Saturday, May 30, 2015

Beat poet Royston Ellis remembers

Royston Ellis is a travel writer, novelist and the UK's answer to beat poets like Allen Ginsberg. He's also the man who suggested, or at least encouraged, the Beatles to spell the group's name with an A rather an E, recited poetry to the backing of the Shadows, calling it 'rocketry' - a cross between rock and roll and poetry - and was the inspiration for two Beatles songs - Paperback Writer and Polythene Pam. Now resident in Sri Lanka, where he has lived for 35 years, he was in London yesterday for a special Tales From the Woods interview conducted by Jet Harris's former manager Peter Stockton, and a poetry reading in the West End. 
Royston's links with the early days of UK pop music go back to the late fifties when he met up with Cliff Richard and the Drifters, as they then were. He describes Cliff as an enigma, still with an Indian accent, Tony Meehan as the most intelligent member of the group and Jet Harris as his special friend, and the meeting led to the band backing him on his poetry readings, as did Jimmy Page on several occasions. His beat poetry preceded the American beat poets, he said, but he was influenced by Christopher Logue, who took part in poetry readings backed by jazz music. Royston was a regular at Soho's clubs and coffee bars, including the 2Is. He recalls listening to A White Sports Coat and a Pink Carnation on the juke box, while singer Terry Dene kept  putting money in the machine.
In 1960 he went to Liverpool - one of a number of cities he hitch hiked to for his poetry readings - and met
George Harrison, 'wearing a matelot striped T shirt', in a cafe. From there he met John, Paul and Stuart Sutcliffe and stayed with the Beetles, as they called themselves, in Gambier Terrace. 'John was the most 'riveting' personality, but 'innocent about London.' Royston introduced them to drugs - a strip from a Benzedrine inhaler and suggested to John that they spell the group name Beatles, rather than Beetles. 'John liked the VW Beetle car and Buddy Holly's Crickets. I said I'm a beat poet, you're a beat group, why don't you spell it with an A.' Their meeting resulted in a poetry reading at the Jacaranda bar in Liverpool, where the Beatles made their first appearance.
Paperback Writer was written with Royston in mind, and his friendship also inspired Polythene Pam from the Abbey Road album. According to Royston he met up with the boys when they visited Guernsey, where he was then living, where he introduced a girl friend to John. John 'said to her he would love to have sex between black leather sheets and ride a motor cycle through your thighs. No leather, so polythene would have to do.'
Royston was a spokesman for teenagers in the late fifties and early sixties and frequently appeared on TV, sometimes causing controversy, but 'retired' when he reached 20 in 1961. He moved to Guernsey and then to Las Palmas, where he met up with Cliff Richard again in 1963 when he was filming A Wonderful Life. At Cliff's suggestion, he tried to sort out a drink problem experienced by actor Dennis Price by taking him to a bar for a talk. It didn't work: Dennis mistook a cockroach on the floor for a Pekinese dog! From there he moved to Dominica, where he became president of the island's cricket club, and then to Sri Lanka, where he continues to write novels and travel books. He is something of a celebrity there and was invited by Sri Lanka Airlines to taste 50 wines that they were considering for their flights. He expected a small gift for his efforts but actually received two Business Class tickets to anywhere he liked, hence his visit to London, his first for three years.
Royston wrote about his early experiences of pop music in his 1961 book The Big Beat Scene and also wrote Driftin' with Cliff Richard, about his association with the band. Poetry anthologies include Jiving To Gyp and Gone Man Squared. His latest book, just launched in the US, is Big Time, and his travel books cover Mauritius, the Maldives and Sri Lanka, among others. He also wrote the successful Bondmaster novels under the name of Richard Tresillian.
**** After the interview Royston went on to a reading at the Poetry Cafe, where he was joined by Jimmy Page. Here's a photo of the two of them together which Royston kindly supplied. Photo by Neel Jayantha.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Mel Waiters and Twinkle

