Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Sue Thompson RIP + others

I was sorry to hear of the death of Sue Thompson, who had several catchy girl group flavoured pop hits in the sixties. She was 96 when she died and was a good 15 to 20 years older than many of her female contemporaries in the pop charts, but a string of songs written by John D Loudermilk gave her a strong run of success. Her first hit 'Sad Movies (Make Me Cry)' reached number five in the US in 1961 and follow ups such as 'Norman', 'James (Hold The Ladder Steady)' and 'Paper Tiger' were equally successful in the US and Australia. In the UK her songs faced inevitable competition from cover versions, in particular Carol Deene, who recorded no fewer than three of the above. When her pop success came to an end Sue moved into the country field, including several records with Don Gibson.
Another artist who has died is sax man Pee Wee Ellis, aged 80, who played on and co-wrote a number of James Brown hits including 'Cold Sweat' and 'Say It Loud I'm Black And I'm Proud'. In the seventies he was musical director for Kudu records, working with artists such as George Benson and Esther Phillips, and later played with Van Morrison's band for several years. Pee Wee appeared at Porretta in 2019 playing with Australia's Sweethearts group and also bringing some credibility to the act by Swiss group Re:Funk.
Another recent death, at the age of 77, is that of George Frayne IV, better known as Commander Cody, whose band the Lost Planet Airmen played an exciting mix of Western swing, rockabilly and country rock. The band got a record contract with Paramount on moving to California in 1969 and produced a series of excellent albums with eye catching comic strip covers, including 'Lost In the Ozone', 'Hot Licks, Cold Steel and Truckers Favorites' and 'Live From Deep In The Heart of Texas.'
It's farewell too to Sarah Dash, who was a member of the Blue Belles which became Patti LaBelle and the Blue Belles and eventually LaBelle. The groups' first hit 'I Sold My Heart To The Junkman' in 1962 was followed by others such as 'Danny Boy', 'All Or Nothing'. 'Over The Rainbow' and 'Take Me For A Little While' and Labelle had a huge hit with 'Lady Marmalade'. After the group broke up Sarah had considerable solo success and also toured with the Rolling Stones and developed her own one woman show. The Vinyl Word raises a glass to them all.

Monday, September 27, 2021

20 years of Tales From The Woods

It's hard to believe that the varied and slightly eccentric group of music obsessives known as Tales From The Woods is now 20 years old, but it is. And to mark this landmark the group's unelected leader Keith Woods put on yet another show at the 100 Club - his first such venture since the beginning of lockdown. The show featured several acts who have performed at previous shows, plus some who haven't, and once again featured the excellent Tales From The Woods house band led by guitarist John Spencely and featuring Claire Hamlin on keyboards and Jeff Tuck on drums. Attendance was rather thin (and somewhat on the senior side) but those who were there enjoyed a varied show with a number of first rate performances. I arrived slightly late, but in time to see Richie Milton and friends, who played a mixture of Cajun numbers and skiffle, including 'Rock Island Line', 'Deep Down In My Shoes' and 'Freight Train'. which was well performed by singer Linda Hall. Richie himself was active in the UK blues scene for many years and his current band included an accordian player, who brought the Cajun numbers to life.
Next up was another singer who has been around the UK blues scene for many years, and one I hadn't seen before, Honey B Mama. Known as Hackney's 'Queen of the Blues' Honey's alter ego is Cleo Sylvestre and she was an actress and a friend of Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones back in the sixties. He asked her to be the singer in the band he was planning to form when he left the Stones, only for his death to stop that idea in its tracks. Honey's band, which included an excellent piano player, began with a slow Bessie Smith song, 'Jailhouse Blues' and her set included 'Sweet Home Chicago', 'Midnight Special' and 'Let's Work Together'.
The pace hotted up with the arrival on stage of the Tales From The Woods band and the appearance of several artists who were making return appearances to a Keith Woods show. Allan Bailey performed a couple of Elvis numbers - 'Mess Of Blues' and 'That's When Your Heartaches Begin' - plus one of his own.
He was followed by Garry Mills, who had a number of minor hits in the early sixties plus one fairly big hit with 'Look For A Star' which was the theme for the UK film 'Circus Of Horrors'. Garry, who hails from my home town of West Wickham in Kent, began with his 1960 45 'Comin' Down With Love' and continued with his first record, 'Hey Baby', the tuneful and rather cute 'Top Teen Baby', 'Look For A Star' and his later Decca single 'I'll Step Down'. Garry revealed that his son Garry Junior died very recently and this made his rendition of Buddy Holly's 'Raining In My Heart', dedicated to his late son and his grand daughters who were in the audience, especially poignant and was much appreciated by the audience. He ended with a good version of 'Teddy Bear'. An enjoyable set and his bravery in doing the show was fantastic.
Possible the liveliest set of the night followed with the arrival of Liverpool singer Beryl Marsden who put loads of energy into her performance. She kicked off with 'Everything's Gonna be Alright' and her cover of Barbara George's 'I Know' which was a Decca release for her in 1963. There followed three Shirelles numbers - 'Baby It's You, 'Boys' and 'Everybody Loves A Lover' - and a bluesy version of 'Hi Heel Sneakers'. She rounded off an exciting set with 'Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On' and 'Let's Have a Party' which got many of the audience bopping away.
Headliner on the night was the evergreen and always amusing Mike Berry, whose voice and guitar playing is as clean as ever. With superb backing by the house band, Mike ran through some well performed covers, including 'Rock Around With Ollie Vee', 'It's Late', More Than I can Say', Brown Eyed Handsome Man', 'Stood Up' and 'Three Steps To Heaven'. Mike had quite a few hits of his own of course, including his 'Tribute To Buddy Holly, but his humour and sheer stage presence showed just why he remains a big name on the silver oldies circuit.

