Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Ernest Ranglin in Basingstoke, plus more bad news

Enjoyable show last night at the Anvil, Basingstoke, as Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin continued his farewell tour, supported by 'Friends', including sax player Soweto Kinch, keyboardist Alex Wilson, drummer Tony Allen and Senegalese multi instrumentalist and singer Cheikh Lo. It was a laid back two hour performance during which 84 year old Ernest showed that he is still at the top of his game. Jazz was mixed with some Afrobeat, ska and a little soca and it was much appreciated by the rather small audience.
Ernest is, of course, best known for his work with some of the top Jamaican ska and reggae artists of the sixties. He recorded with Prince Buster, Theophilus Beckford, Jimmy Cliff, Eric Morris, and the Melodians, among others, and played guitar on Millie's My Boy Lollipop. When he moved to the UK he recorded for Chris Blackwell's Island label and moved towards Latin Caribbean-fused jazz. Hopefully this won't be the last chance we get to see him perform. He still has what it takes, that's for sure.
Sadly there have been more music deaths, the most significant being another hugely influential guitarist Scotty Moore, whose work with Elvis Presley at Sun and RCA was such an important ingredient in Elvis Presley's success. His career began when he formed a group The Starlite Ramblers in Memphis, with bassist Bill Black, and began working with Sam Phillips at Sun. He worked with Jerry Lee Lewis, Dale Hawkins, Carl Perkins and Charlie Rich and, later, with Billy Swan. He was also a producer, his first success being Tragedy by Thomas Wayne in 1958, and recorded a couple of solo albums, including The Guitar That Changed The World in 1964. My photo shows Scotty at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2005 when he played with Billy Swan.

The Vinyl Word also raises a glass to swamp pop drummer and singer Clint West, who was frontman for the Fabulous Boogie Kings and also recorded solo for the Jin label, with tracks such as Big Blue Diamonds and Please Mr Jeweler. He first recorded in the late fifties and was one of the most important figures in Louisiana swamp pop.
Also to James Wright, founding member of soul group The Spellbinders. RIP to them all.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Sir Mack Rice joins the Stax roll call

The litany of soul music deaths rolls on with the news that Sir Mack Rice has died aged 82. Born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, Mack is best known as the writer of possibly the most played blues song ever, Mustang Sally, which is included in the repertoire of many blues bands, good and bad. Moving to Detroit he joined the Falcons, whose members included Eddie Floyd, Wilson Pickett and Joe Stubbs. He recorded solo for Lu-Pine and had success with Mustang Sally with Blue Rock, although it was Pickett who enjoyed the giant hit of course. He recorded a number of singles for Stax in the late sixties, including Mini Skirt Minnie and had one 45 released in the UK, Love's A Mother Brother, recorded for Atco in 1969. It was as a song writer that he was best known, with the Staples Singers' Respect Yourself, Johnny Taylor's Cheaper To Keep Her and Rufus Thomas's Funky Penguin among his most successful.
Mack played at the Porretta Soul Festival in 2007 and at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2011. At Porretta I wrote: 'Finally it was the turn of the 'Old Gangsta' Sir Mack Rice, looking remarkably fit and sporting ginger hair. If anyone has the right to sing the ubiquitous Mustang Sally it's him, since he wrote it, and he didn't disappoint.' At the Stomp, looking noticeably slimmer (pictured below with Skip Pitts), he was backed by the Bo-Kays, including Skip Pitts, Ben Cauley, Archie Turner and Howard Grimes, so was in the very best company, as befits a soul legend.
Here is one of Mack with me at Porretta.
The Vinyl Word also says goodbye to bluegrass pioneer Ralph Stanley, who has died aged 89, to Bernie Worrell, 'the Wizard of Woo', who was keyboardist with Parliament and Funkadelic, and Henry McCullough, who was bass guitarist and vocalist with sixties group Eire Apparent and later played with Wings, Joe Cocker, Spooky Tooth, Eric Burdon and many others.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Wayne Jackson passes on

