Thursday, March 25, 2010

Johnny Maestro and Marva Wright

Sadly, there are two more deaths to report: Johnny Maestro and Marva Wright.
Johnny Maestro, who had died of cancer aged 70. was the sweet voiced lead singer of The Crests, one of the first integrated groups, who made some of greatest doowop records of the late 50s/early 60s, including 16 Candles, Step by Step, The Angels Listened In, and Trouble in Paradise. After limited success as a solo singer and with the Del-Satins, Johnny made it big again with Brooklyn Bridge. But it was the Crests records that really stand out. Another sad loss.

Marva Wright, who has died at the age of 62, was not particularly well known outside New Orleans. But she had a big blues/gospel voice and a big personality. I came across her when I first went to the Big Easy in 1989 and she was one of the very best live acts in the city. So many New Orleans greats have died over the last year or so that there are few left now. And Marva was definitely one of the New Orleans greats.
Another New Orleans musician who had died is drummer Bernard 'Bunchy' Johnson, who perfomed with Dave Bartholomew, Allen Toussaint, Lee Dorsey, James Booker, Dr. John , Aaron Neville, Lloyd Price and Ernie K-Doe, among others.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Recent obits

There have been some interesting obituaries in the nationals lately - of Alex Chilton, Charlie Gillett, Fess Parker - even a belated one of Bobby Charles in The Indy. Here are a few of them:

Saturday, March 20, 2010

King of the Wild Frontier

Who was Born on a mountain top in Tennessee, Greenest state in the land of the free. Raised in the woods so's he knew every tree, Killed him a bear when he was only three? Yes it was of course Davy, Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier.
When I was nine I knew every verse and Fess Parker, who played the all American hero, was a household name. In those pre-rock and roll days he was the nearest thing to a superstar among the kids, even in suburban south London. He went on to play another American hero Daniel Boone in a 60s TV series, but it was his role of Davy Crockett in the Disney films that made his name. I see that he has died aged 85 and the Vinyl Word raises a glass to those innocent times.
For those of a certain age, here are the Davy Crockett lyrics in full. Don't they bring back memories?
Born on a mountain top in Tennessee, Greenest state in the land of the free. Raised in the woods so's he knew every tree, Killed him a bear when he was only three. Davy, Davy Crockett King of the Wild Frontier.
He fought single handed through the Injun war, Till the Creeks was whipped and peace was restored. And while he was handling this risky chore, Made himself a legend, forevermore. Davy, Davy Crockett the man who don't know fear.
When he lost his love, and his grief was gall, In his heart he wanted to leave it all, And lose himself in the forest tall, But he answered instead, his country's call. Davy, Davy Crockett, the choice of the whole frontier
He went off to Congress and served a spell Fixin' up the government and laws as well. Took over Washington, so we hear tell, And patched up the crack in the Liberty Bell. Davy, Davy Crockett, seein' his duty clear. (Serving his country well)
When he come home, his politickin' done, The western march had just begun. So he packed his gear, and his trusty gun And lit out a grinnin' to follow the sun. Davy, Davy Crockett, Leadin the Pioneers.
His land is biggest, and his land is best From grassy plains to the mountain crest He's ahead of us all in meeting the test Followin' his legend right into the West Davy, Davy Crockett, King of the Wide Frontier King of the Wild Frontier.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Charlie Gillett RIP & now Alex Chilton

Charlie Gillett's death aged 68 has saddened all lovers of rock and roll and roots music in the UK. His books Sound of the City and Making Tracks were among the very best about the music of the second half of the 20th century and I read them avidly when they came out, returning to them again and again. His radio shows and promotion of New Orleans, Cajun and world music over the years played a central role in bringing new acts and different styles of music to the public and his influence was immeasurable.
I won't attempt to write his obituary as there will be many people far better able than me to do so. Here is one of the first - from the Guardian

One of Charlie's most important ventures was the creation of Oval Records and there's an in-depth interview with Charlie on this on Youtube I remember buying a second hand copy of Tommy McLain's Before I Grow Too Old at a car boot sale some years ago and on the sleeve is a hand written note from Charlie to 'Denis' at Radio 2 saying 'We think we have a Radio Two anthem here - hope you agree.' How true!
And now I hear that Alex Chilton has died aged 59. He made it big in Memphis at the age of just 16 as lead singer of the Box Tops with The Letter and under the guidance of Chips Moman recorded a wonderful string of Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham songs. In the 70s he continued his success with Big Star and as a solo performer and moved to New Orleans in the 80s. One of my top 20 spine tingling music moments took place in 1999 when Alex and the Box Tops reformed and played a free gig at the foot of the World Trade Centre in New York (thevinylword, Feb 1, 2008). A great singer and another great loss.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Rockie Charles RIP

