Monday, February 25, 2013

New Orleans obscurities

I had the good luck today to pick up a batch of classic New Orleans R and B 45s in a charity shop in Reading. How did they get there? Who knows, as they are obscure, to say the least. There are four singles from around 1962 on one of the great N'Awlins labels, Instant, and I've also included a later soul hit in the Memphis style, also picked up at the same time. There are links to the tracks where I've been able to find them
1. Raymond Lewis - Miss Sticks/ Miss Sticks Again. Instant 3233.
I know little about Raymond Lewis (although I believe he was a member of Huey Smith's Clowns) but this is co-written by Allen Toussaint during his Naomi Neville period and the piano backing is pure Toussaint genius, with awesome backing possibly from the Huey Smith group. Absolutely brilliant and well worth a listen. New Orleans R and B at its best.

2. Chick Carbo - Two Tables Away/ What Does It Take. Instant 3254.
Chick Carbo, brother of Chuck, was a member of one of New Orleans' few major vocal groups The Spiders and this is another great double sider written by Allen Toussaint with his distinctive piano style. According to the excellent Red Kelly, Chick's solo recording career was extremely limited and he died in 1998. Why he didn't go on to record more great sides like these I have no idea.
3. Wayman Dixon - It's no fun/ You put love on my mind. Instant 3253.
This one is a slow soulful ballad by a guy with a great voice with some greasy sounding sax backing. I know nothing about him, but again it's classic New Orleans R and B. The B side is equally good, with some Toussaint-sounding piano and some typical N'Awlins style vocal backing.

4. Errol Dee - I love you/ Love or money. Instant 3240.
Another obscurity, this time rather in the style of Clarence Frogman Henry. Like many of the Frogman's songs it's an oldie, first written for a musical Little Jesse James in 1923 by Harry Archer and Harlan Thompson and recorded by Frank Sinatra among others.
5. Bill Coday - Get your lie straight/ You're gonna want me. Galaxy 777.
Finally here's something different - some wonderful soul by Bill Coday, a man who was discovered by Denise Lasalle and who appeared at Porretta in 1998. This was his biggest hit, recorded first for Lasalle's Crajon label, before being picked up by Galaxy, and produced by Willie Mitchell. Bill died in 2008. A brilliant slow scorching B side as well.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Bubblegum rubbish

Around 1969 or 1970 pop music fell over a cliff and became what we popularly know as bubblegum. The charts became full of really crap songs sung by talentless people and the real music - soul, blues, real rock and roll - ceased to have any significant place in the popular imagination, let alone the pop charts. Of course, alongside this bubblegum twaddle was progressive rock, which was not much better and became more and more pretentious and ridiculous. This was the era when my interest in pop music drained away and I lost the will to live music-wise. My interest didn't revive until punk came along at the end of the seventies.
The sheer awfulness of bubblegum came back to me today when I bought an LP at a boot sale and played it later. It's an Australian compilation called 20 Electrifying Hits from 1970 which is made even worse by including several fourth rate Aussie covers of third rate bubblegum hits. I've never heard many of these covers before and wouldn't wish to hear them again. Here are a few of them:
Tighter, Tighter - Alive & Kicking
Burning Bridges - Mike Curb Congregation
This Wheel's on Fire - Flake
Knock Knock Who's There - Liv Maessen
Melanie Makes me Smile - The Strangers
Big Yellow Taxi - The Neighbourhood
Yellow River - Autumn.
Youtube them if you dare (although Aussie readers may care to avoid this car crash of taste), but I think I should point out that most of the original tracks on the album are not much better, including dire records by Bobby Sherman, Eric Burdon and War, Shocking Blue, the Idle Race, Blood Sweat and Tears, Melanie, the New Seekers and Vanity Fare.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Magic Slim

Magic Slim, one of the last of the Mississippi bluesmen to make his name in Chicago in the 60s, has died in Phildelphia aged 75. Born Morris Holt in Torrence, Mississippi, he first went to Chicago in 1955 to play with his friend Magic Sam, who gave him his stage name. He recorded his first single Scuffin' in 1966 and formed the Teardrops with his brothers Nick and Douglas. His initial album, Born Under A Bad Sign, was the first of over 30 released over the years on the Alligator, Rooster Blues, Wolf and Blind Pig labels, which resulted in him winning six W C Handy Awards for Best Blues Band. His final album, Bad Boy, was released on Blind Pig in 2012. Slim and the Teardrops were regular visitors to blues festivals in the US and Europe.
A final word, too, for Kevin Ayers, aged 68, founder of late sixties prog rock band Soft Machine, who left the band early in his career and made a number of LPs during the 70s before exiling himself to the South of France where he lived until his death. There's an interesting interview with him here:
Also news through today (February 22) of the death of Cleotha Staples, eldest sibling of the Staple Singers, aged 78.,0,3210098.column

