats In Town recently but ill health prevented him from attending. Sadly Charlie was the second artist to have appeared at a TFTW show at the Spice of Life, after Roddy Jackson, to have died in recent days. Any record collector is sure to have some original Charlie Gracie 78s or 45s in their collection - indeed they were such big hits that even the BBC was known to play them on occasions. But incredibly Charlie remained a brilliant performer, and throroughly nice man, well into his eighties. Photo above shows Charlie performing at the RNA Club in Plaistow in 1992 with D J Fontana on drums. RIP Charlie. Photo below: with Charlie in 2017.