Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Calvin Scott - and Beyonce

The Vinyl Word says farewell to Calvin Scott, who has died in Montgomery, Alabama, at the age of 73. He got his start performing and writing music with Clarence Carter. Scott was Carter's schoolmate at the Alabama School for the Blind, and the two wrote, performed and recorded music together in the mid 1960s, including 'Step By Step' which was released on Atco. Scott sang and played the piano but his musical career suffered a series of setbacks through the years, including a serious traffic accident in 1966. He recorded for Stax Records in 1972 but his timing was bad, as the label was already in financial trouble.

A quick word also in praise of Beyonce, who headlined at the Glastonbury Festival last weekend. Not only is she very sexy, but she has a pretty good voice, as exemplified by her version of Etta James's At Last.

More photos from recent gigs

Here's one of The Impressions at The Barbican. Thanks to Dave Thomas for this one. Here is Bobby Womack with Altrina Grayson at The Jazz Cafe.

From the Lil' Band of Gold show at the Shepherds Bush Empire, here is Warren Storm on vocals.

And this is keyboard player David Egan.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bobby Womack at the Jazz Cafe

Bobby Womack, who started a four night run at a packed Jazz Cafe last night, has been around since the very beginning of soul music in the early sixties. Discovered by Sam Cooke while part of the Womack Brothers gospel group, he and his brothers recorded successfully as the Valentinos for Sam's SAR label. He controversially married Sam's widow Barbara shortly after Sam's death and embarked on a solo career which was to lead to a string of best selling albums including Communication, Understanding, The Poet and The Poet II. Another later album was entitled The Last Soul Man which, with other contenders falling all the time, could prove to be prophetic.

Now 67, Bobby looked frail however and said that he had recently had an operation which affected his balance, but his voice was as strong as ever. Dressed all in white, in contrast to the black clothing of the band, he kicked off with Stylo, a recent collaboration with the Gorillaz, and then moved into more familiar, and to my ears, much better material with the rolling rhythms of Across 110th Street, Nobody Wants You When You're Down and Out and Harry Hippie. Backed by his full American band, cramped onto the tiny Jazz Cafe stage, along with singer Altrina Grayson, Bobby continued a solid set with later songs including Daylight, the 80s hit I Wish He Didn't Trust Me So Much, That's The Way I Feel About Cha, Woman's Gotta Have It and Stop On By, before going back to his roots with Sam's A Change Is Gonna Come and the Valentinos' Lookin' For a Love. Moving smoothly through If You Think You're Lonely Now, he slowed things down with the Soul Stirrers gospel song Jesus Be A Fence Around Me, before finishing off with the great I Can Understand It, I'm Through and, as an encore, his 1968 version of Fly Me To The Moon.

Altogether this was a satisfying show if lacking in the sort of deep soul feeling of previous Bobby Womack concerts. But it's always a thrill to see a great soul singer in the flesh, and Bobby is certainly one of the greats.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Two more gone

The Vinyl Word says farewell to two more musicians - saxman Clarence Clemons and Sun rockabilly artist Mack Self.

Clarence Clemons, who was 69, was a prominent member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band from 1972 onwards and his distinctive work can be heard on Born To Run, The River and Born In The USA. Away from Springsteen he had a hit with You're a Friend of Mine with Jackson Browne in 1985 and worked with artists as diverse as Aretha Franklin and Lady Gaga. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aE9O05xBKnY

Mack Self, who died aged 81 in his native Arkansas, recorded rockabilly records in the late 50s with Jack Clement at Sun, including Easy To Love, Vibrate and Mad At You. Later he had success with Four Walls of Memories, recorded with Chips Moman in Memphis. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LaHYh15ZCl0

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Louisiana supergroup Lil' Band of Gold