Monday, February 18, 2013

British Rock and Roll Reunion

Less than a month since watching a group of ageing British rock and rollers perform at the Borderline, I was at it again last night - this time at the Rock and Roll Reunion in the expansive and plush surroundings of the Lakeside Country Club in Frimley Green, Surrey. I blame John Spencely, who this time was a punter rather than a performer. I'm no great lover of the home grown variety of what is essentially American music and I've seen most of the acts before, so I didn't go with any great hopes, and these low hopes proved to be well founded in many respects. There were seven acts on the bill but the worst of them, the venerable Wee Willie Harris, spoilt the show for the last three acts by performing an over-long karaoke act comprising no fewer than 13 numbers to a backing track. His set went on and on and as a result shortened the time available for the rest and, to be fair, the best.
First on, backed by the five piece Lord Rockingham Band, was Russ Sainty, who recorded quite a few non-hits in the early sixties. He said that he had been booked by Lakeside club owner Bob Potter in 1961 and was promised a return date - and true to his word he was back 52 years later! He ran through some rather tame versions of Do You Wanna Dance, Viva Las Vegas, Party, Donna, Wear My Ring Around Your Neck, Personality and Can't Help Falling in Love, before finishing with his best original single Race With The Devil. A middle of the road start to the evening overall, and not particularly promising.
Russ Sainty

Next on was Jackie Lynton from nearby Guildford, a man who still plays local pubs and who appeared at the 2 Is show last year. His was a short but amusing set comprising Old Time Rock and Roll, Lawdy Miss Clawdy, Hi Heel Sneakers, Reelin' and Rockin' and Rock And Roll Whisky Blues.
Jackie Lynton
The third act was Jess Conrad who in his day (the early sixties) was regarded as the English Fabian, as he was a good looking lad who couldn't sing very well. He's still much the same today, looking a good deal younger than his years and anything but modest about it. His set comprised much preening and big headed showing off, with a few mostly middle of the road numbers thrown in - Johnny B Goode, Teenager In Love, Daydream Believer, Halfway To Paradise, It's Only Make Believe and Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On. I found his act rather boring, but not as boring as the MC for the evening, sixties veteran Keith Powell, who has clearly failed to find his vocation.
Jess Conrad
The second half began with Wee Willie's karaoke act and the show didn't really get going until the arrival of Mike Berry, this time playing with his band the Outlaws, including bass player Alan Jones, who formerly played with the likes of Cliff Richard and Tom Jones. Mike was on top form again, just as he was at the Borderline, and I really enjoyed his Buddy Holly style singing. His set opened with It's Late and included It's So Easy, High School Confidential, Bobby Vee's More Than I Can Say, Only The Lonely, the instrumental Apache, Living Doll, Move it, his two biggest hits Tribute To Buddy Holly and Don't You Think It's Time, That'll Be The Day and Walk Right Back. Excellent stuff.
Mike Berry
Another performer from the 2 Is show was next - Cliff Bennett, this time playing a with a bunch of Rebel Rousers including saxmen Sid Phillips and Tony Hall (pictured with him below). He started well with Turn On Your Lovelight and Slow Down, but shortness of time and an increasingly raspy voice meant that he only performed five numbers, including Good Golly Miss Molly and his 1964 hit One Way Love, and ending with his biggest hit Got To Get You Into My Life.
The final act, and another one limited by time was boogie woogie piano player Roy Young, who again showed why he was known as the English Little Richard with rousing versions of Dizzy Miss Lizzie, I'm Ready, Blue Monday, Mess Around, I Can't Believe You Wanna Leave, Ready Teddy and Lucille.
Overall a decent show, with a couple of high points and some fairly low ones, but I don't think Keith Woods, promoter of the Borderline shows, has much to worry about. The atmosphere in this huge venue was non-existent, despite the best efforts of the artists. Maybe they should stick to darts there.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Tony Sheridan RIP and more

