Tuesday, July 29, 2008

First Bob, now Earl

Only a few months after the death of Bobby Relf, Earl Nelson, the other half of Harlem Shuffle duo Bob and Earl has died, aged 79 in Los Angeles. Earl shot to fame when he recorded Buzz Buzz Buzz as lead singer of the Hollywood Flames in the late 1950s and teamed up with Bobby Day as part of his group the Satellites. When Day decided to go solo, Nelson recruited another Bobby, Bobby Relf, and Bob & Earl were born in the early 1960s.They recorded Harlem Shuffle with Barry White which became a big UK hit in 1969, six years after its original release. He also found success under the name of Jackie Lee with The Duck during the mid 60s.

Another recent death is that of Roy Shirley, the 'High Priest of Reggae' whose career began in the mid-sixties when he recorded ‘Shirley’ for Leslie Kong. He teamed up with Errol Dunkley and later Ken Boothe and founded the Uniques along with Slim Smith and Franklyn White. Following the break up of the Uniques, Shirley cut ‘Hold Them’ (aka ‘Feel Good’) for Joe Gibbs and had a run of hits in Jamaica before moving to the UK in 1973. Soon after his move to London, Roy opened a record shop in Dalston and over the years that followed remained active musically, recording new material and founding the British Universal Talent Development Association to help develop new young talent worldwide.
A third death to report is that of ballad and jazz standards singer Jo Stafford, aged 90, whose main success came before the rock and roll era but who sold millions of records in her time.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Chaka Khan at Porretta

Here, especially for Dave, is Chaka Khan singing Stay at Porretta.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Respect yourself - the Stax story

'Respect Yourself - the Stax Records Story' (on BBC 4 tonight) - brought back for me so many great memories of records and shows of the 60s, not least the fantastic Stax/Volt show at the Fairfield Hall, Croydon, in 1967. For me Sam and Dave stole the show, but Otis Redding was amazing as well, and Eddie Floyd and Arthur Conley, supported by Booker T and the MGs and the Mar-Keys, made it probably the most exciting show ever. In retrospect this was clearly the zenith of Stax's fortunes. Otis was killed in a plane crash later that year, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis in 1968 and Stax began gradually to tear itself apart. The TV programme included fascinating interviews with many of the key participants, including Booker T Jones, Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, Sam Moore, Isaac Hayes, David Porter. Jim Stewart, Estelle Axton, Al Bell, William Bell, Mavis Staples, Betty Crutcher and Eddie Floyd. But it's the music that tells the story.
'Your good thing is about to end', by Mable John, poignantly soundtracked King's death and pointed the way to the future. Al Bell masterminded some great later hits with the likes of Johnnie Taylor, Isaac Hayes and the Staples Singers among many others, but the label was probably doomed from that point. At a time of racial segregation in the south Stax was blind to colour. But after 1968 things changed and the dream began to fade. The arrival of Johnny Baylor as 'protector' was the start of a slippery slope that led to the eventual downfall of Stax. The Stax stalwarts were pushed to one side and Estelle left, leaving Stewart and Al Bell in charge. The ethos of the company changed but the hits kept on coming. Right to the end the Staples Singers, Mel and Tim and of course Isaac Hayes maintained the high quality soul music that had always been associated with Stax. The Wattstax concert in LA attracted 100,000 people and brought the Stax sound - and black power - to a wider audience than ever. But the sound had lost some of its raw excitement and as the 70s rolled on it became clear that its days were numbered., with expenditure vastly exceeding income. They expanded into movies, sport and comedy and did a deal with CBS in an attempt to retain Stax's independence, but CBS lost faith in the deal after firing Clive Davis, the man who did the deal. Stax's bank pulled the plug, Baylor was suspected of fraud and even Bell's entrepreneurial flair couldn't keep things afloat. Stax's time was up - a sad end to a great enterprise - as the company was declared bankrupt and accusations of fraud flew around. The Stax building was knocked down leaving only a sign at the vacant lot on McLemore in Memphis. Now at last, the label's true worth has been recognised with the opening of the excellent Stax Museum of American Soul Music and the Stax Academy next door.

