Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Two more to add to the list

There are a couple more names to add to the list of music people who have died recently.
David Egan, who has died aged 61, was a singer/songwriter from Lafayette, Louisiana, who was best known in recent years as the keyboard player and one of the vocalists with the Cajun supergroup Lil Band Of Gold. I first became aware of him when I saw Lil Band of Gold play a free show in New Orleans in 2007, which was followed up by an appearance at the Breaux Bridge Crawfish festival the following evening. The band did a tribute to Bobby Charles at the House of Blues in New Orleans in 2010 and the following year they played at the Shepherds Bush Empire when they came over to the UK to play at Lily Allen's wedding. In 2013 I saw them at the Rock 'n' Bowl and David sang Jealous Kind and his own composition Dreamer. They also played at DBA in New Orleans that year (pictured below). His songs were recorded by the likes of Irma Thomas, Marcia Ball, Etta James and Solomon Burke and he was an integral part of the original Lil Band of Gold, along with C C Adcock, Steve Riley and Warren Storm. Like the band itself (now known as the Mama Mama Mamas), he will be sadly missed.
Another singer to have died is Patty Duke, at the age of 69, although she is better known as a TV and film star, beginning at an early age with an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role
of Helen Keller in the 1962 film The Miracle Worker. On the strength of that she was given her own TV show, The Patty Duke Show, in which she played identical cousins, type casting perhaps as she suffered from bi-polar disorder. She had a starring role in the 1967 film Valley of The Dolls and had a couple of fair sized hits in the girl group style with Don't Just Stand There and Say Something Funny. She continued to appear regularly on US TV and in movies, but her singing career ended in the late sixties.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

London International Ska Festival

The London International Ska Festival has been taking place this weekend. I wasn't able to go, but Ace Records' Tony Rounce was at a couple of events - Bob Andy at The Garage and a riverboat cruise - and has kindly given permission to use his FB review on The Vinyl Word. Thanks Tony for a great write-up.
What a great couple of days music I've had. I wanted to say a bit about how great last night's Bob Andy show at whatever the Town And Country 2 is calling itself this week was. It was a real privilege to witness this supreme master of music at work. A man of incomparable lyrical and musical genius and with the voice of an angel. A man whose compositions have done more to progress the cause of songwriting in Jamaica than any other writer, living or dead. A man who would rather deliver a thought-provoking lyric harnessed to a quality melody than pepper his songs with endless cliches about Jah this and Jah that.
As I said when posting last night, Jamaica's greatest ever songwriter. And one of its top five - no, let's make that top three - singers. You could hardly have wanted more from the man than he delivered last night. Sure, he didn't sing all of his classics but that was only because he has so many of them that the show would have run to about three hours if he had. Some of those that he omitted I've seen him sing before, so for me it was not the end of the world that he didn't do 'Desperate Lover', Let Them Say' and 'Fire Burning'. The songs he chose to perform instead - songs from his own vintage repertoire that he had never sung live before like 'Crime Don't Pay', and classics that he's written for others in his Studio 1 days such as 'Impossible Love' (Delroy Wilson) and 'I Don't Want To See You Cry' (Ken Boothe) were a revelation for even the most ardent long-term Andy fan such as I am.  
Throughout the show Bob continually returned the love and respect that the audience was sending up to the stage from the minute his excellent backing musicians kicked proceedings off. He did not employ his religious beliefs as part of his act - there was only one mention of Haile Selassie all night and then only where Bob had changed 'God' to 'Jah' in one song to reflect said beliefs. He did not waste precious minutes trying to engage the audience in endless singalongs and when he did point the mic at us occasionally, we were all singing along anyway. He did not squander precious time on letting his exceptional backing musicians overtake his songs with extended solos that were never part of the original records - when he did let them stretch out, the solos were brief and to the point. He gave the people what they wanted, and set a new standard for future visiting reggae veterans to aspire to.
I had plenty of time to think about how great this show was, on a 3 hour journey home across town that involved the last southbound Victoria line tube and three different night buses. The memory of it kept me warm on a long trek and a bitterly cold night, and I've replayed it all again in my head since getting up. He could hardly have been a more perfect ending to what had already been a pretty perfect day (of which more later...) Suffice to say that I will be reaching into the Bob Andy Song Book quite a bit over the course of the weekend.
I've but not said much about Friday's trip down the Thames. Not because it wasn't good - it was great - but just because I've been too busy to fully decompress. I know a lot of people were disappointed about the absence of Carlton Manning, and indeed most of the party that I was going with opted for the refund because he wasn't there. Their loss, as it was a splendid afternoon anyway. You've already met Miss Jackie Mendez in another post of mine this morning. A whole 'eap o' talent in an extremely attractive package, her short set was made up of mostly originals that sounded like oldies plus a couple of real ones - 'Endless Memory' and 'Stop That Train', done in the style of the Spanish Town Skabeats rather than a la Keith and Tex. I also filmed this to share with you, but the audio was rather marred by the two women who decided to strike up a conversation in the middle of the song (why do people do this, especially when they are standing at the front of the crowd?)
Carlton's mysterious absence was more than atoned for by the exceptional East L.A quintet that backed both Jackie and the afternoon's star turn. They may have looked like Thee Midnighters but the Delerians sounded like they had just stepped out of a Kingston recording studio c. 1969. Five extremely adept musicians - the keyboard player in particular - they also sang sweetly as well and the audience took to them immediately. I'm sure that I was the only person there who got their reference to Whittier Boulevard, and probably the only person not on the stage who has actually driven down it, but when they dropped into a few bars of 'Land Of A Thousand Dances' I almost felt like I was listening to Little Willie G and his formidable comrades. I'm sorry that both Jackie and the group were doing no other public-accessible UK shows during this tour. I hope I get the chance to see both again soon.
Augmented by a couple of horn players the Delerians also provided stellar backup for Daddy U-Roy. I'm sure beyond question that I was the only person on the trip who saw the DJ legend's first London show at the Telegraph in Brixton in 1972 (a pub that, ironically, I drove past the very next night on my way to see Oh!Gunquit and DOLLS at the Windmill). I'd never seen U-Roy live again in the intervening 44 years, and I was a little worried that one of my ultimate heroes of Jamaica music might not be quite as sharp as he once was. I needn't have worried - he was in fine form as he gave us 'Wake The Town', 'Rule The Nation', 'Wear You To The Ball' and a bunch of other gems exactly as he'd performed them on the records - word perfect (The guy standing next to me was laughing at me quietly DJ'ing along with Daddy Roy but, well, you have to, don't you?) . He didn't just 'do' Treasure Isle - the 'Natty Rebel' album that he did for Prince Tony brought forth 'Chalice In The Palace', 'Runaway Girl' and the title track. His takes on 'OK Fred' and 'Stop That Train' (this time a la Keith and Tex) were great fun too.
For me, though the highlight was 'Flashing My Whip'. It's always been my favourite U-Roy 45 and he didn't do it when I saw him in '72 so I've been waiting a l-o-n-g time to hear it performed live and direct. I can now die happy... Daddy U-Roy may be getting up there in years now, but he rolled the decades back to remind me of a time when I cared about little else other than reggae, and his records in particular. I was still smiling inwardly as I crossed over to North London for Bob Andy's brilliant show five hours later. 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Bettye Lavette at Nell's Jazz and Blues

