Monday, February 23, 2015

Soul Pioneers - Marv Johnson

This is another in my occasional series on the pioneers of soul music, this time focusing on the early work of Marv Johnson. He was the forgotten man of Motown, despite being its first star, with 1959's Come To Me being the first ever Tamla release. It was an immediate success but Berry Gordy wasn't ready to handle a major hit so it was picked up by United Artists, who went on to release over a dozen singles over the next couple of years. These Gordy-penned numbers were all of a high quality and Marv's high voice was a thing of beauty, but because his records did not bear the Tamla Motown imprint he was rather overlooked at the time.
After Come To Me, United Artists released I'm Coming Home in the States but not in the UK and Marv's first UK hit was You Got What It Takes, on London - the first 45 that I recall shelling out six shillings of my pocket money to buy. I bought the follow ups too - I Love The Way You Love, with its great piano intro, which was a minor hit, All The Love I've Got and (You've Got To ) Move Two Mountains. They, and the B sides, were all written by the likes of Berry Gordy, Eddie Holland, Smokey Robinson and Marv himself, but were issued so closely together that they had little chance of success. Happy Days and Merry Go Round (a song first recorded by Eddie Holland) completed his London releases, but UA continued to release fine records such as How Can We Tell Him, Magic Mirror and Come On And Stop which deserved a wider audience. Marv's sole London LP The Marvellous Marv Johnson is now highly collectable.
It was only in the late sixties, when Marv belatedly switched to Gordy, that he became widely recognised as a Motown star. His first UK Tamla Motown single, Why Do You Want To Let Me Go, didn't make an impression, but the follow up I'll Pick A Rose For My Rose in 1968 gave him his biggest since You Got What It Takes. Other Tamla Motown releases, I Miss You Baby and So Glad You Chose Me, did well, as did his solitary Tamla Motown LP.
Marv was very much a favourite of mine back in 1960 and remained so over the years. I enjoyed seeing him at the Town and Country Club in 1989, when he toured with Mary Wells, Kim Weston and Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. Prior to that he recorded a final album for Ian Levine's Motorcity label, which was rather disappointing, and sadly he died aged just 54 in 1993 after performing a tribute concert for Bill Pinkney of the Drifters.
Here are a selection of Marv's 45s from his golden period. and the much better B side I've Got A Notion

Monday, February 16, 2015

I'll cry if I want to

It's a sad farewell to Lesley Gore, who has died aged just 68. In 1963, at the age of 16, Lesley had a massive hit with It's My Party, produced by Quincy Jones, one of the most played songs of all time. But now the party's over. Her teenage angst hit a nerve with the public and she followed it up with a continuation of the party saga with Judy's Turn To Cry and She's A Fool, before bringing out what was later to be considered a feminist anthem with You Don't Own Me. Other hits in the mid sixties included That's The Way Boys Are, the excellent Maybe I Know and Sunshine Lollipops and Rainbows, the latter written by Marvin Hamlisch. She appeared in the Batman TV show a couple of times as Pussycat, one of Cat Woman's minions, but faded from the pop scene, before reappearing as the writer of songs for the 1980 film Fame - she received an Academy Award nomination for Out Here On My Own. She performed in the eighties and nineties and recorded an album called Ever Since in 2005. A sad loss.

Another recent death is that of Joe B Mauldin (pictured centre), bass player with Buddy Holly and the Crickets and, for another 50 years, as a member of the Crickets, as well as being a recording engineer at Gold Star Records.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Gospel Explosion – Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, Lanham, MD

Here's another contribution by Juke Blues writer Seamus McGarvey with a review of what sounds like a great gospel show in Maryland.
The most recent gospel quartet promotion at Mt. Calvary Baptist Church by Rosetta Thompson, wife of Sensational Nightingales singer-bassist Horace Thompson, featured a bumper package of performers. 
There were a number of excellent support acts including Pastor James Hardy with his Sam Cooke-styled lead on 'Stand By Me' and the beautiful 'He's Always There'. 
Nate and The New Generation hit a fine opening pace on 'Keep On Praising Him' which segued into a 'Holy Ghost'-themed workout, followed by the slower-stepping 'I Am Redeemed' and the driving closer 'Ask Him' with Nate's strong lead really grabbing the congregation.