Yet another New Orleans R and B artist has passed away - this time Rockie Charles, known as The President of Soul, who has died of cancer aged 67. Rockie may not have been one of the better known artists from the city, but I saw him at the Ponderosa Stomp twice and he was a fine performer. There's an excellent obituary of him on

It's only a few weeks now unti,a go to New Orleans so, sadly, this is yet another artist that I will not get to see - along with many others.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Thinking about N'Awlins

As my US trip gets closer I am starting to think about what I will do this time that is different from past trips. I will no doubt go to the festivals in Lafayette, Baton Rouge (which I haven't been to before) and of course Jazzfest in New Orleans. But I have been looking into genuine blues juke joints and there are one or two that may be worth a visit. There are also gigs in New Orleans outside of Jazzfest - for example Irma Thomas will be doing some evening gigs and Dave Alvin is at the Rock and Bowl. It's still early, so complete listings are not available, but I will keep looking.
Meanwhile, there's an updated list of acts at Porretta which, as ever, is quite different from the earlier list. The new one still still has Candi Staton (pictured) headlining, with Clay Hammond also on the bill, but there are some additions, including the Green Brothers (Al and Bobby, who were the last act to be signed to Stax), Thelma Jones and Lavelle White. Not sure if I will be able to go but it looks pretty good.
I've been watching Can Blue Men Play the Whites on BBC4 tonight as the channel again celebrates the 60s blues boom in the UK. Some great footage, including Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and many others, which brings back great memories of a fantastic era.

Monday, March 08, 2010

New Orleans 1991 - part 2

Continuing edited memories of my New Orleans trip of 1991 (picture shows John Howard, Dave Thomas, Keith Johnson, me and others at the Landmark Hotel):
Thursday, May 2: Breakfast at Clover Grill and then to Jazzfest, for Snooks Eaglin, a set that got better and better, zydeco man Lynn August, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, good New Orleans R and B from Bobby Marchan, Taj Mahal and Eddie Bo (for the 3rd time this trip), finishing up with C J Chenier. (Sad to think that many of these are now dead.) A great evening: met up with John and Jonathan and then to the Lion's Den where Allen Toussaint guested on keyboards with Irma, who was very relaxed. A couple of numbers too from Lee Bates. Even Emile Jackson smiled.
Friday, May 3: Not such a great day at Jazzfest. Highlights were C P Love, George Porter, Deacon John, livened up by Marcia Ball and some swamp pop with Tommy McLain and Warren Storm. Later watched a spaced out Wille DeVille in Tower records and then to the Mid City Bowl for the excellent Johnny Adams. Later went to Michaul's where John and Dave were watching Wayne Toups and then to Tipitinas, where we got in free and saw a whole hour of Irma. Call signs: Stella (as in A Streetcar Named Desire), Jimmy Barnes (Aussie singer) and Kenny Ball (ie Can 'e bowl).
Saturday, May 4: Not a vintage day at Jazzfest. Kenny Neal good, Wayne Toups crowded, The Jolly Boys from Jamaica were fun, Dixie Cups best of the day (pictured). Met up with John, Jon, Dave and Mick in the evening and went to a huge glitzy honytonk called Mudbugs - straight out of Dallas. Then to the Bowl again for the Iguanas.
Sunday, May 5. Last day at Jazzfest - Mr Google-eyes (ancient and off beat), Oliver la La Morgan, Frankie Ford (rather MOR), Champion Jack Dupree ( great), Five Blind Boys of Alabama (a real highlight), Allen Toussaint, Robert Cray, Dewey Balfa, and finishing off with the Neville Brothers - what a day! One final drink at the Landmark, with Dick Waterman there, plus Ken Lending and Richard Thompson.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