Louisiana swamp pop supergroup Lil' Band of Gold stormed into London yesterday with an all-action two hour show at the Shepherds Bush Empire. And apparently we have Lily Allen to thank for this rare treat, as they were in the UK to perform at her wedding.
Kicking off the show was a documentary film called The Promised Land - a Swamp Pop Journey, about the formation of the Lafayette-based band, showing how local guitar hero and singer CC Adcock persuaded veteran swamp pop drummer and vocalist Warren Storm, Cajun accordionist Steve Riley and songwriter and keyboard player David Egan, along with sax men Dickie Landry and Pat Breaux and steel guitarist Richard Comeaux, to join together to play gigs around Louisiana. The film showed the sheer enjoyment that these guys - all of them well known in their own musical fields - got out of the experience.
Without a break, the band began playing the moment the film ended and it was clear we were in for an exciting evening. At first, the ultra loud guitar playing of C C Adcock, the straight ahead rock approach and the slightly muffled vocals suggested that this might not live up to previous Lil' Band of Gold gigs that I've seen - in New Orleans and Lafayette. C C Adcock looks every inch the rock star, in a Russell Brand kind of way, and I wondered if he had had maybe too much influence over the band's approach. But he loves Louisiana music and this was a set that just got better and better. Warren Storm set the tone with some genuine swamp pop, including Those Lonely Lonely Nights, and his teenage enthusiasm belied his 74 years. And then Tommy McLain came on, complete with trademark Father Christmas beard, and ran through some of his own swamp pop standards, including Before I Grow Too Old (my personal motto), Baby Doll and Sweet Dreams.
By this time the whole band was on fire, with C C Adcock's blistering guitar work complementing Steve Riley's accordion, David Egan's inspired keyboard playing, Warren Storm's manic drumming and the excellent sax playing. There were storming performances of Seven Letters and Blue Monday by Warren Storm, hammering away on his drums, the Bobby Charles number I Don't Want To Know, and sensational rocking versions of Seven Nights of Rock and Lucille. After nearly two hours of blistering rock and roll and swamp pop the band came back for an encore of Promised Land, featuring Steve Riley's accordion, and a brilliant version of the swamp pop anthem Mathilda.
There was a decent sized crowd for this show, many of them young, no doubt reflecting Lily Allen's interest in the band, but Lil' Band of Gold didn't compromise in their approach. When I saw them in New Orleans last year at the House of Blues they had numerous guest stars performing with them, including Elvis Costello, Dr John and Jon Cleary, (the time before was at the down home Crawfish Festival in Breaux Bridge), but they didn't need any special guests this time. They brought the house down all by themselves.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Carl Gardner of the Coasters

Carl Gardner, tenor and effectively leader of the Robins and then the Coasters for 50 years (on the left of the photo), has died aged 83. Here's his obituary in today's Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2011/jun/13/carl-gardner-obituary

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Never Ending Impressions

In the early sixties, the sweetest soul sounds around came from Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions. Later in the decade the Chicago-based group pioneered social consciousness songs that championed Afro American pride and the civil rights movement. Curtis left in 1970 to pursue a solo career and sadly died in 1999, nine years after he was paralysed when a stage lighting rig fell on him at a gig.

The Impressions continue to perform and played the Barbican last night - their first ever show in London - featuring two original members, Fred Cash and Sam Gooden, and a relative newcomer in the form of Reggie Torian, who first joined in 1973. Backed by the Curtom Orchestra, this was a tribute to Curtis Mayfield and all the numbers were associated with him. Their harmonies were as sweet as ever and all three were absolutely on top form. Dressed in sombre grey suits they harmonised beautifully and shared vocal leads equally.

Kicking off with Gypsy Woman, a song written by Mayfield and released in 1961, the great songs just went on coming, almost chronologically, with It's Alright, Talking About My Baby, I'm So Proud (with a line from You Must Believe Me), Keep On Pushing, I've Been Trying and Woman's Got Soul. Moving through the beautiful gospel sound of People Get Ready, the group ran through You've Been Cheating, Movin' On Up and I Loved and I Lost. The last section of this truly excellent concert was devoted to the group's social consciousness period, with This Is My Country and Choice of Colors, the blaxploitation movie song Superfly, Mighty Mighty (Spade and Whitey) and the civil rights anthem Move On Up as an encore. Altogether a superb concert by a superb, smooth and truly soulful group.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Intriguing line-up at the Stomp

