Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Chris Barber and Bunny Wailer RIP

Two towering figures in music have died in the last day or so. Chris Barber's love of jazz made him one of the key figures in the development of music in the UK from the time he bought his first trombone in the late forties. His New Orleans style band had enormous success and started the trad boom, as well as enjoying success both in the UK and the US with 'Petite Fleur'. But he also led the way to the the emergence of rock and roll in the UK with his encouragement and support of Lonnie Donegan, the banjo player in his band, who personified the rise of skiffle. Chris made sure that skiffle featured heavily in the band's sets and played bass with Lonnie on his early hits such as 'Rock Island Line' and 'Lost John'. It was Chris who arranged for blues artists such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Muddy Waters and Memphis Slim to visit the UK, which led to the R and B boom in the sixties. Chris's love of New Orleans music led to him recording with Dr John and I remember him playing trombone in Dr John's band on my first visit to JazzFest in 1989. His death at the age of 90 brings an end to a story that has been central to the UK music scene for over seven decades. His career is well documented in Pete Frame's excellent book 'The Restless Generation'. May be Rest In Peace.
The second music great to have passed on at the young age of 73 is Bunny Wailer (Livingstone), an original member of the Wailers along with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. Bunny's father lived with Bob Marley's mother in Trench Town so they were close from an early age. When they met up with Peter Tosh via reggae pioneer Joe Higgs to form the Wailers they went on to become the first global reggae band, beginning with their debut album 'The Wailing Wailers' in 1965. They signed with Johnny Nash's JAD label and Bunny sang lead on occasions showing off his roots reggae vocal style but was mostly in the background on their recordings. After recording 'Burnin' for Chris Blackwell's Island label, on which he sang lead on two numbers, he left the Wailers in 1973, along with Peter Tosh, and began a solo career. He had success with 'Blackheart Man' and formed his own Solomonic label, recording albums such as 'Protest', 'Struggle', 'Rock n Groove' and 'Roots, Radics, Rockers, Reggae'. He went on to win three Grammy Awards for albums recorded in the nineties.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Latest music deaths

As ever. there are some music deaths to report. I only recall seeing one of them perform live and that was rockabilly singer Gene Summers who has died aged 82. Originally from Dallas, Gene recorded several records with his group the Rebels for the newly formed Jan label which went on to be covered by many later rock and roll bands. 'School of Rock and Roll' was later recorded by the Polecats, the Lennerockers, Big Sandy and the Fly-Rite Boys and the Reverend Horton Heat among others, while his biggest hit 'Big Blue Diamonds' was recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis, Ernest Tubb and Merle Kilgore. Other well known songs included 'Straight Skirt', 'Nervous', 'Gotta Lotta That' and 'Alabama Shake'. After leaving the Rebels Gene formed a new band the Tom Toms. a period which included some of his most successful records in 1963/4 and later in his career he was a regular on the rockabilly circuit at festivals in the US and Europe. The one time I saw him was at Viva Las Vegas in 2017 (pictured above) where his accomplished set included 'Gotta Lotta That', 'Straight Skirt', 'Alabama Shake, 'Fancy Dan' and 'School of Rock and Roll'.
Another recent death is that of reggae great Ewart Beckford, better known as U Roy at the age of 78. A pioneer of toasting, U Roy was born in Kingston and worked on sound systems throughout the sixties before being discovered by John Holt toasting over a Duke Reid track. This led to U Roy, or Hugh Roy as he was also known at times, recording for Duke Reid's Treasure Isle label including 'Wake The Town' and 'Wear You To The Ball'. He also recorded a DJ version of the Paragons' 'The Tide Is High' and performed in the UK on a tour organised by Rita and Benny King of R and B Records. His 1975 album 'Dread In a Babylon' was successful, as were others including 'Natty Dread', 'Rasta Ambassador' and 'Jah Son of Africa'. Another recent death is that of folk singer/songwriter Marc Ellington (75) who began his career with the Highwaymen. He moved to the UK to avoid the Vietnam War draft and recorded several solo LPs which are now highly collectable. These include 'Marc Ellington;, 'Rains/Reins of Changes' and 'A Question of Roads' for Philips and B and C. He bought and restored a castle in Scotland and served as deputy lieutenant of Aberdeenshire and a member of the Heritage Lottery Fund Committee for Scotland. Other recent deaths include Gene Taylor, aged 68, a boogie woogie pianist who played with Canned Heat, the Blasters and the Fabulous Thunderbirds among others and recorded a solo album in 1986 called 'Handmade'. In later years he lived in Belgium and toured as the Gene Taylor Trio. It's farewell also to jazz composer and keyboardist Chick Corea at the age of 79. Regarded as one of the pioneers of jazz fusion, he played with Herbie Mann and Stan Getz in the 1960s and with Miles Davis on several live albums. He formed Circle with bassist Dave Holland and enjoyed success with 'Return To Forever' in 1972. He went on to record many more albums and picked up numerous Grammy nominations between 1976 and 2020.