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Swamp pop king Warren Storm RIP

It's been a terrible week for the world of Louisiana swamp pop and blues. First it was the death of Carol Fran. And now we hear of the death, at the age of 84 from COVID, of possibly the best known swamp pop artist of them all, Warren Storm. Warren was a vocalist and a drummer and enjoyed a long career both as a solo artist and as a member of the Shondells, the Cajun super group Lil Band of Gold and his later band Cypress. He was born in Abbeville and had success aged 21 when he recorded at Jay Miller's Crowley studio. His recording of 'The Prisoner's Song' was released at the Nashville based Nasco label backed by 'Mama Mama Mama' and made it into the Billboard top 100. He recorded for various labels including Rocko, Zynn, American Pla-Boy, Top Rank, and Dot, and joined up with Rod Bernard and Skip Stewart to form the Shondells, who had great local success. I remember seeing Warren at the Grant Street Dancehall in Lafayette in 1998 when he was playing alongside several other South Louisiana artists, including C C Adcock, Steve Riley and David Egan, in a group which a year or two later became the Lil Band of Gold. They were a must see band whenever I was in Louisiana and I saw them, and was mightily impressed, on various occasions in New Orleans and Lafayette. In 2011 they played at the Shepherds Bush Empire when they were invited to the UK to play at Lily Allen's wedding and Warren was superb on his ration of numbers, which included 'Seven Letters', 'Blue Monday' and 'These Lonely Lonely Nights'. Warren left the band in what seemed to be a dispute with C C and played with his own band Cypress, but I saw him several times after that, the last occasion being the Ponderosa Stomp in 2017 (see photo above). The photos below show Warren at Grant Street in 1998 and one with me (eyes closed) and John Howard on the same day. There's also a photo from a single issued in 1983 and one from a Shondells LP recorded for La Louiaianne.
By coincidence, I went to my first live gig in over 18 months on Sunday and it featured two of the great swamp pop artists still performing - guitarist and singer C C Adcock and 81 year old singer Tommy McLain. The evening was a delight, with Tommy on good form despite having played a couple of festivals and other gigs in the preceeding few days. Nick Lowe's son played drums behind them, as he did when I saw them in 2019 when he was just 14. Tommy included favourites such as 'Sweet Dreams', 'Before I Grow Too Old' and 'Baby Doll', as well as several new songs.This was their third show at the tiny Laylow bar in Ladbroke Grove in the last couple of years - the last one was just before lockdown (I wasn't there) and apparently led to several cases of COVID emerging. C C described Tommy and himself as 'spreadnecks'. This time, hopefully, there will be no repeat. It's good to see Tommy, and C C, still doing their thing, but sad news about Warren. RIP.
Finally, here's a photo of Tommy McLain at the Shepherds Bush Empire with Warren Storm on the drums.