I've read reports today that southern soul singer Mel Waiters has died aged 58. It seems hard to believe as when I saw him for the first (and only) time at the Crescent City Blues and BBQ Festival in New Orleans last year he seemed in the best of health and larger than life. Here's what I wrote at the time.
'Mel Waiters had a largely black female audience eating out of the palm of his hand as he swept onto the stage wearing a pink suit and showing what an excellent showman he is. Originally from San Antonio, he is a big name on the chitlin circuit and knows how to whip up some fervour with a non stop, risqué and often amusing set, backed by a lively band and two female backing singers. Numbers included many of his hits, such as The Smaller The Club The Bigger The Party, Pop It Baby, Got No Curfew (much enjoyed by the ladies in the audience), Got My Whisky, Hit It And Quit It and Hole In The Wall. He also paid tribute to two Bobby's who have passed away recently - Bobby Womack (That's The Way I Feel about You) and Bobby Bland (Members Only Tonight).'
I hope that the reports are not true, but if they are I am sorry that yet another soul man has passed on, and I'm glad that I got to see him at his peak.
The Vinyl Word also raises a glass to Twinkle (Ripley) who, as a 16 year old, had a big hit with the death
disc Terry and who epitomised the sixties dolly bird. The daughter of the leader of Surrey County Council, she briefly became a star when her then boyfriend Dec Cluskey of The Bachelors persuaded Decca to record her self penned tragic song. Big Jim Sullivan and Jimmy Page were among the session musicians. Follow up records, including Golden Lights and Poor Old Johnny, were less successful and she retired from the pop music business aged just 18. She recorded one more single Micky in 1969 and a couple of records under her full name, but after Terry Twinkle's sparkle gradually faded from view.  She may not have had a great voice, but Twinkle was one of the faces of the sixties and in many ways summed up the era.
A final word too for drummer Mac Poole, who played with the Tales From The Woods band at the Joe Meek show in April 2014. Mac apparently turned down the chance to play with Led Zeppelin but played with the Dangerfield Band, Warhorse and Gong, among others. Another sad loss.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Ponderosa Stomp 10 years on

Now that memories of my West Coast US trip are fading, thoughts are turning to my next American trip in the autumn when the high point will be the 12th Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans. The Stomp showcases roots musicians from the fields of rock and roll, soul, swamp pop and blues and organiser Dr Ike manages to find many of the almost forgotten names of the fifties and sixties, some of whom haven't performed very much in many years, as well as some of the great names from the era. This year's line up includes soul singers such as Mable John, Irma Thomas, Brenda Holloway, Barbara Lynn and Willie Hightower. Rock and roll is represented by Freddie Cannon with Los Straitjackets, Roy Head and Al Hendrix, swamp pop by the likes of Rod Bernard, Warren Storm, Tommy McClain and Gene Terry, with the Mama Mama Mamas, a spin off from the Lil Band of Gold, with C C Adcock, Steve Riley and Dickie Landry, and blues by Billy Boy Arnold. Then there are the rarities and obscurities, including songwriter P F Sloan, Jimmy 'Pistol' Jules, original members of Sunny and the Sunliners and several artists about whom I know nothing. It's a mouth watering line up and I can't wait.
The first Stomp I went to, along with several other Woodies, was number 4 in 2005, which was held at the old Rock 'n' Bowl. Acts performed in both the upstairs and downstairs rooms so the two evenings were spent running from one to the other. It was a bit chaotic and impossible to see everyone and the second night ran over time badly, but it was a fabulous event, sandwiched as it was between the two weekends of Jazzfest, and I've tried to get to as many of the others as possible. This year's is the first for two years and it's been a long wait!
Here are some photos from the 2005 Ponderosa Stomp, many of which I haven't put on line before. First we have Link Wray, making one of his last appearances before his death later that year. Man, he was loud! And menacing. But exciting.
Deke Dickerson and the Eccofonics provided the backing for many of the acts back in 2005 and he will be doing the same thing this year. Here he is with Nokie Edwards of the Ventures.
Guitarists dominated in 2005 and here is Travis Wammack, famous for Scratchy.
And here is the great Scotty Moore, who backed Elvis.
Scotty played with Billy Swan, who wrote Lover Please but is best known for his 1974 hit I Can Help.
Another guitarist on the 2005 show was Lady Bo, who played with Bo Diddley from 1957 to 1961.
Another great female guitarist and a wonderful soul singer, Barbara Lynn is one of the star's of this year's show.
Here we have one of the modern kings of rock and roll and R and B Barrence Whitfield.
One of the first Hi artists, recording Tuff in 1962, this is sax man Ace Cannon.
One of the wild men of rhythm and blues, this is H Bomb Ferguson, who sadly died in 2006.
Another artist no longer with us is rockabilly singer/guitarist Dale Hawkins, who died in 2010.
Also from the world of rockabilly, and still with us, is Hayden Thompson.
Most famous for his 1967 hit Gimme A Little Sign, this is Brenton Wood.
A true wild man of rock and roll and swamp pop, this is Roy Head, who is on the bill for this year's Stomp as well.
This is blues piano player and singer Henry Gray.
Another soul man at the 2005 Stomp was Archie Bell.
One of the genuine highlights of any New Orleans trip I've made, and definitely a spine chilling moment, was a rare appearance by Phil Phillips, who sang his big hit Sea Of Love not once, but twice.
Finally, here's a photo of Jewel records soul duo the Carter Brothers, with me (in the middle!).

