Friday, July 25, 2014

Nolan Porter at the 100 Club

It was good to be back at the 100 Club last night for an evening of Northern soul with LA resident Nolan Porter backed by British soul band the Stone Foundation. It was the first time I'd been there since its recent renovation. There may be more photos on the wall, the loos may be marginally better, but it hasn't changed: the place was packed and as hot and sweaty as ever, the way a good music venue should be. I wish the sound was better though.
Nolan Porter proved to be a dynamic performer with an engaging smile and bulging eyes, wearing a hat and scarf throughout on what was one of the warmest evenings of the year. His two best known numbers, Keep On Keepin' On and If I Could Only Be Sure (which he dedicated to his friend and mentor Johnny Guitar Watson), both from the early seventies, were sung with aplomb, as were the other numbers in his set, which included Oh Baby, I Like What You Give, The Fifth One, Darrell Banks' Somebody (Somewhere) Needs You, Van Morrison's Crazy Love, Fe Fi Fo Fum, and a great version of Brenton Wood's Gimme Little Sign, before finishing with Jumping Jack Flash.
Nolan has recorded some of these numbers with the Stone Foundation, whose earlier set showed that that they are loud, unsubtle but very effective at putting across their soulful numbers, with three horn men and an excellent singer in Neil Jones. Highlights included Right Time Right Place, Don't Let The Rain, Hold On, When You're In My World and, particularly, their final number That's The Way I Want You In My Life Baby.
It was a highly enjoyable evening and I wish there were more such nights at the 100 Club, as there used to be in the distant past.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

James Govan and others - RIP

While I've been away at Porretta there has been a spate of deaths, including that of James Govan, aged just 64. I first saw James at Porretta in 1997 and made a point of catching his brilliant soul singing the following year when I visited Memphis. James played regularly at the Rum Boogie Cafe on Beale Street, home of the original Stax sign, and I saw him several times on subsequent trips to Memphis, the last time being in October 2011, when he was clearly unwell. James had a great soulful voice and I recall that his version of I've Got Dreams To Remember brought lumps to my throat when I saw him in 2008 (see photo). Born in Mississippi, James played with a group called The Vans when he was spotted by George Jackson who took him to Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals. Mickey Buckins produced a number of records by James including Wanted:Lover, but none of them were hits. In the 1980s he recorded some classic tracks at Muscle Shoals, including Uphill Climb and Jealous Kind and his first album I'm In Need appeared in 1996, followed by  A Night on Beale in 1998. Ace issued Wanted, a collection of mainly unissued Fame recordings, in 2013. In later years he refused to play at Porretta as he seemed keen not to jeopardise his gig at the Rum Boogie Cafe, but seeing him in his own environment was one of the great pleasures of trips to Memphis. He will be missed.
No visit to New Orleans is complete without a visit to Jim Russell's Rare Records on Magazine St so it's sad to hear that Jim Russell has died aged 94. Jim's role in the early days of rock and roll is considerable amd he claimed that he was the one who alerted Alan Freed to the potential appeal of what was known as 'race' music to a white audience. After losing his job for playing black music on a whites only station he moved to New Orleans and his rambling record shop became a mecca for record collectors. Chatting to him a few years ago he said that he was the man who taught Millie Jackson to talk dirty! Last time I visited, just over a year ago, the shop was being run by his daughter in law Denise and was in a poor state, with water coming through a couple of holes in the roof. Here's an MTV video of Jim talking about his early life and the music he loved.
It's farewell, too, to blues guitarist Johnny Winter, who has died aged 70. From Beaumont, Texas, Johnny, brother of Edgar Winter, made his first record aged just 15 and in 1967 he recorded a version of Tramp with Roy Head's band the Traits. His big break came in 1968 when he moved to Chicago and met Mike Bloomfield. His first solo album came out the following year with support from Willie Dixon and Walter Horton and he went on to record many other albums and produce those by Muddy Waters after the fall of Chess. Johnny's guitar style was a little too shrill for me, but he was undoubtedly one of the blues greats. He appeared at many festivals in UK and Europe and was found dead in Zurich two days after appearing at a festival in France.
The Vinyl Word also raises a glass to actor James Garner, who has died aged 86. He was one of the stars of the comedy Western TV series Maverick, which was one of my favourite TV shows of the late 1950s, and went on to become a major film star in movies such as Move Over Darling, The Great Escape and Boys Night Out. In the 1970s he starred as Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files and continued making movies through to 2010.
RIP also to bluesman Nick Charles, who played with Billy Branch and the Sons of the Blues, as well as many of the blues greats such as Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, and to Tommy Ramone, last remaining original member of the Ramones.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Porretta day 3, plus photos

