Friday, May 27, 2016

Soulful summer

There are some great soul shows coming up in the next few months which I am looking forward to.
First up is Eli Paper Boy Reed at the Jazz Cafe on June 7. Eli made a big impression when he first appeared in London in 2008, but I hadn't seen him for quite a while until I bumped into him not once but three times at blues clubs in Los Angeles when he was with Allen 'Charmin' Larman. He got up and sang at each club - quite a daunting thing for a young white boy from Boston to do in front of such a discerning audience - and went down well in every case. I'm sure he will wow the crowd at the newly reburbished Jazz Cafe as well.
I won't be able to go to see the great Maxine Brown at Cleethorpes the following weekend. But, having seen her at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2013, I'm sure she will put on a good show. I will definitely be around the following weekend however for the Blackpool Soul Weekender which features four soul stars. Bettye Lavette, who I saw perform in London a couple of months ago, will be doing her sixties and seventies material exclusively I gather, which will be a treat. She's still a fantastic singer but I'm not so keen on some of her newer material. Here's a photo of Bettye with Ann Peebles and Don Bryant taken when they performed at the Porretta Soul Festival in 2001 (the year it was held in Bologna). Also on the bill at Blackpool is Dee Dee Sharp, who I have never seen. I know her best for her early Cameo Parkway material such as Mashed Potato Time, Gravy, Ride and Do The Bird but she's a big name on the Northern soul scene with tracks like Standing In The Need Of Love and What Kind Of Lady. Other US acts at Blackpool are Chicago soul star Bobby Hutton and Gerry Grainger, famous for I Go To Pieces (Every Time). Not being much of a Northern expert I don't know a great deal about them, but it should be a great weekend and it will be good to catch up with Noah Schaffer again.
One gig I'm really looking forward to is William Bell at the Union Chapel on July 9th. William is still a fantastic singer, as I witnessed when he visited London a couple of years with the Take Me To The River show. He is really the last of the very first generation of soul singers still around, having first recorded for Stax in 1961, and any chance to see him should be grabbed. I can't wait. Here's a photo of him at the 2011 Ponderosa Stomp.
Finally there is this year's Porretta Soul Festival which starts on July 21st. Every year Graziano somehow manages to get a stellar line up of soul artists on the bill and this year is no exception. This, the 29th in the series, stars Bobby Rush, George McCrae, Frank Bey with the Anthony Paule band, Toni Green, John Ellison, Stacey Merino, Stan Mosley, Theo Huff, Falisa Janaye, Jerry Jones and Vasti Jackson. Should be yet another brilliant festival.
Summer looks good, and I'm off to the States again in the autumn, taking in Austin, San Antonio, Houston and Lafayette, ending up at the Blues and Barbecue Festival in New Orleans. I haven't seen the line up for that one yet, but it always features some great blues and soul artists. Vinyl records are all very well, but you can't beat live music. Catch it while you can.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Guy Clark, Jimmy Powell RIP

