Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Dion - Son of Skip James

Still no signs of tickets being available for the Dion gig at the Metro next month and I'm getting nervous, as I'm off on holiday in Thailand tonight until November 4. I hope Alan can get me some if and when they go on sale. Here's a fascinating item on the website about how he got into the blues.

Son of Skip James 2007
Skip James died right after my record of “Abraham, Martin and John” went Gold.
By 1963, I had sold millions and millions of recordings, twelve made it into the top ten. I was the first Rock and Roll artist signed to Columbia Records, a half million dollars up front guaranteed. That was a lot of money back then. I was King – Artist of the Year.Sitting on the piano stool with Aretha Franklin in Tom Wilson’s office, singing standards and trading licks… Columbia Records did not know what to do with both of us. The focus was hit records and nothing else. John Hammond, Sr., across the hallway, knew I had a love for the blues. He heard me singing “Ruby Baby,” “The Wanderer,” and “Drip Drop.” We became good friends. I’d hang out in his office listening to Robert Johnson, Furry Lewis, Mississippi John Hurt, and Fred McDowell. John would smile when he’d tell people that King of the Delta Blues sold 25,000 records just by word of mouth. I knew at that time something profound and important was in those recordings.I went up to the Newport Folk Festival in 1964 – Dylan was appearing. I was at all ofhis early sessions with Tom Wilson and John Hammond. Tom produced us both. Al Kooper and Charlie Smalls and some of the other session guys I knew played on many of his early records.Newport – that’s where I first met Skip James. We talked about the blues, guitars, Jesus and his health. He was one beautiful, shy, mysterious dude, who sang like he was from outer space. John Hurt sat quietly smilin’ while we talked. I looked up to these guys like heroes, mentors. The early Fathers of American roots music. I wanted to get close to them any way I could. They were all that motivated me at the center of my being!I define the blues as the naked cry of the human heart longing to be in union with God. I know for me it was all-consuming. To be able to express my joys, sorrows, fears and hope – a place where you can be totally honest on the journey home.What a gift. What a treasure. Get it all out so it doesn’t get twisted up inside (a bit of salvation). It feels so good to sing about something that hurts so bad.What a gift… This is part of my story. Dion Son of Skip James

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Northern soul at the Forum

The Kent Records 25th anniversary show at The Forum brought back a taste of the sixties soul package shows that used to visit fairly regularly a couple of decades ago. Five Northern soul acts had 45 minutes on stage each and the result was an action packed evening of high class soul music. I missed the first act, Winfield Parker but was there in time for Mary Love. I saw her a few years ago in the more intimate surroundings of the Jazz Cafe and she was excellent. She was great this time as well, although the sound quality was less than perfect. He Northern favourite Lay My Burden Down really got the crowd going.
She was followed on stage by The Flirtations (sometimes known as the Gypsies) who took the music up a notch with a professional set. Most of their best records were recorded for Deram and I think all three of them have lived in the UK for many years. The same applies to Tommy Hunt, described by the MC as the King of Wigan in honour of his popularity at the Wigan Casino in the 70s. Tommy told the crowd that he's 75 but he didn't look it and his slim figure, black hair and pencil moustache and excellent vocals belied his years. A former Flamingo, he ran through some of his better known numbers, including The Worksong, Human and Crackin' Up looking cool in a white drape jacket.
Final act and the star of the show for me was Maxine Brown, looking so good that it's hard to believe that her first record All In My Mind was recorded as long ago as 1961. She was fantastic on hits like One In a Million, Oh No Not My Baby, One Step at a Time and Torture. She finished with It Takes Two in a duet with Tommy Hunt and they were joined on stage by the other acts. Great work by Ady Croasdell in getting the show together. Some wonderful sixties soul from a great group of artists.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Wanderer returns

It's been 17 long years since I last had the chance of seeing the great Dion perform - at what used to be known as the Town and Country Club. But now he's back in London and playing at the Metro in Oxford Street on November 8th. To quote from the website:
Dion will be promoting his forthcoming album 'Son Of Skip James' (a Blue Label release): "A Rock & Roll legend whose huge hits in the 1960's The Wanderer and Runaround Sue, by his own admission, owed more to his love of BLUES and COUNTRY than to any Rock & Roll upbringing. As Dion notes on his first Grammy Nominated and critically acclaimed blues album 'Bronx In Blue' (A Blue Label Release) "when I was a kid, there was no Rock & Roll". Late nights listening to southern radio stations stretching the airwaves up to the Bronx where Dion would listen to John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed and Hank Williams left a lasting impression that would eventually find its way on to this stunning new album.So we come to 'Son Of Skip James' or maybe even son of Bronx In Blue! A stunning second volume of fine blues singing from the legendary Dion. Kicking off with Chuck Berry's Nadine Dion then heads back towards Robert Johnson via Willie Dixon, John Estes, Skip James and Bob Dylan. Also included are superb original songs 'The Thunderer' and "Son Of Skip James" and the spoken word 'Interlude (Dylan Story)'.
Dion has been part of my life for as long as I can remember - from Teenager in Love through to his many fantastic solo hits on Laurie and the later bluesier records for CBS and on to the Phil Spector collaboration and beyond. When I kept my personal top ten in the early 60s he was third in the all time points list (behind Sam Cooke and Roy Orbison) with 14 entries including four number ones (The Wanderer, Love came to me, Sandy and Come go with me) and five number twos (Havin' Fun, I was born to cry, This little girl, Donna the Prima Donna and Drip Drop). His performances at the T&C in 1989 (to promote King of the New York Streets) and again in 1990 with Dave Edmunds were amazing. And when I went to Miami (where he now lives) in 2000 the first thing I heard as I stepped into a taxi was his Deja Nu album. The word legend is bandied around rather freely these days. But in the case of Dion it is truly justified.
* A quick RIP to Dale Houston of Dale and Grace who died last month. I never saw him perform live, but I did see Grace (Broussard) performing with Jay Chevalier at the Ponderosa Stomp this year (pictured).

