Monday, April 29, 2013

US road trip: Montgomery to Biloxi

After the excitement of Gip's Place we've had a quieter couple of days travelling through Alabama and arriving in Biloxi on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for the night. We drove down from Bessemer on quiet back roads, looking in thrift shops and flea markets for records from time to time. I struck lucky in one shop in Prattville near Montgomery where I found some rare UK singles among the US ones, including two by the Crests.
Montgomery on a Sunday is a quiet place but after lunch in the Railroad bar we went round the Hank Williams museum where I bought an original Marvin Rainwater LP. From there we went to his very grand grave to pay our respects to Hank. We checked in to the Days Inn in Prattville and after a meal found the Pratt Pub where we had several drinks. John has been carrying around a large box of wine which has kept him happy so far. We passed the time quizzing each other on European and African countries and God knows what else besides until tiredness and booze got the better of us.
Next morning we visited the Civil Rights Centre and Memorial in Montgomery which I found very moving in an under stated way. Since then we have driven down to the Gulf Coast where we are at last feeling the warmth of the sun. We've checked into a Super 8 motel and have been sitting by the pool. Tonight we will see what Biloxi has to offer on a Monday night - not much I suspect - and then it's off to New Orleans in the morning.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

US road trip: Gip's Place

There are very few genuine black juke joints remaining in the Southern states but Gip's Place, in Bessemer, Alabama, is definitely one of them. It's a small shack with an outdoor area and is hard to find, but well worth the effort, as we discovered last ni9ght. Gip Gipson, believed to be anywhere between 80 and 100, has been running the place since 1952 and showed that he is no mean bluesman himself. There's no booze on sale so we brought our own and arrived just in time to grab four of the best seats. The place was packed with a mixture of black and white locals, some of whom were no doubt attracted by the fact that a film crew was there making a documentary.
Gip was a genial host, smartly dressed in a gold and white shirt and he and two other guys played guitar and sang some gentle blues while the main band - the Chris Simmons Royal Blues Band - was setting up and during the interval later. After prayers (first time that's happened at a gig that I've been to) they got into their stride with a mixture of heavy blues and rock flavoured numbers, quite a few of which were written by the band members. Chris Simmons, a former member of Leon Russell's band, is an excellent guitarist and three of the band have pretty good voices, but the great thing about the night was the ambience of the place, with its Christmas decorations, pictures on the wall and fantastic Southern hospitality. When the locals discovered we were from England they made quite a fuss of us - clearly they don't get too many visitors from outside the area.
I've been to several juke joints in the past - Teddy's in Zachary, near Baton Rouge, Wild Bill's in Memphis and Red's in Clarksdale - but Gip's just about tops the lot of them This was really a night to remember. Long may Gip and his Place survive. Check out my photos in a week or two.
Nick Cobban.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

