Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Pictures from Porretta

Here is a selection of photos taken at the Porretta Soul festival - some of me with the stars followed by some action shots. First, here is the wonderful Toni Green. The Wiggins brothers - Spencer on the left and Percy on the right.
Oscar Toney Jr and me on the steps of the Hotel Helvetia.
J Blackfoot and me.
Here's Oscar Toney Jr on stage (before going walkabout in the audience) on the first night.
Solomon Burke on his throne on Saturday evening.
Toni Green in full flow.
Spencer Wiggins in action.
The Austin Delone band, with Thomas Bingham at the front.
One of the shots from the finale on Sunday, with Toni and J Blackfoot sharing vocals as Vaneese Thomas, Spencer Wiggins and Oscar Toney Jr look on.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Porretta Soul Festival the best yet

This year's Porretta Soul Festival has to be the best yet - certainly the best of the ten or so that I've been to. The quality of the artists performing was just superb, with a whole load of stand out performances by legendary Memphis soul men and women, great weather and fantastic backing once again, in most cases, by Austin Delone's band with Sweet Nectar.
Friday kicked off with the forgettable James Thompson band, but soon picked up pace with Vaneese Thomas (pictured), the lesser known of Rufus's daughters, who was backed by Soul Spinner, an Italian band who actually 'got' soul music. OK it was mostly covers, but A Woman's Love was a stand out and Vaneese got things moving in the right direction. Bobby Johnson followed and kept the high tempo going with some crowd pleasing soul numbers. Things looked a little shaky with the appearance of Jesse Dee, like Eli Paperboy Reed a young white soul man from Boston with a penchant for Sam Cooke material. I wasn't particularly impressed, although a storming version of Jackie Wilson's A Woman, A Lover, A Friend on Sunday made me think that he has potential for the future.
Much more to my soul taste was Oscar Toney Jr, who appeared in a pink suit complemented with pink shoes with OTJr written in red on the toes. Oscar gave us deep soul with For Your Precious Love and went walkabout in the crowd with For The Good Times. Excellent entertainment. Friday's soul fest finished with Percy Wiggins (pictured), dressed more soberly in a smart brown suit and looking like a bank manager, who excelled in a restrained way on his own material such as Book of Memories and Perfect Stranger and moved into a medley of Sam Cooke songs. Not the most demonstrative of singers his voice nevertheless was strong and pure and certainly soulful.
Next evening was even better. First, it was the turn of Percy's brother, Spencer Wiggins, to show us that 40 or more years after his amazing Goldwax recordings he still has the voice and charisma to match just about everyone who has ever recorded in the southern soul field, even label mate James Carr. His dramatic version of Uptight Good Woman, with numerous false endings, was stupendous, as was Old Friend and several other Goldwax tracks, and he stayed true to his religious principles by finishing with a couple of gospel numbers. Spencer was worth the admission price alone - an absolute star.
But that was just the start of a great evening. Toni Green, the wonderfully glamorous star of the 2007 festival, once again wowed the crowd with a sexily diva like and very soulful set - much too short in my view. And she made my evening by name checking me at one point, as we had chatted earlier in the day. Why she is not better known is a mystery to me, because she has musical and sex appeal in spades.
Toni was followed by J Blackfoot, now mercifully recovered from a stroke apparently, who showed that the exciting stage act that he put on at Porretta 11 years ago was still very much intact. Apart from his big hit Taxi and one Soul Children song Hearsay it was mostly covers, which was a shame (although Austin's band can hardly be blamed - Austin told me that they had learned 85 new numbers in the last couple of weeks) but overall it was exciting stuff.
Finally we were privileged to witness the King of Rock and Soul himself Solomon Burke (pictured), with his own 14 piece band and surrounded by a bevy of sexy daughters, grand daughters and violinists. Solomon's act these days is fairly predictable but of the highest quality. with a selection of his early hits such as Cry To Me and Down In the Valley, some later material and some cheesy but effective covers of He'll Have To Go, What A Wonderful World and the Saints. Very enjoyable nonetheless.
Sunday's show saw all the main acts, apart from Solomon, make brief appearances and it was a laid back affair with a smallish crowd, unlike Saturday's packed house. Spencer, Percy, Toni, Oscar, Vaneese, Bobby, J and Jesse all ran through two or three numbers each and the evening culminated with all the artists on stage for a bravura performance of 6-345789 organised mainly by J Blackfoot. A fantastic end to a fantastic festival.
I will put some more photos on the blog in the next few days, along with some set lists, courtesy of Dave Carroll.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Living legend at the Jazz Cafe

