Friday, July 29, 2016

Danny Rivers RIP

Very sorry to hear of the death of Danny Rivers, a mainstay of many Tales From The Woods shows over the last decade. Born in Liverpool in 1942, he grew up in London and was discovered by Larry Parnes and Joe Meek at the age of 18. He toured with Johnny Burnette and many other big names of the day and appeared on the Wham TV show. Danny recorded some good quality rock and roll singles for Top Rank (produced by Dick Rowe), Decca and HMV (produced by Joe Meek) during the early sixties, all of which are now quite collectable. He was asked to perform at the first 2 Is show by Keith Woods and became a regular, appearing at the Rockin' at the 2 Is show in 2007, Rockin' At The TV Hop in 2008, and at smaller shows at the Water Rats in Kings Cross and at pubs in the West End and Ladbroke Grove, among others. Sporting jet black hair, his voice was well suited to Elvis numbers and he was particularly good on Little Sister. In the 2014 Tribute To Joe Meek show however, (see photo above) he varied his repertoire. I wrote at the time: 'Trying different material, with a Joe Meek connection, was Danny Rivers, who usually sticks to Elvis style numbers. This time he began with his jazzy Top Rank debut single Hawk and continued with some early recordings of his, including I'm Waiting For Tomorrow, Can You Hear My Heart, My Baby's Gone Away, We're Gonna Dance and the excellent Movin' On. Great to hear him sing his original numbers which showed what potential he had in his early days and what a good voice he continues to possess.'  Danny was one of the nicest guys around and it's a real shame that he's passed on.
Two more Memphis musicians have also died in the last week or so. William Brown, who has died aged 69, was a founder member of the Mad Lads who recorded some great tracks for Stax during the late sixties, including Don't Have To Shop Around, I Want Someone, I Want A Girl and Patch My Heart. He went on to become a studio engineer at Stax (he was involved in Isaac Hayes's Shaft), Ardent and Royal Studios in Memphis. I well remember the occasion in 1998 when John Howard and I called into Royal Studios on spec, to be greeted at the door by Willie Mitchell himself. Willie introduced us to William who went out of his way to show us around the studio, playing some recently recorded gospel music. A delightful and very friendly guy. Then who should walk in but Otis Clay, accompanied by Scott Billington, for a recording session. A memorable visit.
Another Memphis musician who has died is Lewis Steinberg, at the age of 82, who was the original bass player with Booker T and the MGs and played on Green Onions. He played on the first two Booker T LPs, Green Onions and Soul Dressing, and as part of the Stax house band, also played behind various other artists inclusing Otis Redding.
Thanks to Harry Grundy for alerting me to news of the death of Pat Upton, lead singer of Spiral Staircase, best known for their 1969 US hit I Love You More Today Than Yesterday.
Another important music figure who has died is Gary S Paxton, 77, who produced two of the best
novelty hits of the early sixties - Alley Oop and Monster Mash. Gary was Flip in Skip and Flip, who had success with It Was I, Fancy Nancy and Cherry Pie. He became an important, if rather weird, producer in LA and was involved with the Association, Paul Revere and the Raiders and Tommy Roe among others. Later he moved into the country field in Bakersfield and then into the gospel field, having become a born again Christian. He was shot by a country singer who he had upset, nearly ending his life, but he survived and continued to produce records.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

More photos from Porretta

Here are some more photos from this year's Porretta Soul Festival, including several taken at the launch of Bobby Rush's new CD Porcupine Meat at the Helvetia Hotel on Sunday. Bobby was with producer Scott Billington and played several tracks, which sounded well worth a listen, including a timely song about the unfairness of the US justice system when dealing with African Americans. Bobby described himself as 'a blues man with a funky beat' and explained that porcupine meat is 'too fat to eat and too lean to throw away.' Asked what he would really like, he said he wanted a Grammy. Amen to that!
Here's one of Bobby with Scott.
Nearly all the artists attended the launch. Here they are on the steps of the hotel.
Here's one of Stan Mosley and George McCrae.
Here's one of John Ellison of the Soul Brothers Six.
On the Friday I managed to get a photo with Fred Wesley.
Here's one with Falisa JaNaye taken the same evening.
Back to Sunday's event, here is American music fan and occasional guest writer Noah Schaffer with Scott Billington.
Here are a few of me (Nick Cobban) with some of the artists. Firstly, Bobby Rush.
With Vasti Jackson.
With George McCrae.
With Toni Green.
With Frank Bey.
With Stan Mosley.
With Bobby Rush's dancer, Mizz Lowe.
Finally, here are some of the excellent Anthony Paule Band, with firstly, Anthony himself.
This is saxophone player Nancy Wright.
Lastly, this is Sue McCracklin, daughter of Jimmy McCracklin, who is a member of backing group Sweet Nectar.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Porretta final day + photos