Bettye Lavette has been enjoying a tremendous revival in her career over the last few years as a new audience has discovered her soulful voice. As she showed at Nell's Jazz and Blues in West Kensington last night, that voice remains very much intact. Her six and a half minute emotional rendition of her 1965 recording Let Me Down Easy, written by Dee Dee Ford, was pure soul - deeply felt and gripping in its intensity. Utterly superb and mesmerising.
Bettye looked great, very slim, dressed in black pants and top, and with short black hair. Her band was adequate, if unexceptional, although the bass was far too loud at the start. The trouble is that much of her material lacks real soul. Focusing on recent albums such as her latest, Worthy, and the 2005 album I've Got My Own Hell To Raise, the songs are mostly pop or country, and not really soul or, indeed, blues, which is what she excels in. She began with Bob Dylan's Unbelievable from Worthy, an album which received a Grammy nomination for best blues album. Other numbers included Joy, a Lucinda Williams song from her 2005 album, the upbeat You Don't Know Me, and her final number (As Close As I Get To) Heaven, from her 2003 comeback album A Woman Like Me.
At the age of 70 Bettye is still in her prime and one of the best female singers around, but I would love to have heard more of her sixties and seventies soul numbers. Apparently she will concentrate on these when she appears at the Northern Soul weekender in Blackpool in June. And that's really something to look forward to.
Earlier the support act  De Lata got an enthusiastic crowd going with their Brazilian styled fusion stuff. Not really my cup of tea and their late running set meant that Bettye began late and ended without an encore. They're a lively band with numerous members however.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Lee Andrews and stars of TV - RIP