I was highly impressed by The Southern Gospel Singers' set including the easy-stepping 'I Know What Prayer Can Do' with its tight harmonies, and manager Cle Pointer's grandson and bass-player Jeffrey who came out front for the deeply soulful 'At Calvary Jesus Gave Up His Life'. The closing 'Who'll Be A Witness Before My God' moved the congregation and drew some wild stepping from Jeffrey to end the set on a high.
Little Sammy and The New Flying Clouds from Philadelphia hit the 'spot' and tore the place up with the slow-stepping 'There's Not A Friend Like The Lord', 'I Got A Victory' and the driving 'No Time To Lose' with some great stepping and call-and-response vocals from Sammy and Bobby Walker. 
Ed Hines, promoter and publicist for The Temptations and The Violinaires, introduced Temptations' bass singer Joe Herndon before The Violinaires' Dwight 'Tito' Arthur led the quartet into their opening 'Children Are You Ready', moving on into the stepping 'I'm Going To Serve The Lord', typified by fine harmonies and high-flying backing vocals. Tito introduced a 'golden oldie' in the shape of the soulful 'Three Pictures Of The Lord'. Amongst many highlights, 'Dr. Jesus' featured a wonderful call-and-response workout from Tito and Lil' Sonny, making for an exciting set from a great quartet.
The Sensational Nightingales gave us 'Jo Jo' Wallace's 'What A Friend We Have In Jesus', plus some fine preaching, Larry Moore's mid-tempo, country feel of 'Something Beautiful', Horace Thompson's 'At The Meeting' with its country-blues overtones, before Larry slowed the pace for 'Standing On The Promise' which on this occasion developed into a highly emotional performance with a fine extended piece of testifying, and an exciting finish.
The Pilgrim Jubilee Singers are one of the scene's legendary quartets, fronted by brothers Clay and Cleave Graham, with veteran guitarist Bobby McDougle. Despite their many years on the road, they just get better and better and, if anything, more exciting in their own unique way. They opened with a mid-tempo 'Let's Praise The Lord' led by Clay before Cleave launched into the easier paced  'Holding On', featuring his soulfully expressive lead, still with a real edge to his voice. Clay had had some health problems and bore witness to the fact with 'God's Been Good To Me', his testifying raising the congregation's spirits for 'I'm So Glad Trouble Don't Last Always'. 'Don't Let Him Down'  featured the two brothers plus Clay's son Kevin out front for a great three-handed workout which really got the church 'up' before Kevin segued into an emotional encore. A great quartet, and a wonderfully exciting set.
Younger quartet The Soul Messengerz opened with an Impressions-style high-flying vocal feel on the mid-paced 'Take It Easy'. Lead DeCarlo Coley, a Baptist preacher, spoke movingly and  in a restrained manner about recent 'senseless killings',  leading into the testifying yet bluesy feel of 'Keep Your Arms Around Me'. His emotional introduction to 'Let Me Lean On You', got the pace going again and the strong rhythm section helped make the set work with DeCarlo demonstrating a great vocal edge and range. One of the best sets I'd seen from them – excellent!
It was also great to see The Swanee Quintet again, with longtime frontman Percy Griffin leading on 'A Man Called Jesus' for an easy-paced opener before the slow-stepping 'Meeting Tonight'. With an exhortation of 'we're going back to Georgia' it was onto 'Sit Down Servant' and a great version of 'Stumble And Fall' with the lead shared between Percy, Eddie McCoy and Koby Weaver for some tastefully  interwoven vocals. Percy's thoughtfully moving 'Prayer Changes Things' led into the hand-clapping 'Dr. Jesus' with Eddie and Koby going through some wild steps. A soulful and highly meaningful 'Georgia On My Mind' from Percy brought it all home.
The Canton Spirituals ' lead Harvey Watkins opened their set with a briskly paced 'Searching' before second tenor Keenan Nichols, now with The Cantons for about a year,  hit a more medium pace on Harvey's own 'It's In My Heart'. Harvey played more of a role throughout than of late, thanks to his voice remaining stable, enabling him to sing numbers like the mid-tempo 'Clean Up' before Keenan came back with 'Morning Dove'. Harvey spoke quite emotionally about the ups and downs of his life, said he'd a lot to be grateful for including thanks to promoter Rosetta for her help, and used humour effectively to get his thoughts across (e.g. talking about taking a drink of brandy at a party in his youth, he said, 'I've  got no Hennessy for you but I've got Jesus', which won both applause and laughter from the congregation). He brought the set to an exciting climax with the hypnotically stepping 'Glad I've Got Jesus'.
The Mighty Clouds Of Joy with legendary lead Joe Ligon (pictured below) closed the program with Joe still in good voice and able to stretch vocally and scream on numbers like 'I've Been In the Storm Too Long', a slow-stepper featuring strong, vibrant harmonies behind Joe's lead. Although the set was plagued by a number of sound problems (which led Joe to joke, 'I was just about to get hold of my hammer!'), they did manage to please the congregation with their repertoire, right down to the closing 'Heavy Load', a wonderfully stomping piece of gospel history. Joe interacted well with congregation, conversing with them, encouraging them and getting them up around the stage, with an extended 'Heavy Load' workout bringing the day to a great conclusion. Keep an eye out for a new set of 2015 programs in April and beyond.