The final day of the Porretta Soul Festival featured all the acts (excepting Fred Wesley and the New JBs who had left by this time) and was another delight. There were some new numbers and some reprises of songs previously heard, and included some real highlights.
These, for me, included a sweet rendering of Soul Serenade from the saxophone of Nancy Wright, part of the Anthony Paule Band, and a raunchy, rocking version of her new song Midnight by the gorgeous Falisa JaNaye, this time wearing a short black dress. John Ellison was superb on What Can You Do When You Ain't Got Nobody: no animal prints this time, but a blue suit, the jacket of which he took off before he even started to sing. Also excellent was Stan Mosley, whose southern soul number You Can't Keep Throwing Our Love Away was a masterpiece. Toni Green appeared in a shiny green outfit and gave her usual diva like performance on Ain't Working Out, with high drama as she lay on the floor and wailed. Theo Huff was excellent - his best set of the weekend - with Johnnie Taylor's Stop Dogging Me Around and Last Two Dollars. George McCrae once again delivered his disco pop, which the bulk of the audience much enjoyed, Vasti Jackson's choice of Nothing Compares To You was a strange one, but effective, and Frank Bey once again gave a polished performance. The Anthony Paule Band was once again excellent and special mention must be made to the drummer D-Mar.
It was left to Bobby Rush to round off the evening with another stand out performance, featuring Mizz Lowe, which included Got To Be Funky, They Call Me The Howling Wolf and My Babe. As a finale all the artists came on stage to sing The Blues Is Alright and clearly enjoyed themselves immensely, as did the audience.  Here it is on Youtube: This was the best finale Porretta has seen and was a suitable climax to a great weekend. Graziano we salute you: long may this brilliant festival last!
I took loads of photos during the action packed weekend. Here are a few of them.
This is Bella Black, of James and Black, who made a good impression on day one.
Here's Fred Wesley, who kicked off proceedings on the second day.
Falisa Janaye, from Mississippi, impressed both with her energy and voice, and also looked great. Here are a couple of her in action.

Stan Mosley was another act who exceeded expectations. A brilliant soul singer.
George McCrae kept lovers of disco happy, especially with his great hit Rock Your Baby.
Here is Vasti Jackson, an excellent guitarist who also backed Bobby Rush.
Frank Bey appeared on three nights with his regular band led by Anthony Paule, all of whose members worked their socks off over the weekend.
The star of Anthony's band was drummer D-Mar whose athleticism and enthusiasm surely has no equal.
Jerry Jones provided some well delivered straight ahead soul during the weekend.
Here is Soul Brothers Six lead singer John Ellison, wearing his animal print outfit.
Toni Green, the Queen of Porretta, wore amazing costumes on each of her performances.
Here's Toni doing a duet with Theo Huff.
Here's another one of Theo.
Bobby Rush was great as ever: charismatic, funny, funky and bluesy.
Here's Bobby with Mizz Lowe.
More photos will follow. Here are some Youtube clips that I filmed. John Ellison:   Falisa Janaye:    Stan Mosley:

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Porretta Soul Festival, part 2