US road trip: Nashville to Muscle Shoals

Things have been looking up since the problems at the start of our trip. On our second full day in Nashville we drove out to the Grand Ole Opry and had a look round, as well as popping into Willie Nelson's store and the Dukes of Hazzard museum nearby. From there we went to the historic town of Franklin looking for records. Lots of sunshine but as cold as England had been before we left.
In the evening we went to the Ryman Auditorium for the weekly Opry Country Classics concert which is broadcast live on radio. It's a quaint and rather archaic show, with regular adverts for the various sponsors spoken at regular intervals. The host Larry Gatlin was quite amusing but performed some corny gospel as well as a few country numbers. First act was a young singer Craig Campbell who sang a couple of songs, followed by Jan Howard, who has been appearing on the show since 1960 and sang one number. Things livened up somewhat with Mark Collie, who was more in the rockabilly mould and did a couple of Johnny Cash numbers. After the break it was the turn of an attractive young artist called Sarah Garland who sang a couple of Patsy Cline songs and duetted rather uncertainly with Larry Gatlin on one song. Finishing off the show with his nine piece Western Swing band was 81 year old Mel Tillis, the man who wrote Detroit City, whose set included Don't You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me, an instrumental Orange Blossom Special and finally I Believe In You. The news had come through during the day that George Jones had died: we had been considering going to see him in Huntsville where he was scheduled to appear two days later. After the show we went to Legends again where an energetic female singer was fronting a band called the Beckkettes.
Next morning it was south from Nashville to Muscle Shoals which has produced some of the greatest records of the last 50 years at three separate studios. We headed to Fame, which has been owned and run by Rick Hall throughout that time and where artists such as Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Jimmy Hughes and Percy Sledge made many of their classic tracks.We arrived just in time to join a studio tour hosted by studio manager John Gifford, who gave an illuminating and interesting talk about the studio's colourful history and the many artists who have recorded there. From there we went to the Muscle Shoals studio on Jackson Highway, which was closed, and to the Alabama Music Hall Of Fame, who was also closed due to lack of funding. In the evening we had a Southern fried chicken dinner at Champy's, where a blues band was playing, and finished off with drinks in the Swampers Bar at the plush Marriott Shoals hotel, where there are many photos of musicians from the sixties and seventies.
Today we've made our way to Bessemer, near Birmingham, stopping off for a delicious southern style meal in a restaurant on the way and at a thrift store where I picked up 16 excellent 45s for 59 cents each. More soon!
Nick Cobban.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

US road trip 2013: Nashville

The 2013 US road trip is up and running with four of us travelling from Nashville and down to the deep south. But it didn't get off to an auspicious start. Three of the four - John Howard, Alan Lloyd and me - set off from Heathrow, changing planes in Washington. But halfway into our connecting flight the plane was ordered back to Dulles airport because of a problem with pressure in the cabin. Fortunately another plane was available so we were only delayed by a couple of hours. We were due to meet the fourth member of our group, Lee Wilkinson, in Nashville but when we got to the hotel (the Knights Inn)  the desk clerk said he hadn't arrived and there was no answer on Lee's phone when we tried to call him. We killed time by having a hot dog and an English beer in a bar in Printer's Alley and returned to the hotel. The desk clerk refused to let us use the rooms that Lee had booked and the inevitable row ensued, resulting in the three of us being escorted from the premises by an armed security guard. So, at 1am, with no sign of Lee still, we had to find another hotel, eventually getting a suite at Comfort Inn.
Next morning we went back to the Knights Inn to find that Lee had been there all the time.He had been let down by Virgin which meant that his phone wasn't working. The desk clerk had simply lied to us. To great relief, and in pouring rain, we began our trip properly, visiting the Country Music Hall of Fame, which I must say is very comprehensive and interesting - if you're keen on country music that is, which generally speaking I'm not. As part of this visit we had a ride a to RCA Studio B, which I found a lot more interesting. This is where Elvis recorded many of his hits, along with Roy Orbison, the Everly Brothers, Don Gibson and a host of other acts. They claim 1000 top ten hits between 1957 and 1977 when it officially closed. We had lunch in Roberts bar on Broadway where there was a competent singer named Clay Canfield and then went for a hunt for records at thrift stores and record shops. In the evening we went into town for a few drinks and a meal at the Rock Bottom brewhouse, where John, at the age of nearly 68, was nearly refused admission because he didn't have photo ID. Later, we had some more drinks at Legends, a bar with hundreds of LP covers and posters on the wall.
Today the rain has stopped, the sun is shining and we're ready to resume our trip. I'll be putting some photos on later on.
Nick Cobban.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Eighth Rock Heritage Show remembers the Star Club

