Thursday, January 26, 2017

Three more music deaths

Time to catch up on some more music deaths, including two significant soul men: Marvell Thomas and Tommy Tate.
Keyboard player and arranger Marvell Thomas, son of Rufus Thomas and older brother of Carla and
Vaneese, was a key figure in the development of Stax records. He was only 17 when he first played there and went on to contribute to many great records, including Rufus and Carla's Cause I Love You and William Bell's You Don't Miss Your Water. He co-produced Isaac Hayes' Hot Buttered Soul and played on dozens of records by the likes of Johnnie Taylor, the Staples Singers, Little Milton and Albert King. He also worked at Muscle Shoals on records by artists such as Etta James, Wilson Pickett and Denise Lasalle. Marvell played at the Porretta Soul Festival on several occasions and very much valued the high regard given to Memphis musicians at the festival which contrasted with attitudes by many in Memphis itself.
Tommy Tate never achieved great success but made some excellent southern soul records in a career that stretched from the early sixties until 2002 when he suffered a stroke. He started drumming and singing around Jackson, Mississippi, and made several records during the sixties with Tim Whitsett and the Imperial Show Band, a band that also featured Dorothy Moore. When the band broke up in 1970 he joined Stax and recorded several records for the Ko Ko subsidiary, the most successful of which was School of Life. He also wrote songs for Luther Ingram. He made several albums, including one (pictured), recorded at Malaco, which was released in Europe on the Timeless label. One oddity, revealed by Red Kelly in his A side blog, was a release on Atco by Andy Chapman called Happy Is The
Man, which is actually by Tommy. It seems that he made a demo while working as house drummer with Huey Meaux which was put out by Jerry Wexler as one side of this 45.
Another recent death is that of guitarist Tommy Allsup who famously lost the coin toss and as a result missed the fateful plane
trip that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. He became a session musician in Nashville and also recorded an instrumental LP of Buddy Holly songs, produced by Norman Petty, which was released in the UK on London in 1964.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Sam Moore's not so finest hour

I try to steer clear of politics on this blog - not because I'm not interested but because it's the music that matters. But the inauguration of Donald Trump yesterday left a sour taste in my mouth with his isolationist and protectionist rhetoric (if that isn't too overblown a word for his pathetic efforts at public speaking). I love the US and visit there from the UK a couple of times a year. I find most Americans welcoming, polite and friendly. But this President's inward looking view is worrying. He doesn't appear to have a clue or care in the least for the rest of the world. His catchphrase 'America First' is scarily reminiscent of 'Britain First', an extreme right wing British organisation which is anti immigrant, anti Europe, anti gay etc etc. His policies seem to be much the same as well.
Britain has its own problems as a result of the decision by a narrow margin to leave the European community. Many of those who voted for Brexit share the same narrow, racist viewpoint as Trump's supporters. Theresa May seems determined to push ahead with the hardest of hard Brexits come what may and the Government seems to think that a trade deal with the US will be easy to arrange and beneficial to the UK. Forget it: Trump has made it clear that he doesn't want trade deals unless they put 'America First', so why should a deal with Britain  be any different. The sight of the loathsome Brexiteer Michael Gove creeping up to Trump pretending to be the journalist he once was a week or so ago was disconcerting to say the least. Let's not pretend that Trump cares about the UK (apart from his Scottish golf course). He may have put Churchill's bust back in the Oval Office but he's a hard nosed businessmen who is in it for his own interests, certainly not ours and probably not those of the American people.  I predict that he will not finish his first term but even if he does there is no light at the end of the tunnel. A lot will have happened by 2020 - very little of it good.
Anyway, back to the music, and I was a little saddened to see the great Sam Moore singing at Trump's inauguration event. His rendition of 'America The Beautiful' was not his finest hour. It's a corny song and he sang it rather poorly I thought. I saw Sam at the Porretta Soul Festival a few years ago and would love to see him perform again. And his combination with Dave Prater produced some of the greatest soul recordings of all time. I saw Sam and Dave on the Stax Tour to the UK in 1967 and they stole the show, despite the presence on the bill of Otis Redding, among others. 'Hold On I'm Coming' lifted the roof of the Fairfield Hall, Croydon. Sadly those days are well behind him.
Here's a photo of Sam at Porretta in 2001 (actually it was held in Bologna that year).

