Sunday, April 29, 2007

Perfect weekend for Jazzfest

New Orleans Jazzfest kicked off on Friday in perfect weather - blues skies, warm temperatures and hot hot music. As ever it was uncomfortably crowded, but there was fantastic music wherever you looked and great food.
Day one. Headliner for the day was Van Morrisson, but the Acura Stage where he was playing was thick with an unmovable mass of people, so I spent most of my time in the Blues Tent. Big Al Carson more than justifies his name. He isn't just big, he's huge, but he's got a great blues voice, as regulars in the bar in Bourbon Street where he plays most nights can testify. As he says in one of his songs, he's 'built for comfort, not for speed'. True. Following him was Lucky Peterson, who set the Blues Tent alive with his electrifying guitar playing, great keyboard work and all round showmanship. Dressed in a smart white suit and red tie he really looked the part of the archetypal bluesman, and the crowd lapped him up, my included. Finally there was Percy Sledge, one of the last of the great southern soul singers, who went through a selection of his many songs over a 40 year career, including naturally When a man loves a woman, Warm and tender love, Take time to know her, Out of left field and a duet with his wife on Bring it on home to me. Along the way I caught a bit of George Porter and Running Partners, with their excellent N'Awlins funk, and the good Dr John, who was as reliable and consistent as ever.
Day two. A cloudless sky and again too many people - even more than yesterday - and more acts than you could possibly see. The highlight for me looked like being Bobby Charles, legendary songwriter and originator of See you later Alligator, who plays very rarely. Sadly he didn't show up, but his 'friends' did, and they included Marcia Ball, Dr John, Shannon McNally with Sonny Landreth on lead guitar, who ran through a selection of Bobby's songs including Tennessee Blues (Shannon McNally), Jealous kind (Marcia Ball) and Walkin' to New Orleans (Dr John). His signature Alligator hit was performed by a harassed looking band leader Parker James. Moving on to the Blues Tent I caught Richie Havens' set. I've never been a particular fan of Havens slightly weird folky bluesy stuff, but he looked the part, with his long beard and blue tunic, and you had to admire his guitar work. Finishing off the day I toured three of the stages to catch part of their acts, starting with Rod Stewart, who looked good and sounded pretty hot as well I have to admit, Ludacris, who lived up to his name with his puerile rap crap, and Norah Jones, who looked like a little girl lost on a big stage.
Altohether the first two days of Jazzfest lived up to expectations and more. If only it was less crowded, but at least its bringing some prosperity to a New Orleans which is still suffering badly post Katrina.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Joe Ely at Dingwall's

One of the great exponents of Tex Mex music, Joe Ely from the flatlands of west Texas attracted a big crowd to his only London show last night. As ever Joe displayed superb guitar work and was in fine voice as he performed many of his (and Butch Hancock's) best known songs, including Silver city, Me and Billy the Kid, She never spoke Spanish to me and Boxcars. Performing as a trio this was an understated performance on the whole with a predominance of slower numbers - an exception being a rousing version of I fought the law. But it was the beautiful accordian work of Joel Guzman which brightened up what might otherwise have been a somewhat flat performance.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Ike Turner at the Jazz Cafe

Even at the age of 75 Ike Turner still has an eye for the ladies and a wicked line in double entendres. As he showed at the Jazz Cafe last night, Ike and his Kings of Rhythm can put on one hell of a show, even if his voice is knackered these days. A Grammy winner in 2007, Ike showed that he definitely still has what it takes - as a keyboard player, guitarist and entertainer. His eight piece band is tight and faultless and Ike himself seems to be as fit as can be. At one point he slipped off his stool, but got straight up, and he was doing arm lifts on the railings as he descended the stairs to the stage.

After kicking off with a classic piece of boogie woogie, he launched into a string of blues, R and B and rock and roll numbers, including Tequila, an excellent version of Caldonia - he said Louis Jordan was his favourite as a young man - and rocking versions of Johnny B Goode and Charlie Brown (the latter with appropriate wrist action at the enigmatic line 'That's him on his knees. I know that's him, come 7 from 11 in the boy's gym'). Ike always has a female singer in his line up, and this time it was a vivacious and curvaceous lady very much in the Tina mould whose name, if I caught it right, was Erica. She bounced through Nutbush City Limits and Proud Mary among others. Whoever she is, she's new from the last time I saw Ike and obviously enjoys her work. So, it would seem, does Ike.

