Tuesday, August 30, 2011

David 'Honeyboy' Edwards

And then there were none. David 'Honeyboy' Edwards, the last of the pre-war Mississippi bluesmen who played with the legendary Robert Johnson, has died aged 96. His death follows that of Pinetop Perkins earlier this year and that of Robert Lockwood Jr five years ago.

It's amazing to think that Honeyboy was first recorded by Alan Lomax as long ago as 1942, yet received a Grammy for traditional blues as recently as 2008 and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award in 2010. He played with other pre-war blues greats, including Charlie Patton and Johnny Shines, and just about every bluesman since, including Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Little Walter. His last performance was at the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale, Mississippi, in April of this year.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

The first soul record

What was the first soul record? There must be many contenders from the late 50s and early 60s, by artists such as James Brown, Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Little Willie John, Chuck Willis, Clyde McPhatter, Jerry Butler, Solomon Burke and early Motown and Stax artists. The word 'soul' was commonly used in many gospel and jazz songs of the era, but it wasn't applied to soul music as we now know it at the time. Soul was a fusion of rhythm and blues, gospel and doo-wop, and there were certainly records that had what we now call 'soul' in the fifties. But it wasn't called soul.

Craig Charles on his Moments of Soul programme on Radio 2 last night - the start of a soul all-nighter - started his show with Ray Charles's I Gotta Woman, which is considered by some to be the first soul record. But Paul Gambaccini, who is a bit of an expert on such things, nominated Soul Twist by King Curtis (pictured) as the first record that used the word in the way we know it today. This record was followed shortly afterwards by Curtis's Soul Serenade and Sam Cooke's LP Mr Soul, and blossomed into the sixties soul that we know and love. I can't really argue with this, as I can't think of an earlier use of the word in a non-gospel/jazz context. Any offers?

To be fair, Craig had a pretty fair stab at choosing the greatest early soul moments, with Barrett Strong's Money, Shop Around by the Miracles, James Brown's Try Me from Live At The Apollo, and both the Aretha and Otis versions of Respect. He followed up with Sam's Wonderful World, two from Percy Sledge (When A Man Loves A Woman and Out Of Left Field) and then some later funkier stuff such as Ball Of Confusion, Mercy Mercy Me and Superfly. He moved on to the Wigan Casino story with Russ Winstanley. Wonderful soul and great to hear it on mainstream radio. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HjsC4X9J7C8

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Jerry Leiber and Nick Ashford RIP

The world of music is a poorer place today with the deaths of two of the greatest songwriters of the rock era - Jerry Leiber at the age of 78, and Nick Ashford (70).
Jerry Leiber, along with partner Mike Stoller, can claim to be one half of the greatest songwriting team of the rock era, with a string of classic R and B songs going back to the early fifties, including K C Lovin' for Little Willie Littlefield, later renamed Kansas City and a hit for Wilbert Harrison, and Hound Dog, recorded by Big Mama Thornton and turned into a huge smash by Elvis. Other Leiber and Stoller songs recorded by Elvis included King Creole, Loving You, Baby I Don't Care, Don't, Jailhouse Rock, Love Me and She's Not You. Their work for Atlantic records produced literally dozens of songs for the Coasters (Charlie Brown, Poison Ivy, Searchin', Three Cool Cats, Yakety Yak, Young Blood and many others), the Drifters (Ruby Baby, There Goes My Baby, On Broadway), the Robins (Smokey Joe's Cafe, Riot in Cell Block #9), Ruth Brown (Lucky Lips), the Clovers (Love Potion Number 9) and Ben E King (Stand By Me, Spanish Harlem and I Who Have Nothing). Later work for United Artists included She Cried (Jay and the Americans) and Tell Him (The Exciters). In 1965 they formed Red Bird records which issued records by the Shangri-Las, Alvin Robinson and the Dixie Cups. Other songs included Pearl's a Singer for Elkie Brooks, Is That All There Is? for Peggy Lee and Stuck In the Middle With You for Stealers Wheel.http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2011/aug/23/jerry-leiber-dies-78
Nick Ashford was also part of a great songwriting duo with his wife Valerie Simpson. Early hits included One Step At A Time for Maxine Brown and Let's Go Get Stoned for Ray Charles, but their real success as songwriters was at Motown, where they wrote Ain't No Mountain High Enough, You're All I Need To Get By and Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. They also wrote songs for Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and the Marvelettes and, later, for Teddy Pendergrass and Chaka Khan. Both Ashford and Simpson also had success as recording artists, together (Solid as a Rock) and separately.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Are You Sure? It's The Allisons