A more extensive line-up has been announced for this year's Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans this September and I have to say it's an intriguing list. There are quite a few artists about whom I know nothing, as well as some familiar names.
The line-up includes a couple of the grandees of New Orleans R & B - Allen Toussaint and Dave Bartholomew. There's a tribute to Stax with William Bell, Eddie Floyd, Sir Mack Rice and The Bo-Keys featuring Skip Pitts & Howard Grimes. There's also blues from Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, Lazy Lester (as ever), James Johnson and Rudy Richard from Slim Harpo's King Bees, Little Freddy King and Billy Boy Arnold. There's also Big Jay McNeely, The Relatives, Lady Bo, Arch Hall Jr, Carol Fran and Lavelle White. There are some fairly familiar names such as Jivin' Gene, Warren Storm, Classie Ballou, Michael Hurtt and his Haunted Hearts, Lil Buck and his Top Cats featuring Stanley 'Buckwheat' Dural, C P Love, Joe Clay, Robert Parker and Deke Dickerson and the Eccofonics. But I know little about Little Leo, Roy "Boogie Boy" Perkins, Clayton Sampy, Bobby Allen, Johnny Legend, G .G. Shinn, Guitar Lightnin’ Lee, Earl Stanley, Gerri Hall and Creole Zydeco Farmers featuring Jockey Etienne.

As it happens I find that I have a single by Bobby Allen and the Exceptions, recorded on the Soul Sound label in Crowley, Louisiana, which apparently is highly collectable. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZxfl3OQERk But there are quite a few obscure names, as usual, included in the Stomp line-up. These sound interesting, to say the least, and and I am looking forward to my trip. http://www.ponderosastomp.com/ponderosa_stomp_10.php

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Benny Spellman RIP

Yet another New Orleans great has passed away - this time Benny Spellman, whose deep voice provided the baritone backing on Ernie K-Doe's Mother in Law and whose excellent 1962 Minit single Lipstick Traces is one of my all time New Orleans R and B favourites. Benny never had a big hit but he was a member of Huey Smith's Clowns for a while and you can catch his distinctive vocals on quite a few Allen Toussaint-related tracks of the time. Fortune Teller - the B-side of Lipstick Traces - was covered by the Rolling Stones and the O'Jays among others. Benny later recorded for the Watch and Alon labels and had minor successes with The Word Game for Alon, which was leased to Atlantic, and with Sinner Man for Sansu.

Benny was 79 and lived in Pensacola, Florida. He suffered a stroke in the early 90s which restricted his personal appearances but I did see him perform live once. This was at the Dew Drop Inn Revisited show at the Sheraton Hotel in New Orleans during Jazzfest, 1993, when he appeared alongside Lloyd Price, Roland Stone, George French, Bobby Marchan and Marva Wright. My photo shows him at the show. I have two LP compilations of his work - one on Charly and another on the New Orleans Bandy label - which show just how good he was. And here is his greatest side, Lipstick Traces. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4QhQ_0OiFkQ

There's a great article on the excellent Red Kelly blog http://redkelly.blogspot.com/

Friday, June 03, 2011

Eddie Floyd and Vaneese Thomas

The Half Moon in Putney played host to one of the best nights of Memphis soul seen in London for several years last night with a double bill by veteran Stax star Eddie Floyd and Rufus Thomas's younger daughter, Vaneese Thomas.
Now 73, Eddie's voice isn't what it once was, but he has such enthusiasm and such a great back catalogue that it didn't really matter. Backed by a seven piece band and three female backing singers, Eddie launched into Raise Your Hand and followed up with a song he wrote for Wilson Pickett, 634-5789. Next came the smooth I Never Found a Girl and the funky Big Bird, a song he wrote while waiting at Heathrow Airport to attend Otis Redding's funeral after his death in a plane crash. After the obligatory Dock of the Bay, Eddie finished with his smash hit Knock On Wood. Excellent sixties soul from start to finish.With no let up or interval, the real star of the show Vaneese Thomas quickly launched into Lovey Dovey, a song once recorded by her sister Carla with Otis Redding, followed by the bluesy It's Killing Me. Moving on to the great version of Sugar Pie DeSanto's Soulful Dress, Vaneese slowed things down with One Shining Moment, which she wrote for Diana Ross. Vaneese has a new album of covers of songs made famous by female soul and R & B singers and also an EP with some self penned numbers, including the excellent I Wanna Know, which sounded like a throwback to the sixties. A beautiful rendition of James Carr's Dark End of the Street came next, followed by a rousing version of Nutbush City Limits and the deep soul of A Woman's Love, first recorded by Carla. The set came to a rousing end with Bobby Blue Bland's Further Up The Road, and she was joined on stage by Eddie and Earl Green. Returning for an encore, Vaneese chose her dad's Breakdown, which was a fitting climax to a really good show. I saw Vaneese at Porretta a couple of years ago and wasn't particularly impressed, but her choice of material at the Half Moon put this performance into a different class.

Finally, here's a photo of me with Vaneese.