Saturday, November 26, 2011

Vinyl Obscurities 6: Cassius Clay - Stand By Me

Cassius Clay: Stand By Me/ I Am The Greatest. CBS AAG 190. Released 1964.
Radio 4's Saturday Live today featured quite a lengthy item with Gaz Mayall (of Gaz's Rockin' Blues fame) in praise of this 1964 single released by Cassius Clay (as he then was). He has a US copy and wasn't sure if it was released in the UK. Well it was (see photo), and it's a fairly average cover of what must be one of the most covered songs in history (400 versions to date apparently). The B side is a typical Cassius Clay rant of the era, a style of rap which was picked up by Prince Buster in some of his recordings.
I'm not a great boxing fan, but the Clay/Ali phenomenon was something that you could not overlook at the time. After his knockdown by Henry Cooper and subsequent controversial victory, Clay's career, his poems and his predictions were big news in the UK, as elsewhere. But few people thought he would beat the reigning world champion, the man mountain Sonny Liston. The much anticipated first fight took place after months of insults from Clay and was shown live on British TV - just about the first major US event to be televised live. Clay won after Liston gave up at the start of the 7th round. I remember getting up in the middle of the night to watch the second fight and was rather disappointed when Liston was knocked out in the first round in what looked like a very strange, not to say dishonest, manner. But Clay, who became Mohammed Ali shortly afterwards, proved himself a great champion, as his later fights with Smokin' Joe Frazier and others showed.
Ali wasn't the only boxer to try his hand at the music game of course. Smokin' Joe, who sadly died earlier this month, had quite a good soul voice and performed with his band The Knockouts. Mike Tyson and Larry Holmes are among other heavyweights to have tried their hand at singing. In the UK, the 'Blond Bomber' Billy Walker, who famously lost to Henry Cooper, made a number of singles, including a cover of A Certain Girl. His brother George was mixed up in the London underworld of the time, including involvement with the Kray twins, as was another British boxer Freddie Mills, who hosted Six Five Special and ran a night club before being found dead in his car in 1965.
As an aside, here's a bizarre clip on YouTube of a duet by Ali and Sam Cooke for Harry Carpenter on BBC TV

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Woodies at play

The Woodies were out in force at the Rhythm Riot at the weekend. For those who don't know, the Woodies are a group of roots music enthusiasts who gather at music gigs and have a monthly meet up where much ale and food are consumed. They take their name from Tales From The Woods, a (fairly) regular eclectic newsletter covering a wide range of music and nostalgia which was the brainchild of Keith Woods. Here's the website
The following photos were taken at the Rhythm Riot. The first one shows the godfather of the Woodies, Keith Woods (centre), with Chelsea supporting greengrocer Bill Haynes (left) and Darren Vidler, one of the younger members. Keith has organised a number of live music gigs in and around London, including the annual tribute to the legendary 2Is coffee bar in Soho. The next show takes place at the Borderline in London on January 29 and stars Kingsize Taylor, Garry Mills, Jackie Lynton, Dave Sampson, Cliff Edmunds and The Allisons. Here we have four more Woodies, including (second from left) Ken Major. Ken has organised several Stomping USA trips over the years and was instrumental in getting Jivin' Gene to play at this year's Rhythm Riot. Others are (left to right) Ralph Edwards from Shrewsbury, who has entertained fellow Woodies on his guitar on occasions, Brian 'Bunter' Clarke, drummer with the Tales From The Woods House Band, and John Spencely, ace guitarist with the same group, which often backs up artists at Woodies gigs.

Next we have three long time Woodies: Martyn Harvey, from Hastings; Gordon Fleming, from Kent; and Aussie Alan Lloyd, the Woodies resident IT expert.

On this table (at the Green Owl pub in Camber Sands) we have Ian Sadler (front right) and his American friend Chris, with photographer Paul Harris behind them (left) and Juke Blues's Dickie Tapp (right).

Woodies is now international and there were two New Orleans-based American friends at Rhythm Riot: Jay McCaddin (looking very smart in his naval uniform) and his partner Paula.

The Woodies wouldn't be complete without a couple of genuine Teds, who like to dress up accordingly at rock and roll gigs. Here they are: Lee Wilkinson (left) and Tony Papard.

A regular contributor to Tales From The Woods is John Jolliffe, who writes articles on soul music under the pen name of Soulboy. Here he is in typical pose!

Finally, here are three other Woodie reprobates in the historic town of Rye - left to right, Dave Carroll (Arsenal fan and jazz contributor to Tales From the Woods), Brian Jessup (Sutton United fan) and me, Nick Cobban.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bobbettes & Jivin' Gene shine at Rhythm Riot