Rock and roll will never die! That's the thinking behind the series of British Rock and Roll Heritage Shows which Keith Woods has organised over the last few years and which reached its eighth outing at the Borderline in London last night with some old favourites and a couple of more obscure acts. This time the show celebrated those artists who played the Star Club in Hamburg during the early sixties and quite a few of them hailed from the Liverpool beat scene. Once again the acts enjoyed fantastic backing from the Tales From The Woods House Band, with John Spencely on lead guitar, Claire Hamlin on keyboards, Brian 'Bunter' Clark on drums and Robb Davis on bass, augmented this time by two, rather than just one, great sax players - Alex Bland and Sid Phillips.
The show got off to a rousing start with Bobby Thompson, a former member of Cliff Bennett's Rebel Rousers and Kingsize Taylor's Dominoes, whose powerful voice had a distinct Fats Domino feel to it and was excellent on several of the Fat Man's numbers including Let The Four Winds Blow, Wait and See and I'm Walkin', with some very genuine sounding Herb Hardesty-flavoured saxophone backing from Alex and Sid. He kicked off with Memphis and his set also included Sweet Little Little Rock and Roller from the Chuck Berry songbook, Party Doll, Don't Be Cruel, Wine Spo-dee-oh-dee and My Toot Toot. A really top notch start to the evening, with the band showing just how good they are.
Next act was another Liverpudlian and another man who played the Star Club - Karl Terry, once lead singer of The Cruisers. Karl may not possess a great voice, but he made up for this with a manic act which included Freddie-style leaps, hand actions and a huge smile throughout. Songs included Shake Rattle and Roll, But I Do, Hallelujah I Love Her so, Such A Night, You Never Can Tell (with Pulp Fiction-styled actions), Jeannie Jeannie Jeannie, Margie, the self-penned Cigarettes Cold Beer and Sexy Ladies, Bobby Rydell's Wild One, Baby I Don't Care and, as an encore, High School Confidential. Karl doesn't take himself too seriously and his act was a hoot from beginning to end, once again with great backing from the band, including drummer 'Bunter' - the 'lump with the thump' to quote Karl!
Next act was a big performer in every sense - Kingsize Taylor, a man who was so successful at the Star Club that he made Hamburg his home and who appeared at one of the earlier Tales From The Woods shows. He still retains a big voice and rocked through a number of high tempo Chuck Berry numbers, despite admitting that he didn't like Chuck personally. He kicked off with Watch Your Step and Dizzy Miss Lizzie but then launched into Nadine and Sweet Little Sixteen, before inviting fellow Liverpudlian Beryl Marsden, one of the stars of the last show back in January, for a duet on High Heel Sneakers. Then it was back to Chuck with Let It Rock, followed by one of his bigger records back in the day, Solomon Burke's Stupidity, Bony Moronie and finally You Can't Sit Down. A good set, and one which got the less than a full house audience going.

Here's Kingsize Taylor on stage with Beryl Marsden.
Penultimate act on the night was the Incredible Roy Young, also a star of an earlier show, who for my money was the best act of the night. He seemed to be really enjoying himself as he showed off his great boogie woogie piano skills and Little Richard style voice on Slow Down, I'm Ready, Mess Around, Blue Monday, Jambalaya, My Bonnie (a tribute to Tony Sheridan, who died recently, with much audience participation), Can't Believe You Wanna Leave, his own song Big Fat Mama, Blueberry Hill/Ain't That A Shame, I Saw Her Standing There and, finally, Ready Teddy. Once again the band coped brilliantly. Picture also shows Brian 'Bunter' Clark on drums.

Finishing the show and therefore presumably considered the biggest star, was Chas Hodges, another piano thumper, although without Roy Young's brilliance of touch. A former member of the Outlaws, he began as a bass player but after playing with Jerry Lee Lewis he turned to the piano, he said. He began with a rather pedestrian Roll Over Beethoven and then moved through a couple of Jerry Lee numbers - You Win Again and Breathless. By this time I was tiring and less than overwhelmed by Chas - his cockney sparrow persona is an acquired taste, I think, and one that I've never acquired - so I headed for home, thus missing the finale with all the acts on stage together.
But overall this was another excellent show which really rocked.
Here are the two excellent sax men - Alex Bland and Sid Phillips - with Claire Hamlin (left).
Wearing his customary hat, in the audience, here is show promoter Keith Woods with (left) Shaky Lee Wilkinson, the MC for the evening. I'm off to the States tomorrow with Lee, DJ for the night John Howard and TFTW committee member Alan Lloyd, for what promises to be an enjoyable road trip with loads of music.
And finally, here's John Spencely, the man who makes the House Band rock with his great guitar work.
Words and photos by Nick Cobban.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