 (Seamus McGarvey, 'Juke Blues' magazine, with thanks to Rosetta and Horace Thompson)

Monday, February 09, 2015

Rockin' Race Jamboree in sunny (but chilly) Spain

I'm not sure if dressing up as an American Indian chief, complete with multi coloured feathered head-dress, is politically correct these days. But it works for bluesman Eddy 'The Chief' Clearwater, who made a stunning visual impression when he came on stage at the Rockin' Race Jamboree in Torremolinos this weekend. The head gear was great but his performance was pretty good too. Now 80 years old, Eddy plays Chuck Berry style guitar, only left handed, and sounds a bit like him as well. Unlike Chuck on some past occasions, Eddy puts his all into his act, although he refused to do an encore much to the disappointment of an enthusiastic crowd. Starting with Boogie Woogie Baby, first recorded in 1958, he included a couple of songs from his recent Soul Funky album - Good Times Are Coming and Too Old To Get Married. He also did a very accurate Chuck Berry impersonation on Sweet Little Rock and Roller and Reelin' and Rockin', plus a rocking version of You're Humbugging Me, ending with Whole Lotta Shakin' which morphed into Hound Dog. Some more of his back catalogue would have been welcome, but there's no doubt that Eddy was one of the stars of the festival.
Another star and in my opinion the most enjoyable act at the space age Palacio De Congresos was early sixties hitmaker Chris Montez, who was backed by Deke Dickerson (pictured below) and his band. Chris made number one  in the UK with Let's Dance in 1962 and he sensibly stuck to his early material, steering clear of his later middle of the road numbers, and was clearly enjoying himself, as he danced and spun around the stage. He began with Some Kinda Fun, the follow up to Let's Dance, and included Chiquita Mia, Shoot The Curl, a surfing song that he wrote himself, You're The One (the B side of his big hit), an early rocker She's My Rocking Baby, Monkey Fever, the slower Nobody But Me and I've Got the Rocking Blues. He paid tribute to fellow Latino star Ritchie Valens with Donna and La Bamba and also sang a number called No No No, which sounded very much like La Bamba. Chris finished inevitably with Let's Dance and everyone in the crowd, plus Chris himself, had a big smile on their faces, as this was a truly fun set, one that was just as good as his appearance at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2013. Chris toured with the Beatles before they made it big (I remember seeing the show in Croydon) and allegedly thumped John Lennon when he poured a pint of beer on his head (I would have loved to have seen that!). Chris may not have had their success but he's still a joy to watch today. Deke Dickerson's contribution on guitar shouldn't be ignored either, as he showed once again what an excellent guitarist he is.
With one or two exceptions (eg Chris Montez), the festival was spoiled for me by the poor sound, which meant that many numbers were hard to identify, and also by the rather mediocre quality of some of the rockabilly acts on the bill. I missed the appearance by the third visiting American Roddy Jackson, making his third visit to Europe in the last six months, but enjoyed Scottish band the New Piccadillys (pictured below), who did a sixties beat set that included some  first rate covers, including the Ramones' Judy Is A Punk, The Rivieras' California Sun, Irma Thomas's Breakaway and Joey Dee's Peppermint Twist, plus a rocker in the form of Brand New Cadillac.
Also impressive were Swedish band the Kokomo Kings, but I could work up little enthusiasm for Annita and the Starbombers, the rockabilly sound of the Round Up Boys, Little Lou, hillbilly act Charlie Thompson, French rockabilly singer Don Cavalli or the tuneless warblings of Miss Mary Ann, who did possibly the worst version of Sanford Clark's The Fool that I've heard.
Much more exciting was an appearance on Sunday night at the Buensol Hotel of Blind Rage and Violence, a masked three piece band (plus a minder apparently called Igor) who modelled their act on Link Wray. There was menace, there was sexism, as the lead guitarist invited a couple of ladies on stage and gently spanked them, and there was booze, as they invited the audience to pour beer down their throats as they walked through the audience. Most of their numbers were Link Wray style instrumentals, although they also did a vocal on Treat Her Right and a heavy guitar version of Last Date. Who were these masked men? We were not told, but Deke Dickerson's name came up frequently.
Here are some more photos from the Rockin' Race. First, a couple more of Eddy Clearwater.
Here's another one of Chris Montez and Deke Dickerson.
Here are Annita and the Starbombers.
These are the Round Up Boys.
Here is the lead singer of the Kokomo Kings.
This is Little Lou, who appeared with guitarist Roy Thompson.
This is Charlie Thompson.
This is Miss Mary Ann.
This is her band the Ragtime Wranglers, who showed, at a later show at the Buensol, that they are fine musicians.
This is Don Cavalli.
Here's one more of Blind Rage and Violence, with the lead guitarist spanking two girls on stage. I've no idea why.
Nick Cobban