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

New Year music deaths

It's time to catch up on several music stars who have passed away during the last few weeks.
The latest is Buddy Greco who has died in Las Vegas aged 90. Buddy is best known for his 1960 version of The Lady Is A Tramp which was a memorable if minor UK hit but his career spanned over
80 years. He first visited the UK in 1949 and became a long time resident of Essex, as well as the US. He celebrated his 80th year in show business with an event in Southend in 2013 attended by Kenny Lynch and Paul Young among others. His first successful record was Ooh Look-A There Ain't She Pretty in 1947 and other US hits included I Ran All The Way Home in 1951 and Mr Lonely in 1962. He recorded many albums from the 50s to the 90s and continued to perform live, including  a UK tour in 2012.
Another death is that of Sylvester Potts, a long time member of The Contours. Although not in the original line up, he joined in 1961 before the group had their biggest hit with Do You Love Me - a record which sparked the rise of Tamla Motown, certainly in the UK. Other smaller but equally exciting hits followed with Shake Sherry, Can You Do It and Can You Jerk Like Me. Sylvester left the group but rejoined a reformed line up and enjoyed more mid 60s success with Just A Little Misunderstanding and First I Look At The Purse. Sylvester remained with the group until 2004 when he left to form a new version of the band which, after an out of court settlement,
became The Contours featuring Sylvester Potts.
Debbie Reynolds, who died on December 28, the day after her daughter Carrie Fisher, was best known as an actress but had a huge hit in 1957 with the film theme song Tammy. Other recordings in the 50s and early 60s included All Grown Up and Am I That Easy To Forget? She even tried her hand at folk with an LP in 1963 and performed for several years in cabaret in Las Vegas but it was as a film, TV and stage actress that she made most impact. The first of her three husbands was 50s crooner Eddie Fisher, Carrie's father.
English singer Peter Sarstedt, who has died aged 75, was the brother of Eden Kane and Robin Sarstedt and achieved huge success in 1969 with Where Did You Go To (My Lovely), a song about a poor girl who joins the jet set, which went to number one in 14 countries. His career started under the name Peter Lincoln when he recorded a song called In The Day Of My Youth. Other records after his smash hit included You're A Lady, Beirut and I Am A Cathedral but none of them replicated his big hit and he joined several Silver Sixties shows in the 80s and 90s.
Less well known but another significant loss is Big Cynthia, aged
47, a southern soul singer who was the daughter of Junior Walker. Her songs included Ain't Nothing Like a Big Woman, Eating Ain't Cheating and That Nookie Thang.
RIP to them all.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Sixties Gold show in Ipswich

My intrepid American pal Noah Schaffer fearlessly attended a Sixties Gold show at the Regent, Ipswich, on his last UK visit. Here's his review.
On my way home from Skegness I saw a different kind of 60s legends package. The Sixties Gold Tour is one of the several vintage pop/rock tours that endlessly circulate around the UK theatre circuit. As is often the case with oldies shows some moments were stronger than others.
All of the artists except the self-contained Searchers were backed by the current version of the Pacemakers (minus Gerry). They were competent and far too loud and lacked any real feeling for the music, as evidenced by the cheesy synthesizer sounds that frequently rose to the top of the mix.
Opening the night was Wayne Fontana, the one-time Mindbenders singer who after some legal tussles is now residing in Spain. With his trademark wide-brimmed hat (variations of which were on sale at his merch table) and long grey hair Fontana is certainly a character, and the many jokes he told between songs were as vintage as the music. But his voice is still strong and he was able to deliver excellent versions of 'Game of Love' and his surprisingly good hit cover of Major Lance's 'Um Um Um Um Um Um.' An Elvis medley followed before Fontana, without explanation, sang 'Groovy Kind of Love,' which was actually a hit for the Mindbenders after Fontana had left. Fontana's set was, for me, one of the highlights of the night.
Up next was a man who has truly had nine lives in show business. Rockabilly collectors will likely know
P J Proby's original incarnation as the Texas shouter Jeff Powers. Proby cut some records in LA before moving to the UK where his career exploded before being cut short when he was blacklisted after his pants ripped on stage - hard to imagine such an incident causing a scandal today. But he stuck through it and has since alternated between experimental (and in at least one case shamefully racist) cuts and playing commercially-minded shows on the oldies circuit.
This evening found him applying his great Texas swagger to 'Stagger Lee.' Charlie Rich's 'Lonely Weekends,' Eddie Cochran's '3 Steps to Heaven,' West Side Story's 'Somewhere' and his hit 'Hold Me' (which featured Jimmy Page on the original recording). I wouldn't vouch for Proby's personal character but no one could question the 78 year old's showmanship or vocal prowess.
The first half concluded with the Tremeloes, who, after some lineup shuffles, now are made up of original lead Brian Poole, vocalist/drummer Dave Munden plus key mid-60s lead vocalist Chip Hakes. (The sidemen who had been touring with Munden will not be on their own as the Trems, a Tremeloes tribute band).
Somewhat suprisingly they appeared not as a self-contained band but as a vocal trio backed by the house band, but the harmonies of 'Silence is Golden' and 'Here Comes My Baby' were as magic as ever, while Poole brought the group back to its early R&B roots with 'Do You Love Me?' and 'Twist and Shout.' Every act got about 25 minutes and that wasn't nearly enough to get very far into the Tremeloes' deep catalogue. The three have announced that they will be doing an extensive tour on their own in 2017.
I considered leaving at intermission and, in retrospect, I should have. The second half started with Gary Puckett on what was incredibly his first UK tour ever. (Perhaps he's trying to drive out the phony Union Gap UK which plays the British oldies circuit.) Puckett and the Union Gap's 60s pop are a guilty pleasure of mine, and Puckett was actually the first artist I ever saw live aside from children's concerts. But why the 74 year keeps up a heavy tour schedule is a bit of a mystery, as he neither sounds very good nor seems to be enjoying himself either on stage or while meeting fans after. (All the acts except for Proby hit the lobby for meet-and-greets following their sets). On 'Young Girl' and 'Woman Woman' Puckett sort of talk-mumbled his way through the songs instead of even attempting to hit the original notes.
The night ended with the current incarnation of the Searchers, with rhythm guitarist John MacNally the only original. (Mike Pender now tours on his own with a far superior show.) The replacement members managed to be way too late and low-energy at the same time on 12 string classics like 'Needles and Pins' and a Buddy Holly medley. After their perfunctory finish the show concluded without the customary all-cast finale that a number of audience members were expecting. While certainly an uneven evening, it was stil great to see the likes of Fontana, Proby and the Tremeloes as it is hard to imagine any of them appearing in the US.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Skegness Northern Soul Survivors Weekend