Yet another Memphis music legend has died - this time trumpet player Wayne Jackson at the age of 74. Wayne's career stretched back to the very beginnings of Stax when he played with the Mar-Keys on Last Night. Nicknamed the 'West Memphis Flash' he was an integral part of the Stax organisation throughout the sixties and played on dozens of records by Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Rufus Thomas and many others. He teamed up with sax player Andrew Love, who died in 2012, to form the Memphis Horns, and played on recordings by the like of Elvis Presley, Neil Diamond, Al Green and Dusty Springfield. They toured extensively and it was a real pleasure to see them at the Porretta Soul Festival on several occasions. (My photo shows Wayne there in 2006). They relocated to Nashville in 1996 but remained in demand, recording with Bonnie Raitt, Sting and Mark Knopfler.
This really has been a terrible year for music, particularly Memphis soul music, with Otis Clay and Chips Moman both passing on in the last few months. RIP Wayne.
The Vinyl Word also raises a glass to Chess studio drummer Morris 'Moe' Jennings, aged 77, who played behind Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and Ramsey Lewis among others.
Also to Dave Swarbrick, one of the UK's top fiddle players in the folk field, who played in Fairport Convention for many years, as well as having great success playing at festivals and with other folk musicians. The Daily Telegraph famously printed his obituary in 1999, when he was admitted to hospital for a chest infection. He allegedly commented: 'It's not the first time I've died in Coventry.'

