Monday, November 30, 2015

My final top ten 50 years on

It's exactly 50 years today since I compiled my final personal top ten, the 408th time between early 1960 and December 1965 that I had listed my favourite records of the moment. Here is the list (11 actually as there were two records tied in tenth place) and a great selection it is.
1. Otis Redding - My Girl. Atlantic AT 4050.
This is the only time that two versions of the same song made it to number one in my top ten - the Temptations original made it there in March 1965. Both versions are excellent of course. Otis died 48 years ago this month.
2. Fontella Bass - Rescue Me. Chess CRS 8023.
St Louis born Fontella enjoyed success with Bobby McClure on Don't Mess Up A Good Thing, but this was her greatest success. When she tried to obtain song writing credits she failed and was branded a troublemaker, harming her career, she said. She died in 2012.
3. O V Wright - You're Gonna Make Me Cry. Vocalion VP 9249.
Overton Vertis Wright was one of the greatest soul singers of all time and this Willie Mitchell production was his first UK release. He had recorded That's How Strong My Love Is for Goldwax, but Don Robey, owner of the Duke and Back Beat labels, claimed he had a prior contract. Sadly O V died in 1980 aged just 41.
4. Wilson Pickett - Don't Fight It. Atlantic AT 4052.
This was the follow up to In the Midnight Hour and was equally good. The Wicked Pickett made some great soul records and was a dynamic performer. My photo shows him at Clapham Grand not long before he died in 2006.
5. Willie Mitchell - Everything Is Gonna Be Alright. London HLU 10004.
As well as being a superb record producer at Royal Studios in Memphis, Willie was also a trumpeter and bandleader who recorded some soul classics, including this double sider, which had That Driving Beat on the B side. He died in 2010.
6. Patti La Belle & Her Belles - All Or Nothing. Atlantic AT 4055.
Beginning with the Bluebelles in 1962, Patti went on to become a soul superstar. Success came with LaBelle's Lady Marmalade, duets with Bobby Womack and Michael McDonald and solo hits.
7. Len Barry - 1-2-3. Brunswick 05943.
Blue eyed soul singer Len Barry was lead singer with the Dovells before going solo and enjoying huge success with this one and the follow up Like A Baby. He went on to record more disco oritentated material and is now also a novelist.
8. Marvin Gaye - Ain't That Peculiar. Tamla Motown TMG 539.
Another big hit from Marvin Gaye who died tragically in 1984. Written by Smokey Robinson.
9. The Mad Lads - Don't Have To Shop Around. Atlantic AT 4051.
Stax/Volt recording artists the Mad Lads introduced some sweetness into soul. Members included John Gary Williams, who I saw at Porretta a few years ago, and William Brown, who went on to become studio engineer at Stax and Royal Studios.
10=. Bobby Bland - These Hands (Small But Mighty). Vocalion VP 9251.
Bobby 'Blue' Bland created some exquisite soul and blues records during a career that extended until his death two years ago.
10=. The Miracles - My Girl Has Gone. Tamla Motown TMG 540.
The follow up to The Tracks Of My Tears, this was another Smokey classic.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

P F Sloan remembered

My friend Ronnie Cook has reminded me that I haven't paid tribute on The Vinyl Word to P F Sloan, who we both saw at the Ponderosa Stomp at the beginning of October for the first time. Phil (P F) looked and sounded good so it was a terrible shock to learn that he had died of pancreatic cancer aged 70.

