Monday, June 20, 2022

5th Blackpool International Soul Festival

After three long years it was great to get back to the Blackpool International Soul Festival and the chance to see sixties and seventies soul stars perform in person. The line up was originally announced in 2020 and several acts had dropped out for various reasons, including Maxine Brown, Barbra Mason and, at the last minute because of flight problems, Darrow Fletcher. But the four acts who did make it there made the trip worthwhile, despite long delays on the roads on the way there. It was good to catch up with friends such as Hans Diepstraten and Harry van Vliet, whose wonderful Fingerpoppin' Soul From Amsterdam radio show celebrates its 30th anniverary later this year. Good, too, to catch up with intrepid music globetrotter Noah Shaffer from Boston after three years. He had already seen Diana Ross in Leeds and Tony Christie in Radlett, of all places, before being stuck in London as a result of a fire at Euston Station and arriving in Blackpool a day late. We and a few others (including, naturally, Dave Thomas) were there for the live acts, but the majority of the Northern Soul obsessives were at the festival for the records, the DJs and the dancing in the many rooms catering for different styles of soul and it seems that this may be the last such festival with live acts. Hopefully not.
First live act on the Friday night was Jimmy Delphs, a fairly obscure soul singer who was apparently found, after much searching, living quietly in Ohio. His best known song 'Don't Sign The Papers Baby (I Want You Back)' is a cracker. I was unaware of it until I heard Tom Kenny (the voice of Spongebob Squarepants) and his band sing it at a show at Joe's American Bar and Grill in Los Angeles in 2019. I tracked down a copy of the record, on the Karen label, when I visited Detroit later in the year so it was good to put a face to the name. Jimmy showed plenty of enthuriasm when he appeared on stage and led off with his 'Papers' theme song. Other numbers included its B side 'Almost' and 'Dancing A Hole In the World', a classic Northern Soul anthem. It was a fairly short set but a good start to the live portion of the festival.
The second act on Friday was Jean Carn (or Carne as she spelt it in later years) who I first saw over 30 years ago at the Jazz Cafe. Dressed in a silver gown and with huge hair and glasses, she still has an excellent voice and threw herself into her set with gusto - a bit too much gusto in truth, as she veered off into various acapella numbers which the band (the excellent Snake Davis and the Suspicions) didn't know. Numbers included 'Was That All It Was', from the 1979 album 'When I Find Your Love', 'Free Love' and 'If You Wanna Go Back', from the 1976 LP 'Jean Carn', 'We Got Some Catching To Do' from 1981, 'Let's Stay Together', which she recorded with Bobby Militello, and an over extended version of her biggest hit 'Don't Let It Go To Your Head' from the 1978 album 'Happy To Be With You'. which included acapella snippets of Chaka Khan's 'I'm Every Woman'. The sound on the first night (certainly at the centre of the stage) was very muddy so I couldn't work out what the acapella numbers were but my travelling companion Dave Carroll assures me that they included 'I'm Back For More' which she recorded with Al Johnson.
Saturday's entertainment included a showing of the Motown film 'Hitsville - The Movie' followed by a Q and A session with Motown expert Adam White and the live session in the evening began with a couple of Darrow Fletcher numbers performed by Snake Davis and his band, including '(Love Is My) Secret Weapon'. The first main act of the second evening was New Orleans soul veteran Betty Harris who I have seen, and enjoyed, many times over the years. Last time I saw her, at the 100 Club in London in 2017, her voice was a little shaky, so I didn't have high hopes this time. After all Betty is now 82 and her best known records, for Jubilee and Sansu, date back to the sixties. But I was pleasantly surprised by her act this time. Dressed in an elegant blue gown she started with 'Trouble With My Lover' and was well supported by the two backing singers in Snake's band. She followed with one of her greatest records 'Cry To Me'. Much of it was spoken rather than sung, but it was a heart wrenching few minutes which brought a lump to my throat. Betty seemed relaxed and in control and put this superb song across strongly. I was unfamiliar with her next song - something along the lines of 'If You Don't Love Me Please Let Me Go' (any suggestions?) - and so was Betty: she had to read the lyrics as she had never sung it before, she said. Her final number 'Ride Your Pony', once again with good work by the backing singers, completed a short set which was enjoyable and fun. Bravo Betty - you did well.
The final act was Eddie Holman, who starred at the last Blackpool festival in 2019. Eddie looked resplendent in a a purple jacket and wearing a hat and showed that his voice is as amazing as ever, reaching incredibly high notes with ease. He's also a great showman who had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. His excellent set began with Northern Soul favourites 'Where I'm Not Wanted' and 'This Feeling Is Real'. He read the lyrics of the next song, 'Hold Me In Your Arms' from a piece of paper as he was unfamiliar with it, he said, but still managed to dance his way across the stage whilst doing so. Eddie dedicated his next song, 'My Mind Keeps Telling Me' to his long time producer and song writer Ronnie Baker and then brought on festival organiser Richard Searling to wish him a happy 70th birthday. From there he moved on to crowd favourites 'This Will Be A Night To Remember' and 'I Surrender', which was co-written with his wife of 56 years Sheila. His greatest hit of course was 'Hey There Lonely Girl' in 1970 - a song which he said had made him financially secure over the years - and this was to be his final number, performed with great skill and amazing vocal acrobatics on those high notes. A class act and well worth the return visit.
While I was there I managed to get my photo taken with some of the stars. Here I am with Jimmy Delphs.
And with Jean Carn.
And with Betty Harris.
One of the great things about Harry and Hans is that they invariably present a batch of European picture sleeve 45s to artists at festivals and guests on their show (they gave me a superb selection when I visited them in Amsterdam a few years ago and appeared on their show). Here they are with Eddie Holman presenting him with his record pack.
Jimmy Delphs with festival organiser Richard Searling.