Monday, June 20, 2016

Blackpool International Soul Festival

Blackpool is famous for many things - fish and chips, Kiss Me Quick hats, the Pleasure Beach, the Tower and, not least, Northern Soul. It was one of the birth places of a genre which still has many thousands of mostly middle aged followers today. So it was appropriate that the biggest Northern Soul festival in recent years, the Blackpool International Soul festival should take place there. The venue, the Winter Gardens, is a grand 19th century structure best known as the venue for party political conferences. It has a huge ballroom, numerous bars and various rooms where different types of soul were played, including Classic, Modern, 70s Crossover, Jazz Funk and Ska. Many of the thousands of people who attended were there for the records and the dancing, and maybe the scooter meet up, but for me the attraction was the promise of live performances by four original American soul stars from the sixties and early seventies, three of whom I had never seen before, plus an interview session with William 'Mickey' Stevenson, Motown's original A and R man.
I wasn't disappointed, as all four artists put on excellent and highly enjoyable sets, backed superbly by the Snake Davis band, and Mickey proved to be an interesting and articulate interviewee.
First on stage on Friday was Gerri Granger (above), who looked fantastic with silver/blue hair and wearing a shimmery silver gown. Gerri's set was short but very sweet with dynamic performances of two soul numbers from the early sixties - Ain't It Funny and Castle In The Sky - plus her big early seventies track I Go To Pieces which was a crowd pleaser at soul all nighters. Her voice was great and she had a beautiful smile on her face throughout. The crowd wanted more and she came back on stage to reprise I Go To Pieces, much appreciated by the enthusiastic crowd.
Next was Dee Dee Sharp, a big pop name at Cameo Parkway in the early sixties and later a huge soul star when married to Kenny Gamble. Wearing a floral red dress and with a blond mop of hair she was funny, energetic and very tuneful, if perhaps a little too chatty. She began with Share My Love With You from 1975, dancing around the stage and fiddling with her dress. 'I talk soft and sing loud' she said, and both proved to be true, although some of her comments about her ex husband, and men in general, were hardly soft in tone. 'He was a dog. I hated that bastard', she said of Kenny, although she claimed they are now friends. Musically Dee Dee was excellent with support from two backing singers and the band on Mel Torme's Comin' Home Baby, Happy 'Bout The Whole Thing (written by Kenny Gamble) and Nobody Could Take Your Place from her What Color Is Love album. Anyone hoping for early hits like Mashed Potato Time, Gravy or Do The Bird (like me) were disappointed, but she did great versions of a couple of her earlier tracks, I'll Do Anything and Deep Dark Secret, Other stand out tracks included Standing In The Need Of Love, with considerable jigging about on stage, and Easy Money. Finally came What Kind Of Lady from 1968. A lady she certainly is, and an exciting one. Great stuff.
Lunchtime on Saturday saw a fascinating interview session with Mickey Stevenson, who has just published a memoir of his involvement in the early days of Motown (he left in 1967 to join MGM, along with his wife Kim Weston). Mickey was a guiding force behind all the great Motown artists of the era, including Eddie Holland, who he says gave up performing because of stage fright, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, the Four Tops, Martha and the Vandellas and the Marvelettes. Writer/producer Norman Whitfield was a 'mad man but a genius', he told interviewer Kev Roberts, Marvin Gaye had to be persuaded not to sing his beloved jazz, Diana Ross was a 'workaholic' whilst he refused to sign Wilson Pickett because he felt he would not fit in to the Motown family. Fascinating stuff and I look forward to reading his book The A & R Man.
First act on stage on Saturday was Detroit born Bobby Hutton, who was smartly dressed in a tuxedo and came across as something of a lounge singer, but with a very soulful voice. His early seventies material was new to me but went down well with the far more knowledgeable crowd. Numbers included You Better Watch Where You're Going, More Today Than Yesterday, Come See What's Left Of Me, Loving You, Needing You, Loving You, Wanting You and You're My Whole Reason, which was co-written by Donny Hathaway and which Bobby sang on the Soul Train TV show.. All of them were very smoothly and tunefully presented, as was his final number, and best known song, Lend A Hand.
The final act, and undoubted star of the whole weekend was the wonderful Bettye Lavette, who on this occasion focused on her early recordings from the sixties, some of which, she said, she had never sung live before. Looking slim and fit and wearing a black trouser suit, she sang several numbers from her time at Calla and Karen, including I Feel Good (All Over), Almost, Only Your Love Can Save Me (written by Clarence Paul) and her version of the Kenny Rogers song What Condition My Condition Is In (see my Youtube video below), during which she danced around the stage like a teenager, despite having turned 70 earlier this year. She continued with You'll Wake Up Wiser, recorded for Atco in 1971, her second ever record You'll Never Change, recorded in 1962, which she said sold nil copies, and I'm Holding On from 1969. The climax of her act came with her best known song Let Me Down Easy, performed with intense emotion. with Snake Davis providing haunting backing on flute, which was quite superb. Bettye left the stage to a huge ovation and returned to sing acapella on I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, from her 2005 album I've Got My Own Hell To Raise. This was a classy set from a truly classy artist. It was worth the admission price on its own, but the festival itself was highly enjoyable. Let's hope that organiser Richard Searling makes this an annual event.
A couple of photos of me finally with the stars, Gerri Granger and with Mickey Stevenson, along with Boston-based Noah Schaffer.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Chips Moman RIP