More classic vinyl obscurities

Here's another batch of collectable singles - part of a collection I bought yesterday, most of which are in excellent condition. I have been stalking the owner for about six months and at last got the chance to go through her records, which have been in her garage since ths sixties. She says she has some interesting LPs as well, but I haven't seen them yet, so I live in hope.
1. Lavern Baker - Jim Dandy/ Tra La La. Released in 1957. Mint value: £350.
All of Lavern's Atlantic singles issued in the UK are highly collectable, especially the two that came out on Columbia, so this was a fantastic find. One of her all time classic recordings of course, with a great B side as well, from the film Rock Rock Rock.
2. Little Luther - Eenie Meenie Minie Mo/ Twirl. Released in 1964. Mint value: £70.
This is one the more obscure Chess/Checker releases on Pye International and it's by Luther 'Snake Boy' Johnson, who backed Elmore James before his death and later played with Muddy Waters. He died in 1976. Another excellent double sider.

3. The Bobettes - I Shot Mr Lee/ Billy. Released in 1960. Mint value £40
The Bobbettes (with two Bs) had a huge hit with Mr Lee on Atlantic, but the label refused to issue this rather more controversial follow up, so they re-recorded it for the small Triple X label, forcing Atlantic to change their minds. It's very much in the Mr Lee mould ie brilliant. The Bobbettes were great when they appeared at Rhythm Riot in 2011.

4. The Admirals - The Promised Land/ Palisades Park. Released in 1965. Mint value: £25.
The Admirals were a Manchester group who appear only to have released one record (despite what the Rare Record Guide says) - a typical 60s beat song written by group member Phillip Smith. B side is a cover of the Freddy Cannon hit.
5. The Renegades - Cadillac/ Every Minute Of The Day. Released in 1965. Mint value: £30.
Although originally from Birmingham, The Renegades had their greatest success in Finland and this excellent cover of Vince Taylor's Brand New Cadillac (despite the writing credits) was recorded for a Scandinavian label. The band apparently wore US Civil War uniform on stage but broke up in 1966.
6. Bobby Rio & the Revelles - Value For Love/ I'm Not Made Of Clay. Mint value: £50.
I don't know much about this group apart from the fact that they were from Essex (maybe one of my friends there can add some info) and recorded a number of singles for Pye which were produced by Joe Meek, as this one was.
7. The Kinks - Long Tall Sally/ I Took My Baby Home. Released in 1964. Mint value £120.
This Little Richard cover was the first single by the Kinks and failed to make the charts, making it highly collectable today. It's a laid back version of the number and quite likeable in its own way.
8. The Koobas - You'd Better Make Up Your Mind/ A Place I Know. Released in 1966. Mint value: £60.
The Koobas were a Liverpool group who could have been another Beatles but never quite made it. They were signed to a contract by Brian Epstein and played the Star Club in Hamburg but despite half a dozen singles (this was their second) and a highly collectable psychedelic LP they didn't have a hit and broke up in 1969.

9. The Butterflys - Good Night Baby/ The Swim. Released in 1964. Mint value: £25.
Great girl group double sider from the pen of Jeffy Barry, Ellie Greenwich and Steve Venet.
10. Prince Buster - Blue Beat Spirit/ Beggars Are No Choosers. Released in 1964. Mint value: £35.
This is one of literally dozens of fine ska records released by Prince Buster during the sixties.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Another soul man passes on