Fifty years ago an Everly Brothers styled duo called The Allisons came second in the Eurovision Song Contest with Are You Sure? - one of the most tuneful UK entries ever in this annual competition. The record was a smash hit, reaching number one and selling a million copies. But the Allisons proved to be one hit wonders and despite several follow up singles and an LP they could not repeat their success and split up in 1963.

Last night at the Water Rats pub in Kings Cross the Allisons (Brian Alford and Colin Day) performed together again - the first time in well over 20 years by all accounts. Although now in their early seventies their close harmony singing was still effective as they reprised their big hit, along with a couple of Everlies numbers plus Tutti Frutti and Hello Mary Lou. An appreciative crowd gave them a rousing reception, and I must admit it brought back sweet memories of my youth.

The occasion was Tony Annis's 73rd birthday party and The Allisons were just one of a number of UK singers, both old and young, to take the stage. Backed by the excellent Tales From The Woods house band, there was a solid set of largely Elvis numbers by the ever youthful Danny Rivers, an out of tune blast by 'Rockin' Gerry Champion and songs by a couple of friends and family of Tony, including 'Lady Stardust', who performed creditably on the Shirelles' Mama Said and Will You Love Me Tomorrow. John Howard DJ'd the proceedings for what proved to be an enjoyable night, with the undoubted highlight being the return of The Allisons. Here's a YouTube clip of them from the 1961 Eurovision http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACOHWmkGGJU

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Vinyl Obscurities - 5: Ponderosa Stomp

I'm off to the US in a few weeks with three Woodie friends for a road trip which will be taking in the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans, as well as a festival in Springfield, Missouri, and some time in Memphis and Mississippi. As ever, there are loads of well-known and not so well-known soul, R and B and rock and roll artists appearing at the Stomp and it looks like it will be well up to the standard of previous years. As a taster, here are some 45s that I have of a few of the acts, with YouTube links where possible.

1. Warren Storm - Seven Letters/ I Need Somebody Bad. Released 1983 on South Star records, Hendersonville, TN.
This Ben E King song is 'the best song in the world, according to C C Adcock, or so I read on the Ponderosa Stomp blog (http://www.ponderosastomp.com/blog/2011/08/song-of-the-day-seven-letters-by-warren-storm-live-version-with-lil-band-o-gold-original-solo-cut/) Warren's performance of it was certainly one of the highlights of the recent Li'l Band Of Gold gig in London. Worth checking out Ben E King's original and a great ska version by Derrick Morgan if you can. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NiblHM9LUPk
2. Bobby Allen & the Exceptions - Soul Chicken/ I Apologise. Released c1965 on Soul Sound records of Crowley, LA.
Crowley-born Bobby Allen recorded a few records on this Excello subsidiary in the early 60s, including this excellent double sider. Apparently he now performs with Lil Buck Sinegal. I' ve never seen him live, so could be interesting.

3. Carol Fran - Crying In The Chapel/ I'm Gonna Try. Released c1964 on Port records.

I've seen Carol Fran several times in partnership with husband Clarence Holliman, now deceased. Carol's recording career goes back to 1957 when she made her first record for Excello.
This soulful remake of the Orioles song was recorded for Port, a subsidiary of Jubilee. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ox_zLLVGD_g

4. Al Johnson - Carnival Time/ Good Lookin'. Released in 1959 on Ron records of New Orleans.

Al 'Carnival Time' Johnson is one of a handful of original New Orleans R and B artists still performing and this Mardi Gras classic is ubiquitous in the Big Easy at any time of year. It's good to see that Al is still going strong. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ox_zLLVGD_g

5. Big Jay McNeely - There Is Something On Your Mind/ Back..Shack..Track. Released in 1959 on Swingin' records of Hollywood. Vocals by Little Sonny Warner.