Chips Moman, a true giant among record producers and a pioneer and one of the most influential figures in the field of southern soul, has died aged 79.  He had a unique ability to create hit records in soul, pop and country and is credited with having 120 hits while at American Studios in Memphis.
A talented guitarist, he went to Memphis aged 14 and was discovered by Sun rockabilly artist Warren Smith. This led to him touring with Johnny Burnette and Gene Vincent and he worked as a session guitarist at Gold Star in Los Angeles. Moving back to Memphis he became a recording engineer at Satellite, the forerunner of Stax, and produced the label's first hit, Gee Whiz by Carla Thomas. He also produced Last Night by the Mar-Keys and William Bell's You Don't Miss \your Water, but not Green Onions, although he claimed that the MGs were named after his car, rather than standing for Memphis Group.
He fell out with Stax over money, (he was a serious gambler, hence his nickname Chips), although he
later received a $3000 settlement which enabled him to set up American. One of his earliest successes there was It's Wonderful To Be In Love by the Ovations, and a collaboration with Dan Penn resulted in more great Goldwax records, including James Carr's The Dark End Of The Street, which they co-wrote. Penn and Moman also wrote  Do Right Woman, Do Right Man for Aretha Franklin. A big pop hit from this period was Keep On Dancin' by The Gentrys and even more success came with the Box Tops and Alex Chilton.
By this time Moman's house band, the Memphis Boys (also known as the 827 Thomas Street Band, after American's street address), drummer Gene Chrisman, bassists Tommy Cogbill and Mike Leech, guitarist Reggie Young and keyboardists Bobby Emmons and Bobby Wood, had taken shape. Bobby Womack also played on some early records there. Chips was about to go from strength to strength as major labels chose his studio for their recordings, including Atlantic, RCA, Uni, Warner Brothers, Decca, Scepter and MGM.
Among the artists who found success there were King Curtis, Dionne Warwick, Sandy Posey (a former secretary at American), Lulu, Dusty Springfield, Joe Tex, Bobby Womack, Merrilee Rush, Neil Diamond, Herbie Mann, the Sweet Inspirations and Wilson Pickett, but perhaps the biggest success was the resurrection of Elvis's career with Elvis in Memphis and songs like Suspicious Minds, In The Ghetto and Kentucky Rain.
By the beginning of the seventies the music scene in Memphis was in decline and Chips moved to Atlanta, and then to Nashville, where he concentrated on country music. He had success with B J Thomas and co-wrote Luckenbach, Texas, a hit for Waylon Jennings. He also produced and played on albums by Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson , Jerry Lee Lewis, Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison and Carl Perkins. In 1985 he returned to Memphis in an attempt to revive the local music scene, but it was unsuccessful and he moved back to his native LaGrange, Georgia, where he died. RIP to one of the greats.
A final word too, for Bobby Curtola, a Canadian who had considerable success in his home country
but was less well known elsewhere. He had five singles released in the UK, beginning with Don't You Sweetheart Me in 1961, and his biggest hit was Fortune Teller the following year, although his advertising jingle Things Go Better With Coca Cola is probably his best known composition.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

The return of Eli 'Paperboy' Reed

Eli 'Paperboy' Reed made a welcome return visit to London last night with a superb show at the Jazz Cafe. When I first saw him playing solo in the upstairs room of a pub in Chalk Farm back in 2008 I knew he was something special. He has one of the most fantastic soul voices that I've ever heard, quite extraordinary for a white Jewish boy from Boston.He can sound like Sam Cooke, like James Carr, like Solomon Burke, like Otis Redding, even James Brown, but his material is all his own and his singing is drenched in the raw emotion of deep soul, blues and gospel.
He has a genuine feel for the blues, having spent a year living in Clarksdale, Mississippi, a few years back and has a rare ability to write songs that sound like they were the work of one of the sixties soul greats. Over the last ten years or so he's recorded five albums, all of them good, but he didn't receive the support he deserved from first Capitol and later Warner Brothers, so his career didn't take off the way it should have done. But he's still around, still learning and every bit as good as ever. When I was in LA in April he visited the same three black blues clubs as I did when he was in the company of mutual friend Allen 'Charmin' Larman and got up and sang in each, getting a rapturous reception in all of them.
Eli has been teaching gospel singing to teenagers in Harlem for the last three years and clearly loves gospel music. His latest album, his fifth, My Way Home contains some strong raw gospel numbers and he sang several songs from this. Backed by a trio who clearly know him well, and who sang in harmony with him at the end, Eli was quite superb on up tempo numbers like Name Calling, from his Capitol album Come and Get It, and even better on the deep soul numbers. Don't Let Me Down was brilliant, as my Youtube clip shows, and other numbers such as Come and Get It and It's Easier were also spine tinglingly good. He's also a great guitarist by the way.
It can surely only be a matter of time until Eli gets the recognition he deserves. He is, as my friend John Howard commented last night, the dog's bollocks!