Saturday, June 04, 2022

Platimum Party at the Palace

I'm no royalist but I couldn't really avoid the Platinum Party at the Palace which dominated the BBC on Saturday night. There was an array of artists - some good, some not so good - in a show which didn't linger too long on any one in particular. Queen, or what is left of them, kicked off the show and Brian May showed that he is still an excellent guitarist. I was impressed by Alicia Keys and by Celeste but less so by Sir Rod Stewart who clearly cannot hold a note any more. And 'Sweet Caroline' for God's sake. Most of the acts were not particularly to my taste, but the likes of Elbow and Duran Duran (with Nile Rodgers) held some appeal. The production was superb in fact with some brilliant lighting effects in front of Buckingham Palace. And there was much diversity as well. It's quite an achievement - 70 years on the throne. And I guess I am among an increasingly small number of people who remember when her father George VI was the monarch. I remember quite clearly the Coronation in 1953 - on an incredibly wet day and watched by my family and the neighbours on a tiny 12 inch black and white TV. She is a great survivor and has done her duty over the years, although personally I would like to see a change once she passes away. There have of course been many tributes to the Queen this week, most of them over the top and very much fawning in their nature. But the Platinum show ended with another true queen - Diana Ross, who I have followed since the first appearance of the Supremes back in 1962. A good ending to a show which will never be repeated.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Ronnie Hawkins RIP

Ronnie Hawkins, who has died at the age of 87, was a true giant of rock and roll - as the Monument LP pictured below clearly states. Born in Arkansas, he formed his band The Hawks in 1957, including drummer Levon Helm, but made his name in Canada where new members joined. These included Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson who, together with Levon Helm, went on to become The Band when they split from Ronnie in 1964. Ronnie's early records on Roulette were rowdy covers of R and B hits such as 'Hey Bo Diddley', 'Forty Days' (a version of Chuck Berrys' 'Thirty Days') and 'Mary Lou' and I particularly liked his wild cover of Bo Diddley's 'Who Do You Love', released in 1963. Other singles included 'Southern Love', 'Clara', 'Down In The Alley' (for Cotillion) and 'Cora Mae' (for Monument). Ronnie settled in Canada and continued to record excellent material, including the 'Ronnie Hawkins' LP (pictured above), which was recorded at Muscle Shoals. Ronnie discovered guitarist Pat Travers in the early seventies and was cast as Bob Dylan in Dylan's film 'Renaldo and Clara'. He took part in The Band's farewell concert - 'The Last Waltz' - which was recorded on film and record. He celebrated his 6oth birthday in 1995 with a show in Toronto with Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and the Band which was documented as 'Let It Rock'. Rockin' Ronnie was one of the greats of rock and roll and it's sad that he has passed on. RIP.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

