Monday, December 26, 2016

George and Rick RIP

2016 is going out the way it came in with the deaths of more major league musicians: George Michael and Rick Parfitt of Status Quo. George was only 53 and Rick 68, which goes to show that the Grim Reaper is now scything down music people from an era post dating that of my musical heroes.
Ten years ago the joy of Christmas Day was shattered by the death of the godfather of soul, James Brown. This time it was George Michael, a superstar who had enormous success both as one half of Wham!, as a solo singer and on duets with other big names like Aretha Franklin. I was never a great fan of George Michael's music - I have nothing by him in my record collection - but by all accounts he was a modest man who rather regretted the enormous success that he enjoyed both before and after his outing as being gay. That success was due to his undoubted talent as a songwriter and singer and his ability to turn adversity into personal triumph.
A North London boy from a Greek Cypriot family, he made it big in partnership with Andrew
Ridgeley in Wham! with Wake Me Up Before You Go Go making number one in the UK and US. As a solo singer he had huge success with Careless Whisper and Faith among many others. He wrote and produced all the tracks on his Faith album. Another number one was Jesus To A Child, a tribute to his lover Anselmo Feleppa, who died in 1993. He bounced back from his humiliation after being charged with 'engaging in a lewd act' in Los Angeles with Outside, a satirical video making fun of the event. Other successful albums included Ladies and Gentlemen, Songs From The Last Century and Patience and the Wham! single Last Christmas, released in 1985, has become a Christmas standard. Drugs issues and odd behaviour dogged George in recent years, but his death from 'heart failure' at such a young age is a shock. No doubt more information will emerge.
Only a day earlier we heard that Rick Parfitt of Status Quo had died following complications arising from a shoulder injury. Rick, along with Francis Rossi, was the centre of the band for five decades and enjoyed enormous success with their fairly basic, but rocking approach. After their first hit, the psychedelic Pictures of Matchstick Men in 1967, they settled into a straight ahead hard rocking groove and the sight of Rick's long blonde hair flopping about as he played his guitar became one of the band's trademarks. Hits such as Rockin' All Over The World, Whatever You Want and Down Down were hugely successful and they were among the most recognisable rock bands of all time. Rick led the rock and roll lifestyle of drugs, drink and smoking and had a heart bypass operation in 1997, so perhaps his early demise wasn't too surprising. But for all Quo fans, of which I am not really one, his loss will be considerable.
Everyone says 2016 has been a particularly bad year for music, with loads of high profile deaths including David Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen, as well as this latest Christmas pairing. But someone made the point the other day that there are more famous people in the world today that there have ever been, so it's probably no surprise that they seem to be dropping like flies. The Vinyl Word raises a glass to all those who have passed on and I can only hope that there is less bad news in 2017. Don't forget that we still have four of the giants of fifties music with us, even if in most cases they are no longer performing, namely Fats Domino, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Professor Longhair, the Bach of Rock

I wish I could have been in New Orleans last night to celebrate what would have been Professor Longhair's 98th birthday. His daughter, Pat Byrd, runs a museum in Terpsichore Street which celebrates the life of her famous father and yesterday an event took place in Willow Street to remember Fess - the Bach of Rock, as he was called by Allen Toussaint, and his contribution to New Orleans music. Among those who were there were Dr John and Deacon John so it must have been some evening. New Orleans Woodie Armand St Martin was also there and said on Facebook: 'Had a great time performing several Professor Longhair inspired tunes at the big Professor Longhair birthday celebrations at The Willow in New Orleans, along with a great line-up of New Orleans musicians and fans; produced by Pat Byrd and Jimmy Anselmo with musicians Deacon John, Dr John, Tommy Worrell, J D Hill, Reggie Scanlon, myself and more,'
I visited the museum in October with the other Woodies on our road trip. We were lucky, as the museum has no advertised opening times. We were spotted lurking outside and invited in by Pat who was very welcoming. Fess lived in the house before his death and today it is a shrine to his memory. Pat does everything she can to make sure he is not forgotten - not that this is likely given the great music he left behind and his influence on other New Orleans piano players. I never got to see him play live but his memory lives on in the city's most famous music club Tipitina's. Despite early success with Mardi Gras In New Orleans, recorded originally in 1949, and other successful records such as Tipitina and Baldhead, he was, by 1970, very much down on his luck, living in a decaying wooden hut in South Rampart Street. His rediscovery in 1971 led to appearances at Jazzfest and European festivals such as Montreux and he recorded several albums during the 1970s prior to his death in 1980.
Today, Pat Byrd is determined to keep her father's memory alive. She does it for love and while we were at the museum, looking at photos and memorabilia of her father, she asked for nothing in the way of financial recompense. Each of us was photographed by her standing by a photo of her dad (see photo below), but she wouldn't allow any photos of herself or of items in the museum. She was thrilled to see that I was wearing a Professor Longhair T shirt that I bought during my first visit to New Orleans in 1989. Apparently all her old stock was destroyed by Katrina, so this is now a collector's item!
Fess had little opportunity to enjoy his success and was badly treated in his early years by record companies and others. According to Red Tyler. quoted in John Broven's Rhythm and Blues in New Orleans, 'he was abused and misled by a lot of local people that handled him.' It was only in later life that he found a wide audience, especially in Europe. Today, though, he is remembered with a degree of reverence, and rightly so.
Here's the exterior of the museum.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Death list 2016