Monday, June 06, 2016

Gene Terry rocks in London

Gene Terry has never been to the UK before. In fact, he has never been out of the States until now. He has spent his life in and around Port Arthur in east Texas close to the Louisiana border, occasionally singing his brand of swamp pop and rockabilly in local clubs, before making a successful appearance at last year's Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans. It was a real treat, therefore, to see him take to the stage of the Borderline in London last night in the latest Tales From The Woods show, aptly titled Southern & Rockin'.
Gene went down a storm, singing no less than 19 swamp pop, rockabilly and New Orleans R and B styled numbers, with tremendous support from the ever excellent Tales From The Woods house band. Gene had his greatest success in the late fifties when he and his band the Down Beats recorded some excellent sides for the Lake Charles based Goldband label, including the classic Cindy Lou, and were a big name locally. He retired from the music business in around 1961 and joined the police force, but it's clear that his enthusiasm for the music is still there and his voice is first rate.
He kicked off with three Fats Domino numbers, My Girl Josephine, Did You Ever See A Dream Walking and I'm Ready, before launching into the swamp pop anthem Mathilde. Next came Woman I Love, his first recording and a record so rare that it goes for thousands of dollars when a copy turns up. Only 250 copies were pressed. After a lengthy search Gene found one at his house, he told me when I spoke with him last week, but it was broken. Next up came two more swamp pop and New Orleans classics in the form of Joe Barry's I'm A Fool To Care and Frankie Ford's Sea Cruise, and then Cindy Lou, a wonderful rockabilly track. There was more New Orleans R and B in I Hear You Knockin' and the superb Oh What A Mistake. Then came No Mail Today, a song which was inspired, Gene said, by a mail man who drove up to his house in his van, and then drove off without stopping. It took him five minutes to write, Gene said. Other originals included Cinderella, Cinderella and the swamp pop flavoured Guy With A Million Dreams, whilst there was rock and roll with Flip Flop and Fly and Slow Down and more New Orleans sounds with Blue Monday, Have You Ever Had The Blues and a wonderful version of Joe Jones's You Talk Too Much, before finishing with a reprise of Cindy Lou.    Here is Cindy Lou. And here is No Mail Today.
The band throughout Gene's set, and throughout the evening, was superb, with lead guitarist John Spencely on great form, Claire Hamlin sparking on the keyboards, Jeff Tuck immaculate on drums and Robb  Davis solid on bass. The three piece horn section, comprising Alex Bland and Nick Lunt (from Jools Holland's band) on sax and Barry Few on trumpet, were splendid throughout. If there's a better backing band in London at the moment I would be amazed.
The evening started with a two piece boogie woogie outfit called the Sweet Georgia Boys who got the show off to a good start, before impresario Keith Woods introduced the band to the stage.
First up was Billie Davis, making a welcome return visit with punchy versions of her biggest early sixties hits I Want You To Be My Baby and Tell Him, along with A Mess Of Blues.
Sadly one of the artists booked to appear on the show, Danny Rivers, was too ill to perform, but his replacement Terry Clemson, once a member of the Downliners Sect, was an excellent replacement. A great guitarist, the place really rocked to a selection of numbers made famous by Chuck Berry (Roll Over Beethoven, Carol, Route 66 and The Promised Land), Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Ricky Nelson and Conway Twitty. This was all familiar material, with no Sect numbers on show, but exciting, with two excellent guitarists on stage and a driving beat throughout. The crowd loved it.
Next up was Stephen Ackles, a new name to me but very popular in his native Norway and further afield apparently, as there were quite a few of his fans in the house. Stephen is a very proficient Jerry Lee Lewis piano player, who performed accurate versions of numbers such as High School Confidential, Great Balls Of Fire, Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On and You Win Again. But he showed that he is more than that with Johnnie Ray's Cry, featuring a great guitar break from John Spencely, and a Cajun flavoured Bettina, featuring Claire Hamlin on organ. Other Jerry Lee favourities included Mexacali Rose, No Headstone On My Grave and Rockin' My Life Away, featuring a great sax break by Alex Bland. At the end of his set Stephen introduced two other piano players to the stage who have a show in a theatre near Leicester Square soon. I didn't catch their names and it wasn't entirely clear why they were there, apart from plugging their show. Nevertheless Stephen went down well, ably supported once again by the house band.

Keith Woods can again by pleased with his show as Gene Terry was well worth the cost of bringing him and wife over from the States. There were fewer original artists on the show this time, a sad reflection of the fact that many of them are no longer performing or no longer with us. But an enjoyable evening none the less. Well done!