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The soul of Goldwax

My blog on Southern Soul recently attracted a few comments, proving that it's not just demented British rock and roll fans who occasionally dip in. It continues to be an exciting genre, but for the real, original article nothing can beat the fantastic records that came out of Quinton's Claunch's Goldwax label in Memphis in the 60s. For many people, James Carr is THE greatest soul singer ever and I have to agree. His passion drenched voice still makes my hair stand on end whenever I hear it. And on the one occasion I saw him in the UK - at Blackheath - the intensity of his performance was almost painful to behold. Overcoming all sorts of mental problems he apparently forced himself to perform, having been in seclusion for many years. His death from cancer in 2001 put an end to his agony, and sadly to the ecstasy of his brilliant soulful delivery.

Goldwax wasn't just about James Carr of course. I first became aware of the label through the wonderful Louis Williams and the Ovations. I was convinced, when I first heard It's Wonderful to be in love, that it was my hero Sam Cooke that I was listening to. But in the absence of Sam, the Ovations made an excellent substitute, and they made some great records for Goldwax before moving on to MGM and one or two others labels in the 70s. And then there was Spencer Wiggins, a virtual unknown in the UK, who came close to matching James Carr in terms of pure deep soul. No one who has heard Uptight good woman is likely to forget it. And of course the even more brilliant O V Wright, whose That's how strong my love is was his only Goldwax release before Don Robey allegedly forced him to record for his Houston based Backbeat label instead because of a prior contract from his gospel singing career.

Whenever I come across a Goldwax single, which unfortunately isn't very often, I snap it up, because they are all excellent. And at last most of the back catalogue is now available on CD. But for more information I cannot recommend too highly which has covered Goldwax in detail. Also its sister blog Great blogs, packed with information about the music I love.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bill Black and Siggy Jackson

At the car boot sale this morning I picked up no fewer than three original London LPs by Bill Black's Combo (Solid and Raunchy, Let's Twist and Movin'). Bill's immortal claim to fame, of course, was playing bass with Elvis in his early years and on the sleeve notes of one of the albums he was able to say that he had played on more million selling records than any other instrumentalist. After he broke with Colonel Tom Parker (and Elvis) over money he formed his own combo and a series of instrumental hits in the early 60s formed the bedrock of Hi Records in Memphis. Pretty well all these records had the same bluesy shuffling beat and although worth a listen they were not particularly exciting, but it was a formula that worked and the band sold huge numbers of copies. Bill died prematurely aged 39 in 1965 and never played with Elvis again. But he left a double legacy - as a key player in Elvis's early success and as the foundation of Willie Mitchell's Hi label, which went on to make stars of Al Green and Ann Peebles among others.

Another fascinating - and very listenable LP - that I found today was Blue Beat in my Soul by Blue Rivers and the Maroons, released in 1967 on Columbia's short lived Blue Beat series. It contains some decent covers of ska hits such as Phoenix City and Guns of Navarone, some original ska numbers such as Seven Steps to Power and Witchcraft Man, and a good Otis Redding style number called I've Been Pushed Around. The band were the proteges of Siggy Jackson, a Jamaican record producer who emigrated to the UK and invented the name Blue Beat to describe the new style of music when he persuaded Melodisc owner Emil Shallit to let him set up a new label to promote Jamaican music in the UK. The label helped West Indian music take off, with records by the likes of Prince Buster and Derrick Morgan leading the way. The rest, as they say, is history as first ska, then rocksteady and later reggae went from strength to strength. But for some, even today, the music was and always will be Blue Beat.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Stirring up a storm