If anyone can be called a living legend of New Orleans music then Allen Toussaint must surely be that person. He produced, composed and played brilliant piano on numerous New Orleans R and B classics in the late 50s and 60s by the likes of Lee Dorsey, Ernie K-Doe, Benny Spellman, Irma Thomas and Chris Kenner, moved on to be the godfather of N'Awlins funk in the late 60s and early 70s, and made his mark as a solo performer, along with numerous later collaborations with the likes of Frankie Miller and, a couple of years ago, Elvis Costello.
Now 71, and looking fit and smart (despite wearing sandals and socks), Allen's one man show at the Jazz Cafe last night showed just how good he was, and still is. New Orleans has produced many great piano players over the years, from Archibald to Professor Longhair to James Booker, but Allen showed that he's every bit as good as any of them. He kicked off with a selection of his classic New Orleans hits - from Ernie K-Doe's A Certain Girl, to Benny Spellman's Fortune Teller to Lee Dorsey's Working In a Coal Mine - and played several jazz standards from his new album The Bright Mississippi, including one originally by Django Reinhardt (he pronounced it D-Jango). Along the way he played a superb medley of just about every musical style you could think of, including R and B, jazz, country, boogie woogie - even a touch of the classics, all done with a virtuosity that made it all seem so simple. He slipped in one or two of his more obscure R and B compositions, including Art Neville's All These Things (made before the Nevilles realised that they were the Neville Brothers, he said) and Chris Kenner's Packing Up, and included Lee Dorsey's Get Out Of My Life Woman which, he said, rather surprisingly, was his most covered song. The whole show was done in an easy going, laid back manner with amusing asides and tales of his childhood. Naturally he finished off with Southern Nights, his best known solo recording. It's a long way to the Big Easy, but Allen Toussant made it feel as though it was just round the corner.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Music photos 1998

This time we have a selection of photos taken in 1998. The first half dozen were on a trip to the US, kicking off with Jimmie Vaughan at the Grant Street Dancehall in Lafayette. This is Mavis Staples pictured in the Gospel Tent at the Jazzfest in New Orleans.
Quite a few of us Brits travelled up to Memphis for the Beale Street Festival and the Handy Awards. Here are Woodies John Howard, Lee Wilkinson, Tony Papard and Keith Woods pictured in the Rum Boogie Cafe in Beale Street. Anyone remember the name of the guy on the right?
Here's a photo of me with Jimmy Denson, who claimed to be a childhood friend of Elvis, taken outside the Shangri-La record shop in Memphis. Jimmy said that Elvis was a 'dope fiend' and a 'baby'.
This photo shows Anson Funderburgh and Sam Myers at the Beale Street festival. Sadly, Sam died in 2006.
Bobby Rush's show at the Daisy Theatre on Beale was one of the highlights of the trip. Here he is inspecting the backsides of some of his female dancers. Unfortunately his un-PC act didn't go down so well when he played at the Barbican in London a few months later.
Returning to London, here's a photo of British soul singer Lynden David Hall at the Borderline in Soho. Lynden had amazing talent, but sadly died of Hodgkin's Lymphona in 2006 aged just 31.
Finally we move to the Porretta Soul Festival of 1998. Here's a shot of excellent soul/blues singer Barbara Carr.
And here is another great soul singer, Bill Coday, who sadly died in 2008.
The great Solomon Burke was the headline act at Porretta that year, as he is this year. I'm looking forward to seeing him in two week's time.
Finally here's Swamp Dogg, aka Jerry Williams Jr, a wonderfully soulful performer and great producer of soul records for the likes of Irma Thomas, Charlie and Inez Foxx and the Exciters.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Allen KIein - hero or villain?

Allen Klein, one of the most influential and controversial figures in music history, has died aged 77. An accountant by profession, he had a long and varied career and created tension and distrust in most of the roles he had. He advised Bobby Darin after meeting him at a friend's wedding, became Sam Cooke's business manager, briefly managed the Rolling Stones and was blamed for the break up of the Beatles, after Paul McCartney refused to accept him. Along the way he bought Cameo Parkway records, helped John Lennon and George Harrison after the Beatles split, bought the rights to Phil Spector's Philles records, produced a series of spaghetti Westerns and won a bitter legal battle against the Verve. Was he a force for good or bad? Difficult to tell, as at heart he was just an uncompromising accountant, but he certainly helped Sam Cooke become the first successful black music business man, so perhaps he wasn't all bad. Here are a couple of his obits:
There have been a couple of other high profile deaths over the last few days. Karl Malden, with his prominent proboscis, was probably best known for his role as Mike Stone in The Streets of San Francisco, one of the top US cop shows of the 70s. But he also made over 50 movies, including Patton, How The West Was Won, On The Waterfront, Kiss of Death, Birdman of Alcatraz and Murderer's Row.. He was 97.

Mollie Sugden, who has died aged 86, starred as Mrs Slocombe in Are You Being Served and will forever be remembered for her fondness for her 'pussy'. She also starred in The Liver Birds.