Better known as a songwriter than a singer, P F Sloan was a child prodigy and became the only white artist to sign with Aladdin while still only 13 when he recorded as Flip Sloan, and by the age of 16 he was working with Lou Adler in Los Angeles as his assistant. He claimed to have met James Dean two years after he died and says that he was taught to play the guitar by Elvis Presley when they were locked in a department store in LA.
He sang with Jan and Dean, frequently taking Dean's place as the falsetto voice, and says that he rescued early Beatles and Rolling Stones demos from the waste bin when Lou Adler threw them out. As a songwriter he wrote with Steve Barri but was frequently in trouble with Lou Adler at Dunhill records, who fired and rehired him several times for flirting with folk rock and daring to talk to Bob Dylan. He wrote a global hit, Eve of Destruction, for Barry McGuire but it was considered by some, particularly in the US, but also initially by the BBC, to be subversive and was banned widely. On the same night he wrote four other songs, including his own hit Sins Of A Family - about a 14 year old cousin who turned to prostitution to buy food - in one night. On the strength of these hits he visited England with Barry McGuire, where he became friendly with Brian Epstein. He joined the LA session backing group the Wrecking Crew and formed the Grassroots, a group name that had been given up by Love when they changed their name. He also helped create the sound of the Mamas and Papas, including the opening bars of California Dreaming which helped make it a hit. He was involved in early records by the Turtles and wrote Secret Agent Man, the US theme for the Patrick McGoohan series Danger Man, which became a hit for Johnny Rivers. He worked with the Rolling Stones on Paint It Black and also wrote successful records for Hermans Hermits and the Searchers. He was a friend of Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs. Later, he met songwriter Jimmy Webb while he was still unknown and Jimmy wrote a song entitled P F Sloan. After threats from Dunhill Phil moved to New York, and recorded an album for Atco at Sun Studios, took up drugs and eventually retired from the music business.
On stage at the Stomp, his voice was strong on Eve of Destruction and some of his more pop orientated material and he went down well. Earlier, at the Stomp conference sessions, he was promoting his autobiography, What's Exactly The Matter With Me?, (co-written with S E Feinberg), the title of the B side of Eve of Destruction, and was a highly amusing interviewee. On stage, backed by Deke Dickerson and Eve and the Exiles, (plus Woodie Armand St Martin on keyboards) he looked very much the sixties folk rocker with his guitar and harmonica set up. Eve of Destruction was a song that changed the law, with its line about being old enough to kill, but not for voting, he said. He also showed what a good pop singer and songwriter he was with That's Cool, That's Trash and the surf sounds of the Fantastic Baggy's Tell Them I'm Surfing and Anywhere The Girls Are. Other songs included Kick That Little Foot Sally Ann, Live For Today, the gay rights favourite Let Me Be (recorded originally by the Turtles), Secret Agent Man and Take Me For What I'm Worth. It was an enjoyable and varied set by a man who looked in good health. How quickly things can change.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Milk and Green bring southern soul to Hoxton

Memphis soul singer Toni Green has become a favourite at the Porretta Soul Festival in recent years, earning herself the unofficial title of the Queen of Porretta. Her performances always feature glamorous gowns, deep soul of the highest quality and not a little in the way of histrionics (but in a good way). Her repertoire, though, tends to be established and relatively well known soul numbers - not surprising given her connections with such Memphis greats as Willie Mitchell, Isaac Hayes and Ann Peebles.
Now, however, she has teamed up with French soul/funk group Malted Milk and the result, as I witnessed at the Hoxton Bar and Kitchen in London last night, is stunning. The combination was impressive. Toni came on stage in a pink sparkly trouser suit with matching high heeled shoes and waved a pink feather fan constantly in an attempt to cool herself. As ever, she looked great and her voice was as strong and soulful as ever. The seven piece band from Nantes, led by guitarist Arnaud Fradin, included two horns and proved capable of handling everything from funk to blues, with a lot of southern soul as well. And the material was not your usual soul fare, including several original numbers and others from such soul artists as Tommy Tate and Garnet Mimms which you seldom hear in a soul set. Many of the numbers are included on their album Milk and Green on Nueva Onda Records, which I will have to seek out.
Toni kicked off with I'd Really Like To Know, written by Tommy Tate, which showed off her soul credentials to perfection. Other numbers included Hold Back This Feeling, written by Arnaud, and Sexy Love Machine, writtten by Toni herself, which brought a great response from the crowd, as she picked out some of  the sexy men and women there. Just Ain't Working Out proved to be a superb blues number, while Deep Inside, another original by Arnaud and the band, was pure southern soul. Garnet Mimms' As Long As I Have You increased the tempo, as did I Don't Need Nobody. She left the stage at that point, leaving Malted Milk to carry on with their very competent funk and soul, and returned for an encore 20 minutes later.
Altogether an enjoyable show - Toni's first in London she said. The decision to team up with Malted Milk looks to be a good one and is certainly giving Toni, a true southern soul veteran, a new lease of life.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Great Rhythm Riot, but this may be the last time