One of the stars of the 2 Is show at the 100 Club in 2010, Tony Sheridan, has died aged 72. Originally from Norwich, Tony appeared regularly at the Soho coffee bar in the early days of rock and roll before appearing on Oh Boy! and backing the likes of Conway Twitty, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran on their UK tours. His real fame, though, grew in Hamburg where he fronted a young Liverpool band called The Beatles, with whom he recorded a number of tracks for Polydor, including My Bonnie and Ain't She Sweet. Mint original copies of My Bonnie go for big money today. Later he moved towards jazz and blues and continued to live in Germany until his death.
The Vinyl Word reported his performance at the 2010 2 Is show as follows: 'Strangest act of the night was Tony Sheridan, once associated with The Beatles in their Hamburg days. His set was an odd mixture of rock and roll (Skinny Minnie), R and B (What'd I Say), heavy-ish rock (It's All Right Now), country (Detroit City) and the Beatles (Yesterday). Probably not what the rock and roll fans were expecting, but interesting in its own way.'
Another recent death is that of George 'Shadow' Morton, (72), best known for writing and producing the Shangri-Las records for Red Bird records. Later he discovered the Vanilla Fudge and produced their first three albums and also worked with Iron Butterfly.
Brief final words too for a number of blues artists who have died recently:
Zydeco singer and guitarist Roscoe Chenier, a cousin of Clifton Chenier, who appeared regularly at the Blues Estafette in Utrecht, the North Sea Jazz Jazz Festival and the New Orleans Jazz Fest;
Blues singer, pianist and guitarist Ann Rabson, a member of Saffire - The Uppity Blues Women. She also recorded a solo album 'Music Makin' Mama', and an album of duets with Bob Margolin;
Harmonica player Chicago Bob Nelson, who played with bluesmen such as Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters and who formed the Heart Fixers with guitarist Tinsley Ellis in 1981.
Thanks to Dave Carroll for alerting me to the last three deaths.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Betty Wright in Islington

Just seven months after she stormed her way through a two hour set at the Jazz Cafe, Betty Wright was back in London last night, this time before a full house at the Islington Assembly Hall. It was another high energy set, with a mix of well known and not so familiar songs, and she bounded around the stage singing at full voice, occasionally emitting a high pitched squeal, with fine backing from her band and backing singers. The Afro hair-do we saw last time was replaced by long braids and this time she wore a spangly green top. The audience comprised a high proportion of black females who clearly loved her full-on 'women in charge' approach and knew her records by heart. Betty responded with a classy and hugely enjoyable set.
I'm not sure of the name of her first, eighties style soul number, (maybe someone can let me know), but she moved on to the disco flavoured Sinderella and then to one of the crowd favourites, After The Pain. Next was her up tempo early seventies hit Secretary (a number she didn't sing last time), followed by the slower Thank You For The Many Things You Do, her big New Orleans style hit Shoorah Shoorah and Keep Love New, a hit for her in the eighties. An extended 15 minute version of Tonight Is The Night followed - to the delight of women in the audience, with some mid-song rapping, excursions into I'll Take You There and even a bit of on-stage drumming, before moving on to her classic Clean Up Woman, which once again went down a storm. Finally it was another crowd favourite No Pain No Gain and then what seemed to be an impromptu encore of Smother Me With Your Love.
Betty has been around for 47 years and it's a mark of how successful she has been over the years that most of the audience weren't even born when her career started. Last night's show was sold out and she is scheduled to appear again tomorrow. She's welcome in London any time.

Here's Betty's excellent backing group, comprising two of her daughters and one 'adopted' daughter, she said.
Support act last night was a young British singer Natasha Watts who has a new single out next week called Born To Be A Star. I didn't see much of her but she could be one to watch.


Friday, February 15, 2013

Tony Wilkinson RIP

Very sad to hear the news that Tony Wilkinson has died. Tony was a true gentleman and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the music that we love.  Who better than his life-long friend John Howard to remember Tony.

WHEN it was announced that the last 150 surviving rock’n’roll acts from the fifties would be appearing on the same bill in the obscure Wisconsin town of Green Bay, most fans thought it was pie in the sky. Not Tony Wilkinson. Off he went, had the week of his life, and then had the good grace not to gloat too much to those who missed the opportunity.

Obviously, when that same show was repeated twice more, I joined him, as I had at Hemsby, the Rhythm Riot, and many other concerts and festivals over the years.

He won’t be going to any of them, ever again. Tony Wilkinson passed away on Thursday February 14 after an 18 month battle with cancer. His daughter Tracey Lee was with him.

I had known Tony since I was six, and we used to swap comics. We went to the same junior and senior schools, and even the same cub scouts.