Friday, September 03, 2021

Farewell to Carol Fran

Another great Louisiana artist has died - this time soul and blues singer Carol Fran, at the age of 87. Born in Lafayette, she first recorded 'Emmitt Lee' for Excello in 1957. She played alongside many New Orleans artists including Guitar Slim, Nappy Brown and Lee Dorsey. Revivals of 'The Great Pretender' and 'Crying In The Chapel' brought her some success, but the latter was overshadowed by Elvis's version. Carol took part in one of the conference sessions, alongside Lavelle White, at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2014 and said that Elvis had given her $10,000 to make up for her loss of sales. In the same session she joked about the many stars she had performed with, and the 'nights of fun' they shared. I saw Carol perform many times in New Orleans alongside her husband Clarence Hollimon, who she met at the Dewdrop Inn in New Orleans and who died in 2000, and several times after that. The photo above shows Carol at a swamp blues show at the Rice Theater in Crowley, La, in 2011.
The photo below shows Carol with Clarence at the Black Top show in New Orleans in 1993. She and Clarence recorded two albums for Black Top in the early nineties.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Scratch Perry, the Upsetter, RIP - and others

There has been much media coverage of the death of Jamaican reggae pioneer Lee 'Scratch' Perry, who has died aged 85. A true original, he was renowned for the development of dub music and record production with a range of artists from Bob Marley to the Beastie Boys. Before that he worked with Coxsone Dodd and Joe Gibbs and I first became aware of him through his single 'People Funny Boy, which was aimed at Gibbs after he had a disagreement with him. His recordings with his studio band the Upsetters in the late sixties and early seventies were what really made his name and remain great to this day. His studio the Black Ark was to produce many innovative tracks by the likes of Bob Marley, Junior Murvin, the Heptones and Max Romeo. But then, apparently in a rage, he burnt the studio to the ground. After that he spent much of his time in the UK and the US and settled in Switzerland. He became famous for his eccentric style and was involved in a wide variety of work which was impressive even though it wasn't always to my taste. RIP Scratch, the Upsetter.
There are a few other musicians whose deaths are worthy of mention, the first being Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, aged 80. Not surprisingly his death attracted many tributes and memories from fellow musicians, especially drummers, who appreciated his controlled and insistent beat that kept the Stones honest over the years. I remember seeing the Stones in their early days before worldwide fame arrived. They were a competent R and B covers band who developed as the years went by, and Charlie was always at the centre of things. As he reportedly said to Mick 'I'm not your drummer - you're my vocalist'. A link with one of the earliest doowop groups has ended with the death at 88 of Maryland Pierce, lead singer of the Five Keys, whose hits included original versions of 'The Glory of Love', 'Ling Ting Tong', 'The Verdict', 'Gee Whittakers' and 'The Wisdom Of A Fool'. Maryland is pictured on the far left on the LP photo below.
Finally, I understand from a FB post from Noah Scaffer that Frank Troutt, an original member of the Majors, has died. I loved the Majors' early hits including 'A Wonderful Dream', 'She's A Troublemaker', 'What In the World' and 'Ooh Wee Baby'. I saw a later version of the group, which included Frank, at the Long Island Doowop Festival a couple of time and also at Viva Las Vegas. Here's a photo of me with the Majors, with Frank on the second left, taken at Long Island in 2017. Also their EP issued in the UK on London.
Finally, my thoughts go out to all those in New Orleans and Louisiana who have been affected by Hurricane Ida. Stay safe - and hope to see you all again soon.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Blues LPs part 8