The music, of course, has not been forgotten, and the Porretta Soul Festival celebrates this every year. And maybe the music will live on to the next generation. I went to see Eli 'Paperboy' Reed (pictured) again last night at the Club Fandango in London, this time with his band the Trueloves. He's a white boy from Boston who maybe tries too hard to excite his enthusiatic audience by focusing mostly on uptempo numbers. But he has a great soul voice and a real feel for the music. The music lives on, and thank God for that.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Otis Redding III at Porretta

Here's a clip of Otis Redding III singing Dreams to Remember at Porretta 2008, backed by the Austin Delone band and Sweet Nectar. You can see the official film of the Saturday of the festival here http://ourstream.redirectme.net/porretta08/Porretta08_sabato.wmv

Photos from Porretta

Mable John on day one of the festival New Orleans piano man Henry Butler
Otis Redding III
Sugar Pie DeSanto in action
Bishop Joe Simon and me
Sugar Pie and me

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Porretta Soul Festival

My annual pilgrimage to the Porretta Soul festival was, as ever, enjoyable and fun (despite my girlfriend having to cry off at the last minute), but the line up was rather more low key than usual.
Day one was dominated by New Orleans piano men who, although both excellent exponents of their art, were just a little too similar. Davell Crawford (minus his grandad ‘Sugarboy’ who was originally slated to accompany him), played a solo set which never quite caught fire, despite some solid New Orleans R and B numbers and a good version of Randy Newman’s Louisiana 1927. Later we were able to compare his nimble fingers with the huge digits of blind New Orleans pianist Henry Butler, who pounded the keyboards to within an inch of their lives. I’ve always regarded Henry as being a jazz man, and hence haven’t taken much notice in the past, but he is clearly much more than that, with a varied repertoire taking in jump blues, funk and New Orleans R and B. I didn’t warm to him much on day one, but he appeared again on days two and three with shorter sets and I appreciated his quite incredible mastery of the keyboard rather more. Not sure about his deep voice though – reminiscent, to me at least - of Screaming Jay Hawkins. The highlight of day one was without doubt Mable John, whose clean soulful voice is as strong as ever. Her versions of Bad Water, Your Good Thing, brother Little Willie John’s Need Your Love So Bad and others were powerful and beautiful at the same time. Prior to the main acts we had to suffer an hour of a strange, spoof French soul band led by Captain Mercier – doing a tribute to Nino Ferrer (who?) – and a 75 year old rock and roller called Clem Sacco. Both were awful. Day two was a marked improvement, the highlight being Bishop Joe Simon with the 24 strong Avenue D male choir from Florida. I had grave reservations about Simon as we were told that he would not do any secular music. He was true to his word, but did include a slightly changed version of My Special Prayer and his first hit A Teenager’s Prayer, which he clearly didn’t regard as being ‘satan’s music’ (his description of his early works). Joe’s voice was strong and the choir were good, if a little camp in their mannerisms, and he still has what it takes. Just a pity that we will never again hear him sing The Chokin’ Kind or Drowning In A Sea of Love. Mable John and Henry Butler reprised their first night highlights and a first for me was Otis Redding III. Although clearly not in the same class as his dad, he’s a pretty competent guitarist and singer who ran through a selection of his hits including a moving version of Dreams To Remember (written by his mother Zelma). Special mention has to be made of the backing band led by Austin Delone which was superb throughout, with a first rate horn section, and the girl backing group Sweet Nectar. There was a single song from Charlie Woods with his tribute to Rufus Thomas and Porrette Terme and the final act on Saturday was Sugar Pie DeSanto, appearing for the second year running, who again wowed the crowd with an act that was funny, bawdy and excellent entertainment. The final night saw more glimpses of the acts from the previous two nights, climaxing with an amusing encore with them onstage together. Joe Simon refused to join in at first – Sugar Pie mischievously said that he couldn’t possibly join in because he’s a bishop – but then did a great duet with Mable John on Lay My Burden Down. The main act on Sunday was Chaka Khan, who appeared with her own band and seemed in good form. I’ve never been a great fan of her rather bland seventies soul style, but it was professionally produced and she came across well, looking good in the process.
So another Porretta comes and goes. It's not in the same league as the Ponderosa Stomp - but then nothing is - but it's a laid back weekend in beautiful scenery with some good music thrown in. More pictures and some movies will follow soon.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Chuck is not amused