When rock’n’roll erupted, we used to meet every Sunday morning to play our new releases to one another. Later, when we were old enough, we did the same, and then went to the pub.

The night after he met future wife Pam, he invited her to join us for a drink, to introduce me to her. I think he knew immediately she was the one for him.

He only had one job, and one employer. He was the longest serving employee they had ever had in their 100 year history, and they prized him for his loyalty. As did his friends.

When it was announced in 1962 that his all-time favourite Jerry Lee Lewis was returning to the UK, he organised the trip to Norwich to see him. We actually met the man for the first time.

Travelling in his Dad’s Ford Anglia, we also saw James Brown, Sam Cooke, Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Chuck Berry and almost every

Back home in Southend, it was Tony who supplied the records that made The Shades club jukebox a Mecca for rock’n’roll fans, and gave resident group The Paramounts with half their setlist.

This interest in fifties rock’n’roll never left him. The last book I read, Sheree Homer’s biography of Rick Nelson, he is mentioned in the credits for supplying information.

The last record I bought, Rockin’ Rhythm’n’Blues from Memphis on the Stompertime label, had his well-researched and well-written sleeve notes.

He was an oracle so far as fifties music was concerned, and never let up on his record and CD buying. When he moved back to Southend after 18 years working in the north, he would not transfer his record collection until iron bars had been put on the windows of his music room.

He was always prepared to share his wealth of knowledge, and his informed reviews appeared in specialist magazines including Now Dig This and UK Rock. He was the UK representative of Sweden’s American Music Magazine and a contributor to the Shakin’ All Over internet newsgroup.

Many of the rock’n’roll pioneers became friends, particularly Hayden Thompson, the Mississippi native who recorded at Sun Studios, and Tony and Hayden chatted almost weekly.

Tony was a regular visitor to the United States, and attended the annual doo-wop convention in Long Island for five straight years, and was at this year’s Rockers’ Reunion in Reading, and only weeks ago at the 2is Reunion at London’s Borderline, organised by The Woodies, a loose-knit social group he had helped to found.

Colinda, his second daughter, was a Down’s Syndrome baby, and she and Tony were particularly attached, and he encouraged her CD buying and knew her tastes precisely. He led her by the hand, literally and figuratively.

His other daughter Tracey made him a grandfather with her husband Tom, and they have two boys, Marcus and Rory.

I was with him on the afternoon he passed on, and I had planned to give him  a new EP he wanted today by The Trashmen with Deke Dickerson. Sadly, he will now never hear it.

Tony was 69 and the best friend I could ever hope to have.

John Howard


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Frank Kelly & the Hunters

Today's obscure charity shop find was this one by sixties Portsmouth band Frank Kelly and the Hunters. No connection with Dave Sampson's Hunters (so far as I know), the band were originally known as the Crestas and had four singles released on the Fontana label, including I Saw Linda Yesterday, a cover of the Dickey Lee song, which itself is a bit of a rip off of Runaround Sue.  Frank is second from the left in the photo.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

More photos from the Borderline

Here are some more pictures taken at the 2 Is show at the Borderline recently.
First, here's Beryl Marsden and the Tales From The Woods house band.
This is the MC for the night - Rockin' Ricky Stevens, who also sang three numbers. Keyboard player Claire Hamlin is in the background.
Next, here's Wee Willie with his trademark logo on the back of his jacket.
Here is Vince Eager with members of his band, the Memphis Tones.
This is Mike Berry with the House Band.
Finally here's Cliff Bennett with sax men Alex Bland and Sid Phillips.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Shortest and longest singles

One of my favourite TV programmes is Pointless, the quiz where contestants have to demonstrate their obscure knowledge in order to win. One topic today was short records - singles that lasted less than two minutes or so. Among them were two which were 'pointless' - in other words records for which none of the 100 people sampled were able to name the artists. These were Some Kinda Earthquake by Duane Eddy and Stay by Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs. Both
are around one minute 30 seconds in length and must be contenders for the title of shortest 45s of the time, but it made me realise just how forgotten most of the singles of the late 50's and early 60's are today. They were both great records, and quite big hits of their day, but are now almost totally forgotten. The same applies to the majority of other records of that era, whether hits or, even more so, misses.
Many of the classics 45s by Little Richard, Elvis, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis were around two minutes in length - indeed Party by Elvis was one of the very shortest - and they were perfect, proving that more does not necesssarily mean better. Their length was limited by the demands of radio stations which wanted a fast turn over. But which is the shortest 45 ever (from the 50s and 60s era)? I'm not sure but would be interested in suggestions. Later, of course, 45s increased in length, although many of the longer LP tracks were reduced for single release (Light My Fire by The Doors, for example). The longest 60's single that I've come across is I Keep Singing That Same Old Somg, recorded by Heavy Jelly for the Island label in 1969, which ran to nearly eight minutes. Is there a longer pre-1970 45 I wonder? Suggestions welcome.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Cecil Womack and Reg Presley RIP