Every year at around this time I compile a list of some of those in music and entertainment who have died during the last 12 months. 2016 seems to have been a particularly bad year, with some of the greats having passed on. But in truth every year sees far too many great musicians going to that great jukebox in the sky - and that trend is hardly likely to change as the fifties and sixties generations reach old age.
Among the latest is Greg Lake, who was the singer with King Crimson, part of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and a solo hit maker with I Believe In Father Christmas. Also Joe Ligon, who was the founder and lead singer of gospel group The Mighty Clouds Of Joy.
Here is a list of some of the others who have died during 2016.

Colonel Abrams - eighties soul singer; Mohammed Ali - heavyweight champion and occasional singer: Mose Allison - blues and jazz artist; Ernestine Anderson - jazz and blues singer; Signe Anderson - founder member of Jefferson Airplane; Sylvia Anderson - film maker and voice of Lady Penelope in Thunderbirds; Lee Andrews - doowop singer with the Hearts; Lennie Baker - member of Danny & the Juniors; David Bowie - Bromley boy who became Ziggy Stardust; Bonnie Brown - member of The Browns;  Tommy 'Weeping and Crying' Brown - bluesman; Pete Burns - member of Dead or Alive; Harrison Calloway - founder of Muscle Shoals Horns;  Phil Chess - producer at Chess records; Guy Clark - Texas singer/songwriter; Joe Clay - rockabilly singer; Otis Clay - superlative soul singer (pictured); Leonard Cohen - singer/songwriter; Clifford Curry - beach music and blues singer; Bobby Curtola - Canadian pop singer;  Joe Dowell - Wooden Heart singer; Patty Duke - actress and singer; Stanley 'Buckwheat' Dural - zydeco artist; David Egan - songwriter and member of Lil Band of Gold; Keith Emerson - composer and keyboard player with Nice and ELP; Emile Ford - sixties pop singer originally from St Lucia; Pete Fountain - New Orleans jazzman; Glenn Frey - member of the Eagles; Giorgio Gomelsky - music impresario and record producer; Leo Graham - producer for Tyrone Davis; Dale Griffin - Mott the Hoople drummer; Merle Haggard - country superstar; Herb Hardesty - sax player with Fats Domino; Leon Haywood - soul singer; Fred Hellerman - member of the Weavers; Dan Hicks - of the Hot Licks; Long John Hunter - bluesman; Wayne Jackson - Stax trumpet player with the Mar-Keys and Memphis Horns; Sonny James - fifties pop and country singer; Morris Jennings - drummer at Chess records;Joan Marie Johnson - member of the Dixie Cups;  Sharon Jones - retro soul singer; Kitty Kallen - fifties singer; Candye Kane - blues singer and porn star; Paul Kantner - member of Jefferson Airplane; John D Loudermilk - songwriter and singer; Lonnie Mack - rock and roll guitarist; Sir George Martin - composer, arranger and Beatles producer; Carlo Mastrangelo - lead singer with the Belmonts; Henry McCullough - guitarist with Eire Apparent and Wings; Cliff Michelmore - UK TV presenter; Ned Miller - country singer; Chips Moman - Memphis based record producer and songwriter; Scotty Moore - guitarist with Elvis: Andy Newman - founder of Thunderclap Newman; Billy Paul - seventies soul singer; Gary S Paxton - record producer and member of Skip & Flip; Jimmy Powell - UK blues and pop singer; Prince - black music superstar; Prince Buster - ska singer and record producer; Clarence Reid - producer, singer and 'Blowfly; Sir Mack Rice - Falcons soul singer and writer of Mustang Sally; Danny Rivers - UK singer and mainstay of TFTW shows; Floyd Robinson - Making Love hitmaker; Leon Russell - keyboard player and songwriter; Troy Shondell - This Time singer; Frank Sinatra Jr - son of famous father; Ralph Stanley - bluegrass musician; Kay Starr - fifties singer; Lewis Steinberg - original bassist with Booker T & the MGs; Ed 'Stewpot' Stewart - disc jockey; Robert Stigwood - music impresario; Dave Swarbrick - fiddler and member of Fairport Convention; Toots Thielemans - jazz musician; Reggie Torian - member of The Impressions; L C Ulmer - bluesman; Pat Upton - member of Spiral Staircase; Robert Vaughn - TV and film actor; Vanity - eighties singer and songwriter; Bobby Vee - successful sixties pop singer; Tony Warren - creator of Coronation Street; Clint West - swamp pop singer; Maurice White - drummer with Earth Wind & Fire; Ruby Wilson - blues queen of Beale Street (pictured below); Ruby Winters - northern soul singer; Sir Terry Wogan - TV presenter, disc jockey and voice of Eurovision; Victoria Wood - UK comedienne; Bernie Worrell - member of Parliament and Funkadelic; Glenn Yarbrough - member of the Limeliters; John Zacherle - horror TV host and record maker.
The Vinyl Word raises a glass to them all, and many others who have also passed on during the year. Additions and corrections more than welcome. Here's hoping there are no more to add to the list this year at least.
Postscript: there has already been another music death, this time of Jim Lowe at the age of 93. Jim had a huge hit in 1956 with The Green Door. It reached number 8 in the UK but Frankie Vaughan's cover outsold it. Other records by Jim included a cover of Blue Suede Shoes, Love is the $64,000 Question, I Feel The Beat and Four Walls.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Los Pacaminos at the Borderline

