Monday, September 24, 2007

Ska's the limit

I picked up an original copy of Club Ska '67 at a boot sale over the weekend. This was the original issue on the WIRL label, which has 12 tracks rather than the 13 on the slightly later Island version (Rub Up Push Up by Justin Hines is missing). It's a cracking LP featuring some of the top ska tracks of that year, including Guns of Navarone by the Skatalites, Phoenix City by Roland Alphonso and Dancing Mood by Delroy Wilson. It takes me back to visits to dingy black clubs and shabeens in Brixton where I would soak up this fantastic and - to a white middle class boy like me - alien music.
The sleeve notes on the album are by Guy Stevens who probably did more than anyone to introduce genuine R and B and soul into the UK in the sixties with his Sue label and the never to be forgotten Scene Club. Amazing, after 40 years, just how exciting and fresh ska and rock steady tracks still sound. And its progeny reggae is still huge today. Amazing that these ramshackle studios in Jamaica with primitive recording equipment (but brilliant producers and musicians) could have produced music that changed the world.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Getting away with murder?

It pains me to say it, as a fan of his work since I was a teenager, but it looks like Phil Spector is on the verge of getting away with what to the rest of the world looks like a clear case of murder. The jury in his trial for the murder of Lynda Clarkson reported that they had "reached an impasse" and the judge adjourned the case for attorneys to review the position. The judge also stated that he would look over some case law to indicate whether or not the charge of involuntary manslaughter would fit the profile of the case. The judge will reinstruct the jury tomorrow on "reasonable doubt" to see if that will induce a verdict.

Of course Phil may be entirely innocent, but just look at his track record, as laid out on Wikipedia:

'Spector has had many conflicts, sometimes bizarre, with the artists, songwriters and promoters he worked with. Describing the dissolution of their Philles Records partnership, Lester Sill said, "I sold out for a pittance. It was shit, ridiculous, around $60,000. I didn't want to but I had to. Let me tell you, I couldn't live with Phillip . . . I just wanted the fuck out of there. If I wouldn't have, I would have killed him. It wasn't worth the aggravation."
As a peevish farewell gesture, shortly after
Lester Sill's departure from Philles Records, Spector wrote, and had The Crystals record, a single entitled "(Let's Dance) The Screw". Six minutes long and completely lacking Spector's customary Wall of Sound production techniques, "The Screw" was neither releasable (by 1963 music industry standards) nor intended for general release. Indeed, only a handful of copies of the single were pressed, one of which Spector had delivered to Sill as a parting shot at his former partner. (Legend has it that the recording of "The Screw" served a second purpose: to cheat Sill out of royalties due him from sales of the next Philles recording. However, this claim is considered unlikely.) It has also been said that Spector brought one of his own lawyers into the recording studio to yell out the chorus of the song ( "—do the screw!" )
Spector's domineering attitude toward
Ronnie Spector led to the dissolution of their marriage. Ronnie Spector has claimed that Spector showed her a gold coffin with a glass top in his basement, promising to kill and display her should she ever choose to leave him; he had earlier forbidden her from speaking to the Rolling Stones or touring with the Beatles, for fear of infidelity. During Spector's reclusive period in the late 1960s, he reportedly kept his wife locked inside their mansion. She claimed he also hid her shoes to dissuade her from walking outside, and kept the house dark because he didn't want anyone to see his balding head. Spector's son later claimed that he was kept locked inside his room, with a pot in the corner to be used as a toilet. Ronnie Spector did leave the producer and filed for divorce in 1972. She wrote a book about her experiences, and said years later, "I can only say that when I left in the early '70s, I knew that if I didn't leave at that time, I was going to die there." In 1998, Ronnie Spector and the other Ronettes sued Phil Spector for allegedly cheating them of royalties and licensing fees, winning a $3 million judgment; however, an appeals court later reversed the decision, upholding the terms of the group's 1963 contract as binding. In 2007, Ronnie Spector discussed her Ronettes' much-delayed entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: "He wrote the Hall of Fame to tell them not to put me in. He did everything he could to stop me. He's bitter that I left him. He wants everyone to think he's the mastermind. He thought everything was because of him."

Stories of Phil Spector's gunplay mounted over the years, including his discharging a firearm while in the studio with John Lennon during the recording of his cover album Rock 'n' Roll, placing a loaded pistol at Leonard Cohen's head during the sessions for Death of a Ladies' Man, and forcing Dee Dee Ramone to play bass guitar to Spector's specifications at gunpoint. Cohen told "Rolling Stone" magazine in 1978 that, "Phil couldn't resist annihilating me. I don't think he can tolerate any other shadows in his darkness."
The Ramones reportedly had to play the opening chord to the song, "Rock and Roll High School", for eight hours straight; years later,
Johnny Ramone described Spector as "a little man with lifts in his shoes, the wig on top of his head and four guns". But he also described the session philosophically: "It was a positive learning experience. And that chord does sound really good." Marky Ramone said, "A lot of these things were overblown, and a lot of these things were alcohol-induced."