Here's a story I missed a few weeks ago: namely US Presidential hopeful John McCain's choice of Johnny B Goode as his campaign song. It seems Chuck Berry is not amused, as he supports Barack Obama, as do most black Americans. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/no-johnny-no-chuck-berry-joins-chorus-of-musicians-snubbing-mccains-campaign-844215.html
US public opinion has certainly moved on, to even contemplate a black presidential candidate. And we can only hope that Obama succeeds in removing the war-mongering Republicans from the White House. Here's hoping McCain has his chips come election day.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Chuck Carbo RIP

Another New Orleans legend has died, this time Chuck Carbo, who was joint lead singer (with brother Chick) with The Spiders and went on to have a successful solo career, including two Rounder albums in the 1990s. Chuck was 81 and lived in Houma, Louisiana, and during a lengthy career he played with all the New Orleans greats, from Dr John to Allen Toussaint to Huey Smith.New Orleans was not noted for R and B vocal groups and The Spiders was the most successful to come out of the Crescent City during the 1950s. Originally formed as a gospel group, the Zion City Harmonisers, The Spiders enjoyed success on Imperial with a series of Dave Barthololew produced records between 1954 and 1956 including the two-sided "I Didn't Want to Do It"/"You're the One," "I'm Slippin' In" in 1954, and "Witchcraft" the next year. Here's a clip from YouTube of Chuck performing "Witchcraft" http://youtube.com/watch?v=hzXVVqxRDVA&feature=related

Chuck recorded some solo 45s for Imperial, Rex, and Ace but enjoyed his biggest success in 1989 with "Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On". This happened to be the first year that I went to New Orleans and. although not one of New Orleans' greatest moments, the song was everywhere, eventually becoming one of those New Orleans singles that gets air play every year. He followed up this success with the album "Drawers Trouble" which he recorded with Dr John, and "Barber's Blues".

I remember seeing Chuck a couple of times at Jazzfest and have a photo of him with James "Sugarboy" Crawford, who will be performing at Porretta next weekend. He was one of the true greats of the city - The Voice of New Orleans as he was described in later years - with a beautiful voice and his loss marks the end of yet another chapter in New Orleans' music history. Here's an interesting obituary of Chuck from the New Orleans Times-Picayune http://blog.nola.com/keithspera/2008/07/spiders_singer_chuck_carbo_192.html

Friday, July 04, 2008

King Solomon the Great

Solomon Burke, the King of Rock and Soul, had to be lifted onto and off the stage at The Barbican last night and placed upon his throne. Now even larger than ever, he is a big performer in every sense of the word. But fortunately he has lost none of his soulful vocal ability. Perched on his throne dressed in an outsize silver suit, looking for all the world like Humpty Dumpty, he launched into a string of rather too uptempo versions of hits old and new, including Soul Searching, Cry to Me and Down in the Valley. I feared the worst when he went into Sittin' On the Dock of the Bay and Mustang Sally, but they got the crowd in its feet - with me one of the few exceptions - which was no doubt his aim. And afterwards he settled into a more relaxed and soulful selection, showcasing his still powerful voice.

He was backed by a ten piece band , with two girl back up singers, one of whom - the youngest of his 21 children (one can only sympathise with his wife) - sang a version of I Will Survive. The other, by the way, was one of his 89 grand children. Towards the end of an entertaining, if less than brilliant set, he moved from soul to rock, with lively versions of Johnny B. Goode, Lucille and Tutti Frutti. He invited audience members on stage - my girlfriend went up and attempted to give his huge frame a hug - and handed out roses a la Al Green, before finishing off inevitably with Everybody Needs Somebody. Overall an enjoyable show, even if a rather static one as he didn't move from his throne until being carried off in darkness at the end. But at aged 68 and with a major obesity problem, the chances of seeing this soul legend again must be slim - unlike Solomon himself.