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Mary Wilson RIP

It's very sad that Mary Wilson, founder member of the Primettes and the Supremes - the most successful female group of all time - has died at the relatively young age of 76. It's good, though, that she is getting the recognition her long career undoubtedly deserves. Although she didn't sing lead on any of the Supremes big hits in the Diana Ross era, she was an integral member of the group, adding to its glamorous image and contributing to dozens of recordings from its early days as the Primettes in 1960 right through to 1977 when she left the reformed group. She enjoyed a fairly successful solo career and carried out a lengthy 'Truth In Music' campaign to stop the use of a group's name unless an original member is in the group or the successors are licensed to use the name by the last person to hold the title to the name. Her books - 'Dreamgirl' and 'Supreme Faith' - are among the most interesting memories of Motown from its earliest days, with much information about Berry Gordy and fellow Supremes Diana Ross and Florence Ballard. I was a big fan of the Supremes from the time of their first UK release, 'When The Lovelight Starts Shining Thru' His Eyes' in 1964 and loved the follow ups 'Where Did Our Love Go', 'Baby Love', 'Come See About Me', 'Stop In The Name Of Love' and the rest. A wonderful string of records throughout the sixties and into the seventies after Diana had left. Ironically, she didn't sing on 'Someday We'll Be Together'. Looking through my records it turns out that I have 24 LPs featuring the Supremes, plus many singles and EPs. So pictured are the earlier LPs above and later ones, including compilations and those with the Temptations shown below.

Friday, February 05, 2021

Nolan Porter RIP

Sad to hear of another death in the world of soul - this time Northern Soul favourite Nolan (NF) Porter, at the age of 71. Nolan recorded for the Lizard label in the early seventies and tracks such as 'Oh Baby', 'If I Could Only be Sure' and 'Keep On Keeping On' became popular on the Northern Soul scene. He recorded two albums - 'No Apologies', which included songs written by Steve Cropper, Booker T Jones and Randy Newman, and 'Nolan', which featured 'Groovin' (Out Of Life)' and 'If I Could Only Be Sure'. I saw Nolan on the couple of occasions. The first was at the 100 Club in 2014 (pictured below). I wrote at the time: 'It was good to be back at the 100 Club last night for an evening of Northern soul with LA resident Nolan Porter backed by British soul band the Stone Foundation. It was the first time I'd been there since its recent renovation. There may be more photos on the wall, the loos may be marginally better, but it hasn't changed: the place was packed and as hot and sweaty as ever, the way a good music venue should be. I wish the sound was better though.
Nolan Porter proved to be a dynamic performer with an engaging smile and bulging eyes, wearing a hat and scarf throughout on what was one of the warmest evenings of the year. His two best known numbers, 'Keep On Keepin' On' and 'If I Could Only Be Sure' (which he dedicated to his friend and mentor Johnny Guitar Watson), both from the early seventies, were sung with aplomb, as were the other numbers in his set, which included 'Oh Baby', 'I Like What You Give', 'The Fifth One', Darrell Banks' 'Somebody (Somewhere) Needs You', Van Morrison's 'Crazy Love' (his first recording), 'Fe Fi Fo Fum', and a great version of Brenton Wood's 'Gimme Little Sign', before finishing with 'Jumping Jack '.
Nolan has recorded some of these numbers with the Stone Foundation, whose earlier set showed that that they are loud, unsubtle but very effective at putting across their soulful numbers. It was a highly enjoyable evening and I wish there were more such nights at the 100 Club, as there used to be in the distant past.'
The second occasion was at the Blackpool Soul Festival where he was excellent on his measly allocation of just three songs and 16 minutes on stage.
There have been a few other deaths to mark as well. One of these is Danny Ray, who was James Brown's 'cape man' for many years, who has died at the age of 85. Sometimes known as 'the second hardest working man in show business', he appeared at Porretta in 2017 where he acted as MC for the James Brown orchestra which included bassist Fred Thomas and singer Martha High.
Another death is that of singer/songwriter Jim Weatherly, aged 77. Jim wrote many of Gladys Knight's biggest hits of the seventies including 'Midnight Train To Georgia', 'Neither One Of Us' and 'Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me'. As a performer he began as Jim Weatherly and the Vegas before forming the Gordian Knot and releasing an album on Verve. Further solo albums followed in the seventies and he had success with 'The Need To Be' and 'I'll Still Love You'. It's farewell also to Gil Saunders who became lead singer of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes in 1982. Another recent death is that of Australian singer Patsy Ann Noble who had a string of pop releases in the 1960s. After initial success down under with 'Good Looking Boy' she moved to England where she was signed to the Columbia label and recorded many girl group style records which were highly listenable without ever becoming major hits. These included 'Accidents Will Happen','I Was Only Fooling Myself', 'It's Better To Cry Today', 'I Did Nothing Wrong' and 'Tied Up With Mary'.She turned to acting appearing in TV series such as 'Danger Man' and 'Callan' and changed her name to Trisha Noble, moving to the US where she had a successful acting career before returning to Australia in the 1980s. RIP to them all.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Grady Gaines and Hilton Valentine RIP

