Monday, May 30, 2011

My Desert Island Discs

BBC Radio 4's long running series Desert Island Discs is asking listeners which eight records they would choose if they were shipwrecked on a desert island. What a difficult choice! I would have trouble limiting my list to 100, never mind a mere eight. But in the spirit of the challenge I've been giving it some thought. All are from the fifties and sixties - the golden era of modern popular music - and I make no apologies for that. After all, that's the era in which I grew up and no music has such a personal impact as the music of your youth. So here we go.
1. In 1956 I became aware of rock and roll through the 78 records that my older sister brought home - in particular the young Elvis. So there has to be something from the Sun years with me on the island. My pick is Elvis's That's All Right Mama - a record which never fails to excite me.
2. Still in the rock and roll era I must choose something by one the true greats - Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard and so on. Very difficult, but I'm going for Chuck Berry's Johnny B Goode, because I can sing along to it to my heart's content and pretend that I'm playing Chuck's guitar just like ringing a bell!
3. I've been to New Orleans many, many times so there has to be something that reminds me of the good times I've had there. I thought about something by Ernie K-Doe, or perhaps Benny Spellman's Lipstick Traces, but in the end I chose Time Is On My Side by Irma Thomas, in memory of the many great sets that she performed at the now sadly defunct Lion's Den club.
4. My favourite singer of all time is Sam Cooke, who I was lucky enough to meet back stage at the Tooting Granada when he toured the UK in 1962 and obtain his autograph. My choice was narrowed down between Wonderful World, Bring It On Home to Me and A Change is Gonna Come, but in the end I opted for Wonderful World, which was the highest scoring record in my personal top ten of the early sixties.
5. After Sam, the greatest voice of the sixties or any other era has to have belonged to the Big O, Roy Orbison. So my choice is one of his very best, and probably the most dramatic - Crying.
6. The sixties was the decade of the great girl groups and Phil Spector's Wall of Sound so I would like there to be something on the island to remind me of those days. What better than the Ronettes' Be My Baby - preferably with a live video of the girls in action. Delicious memories!
7. Soul music has always been very important to me and there were countless wonderful records in the sixties from the likes of Stax and Tamla Motown. Otis Redding perhaps? Or Sam and Dave? Or Wilson Pickett? James Carr? O V Wright? So many to choose from. But in the end my choice is from the Goldwax label of Memphis - Louis Williams and the Ovations with It's Wonderful To Be In Love.
8. My final choice - God this is difficult. I'm going for yet another Memphis record - this time from Hi, and one of my all time favourite singers, Al Green. I'm not sure that it matters which one of his sublime tracks I choose as they are nearly all equally soothing, but I will go for Let's Stay Together.

I'm sure that my choices will not please everyone, but other Desert Island Disc suggestions will be most welcome in the comments section.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Hugh Laurie Down By The River

Hugh Laurie has come a long way since he was Stephen Fry's sidekick In Fry and Laurie and Jeeves and Worster. He has somehow transformed himself into a US television superstar as the grumpy but sexy House. In ITV's Down By the River we saw yet another side of him - blues fan and a surprisingly good boogie woogie piano player. Hugh talked us through his lifelong love of blues, Professor Longhair and all things New Orleans on a road trip from Texas to the Big Easy with the help of some excellent camera work, background music from Longhair and a brief glimpse of Miss Lavell White.

