Friday, August 28, 2015

More final words

Time to catch up with a few of the music people who have passed away during the last few weeks. Two of them have strong Memphis connections.
Louis Paul, who has died aged 67 in a motor accident, made his name with Memphis garage rock
band The Guilloteens, who were a favourite in local club the Roaring Sixties and considered by some to be the best garage band in town. They had a US hit in 1965 with I Don't Believe which led to appearances on Shindig and other national TV shows. Louis lived in Lauderdale Court, with Elvis as a neighbour, and went to Humes High School, just as Elvis had done.The band moved to LA where they played at the Red Velvet club. They were due to record at Gold Star with Phil Spector, but he moved to New York and their manager Jerry Williams signed them to the Hanna-Barbera label instead. They 'went from the Wall of Sound to Huckleberry Hound', Louis joked. After leaving the band Louis recorded for Cotillion and then joined Stax, recording an album called Reflections Of The Way It Really Is, released on Enterprise in 1973. After the demise of Stax and a short spell at Leon Russell's Shelter label, Louis continued to play in Memphis with the New Guilloteens.

Memphis's much better known garage band the Box Tops enjoyed great success with three songs written by Wayne Carson. The Letter was a huge hit and has been recorded by countless other artists, including Joe Cocker, the Beach Boys and Al Green. Neon Rainbow and Soul Deep were also Carson compositions. His best known song, however, was Always On My Mind, which was first recorded by Brenda Lee but became a standard following recordings by Elvis, Willie Nelson and the Pet Shop Boys, among others. Originally from Denver, Carson was 72.
Another recent death is that zydeco and R and B drummer Clarence 'Jockey' Etienne, aged 81,
Known for his rhumba beat, Etienne played with Slim Harpo and Guitar Gable at J D Miller's Crowley studio and also backed Joe Simon and Solomon Burke. He played with zydeco band Fernest and the Thunders, the Creole Zydeco Farmers, Lazy Lester and Katie Webster and, more recently with Lil Band of Gold, after Warren Storm left. He was due to play at the Ponderosa Stomp in a few weeks' time with the Mama Mama Mamas, as Lil Band Of Gold are now known.
Other recent deaths to whom the Vinyl Word raises a glass include country songwriter Billy Sherrill, who wrote Stand By Your Man and Almost Persuaded. Also country singer Lynn Anderson, who had a smash hit with Rose Garden, and Liverpool singer and TV personality Cilla Black.