There are a couple more music deaths to report I'm afraid. R and B saxman Grady Gaines has died aged 86. Originally from Houston, Grady played in Little Richard's band the Upsetters as its leader in the 1950s and played on such rock and roll classics as 'Keep A Knockin' and 'Ooh My Soul'. The Upsetters continued when Little Richard gave up rock and roll and backed artists such as Dee Clark, Jackie Wilson , Little Willie John and James Brown. He also played in Sam Cooke's backing band for several years. Grady continued playing when the Upsetters broke up, playing with Millie Jackson and Curtis Mayfield and reformed his band as the Texas Upsetters in 1985, recording the albums 'Full Gain' and 'Horn Of Plenty' for Black Top. I saw Grady in 1992 at the Black Top Records show at Tipitina's in New Orleans when he backed Carol Fran, Clarence Holliman and the Upsetters' regular vocalist Big Robert Smith. After much searching, I found a photo of him taken at the gig with Clarence Holliman. Record shown below is a Black Top compilation featuring Grady. Grady's brother is blues man Roy Gaines.
Another death is that of Hilton Valentine, aged 77, guitarist with the Animals, who were probably the most authentic of the British R and B bands of the sixties. Hilton came from North Shields on Tyneside and it is his guitar riff that makes the intro to 'House Of The Rising Sun' so memorable. Hilton played with skiffle group the Wildcats before being invited to join the Animals by Chas Chandler. After the group broke up in 1966 Hilton moved to the US and recorded a solo album which was not successful. Later he returned to his skiffle roots with his Skiffledog project. Reunions with the Animals included the underrated 1977 album 'Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted', which is shown below with the Animals' first LP.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Bluesman Sherman Robertson RIP

I've read reports that Sherman Robertson, one of the most consistent and best bluesmen that I've seen over the last 30 or so years, has died at the age of 72. It's a real shame, as he always put on a first rate show wherever he played - and I've seen him many times in London, New Orleans, Utrecht and elsewhere. Born in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, his music had influences of zydeco and swamp blues as well as straight ahead blues and his performances always involved real showmanship and great guitar work. He began playing with bluesmen in Houston including Bobby Bland and recorded two albums with his band the Crosstown Blues Band for the Lunar II label. He went on to join Clifton Chenier's band and, after Chenier's death, played with Rockin' Dopsie, Johnny Copeland and Terrance Simien and also played on Paul Simon's 'Graceland' album. His first solo album was I'm The Man', recorded for the Code Blue label in 1994 and produced by Mike Vernon, followed by 'Here and Now'. Other albums included 'Going Back Home' and 'Guitar Man -Live'. Together with his band BluesMove he played at the Rhythm Festival in the UK in 2011 but reportedly had a stroke the following year. RIP to one of the blues greats.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

James Purify RIP

COVID-19 has claimed the life of yet another soul man - this time James Purify at the age of 76. Born in Pensacola, James joined up with his cousin Robert Dickey to form James and Bobby Purify and had immediate success in 1966 with the Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham song 'I'm Your Puppet' having been signed to Bell records by Papa Don Schroeder. It was produced by Papa Don at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals. Successful follow ups included 'Wish You Didn't Have To Go', a revival of the Five Du-Tones' Shake A Tailfeather', 'I Take What I Want'. 'Do Unto Me' and 'Let Love Come Between Us'. After Bobby left through illness in 1971 James continued as a solo artist before joining up with Ben Moore in 1974 to form another version of the Purifys. Success came with a re-recording of 'I'm Your Puppet' which reached number 12 in the UK in 1976 before the duo split up in 1978.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