More music deaths

There have been several music deaths of note over the last couple of weeks. The latest is Ben Moore, who took over as one half of James and Bobby Purify in 1974 after the original 'Bobby' - James's cousin Robert Lee Dickey - left the duo. The new pairing had several notable soul hits in the seventies, including a re-recording of I'm Your Puppet', 'Get Closer' and 'Morning Glory'. all of which were featured on the album 'Purify Bros' (pictured). Before joining up with James, Ben Moore worked with James Brown and Otis Redding and was one half of the duo Ben and Spence in the sixties. As a solo singer he recorded the album 'Purified' in 1977 but lost his sight to glaucoma in 1998. He returned to performing and appeared memorably at Porretta in 2006 where he sang five numbers. (see photo above).
Another recent death is that of country singer Mickey Gilley (86), a cousin of Jerry Lee Lewis. He recorded some unsuccessful singles with Huey Meaux in the sixties and eventually had success with 'Room Full Of Roses' in 1974. Other successful recordings included 'City Lights', 'Honky Tonk Memories', 'Chains Of Love' and 'Here Comes The Hurt Again'. I was never particularly interested in Mickey's musical output but was quite impressed when I visited Gilley's in Las Vegas, a plush honky tonk bar which is notable for its bucking broncos and scantily dressed waitresses (see photo below). Mickey's first bar in Pasadena, Texas, inspired the movie 'Urban Cowboy, starring John Travolta, and other similarly themed bars opened in Dallas and Durant, Oklohoma.
The Vinyl Word also says farewell to Susan Jacks, who was a member of the Poppy Family, who had a hit with 'Which Way You Going Billy', and seventies solo success with songs such as 'You Know What Love Is', 'I Thought Of You Again', 'Anna Marie' and 'Evergreen'.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Robert Cray Band at the Anvil

It's over 40 years since Robert Cray recorded the first of his 20 odd albums. Over the years he has toured extensively and I've seen him in places as far apart as London, New Orleans and Sacramento. But I'm pretty sure that his show at the Anvil Theatre yesterday was the first time he had ever played Basingstoke on a Tuesday night. Robert has aged well - indeed he doesn't look much different from the way he did when I first saw him over 30 years ago. His unique voice is still as strong as ever and his guitar work is sublime - often understated, instantly recognisable. As a force in southern soul and blues he remains at his peak. Yet he scarcely moved from the microphone and there was nothing showy about his act. His band - comprising Dover Weinberg on Hammond organ, Les Falconer on drums and Richard Cousins on bass - provided excellent support as Robert performed a selection of songs from his extensive back catalogue. He began with 'You Can't Make Me Change' from his latest album 'That's What I Heard', which included a superb organ solo by Dover. 'Bouncing Back' from 'Midnight Stroll' followed and then came 'You're Everything', which showed off Robert's anguished vocal style to good effect and which included a great drum solo. 'I Don't Care', written by Mack Rice, was one of several songs taken from the 2017 album he recorded with the Hi Rhythm Section and showed that Robert can still reach those ultra high notes, and then came 'Won't Be Coming Home', from the 'Nothin' But Love' album, and the rock influenced 'Ask My Baby'. The rather gloomy 'You Had My Heart', another Hi Rhythm track, followed and Robert slowly turned down the volume towards the end. The audience was enthralled and you could have heard a pin drop as it ended in complete silence. Superb. Next up he delved into his earlier work with 'These Things', from 'Midnight Stroll', 'Phone Booth', from 'Bad Influence', and 'I Can't Fail' from the 2009 album 'Time Will Tell'. One of his best known songs 'Strong Persuader' followed and then came 'You Must Believe In Yourself' from the Hi Rhythm album, which also ended with a gradual reduction in volume to silence. As an encore Robert finished off with 'I Shiver' (from 'Shame + a Sin') and 'Time Will Tell'. Throughout his show Robert oozed class and showed off his talent to the full. Long may he continue.