I was in London last night for a reunion and took the opportunity of catching a gig at The Borderline by Los Pacaminos, an Americana band who are as British as fish and chips but fun to watch and excellent musicians. Formed in 1992, the seven piece band's music takes in Tex Mex, mariachi, some country and a bit of rock and roll along with some Louisiana flavours here and there. The band's name is made up but, loosely translated, means 'Pack 'em in'.
Paul Young, who found success in the eighties with hits such as Wherever I Lay My Hat and Every Time You Go Away is the leader of the band, but vocal duties are shared around, with Drew Barfield and Jamie Moses showing that they have excellent voices as well. The band's light hearted approach, as exemplified by the title of their recent album A Fistful of Statins, is a joy: they certainly don't take themselves too seriously but they are all serious musicians who have played with some of the top musicians in the UK.
Included in the band's set were some covers, including Bobby Bland's Ain't Nothing You Can Do, Al Green's Belle, Ain't Got No Home and Smoke Smoke That Cigarette, but there were quite a few authentic sounding originals from their two albums, including Bruised and Battered, an amusing song about the dangers of drink, I Told Her Lies, the Tex Mex flavoured Poor Boys and Come A Little Bit Closer. Midway through their second set they broke into Tequila as glasses of the stuff were brought on stage - a regular occurrence apparently.
This was the first time I've caught Los Pacaminos, but won't be the last I suspect. They brought back memories of my recent Texas trip and more besides.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Herb Hardesty RIP

Sad to hear of the death of saxophone and trumpet player Herb Hardesty, aged 91, who was such a vital part of the Fats Domino and Dave Batholomew bands over many years. As well as his many shows with Fats, which dated back to 1949, he also played at the Ponderosa Stomp on more than one occasion and I well remember him enthusiastically going round the audience selling CDs.
In 2008 he backed Dr John, along with Tony Owens, Jean Knight and Tami Lynn, playing with the Wardell Querzerque band and he is pictured here with Michael Hurtt. In the1970s he moved to Las Vegas and played with Duke Ellington and as part of the Tom Waits band, before rejoining the Domino band in 1980. He also played on the 1992 Dr John album Going Back To New Orleans.