Saturday night is always the busiest one at Porretta and this year was no exception. What's more, the quality continued throughout the show. The house band for the entire evening, the ever excellent Anthony Paule Band, kicked things off with a couple of instrumentals, including a great version of Town Without Pity and Last Night, a tribute to the Memphis Horns, Wayne Jackson and Andrew Love, who played at Porretta in years past. Roaring onto the stage came Vasti Jackson, a blues guitarist with a dynamic act, with hints of Hendrix. Highlight was a slow soul blues number So Glad We're Back Together and he ended with a crowd excursion on Hoochie Coochie Man.
Next up was Frank Bey, who plays with the Paule band regularly. This time his numbers included Where You Been So Long, I'm Leaving You, Kiss Me Like You Mean It and the beautiful You Don't Know Nothing. Other numbers, all performed with real feeling, included the upbeat Don't Mess With The Monkey and Hard Times, during which the drummer D-Mar leapt over his drum set, played on the stage support and a beer glass and generally threw himself about, to the delight of the crowd. Frank's final song was Bobby Bland's Get Your Money Where You Spend Your Time.
After a break, during which David Nathan of Soul City fame, was presented with the annual Porretta award, it was time for the big man, Jerry Jones, who was pretty good on Cry To Me, You Got Me Hummin', Ain't No Love In The Heart Of The City, Don't Turn Your Heater Down and Take Me To The River. He was joined on stage by Theo Huff for the regular Sam and Dave tribute, in the form of Hold On I'm Coming and Soul Man, which got the crowd on its feet.
I wasn't sure what to expect of the next act, John Ellison, formerly of the Soul Brothers Six, who appeared on stage wearing a cloak covered with animal prints, described by one person there as being like a set of curtains. He stripped it off to reveal a jump suit made of the same material. He proved to have a dynamic act, beginning with Thank You For Letting Me Be Myself, the SBS's I Want To Thank You Baby, the repetitive Where Do I Go From Here?, a sweet rendition of Ooh Baby Baby and a great version of the classic Some Kind Of Wonderful. From there he went into a frantic version of Shout, during which he stripped to the waist and rolled around on the floor. Good fun though. What a showman!
Next on stage was the Queen of Porretta, Toni Green, looking magnificent as ever in a white and tight lacy translucent trouser suit. She began with Otis's I Can't Turn You Loose followed by What Kind Of Man Are You. Things went downhill somewhat when she invited five men to dance on stage, but got back on track with a simmering duet with Theo Huff on If Loving You Is Wrong. She finished strongly with the excellent and soulful Things Ain't Working Out. Toni always gives her all and this was no exception. As ever she looked very glamorous and her act was highly watchable.
The star of this, and any show he's on, was next, the inimitable Bobby Rush, who at the age of 82 was as full of life and as much fun as ever. Now with just one dancing girl, Mizz Lowe, and Vasti Jackson on guitar, his act is pure theatre and always enjoyable. His songs included old favourites such as Garbage Man, You're So Fine, She's 19 Years Old and Night Fishing. He included his Michael Jackson and Elvis costumes, but this was a slightly toned down Bobby with no giant knickers and little in the way of twerking. Great as ever though, and next morning he launched his new Scott Billington produced CD Porcupine Meat ('too fat to eat, too lean to throw away'). During the show he repeated several times 'This could be the last time you see me.' I sure hope not.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Porretta Soul Festival, part 1

The annual Porretta Soul Festival is here again, and the excitement is growing. Once again, for the 29th year, this normally sleepy Italian hill town, just south of Bologna, is playing host to some of the best surviving soul artists from the 60s and 70s. It must surely be the greatest event of its kind anywhere in the world. In fact, it must be the only such event. A wonderful celebration of soul music that was the inspiration of Graziano Uliani, a Memphis soul fan who organised it as a tribute to Otis Redding. He invited Rufus Thomas to the first festival and since then just about anyone of note in the soul music firmament has performed in Porretta in the intimate Rufus Thomas Park amphitheatre.
Day one was a laid back affair with a small number of local and US bands appearing, the best of them being a tribute to Allen Toussaint by Texas duo Bruce James and Bella Black. Their contrasting voices worked well together on numbers including Night People, It's Raining and Southern Nights. Things hotted up on Friday with Fred Wesley and the New JBs providing some excellent funk. The band was tight and very professional with trombonist Fred well supported by sax man Phillip Whack and trumpeter Gary Winters. Numbers included Fourplay from 1977, Soul Power from his James Brown days, Bop To The Boogie, with audience participation, Breakin' Bread, Funky Good Time (as indeed it was) and We're Gonna Have A House Party. The excellent Anthony Paule Band supported the remaining acts and, after a number each by Sue McCracklin and Lorelee Christensen, both members of backing group Sweet Nectar, it was the time for the return visit of Mississippi soul singer Falisa JaNaye. She was on great form, looking gorgeous as ever, with dynamic versions of A Fool In Love, A Mighty Good Man and Mr Big Stuff, a couple of numbers from her new CD, Midnight and You Won't Get Your Water Til Your Well Runs Dry, and The Night Time Is The Right Time. Very enjoyable, but there was a lot more to come, first with Frank Bey, whose effortless soul voice was superb on Its Good To Have Your Company, Any Way You Look At It, Bobby Bland's Ain't That Loving You, the deeply soulful I Just Can't Go On Living This Way and If I Could Just Reach Out And Help Somebody. He ended with a passionate, if somewhat trite, version of Imagine, but this was soul singing at its very best.
Next on stage was Chicago soul man Stan Mosley, who has a voice somewhere between that of Wilson Pickett and Bobby Womack. Dressed in a red jacket he was excellent on Pickett's 6345789 and Womack's Lookin' For A Love, Harry Hippie and Woman's Gotta Have It, plus a couple of others, Makes You Want To Cry and Woman's Got To Have It. Highly enjoyable. He was joined on stage by Theo Huff, also in red, for a lively version of Sam and Dave's I Thank You, which got the crowd on its feet, somewhat blocking out the view of others. Theo has a strong voice but maybe tried just a little too hard on Who's Making Love, Turn Back The Hands Of a Time, Just Another Road, from his new CD, Soul Swing and an Otis soundalike Try A Little Tenderness.
Final act of the night was 70s disco star George McCrae, also dressed in red, whose high light voice was well suited to  numbers including We Got Love, I Can't Leave You Alone, We Got Love, from his new CD, Ooh Baby Baby, Sexy Woman and Taste Of Heaven. He was especially good on Its Alright, but rather dull on You Are So Beautiful To Me. His big hit RockYour Baby rounded off a great evening, and there's more to come tonight.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Soul shows in Stockport and Rochester