Cecil Womack, brother of Bobby, has died aged 65. He was soul royalty: a member of the Valentinos, discovered by Sam Cooke when he and his brothers Bobby, Harry, Friendly and Curtis were a gospel group, who recorded the original of It's All Over Now; the husband of Motown star Mary Wells; and then of Linda Cooke, the daughter of Sam Cooke, with whom he recorded as Womack and Womack (pictured). Cecil's brother Bobby had married Sam's widow Barbara Campbell. As a songwriter Cecil wrote Love TKO for Teddy Pendergrass and I Just Want To Satisfy You for the O'Jays. With Linda he had hits with Love Wars and Teardrops before moving to Nigeria and discovering his African roots, changing his name to Zekuumba Zekkariyas. A sad loss.  Here's his obit in the Telegraph.
Also grabbing the headlines today was the death from lung cancer of Reg Presley, aged 71, lead singer of The Troggs, from Andover, whose 60s hits included the wonderful Wild Thing, as well as With A Girl Like You, I Can't Control Myself, Any Way That You Want Me, Give It To Me and the huge 90s Wet Wet Wet hit Love Is All Around.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Vinyl Obscurities - Doowop finds

I've come across a few excellent doowop 45s in recent days - at car boots and in charity shops - which I thought might be worth a mention. Check out the Youtube clips.
1. The Accents - Wiggle Wiggle/ Dreamin' and Schemin'. Released in 1958 on Coral Q 72351.
The Accents were a black doowop group from LA who had just one 45 release in the UK. Written by group member Robert Draper it's a fairly obvious take on Thurston Harris's Little Bitty Pretty One, but a good one. The record came out when 'sack' dresses were in style and the lyrics suggest girls don't have to be pretty or wear fine clothes - just 'wiggle' in their sack dress. B side is a run of the mill slow doowop number.
2. Nino and the Ebbtides - Lovin' Time/ Stamps, Baby, Stamps. Released in 1962 on Mr Peacock MP 117.
Nino and the Ebbtides, from the Bronx, made a number of records before having a hit with Those Oldies But Goodies, which battled against a rival version by Little Caesar and the Romans. This later 45 is a great double sider for the short-lived Mr Peacock label set up by Larry Utall, who later changed its name to Mr Peeke after objections from Houston-based Peacock records.. Apparently the guys passed up the opportunity of recording The Wanderer before Ernie Maresca offered the song to Dion. They broke up in 1965. This little known (to me at any rate) 45 is an absolute gem - give both sides a listen.
3. The El Capris - Ivy League Clean/ They're Always Laughing At Me. Released on Paris 525.
This is another cracking doowop 45 recorded by a group which started out in Pittburgh in 1954, Despite several records, and having written (Shimmy Shimmy) Ko Ko Bop, a later hit for Little Anthony and the Imperials, they failed to make much of an impact and this excellent double sider also had little success.

Friday, February 01, 2013

January music deaths

There have been a few (mercifully few) music deaths since the New Year. Here are the main ones of note:
Patty Andrews, who has died aged 94, was the youngest and last of the Andrews Sisters, who sold around 100 million records and had a long run of hits from the late 1930s through to the '50s, including Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, Rum and Coca Cola, Don't Fence Me In, I Can Dream Can't I? and Apple Blossom Time.
Patti Page (pictured), who died on January 1, was another huge recording artist of the 1950s selling some 100 million records. Her hits included Tennessee Waltz, Mockin' Bird Hill and How Much Is That Doggie In the Window. She was 85.
Blues singer Precious Bryant was 71 when she died but didn't release her first album, Fool Me Good, until 2002. The album was nominated for two Blues Music Awards.
Bob Engemann, aged 76, was a member of the Lettermen, a smooth harmony group who had major hits in the early sixties on Capitol with The Way You Look Tonight, When I Fall In Love and How Is Julie.
Lee 'Sugarfoot' Bonner, who was 69, was for many years the front man of the Ohio Players whose albums, often with striking cover photos, included Pain, Pleasure, Ecstasy, Skin Tight, Fire and Honey (pictured above).