Friday, May 15, 2015

The King is dead - B B King RIP

This dreadful year of music deaths continues with the death of the King of the Blues B B King at the age of 89. This didn't come as a great surprise in view of recent reports about his health, but is nonetheless terrible news for lovers of the blues. For many people, B B King WAS the blues, so great was his reputation and so extensive his body of work as a blues guitarist and band leader. He worked hard throughout his life and made hundreds of appearances annually for many years. His legacy includes the excellent B B King Museum in the town where he grew up, Indianola in Mississippi, which I visited in 2011, and blues clubs that bear his name in Memphis, New York and elsewhere.
Brought up by his grandmother on a cotton plantation in the racially segregated south, Riley King obtained his first guitar at the age of 15 and went to Memphis in 1946 where he stayed with Bukka White. Returning to Memphis in 1948 he gained a reputation as a disc jockey and blues artist and was given the name the Beale Street Blues Boy, later shortened to B B. Early recordings were for the Bullet and RPM labels, many of them produced by Sam Phillips, and he formed his own band. In 1949 he rescued his guitar from a blazing building after two men had knocked over an oil drum whilst fighting over a woman named Lucille: from that point onwards all his guitars were given that name.
His first hit was 3 O'clock Blues in 1952 and he had further success in the fifties with You Know I Love You, Woke Up This Morning, Please Love Me, You Upset Me Baby, Every Day I Have the Blues, Sweet Little Angel and Ten Long Years, among others. He played a show nearly every day and in 1956 made 342 live appearances. His 1962 album Live At The Regal became one of the best selling live blues albums of all time and in 1969 his fame spread to a much larger audience when he opened for the Rolling Stones and had great success with The Thrill Is Gone. He continued to record and tour extensively throughout the next 40 years and collaborated with the likes of Bobby Bland, Eric Clapton and U2. In 1980 he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
I saw BB perform many times and my photo shows him at the New Orleans Jazzfest in 2010. RIP Riley BB King.
A final word, also, for Lenny Cocco, lead singer of doowop group The Chimes. Their recording of Once In A While became the highest scoring record in my personal top ten in 1961.
Also to Errol Brown, who as lead singer of Hot Chocolate and as a solo singer had a string of lightweight soul hits in the 1970s and 1980s, the best of which were You Sexy Thing and So You Win Again.