Monday, February 02, 2015

Don Covay RIP

Yet another soul great has died - this time Don Covay, at the age of 76, who was not only one of the finest soul singers of the sixties and seventies, but also a leading songwriter of the era. After a spell with the Rainbows, a group that also included Marvin Gaye and Billy Stewart at various times, he joined the Little Richard revue in 1957 and released his first single Bip Bop Bip, produced by Richard, under the name of Pretty Boy. He wrote and recorded Pony Time, a big hit for Chubby Checker, and had success with Popeye Waddle for the Cameo Parkway label. He also wrote songs for Solomon Burke (I'm Hanging Up My Heart For You) and Gladys Knight and the Pips (Letter Full Of Tears).
Joining the Rosemart label he had a hit with Mercy Mercy, along with his band the Goodtimers (featuring Jimi Hendrix on guitar), and was signed by Atlantic where he had even greater success with See Saw. Other Atlantic singles, many recorded at Stax, included Sookie Sookie, You Put Something On Me and Shingaling 67. He was part of the Soul Clan, comprising Solomon Burke, Arthur Conley, Ben E King and Joe Tex as well as Don, recording Soul Meeting in 1968 and his songwriting hits included Chain Of Fools for Aretha Franklin. In the seventies he moved to Janus and then to Mercury and Philadelphia International, where he recorded numbers such as I Was Checking Out She Was Checking In, It's Better To Have (And Don't Need) and No Tell Motel. He suffered a stroke in the 1990s but recovered sufficiently to record a final album Adlib in 2000.  
The new year has already seen more than its fair share of music deaths. Among those who I haven't mentioned so far is Kim Fowley, a cult figure in many ways, who was involved with such hits as Alley Oop (Hollywood Argylls), Nut Rocker ( B Bumble & the Stingers), Like Long Hair (Paul Revere & the Raiders) and Popsicles and Icicles (the Murmaids). He relocated to England for a while, getting involved
with P J Proby among others, and recorded occasionally himself, including a cover of Napoleon IV's They're Coming To Take Me Away. Other projects included Gene Vincent's comeback album I'm Back And I'm Proud in 1969. In the seventies he is best known for his involvement with girl band the Runaways. I remember seeing Kim at the Mean Fiddler in 1995. My verdict at the time was 'a cult, but rather boring.'
Others include poet and folk singer Rod McKuen, Greek warbler Demis Roussos, songwriter Rose Marie McCoy, who wrote Elvis's I Beg Of You, and veteran British whistling act Ronnie Ronalde. RIP to them all.