Let's say farewell to a doowop artist who later had a Northern Soul hit - Lee Andrews, who has died at the age of 79. And to a whole raft of UK TV personalities of the sixties and seventies who seem to have crashed out of this life at around the same time and whose deaths I haven't yet mentioned.
Lee Andrews, from Philadelphia, and the Hearts recorded some excellent doowop records for a
number of labels in the late fifties including Gotham, Chess and United Artists. These included Long Lonely Nights (a hit for Clyde McPhatter), Teardrops and Try The Impossible - the latter two are highly collectable London 45s. After breaking up with his group and continuing to record intermittently, the Hearts reformed and recorded the Northern favourite Never The Less. Later he was with Congress Alley and his son Questlove is the drummer with Roots (I've never heard of him I'm afraid but apparently they are well known).
Now a quick run through of the British TV people who have died recently (apologies to American readers who will most likely not have heard of any of them).
Magician Paul Daniels was a mainstay of Saturday night TV for around 20 years, along with his assistant and, later, wife, the 'lovely' Debbie McGee. His catchphrase was 'You'll like it - not a lot - but you'll like it', which was true I suppose.
Presenter Cliff Michelmore virtually invented the role of TV presenter with the Tonight show in the fifties and sixties and he was present for General Elections and space shots throughout that time. Later he presented the Holiday show but most tributes have featured an interview he did with David Bowie (David Jones as he then was) in 1964 when the young David was pleading for protection of men with long hair.
Tony Warren was the creator of Coronation Street, a programme which first aired in 1960 and which is still going strong. I confess to being a Corrie fan and have watched it, off and on, for all of its 56 year history.
Sylvia Anderson was the co-creator of Thunderbirds and other puppet series of the era and was the voice of Lady Penelope. I always had a soft spot for her Ladyship and her faithful chauffeur Parker. I've been looking for a Lady Penelope ever since I think!
Finally, and admittedly his death was some time ago, I must pay a belated tribute to Sir Terry Wogan, who brought his lighthearted Irish charm to TV and radio over several decades and who was the first to take the piss - very deservedly - out of the Eurovision Song Contest.
Thanks to you all and RIP.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Catching up on music deaths

Time to catch up on a few musicians who have died in the last couple of weeks, methinks. There have been a couple which have been high profile, attracting widespread media coverage, and also quite a few that have slipped under the radar somewhat.
Sir George Martin, the Fifth Beatle as he is known, deserves enormous credit for helping to transform the Beatles from being a good but unexceptional R and B covers band into the global phenomenom they became. His creative arrangements and production input was instrumental in
producing some of the most memorable music of the sixties and arguably the Beatles would not have become the most successful band of the century without him. Of course, his career at EMI, and in particular Parlophone, included many other acts, including comedy such as Peter Sellers and Bernard Cribbins (not to mention some who are best forgotten like Terry Scott and Bruce Forsyth), trad jazz with the Temperance Seven and pop with Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas and Gerry and the Pacemakers (again, not to mention Rolf Harris, Charlie Drake and Cilla Black among others). Later he set up a studio in Montserrat bringing much needed revenue to the island until the studio was destroyed by the volcanic eruption. George was 90.
Also attracting much media coverage was the apparent suicide of Keith Emerson, keyboard player with The Nice in the sixties and later part of prog rock group Emerson, Lake and Palmer. The Nice were formed to back fellow Immediate artist P P Arnold and made some fairly decent records. However, although Emerson is widely recognised as a great keyboardist, in all honesty I found ELP's music pretentious, overblown and tedious in the extreme.
Of the less well reported deaths, an interesting one is that of Tommy 'Weepin' and Cryin' Brown, a blues man  who has died at the age of 84. He first recorded in 1950 and had a number one R and B hit in 1952 with Weepin' and Cryin' as vocalist with the Griffin Brothers. He recorded a rock and roll number Rock Away My Blues in New Orleans and a vocal version of Bill Doggett's Honky Tonk. In the sixties he turned to comedy with I Ain't Lyin' but then faded from the scene before re-emerging at music festivals in the early 2000s, including the Blues Estafette (pictured) and Rhythm Riot, and at Shakedown Blues in Castor. He was active in the Atlanta blues scene until recently.
Another death is that of jazz and blues singer Ernestine Anderson at the age of 86. She recorded over 30 albums during a lengthy career which included many appearances at jazz festivals in the US and Europe. Originally from Houston she had spells with the bands of Johnny Otis and Lionel Hampton before settling in New York. Her Sue single Keep An Eye On Love is quite a collectable item.
The Vinyl Word also raises a glass to Lennie Baker, singer and sax player with Danny and the Juniors and later Sha Na Na. He also sang lead on Blue Moon in the movie Grease.
Also to Gogi Grant, who had a hit in 1955 with Suddenly There's a Valley and a number one the following year with The Wayward Wind. She was 91.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Shemekia Copeland at the Brooklyn Bowl, London