Sorry to hear that Texas singer/songwriter Guy Clark has died at the age of 74. Described by the New York Times as ' a king of the Texas troubadors', the imagery of his songwriting was in a class of its own and his voice perfectly interpreted lyrics that always ensured you listened hard. His first album, Old No. 1, included a couple of songs - L.A Freeway and Desperados Waiting For A Train -
which were covered successfully by Jerry Jeff Walker, whilst many other songs were also recorded by artists such as Lyle Lovett, Jimmy Buffett and Rodney Crowell. He went on to record over a dozen more albums, including Texas Cookin', Better Days and The Dark. His 2013 album My Favorite Picture Of You won the Grammy Award for Best Folk Album. I saw Guy a couple of times, most memorably at a freezing cold Union Chapel in London in December, 1995, a venue that suited his low key approach.
Another Americana/country singer to have died in the last few days is Steve Young, 73, who was part of the 'outlaw' movement. His first album, Rock Salt & Nails, in 1969, was followed by Seven Bridges Road, Honky Tonk Man and Renegade Picker, among others.
Closer to home, British R and B singer Jimmy Powell has died aged 73. Jimmy recorded some superb soul flavoured rhythm and blues numbers in the early sixties. Jimmy was with the Rockin' Berries and performed in Hamburg before going solo and recording Buster Brown's Sugar Babe, produced by Chris Blackwell, and released on Decca in 1962. Moving to London he formed the Five Dimensions, which initially included Rod Stewart, and played regularly at the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond. He recorded Miki Dallon's That's Alright for Pye and appeared on TV shows such as Ready Steady Go. After the break up of the Five Dimensions he formed a new band, The Dimensions, and recorded what was probably his best record, I Can Go Down, for the Strike label.
Jimmy memorably appeared at the Tales From The Woods show at the Borderline in January, 2014. I wrote at the time: 'I've never seen him on a stage before and I was impressed. He's a large man with a strong voice well suited to the blues and also plays harmonica at times and air guitar at others. He began with Susie Q and then did his vocal version of Tom Hark, with words co-written with Jack Good. A swamp pop song followed (One More Time, I think) and then one of my personal favourites I Can Go Down. Next was a superb blues number called Ivory, followed by Messing Around With The Blues and Sugar Babe, before finishing with classy versions of House Of The Rising Sun, What'd I Say and Bony Moronie. Definitely a class act.'
Another blues singer who has died recently is San Diego based Candye Kane. Once a porn star, she was signed to CBS in 1985 while married to Thomas Yearsley of The Paladins. She recorded Burlesque Swing for the Antone label and The Toughest Girl Alive for Rounder, followed by four albums for the German RUF label. A musical of her early life, The Toughest Girl In the World, debuted in 2009 and her 2011 album, Sister Vagabond made number one on the Living Blues charts.
Once again, as is happening so frequently these days, The Vinyl Word raises a glass to them all.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Rhythm and Blues in New Orleans

When blues expert and former bank manager John Broven wrote his history of New Orleans R and B,Walking To New Orleans, in 1974, it was a ground breaking endeavour. It was the first time that anyone had undertaken in depth research into this exciting, yet rather fleetingly brilliant music style. It was already, by this time, largely a thing of the past, but most of the key performers, producers and record label owners were still around and prepared to be interviewed. Sadly, many of them are no longer with us. The book, later retitled for the US market as Rhythm and Blues in New Orleans, opened up a raft of information, views and background comments which had never been available before. I bought the book, read it avidly, and have returned to it many times over the ensuing decades to check out a particular artist or an obscure New Orleans record. Chances were that John's book would contain some nugget of information that threw a new light on the subject.

Now John has revised and updated his seminal work with additional information and an update from the seventies to the present day. New Orleans' unique brand of music hadn't disappeared completely. There was new music being produced by the likes of Allen Toussaint, Deacon John, Irma Thomas and the Neville Brothers and the original music, which had been so distinctive at the time, began to be venerated. Artists like Ernie K-Doe, Earl King, Bobby Marchan, Lee Dorsey, Professor Longhair and Clarence 'Frogman' Henry would appear every year at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage festival. Community radio station WWOZ broadcasts New Orleans classics (and obscurities) on a regular basis and some records, such as Al Johnson's Carnival Time and Professor Longhair's Mardi Gras in New Orleans, can be heard wherever you go in the city.
The revised book has a piece on Jazzfest by Ben Sandmel, who wrote the excellent biography of Ernie K-Doe. There are contributions too from Tad Jones, co-author of Up From The Cradle Of Jazz, a piece on the Katrina Effect by Jeff Hunnusch, who wrote I Hear You Knockin' and The Soul Of New Orleans, and a review of the period from 1979 to 2015 by Rick Coleman, the author of Blue Monday: Fats Domino and the Lost Dawn of Rock'n'Roll. Ira 'Dr Ike' Padnos founder of the wonderful Ponderosa Stomp, which has featured many of the surviving New Orleans and Lousiana artists, also contributes to the book.
John has been a regular guest interviewer at the Stomp's conference sessions and knows as much as anyone about the great music of the Big Easy. Now resident on Long Island, I met him at a diner near his home last month (on my birthday as it happened) and he signed his newly republished book for me. Since then I have been re-reading his history of New Orleans music and gaining new insights into it. For anyone who hasn't read it, even if New Orleans R and B is not your thing (how could it not be?) I recommend you get on to Amazon immediately. And even if you did read the original book, the revised version is well worth a read.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Grim Reaper strikes again