After all that he's been through - from public scorn over his treatment of his ex, to drug abuse and jail - he might be forgiven for gently moving into retirement at his age. But that's clearly not his style. And I for one hope he keeps going for many years to come. Ever since he made what is considered to be the first rock and roll record Rocket 88 in 1950, Ike has been a central figure in the evolution of black music. He well deserves his Grammy.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Stomping all over New Orleans

The Ponderosa Stomp is spreading its wings and now starting to take over the whole week between the two New Orleans Jazzfest weekends. As well as the Stomp itself, there are a series of gigs during the week, featuring artists such as Little Freddie King, Eddie Kirkland, Dennis Coffey and Chuck Brown.

But the most interesting gig is the Swamp Pop Throwdown at the Cabildo in Jackson Square on May 3 with the Little Band o' Gold plus special guests Rod Bernard, Lazy Lester, Tommy McClain and Warren Storm. According to his son Shane, Rod - hitmaker in 1959 with This Should Go On Forever - is making his first appearance in New Orleans since appearing at Jazzfest in 1984. He vowed never to perform at the festival again - too hot, too many people and too much traffic - but he's making his return at this Stomp spin off.

The Stomp itself has a line up of half-forgotten greats of the 50s and 60s, including Barbara Lynn, Roy Head, Dave Bartholomew (now in his late eighties), Jean Knight, Roky Erickson (of the 13th Floor Elevators), Augie Meyers, Grace Broussard (of Dale and Grace), Dale Hawkins, Bobby Rush, Willie Tee and Al Johnson plus many others. It's at the House of Blues on May 2.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Memphis music

Take a listen to for non stop Memphis music, including Elvis, southern soul, rockabilly, blues, Sun Records, Stax Records, Hi Records, Otis, Carla, Booker T & MG's, Rufus, Jerry Lee, Al Green, Roy Orbison and many more. Well worth a listen. There's a Jerry Lee Last Man Standing competition running at present.
I've also come across an interview with Bobby Womack talking about his career and reminiscences of Sam Cooke: tory/story.php?storyId=1128145

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Whole lotta shakin' at Jazzfest

New Orleans Jazzfest is almost upon us and I've been studying the line up which, as usual, contains literally hundreds of acts. There are some great names appearing but I can't help feeling that the organisers have made a serious mistake pitching Jerry Lee Lewis and Irma Thomas at the same time at opposite ends of the Fairgrounds. I'm a fan of both but it looks as though I will have to choose between one or the other, which is a shame, because they are both fantastic. Having said that, the first weekend offers some good stuff. The first day, Friday April 27, includes performances by Eddie Bo, Dr John and Percy Sledge. Day two features Johnny Rivers, Davell Crawford, Mose Allison, Bobby Charles and Linda Hopkins, while day three includes Clarence Frogman Henry, Marcia Ball, Jean Knight, Bonnie Raitt and George Thorogood and the Destroyers, as well as Jerry Lee and Irma.
These are my highlights, but there are loads of other acts which will appeal to others, including Van Morrison and Lucinda Williams on day one, Rod Stewart, Norah Jones and Richie Havens on day two, and Jill Scott on day three. As ever there are plenty of good gigs at the local clubs during Jazzfest. including Dr John and Buddy Guy at the House of Blues, Allen Toussaint and Marcia Ball at Howlin' Wolf and Sonny Landreth, Walter Wolfman Washington and Snooks Eaglin at the Mid City Bowl. And of course there's the Ponderosa Stomp at the House of Blues - well worth a look.
A quick RIP to three people who have died - jazz singer Dakota Staton, ventriloquist Terry Hall, and Special Branch star George Sewell. In true Tales From The Woods style I raise a glass to them all.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Some other guy?

One R and B great whose death I somehow missed last year was Richard 'Ritchie' Barrett, whose 1962 classic Some Other Guy was covered by just about every British beat group of the time. Ritchie, who died of cancer last August, discovered or promoted such names as Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, Little Anthony and the Imperials, the Chantels and the Three Degrees and also sang with the Valentines. His first solo single, according to Wikipedia, was for MGM in 1958 and was a Platters-influenced version of Smoke Gets In Your Eyes under the name of Dickie Barrett. I picked up a copy of this very collectable 45 at my local car boot sale and it's an interesting version of the standard. But is it really Ritchie Barrett or some other guy? The Rare Record Guide doesn't make a connection with the later hit, so I wonder. I think it probably is, judging by the voice, but does anyone know for sure?
New Orleans Jazzfest is getting close and the full running order has now been published. Would you believe it? Jerry Lee Lewis is on at the same time as Irma Thomas. Are the organisers mad or just incompetent?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Life on Mars