Rhythm Riot this year more than lived up to expectations with three original American artists from the rock and roll era putting on a great show, and some good supporting acts as well. Of course, many of those attending - from across the UK and Europe - are there for the fifties fashion and jiving and don't much care who is performing. But for the regular bunch of Woodies who have supported the Riot for many years it's the US visitors who are the stars. It's a shame therefore that next year's line up has no American originals on the bill. If that remains the case, I won't be going, and neither will many others I suspect.
But back to this year's show. The star of day one was Gaynel Hodge, who appeared with Spanish doowop group the Four Candles. Gaynel was never a big name as a solo artist, but co-wrote the Penguins' Earth Angel with Jesse Belvin and Curtis Williams, was on the original version of the Platters' Only You and sang with the Hollywood Flames and the Turks among other west coast doowop groups. He began his set with the Hollywood Flames' Buzz Buzz Buzz and other numbers included Louie Louie, originally by boyhood friend Richard Berry, and Tick Tock, originally by Marvin and Johnny. Other numbers included I'm A Fool, recorded by the Cliques, which comprised Jesse and Eugene Church, Only You, Earth Angel, the Penguins' Hey Senorita, Little Bitty Pretty One and Rockin' Robin. The sound during Gaynel's set was a little muffled - where I was standing anyway - but he sang well and displayed some neat footwork. The Four Candles (pictured below) (who seemed aware of the two Ronnies sketch) worked well with him and this was an enjoyable set.
Day two's big name was the ever reliable Jack Scott, whose moody demeanour belies a a wry sense of humour. Looking a good deal younger than his 79 years, and wearing a black leather jacket, he began with the rocking Leroy and moved on through What Am I Living For, One Of These Days, Ubangi Stomp, Save My Soul, Baby Bye Bye and Geraldine, all delivered to perfection with fine backing from the Rhythm Riot house band. Next came Foggy Mountain Dew, with some speeded up yodelling towards the end, and a couple more originals in the form of Patsy and Baby Baby. Jack has recently recorded his first studio album for over 40 years, Way To Survive, and he featured a couple of numbers from that - Tennessee Saturday Night and Hillbilly Fever. Other numbers included Strange Desire, Flaky John, The Way I Walk and I Found A Woman, and for an encore he returned to Leroy, only this time using its original lyric of Greaseball. This was a great set by a singer who is as good and fresh today as he ever was - moody and magnificent.
The big name of the final day was Young Jessie, now not so young at 78, but still dynamic and with a good stage act. He was wearing a dark green velvet jacket, smart tie and brown hat but his dapper look was slightly spoiled by a minor wardrobe malfunction, which he dealt with in good humour. 24 Hours A Day was followed by I Smell A Rat and one of his big hits Mary Lou, all sung with great energy. Other numbers included Oochie Coochie, Lonesome Desert (featuring some scat singing), Shuffle In the Gravel and It Don't Happen No More, before finishing with his biggest record Hit Git and Split. An excellent set and much enjoyed.
Of the other acts during the Riot, special mention must go to Mike Sanchez, whose brilliant piano playing and singing on numbers such as Sapphire and Shirley was augmented by three female singers, who each did five numbers. First on was Vicky Tafoya from LA, whose huge eyelashes, bouffant hair and black dress created a stunning impression. Numbers included an excellent Do You Want To Jump Children and a superb version of Rosie and the Originals' Angel Baby. She was followed by Little Rachel, from St Louis, a vision in green with a huge spider broach, whose set included the Lucille-flavoured Little Man and I Can't Let You Go. Final act was R and B singer Jai Malano, who ripped into a great version of Big Mama Thornton's Hound Dog, Johnny No (an original with a Bo Diddley beat) and Make My Way. Jai looks as good as she sounds and went down well.
Here are a few more acts on this year's bill. First the Bluejays, a young English group with a good looking singer in the mould of Eddie Cochran. Very promising I would say.
Also on the first evening, and creating an excellent impression once again, here is the dynamic Si Cranstoun.
These are the Barnstompers, a competent hillbilly band from the Netherlands.
From day two, here is the lead singer of Cow Cow Boogie, from Edinburgh.
The Broadkasters, a blues band from Southend, divided opinion, but they were certainly very proficient musicians.
Here are Gone Hepsville, a Bill Haley flavoured band with two sax players from the Czech Republic
Dollar Bill, a one man blues band, seemed to be popular with the audience but I found him  monotonous and rather mediocre.
Finally, here is one of me with Jack Scott.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Prudential BluesFest, O2, London

Seamus McGarvey reviews the London Blues Festival. Stars (pictured above) included Van Morrison and Tom Jones.
'I was lucky enough to make the final day of the Prudential BluesFest on Sunday November 8 at London's O2 featuring an excellent line-up of performers. Lauren Housley, a confident performer, with a good voice and stage presence, featured some songs from her new album 'Sweet Surrender'. Rockabilly singer-guitarist Darrel Higham (pictured below) hit the spot with numbers like 'Hank Williams And Me', Eddie Cochran's 'Somethin' Else' (joking that Eddie wrote it 'for The Sex Pistols'), drawing a good crowd right up to his closing Johnny Burnette's 'Rockabilly Boogie' - a strong performance. 
Chris Farlowe (pictured below) featured bluesy items including the medium stepping 'I Don't Want To Sing The Blues No More' and Little Milton's 'Ain't No Big Deal On You'. In tribute to the late Steve Marriott, he sang 'All Or Nothing', headed back to the blues for 'Southbound Train', then Delbert McClinton's 'Standing On Shaky Ground', before 'Out Of Time' brought a highly entertaining set to a close. 
Georgie Fame (pictured below) also concentrated on bluesier items like 'If You Live' composed by Mose Allison (due to turn 88 on November 11th), Floyd Dixon's 'Lovin' (Brought Me Into This World)', Ray Charles's 'Get On The Right Track Baby' and 'I Got A Woman' plus Georgie's first Number One, 'Yeh, Yeh' - excellent.