While I've been away the Grim Reaper has been even busier than usual, taking away numerous musicians to add to the already long list of those who have died this year.
Most recent is Reggie Torian of The Impressions, who has died of a heart attack. Reggie joined original members Sam Gooden and Fred Cash in 1973, three years after Curtis Mayfield had gone solo, and was involved in the group's mid 70s hits, including Finally Got Myself Together, Same Thing It Took, Sooner Or Later and Loving Power. He left in 1983 but rejoined the by-now trio in the 2000s and visited the UK on a number of occasions. His voice was a perfect match for that of Curtis and the group's sound was as smooth and melodic as ever. My photo shows him at Islington Assembly Hall in 2014.
Another soul singer who will be much missed is Billy Paul, who died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 81. One of the leading figures of the Philadelphia sound, and best known for the 1972 smash
Me and Mrs Jones, his roots were in jazz and he first recorded in 1952. After a spell in the US Army, during which he was stationed with Elvis in Germany, he had periods with vocal groups, including the Blue Notes and the Flamingoes, before meeting Kenny Gamble, which led to his first album Feelin' Good At The Cadillac Club. After the huge success of Me and Mrs Jones his career stalled somewhat when the follow up Am I Black Enough stoked controversy, but he continued to record excellent material throughout the seventies and had success in the UK with Thanks For Saving My Life, Let's Make A Baby, Let 'Em In and Only The Strong Survive.
Enough has been written about Prince, who died suddenly aged just 57. No doubt the reasons for his death will become clearer over time, but his legend will grow and his records will continue to sell in their millions. He was a talented artist and, as I discovered on my US trip. much loved by black music lovers there, but he didn't really do very much for me, with the exception of a few of his records.
Less publicity was given to the death of Lonnie Mack aged 74. Lonnie's electric guitar playing was special and hits such as Memphis and Wham have been described as ground breaking and pioneering in the field of blues/rock. These instrumentals paved the way for some bluesy vocals but it was his guitar playing that was really influential on many artists, including Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jeff Beck. After a period playing country music in the 1970s, he returned to blues and rock and continued to record, including a number of albums for Alligator, and perform until 2004.
The Vinyl Word also raises a glass to Ned Miller, who died a few weeks back at the age of 90. His huge 1963 hit From A Jack To A King was first released on the US Fabor label in 1957 and its worldwide success on re-release gave him a global audience. It's a great record but one of those that turn up all the time at car boot sales these days, demonstrating both its success at the time and the disdain with which old style country music in now regarded. Ned had several other hits during the sixties, most notably Do What You Do Do Well.
It's farewell, too, to Harrison Calloway, founder of and arranger for the Muscle Shoals Horns. He can be heard on dozens of records made at FAME and, more recently, Malaco. And to comedienne Victoria Wood, one of the funniest women on TV. May they all rest in peace.
*** I completely forget to mention Emile Ford, who died in London on April 11. Originally from St
Lucia, he had a huge hit in 1959, along with his band the Checkmates, with What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For and followed it up with Slow Boat To China, another big hit. After several smaller hits, including You'll Never Know What You're Missing Til You Try, a favourite of mine, he moved to Barbados for a while and then to Sweden where he invented a backing track system which became the basis for karaoke.