Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Ten years of The Vinyl Word

It's ten years to the day since the birth of The Vinyl Word. In those ten years there have been over 1,000 entries, over 900 published comments and the blog has received 1.3 million page views. The original idea was that it would be devoted to roots music, including soul, blues, rock and roll, fifties and sixties pop and early reggae, reflect my love of vinyl records and chronicle events of interest to people with similar interests. Thus there have been many items covering the deaths of musicians over the years, reviews of gigs and music festivals, items on vinyl that I've bought at car boot sales, charity shops and record fairs and reminiscences about events that happened when I was a lot younger than I am now. I hope that I've kept readers entertained and informed over the years.
The very first entry, on January 20, 2006, came the day after the death of Wilson Pickett and shortly
after the death of Lou Rawls. I speculated in one of my first entries on who would become the 'last soul man', to quote Bobby Womack's 1987 album title, and listed some of the contenders who were still alive at that time. One by one many of them have died in the intervening years, including James Brown and King Floyd in 2006, Luther Ingram and Freddie Scott in 2007, Bill Coday, Isaac Hayes and Levi Stubbs in 2008, Eddie Bo and Michael Jackson in 2009, Solomon Burke, General Norman Johnson, Willie Mitchell and Teddy Pendergrass in 2010, J Blackfoot, Nick Ashford, Loleatta Holloway and Howard Tate in 2011, Fontella Bass, Etta James and Donna Summer in 2012, Bobby Bland and Cecil Womack in 2013, James Govan and Bobby Womack in 2014, and Don Covay, Ben E King, Percy Sledge and Mel Waiters in 2015. So far in 2016 we've already lost Otis Clay. Many of the original rock and roll and blues stars have also passed on during this time,
notably Bo Diddley, Ike Turner and B B King, but Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Fats Domino are still around even if not performing in some cases. Long may they last.
I try to get to as many music gigs as I can, although since I moved to the country six years ago this has become more irregular. I also go to music festivals when possible, especially the wonderful Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans and the unique and brilliant Porretta Soul Festival in Italy. On occasions I've also been to UK festivals such as Rhythm Riot and Hemsby, Northern soul nights in Cleethorpes and elsewhere, US festivals like Viva Las Vegas, the King Biscuit Festival, New Orleans Jazzfest and the Blues and Barbecue Festival and the Doowop show in Long Island, as well as European rock and roll festivals such as Screamin' and the Rockin' Race.
I spend a lot of my time searching for original vinyl records and get up early to hunt through stuff at car boot sales, occasionally striking lucky and gradually filling in gaps in my collection and selling on Ebay the records that don't meet my criteria.
The great thing about a blog is that every word that has appeared over the years is available at the touch of a button, either by clicking on the month list on the right or by topic in the box at the top left hand corner. So, unlike Facebook and other social media, where the shelf life of entries is usually a few days, the Vinyl Word is a record of what's happened over the years, and a great substitute for a diary. I hope readers will click back to January, 2006, and check out my Inaugural Word, as well as other items from the very beginning. Recently I have been privileged to include items on the blog from music experts such as Seamus McGarvey and Noah Schaffer and I look forward to including more in the future. There are all too few media outlets for the music that I, and thousands of other love, so if The Vinyl Word can help to fill a gap I am more than happy.
Hopefully the blog will continue for many more years to come providing an information source as well as an outlet for my personal views. Comments are always welcome and I wish more people would express their views whether they agree or disagree with something I've said, or if they want to raise an issue. In the meantime, I will raise a glass to The Vinyl Word. Here's to the next ten years.
Nick Cobban

Monday, January 18, 2016

Blowfly bows out

So it's farewell to Clarence Reid, aka Blowfly, the baddest motherfucker in the universe, who has died aged 76. In the early sixties he was a member of the Del Mires, a group which also included
Paul Kelly, for whom he wrote Chills and Fever in 1965. As a songwriter and producer in Miami, often working with Willie Clark and Steve Alaimo, he wrote or co-wrote songs for Betty Wright, including Clean Up Woman, Gwen McCrae (Rockin' Chair), and KC and the Sunshine Band, as well as recording some excellent soul material for labels such as Alston and Wand, including Nobody But You Babe, Good Old Days and Funky Party.
Then, in the early seventies he adopted a new persona as the outrageous Blowfly, whose deeply sexist and X rated material influenced today's generation of rappers. Masked and dressed in bizarre costumes, he played the role of the pimp and his
lyrics were sexually charged and over the top. The success of the first album, The Weird World of Blowfly, led to a series of other non-PC albums, including Blowfly on TV, Porno Freak and Blowfly's Party.
I saw him only once, in his Blowfly incarnation at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2005, where he played to a small crowd in the downstairs room at the Rock 'n' Bowl, some of whom booed and hissed his outrageously sexist lyrics. As a soul singer and writer he was clearly a talented performer, but his legacy as Blowfly is less appealing.
Another death is that of Giorgio Gomelsky, an influential figure in the British beat boom of the sixties as a club owner, producer, film maker and manager. Originally from Georgia, he became involved in the trad jazz scene in London and promoted the emerging trend towards blues and R and B, promoting regular shows with Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies at the Marquee Club. He started the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond where the Rolling Stones had their first residency and which also gave a start to the Yardbirds, who Giorgio managed. He set up the short lived Marmalade record label which recorded material by Julie Driscoll and the Brian Auger Trinity and the Blossom Toes. Later he was involved with progressive rock bands such as Soft Machine, Gong, Henry Cow and Magma. He moved to New York in the late seventies. He was 81.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Now it's farewell to David Bowie

