Thursday, January 29, 2009

Porretta line up takes shape

This year's Porretta Soul festival looks as though it will be a good one for southern soul fans like me. The website is short on detail, but what has been revealed is that the line up will include Carl Sims, Oscar Toney Jr and David Hudson. Carl was the original singer with the Bar-Kays and is now a leading southern soul man, while Oscar Toney has one of the sweetest soul voices around and David Hudson has recorded some classic soul in Memphis. The website - - also lists a number of others who are 'rumoured' to be appearing but I think we can take at least some of these with a pinch of salt. These include Austin DeLone All Star Band, Sweet Nectar, Barbara Morrison, Barbara Lynn, J. Blackfoot, Vaneese Thomas, Solomon Burke, Henry Butler with New Orleans Legends, Bobby Johnson, Toni Green, Soul Survivors,The Diplomats of Soul with The Diplomettes

Whatever the outcome, it looks as though Graziano has done it again.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Folk America

BBC4's latest excursion into the history of popular music kicked off with some fascinating archive film and recordings of some of the earliest American folk and blues performers. Among the blues singers featured were Dave Honey Boy Edwards - just about the last survivor of the originals - Henry Thomas, whose intense railroad songs and music style harked back to the late 19th century, Blind Lemon Jefferson (who died in 1929), and Charlie Patton (1932) and Mississippi John Hurt. Much of the programme centred on early white folk musicians, of whom Dock Boggs stood out as something quite out of the ordinary, and the origins of country music, with the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, the singing brakeman. At least two of the interviewees were over 100, including the last man alive to have played with Rodgers. Parts two and three will be shown in coming weeks and look well worth watching.
Here's a contribution from Dave Carroll, who toasts a couple of those musicians who have passed on since the New Year:

And still they keep on coming - or in this case going. Firstly two stars from gospel; group names The Swan Silvertones and The Singing Stars (can't say that I have heard of the latter). Finally a man best known to many for being in the Ray Charles band and being on so many Atlantic recordings. I don't have any of his jazz stuff (unless it as a sideman and I can't think of anything off the top of my head). But I suppose it would be fair to say he was a pretty accomplished musician. I think the death-dates are correct.
Rev. Claude Jeter (6 January 2009)
Tommy Ellison (3 January 2009)
David 'Fathead' Newman (20 January 2009)
Thanks Dave.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Change is Gonna Come

Sam Cooke's prophetic and haunting A Change is Gonna Come has had plenty of airplay this week as the world celebrates Barack Obama's inauguration. And rightly so. It's not only deeply political, but soulful and beautifully sung, as was everything by Sam Cooke. Yet when it was released as a single in 1964 it was only the B side to the uptempo Shake (another great Sam track). What's more it was a cut down version compared with the version that appeared on the Ain't That Good News album. Was it censored because it was deemed too political? Or just reduced from 3 minutes 14 seconds to just over two and a half minutes to ensure more airplay?
Sam apparently wrote the song as a black man's response to Dylan's Blowing in the Wind and performed it on the Tonight Show in early 1964, a performance lost to posterity because it was not on tape. Peter Guralnick in his book Dream Boogie says that Sam was hesitant about releasing it as a single and supported the decision to cut out the verse "I go to the movies/ And I go downtown/ Somebody keep telling me/ Don't hang around". But being ever the businessman perhaps Sam was avoiding controversy.
Whatever the reason it's a magnificent song and a magnificent performance. 45 years later, and over 44 years after Sam's death, we see a black man in the White House - something which would have been unimaginable back then. The world is full of hope for Obama, and his inaugural speech today was inspirational. Let us hope that change really will come.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Death of The Prisoner

There were some great British made TV series in the sixties - The Avengers, Callan and Man in a Suitcase spring to mind, but there were quite a few others as well. None could compare in terms of style with The Prisoner - written, directed and starring Patrick McGoohan, who died the other day. McGoohan's character started as John Drake in the gripping spy series Danger Man. But when he (apparently) gave up spying and landed up in Portmeirion as a Prisoner he awoke as plain Number Six. His weekly attempts to find out why he was there and where he was, his battles of will with Number Two, his futile attempts to escape from the dreaded big rubber balls and his efforts to discover just who was Number One made compulsive viewing. Although restricted in its setting and always frustrating, in that he never really found out anything and certainly didn't escape, it nevertheless held the attention in every episode. It was clever, quirky and very sixties - the All You Need is Love episode giving a new twist to the Beatles classic.
There's a fascinating link between McGoohan's death and that of John Mortimer, who died yesterday. Runpole was immortalised in the seventies TV series by Leo McKern, who also played Number Two in most episodes of The Prisoner.
Another death announced today is that of Tony Hart. I was already a teenager when Vision On started, but it was another TV series that seemed to sum up the sixties. It was initially aimed at deaf kids, but crossed over to a much wider audience. On the music front it's been a mercifully quiet few weeks on the death front, but I suppose I should mention Ricardo Montalban, whose Fantasy Island and appearances in Star Trek movies made him a household name.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The day the music died

No sooner have we celebrated one 50th anniversary than we begin to think about another, sadder, event half a century ago on February 3, 1959. No doubt the media will soon be swarming over memories of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper, but before they do the Vinyl Word pays tribute to the Three Stars.
I never got to see Buddy Holly and the Crickets in the flesh - I was a bit too young - but I vividly remember their live TV appearance on Sunday Night at the London Palladium. I sat entranced as they performed Oh Boy, Peggy Sue and That'll Be The Day. I've been a Holly fan ever since and have most of his UK vinyl releases, but I know several people who are Holly completists, with just about every record that he released in every country of the world. What is it, I wonder, that makes Buddy's records sound so fresh and exciting even today. Whatever it is, I'm sure people will mark his death in another 50 years time.
Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper are maybe fortunate in a way to be linked with Buddy until eternity, but they both have their place in pop history and Ritchie in particular is revered in his way, thanks largely to the movie tribute.