George Jackson, one of the key figures in the development of southern soul, has died of cancer at the age of 68. Born in Indianola, Mississippi, he was discovered by Ike Turner, who took him to New Orleans where he cut Won't Nobody Cha-cha With Me, an answer to Sam Cooke's Everybody Loves
to Cha-cha hit, at Cosimo Matassa's studio. From there George went to Memphis where he recorded the more typical There Goes My Pride which was released on Dot. Due to contract issues he recorded material under the name of Louie Palmer and also had a single released under the name of George and Greer on Goldwax after he set up a record label, Gre-Jac, with Dan Greer. George next went to Hi and also had a soul single released on the Public label but it was a song writer that he had the most success, writing songs for Goldwax and then Rick Hall at Fame, where he wrote songs for Candi Staton, Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter and, most successfully, the Osmonds. He also cut a few sides there
under his own name, including Find 'Em, Fool 'Em and Forget 'Em, which got a UK release on Capitol in 1969.
George's best known song was Aretha Sing One For me, which came out on Hi. Other records came out on a variety of US labels, including Verve, MGM, Chess, Keylock and Hep Me in the seventies and eighties but it was as a song writer that he enjoyed greatest success, with Old Time Rock and Roll for Bob Seger and others for James Brown and the Ovations, as well as songs for Z Z Hill and Otis Clay (including The Only Way Is Up) when he was resident song writer at Malaco.
George was one of the soul greats: RIP.
For a great article on George take a look at Red Kelly's blog:

Friday, April 12, 2013

Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead

This is a music blog so I feel that I'm entitled to give a view on the BBC's decision not to play Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead in full on its chart show. For overseas readers who may wonder why a song that first appeared in the Wizard Of Oz in 1938 should be so controversial today, the reason is that many, many people are rejoicing at the death of Lady Thatcher and are outraged that she will be given a high profile funeral next Wednesday. They are doing their best to make this short (50 seconds) record an internet hit. Whilst I do not delight in anyone's death, I was one of those who opposed Thatcher's policies when she was Prime Minister and I sympathise with those who want to make their point. What's more I am disgusted that the BBC has, once again, given in to pressure by deciding not to play the song in full.
The list of records banned by the BBC is a long one and, with the benefit of hindsight, a ridiculous one. It's hard to believe that someone on high in the Beeb believed, for example, that Johnny Horton's Battle Of New Orleans should be barred from the airwaves back in 1959. The practice of banning any record that was disapproved of by the BBC hierarchy goes back to before the war, but since the beginning of the pop era dozens of records have faced the chop and been banned at the time by the BBC on the grounds of bad taste, anti-religious references, sexual innuendo and support of drug use. Here are a few of them: Charlie Brown (Coasters), A Day In The Life (Beatles), Ebony Eyes (Everly Brothers), Eve Of Destruction (Barry McGuire), The Garden Of Eden (Frankie Vaughan), Glad To be Gay (Tom Robinson Band), God Save The Queen (Sex Pistols), Hard Headed Woman (Elvis Presley), High Class Baby (Cliff Richard), I Am The Walrus (Beatles), I Can't Control Myself (Troggs), Imagine (John Lennon), Jackie (Scott Walker), Je Taime (Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg), Little Star (Elegants), Love Is Strange (Mickey & Sylvia), Lovin' Machine (Wynonie Harris), Mack The Knife (Bobby Darin), Relax (Frankie Goes To Hollywood), Sixty Minute Man (Dominoes), Such A Night (Johnny Ray), Tell Laura I Love Her (Ray Peterson), Three Stars (Ruby Wright), Tribute To Buddy Holly (Mike Berry), Wet Dream (Max Romeo), Woman Love (Gene Vincent).
With the benefit of hindsight all of these bans on radio play seem ludicrous today - and to most of us they were ludicrous at the time. So Thatcher's song is in good company.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Annette Funicello

Annette Funicello, who died the other day aged 74, was a much bigger star in the US than the UK.
She made her name as a star of the Mickey Mouse Club on US TV and appeared in a number of beach movies with the likes of Frankie Avalon. But her wholesome persona didn't transfer to the UK and her rather mindless records, such as Tall Paul (released on an EP on the Disney Gala label), Pineapple Princess, O Dio Mio and Muscle Beach Party had little impact on this side of the ocean. Her best record was also her last UK 45: Monkey's Uncle in which she partnered the Beach Boys. 
Ken Major asked who the UK equivalent of Annette was: my suggestion would be Hayley Mills, also a young and fairly untalented actress cum/singer, or maybe Susan Maughan.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Farewell to Harry J