The annual Rhythm Riot at the Camber Sands Holiday Camp marks an essential date in the diaries of many UK and European rock and roll fans. They dress in fifties fashions or military uniforms, they jive energetically and they show off their wonderful 1950s American cars. Most of my Woodie friends go every year, but I've never been - until this year. My reasoning has been that the weather is usually cold and the US acts that I want to see are few and far between.
Well this year the weather was great - thank you global warming - and the American acts, few though they were, were pretty good. So I think I made the right decision.
Following my preference for American acts, the first performance that I saw was Jerry Lee's niece, MaryJean Lewis and the Starlight Boys. She lives in Scotland these days so she's almost an honorary Brit, but she retains some Memphis credentials and, like the rest of the family, she's pretty handy on the piano. Her set was quite a varied mix of music, from rockabilly to honky tonk to country and included tracks from her new CD Missin' Memphis such as the title track, Valley of Tears and Lovin' Fever. Other songs included Ruth Brown's Mama You Treat Your Daughter Mean and Daddy Daddy. Whilst not quite up to Uncle Jerry's exalted standards, she's quite a class act and this was a promising start to the festival. After MaryJean, things really hotted up with one of the stars of this year's show - Texan swamp pop king Jivin' Gene. I saw Gene at the Ponderosa Stomp recently and, good though he was, the fact that he was restricted on time meant that he couldn't really show what he's made of. This time he had a full 45 minutes (plus encore) and was able to show that there's a lot more to him than just his 1959 swamp pop hit Breaking Up Is Hard To Do. Surprisingly he didn't perform his other best known record Going Out With The Tide, but his voice was strong on some of his other early recordings including Up Up and Away, My Need For Love and, a real highlight, Lovelight Man. He's got a strong New Orleans feel and performed some Smiley Lewis numbers including One Night and, as an extended encore, Shame Shame Shame and I Hear You Knocking, plus Fats Domino's Poor me and Roy Brown's Let The Four Winds Blow. Definitely one of the real high spots of this year's Rhythm Riot I think.

Next on stage was Big Joe Louis and his Blues Kings. One of the UK's best blues bands, this was a solid set, but there was some rather annoying reverb and Joe's gold lame trousers were rather disconcerting.

Saturday night's opening act for me (after an excellent meal at the Green Owl pub) was a Belgian band featuring Lawen Stark and the Slide Boppers. Something of an Elvis imperonator, Lawen showed that he can whistle, lie on his back while playing his guitar and generally raise a bit of a storm. I liked his 21 Days In Jail and a speeded up version of I Really Don't Want To Know, but I found his voice just a bit dodgy.

The real highlight of the weekend came next - The Bobbettes, whose 1957 hit Mr Lee was one of the earliest smash hits by an R & B girl group. The current line up featuring one (or is it two?) original members is supremely versatile and professional, and featured some great doo-wop and not a little humour (in a James Brown show style way). Starting off with Sam Cooke's Good News, they harmonised beautifully on several of their own numbers including Don't Say Goodnight, Clyde McPhatter's Have Mercy Baby, Look At The Stars (the B Side of Mr Lee), the weirdly entitled Rock and Ree-Ah-Zole, You Are My Sweetheart, Johnny Q, The Dream, Um Bow Bow, Dance With Me Georgie (a reworking of Etta James' Roll With Me Henry) and I Don't Like It Like That (an answer to Chris Kenner's number). They also slipped in James Brown's Try Me, Ray Charles' The Night Time Is The Right Time and the Teen Queens' Eddie My Love, before launching into their big hit Mr Lee and the rather odd follow up I Shot Mr Lee (they got tired of him apparently). These four ladies put on a great show and for me, as someone who hasn't seen them before, it was a real treat. The whole thing was beautifully choreographed, right down to their excellent encore - Old Time Rock and Roll. Here are a couple of photos.

Sunday night's US star was Ray Sharpe, whose 1958 hit Linda Lu is popular with rock and roll and blues fans alike. Wearing what I took to be a Native American smock, Ray seemed unhappy with his guitar strings and perhaps a little out of practice but he was well supported by Big Boy Bloater and the Rhythm Riot Kings of Rhythm. His mostly blues set included the original A side of Linda Lu, Red Sails in the Sunset, the later B side, the Chuck Berry influenced Monkey's Uncle and a later recording Justine, but it didn't really catch fire until his extended version of Linda Lu itself at the end. Ray shows that he has a fair voice (despite a very small mouth) but his guitar playing ranged from the ragged to the excellent. I saw him years ago at the 100 Club, but this time he was not quite up to the standard of that show I thought.

The final act (for me) was Lil' Mo and the Dynaflos, a dynamic, fifties style doo-wop band from Los Angeles with a college boy look. The band features four excellent vocalists, including Lil' Mo himself, and most of their material is their own. Backed up by four instrumentalists, including a lively saxman and an equally proficient guitarist, they really rocked and came across as a cross between Dion and the Belmonts and Danny and the Juniors.