The Blues Band fronted by Paul Jones(pictured below) also delivered a well-balanced set including 'Grits Ain't Groceries', 'Can't Stand To See You Go', Ray Charles's 'Busted', 'Statesboro Blues' and others before closing with 'our only hit', 'Maggie's Farm'. A lively set from a classic band.
In the evening, a capacity audience filled the O2 Arena for a relatively unique stage coupling of Van Morrison and Tom Jones. Van opened with numbers like 'Close Enough For Jazz' and 'Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child', continuing the bluesy theme with 'Playhouse' before 'Precious Time' lifted the pace neatly again. He dipped back into Them's catalogue for 'Baby Please Don't Go' and 'Don't Start Crying Now', played a skillful sax solo on 'I Can't Stop Loving You' and a jazzy 'It's All In The Game' before Jones joined him for 'Sticks And Stones', 'Look Down That Lonesome Road' and 'I'm Not Feeling It Anymore', all of which worked well.
Jones's set started with numbers like 'Burning Hell' and recollections of spending time singing with Elvis after shows in Las Vegas leading to the spiritual 'God's Gonna Cut You Down' and the hand-clapping 'Didn't It Rain', demonstrating his extensive vocal range. From a new album, 'Long Lost Suitcase', came Lonnie Johnson's 'Tomorrow Night' before 'Sex Bomb' got some fans up dancing. Other highlights included 'Elvis Presley Blues', and 'Tower Of Song' in tribute to Hank Williams, before finishing with 'It's Not Unusual' and a fine version of Billy Boy Arnold's 'I Wish You Would'. The evening ended with the two joining forces again for 'What Am I Living For', 'Goodnight Irene', 'Sometimes We Cry' (which they'd recorded together) and a stirring gospel closer, 'Strange Things Happen Every Day', an exciting conclusion to a great day's entertainment.'
Seamus McGarvey ('Juke Blues' Magazine)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Allen Toussaint RIP

He was the godfather of New Orleans R and B. The death of Allen Toussaint, suddenly at the age of 77 following a concert in Madrid, is a terrible shock and hard to take in. Despite the dispiriting deluge of deaths of other New Orleans greats over the last few years, including that of Frankie Ford only a few weeks ago, Allen Toussaint seemed to be the great survivor. Always looking dapper and fit, and consistently putting on a superb show, he seemed indestructible. But now he's gone, just a few days before he was due to perform once again in London.
As a songwriter, pianist, producer and performer he represented all that was so great about New Orleans and its music and it was his songs that really attracted me to the music right from the beginning in the early sixties and led to me being a regular visitor. He wrote, often under his pen name Naomi Neville, and played on nearly all the classic New Orleans records of the sixties by Ernie K-Doe, Benny Spellman, Lee Dorsey, Chris Kenner, Irma Thomas, Art and Aaron Neville and many others. His influence on the city's music was second to none and even when that first phase of joyful R and B fell out of favour he kept the spirit of New Orleans music alive by moving into the funkier sounds of the Meters and others and producing many fine records in the late sixties and seventies.
I was lucky enough to catch Allen Toussaint performing on many occasions, both in New Orleans, including at Jazzfest and the Ponderosa Stomp, and in London. His voice was more than adequate and it was brilliant piano playing, his wonderful songs and his personality that made him such an engaging entertainer. Who can forget songs like A Certain Girl, Get Out Of My Life Woman, Lipstick Traces and Do Re Mi, to name but a few? As a recording artist he had success with Southern Nights and From A Whisper To A Scream, but it was his songwriting, musicianship and influence that really counted.
Allen was not quite the last great artist from the classic New Orleans era - Dr John, the Nevilles and Irma Thomas are still around thankfully - but he was without doubt one of the greatest in terms of the musical heritage of the Big Easy.
Top photo shows Allen at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2011. Dave Bartholomew was scheduled to appear but was unwell so Allen played a double set - sheer brilliance throughout. Photo below shows him making a surprise appearance at Irma Thomas's Lion's Den club in New Orleans in 1991.
Here's a blog entry I wrote following a show at the Jazz Cafe in July, 2009.