* A quick word to mark the death of Dave Dee who with Beaky, Mick and Tich made some of the poppier records of the 60s.
And a word too about Mr Snooker David Vine. I met him in Warrington in 1983 at the first Mercantile Credit snooker tournament, which I recall was won by Willie Thorne. I was PR man for Mercantile Credit and this was their first sports sponsorship. Snooker, as Ronnie O'Sullivan rightly says, is dying and was probably dying even then, as the venue was only half full with an audience of anoraks and bored locals. But as a form of TV entertainment it has been successful over the years, due in no small part to David Vine.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Prog rock Britannia

First came the blues, then along came rock and roll, and then soul arrived, and then - in Britain at least - it all went wrong: progressive rock arrived. Instead of an exciting two minute single, we were inflicted with pretentious ten minute tracks on LPs which bored the pants off us. BBC4's Prog Rock Britannia didn't pull its punches and made it clear that this peculiarly British phenomenon was something of an aberration, with groups such as Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, Egg, Pink Floyd and ELP doing their best to show that a little bit of musical ability could go an awful long way if the audience was prepared to believe in it.
I'll be honest - I hated this music. Prog rock's first hit A Lighter Shade of Pale was, I admit, quite a decent record. And I could just about tolerate the Crazy World of Arthur Brown and even Jimi Hendrix up to a point. But it was all downhill from then on. Pop music sunk into a morass of self congratulatory pomposity and pretentiousness. I just turned off at this point.
I don't think I ever went to a prog rock gig and probably my closest encounter to this over indulgent exercise was in 1972. I was living in Wigan, which is close to Bickershaw, where possibly the wettest ever pop festival took place (see line up). The acts, in this mass of mud, were actually quite impressive in retrospect, but there was little there that appealed to me and I made only a fleeting visit.
Today certain prog rock records fetch high prices and I make a point of buying them at boot sales so that I can sell them on eBay. But I certainly wouldn't want them in my collection.

Monday, January 05, 2009

50 years of Motown

Tamla Motown celebrates its fiftieth anniversary next Monday. Berry Gordy founded the Tamla label on January 12, 1959, although it seems the Anna label - founded by his sisters Gwen and Anna with Billy Davis - was already in existence. In fact Gordy had already found success first with Jackie Wilson and later had major hits with Marv Johnson, whose records were distributed by United Artists. The first major hit for the new organisation was in fact on the Anna label and was Barrett Strong's Money, which reached number 2 in the US R&B charts in 1959.

In the UK Money and the first two Miracles 45s were released on London, but subsequently releases came out on Fontana, Oriole and Stateside before Tamla Motown was rewarded with its own label in 1965.

These were the glory years for Tamla Motown. I loved the early records by Marv Johnson, Barrett Strong, the Miracles, the Marvelettes and Mary Wells unaware that there was a connection between them. They were just great singles and they stood out, despite getting little airplay and failing to make the charts. Shop Around reached number one in my personal top ten in early 1961, Miracles follow ups also reached high positions and Marv Johnson was one of my top scoring artists in 1960. It wasn't long before the Marvelettes, Mary Wells and Marvin Gaye made my top ten, along with early singles by Little Stevie Wonder, the Contours, Martha and the Vandellas, the Supremes, the Temptations and the Four Tops.

Sadly by 1966 the Motown sound was beginning to get formulaic, yet this marked the beginning of Motown's most successful phase. Quality records continued to be produced on occasions however well into the seventies before the move from Detroit to the West Coast and eventual decline and takeover took hold.

It was Stax which produced the most exciting soul records of the sixties, but no one can deny that Motown led the way in selling black music to the white masses. Fify years on, the Motown legacy is immense and Berry Gordy's contribution to popular music is unmatched.

Pictured are the original US 45 of Money and examples of three early Tamla Motown 45s issued on a variety of UK labels.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Dancing in the Street 2009

So here we are in yet another new year, and as usual I celebrated the event watching Jools Holland's Hootenanny. As ever there was a good mix of acts, the most legendary of which was Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. Martha's voice is now even more shrill and quavery than in the past, but it's just great to see her performing - nearly 50 years after the formation of Tamla Motown - Heatwave, Jimmy Mack, Dancing in the Street and Nowhere to Run.
It was the oldies who scored most heavily on the show, with some good R and B from Dave Edmunds and from Jools himself, and some histrionics from Annie Lennox. Of the new generation the highlight was Duffy (surely Dusty Springfield's love child) who sang, among others, Mercy, probably the best new record of 2008. The other acts failed to light things up, despite their best endeavours. Second rate covers of My Girl and I Just Want to Make Love To You didn't really make the grade, and nor did some crap rap from Dizzy Rascal and some sub-punk by a couple of other bands.
It's hard to imagine that 2009 will be anything other than dire for most of us, but to any readers (if there are any) the Vinyl Word says Happy New Year!