I'm completing this series on blues LPs with some photos of albums by some of the blues greats and some compilations. The first photo features one by Katie Webster, who I remember seeing at The Venue in New Cross in the early nineties. The rest are all by the great Muddy Waters and includes one on the Python label, of which only 99 copies were made. There are also quite a few on Pye International and Chess.
The next group starts with an LP by Washboard Sam with Big Bill Broonzy and Memphis Slim, and two by Chuck Willis, whose R and B hits included 'C C Rider' and 'What Am I Living For' but who died aged just 32.There are three by by exciting R and B performer Barrance Whitfield, who is equally at home performing at rock and roll and blues shows. The remaining LPs are by Josh White, who was possibly the first blues artist to cut through in the UK, and include two ten inch London LPs and two on the Bounty label. Josh was an early advocate for black rights and was sadly caught up in the McCarthy era anti communist witch hunt.
Photo number three includes one more LP by Josh White and two by Delta blues guitarist Bukka White. There's also one by Artie 'Blues Boy' White, which he signed for me when he appeared, alongside Travis Haddix, in a village hall near Peterborough in 2007. There are also four albums by blues harmonica player Junior Wells, who i saw several times playing alongside Buddy Guy. Also one by Leo Buddy Welch - another signed LP which I bought from him on the street in Clarksdale in 2015. Although born in 1932 his recording career didn't begin until 2014, three years before his death. There's also one by Jimmy Witherspoon, one by Delta bluesman Big Joe Williams with Sonny Boy Williamson and one by jazz singer Joe Williams with the Count Basie band.
The next montage includes one more by Big Joe Williams and one by Otis Williams, former member of doowop group the Charms, with the Midnight Cowboys. There's one by Sonny Boy Williamson and half a dozen by Jimmy Witherspoon, including albums with Wilbur de Paris, Ben Webster and Brother Jack McDuff. The final LP is by Billy Wright who was a big influence on Little Richard.
Photo number five begins with three LPs by early boogie woogie pianist Jimmy Yancey, including one with his wife. We then move on to blues compilations and I have been fairly selective here, just picking those of most interest. This selection includes several compilations of recordings from the Duke/Peacock and Veejay labels, including 'The Duke and the Peacock', which came out in the UK on Island. Also included are two LPs of Texas blues on Arhoolie, and two double LPs on Blue Horizon.
The next group includes several compilations on the Chess, Pye International and Golden Guinea labels and two classic Stateside LPs from the early sixties featuring Excello artists.
Finally here is another selection which includes one from Blues at Newport 1964 and one of several featuring artists who came over to Europe on the folk blues tours of the mid sixties - my first introduction to live blues. There are also three examples of urban blues and rural blues compilations on Liberty/Imperial, 'Dirt Blues' on Minit and a couple in the Southern Folk Heritage series released on London Atlantic.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Don Everly RIP

Yet another link with the earliest days of rock and roll has been broken by the death, aged 84, of Don Everly. I loved the sweet harmonies of the Everlies from their first hits on Cadence - 'Bye Bye Love', 'Wake Up Little Susie', 'Should We Tell Him', 'All I Have To Do Is Dream', 'Bird Dog', 'Problems', 'Poor Jenny', ('Til) I Kissed You', 'Let It Be Me', 'When Will I Be Loved' and 'Like Strangers' - many of them written by Boudleaux and Felice Bryant. All of them gems. When they moved to Warner Brothers in 1960 their fans feared that the quality might deteriorate. But songs like 'Cathy's Clown, 'Walk Right Back', 'Crying In The Rain', 'How Can I Meet Her' and 'No One Can Make My Sunshine Smile' maintained a high standard. However their career was affected by Wesley Rose's ban on them recording songs written by the Bryants or themselves after their move to Warners. Eventually the onslaught of the Mersey sound dented the Everlies' ability to have major chart hits, even in the UK where they were more successful than in the States in the mid sixties. Animosity between the two brothers did not help, resulting in the duo splitting up in 1973. Both brothers recorded as solo artists with Don having success in the country charts, but they were always better together than alone and they reunited at a reunion concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 1983. They toured again and recorded sporadically and their live performances showed just what the music world had been missing in the intervening years. Their influence, on everyone from the Beatles to the Beach Boys and just about every other harmony group since, was immense. When I kept my personal top ten from 1960 to 1965 the Everly Brothers had more chart entries (23) than any other artist (even Sam Cooke) and this was largely because they recorded so many wonderful double sided records. Who can forget 'I Wonder If I Care As Much', 'Maybe Tomorrow', 'Claudette', 'Devoted To You', 'Love Of My Life', 'Take A Message To Mary', 'Lucille', 'Ebony Eyes', 'Stick With Me Baby', 'Don't Blame Me' and 'That's Old Fashioned' - all of them B sides. The Everlies toured the UK a number of times in the sixties and I was lucky enough to catch them a few times, including their 1963 tour with Bo Diddley and the Rolling Stones low down on the bill. Two years ago, on one of our US road trips, we visited Central City, Kentucky, the home town of the Everly Brothers where there is a museum dedicated to them (see bottom photo). There's a marker to Phil Everly in a cemetery nearby. Now it's time to say farewell to Don - a sad day indeed.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Blues LPs part 7