If anyone can be called a living legend of New Orleans music then Allen Toussaint must surely be that person. He produced, composed and played brilliant piano on numerous New Orleans R and B classics in the late 50s and 60s by the likes of Lee Dorsey, Ernie K-Doe, Benny Spellman, Irma Thomas and Chris Kenner, moved on to be the godfather of N'Awlins funk in the late 60s and early 70s, and made his mark as a solo performer, along with numerous later collaborations with the likes of Frankie Miller and, a couple of years ago, Elvis Costello.
Now 71, and looking fit and smart (despite wearing sandals and socks), Allen's one man show at the Jazz Cafe last night showed just how good he was, and still is. New Orleans has produced many great piano players over the years, from Archibald to Professor Longhair to James Booker, but Allen showed that he's every bit as good as any of them. He kicked off with a selection of his classic New Orleans hits - from Ernie K-Doe's A Certain Girl, to Benny Spellman's Fortune Teller to Lee Dorsey's Working In a Coal Mine - and played several jazz standards from his new album The Bright Mississippi, including one originally by Django Reinhardt (he pronounced it D-Jango). Along the way he played a superb medley of just about every musical style you could think of, including R and B, jazz, country, boogie woogie - even a touch of the classics, all done with a virtuosity that made it all seem so simple. He slipped in one or two of his more obscure R and B compositions, including Art Neville's All These Things (made before the Nevilles realised that they were the Neville Brothers, he said) and Chris Kenner's Packing Up, and included Lee Dorsey's Get Out Of My Life Woman which, he said, rather surprisingly, was his most covered song. The whole show was done in an easy going, laid back manner with amusing asides and tales of his childhood. Naturally he finished off with Southern Nights, his best known solo recording. It's a long way to the Big Easy, but Allen Toussant made it feel as though it was just round the corner.
Here he is embracing Dr John at Jazzfest in the mid 1990s.

RIP Allen. You will be missed.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Male/female duos

I've picked up a couple of LPs recently by Nino Tempo and April Stevens, a brother and sister act who had great success in the sixties with pop revivals of oldies, including Sweet And Lovely, Deep Purple, Whispering and Stardust. I remember them as being catchy versions of standards but probably not records that had any lasting appeal. I was surprised therefore how good the LPs sound even today. There's a wonderful version of a song called Who, written by Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern, which sounds more like Papa Ooh Mow Mow.
The male/female sound got me thinking about other fifties and sixties boy/girl acts, many of which created some very memorable and, in some cases, soulful records. Apart from Nino and April, here's a top ten from the period.
1. Billy (Ford) and Lille (Bryant), 2. Gene and Eunice, 3. Paul and Paula, 4. Inez and Charlie Foxx, 5. Sonny and Cher, 6. Mickey and Sylvia, 7. Shirley and Lee, 8. Dick and Deedee, 9. Dale and Grace, and, of course, 10. Ike and Tina Turner.
There were many examples of male singers teaming up with the girls for one or more record (and vice versa), including Marvin Gaye (with Tammi Terrell, Mary Wells and Kim Weston), Carla Thomas (with dad Rufus and Otis Redding), Brook Benton and Dinah Washington, Don Gardner and Dee Dee Ford, Peggy Scott and Jo Jo Benson, Billy Vera and Judy Clay, Betty Everett and Jerry Butler, Delaney and Bonnie, Louis Prima and Keely Smith, Chubby Checker and Dee Dee Sharp, Chuck Jackson and Maxine Brown, Jackie Wilson and Linda Hopkins, Judy Clay and William Bell, Peaches and Herb, Eydie Gorme and Steve Lawrence, Les Paul and Mary Ford and Nancy Sinatra with her dad Frank and Lee Hazlewood.
Not to be forgotten are the many combinations of ska and reggae singers from the sixties, including Keith and Enid, Stranger and Patsy, Owen Gray, Millie Small, Jackie Edwards, Derrick Morgan, Roy Panton and others. Some great stuff to be had there.
There were few half decent examples of male/female records from British and European artists, unless you include Mike Sarne with his various female partners. More typical were middle of the road artists like Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson, Miki and Griff and the Dutch/Danish duo Nina and Frederik, none of whom set the pulses racing. Strangely, though, Armet Ertegun at Atlantic was sufficiently impressed by the latter to release several LPs by them in the US. What was he thinking of?
I am excluding later boy-girl successes such as Elton John and Kiki Dee, Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway and Aretha Franklin and George Michael from my list, but I would welcome other suggestions from the pre 1970 era.