Authentic American blues is a bit of a rarity in London these days, so it was good to see Shemekia Copeland and her band at the Brooklyn Bowl at the O2 last night. Growing up in New York in the eighties, Shemekia was considered weird by her school friends because she loved blues and soul, rather than rap. But, as the daughter of the great bluesman Johnny Copeland, her preference was hardly surprising, especially as she found herself on stage with her dad from an early age.
Today, at the age of 36, she has eight albums behind her, a string of Grammy and Blues Music Awards, including one for her 2015 Outskirts of Love album, and has been compared to Ko Ko Taylor in her vocal style. She has a big, powerful voice, good stage presence and had some well chosen material ranging from slow blues to gospel and rock. Her band is proficient, if a little on the heavy side at times, and this was an enjoyable show before what can only be described as a thin crowd.
Shemekia kicked off her show with three numbers from her new album, the title track Outskirts of Love, a strong blues song, the slower Crossbone Beach and The Battle Is Over (But The War Goes On) - all of them delivered with confidence and power. Next came Married To The Blues, from Turn The Heat Up album, and a dig at the hypocrisy of some so-called Christians with Somebody Else's Jesus, a track from her last but one album 33 1/3. Other tracks from that album included Ain't Gonna Be Your Tattoo and the up beat Lemon Pie. Pies featured in another of her songs, Pie In The Sky, and there was humour in another one, a country styled song called Driving Out Of Nashville (with a body in the trunk). Blues with a twang, she called it. There was slow blues with The Other Woman, sung with real soul, and gospel with Stand Up and Testify, before she finished with Ghetto Child, dedicated to her father, in which she showed off her powerful lungs by singing off mic and filling the hall with sound. As an encore she at last got the audience to its feet with the rock flavoured It's 2am - Do You Know Where Your Baby Is.
Shemekia showed that she is a blues force to be reckoned with and it was a shame that there were so few people there to see her. She is clearly one of the best of the new generation of blues singers and I look forward to seeing her again.  Here she is singing Pie In The Sky during last night's show.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Heading for the US highways again

Only a few weeks to go until my next US trip, which will take in both the East and West coasts. First stop will be Long Island for the annual doowop festival which takes place over the weekend of April 9 and 10. I've been before, two years ago, and didn't really expect to do it again, but the line up looks interesting and it should be fun. It's also the only festival these days where I can look around the audience and discover that I'm one of the youngest there, despite the fact that I will be turning 70 while I am there. Doowop, it seems, is dying out. It hasn't managed to grab the interest of young rock and roll fans who love rockabilly. I guess the fashion and life styles that go with rockabilly don't apply with doowop, but much of the music is great, even though many of the groups performing will only have one or two original members on stage.
This year's highlights include the Majors, the Tymes, the Heartbeats, the Teenagers, the Passions, the
Dubs, the Diablos, the Mystics, Eugene Pitt and the Jive Five, the Jarmels, the Fireflies, Chris Montez, Jimmy Charles, Jimmy Clanton and many more. Each of the acts gets just a few numbers each so it's  a quick turnover on stage. No time to get bored, not that the acts are in any way tedious to listen to. The venue, the Hauppage High School auditorium, is in the middle of nowhere but it's an impressive place, and the seated crowd enjoy themselves, even though many of them are well into their seventies and eighties. With so many of the originals now dead and the remaining ones getting on in years this may be the last opportunity to see such a line up, so it's a case of catch them while you can.
After Long Island, and hopefully a day in Manhattan, I will be off to Las Vegas for some sunshine
and the Viva Las Vegas rockabilly festival (third year running in this case). This is a much more trendy festival, with many of the people not only young, but heavily tattooed and dressed to kill in fifties style clothes. There are some decent acts again this year, although no one to match last year's star Dion, I suspect. Big names include Jack Scott (who I enjoyed at Rhythm Riot in November), Brian Setzer and Dick Dale (pictured), plus a group of original rockabilly men including Billy Harlan and Sleepy LaBeef, doowop artists including Bobby Hendricks, and a range of UK and US rockabilly bands including the Polecats, Jets, Restless and Darrel Higham. There's also the excellent burlesque showcase and the Car Show, featuring some gorgeous cars, with gorgeous girls to go with them in some cases. I, along with my travelling companions John Howard, Alan Lloyd and Dave Thomas, must be one of the few people who go to Vegas and don't gamble a penny of my money. Plenty of good music to be had, however, and it's always a fun place to visit if you don't object to everything being completely OTT. I'm hoping that we will also catch some blues while we're there, at one of the places that don't appear on most must-see lists for visitors but which offer the genuine article.
After Vegas it's off to San Diego, which I haven't visited before, and finally Los Angeles for a return visit. Again I'm hoping to catch some blues while I'm there at the black clubs which most white locals seem unaware of.
Keep an eye on The Vinyl Word for reports of our US road trip and I'll be putting some photos on when I get back.