Domino effect at the Borderline

Sixties Liverpool band the Dominoes reformed for the first time in decades at the tenth Tales From The Woods Rock and Roll Heritage Show at the Borderline in London last night. Headliner Kingsize Taylor was joined on stage by former band members Bobby Thompson and Sam Hardie for the finale of a show which lived up to the excitement of previous shows and no doubt sent promoter Keith Woods home a satisfied man. Once again the backbone of the show was the excellent Tales From The Woods Band, which, as the acts repeated several times, is the best little backing band around. Guitarist John Spencely, now thankfully recovered from recent illness, was back to his brilliant self, sax men Alec Bland and Sid Phillips blew up a storm, and key board maestro Claire Hamlin was note perfect as ever. Robb Davis was on bass and Jeff Tuck on drums.
The first act, and the only one not backed by the Tales From The Woods Band, was 83 year old Raye Duval, former drummer with Emile Ford's Checkmates, with other members of the group, Graham Frost and Adrian Gregory, who provided singalong versions of hits such as What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For, Slow Boat To China and Them There Eyes, plus When My Little Girl Is Smiling, (Raye played on the Jimmy Justice version), Brand New Cadillac and Lucky Old Sun. Raye, who once held the world record for non-stop drumming, showed he can still hit them with an excellent version of Let There Be Drums, but overall this was a rather limp start to the show. Better was to follow.
For me, the star of the show was Sam Hardie, an excellent boogie woogie piano player whose set featured a dozen or so rocking numbers seldom, if ever, heard, performed live. He kicked off with an exciting version of Larry Donn's Honey Bun and continued in the same vein with Charlie Rich's Lonely Weekends, Where The Rio De Rosa Flows (originally by Jimmy Lloyd, but a new one to me), Blues Stay Away From Me and a surprisingly rocking version of Little Jimmy Dickens' I Got A Hole In My Pocket. Less obscure were an excellent version of Move It, featuring John's stunning guitar work, Rockin' Daddy, Sweet Sue and Got You On My Mind but Wolfboy, originally by Sammy Salvo, was a surprise inclusion. He went back to 1852 for a rocking version of Stephen Foster's Old Black Joe (a la Jerry Lee), and finished off with Thurston Harris's Do What You Did, before attacking Good Golly Miss Molly for his well deserved encore.
Running Sam a close second in terms of excitement was fellow Liverpudlian Bobby Thompson, whose set was more mainstream, but also of top quality. Kicking off with Memphis Tennessee, he moved smoothly through Let The Four Winds Blow, The Fool (a great version of the Sanford Clark classic), Money Honey (Clyde McPhatter was a lovely man, Bobby said), Slippin' and Slidin', Sick And Tired, Sea Cruise, Drinkin' Wine Spo-dee-o-dee, No No, Down The Road Apiece, I'm Walkin' with Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain as an encore. Once again, a first rate rocking set, which got the crowd in the mood for what was to follow.
The Liverpool theme of the show was continued with the appearance on stage of Beryl Marsden, who showed that her voice is as strong as ever and who brought a bit of the girl group sound to the show. She began with her first record, a cover of Barbara George's I Know, and then moved on to three numbers recorded by the Shirelles - Baby It's You, Everybody Loves A Lover and Boys - before moving smartly through Irma Thomas's Breakaway, Hi Heel Sneakers and, a song she said she had never performed on stage before, Let's Have A Party. Finally she was joined on stage by Sam's enthusiastic daughter Gillian for a rollocking version of Whole Lotta Shakin'. Great fun and a pretty sparkling set.
Headlining the show was the towering, gaunt figure of Hamburg-based Kingsize Taylor,  a popular act from previous shows, who tackled the Chuck Berry and Larry Williams songbook with gusto. He kicked off with Watch Your Step before tackling Dizzy Miss Lizzie, Sweet Little Sixteen, You Can't Sit Down, Let It Rock, You Can't Catch Me and, possibly Chuck Berry's worst ever record and one he said he hated, according to Kingsize, Broken Arrow. He finished off with Stupidity and Bony Moronie - predictable fare perhaps, but what the crowd undoubtedly wanted to hear.
Kingsize was joined on stage by former Dominoes members Bobby and Sam for a rocking finale in which they took turns belting out their songs, including Wait And See, Country Music and Sparkling Brown Eyes (Sam), Clarabella and Lipstick Powder and Paint (Bobby) and Ubangi Stomp and Eat Your Heart Out Annie (Kingsize).
Overall, this was another successful show for Keith Woods, although rather a sad one in other ways. Two of the acts scheduled to perform - Geoff Nugent, formerly of the Undertakers, and Rockin' Ricky Stevens, who compered previous shows - have died since the line up was announced, showing just how important it is that we see sixties acts while we can. Rock on Keith!
Nick Cobban