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Willie Tee and Bobby Byrd

The litany of New Orleans greats who have passed on shows no signs of abating. The latest is Willie Tee (Turbinton) who has died of cancer aged just 63. Willie's music crossed a number of boundaries and included soul, funk, jazz and swamp pop - even beach music - but above all his music just reeked of New Orleans. I love his 60s hits Teasin' Me, Walking up a One Way Street and Thank You John, which were early examples of N'Awlins funk, but his later work with the Wild Magnolias and in the jazz field kept him in the public eye. I remember seeing Willie at the Jazz Cafe a few years ago and he was coolness personified, as he brought the keyboard to life. It's only a few months ago that I saw him at the Ponderosa Stomp (pictured), when he seemed full of life and on top form. His death comes shortly after that of his saxophonist brother Earl. Earl was a true jazzman and regularly played in the Jazz Tent at Jazzfest, but I also remember seeing him back up New Orleans legends such as Ernie K-Doe and Jessie Hill on a Mississippi riverboat in the early 90s.

They are dropping one by one down in New Orleans these days - those who have not been displaced by Katrina (Willie Tee was forced to move to Baton Rouge). It's only a few weeks since we said goodbye to Oliver 'La la' Morgan, another New Orleans R and B great. We miss them all.

Another soul great has died, I read in today's Indy . That's Bobby Byrd, right hand man of James Brown throughout his illustrious career. Byrd co-wrote many of Brown's biggest hits including Sex Machine and Licking Stick, but he also recorded some excellent soul sides in the 60s and early 70s, along with Baby Baby Baby, a fantastic duet with Anna King. Yet another huge loss to soul music.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Only Serbs and horses

I'm playing at being a jet setter at the moment with back to back trips to Belgrade and Johannesburg. I've never been to Belgrade before and found the girls attractive but the men rather surly looking. There are a few interesting buildings there, despite the fact that it was bombed by NATO only eight years ago, the most interesting being the Fortress overlooking the Danube. A colleague and I had a very greasy Serbian meal in the old town, serenaded by a four piece band playing lugubrious Serbian songs, and then hit the bars. The best of these, incongruously, was called Only Fools and Horses, and featured photos of Delboy, Rodney, Uncle Albert and the rest. Photo shows me with pix of Delboy and co.
Now, in my jetset week, I'm in Jo'burg, where the weather is pleasantly warm and life - for jet setters like me - is extremely comfortable. No decent music to report on, but I will soon be back to good old London, where chances are a bit higher of finding some good stuff.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Remembering Doug Sahm and other heroes

It seems incredible that it's nearly eight years since the great Doug Sahm died. I am reminded of the last time I saw him perform - at the Blues Estafette in Utrecht a few weeks before his untimely death in 1999 - because at the weekend I picked up a copy of an LP that I really should have had in my collection years ago. It's Doug Sahm and Band, released in 1973, which includes contributions from Bob Dylan and Dr John, as well as more likely collaborators such as Augie Meyer and Flaco Jimenez. Doug's Tex Mex sound, as exemplified by the Sir Douglas Quintet and much later the Texas Tornadoes (which also included the late Freddy Fender) had so many influences it's hard to know where to start - blues, country, rock, Cajun, Mexican and a few more besides. One of the greatest gigs I can remember was the Texas Tornadoes at the Town and Country Club in the early 90s, and another (but with Roy Head replacing Freddy) was at Tipitina's in New Orleans a few years later.

Another hero whose life appears to be in the balance is Bo Diddley, who suffered a heart attack a few days ago. Coming so soon after his stroke the signs don't look good. But what a giant of rock and roll and blues he was and, hopefully, still is. I first saw him at the ABC Croydon in 1963 I think it was (with the Everly Brothers if my memory serves me right) and later with Chuck Berry and I've seen him many times since, including a stunning show at the House of Blues in New Orleans in 2000 and most recently at the Jazz Cafe a couple of years back. Get well soon Bo.

Another hero, who may well shortly be a fallen one, is Phil Spector, whose marathan murder trial is nearing its end. There have been so many twists and turns in this amazing case that it's hard to know how it will end, but for a good review look here:

Meanwhile I'm about to become something of a jet setter. I'm off to Belgrade on Thursday (to train some of our executives in how to deal with the media) and as soon as I get back to Heathrow on Saturday I'm off to Jo'burg (for media interviews with our CEO). No time for music I fear.