Another exciting and stimulating Porretta Soul Festival has come to an end. Sunday's show was, as usual, a reprise of the acts who had taken part during the previous two days with a couple of surprises along the way. Kicking off events were the excellent Frank Bey and the Anthony Paule Band with an hour's deep soul and blues, with Frank singing no fewer than five numbers that were new to the show. Highlights were I Just Can't Go On Livng, a song written for him that would have done James Carr proud, particularly the way that Frank performed it, You Don't Know Nothing and I Got No Bed For My Soul. Great stuff once again. Other fresh numbers were I Want To Change Your Mind and That's What Love Can Make You Do.
The Muscle Shoals All Star Band returned to the stage for the rest of the evening and provided fantastic backing for the other acts, who were allowed just one or two numbers to show what they could do, beginning with Carla 'Kosmic Mama' Russell with a couple of Staple Singers songs, I'll Take You There and Respect Yourself. Next was a surprise, with Muscle Shoals percussionist Mickey Buckins giving a more than adequate rendition of Dark End Of the Street, followed by Theo Huff (When A Man Loves A Woman), Chick Rodgers (Natural Woman), Chilli Bill Rankin (A Change Is Gonna Come) and Jerry Jones ( Mustang Sally). Denise Lasalle performed Drop That Zero and My Toot Toot, with a whole bunch of people on stage, and Guitar Shorty exchanged guitar licks once more with Muscle Shoals guitarist Will McFarlane. Then it was Toni Green with Bustin' Loose and If Loving You Is Wrong, followed by a highlight, a duet with Vaneese Thomas on Do Right Woman. Vaneese then introduced a large group of teenagers from the Quincy Avenue school in Denver onto the stage for a gospel number before going solo on I'm Your Puppet and an energetic Old Time Rock and Roll. Jimmy Hall really got the crowd going with great versions of Funky Broadway and Land of 1000 Dances, before the whole cast came on stage for the traditional finale of Sweet Soul Music. Another great night at Porretta. Long may it last.
Here's a selection of photos from the three days of the festival. First, here's Carla 'Kosmic Mama' Russell.
This is up and coming soul man Theo Huff.
This is Vaneese Thomas.
Here is Jimmy Hall, formerly of Wet Willie.
The wonderful Denise Lasalle.
The find of the show for me (where has he been over the years?) Frank Bey.
Here is Guitar Shorty.
This is Chick Rodgers.
Here we have the Queen of Porretta, Toni Green.
Two dynamic performers, both individually and as a pair, Jerry Jones and Chilli Bill Rankin.
Ace guitarist with the Muscle Shoals Band Will McFarlane.
Muscle Shoals percussionist and occasional vocalist Mickey Buckins.
Finally, two great soul stars together - Toni Green and Vaneese Thomas.
Words and photos by Nick Cobban.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Blues as well as soul at Porretta

The Saturday show at Porretta is the biggest evening of the annual Soul Festival and, as usual, the intimate amphitheatre of Rufus Thomas Park was packed. But unlike previous years the first act on the bill was not a local band but an American blues and soul singer named Frank Bey with the Anthony Paule Band. And a great set it turned out to be. Frank Bey, originally from Georgia, is 70 years old, but where has he been all this time? He toured with Otis Redding in the sixties but then dropped out of the music business. But now he's back and boy is he good, as was the band.
Many of his numbers were taken from a recent album called Soul For Your Blues and they ranged from blues to deep soul with a couple of upbeat numbers as well. Stand outs were Bobby Bland's Ain't That Loving You, Somebody Else's Baby Too, I'm Leaving You, the beautifully soulful It's Good To Have Your Company and I Don't Know Why. Other numbers included Still Called The Blues, Charles Brown's Hard Times, Buzzard Luck, Don't Mess With My Monkey, Imagine, with the Porretta crowd waving heart shaped Peace cards, and Get Your Money Where You Spend Your Time.
A really great set and it proved to be the highlight of the evening, but there was much more to come as the Muscle Shoals All Star Band took to the stage again. First on was Guitar Shorty who provided some heavy blues with The Blues Has Got Me and It's Too Late, during which he toured the audience and carried on playing as he went behind the stage. He followed with Born Under A Bad Sign but in the end his set was just too heavy as he strayed into Jimi Hendrix territory with Hey Joe. Shorty's a great showman but not really right for the festival.
 The following three acts were all cover artists who, although highly proficient, were a tad unoriginal. First it was the Aretha Franklin-styled vocals of Chick Rodgers, whose set included Respect and Dr Feelgood. Then it was Chilli Bill Rankin, who provided the traditional Otis Redding coverage with I've Been Loving You Long and Try A Little Temderness. Then it was Jerry Jones, with his versions of Solomon Burke's Got To Get You Off My Mind and Cry To Me. All well performed but rather predictable fare.
In between two of the acts Graziano presented the annual Porretta award to original Muscle Shoals musicians Jimmy Johnson, David Hood and Mickey Buckins. Then it was time for the undisputed Queen of Porretta Toni Green, who was as glamorous as ever wearing black hair extensions this time and hot pants. More covers followed, but all given the Toni Green treatment, with Bustin' Loose, Tell Mama, If Loving You Is Wrong, I Never Loved A Man, Do Right Woman and I'd a Rather Go Blind. Toni wasn't on her most sparkling form but her set was still very enjoyable as ever. Finally it was the return of Chilli Bill and Jerry, this time looking very smart as Sam and Dave. Hold On I'm Coming, When Something Is Wrong With My Baby and Soul Man brought the audience to its feet and finished the evening on a hgh note.
Nick Cobban.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Muscle Shoals meets Porretta