Saturday, May 07, 2022

Michelle David and the True-tones

It was good to be back at the Jazz Cafe last night - for the first time since the pandemic - and particularly good seeing Michelle David and the True-tones for the first time. They have toured extensively in Europe for the last few years and were supposed to be appearing at the Jazz Cafe at the end of last year but the show was delayed because of COVID. It was worth the wait. Michelle is a force of nature. Backed by Dutch trio the True-tones the North Carolina born singer tore the place apart with a series of high energy gospel infused soul and funk numbers which got the audience dancing and waving their arms. The group - led by Onno Smit and Paul Williemson - provided excellent backing as Michelle showed that she has talent a plenty. Her upbeat numbers were exciting while slower numbers showed that she has a light soft voice when necessary. The group have recorded four albums of 'Gospel Sessions' and many of her songs - all original apart from an excellent rendition of Curtis Mayfield's 'Keep On Pushing' - came from the latest of these. She began with 'Yes I Am', which answers the question of whether she is her brother's keeper in the affirmative. Other soulful gospel numbers followed and there was a decidedly revivalist gospel edge to numbers such as 'Taking It Back', (from 'Gospel Sessions Volume Three'), which featured Michelle performing some 'crazy dancing' as she termed it, which resulted in her kicking off her shoes and some of her jewellery. Things slowed down for 'There's A Place' which showed her excellent voice off to good effect, and 'Keep On Pushing', followed by another great song from her new album 'Second Chance'. More up tempo gospel soul followed with 'Good Good Good', the lead off track on the latest album, and Michelle was really belting it out by this stage as she urged the audience to raise their hands, which they duly did. As an encore she sang a couple of funk filled gospel numbers including 'Love', another song from the latest album. All in all this was a highly enjoyable show. Comparisons with Sharon Jones come to mind, but Michelle definitely has enough individuality to make a mark on her own account.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Three more soul and blues artists pass on

Sadly it's time to pay tribute to a trio of soul and blues artists who have died recently. Bobby Hendricks, who has died at the age of 84, had success in both the rock and roll and early soul fields. He was a member of the Crowns, the Swallows and the Flyers before joining the Drifters where he sang lead on 'Drip Drop' in 1958. He went solo and had a big hit with 'Itchy Twitchy Feeling' which reached number five in the US R and B charts. Further singles included 'Little John Green', backed with 'Sincerely My Lover', released in the UK on Top Rank, and 'I'm Coming Home' on Mercury. For over 40 years he toured with Bill Pinkney's Original Drifters but made a rare solo appearance at Viva Las Vegas in 2016 (pictured above) and made a big impact. I wrote at the time: 'First up was Bobby Hendricks, looking great in a smart dark suit, brown shirt and white hat, who was backed by Lil Mo and the Dynaflos. Kicking off with Clyde McPhatter's 'A Lover's Question', he continued with 'Drip Drop', a song he sang lead on while with The Drifters. Then it was Drifters material with 'Fools Fall In Love' and 'Money Honey', the ballad 'A Thousand Dreams' and his big solo hit 'Itchy Twitchy Feeling'. Mesmerising stuff from a singer who I thought I would never get to see.'
Another recent death is that of Baton Rouge blues guitarist James Johnson, aged 82, who played with Slim Harpo and whose guitar playing was behind the 'chicken scratch' on 'Baby Scratch My Back'. He played on many of Harpo's classic sides including 'Rainin' In My Heart' and made regular appearances around Baton Rouge. James appeared at the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans in 2011 (pictured below) alongside Warren Storm and Lazy Lester in an Excello tribute.
The third recent death is that of Jimmy Thomas (83) who was a vocalist with Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm and later with the Ike and Tina Turner Revue. Jimmy recorded several solo singles for Sue and two of Ike Turner's labels and met up with Denny Cornell and Tony Visconti when Ike and Tina's Revue toured the UK in 1966 who encouraged him to learn production. He recorded 'Where There's A Will (There's A Way)' for Mirwood and relocated to London in 1969. His 45 'The Beautiful Night' was released on Parlophone in 1969 but withdrawn and later became a Northern Soul favourite, making the original single highly collectable. He wrote and produced an album called 'Abyss' for John Abbey's Contempo label in 1973 and went on to form his own Osceola label in 1979.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Guitar Shorty and Art Rupe RIP