Top Jamaican reggae producer Harry J (real name Harry Johnson) has died aged 67.  After a couple
of local hits he had a huge success with The Liquidator, featuring his session band, which made the UK top ten in 1969. The following year he had success with Bob and Marcia's version of Young, Gifted and Black and recorded several Bob Marley albums at his Harry J studio, including Rastaman Vibration and Catch A Fire. His studio was used by the likes of the Rolling Stones, The Who and Grace Jones, and he also recorded artists such as Burning Spear and the Heptones through a deal with Island Records.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

More vinyl obscurities

Here are some 45s from a collection that I bought yesterday which are mostly on the obscure side, but all in excellent condition. Most of them are by British beat and/or instrumental groups of the sixties and are nothing to write home about. They are largely forgotten now - rightly so in some cases I think. The two at the bottom may be of interest to John Spencely in particular, knowing as I do  his tastes in records. I've included Youtube links where I have been able to find them.
1. The Zephyrs - What's All That About/ Oriental Dream. Mint Value £40.
This is the first of half a dozen singles released by this London based group who failed to have a hit. Like many 45s of the time it's an instrumental, and a fairly uninspired one, but surprisingly valuable. Maybe that's why I can't find it on Youtube.
2. The Marauders - That's What I Want/ Hey What D'ya Say. Mint value £15.
This one is quite a decent typical 60s beat number by a group from Stoke on Trent, who played the Cavern Club on occasions. It sneaked into the top 50. Worth a listen.
3. The Big Three - If You Ever Change Your Mind/ You've Got To Keep Her Under Hand. Mint value - £15.
The Big Three were one of the biggest names in Liverpool at the time the Beatles started and often played the Cavern Club. Discovered by Larry Parnes, they were later signed by Brian Epstein and played in Hamburg before releasing their best known single, a cover of Ritchie Barrett's Some Other Guy. This is their fourth and final single and I've selected the B-side, which is written by the band members and I think is rather better than the official A side, a second rate cover of Sam Cooke's Bring It On Home To Me.
4. The Fentones - The Mexican/ Lover's Guitar. Mint value £10.
Another instrumental, this time by Shane Fenton's backing group. Originally from Mansfield, the Fentones had a couple of singles released and this one scraped into the top 50.
5. Shane Fenton - A Fool's Paradise/ You Need Love. Mint value £10.
This is the first solo single by Shane Fenton, aka Bernard Jewry, who later became Alvin Stardust of course. A bit of trivia: he wasn't the original Shane Fenton, as the original Shane, lead singer of the Fentones (real name Johnny Theakston), died aged just 17 and Bernard replaced him. This is a poppy Eden Kane penned number.
6. The Sundowners - Where Am I/ Gonna Make The Future Bright. Mint value £8.
A Kent based group, the Sundowners released several singles without success, including the first UK cover of House of the Rising Sun (pre Animals) and A Shot of Rhythm and Blues. I couldn't find Where Am I on Youtube so here's their version of House of the Rising Sun.
7. Johnny Duncan & the Bluegrass Boys - Kansas City/ That's All Right Darlin'. Mint value £5.
Tennessee born Johnny Duncan came over to the UK to make his name and got caught up in the skiffle boom, having a hit with Last Train to San Fernando. He went on to record many rather weak rock and roll songs and country numbers, including this insipid cover of the Leiber and Stoller  classic.
8. Duane Eddy - Bonnie Came Back/ Movin' n' Groovin'. Tri centre. Mint value £15.
I've included this excellent double sider not because it's obscure, but because it's the highest numbered London tri centre 45 that I've obtained - and I know how John S loves his London tris!