Monday, August 24, 2015

My top ten 51 years ago

No blog entries lately so here's another look at my personal top ten records of years gone by, this time focusing on August 24th, 1964. It was a busy week with five new entries, including brand new ones at numbers one and two, and 12 records in the top ten, as three were tied at number 10. Quite a varied lot too, with a bit of everything and some classics, although only one of them overlapped with the official UK top 30 of the time, which was dominated by British beat groups and middle of the road crap.
1. Earl-Jean: I'm Into Something Good. Colpix PX 729. This was a classic example of an excellent record being pretty well destroyed by an inferior cover version, in this case by the dreadful Herman's
Hermits, even in the US. Written by Goffin and King, Earl-Jean was a member of the Cookies and this was one of two solo 45s in the UK.
2. Chuck Berry - You Never Can Tell. Pye International7N 25257. Written while Chuck was in prison in the early sixties, the song tells the tale of a teenage couple who marry and go to New Orleans to celebrate their first anniversary. It was Chuck's follow up to No Particular Place To Go and was a small hit at the time, before becoming much better known when it was featured in the film Pulp Fiction in 1994.
3. The Beach Boys - I Get Around. Capitol 15350. A number one US hit and the first UK top ten hit for the Beach Boys, this brings back memories of my first summer after leaving school, camping in Great Yarmouth, riding my Lambretta to the bank holiday mod/rocker confrontations at Hastings and Brighton and wishing I could get around quite as much as the the Beach Boys did. It was on its way down in my top ten after two months.
4. Bobby Freeman - C'mon And Swim. Pye International 7N 25260. Produced by Sly Stone, this was Bobby's second US top ten hit, some six years after Do You Wanna Dance, but it missed out completely in the UK. The 'swim' craze was short-lived, but it did feature as the B side of the Falcons' I Found A Love in 1962.
5= Bobby Bland - Ain't Nothing You Can Do. Vocalion PT 1222. I think this may have been the first time that I was aware of Bobby 'Blue' Bland - certainly it was his first entry into my top ten. He became one of my favourite soul/blues singers of all time. This made number 20 in the US in the week that the Beatles held the top five spots.
5= Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee - Dissatisfied Woman. Oriole CB 1946. Sonny and
Brownie briefly rode the crest of the blues revival and retained their authentic blues style. This was a song that Brownie originally recorded in 1947.
7= Sam Cooke - Good Times. RCA 1405. Not many weeks went by without a Sam Cooke record being in my top ten and this was no exception. B side was Tennessee Waltz.
7= Jan and Dean - Little Old Lady Of Pasadena. Liberty 55704. I had a lot of time for the west coast sound of Jan and Dean and this was one of their best. Sadly Jan Berry was badly injured in a car crash in1966 which brought their hit making to an abrupt end, although they went on to record again when he recovered.
7= Drifters - Under The Boardwalk. Atlantic AT 4001. A much covered song (number 488 in Rolling Stone's top 500 songs), the lead was taken by Johnny Moore when Drifters lead singer Rudy Lewis died of a heroin overdose the night before recording. The first release on Decca's newly formed Atlantic UK label.
10= Four Seasons - Rag Doll. Philips 1347. Another classic song, written by Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio, this went on to become a big UK hit, as well as a number one in the US. B side was Silence Is Golden, which was covered by the Tremeloes and went to number one.
10= Jelly Beans - I Want To Love Him So Bad. Pye International 7N 25252. A short lived vocal group comprising four girls and one guy from Jersey City, the Jelly Beans had a US top ten hit with this Jeff Barry/Ellie Greenwich song recorded for Leiber and Stoller's Red Bird label.
10= The Ronettes - (The Best Part Of) Breaking Up. London 9905. The third Phil Spector-produced single by Ronnie and the others failed to match the success of the first two but was still a medium sized hit. Great record none the same which made it to number two in my top ten.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Memphis - The Musical

Memphis - The Musical has been a West End hit for the last 10 months, following successful runs in the States, and it's not hard to see why. I went to see it at the Shaftesbury Theatre today and thought it was brilliant. OK, so the original music bears little relation to the rock and roll and rhythm and blues of the fifties that it claims to portray, but so what? There's an energy about the production, with some superb dance routines, that moves it well above the ordinary.
The story focuses on Huey Calhoun, a white disc jockey, loosely based on the real life Dewey Phillips, who kicks off a revolution in this racially divided city in the mid fifties by playing black music on a white radio station. He meets and falls in love with Felicia, a black R and B singer, which causes outrage in the community and upsets her brother and his mother. True love, needless to say, doesn't run smooth and his desire to stay in Memphis conflicts with her ambition to become a star. Racial segregation in Memphis is a constant theme and this is the dramatic background that brings the story to life.
It's the excitement of the performances, the commitment of the cast and the slickness of the production that make the show work. The main stars are Beverley Knight and Matt Cardle, both stars in their own right, but the show I saw featured their alternates Rachel John and Jon Robyns, both of whom were excellent. I was particularly impressed with Rachel's Felicia.
I have been a regular visitor to Memphis over the last few years and I will be there again in a few weeks time. It had a strangely downbeat feel to it when I first went there in 1989 - as though it had been forgotten, with a near derelict downtown. I've seen some changes for the better since then, but the city still looks a bit down at heel and has a racial divide which means that whites don't go to black clubs and vice versa. Yet whenever I've visited black juke joints such as Wild Bill's, in a black area of the city, I've been made to feel most welcome. Even back in 1989, when I first went to Beale Street, I was treated like an honored guest when I went to an exclusively black club.
The show manages to pick up on that division and, even though the music is all wrong - especially a couple of X Factor style numbers in the second half - there's enough of a feel for the atmosphere of the city to dispel any lack of belief. It's a joyous show, yet I was moved at times, and I know quite a few others in the Woodies party who attended - most of whom have been to Memphis at least once - felt the same way. Highly recommended.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Wizz Jones at the Hoy at Anchor Folk Club