With thoughts of going to my first Porretta Soul Festival in three years later this year very much in mind I was sad to hear of the death of yet another artist who has appeared at the festival. This time it's Guitar Shorty, who was one of the stars of the 2014 line up (pictured above with me). Guitar Shorty (real name David Kearney) was 87 years old and got his nickname when, aged 16, he appeared on a billboard reading 'The Walter Johnson Band featuring Guitar Shorty'. He joined the Ray Charles band and recorded his first record in 1957 for Cobra called 'You Don't Treat Me Right' produced by Willie Dixon. He appeared at the Dew Drop Inn in New Orleans and then moved to Los Angeles to play with Sam Cooke. After some years away from the business he recorded for JSP, Black Top and Alligator and appeared on a Bo Diddley tribute album in 2002. I first saw Guitar Shorty at the Black Top night at Jimmy's club in New Orleans in 1993 (see bottom photo). He was noted for his gymnastic approach and I remember him performing forward somersaults while still playing his guitar. I don't recall any such athleticism at Porretta but I do recall that, good though it was, Shorty's heavy blues didn't really fit in there. I wrote: 'First on was Guitar Shorty who provided some heavy blues with 'The Blues Has Got Me' and 'It's Too Late', during which he toured the audience and carried on playing as he went behind the stage. He followed with 'Born Under A Bad Sign' but in the end his set was just too heavy as he strayed into Jimi Hendrix territory with 'Hey Joe'. Shorty's a great showman but not really right for the festival.' Later that year I saw Shorty at the King Biscuit festival where he also impressed and certainly fitted in there.
A final word too for Art Rupe, founder of Specialty Records, who has died at the grand old age of 104. Art was responsible for overseeing the transition of R and B and gospel music into full blooded rock and roll with an incredible line up of artists, including Roy Milton, the Soul Stirrers, Lloyd Price, Guitar Slim, Sam Cooke, Larry Williams and Little Richard. He originally founded Juke Box Records which had success with Roy Milton's'R M Blues' and eventually formed Specialty in 1946 with early success with Jimmy and Joe Liggins and Percy Mayfield as well as gospel with the Pilgrim Travellers and the Soul Stirrers. Art's move into rock and roll began with 'Lawdy Miss Clawdy' by Lloyd Price, with Fats Domino on piano, before breaking out on the world stage with Little Richard, plus Larry Williams and Roddy Jackson. When Sam Cooke began his solo career Art missed out as he thought that 'You Send Me' didn't fit with his other artists and Sam ended up recording for the Keen label. But there was no doubting Art's enormous influence on the development of rock and roll. He had a reputation for not paying royalties (as did most label owners of the time) but objected to payola and eventually left the recording business to concentrate on oil and gas interests. But he remained in the business as a music publisher and enjoyed success in the reissue business during the rock and roll revival of the early seventies. The UK Specialty label produced a number of excellent compilations and LPs by the likes of Frankie Lee Sims, Don and Dewey and Clifton Chenier. He eventually sold Specialty to Fantasy Records in 1991.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Fred Johnson of the Marcels