The torrent of music deaths that we've seen over the last year or so is fast turning into a flood. Now it's the turn of the Thin White Duke, David Bowie, at the age of 69.
There has been an outpouring of grief at the death of this remarkable man, a true trendsetter who influenced many people in his career, as he moved through his many phases. Although I very much
liked early classics like Space Oddity, Life On Mars, Starman and Suffragette City I was, on the whole, fairly ambivalent towards Bowie. I was surrounded by his records for many years, but they were not my choice but those of my ex wife. I liked them but never loved them. Yet I admired the man's unique approach to his art, which transcended mere pop music. Much of his later work left me cool, if not cold, but he was always a cultural phenonenom and someone who excited interest.
My memories of David Jones, as he then was, go back to the period 1962 to 1964, long before he was well known. Every Friday night I would go to the Justin Hall in West Wickham, Kent, where I grew up where a beat group would be playing. The best of these, a band which attracted quite a following locally, was the Konrads, David Bowie's first band. David was a local lad from Bromley and I remember seeing him not long afterwards working as a bar man at the Three Tuns pub in Beckenham, His early records as Davie Jones and the King Bees, Davy Jones and the Lower Third and the Manish Boys, are now highly collectable and show that his influences were the blues and early soul music, and that the music he loved was much the same as the stuff I loved at the time. Over the years he has brought pleasure to millions and was always a leader of trends, never a follower. RIP David.
There have been several other music deaths in the first few days of 2016. One of these is the one hit wonder Troy Shondell, who had a huge hit in 1961 with This Time - a great record in my opinion. From Indiana, he had enjoyed some success in the midwest as a rock and roll singer with Kissin' At The Drive In, but follow ups to his big hit, including Island In The Sky and I Got A Woman, sank without trace. Apparently Tommy James, who had many sixties hits including Mony Mony, named his group the Shondells after Troy.
Another death is that of Kitty Kallen at the age of 94, who had success from the 1930s to the 1960s. She was a singer with the Jimmy Dorsey and Harry James bands in the 1940s and went on to have an international number one with Little Things Mean A Lot in 1954. 
Another singer who has died is Red Simpson, famous for his truck driving songs such as Roll Truck Roll in 1966, The Highway Patrol and I'm A Truck. Originally from Bakersfield, he was 81.
It's goodbye also to to Ed 'Stewport' Stewart, aged 74, who began his DJ career at the pirate Radio London, before going on to achieve fame at Radios 1 and 2, most famously as the host of Junior Choice. Also to Nick Caldwell of soul group The Whispers.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Otis Clay RIP

I am devastated by the news that the great Otis Clay has passed away aged 73. When I saw him at the Porretta Soul Festival in 2012 I described him as 'possibly the greatest living soul singer'. And so he was. His gravelly voice was the epitome of soulfulness and both his records and his live act were simply amazing.
Born in Mississippi, he graduated into soul music via the traditional gospel route and enjoyed his first successes on the Chicago-based One-derful label with That's How It Is (When You're In Love) and A Lasting Love. When the label folded he moved to Atlantic subsidiary Cotillion and enjoyed success with a cover of She's About A Mover. Moving to Hi records in Memphis in 1971 Otis recorded some of his very best material, with Willie Mitchell's gorgeous backing making them even more special. Stand out tracks from this period included Trying To Live My Life Without You, That's How It Is, Precious Precious, I've Got To Find A Way and I Can't Take It.
He went on to record for Kayvette, Elka and Rounder and enjoyed success with the original of The Only Way Is Up. His live albums, including Soul Man: Live In Japan, and Otis Clay Live were among the most exciting live records ever made - hardly surprising as Otis was a tremendous live act. I saw Otis perform several times, most recently at the Take Me To The River show in London, with William Bell and Bobby Rush also on the bill, and he always put on a great show. Other memorable shows included the Memphis Soul Night at the Town and Country in London in 1990, which also featured Ann Peebles, David Hudson, Billy Always and Willie Mitchell, a show at the Royal Festival Hall in London with John Hammond and Albert Collins in 1993, my first visit to Porretta in 1997, and at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2011.
Otis, you will be badly missed. There was no one else left who could generate such excitement.
The top photo shows Otis with me at Porretta in 2012. The second shows Otis at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2011 and the third shows him with Bobby Rush and William Bell at Take Me To The River in London in 2014. Below is a small selection of his LPs.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Guitar maestro Deke Dickerson in London