Intrepid US music fan Noah Schaffer has been turning up at gigs all over the place recently. Here is his report on two recent UK soul shows: the Tribute to David Gest, Stockport, July 11, and the Soul Party at Rochester Castle, July 15. Thanks Noah.
Two events this week highlighted the more commercial side of classic soul, and showed that there is no shortage of R&B vocalists who can still draw a large audience.Monday's revue was originally planned to be hosted by ex-Liza Manelli husband and reality show staple David Gest. While Gest was an easy target for his tabloid exploits, the former Al Green publicist had organized numerous UK tours of classic soul artists that featured the likes of Candi Staton, Percy Sledge and Little Anthony. Gest's summer tour, unfortunately named "David Gest is Not Dead But is Alive With Soul," was kept as a tribute after Gest died this spring.
Thankfully the midgets that were part of past Gest soul tours were not present. Instead Freda Payne opened the show with "Band of Gold" and then hosted the night, offering plenty of anecdotes about Gest's bizarre antics and love of childish jokes. 80's UK singer Junior Giscombe was tapped to replace Billy Paul who also passed shortly after Gest. (Another scheduled act, "Ring My Bell" singer Anita Ward, was an unexplained no-show.) Giscombe offered Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" and his own "Mama Used to Say." Frustratingly the wonderful harmonies of the Tymes were only heard on "Miss Grace" and as a tribute to Paul "Me and Mrs. Jones." Fern Kinney sang one of Malaco Records' biggest hits, "Together We Are Beautiful," before being honored with a birthday cake.
Melba Moore, now sporting a short haircut, belting out her disco hit "This is It." The first half concluded with the night's highlight, as original Stylistics singer Russell Thompkins Jr ([ictured above). Opening with "Rockin' Roll Baby," Thompkins showed that his classic falsetto is still intact. Full versions of "Betcha By Golly Wow" and "You Make Me Feel Brand New" followed as well as a lengthy medley of other Stylistics hits. After an intermission Payne returned with a cover of "I Will Survive." Deniece Williams showed off her strong pipes on "Free" and "Let's Hear It For the Boy" and invited back Thompkins for an ideal duet on "Too Much Too Little Too Late." 
While Dina Carroll is not a name known to this American soul fan, it was clear that much of the audience had turned out for what was a comeback tour after several years of inactivity. She opened a surprisingly short set with "Son of a Preacher Man" before singing her hit ballad "The Perfect Year" and finishing with "Ain't No Man," a dance number which benefited from the excellent house band's horn section.  Peabo Bryson finished the night, and while some might dismiss him for his Disney soft-rock hits like "Beauty and the Beast" and "A Whole New World" there's no disputing that Bryson's voice remains a powerful instrument. His polished presence enlivened his 80's ballad "If Ever You're in My Arms Again." Backup singer Desrinea Ramus did a good job replacing Roberta Flack on "Tonight I Celebrate My Love," and Bryson dug deep on Leon Russell's "Song for You" offered in tribute to Gest. The night ended up an upbeat note with Bryson bringing out the entire cast for Chaka Khan's "Ain't Nobody." Gest bodyguard-turned-tour producer Imad Handi appeared at the end of the three hour show to promise that another edition will be mounted next year.
Friday night saw a sold-out crowd of 5,000 packed onto the beautiful grounds of the Rochester Castle in Kent. The night opened with Angelo Starr (pictured above) and the A-Team, a hard-touring ensemble that brings together the late Edwin Starr's brother and former backing band. Angelo has a terrific voice, a winning stage presence and avoids trying to clone his brother's vocal sound. At its best the set highlighted Edwin's hits like "25 Miles From Home", "War" and "H.A.P.P.Y. Radio." But like most of the artists on the bill this act frequently appears at Butlins and other seaside resorts, so much of the set was devoted to energetic and well-received covers of Motown, Jackie Wilson and Cameo.
After a set break original Rose Royce lead singer Gwen Dickey appeared with the 8-piece Soul Legends band. Dickey has long lived in the UK while a different version of the band tours in the US. Although a recent spinal injury has left her confined to a wheelchair, age had only made her voice richer on the oft-sampled "Ooh Boy," the ballad "Wishing on a Star" and of course a lengthy singalong for "Car Wash." The next 45 minutes were devoted to the six talented singers who appear in the Soul Legends revue, a touring production which plays theaters all around the UK hinterlands. While I'd never pay to see such a jukebox musical, the tight choreography which few vintage singers could match showed why such productions do good box office around the world. The selections were the expected mix of Motown, Aretha and Wilson Pickett classics.
The remaining original recording stars resumed with Jimmy James, a Jamaican-born ska singer who became one of the first UK-based black rock and soul stars in the mid-60's. Despite a lengthy discography half his set were covers of the Detroit Emeralds' "Feel the Need" and the Temptations "The Way You Do the Things You Do," which were paired with his 70's hits  I'll Go Where The Music Takes Me" and "Now Is The Time."
The final vintage artist was TK Records hitmaker George McCrae (pictured below), who will be one of the headliners of next week's Porretta Soul Festival. Italy-bound soul fans are in for a treat based on his fine set in Rochester, which consisted of "One Step Closer," "It's Been So Long" and "Rock Me Baby." 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