Friday, May 08, 2015

My top ten 50 years back - continued

I'm taking another trip down memory lane with a look at my personal top ten exactly 50 years ago. 1965 was the year when soul music really took off in the UK, even if the pop charts did not reflect it. After years of the major US labels having their UK records released on labels such as London, Stateside and Pye International, they were at last getting their own UK outlets. In the space of a couple of months in early 1965 Decca, EMI and Pye launched Atlantic, Tamla Motown and Chess labels under their own names. My top ten of May 9 included records on all three of these, plus a few on more established labels such as HMV, RCA and Stateside, plus one on the Sue label which had been launched a couple of years earlier.
Here's the top ten.
1. Impressions - People Get Ready. HMV 1408. This great gospel flavoured 45 was a big US success for Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions and has been chosen as one of the top 10 songs of all time by a Mojo magazine panel including Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson, and the 24th best song by Rolling Stone.
2. Sam Cooke - It's Got the Whole World Shaking. RCA 1476. A cut from Sam's Shake album, this was the second posthumous 45 by the great Sam, but despite being an excellent record it tends to be overlooked.
3. Otis Redding - Mr Pitiful. Atlantic 4024. Written by Otis with Steve Cropper, this was the Big O's first release on the UK Atlantic label. From The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads it reached the US top ten and was his most successful release to that point. The B side That's How Strong My Love Is was written by Roosevelt Jamison and first recorded by O V Wright.
4. Marvin Gaye - I'll Be Doggone. Tamla Motown 510. Co-written by Smokey Robinson, this was Marvin's first 45 on the newly launched UK Tamla Motown label and was a million seller, reaching the US ten ten. Did nothing in the UK at the time needless to say.
5. Fats Domino - Why Don't You Do Right. HMV 1421. Fats never quite reached the heights of his Imperial recordings once he moved to ABC and this one - a remake of a pre war blues song best known for the recording by Peggy Lee - didn't make much of an impact. It's not typical Domino, but not bad.
6. Solomon Burke - Got To Get You Off My Mind. Atlantic 4022. Of all the many great records in Solomon's long career this was his most successful. It was written in the immediate aftermath of Sam Cooke's death - Solomon had been with him just a few hours earlier.
7. Fontella Bass & Bobby McClure - Don't Mess Up A Good Thing. Chess 8007. Fontella recorded several duets with former Soul Stirrer Bobby McClure before her Rescue Me smash, and this was probably the best -a great up tempo number. An early UK Chess label release.
8. Ikettes - Peaches And Cream. Stateside 407. The Ikettes burst out from the Ike and Tina Turner Revue with a number of brilliantly soulful records of their own, incuding this substantial hit recorded for Modern. There were at least two sets of Ikettes on the road at this time, as Ike wanted to maximise their success whilst still having them performing in the revue.
9. Miracles - Ooh Baby Baby. Tamla Motown 503. This was Smokey and the Miracles' first release on the newly launched UK Tamla Motown label and is a superbly dreamy slowie, which captures Smokey's voice to perfection.
10. Wilbert Harrison - Let's Stick Together. Sue 363. Recorded for Fury in 1962, this shuffle beat blues was only released in the UK as a single on Sue three years later. It was later retitled Let's WorkTogether and re-released and also covered by Canned Heat and Bryan Ferry, but this is the original and best.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Ben E King RIP

Soul music has lost yet another of its all time greats with the death of Ben E King at the age of 76. Atlantic Records founder Armet Ertegun described him as 'one of the greatest singers in the history of rock and roll and rhythm and blues', and that was no exaggeration. As lead singer of the Drifters his beautiful voice made masterpieces out of a string of hits during 1959 and 1960, including There Goes My Baby, Dance With Me, This Magic Moment, Lonely Winds, Save The Last Dance For Me (the group's biggest ever hit), Nobody But Me and I Count The Tears.
After leaving the Drifters he enjoyed a stellar career as a solo artist. Stand By Me from 1961 was a huge hit not once but twice, when it was the theme of the 1986 movie of the same name. Other excellent records included Spanish Harlem, First Taste Of Love (a great double sider), Amor, Young Boy Blues, Here Comes The Night, Ecstasy, Don't Play That Song, Too Bad, Tell Daddy, How Can I Forget, I (Who Have Nothing), Gypsy, What Now My Love, That's When It Hurts, It's All Over, Around The Corner, Seven Letters, Cry No More, Goodnight My Love, What Is Soul?, Tears Tears Tears and, from 1975, Supernatural Thing. From that list, and others besides, it's impossible to pick a favourite, because they were all superb examples of soul music at its very best.
He continued to record after the hits dried up and to perform until recently and I was lucky enough to see him on several occasions, the most recent being in 2011 when he appeared in Basingstoke alongside another sixties legend Gary US Bonds (see photo). The Drifters produced some great individual singers but, along with Clyde McPhatter, Ben was undoubtedly the greatest. RIP to a true great.
There are a couple of other recent deaths that deserve a mention which I have missed over the last few weeks. Billy Butler, the brother of Jerry, died at the age of 69. He formed the Enchanters and as a solo artist he made a number of first rate soul records, the most famous of which was The Right Track for the Okeh label, which is listed at number 11 in the Northern Soul top 500 singles. He also recorded with the group Infinity and enjoyed success.
Another recent death is that of songwriter Sid Tepper at the age of 96. Together with partner Roy C Bennett he wrote Red Roses For A Blue Lady in 1949 and went on to write dozens of hits for the likes of Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard, including G I Blues, Travellin' Light, When The Girl In Your Arms Is the Girl In Your heart, Comin' Down With Love, Carl Perkins' Glad All Over and The Young Ones.