Guitar maestro Deke Dickerson made a rare visit to the UK yesterday, his first in 20 years, when he brought his blend of rockabilly, hillbilly, country and rock and roll to Nambucca in north London. I have seen him many times at music festivals in the States and in Spain and he never fails to provide superb backing for any act he plays with. As the leader of his own band, the Ecco-fonics, a trio featuring London's own Brian Nevill on drums and Thibaut Chopin, of Nico Duportal's band, on bass, he was equally impressive, with a set that was a joy from beginning to end.
As a guitarist he has no equal, as he showed on instrumentals such as Link Wray's Run Chicken Run with its bizarre chicken sounds, and he is equally at home as a vocalist. Songs included several of his own compositions, including the rather non-PC Misshapen Hillbilly Girl, The Nightmare Of A Woman (the only thing he got from the girl in this particular break-up was a disease, according to the lyrics), and You Can't See The Forest For The Trees. There were hints of his hillbilly past, as one half of Dave and Deke, with numbers such as Too Hot To handle and No Good Woman, but there was also rockabilly (Deep River), country (Johnny Horton's Let's Take The Long Way Home and Feeling Low), and straight ahead rock and roll. There was some Johnny Cash (Luther Played The Boogie) and Gene Vincent (Baby Blue) and a couple of first rate instrumentals. As an encore he played a rocking version of Mexacali Rose and Muleskinner Blues, with some rather off key audience participation on harmonica. London has waited a long time for this visit, but Deke will be back in the UK at the Rockabilly Rave later this year: not to be missed.
Following Deke on stage were some more visitors from California in the form of beat group The Outta Sites. Featuring Chris Sprague on vocals, Jason 'Mongoose' Eoff on keyboards and Rikki Styxx on drums, they are an energetic band with an excellent 'together' sound and a good stage act, exemplified by the rubber legged Jason Eoff. I caught their first few numbers, which included Shake All Night and Good Good Lovin', before I had to dash off to catch my train home, but I was impressed and would like to see more.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

The King lives on

Nearly 40 years after his death, Elvis Presley continues to sell records by the bucket load. The latest album, If I Can Dream, released for the pre-Christmas market, quickly reached the number one spot
in the UK charts and is still at number two (behind the dull offering from Adele) after nine weeks. The album features a selection of Elvis's more mainstream songs with new backing by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and some input by Michael Buble among others. Tracks include Burning Love, Love Me Tender, It's Now Or Never, In The Ghetto as well as the title track. Needless to say, I won't be dashing out to buy it, but it is testimony to the lasting appeal of The King.
Meanwhile, tomorrow, on the 81st anniversary of Elvis's birth, a company called Invaluable, based in Boston, will be auctioning some Elvis memorabilia at Graceland which is expected to sell for big money. Items include the stage-used guitar from the 1973 Aloha From Hawaii concert, which is expected to fetch between $300,000 and $500,000, a hand-written letter from his US Army period in Germany ($30,000 to $50,000). and a complete concert film from the Memorial Auditorium Show in Buffalo, NY, on April 5, 1972 ($25,000 to $35,000).
Details here:   .

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Robert Stigwood RIP

Obituaries of music impressario Robert Stigwood, who has died aged 81, are focusing on his involvement with the Bee Gees and Eric Clapton. But his central role in the development of pop music in the UK and elsewhere goes much deeper than that. Australian by birth, he first became involved in the UK music scene when he managed actor John Leyton in the early sixties. After a
couple of flops, the Joe Meek produced Johnny Remember Me became the first of a number of pop hits for John Leyton. Stigwood did a deal with EMI which led to further successes with Mike Sarne and Mike Berry. Although acting as agent, manager, producer, publisher and concert promoter his extravagant lifestyle eventually led to financial problems, not least as a result of his efforts to promote the career of Simon Scott. The crunch came when he promoted a concert tour by Chuck Berry which also included the Graham Bond Organisation, Long John Baldry and the Moody Blues on the bill, which led to financial problems and forced his newly formed company into administration.
Stigwood quickly bounced back by attempting to take over the management of the Small Faces from Don Arden, The notorious Arden hit back by going to Stigwood's office with four heavies and hanging Stigwood out of his fourth floor window threatening to drop him. Stigwood turned his attention to the Who and lured them away from Brunswick and their producer Shel Talmy to his newly formed Reaction label. He put together the first super group Cream, with Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce and arranged for them to play a nine day series of shows in New York. Around this time he merged his company with Brian Epstein's NEMS company and shortly after that he launched the career of Australian group the Bee Gees with Polydor. Moving into theatre production he staged Hair! in London, followed by Oh Calcutta and Evita, among others. After a slow period in the early seventies he revived Eric Clapton's career and moved into film production with Jesus Christ Superstar and Tommy, followed by the incredibly successful Saturday Night Fever.
Stigwood remained active with the hugely successful Grease, and other less memorable films such as Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (with Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees) and Times Square. I won't attempt to cover his career in full but suffice to say that Stigwood was a major figure in the world of pop music with a fascinating life story.
Another death, just before the end of 2015, was that of Natalie Cole. The daughter of Nat 'King' Cole, she had success in the seventies with This Love, Inseparable and Our Love before fading from the scene with drug problems. She is probably best known for her interactive duet with her late father and successful later albums Everlasting and Unforgettable...With Love. Natalie's vocal style was a little too bland for my taste, but her death, at only 65, is a sad one.