Europe's greatest soul festival, at the spa town of Porretta Terme in Italy, is always a feast of good music, and this year's, the 27th, is no exception. The theme this time is the music produced at Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and organiser Graziano Uliani, has, as ever, hit the jackpot by getting together a backing band comprising many of the musicians who were vital to the Muscle Shoals sound, including guitarists Jimmy Johnson, Will McFarlane and David Hood, Mickey Buckins on percussion and top notch keyboard players and horn section.
The result was a sweet sounding 11 piece band, plus three female backing singers, who could make even average singers sound good. Fortunately the artists on the first night were anything but average so the music was highly enjoyable. Topping the bill was Denise Lasalle who, at 75, is still glamorous and occasionally a little risqué. She sounds great too, beginning with the aptly titled Still The Queen, and continuing with other southern soul favourites including her 70s hit I Forgot To Remember, Down Home Blues, I Was Stepping Out, Trapped By This Thing Called Love, Drop That Zero, her big UK hit My Toot Toot and finishing magnificently with Man Sized Job. There was a curious moment when MC Rick Hutton came out with a cup of tea which was clearly too hot to drink, but overall this was a high class set and thoroughly enjoyable.
Earlier there was an excellent spot by a young soul man named Theo Huff, who sounded great on two Johnnie Taylor songs, Who's Making Love and Last Two Dollars. He looked and sounded the part in a smart white suit and hat and I look forward to hearing more of him. He was followed by Vaneese Thomas, daughter of the former patriarch of the Porretta Soul Festival Rufus Thomas, who sang three Aretha numbers, Chain Of Fools, A Natural Woman and Respect, plus Ten Times The Man You Are, from her new CD Blues For My Father, Candi Staton's I'd Rather Be An Old Man's Sweetheart and her dad's Walking The Dog. Vaneese is trying to get him inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Let's hope she succeeds with her campaign because, like Big Jay McNeely, who I chatted to recently, he was a great pioneer who has been overlooked for too long.
I was a bit sceptical about the next act, Jimmy Hall, former member of Southern rock band Wet Willie,  but was pleasantly surprised. Whilst not a great soul singer he was fine on a couple of Eddie Hinton songs, including Things Got To Get A Little Bit Salty, a duet with Carla 'Kosmic Mama' Russell (she also did a couple of solo numbers) on The Night Time Is The Right Time, Grits And Groceries and the Wet Willie number Keep On Smiling.
Earlier we suffered over an hour of repetitive funk by an Italian band called Capital Strokes, featuring an energetic singer called Randy Roberts, but overall this was another Porretta success thanks to the Muscle Shoals band and some excellent singers, especially Denise Lasalle. Looking forward to tonight's show. Photos will follow soon.
Nick Cobban.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Mavis Staples at the Union Chapel