It seems that my last blog entry on Terry Dene's gig at the 100 Club has ruffled a few feathers. The link appeared alongside the photo I took of Terry which appeared on the Tales From The Woods website (the link's now been removed - presumably by public demand!) and as a result quite a few people read what I had to say. I thought what I wrote was inoffensive and quite positive, but clearly that wasn't the view of some readers and there's a clutch of comments attached to the entry. It's nice to know that people read The Vinyl Word occasionally but I can't help it if my views differ from those of others. I thought the gig was OK and that Terry Dene made a decent stab at performing other people's numbers. But it was hardly the gig of the decade.
I know I am not alone in believing that nearly all British rock and roll of the late 50s and early 60s was rubbish - pale imitations of what was coming out of America. Even at the age of 12 or 13 watching 6.5 Special or Oh Boy! I knew that what I was watching wasn't the real thing. I just had to compare what I was hearing to the music coming our way from the States. Terry Dene was just one of a whole host of British singers who produced tame, middle of the road covers masquerading as rock and roll. Only Billy Fury (pictured in characteristic pose) rose above the mediocrity that consumed British rock and roll. The rest couldn't hold a candle to Elvis, Little Richard, Jerry Lee, Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran and the rest.
So although it was interesting to see that Terry Dene has survived and can still sing after nearly 50 years in the shade, it was just that - interesting, rather than exciting or brilliant.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Bad boy Terry Dene returns

Keith was guilty of just a hint of hyperbole at last night's Tales From the Woods gig at the 100 Club, when he described the band as the best British rock and roll band ever to have played at the venue. But OTT or not, it was interesting to see the return of Terry Dene, Britain's 1950s rock and roll bad boy. Dene's short lived career was based mainly on covers of middle of the road hits by Marty Robbins (A White Sports Coat and a Pink Carnation, and Stairway of Love) and Sal Mineo (originator of Start Movin' apparently) and an appearance in a crap British film called Golden Disc. Then after only a year or so it crashed as a result of a tabloid campaign (sound familiar?)

He was accused of getting drunk (shock horror) and was the first teen idol to get married (to singer Edna Savage), thus ensuring that the red tops (black tops in those days I imagine) took an interest in him. But his fate was sealed when he was called up for his National Service and left shortly afterwards having suffered a nervous breakdown. The papers turned on him and he was about as popular as Jerry Lee was following his teenage bride disaster. But unlike Jerry Lee his career never recovered and he faded into obscurity, having made a string of non-hit 45s on Decca and later Oriole.

Terry returned to his rock and roll roots last night with a string of Elvis covers interspersed with a few of his original singles, including the hits. Stand out among those was a B-side called Pretty Little Pearly (was this a cover?) He clearly has a good voice and while his choice of material was rather limited it was good to have a chance to see an original British rock and roller back from the dead as it were.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Southern Soul

Southern soul - the contemporary version at any rate - strikes me as being a rather under-rated music genre. Unlike Northern soul, which has a hard core of UK based fans, it is little known outside of its local fan base, centred around Jackson, Mississippi. Some of its stars, such as Peggy Scott-Adams, whose song Bill is a southern soul classic, Shirley Brown and Willie Clayton, have been around for decades and have sold plenty of records in their time, but are neglected not only in the UK but closer to home too. Driving through Mississippi you will hear plenty of southern soul on local black radio stations. But by the time you get to Memphis or New Orleans it's disappeared. You can find stations playing blues or R and B, but the distinctive southern soul style seems to thrive in a very limited area.
I remember seeing Bobby Rush playing to a predominantly black audience in Memphis a few years ago and I was blown away. He was rude, over the top, surrounded by sexy black girls shaking their booty and was absolutely outrageous. The audience loved him and so did I. Yet when he played at the Barbican a couple of years back a sort of shocked embarrassment spread throughout the audience. They clearly weren't prepared for the sort of vulgar showmanship that Bobby employs when performing on the chitlin' circuit, and Bobby wasn't ready for the much more reserved UK audience.
Among the southern soul greats of the past are stars such as Johnny Taylor, Little Milton and O V Wright, while B B King retains his Mississippi roots and others like Latimore, Denise LaSalle and Syl Johnson still show their southern heritage. But there are a whole range of newer soul men and women who I have heard but never seen, such as Carl Sims, Marvin Sease, Mel Waiters and the intriguingly named Poonanny. And I would place Toni Green (pictured), who wowed the crowd at Porretta this year, in the southern soul category. Will the southern soul scene ever emerge from obscurity? Doubtful, but it's well worth a listen in my opinion.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Apollo Saturday night

Jerry Lee Lewis celebrated his 72nd birthday on Saturday by performing on stage with Solomon Burke at the Apollo Theatre. But by the sound of it, what should have been a night to remember was a bit of a let down. Jerry Lee and Solomon were supporting Bill Clinton's One campaign, which aims to get America's youth to take action about issues they care about. They apparently opened the show with Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On. But instead of perfoming a full set together they were just there as token oldies. The audience was made up of college kids, who have probably never heard of either of them, and the 'real' stars were Chris Rock, Bono, Shakira and Alicia Keys. Bill Clinton declined to play his sax it seems. Meanwhile Jerry Lee's sister Linda Gail was playing at the rather less well known Music Palace in Crouch End with her usual enthusiasm. For more on the One campaign read this:

Talking of the Apollo, I'm looking forward to an Apollo style soul review being held at The Forum on October 19 to mark 25 years of Kent records. Among those performing are Maxine Brown, Mary Love, Tommy Hunt, The Flirtations and Winfield Parker. An evening not to be missed I think.