I'm continuing with some more blues LPs from the collection. The first selection includes several Smiths: Arthur 'Guitar Boogie' Smith should more rightly be in the country section; Bessie Smith, the 'Empress of the Blues' was one of the foremost blues singers of the Jazz Age; Carrie Smith was a blues and jazz singer who actually played Bessie Smith on stage at Carnegie Hall in 1974; Clara Smith was another early blues singer, known as the 'Queen of the Moaners', who mentored Josephine Baker, and harmonica player Little George Smith. Also featured is a ten inch LP by Brother John Sellers, who came from Clarksdale and was discovered by Mahalia Jackson, and one by another singer from the Delta, Son House, one of the most influential of early blues men who was recorded by Alan Lomax in 1941 and was rediscovered in the sixties.
The next montage starts with four LPs by Chicago pianist Otis Spann, who played with Muddy Waters for many years, and recorded for Decca in London in 1964 as well as for Vanguard and BluesWay. There's one by Roosevelt Sykes, who was known as 'The Honeydripper', and one by another blues pianist from the Delta who moved to Chicago, Sunnyland Slim, one by Eddie Taylor, a Mississippi blues guitarist who taught Jimmy Reed how to play, and one by Hound Dog Taylor, another Mississippi guitarist who moved to Chicago. There are also a couple of LPs by Chicago blues shouter Ko Ko Taylor, who I had the pleaure of seeing on a couple of occasions, and two by Arkansas born blues and soul singer Little Johnny Taylor, not to be confused with soul man Johnnie Taylor.
The third selection starts with two more albums by Little Johnny Taylor, one by Fingers Taylor, a harmonica player recorded with Anson Funderburgh, and one by Dewey Terry, one half of rock and roll duo Don and Dewey. Next are five LPs by harmonica player Sonny Terry, including three with his his long time partner Brownie McGhee. There is one LP by Tiny Topsy, an R and B singer who died aged just 34, and one by Tabby Thomas, who ran a club called Tabby's Blues Box in Baton Rouge for many years. Finally there is an LP by Big Mama Thornton, Lightnin' Hopkins and Larry Williams on Arhoolie.
Montage number four features 12 LPs by Joe Turner, including one on London and several on the Pablo and Black and Blue labels. 'Big' Joe Turner was known as 'The Boss Of the Blues' and was a blues shouter without whom it was said (by Doc Pomus) that rock and roll would never have happened. The Kansas City star was featured singer with the Count Basie orchestra and was picked up by Atlantic, where he recorded 'Shake Rattle and Roll', 'Flip Flop and Fly' and many other pioneering rock and roll records. I bought nearly all of these LPs at a car boot sale for 50p each many years ago.
The final selection this time includes three more Joe Turner LPs, including one with Count Basie, and an Ike Turner album on United Artists. There's also one each by boogie woogie player Precious Clarence Turner, sax player Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson with Roomful of Blues and Joe Louis Walker, the man whose playing at the 100 Club in London a few years back resulted in total deafness in my left ear the next day (no doubt a culmination of many loud shows in reality), and a couple by guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, who died in a helicopter crash in 1990. Finally there are three LPs by renowned Texas guitarist T-Bone Walker.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Roy Gaines RIP + others