William Bell superb at the Union Chapel

Back in 1961 William Bell became the first solo male singer at Stax records when he recorded You Don't Miss Your Water - the first of many great tracks recorded for the label. Now, over 50 years later, he is back with the reformed Stax label and promoting a new album This Is Where I Live, which features a majority of tracks written by him and John Leventhal. From what I've heard so far, it's well up to the standard of his back catalogue which is quite an achievement, given that most artists fail to live up to the quality of their earlier work.
Last night at the Union Chapel in London William showed that he is still a great singer and perfomer. Looking dapper in a smart suit and tie, white hat and dark glasses, and much younger than his years (he will be 77 on Saturday), he began not with a Stax song but Easy Comin' Out, Hard Goin' In, a track on his 1977 Mercury album It's Time You Took Another Listen. It was obvious that we were in for a treat in this intimate, rather austere, former church, as William looked and sounded superb, well supported by an eight piece UK band who, it seems, he had rehearsed with only once.
Next up it was one of William's early Stax tracks, the excellent Any Other Way (see Youtube clip below), before he moved on to three numbers from the new album - The Three Of Me, reminiscent of his I Forgot To be Your Lover, the upbeat Poison In The Well, and Mississippi Arkansas Bridge, a true story, he said, about blues clubs he visited in West Memphis when he was a young man. After a great version of Trying To Love Two, another Mercury cut, with Stand By Me thrown in, he returned to the This Is Where I Live album with the deeply soulful I Will Take Care Of You and the title track - he had gone 'back home to Stax', he said.
From there on it was wall to wall Stax numbers. He cruised through Everybody Loves A Winner, with some testifying thrown in, and lit the place up with a duet with his female backing singer on Private Number. By this time he had the audience in the palm of his hand and he continued with Every Day Will Be Like A Holiday and Eloise, a 1967 song which I don't think I've heard him do before, at the Ponderosa Stomp, Porretta or at Stax nights.Then it was his very first record and a hit for Stax in the very early days, You Don't Miss Your Water, and I Forgot To be Your Lover, which included some phrases from You Send Me.
William left the stage, but soon returned to sing a song that he wrote for Albert King and also sang himself - Born Under A Bad Sign. It's a song that that has been attempted by everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Homer Simpson, but it's great to hear it from the lips of the man who wrote it, along with Booker T Jones. It's also a track on his new album incidentally.
I don't think anyone can have left William's show without feeling a warm glow of happiness. He was, without any doubt, superb. A living legend, and the world's greatest living soul singer in my opinion now that Otis Clay has gone.
Nick Cobban