Once in New Orleans he played a gig with Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas and - for no apparent reason - Tom Jones, whilst recording an album of blues songs. As an introduction to a couple of New Orleans surviving greats, to the blues and to the city's musical tradition the programme worked well. And Hugh's love of the music could not be doubted. But I'm afraid that when it came to singing the blues Hugh would be well advised not to give up the day job. The programme will be available (in the UK only) for the next four weeks:

* A few deaths to catch up on: Dolores Fuller, who wrote Rock-a-Hula Baby and Do the Clam for Elvis, as well as appearing in some atrocious Ed Wood B-movies such as 'Glen or Glenda': Lloyd Knibb, drummer with the Skatalites (pictured): and Cornell Dupree, guitarist with the Atlantic backing band who played with Aretha Franklin, King Curtis and a host of jazzmen.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Larry Garner live

Back in the early 90s Louisiana bluesman Larry Garner was a real force on the blues scene. I saw him at the 100 Club in 1993 and again in 1996 and at the New Orleans Jazzfest. So it was good to see him again last night playing with the Norman Beaker Band at the Half Moon in Putney. He made his name at Tabby's Blues Box in Baton Rouge during the 80s. After two successful albums on JSP - Double Dues and Too Blues - he recorded several more albums before rather fading from the scene and apparently suffered a serious illness, before recording an album called Here Today Gone Tomorrow in 2008. Since then he has toured extensively with the Norman Beaker Band but this was his first appearance in London since the 90s.
Larry remains a great guitarist and vocalist with a good line in humour between numbers. Maybe he spent a little too much time in a fairly short set talking rather than singing and veered away from the blues on a couple of occasions with a touch of funk and even a bit of rap. But the band gave him excellent support and his power on numbers such as Cold Chill , Keep on Playing the Blues, Champagne and Reefer and a final Hoochie Coochie Man shows he is still a bluesman to be reckoned with.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Sun ain't gonna shine on John any more

A few more deaths to report. Firstly, John Walker, leader of the Walker Brothers (with Scott Engel and Gary Leeds). I was never a great fan of their middle of the road 60s hits such as Make It Easy on Yourself and The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Any More, but they had undoubted success and their smooth harmonies had lasting appeal. John Walker, (born John Maus) grew up in California and early friends included Ritchie Valens and Carl and Dennis Wilson, whom he allegedly taught to play guitar. He first recorded with his sister as the duo John and Judy for a variety of labels including Aladdin and Arvee, before teaming up with Scott Engel to tour as members of a fake Surfaris. After meeting Gary Leeds they tried their luck in the UK as the Walker Brothers and had great success in the late 60s, before breaking up in 1969. John recorded as a solo artist, including the LP If You Go Away (pictured) and the Walkers reformed in the mid 70s to record the album No Regrets. The first of Walker's four wives was Kathy Young, of A Thousand Stars fame.

The world of sport has seen significant deaths in the last week - of Henry Cooper and Seve Ballesteros - while other recent music deaths include soul songstress Phoebe Snow, Nigel Pickering, founder and vocalist with Spanky and Our Gang, and Tom King, founder of 60s US band The Outsiders. There was also that Bin Laden bloke - apparently.

Here's Respectable by the Outsiders

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Pondering the Stomp line up

First clues to the line up at this year's Ponderosa Stomp have been announced. And it looks rather less exciting and imaginative than previous ones. At the moment ‎the news is that the 10th annual Ponderosa Stomp will feature Allen Toussaint; Stax revue with William Bell, Eddie Floyd, Sir Mack Rice and Skip Pitts w/the Bo-Keys; Excello tribute: Lazy Lester, Classie Ballou, Warren Storm, Carol Fran, Rudy Richard & James Johnson; Lil Buck and Top Cats; Big Jay McNeely, Arch Hall JR. Not bad, but not quite the 'Unsung heroes of rock and roll' that the Stomp has become famous for.
No doubt more names will be announced later, And it would be good if they included the line up for an event called The Ponderosa Stomp: She's Got the Power! taking place in New York on July 30. Titled "A Girl Group Extravaganza including a Tribute to Ellie Greenwich," this will feature performances by Lala Brooks, Lesley Gore, Barbara Harris, Louise Murray, Margaret Ross, Arlene Smith, and Baby Washington, among others.
Regardless of the final line up I have booked my flight to the States in September, kicking off in St Louis and taking in Branson, Memphis and Clarksdale, as well as New Orleans. I can't wait.