Saxman Big Jay McNeely's career goes back to the 1940s when he recorded with Johnny Otis. I've seen and enjoyed Jay's honking sax several times, both in New Orleans (at Jazzfest) and in London. This 1959 hit was recorded shortly afterwards by New Orleans' own Bobby Marchan.
6. Miss Lavell - Everybody's Got Somebody/ The Best Part of Me. Released in 1965 on Vocalion V-P 9236. Mint value: £30.

Miss Lavell (aka Lavelle White) recorded a dozen or so singles for Duke records of Houston, but this was the only one to be issued in the UK. She first recorded in the 1950s and she's been singing ever since - I remember seeing her at the Blues Estafette in Utrecht a few years back.

7. Mack Rice - Love's A Mother Brother/ Coal Man. Released in 1969 on Atlantic 584250. Mint value: £10.

'Sir' Mack Rice was once a member of The Falcons, but is equally well known as a songwriter - of Respect Yourself, Cheaper to Keep Her and, of course, Mustang Sally. He performed at Porretta a few years ago and is one of many genuine musical legends appearing at the Stomp this year. I couldn't find this particular track on YouTube, so here's his all time classic, Mustang Sally. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PPBOXOtBUE0

Friday, August 12, 2011

Vinyl Obscurities - 4

Continuing my occasional series featuring obscure 45s from the 1960s, here are seven that I've picked up at car boot sales over the years - all of them from British or Swedish artists.
1. The Frays - Keep Me Covered/ Walk On. Released on Decca F12153 in 1965. Mint value: £150.
Keep Me Covered was officially the B side of this single (the A side being the Brownie McGhee blues song) but became a much sought after track and is considered a classic 60s mod/freakbeat R and B number. The band is reputed to have included Mike Patto and he is credited as co-writer of Keep Me Covered, but I haven't been able to substantiate this. Patto was a member of the Bo Street Runners and was later involved with Timebox, the eponymous Patto and Spooky Tooth. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BbElLOlb7X0

2. The Snobs - Buckle Shoe Stomp/ Stand And Deliver. Released on Decca F11867 in 1964. Mint value: £20.
This one-off single by the Snobs is a lively 60s beat number recorded live at Medmenham Abbey, home of the infamous 18th century Hellfire Club. The Croydon-based group dressed up in period costume and were a popular live act, but despite massive popularity in Scandinavia and a trip to the US shortly after the Beatles landed this remained their only UK 45 release.

3. The Shanes - I Don't Want Your Love/ New Orleans. Released on Columbia DB7601 in 1965. Mint value: £70.
The Shanes were one of Sweden's top groups of the 60s, with around a dozen 45s released in their own country, but only one in the UK. Named after the Alan Ladd movie of the 50s, their early records were Western styled instrumentals, but this Steffen Berggren composed song is typical 60s style R and B. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukyeXCV6mi8

4. The Tages - Crazy 'Bout My Baby/ In My Dreams. Released on Columbia DB8019 in 1966. Mint value: £15.

This was the first of five 45s released in the UK by this popular Beatles-styled Swedish band, which had a big following in their own country. They released no fewer than five LPs, including an early psychedelic LP called Extra Extra and another, Studio, which was recorded at Abbey Road. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CsVJ_rBFB74
5. The Escorts - From Head To Toe/ Night Time. Released on Columbia DB8061 in 1966. Mint value: £35.