This was a great finish to an enjoyable weekend but will I go again? Maybe, if the line up is good. Not to mention the weather!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Soul B sides

Vinyl Word reader Dave Carroll has been asking some of his soul-loving friends (JJ (alias Soulboy), his brother Rod and myself) to suggest the best soul B sides they can think of. Here are the suggestions so far (and there are some great ones here, with UK labels where known, otherwise US):
Johnny Adams - If I Could See You One More Time (A side: Reconsider Me) Polydor
Oscar Toney Jr. - A Love That Never Grows Cold (A side: Without Love There Is Nothing) Bell
Bunny Sigler - Somebody Free (A side: Keep Smilin') Philadelphia International
Gene McDaniels - Another Tear Falls (A side: Chip Chip) Liberty
Esther Phillips - I Saw Me (A side: Let me Know When It's Over) Atlantic
Freddie North - Are You Thinking Of Him (When You're Loving Me) (A side: Roll Over (Play Like Our Love Ain't Dead)) Mankind
Vernon Garrett - Stranger In My Bed (Tonight) (A side: Johnny Walker Red) Glow Hill
Big John Hamilton - The Train (A side: Big Bad John) Minaret
Bettye Swann - Today I Started Loving You Again (A side: I'd Rather Go Blind) Atlantic
Lady Margo - Stop By (A side: Simply Got To Make It) Cynthia
Arthur Alexander - A shot of rhythm and blues (A side You Better Move On) London
Solomon Burke - Stupidity (A side: Cant Nobody Love You) London
Barbara Hall - Drop My Heart off at the Door (A side: You brought it on yourself) EMI
Barbara Lynn - Unfair (A side: Oh! Baby (We got a good thing Goin') London
Irma Thomas -True True Love (A side: He's My Guy) Liberty
Sam Cooke - A change is gonna come (A side: Shake) RCA
Otis Redding - I've been loving you too long (A side: Respect) Atlantic
Sam and Dave - Wrap it up (A side: I thank you) Stax
Irma Thomas - Wish Someone Would Care (A side: Breakaway) Liberty
Irma Thomas - Time Is On My Side (A side: Anyone Who Knows What Love Is) Liberty

Other suggestions welcome. Incidentally, one of the best music blogs around is Red Kelly's The B Side Well worth a look.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Sad to see that the last major UK-owned record company, EMI, has been split up and sold to Universal Music Group and Sony. Electric and Musical Industries was formed in 1931 with the merger of the Gramophone Company - famous for the iconic His Masters Voice label - and Columbia. Its Abbey Road recording studio became world famous when the Beatles named an LP after it. But it was much more than that.
In my early record collecting years in the sixties EMI and Decca were the predominant record companies, with Pye and Philips/ Fontana less so, and smaller labels such as Oriole of relatively minor importance (except during its Motown distribution period) until the emergence of Polydor and its distribution of Atlantic and Stax records later in the decade. As well as HMV and Columbia, EMI also had its own Parlophone label and between them they brought early American acts such as Elvis, Hank Ballard and Huey Smith to British audiences, as well as launching UK acts. EMI also distributed Capitol, MGM, Mercury and, a little later, launched UK labels for other Amercian record companies such as Liberty, United Artists, Verve and Tamla Motown. After taking over and later closing the independent Top Rank label, it launched Stateside, which rivalled Decca's London label as an outlet for many smaller US labels in the UK. Decca also had RCA, Coral, Brunswick, Vocalion and Warner Brothers among its labels and the two companies went head to head. As the sixties wore on Pye became more important with the distribution of Chess records in the UK and Philips launched CBS as a UK label, bringing with it Dylan and Johnny Cash.
Unlike the US, with its many independent labels, record distribution in the UK was very centralised in those days, and it was only later that indies such as Island and Immediate began to change the scene and this evolved into a rash of independent labels in the 70s and 80s. Now, it seems that the record label itself is on the way out and that downloads are taking over. But as a vinyl collector EMI will always remain important to me. Sad to see it go.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Aaron Neville & Keb Mo at the Barbican

Aaron Neville has the body of a heavyweight boxer but the voice of an angel - a velvet smooth voice that can make even the dullest song sound great. Appropriately wearing a T shirt with angel wings on the back, Aaron performed a rare solo set at the Barbican last night supported by brother Charles on saxophone and an excellent band, which showcased his vocal talent in full. He started with Stand By Me (doesn't everyone?) but moved through a soul medley comprising Cupid, There Goes My Baby and Chain Gang, before launching into an excellent version of Little Willie John's Fever. After the Neville Brothers' Congo Square, Aaron sang a couple of his own hits, namely Everybody Plays The Fool and a lovely rendition of I Don't Know Much, his duet with Linda Ronstadt. He then strayed from his New Orleans roots with the Drifters' Please Stay and Marvin Gaye's What's Going On, before leaving the stage for a mellow instrumental version of Besame Mucho featuring Charles on sax.

Moving on through a couple of Bob Marley numbers (Three Little Birds and Stir It Up), he powered through Bill Withers' Use Me and a couple of other numbers before returning to familiar territory with his 1966 hit Tell It Like It Is, a superb version of Yellow Moon from the Neville Brothers' 1989 album of the same name, and finished with a sweet and perfect version of Amazing Grace.

Aaron is 70 these days but doesn't look or sound it. His voice is as wonderful as ever. I love the Neville Brothers, but Aaron's voice has always been the band's focus and this was an occasion to remember.

Kicking off the bill last night was bluesman Keb Mo - this time with his own band rather than his usual acoustic set. One of the newer bluesmen (despite being 60 years old) he featured the title track from his new album The Reflection and his set was melodic and laid back, but it was perhaps just a little too mainstream and lacking in gutsy rawness. He's a fine guitarist, and his band was first rate, but somehow his set never got going.