New Orleans 1991 - part 1

It's only a few more weeks until I make this year's pilgrimage to New Orleans and Cajun country (maybe my last - who knows?). Jazzfest isn't what it once was as so many of the greats have passed on, but the city is still alluring and I'm sure there will be some pleasant surprises. Here are some excerpts from my diary covering my second visit there, in 1991, which bring back great memories.
Friday, April 26. Jazzfest cancelled because of a huge thunderstorm but made up for it in the evening on the Creole Queen riverboat. Eddie Bo was fantastic, backed by Wayne Bennett and Red Tyler, and Irma Thomas was excellent too.Then to Muddy Waters to meet Dave (Thomas) and Scotty Mick for L'il Ed & the Imperials, Lonnie Brooks and a couple of songs from Koko Taylor, finished off with some blistering guitar from Kenny Neal.
Saturday, April 27. Got to Jazzfest about 12.30 and parked my car in the yard of a local who offered me some crack. Jean Knight was on first then Marva Wright, Harmonica Red, and Charmaine Neville. Went on the Creole Queen again where a very thin crowd watched Ernie K-Doe, Barbara George and Jessie Hill. Ernie was his usual cocky self on stage but I sat next to him later and he seemed subdued (pissed maybe) off stage. Barbara George gave it all she's got and I felt obliged to buy her new album - on tape. Jessie did a short but lively set. None of them in their heyday but all legends.
Sunday, April 28. Breakfast at the Clover Grill as usual. Stars at Jazzfest that day were Ohio Players, Rockin' Dopsie. Clarence Frogman Henry, John Mooney, Clarence Gatemouth Brown, Troy Turner and Dr John. In the evening went to Irma's club with Dave and Mick. Irma was fantastic - especially her second set when she did a string of deep soul songs. Dave and Mick very pissed and I had too much but what a great evening.
Monday, April 29. Next morning Dave and Mick were suffering: Mick had stumbled away when I dropped him at their hotel, fell asleep in the gutter and was robbed of his money, cards etc. Went to the piano night at Tipitinas where the highlights were Jon Cleary, Eddie Bo, Art Neville, Willie Tee and Tommy Ridgeley.
Tuesday April 30. Weather still miserable but decided to do some touring. Drove along the Gulf coast to Mobile and Dauphin Island. A barman told me that the saying 'raising Cane' came from Joe Cane, a confederate who had seven wives and who invented Mardi Gras. When he died a custom grew up whereby seven widows would visit his grave on the Sunday before Mardi Gras to try to 'raise' him from the dead.
Wednesday, May 1. Back to New Orleans and to the Landmark and who should be there but John Howard - he couldn't keep away. After a meal at Mulates went to Jimmy's to see Carl Sonny Leyland and Buddy Guy and then to Muddy Waters for Marva Wright.
More soon....

Friday, March 05, 2010

Fifty years on...

It's 50 years since Elvis left the US army (making his only ever visit to the UK on the way home). I rather agree with John Lennon, who said that Elvis died when he joined the army, because his post-army career flatlined under the uninspiring guidance of Col Tom Parker. Crap movie followed crap movie and there were just glimpses of his talent now and then in his recorded output. There's an interesting article in The Guardian which is worth a look.
It's also 50 years since I first wrote down my personal top ten. This initial chart was a one off, but in May 1960 I began to update my top ten once or twice a week until December 1965. In all 918 singles entered my top ten, in 408 entries. Looking back, this initial personal top ten was a rather mixed bag, with some good records and some pretty awful ones, but in my defence I was still only 13 and the quality definitely improved as time went by.

So here is that first top ten: 1. Sweet Nuthin's - Brenda Lee; 2. String Along - Fabian; 3. Beatnik Fly - Johnny & the Hurricanes; 4. What In The World's Come Over You - Jack Scott (pictured a few years ago at Hemsby); 5. He'll Have To Go - Jim Reeves; 6. Who Could Be Bluer - Jerry Lordan; 7. Summer Set - Acker Bilk; 8. California Here I Come - Freddy Cannon; 9. This Love I have For You - Lance Fortune; 10. Cradle Of Love - Johnny Preston. With each entry I chose a 'Pick of the Week' which may or may not have been an entry in my personal hit parade. This week my 'pick' was Cathy's Clown by the Everly Brothers, which went on to be one of the biggest national hits ever.
*** Sadly there's a death to report - that of Ron Banks of the Dramatics, who has died aged 58. The Dramatics had a great run of soul hits on Stax in the early 70s including Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get, (1971), In the Rain (1972) and "Get Up and Get Down" (1972). A sad loss