Nowadays a band called the Escorts would either consist of sexy girls or ageing petrolheads, but in the 60s the Escorts were, apparently, voted the ninth most popular band in Liverpool. This was their sixth UK release and the band did a reasonable job on this Smokey Robinson song. Paul McCartney played tambourine by all accounts. After various personnel changes the band split up in 1967. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SDNDAxF9cvw

6. Faron's Flamingos - Do You Love Me/ See If She Cares. Released on Oriole CB 1834 in 1963. Mint value: £25.

This version of the Contours song was the first Motown cover to be released in the UK. But poor promotion meant that success for this popular Liverpool band passed them by, with chart success eventually going to Brian Poole and the Tremeloes' note for note cover of the cover. Faron -dubbed the 'Panda footed prince of prance' by Cavern DJ Bob Wooler - eventually joined the Big Three when the band split up in late 1963. Check out the B side, which is classic Mersey pop. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4yz7rsv-Gs
7. Jackie Lynton - I Believe/ The Girl In The Wood. Released on Piccadilly 7N 35107 in 1963. Mint value: £7.

A few weeks ago I saw the Jackie Lynton band playing at a Surrey pub, and a few days later I came across this 45 - one of a dozen or so singles released by Jackie during the 60s. It's an upbeat version of the song made famous by Frankie Laine in the early 50s.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Way Down South - the Muscle Shoals Story

Interesting programme on Radio 2 last night about the fantastic music that has come out of the small town of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, over the years. Narrated by Craig Charles (who plays the soul music loving taxi driver Lloyd in Coronation Street), the show told the story of how Rick Hall set up FAME (Florence Alabama Music Enterprises) in nearby Florence before establishing the FAME studio in Muscle Shoals in 1962. To a background of great soul sides by the likes of Arthur Alexander (Hall's first big success - pictured), Jimmy Hughes, Percy Sledge and Wilson Pickett, Charles outlined the studio's early successes (all of the above), the deal with Atlantic's Jerry Wexler which really put them on the map, and the problems with Aretha Franklin's husband, Ted White, which led to only one song being recorded in Muscle Shoals, with musicians being called up to New York to complete the session.

Despite losing his first backing band, who decamped to Nashville,and a later split, which saw musicians Barry Beckett, Roger Hawkins, Jimmy Johnson and David Hood set up the rival Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in 1969, Hall continued to have big success throughout the seventies. Sadly, though, by this time the soul movement of the sixties had evaporated and it was to pop acts such as the Osmonds and Tom Jones that Hall turned his attention.

Craig Charles's programme covered the arrival of Duane Allman in Muscle Shoals, Wilson Pickett's Hey Jude session and work for Chess with acts such as Laura Lee, Etta James and Solomon Burke. Other artists to record at Muscle Shoals included Cher, Lulu, the Rolling Stones, Traffic, Jimmy Cliff, Rod Stewart, the Staple Singers and some wonderful tracks by Candi Staton. In the words of Rick Hall it wasn't the money that was important - "The music is what it's all about it."

*** A final word on Marshall Grant, original bass player in Johnny Cash's Tennessee Two, who has died aged 83. Grant played with Cash from 1954 to 1980 until they fell out and also managed the Statler Brothers who had a mid sixties hit with Flowers on the Wall. He died in Jonesboro, Arkansas, attending a Johnny Cash festival aiming to raise money to restore Cash's childhood home. Hopefully I will be passing through Jonesboro on my Stompin' USA 2011 road trip next month, which kicks off in St Louis and takes us through Springfield and Memphis enroute to New Orleans for the Ponderosa Stomp.
A word, too, about country singer Billy Grammer, best known for his 1958 hit Gotta Travel On, who has died aged 85.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Etta James death hoax

Reports today of the death of Etta James are, thankfully, incorrect - despite Wikipedia stating earlier that she had died. The hoax story appeared on a fake version of the celebrity website TMZ and they are now investigating how it happened according to the LA Times http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2011/08/tmz-etta-james.html The story spread rapidly across the web and Twitter and when I checked Wikipedia earlier today it stated that the 73 year old singer had died yesterday. Sadly, Etta is seriously ill with dementia and leukemia and it seems unlikely that we will see her perform again. But at least she is still hanging on.