15 years of The Vinyl Word

It's exactly 15 years to the day since the first edition of The Vinyl Word. Since then there have been nearly 1400 posts, 1100 comments and nearly two million views. That first edition came the day after Wilson Pickett died and I speculated at the time on who might be the last soul man. Since then we've seen the deaths of many of those I named as possible contenders: Solomon Burke, James Brown, Bobby Bland, Percy Sledge and Ben E King. Of those who I listed who are still with us there are Sam Moore, Eddie Floyd and Clarence Carter. Of course we have also lost three of the big four survivors of rock and roll: Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Little Richard. Jerry Lee Lewis really is the last man standing. Over the last 15 years I have covered hundreds of gigs, including many in London and festivals in New Orleans, Memphis, Porretta, Las Vegas, Long Island and Torremolinos plus Blackpool and Cleethorpes in the UK. I have occaionally focused on records that I have obtained, often at car boor sales and charity shops; reminisced about events from my youth, especially those those involving music; and recorded the day to day activity of dozens of US road trips carried out with my Woodie friends, from as far afield as New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Austin, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. And I've reported on the great series of London shows put on by Keith Woods. All of these entries can be easily discovered by using the search box and it's amazing how many memories a few minutes of searching can reveal. I have tended to steer clear of politics, not because I don't have political views (very much anti Brexit for example) but because I don't want to alienate music fans who disagree with me. I will make an exception today as Donald Trump is leaving the White House for the last time. He was the worst President in history without doubt and his departure can only be good for the world. Of course the last year has been generally a real let down because of COVID. I haven't been to a gig in nearly a year and many entries focused on music deaths, some of them from the dreaded virus. The whole point of the blog originally was the celebrate those artists who are still with us by seeing them whenever possible, and by playing the vinyl records of those who have passed on. Needless to say there has been another death to report - that of Winfield Parker (78), a popular figure on the Northern Soul scene. He was a saxophone player in the Little Richard band, soemthing he spoke about at the interview session during the 2017 Ponderosa Stomp (pictured below). He recorded for several different labels and his most successful record, on Ru-Jac, was a revival of 'Stop Her On Sight (SOS)'. Other records, popular on the soul scene include 'Mr Clean', 'My Love For You' and 'Shake That Thing'. Winfield played the Forum in London in 2007 as part of the Kent Records 25th anniversary show, along with Mary Love, the Flirtations, Tommy Hunt and Maxine Brown. His act at the Stomp in 2017 featured him dancing around the stage wearing a sparkly jacket and gold shoes and he was excellent on 'SOS', 'Rocking In The Barnyard' and 'Mr Clean'. Another soul man has departed the scene: RIP.
*** Brian Clark has alerted me via Facebook to two further music deaths today. Jimmie Rodgers had enormous success, particularly in the UK, with a string of pop hits, including 'Honeycomb, 'Kisses Sweeter Than Wine'. 'Oh Oh I'm Falling in Love Again', Secretly', 'Woman From Liberia', 'Soldier Won't You Marry Me' and 'English Country Garden'. Born in Washington State, Jimmie was 87. The second death is that of Peter Wynne, once a member of the Larry Parnes stable of singers, who toured with Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent and appeared on 'Wham,, 'Boy Meets Girl' and 'Thank Your Lucky Stars'. His records included 'Twilight Time', 'Ask Anyone In Love' and 'Our Concerto'.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Phil Spector RIP: flawed genius