The last episode tonight of this excellent BBC series revealed the secret of Sam Tyler's bizarre return to 1973 from the present day, and ended with this most PC copper choosing the sexist, racist past to today's bland technospeak era. The series presented a fairly accurate view of the early seventies from what I can remember, but I am not sure I would exchange 2007 for 1973. Back then I was a journalist on a local paper in Lancashire - initially on the weekly Ormskirk Advertiser where the highlight of the week was donning a black tie so that I could stand at the church gates taking the names of the mourners at the funeral of some local luminary. The local Labour candidate was one Robert Kilroy-Silk who was a constant source of anti-Tory stories, but mostly it was council meetings and court cases. Being a weekly paper, we would spend the second half of the week in the pub.
Later that year I joined the Evening Post and Chronicle in Wigan, where the stories had a harder news edge, but the pub continued to play a central role. Wigan was a depressed town and it was a depressing time, I recall. We were well into the decade that time forgot. Britain was the sick man of Europe, the Heath government was on its last legs with industrial disputes everywhere, the music scene was crap and unemployment was at record levels. I was living in a council house in Skelmersdale - a new town that had been built to handle Liverpool's overspill population and which was home to huge numbers of single mothers. The local factories had closed down and no one had any hope. Inflation was rising - beer had gone up to nearly 15p a pint - and the Socialist Workers Party actually seemed to make sense. I somehow got myself elected Father of the NUJ Chapel - no one else wanted the job - and they called us out on a three day strike. We stood in the picket line showing solidarity with the union, but knowing that all we were achieving in fact was three days' loss of pay. I tried to recoup my losses by selling central heating door to door.
Yes 1973 was mean and nasty. There were no mobile phones, no computers and no work. But on the plus side there were no speed cameras, no road humps, no green fascists going on about global warming, no war in Iraq, no Blair and no CCTV. Maybe it wasn't so bad after all.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Soul Britannia

This weekend is soul weekend on BBC4 which is great, because there's a chance to see some classic acts, including, so far, Aaron Neville, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, Ann Peebles (right), Gladys Knight and the Pips, Dan Penn, Bobby Womack and Aretha Franklin. But I have mixed feelings about the central slot Soul Britannia, which is devoted to the soul scene in the UK in the 1960s. When artists such as Eric Burdon, Georgie Fame, Jimmy James, Geno Washington - even Dusty Springfield - are portrayed as soul singers I have to laugh. They are copyists so far as I'm concerned, perpetuating the British disease of the cover version. Dusty may have had a decent voice, but she was playing at being a black American soul singer, not very convincingly. And is it really true that Julie Driscoll sold more records in the sixties than Aretha Franklin? Surely not. It was interesting that the programme spent a lot of time on ska, which was to my mind equal to much of the best soul of the time. But outside of a handful of mods and, of course, West Indians, it was very much a minority taste.

For me, the original US soul records (and Jamaican ska) were and are still the best. And so it was with live acts. In Rockin' Croydon, a history of rock, folk, jazz and blues in and around Croydon in the 1960s by Chris Groom, I came across a quote from none other than myself, from my time as a reporter on the Croydon Advertiser. I quote:

'The "most exciting show to be seen at the Fairfield Halls in a long, long time" - that was the Advertiser's verdict on the Otis Redding show on 27th March (1967). A superb soul bill that also featured Sam and Dave, Arthur Conley, Eddie Floyd and the Mar-Keys, the house band on the tour were Booker T and the MGs, onstage for the entire evening to back all the artists. According to journalist Nick Cobban, Sam and Dave stole the show with their polished, professional stage act, "generating so much excitement, the roof might have caved in at any moment". Following on their ten minute version of 'Hold on I'm coming' compere Emperor Rosko had some trouble calming the audience down.'

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


I have confirmation that I will get a press pass for the Ponderosa Stomp to write something for The fact that there will be no fewer than three stages going simultaneously means that I am bound to miss quite a few acts. But there is enough going on to keep me interested throughout. The potential highlights for me are Barbara Lynn, Roy Head, Dave Bartholomew, Dan Penn, Augie Meyer, Jay Chevalier, Bobby Rush, Dale Hawkins, Joe Clay and Willie Tee, but there are so many others that it will be difficult to choose. I'm promised a free pass for the first weekend of Jazzfest and again there's almost too much to choose from, even if the overall quality isn't what it used to be. There's Irma, Jerry Lee and many many more. Not sure yet what we shall be doing after the Stomp, but I may drive up to Memphis where Jerry Lee is playing yet again. On the other hand we may just laze around.
Porretta's looking good and I am getting close to committing to that festival as well. This features a Tribute To Stax 50th Anniversary” with Booker T. & The MGs, Wayne Jackson of the Memphis Horns plus the Blues Brothers Band with Eddie Floyd, Jimmy McCracklin, Sir Mac Rice, Sugar Pie DeSanto, Sweet Nectar (Jimmy’s background singers) and Betty Harris. Altogether plenty to look forward to.