Sorry to hear of the death of bluesman Roy Gaines at the reported age of 84. The Texas born guitarist and vocalist was the younger brother of Grady Gaines and played with many of the greats from the fifties onwards, including Roy Milton, Joe Turner, Chuck Willis - even the Everly Brothers. Later he played with or recorded with the likes of Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Bobby Bland and many others. It wasn't until 1982 that he recorded his first album 'Gainelining', a rush job in London with members of the Crusaders with whom he was touring at the time. It included possibly his best known number 'A Hell Of A Night Tonight', co-written with Joe Sample. As far as I know I never did see Roy Gaines perform live - but I nearly did. He was due to perform at the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans in 2017 but the second day was cancelled due to a threatened hurricane that never arrived. A number of the acts performed at the Ace Hotel and Aussie DJ Mohair Slim tried valiantly to arrange for a performance by Roy, but to no avail. We got to chat to him anyway and the photo above shows Roy with me, Noah Shaffer and Marc Engel. The picture below shows Lloyd (Mohair Slim) in earnest conversation with Roy.
Another recent death is that of reggae instrumentalist and singer Jo Jo Bennett. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, he played with Byron Lee and the Dragonaires but made his name in Canada where he was a member of the Fugitives and formed a pop reggae band called the Saatalites. In between he recorded in Jamaica with Harry Mudie's All Stars and made an album with them called 'Groovy Jo Jo' in 1970.
Finally we say a fond farewell to character actress Una Stubbs, who was a mainstay of many UK films and TV series, including 'Til Death Do Us Part', 'Worzel Gummidge', 'The Worst Witch' and 'Sherlock'. She wasn't a singer but she did star in two of Cliff Richard's early sixties movies - 'Summer Holiday' and 'Wonderful Life' (see photo).

Monday, August 09, 2021

Blues LPs part 6

I'm continuing my series of photo montages of blues LPs, beginning this time with the letter M. There's an LP by Willie Mabon, one by Magic Sam and three by Taj Mahal, including two on the Direction label and two on CBS. I've seen Taj Mahal a few times, the most recent being in New Orleans in 2016 when he was on top form. There's also a more modern LP by Johnny Mars and one by the superb blues singer/songwriter Percy Mayfield. There's one by blues guitarist Larry McCray and two by Jimmy McCracklin, who memorably appeared at Porretta in 2007.
The next group of LPs starts with another three by Jimmy McCracklin, including one on US Imperial and one on Stax. There's one by country blues man Mississippi Fred McDowell plus one by him with his wife Annie Mae. Also three by Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry who did so much to popularise the blues in the UK, and two by Big Jay McNeely, who I had the great pleasure of meeting up with in LA. He died shortly after his 91st birthday show at Joe's Great American Bar and Grill in Burbank in 2018. There's one by sax player and bandleader Jack McVea and an album by one of the earlier blues artists Memphis Minnie.
The third set features five LPs by Memphis Slim, including one on United Artists and two on Xtra, and two by R and B singer and pianist Amos Milburn. There are also two by jump blues singer, drummer and bandleader Roy Milton, and one by singer, actress and civil rights activist Odetta. Finally there are two by the incredibly influential Johnny Otis, including one on UK Capitol.
Next up we have four by Junior Parker, including one on Mercury and two on the People label. There is also an LP by Lucky Peterson, one by Piano Red, who was perhaps better known as Dr Feelgood, and one by the Prisonaires, who recorded 'Just Walking In the Rain' for Sun in 1953 while still incarcerated. There are also four albums by Jimmy Reed, including one on Stateside and one on Veejay.
The fifth group of LPs begins with two more by Jimmy Reed, one by Sonny Rhodes and the Texas Twisters, who I got to see a couple of times, a couple by Chicago bluesman Fenton Robinson, and one by the Rhode Island based white blues band Roomful of Blues. There's an LP by Bobby Rush, who continues to entertain enormously well into his eighties, and a couple by blues guitarist and songwriter Otis Rush. Finally there's an LP by singer and pianist Jimmy Rushing, who was the vocalist in Count Basie's Orchestra, an LP on Malaco by David St George, a funk singer who made just one album about whom I know nothing, and an album by Frankie Lee Sims on Specialty. More soon.