There will be many obituaries of Phil Spector, who has died aged 81 apparently from COVID, over the next few days and most of them will be negative, at least in terms of his private life. True, he had severe personality problems, as Ronnie Spector. who had the misfortune to marry him, will attest. And his imprisonment for the murder of Lana Clarkson marked the beginning of the final chapter in his troubled life. But it is hard to argue with his role as one of the most influential record producers of all time. He began as a member of the Teddy Bears who had a huge hit with 'To Know Him Is To Love Him' in 1959, but soon moved into production. Early successes were among my favourites at the time, including Ray Peterson's 'Corrine Corrina'. Curtis Lee's 'Pretty Little Angel Eyes', Gene Pitney's 'Every Breathe I Take' and 'I Love How You Love Me' by the Paris Sisters. Joining up with Lester Sill, who was a mentor to Leiber and Stoller, he formed the Philles label and the 'Wall of Sound' was born. Some of the most exciting records of the early sixties, or indeed any period, emerged from Phil's ability to combine massed amounts of intrumentation into an all encompassing sound. The Crystals, the Ronettes, Bob B Soxx and the Blue Jeans and Darlene Love (disguised as the Crystals on 'He's A Rebel') made landmark recordings produced by Phil. Sill departed but Phil continued his run of success with the Righteous Brothers, Ike and Tina Turner and Sonny Charles and the Checkmates. I remember hearing the Crystals' 'There's No Other Like My Baby' and being knocked out. All of the Crystals and Ronettes records at that time went straight to number one in my personal top ten, including 'He's A Rebel', 'He's Sure The Boy I Love', 'Da Doo Ron Ron', 'Then He Kissed Me', 'I Wonder', 'Be My Baby'and 'Baby I Love You'. Then came the Righteous Brothers 'You've Lost That Loving Feeling' and Ike and Tina's 'River Deep- Mountain High', which amazingly didn't become a hit in the US. Phil went on to work with the Beatles on 'Let It Be' and with John Lennon and George Harrison, both of whom regarded him highly, on various projects and also with Dion on 'Born To Be With You', but by this time Phil was decidedly flaky. Adter working with the Ramones in 1980 he faded from the scene before dramatically coming back into the public eye with the death of actress Lana Clarkson in 2003. His first trial was inconclusive but a second trial in 2009 resulted in a sentence of 19 years to life and he never regained his freedom. Despite his flaws, Phil Spector was undoubtedly one of the all time greats of popular music. His Christmas album, featuring all of his Philles acts, remains the ultimate album of the festive period year after year. Phil was a genius - a flawed one, but undoubtedly a genius. May he rest in peace.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Latest music deaths

It's a new year but nothing much has changed on the live music front. We're in another lockdown. Music deaths, however, continue, so it's time to catch up on a few. The latest is Sylvain Sylvain, aged 69, guitarist with the New York Dolls, the band that foreshadowed the punk era of the late seventies with their fuck you approach and loud and often out of tune stage act. Synvain was born in Cairo but grew up in New York where he was in a band called Actress, with Johnny Thunders before joining the Dolls in 1971. I never got to see them at the time, but I did catch Sylvain and singer David Johansen at the Forum in 2006. Here's what I wrote on The Vinyl Word at the time: 'Being at a loose end last night I went to see the New York Dolls at the Forum. It was a fairly ear splitting experience but an interesting one. The two remaining original members David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain showed plenty of energy and enthusiasm and the show improved as it went on. It would have been good to have seen them in their heyday in the early seventies when their outrageous camp appearance and in your face stage act paved the way for the punk era that followed. I have a soft spot for punk, because it re-awakened my interest in pop music at a time when the blandness of seventies music seemed to have killed it stone dead. But I was only marginally aware of the New York Dolls, who by that time had long since drifted into drug-fuelled oblivion. Today, Johansen continues to look like an ageing clone of Mick Jagger and his cigarette smoke ravaged voice is rough and out of tune but he still has a degree of stage presence. Highlights of the show were 'Pills', 'Trash', 'Fishnets and Cigarettes' and 'You can't put your arms around memories', a tribute to Johnny Thunders who died of an overdose in New Orleans during Jazzfest 1991. Many of the numbers were unfamiliar to me, but the ageing ex-punks in the audience seemed to know them all. I'm not going to rush out to buy their newish CD on the basis of this occasionally exciting but basically tuneless performance, but the New York Dolls can still put on a polished show, even if they do assault the eardrums mercilessly.'
Another recent death is that of Gerry Marsden of Pacemakers fame at the age of 78. He was a legend in Liverpool where his version of 'You'll Never Walk Alone' remains the anthem of the Reds and 'Ferry Across The Mersey' is also fondly remembered. They enjoyed mega hits with 'I Like It' and 'How Do You Do It', their first two records, and continued their success for a couple of years, including an appearance in the musical film 'Ferry Across the Mersey', before the group disbanded in 1966. Gerry continued a solo career but never regained the heights of his early days. Also passed away, aged 76, is Tim Bogert, one of the founders of Vanilla Fudge, who enjoyed success with distorted but interesting versions of 'You Keep Me Hanging On', 'Eleanor Rigby, 'The Look Of Love' and 'Shotgun' and recorded five albums. He moved on to the rock band Cactus and joined up with Jeff Beck in Beck, Bogert and Appice. Photo shows Vanilla Fudge's first LP produced by Shadow Morton.