There can be no more appropriate venue for the gospel styled soul of Mavis Staples than the Union Chapel in Islington, where she performed to great acclaim last night. This 19th century Gothic revival church, with its dome, stained glass windows, gallery, wooden pews and stone pulpit, provided the perfect back drop for Mavis and her band, drenched in gospel fervour as her voice still is. Backed by three background singers, including her sister and fellow former Staple Singers member Yvonne, drummer Stephen Hodges, guitarist Rick Holstrom with something of the Pops Staples sound about his playing, and a tall, bespectacled bass player named Jeff Turmes who could be a stand in for Richard Osman, Mavis showed that her gruff, exciting vocal style is undiminished by the years. She had the audience in the palm of her hand with her professionalism, showmanship and Southern gospel approach  as she ran through a selection of Staples Singers hits, more recent solo numbers and some uplifting classics which suited her perfectly. It was her 75th birthday which was celebrated with an impromptu rendition of Happy Birthday To You by the audience and it was clear she was enjoying herself. 'I'm 16', she said.
Starting with the Staple Singers' Come Go With Me, she followed up with Buffalo Springfield's For What It's Worth, the gospel number He's Alright and I Like The Things About Me, from her recent album One True Vine. Next came another Staples classic Respect Yourself, You're Not Alone, from her 2010 album of the same name, and a truly stupendous version of the Band's The Weight. Absolutely glorious.
Next came March Up Freedom Highway, written by the patriarch of the Staple Singers Pops Staples in 1962 at the time of the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, which Mavis took part in, and Little Milton's We're Gonna Make It. After an instrumental break, during which the two guitarists performed one number each (Summertime and Soul Serenade) Mavis and the other singers were back and pumped things up still further with the wonderful Let's Do It Again. Finally it was time for the Staples' classic I'll Take You There, with the audience on their feet repeating the phrase again and again as Mavis showed that even at 75 she can create more excitement than most performers half her age. A great evening's entertainment.
Words and photos by Nick Cobban.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Motown Top 20

So what were the 20 best Motown records ever?  ITV featured what they claimed were 'The Nation's Favourite Motown Songs' last night, which seems to tie in with a CD they are promoting. Narrated by Craig Charles, it was surprisingly good, with some excellent original footage and quotes from many of the singers, songwriters and musicians who played on classic tracks in the sixties. But inevitably the top 20 records chosen were fairly predictable and many of the great acts from Tamla Motown didn't get a look in. These are the 20 selected by a panel of viewers:
20. Jimmy Mack – Martha & The Vandellas – 1967
19. Uptight (Everything’s Alright) – Stevie Wonder – 1966
18. Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone - The Temptations – 1972
17. What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye -1971
16. My Cherie Amour – Stevie Wonder -1969
15. I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch) – The Four Tops – 1965
14. My Guy – Mary Wells – 1964
13. The Tracks Of My Tears – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – 1969
12. Reach Out I’ll Be There – The Four Tops – 1966
11. I Want You Back – The Jackson 5 – 1970
10. Stop! In The Name Of Love – The Supremes – 1965
9. War – Edwin Starr – 1970
8. Baby Love – The Supremes – 1964
7. I’ll Be There – The Jackson 5 – 1970
6. The Tears Of A Clown - Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – 1970
5. My Girl – The Temptations – 1964
4. Dancing In The Street - Martha & The Vandellas – 1964
3. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough – Diana Ross – 1970
2. What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted – Jimmy Ruffin – 1966
Winner: 1. I Heard It Through The Grapevine – Marvin Gaye – 1969.
Not a bad list, I have to admit, but I couldn't resist putting up an alternative list, featuring only artists missing from the show's top 20. So here, in no particular arder, are my choices (only one per artist):
1. Money - Barrett Strong (1959)
2. Please Mr Postman - Marvelettes (1961)
3. First I Look At The Purse - Contours (1965)
4. Take Me In Your Arms - Kim Weston (1965)
5. Come On And See Me - Tammi Terrell (1966)
6. Function At The Junction - Shorty Long (1966)
7. Behind A Painted Smile - Isley Brothers ( 1969)
8. Girls Girls Girls - Chuck Jackson (1968)
9. I Miss You Baby - Marv Johnson (1969)
10. Just Walk In My Shoes - Gladys Knight & the Pips (1965)
11. Shotgun - Junior Walker & the All Stars (1965)
12. It's A Shame - Detroit Spinners (1970)
13. My Whole World Ended - David Ruffin ( 1969)
14. Jamie - Eddie Holland (1961)
15. Every Little Bit Hurts - Brenda Holloway (1964)
16. Who Wouldn't Love A Man Like That - Mable John (1960)
17. Needle In A Haystack - Velvelettes (1964)
18. Greetings (This Is Uncle Sam) - Monitors (1966)
19. My Smile Is Just A Frown Turned Upside Down - Carolyn Crawford (1965)
20. You're Gonna Love Me Baby - Barbara McNair (1964)
21. (for luck) Put Yourself In My Place - Elgins (1965)
There are lots more I could have chosen, and I didn't pick anything after 1970, by which time the golden days of Motown were already well and truly over. But other suggestions are more than welcome. Here is a selection of LPs featuring tracks by some of the above.