Several times in previous years at around this time I have been to the Long Island Doowop weekend to enjoy fifties sounds from surviving doowop groups. It was a rare occasion that we were among the younger people in the audience, despite being well into our late sixties or early seventies at the time. It was a great weekend and I'm glad to say it is continuing next weekend, although this time I won't be there. There are fewer and fewer original members of doowop groups still alive so the line up this year is augmented by several pop singers of a slightly later era including Brian Hyland, Chris Montez, Ronnie Dove, Little Peggy March, Dickie Lee and Joey Dee. There are still some genuine doowop acts on show including Herb Reed's Platters (despite Herb and all original Platters no longer being around), Cleveland Still and the Dubs, Jimmy Gallagher of the Passions, Norman Fox and the Rob Roys, Jay Seigel's Tokens, the Capris and the Eternals. One doowop group that sadly I did not get to see was the Marcels, who have the distinction of recording what must have been the biggest doowop hit ever in the UK, 'Blue Moon' in 1961. All original members of the Marcels have now passed away, the last being the bass singer Fred Johnson who died two weeks ago at the age of 80. Fred's booming voice was a key part of all the group's hits including follow up successes such as 'Summertime', 'You Are My Sunshine', 'Heartaches' and 'My Melancholy Baby'. I loved all of these and have the UK issues on Pye Internional. But their sole LP, 'Blue Moon', eluded me until I came across it at 'Island Sound', a record shop on Long Island during one of our trips. Our visit there was pretty memorable as we stumbled on a Saturday morning meet up of veteran New York doowop fans who treated us to a stream of reminiscences about the old days and even a bit of doowop harmony. As for the Marcels, the original group was multi racial, with two white members, Richard Knauss and Gene Bricker alongside black members Fred Johnson, lead singer Cornelius Harp and Ronald Mundy. Unfortunately the two white members left the goup after racial problems in the south to be replaced by Allen Johnson and Walt Maddox. The group became a quartet following the departure of Mundy although the original group reformed briefly in 1975 and Fred Johnson formed his own version of the group in the nineties leading to a lawsuit brought by Maddox. I hope next weekend's show goes well and I wish I was there. But at least I have now booked flights for a US trip in September taking in music in Austin and Nashville which will be my first to the US since 2019.

Wednesday, April 06, 2022

Bobby Rydell passes on

Another major music figure of the early sixties has died, this time the 'wild one' himself Bobby Rydell at the age of 79. Bobby won a talent show in his home town of Philadelphia in 1950 and appeared on 'Paul Whiteman's TV Teen Club' before signing a record deal with Cameo records. His first hit was 'Kissin' Time' in 1959 and he followed this up with a string of pop hits including 'We Got Love', 'Wild One' (his biggest hit reaching the number four position in the UK), 'Swinging School' (said to be an infleunce on Lennon and McCartney when writing 'She Loves You'), a cover of 'Volare', 'Sway', 'Good Time Baby', 'That Old Black Magic', 'I've Got Bonnie', 'I'll Never Dance Again', 'Forget Him', 'The Cha Cha Cha', 'Wildwood Days' and 'Butterfly Baby'. He recorded several duets with fellow Cameo Parkway artist Chubby Checker and appeared in the movie version of 'Bye Bye Baby' with Ann Margret and Dick Van Dyke. In 1964 he signed for Capitol but by this time the British invasion had taken its toll on American solo acts and a later move to Reprise failed to bring him any significant hits. In later years he toured with fellow Philadelphians Frankie Avalon and Fabian under the name of the Golden Boys. Bobby's hits were well produced and his distinctive voice helped make them highly commercial yet he suffered from being accused by hardcore rock fans of being one of the 'Bobbies' who helped to kill original rock and roll. Despite that he made his mark and it's no coincidence that the high school in 'Grease' was named Rydell High. Bobby's records made regular appearances in my personal top ten in the early sixties with 'Good Time Baby', 'That Old Black Magic', 'I've Got Bonnie' and 'I'll Never Dance Again' making the top three. RIP.
Another recent death is that of New Orleans club owner and performer Chris Owens at the age of 89. Chris was a NOLA legend whose club on Bourbon Street was something of a landmark with its eye-catching photos of Chris in full flow. I remember seeing Chris at my first Jazzfest in 1989 (see photo).