Wizz Jones is a 76-year-old Croydon-born folk and blues singer-guitarist and songwriter who's been performing since 1957. Influenced by the likes of Big Bill Broonzy, Muddy Waters and Ramblin' Jack Elliott, he has worked with musicians such as Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, and banjo-player Pete Stanley, and has been recording since the mid-'60s. He was at The Hoy at Anchor Folk Club, Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex on July 28.
Across two sets over some 90 minutes, from the bluesier side of things came Doc Watson's 'Deep River Blues' with some excellent guitar picking and neat chord shapes, and his version of Blind Boy Fuller's 'Weeping Willow'. Highlights from his own compositions were the moving 'Burma Star', written about his late father who survived the Second World War after being 'listed as missing in '42', with its near-'20s jazz feel; the lighter 'Lullaby Of Battersea'; and 'Mississippi John', his tribute to the late Mississippi John Hurt. Wizz also rang the changes with a jazzy, stepping version of 'The Glory Of Love',  and demonstrated some exemplary chording and picking on his version of Blind Willie Johnson's 'Lord I Just Can't Keep From Crying'; he even played some banjo on Ewan McColl's 'The Father's Song'. For an encore, and determined 'to get the time to play my hit... 'When I Leave Berlin'' (which Bruce Springsteen covered to open his 2012 show in Berlin) Wizz ended the night on a high. An enjoyable evening's entertainment from a fine singer and guitarist delivering a well blended musical repertoire, complete with some touches of laconic humour. Seamus McGarvey

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Sixties soul with The Flirtations

Sixties soul came to the Jazz Cafe last night with an appearance by the Flirtations, a girl group who still put on a fun and very tuneful show. Sisters Earnestine and Shirley Pearce got together with another sister, Betty, to form the Gypsies in 1962, before changing their name to the Flirtations. Betty left in 1964 to be replaced by Viola Billups who, as Pearly Gates, enjoyed solo success in the seventies and eighties. Although originally from South Carolina and Alabama (in Vi's case) the Flirtations were  based in the UK, where they made a string of up tempo soul numbers for Deram which failed to make a great deal of impact at the time but which are now regarded as Northern soul classics. Today the three Flirtations still look gorgeous and harmonise well. They also have a great line in humour between numbers.
Kicking off with a lively stab at Arthur Conley's Sweet Soul Music, and backed by a band which suited them well, they moved on to another soul classic Do I Love You, before singing their own Need Your Lovin'. Marvin Gaye's Little Darling (I Love You) was followed by the belting Stronger Than Her Love, a Flirtations original. Next was Can't Stop Lovin' You, a song which, they said, Tom Jones was given preference over by their record company. Other numbers included Martha and the Vandellas' Nowhere To Run, their own Someone Out There and their biggest hit Nothing But A Heartache, before they returned to the Motown songbook with Junior Walker's Shotgun and the Jacksons' I Want You Back. They dug back to the early sixties with Jerk It, recorded when they were known as the Gypsies, before finishing strongly with Dancing In the Street. In between Vi complained about a sore throat, although she sounded fine, while Shirley, wearing a fetching blonde wig, described herself as 'the sexy one', and Earnestine insisted she was 'the pretty one'. To my eyes, they all looked great and this was a show that brought a smile to our faces.
Earlier, and I kick myself for arriving late, I caught a bit of the support act - Diane Shaw, an ebullient and highly vocal soul singer from Manchester. She sounded fantastic on Edwin Starr's Stop Her On Sight and I wish I had seen more.
Nick Cobban