A warm welcome back to Boston-based Noah Schaffer. who attended the Skegness Northern Soul Survivors Weekend in September. Here's his review.
The British resort chain Butlins long suffered from a reputation as a dated destination point stocked with corny entertainers. But for the past four years the Butlins Skegness location has, at least for one weekend, been as soulful a place as you'll find thanks to its Northern Soul Survivors weekend. The fourth edition was no exception as it welcomes six bona fide legends plus several talented UK artists, once again backed exceptionally by the Diane Shaw Band.
Friday night kicked off with Chris Clark (pictured above), one of the few white stars to grace the Motown label and, like many of her peers this weekend, an American artist who almost never performs at home. (One of the few exceptions was her Ponderosa Stomp set where she had the misfortune to be battling a bad cold.) At Skegness she radiated a hippie earth mother persona with her long blind hair, knee high boots and a set that included earnest versions of her Motown recordings including the Smokey Robinson-penned 'From Head to Tow' and Holland-Dozier-Holland's 'Love's Gone Bad.' UK singer Paul Stuart Davies joined in for a duet on 'The Way You Do The Things You Do.'
After Clark's charming but eccentric segment a polished professional Eddie Holman was the perfect close. The enduring success of 'Hey There Lonely Girl' means he often appears in the US at doo-wop and lowrider soul revues, but typically just for short segments on multi-act bills. So it was a treat to hear him offer a solid hour of nothing but his own classic recordings. 'This Can't Be True, 'Eddie's My Name'. 'Stay Mine For Heaven's Sake', 'All In The Game' and 'I Love You' proved that Holman is no one hit wonder. But of course the night climaxed with a lengthy offering of his signature @Hey There Lonely Girl', with Holman proving true his boast that he can still hit the song's impossible falsetto notes. What a first class performer.
Like any Northern Soul event many attendees were as or even more interested om dancing to DJs than hearing the live acts, and vinyl sets were on offer in several rooms. (A few noted correctly that the setlists tended to be limited to the most common Northern Soul tracks with the same tunes being heard multiple times if one walked around). This year Russ Winstanley was joined by another famed Northern Soul DJ and producer, Ian Levine. Despite recovering from a recent stroke Levine still presided over hours of music and also did a revealing Q&A session with Winstanley that tackled some of the myths and realities of the early days of Northern Soul. (One wishes there had also been interviews with the artists). Two Levine-produced artists, Steve Brookstein of the Four Vandals and Tahira Jumah, perfomed afternoon sets to tracks. (A third, reality TV contestant Anton Stephens blew off his appearance, effectively ending his relationship with Levine.) Diane Shaw herself did a Saturday afternoon show showcasing the excellent material from her first LP as well as previewing material from her next project which is due out this year.
Saturday night paired up two of Northern Soul's most iconic acts. First on was 83 year old Tommy Hunt (above), the former Flamingos vocalist who also had a notable solo career. Two years ago Hunt had collapsed during the Skegness finale. This time around he promised to stay properly hydrated and even brought on stage the nurse who assisted him to offer a plaque and his appreciation. His set list was clearly the result of decades on the Northern Soul circuit - he's long lived in the UK - and included covers like 'The Snake, 'Keep On Keepin' On' and 'Tobacco Road' and even Kris Kristofferson's 'Help Me Make It Through The Night' (which he was recorded singing at Wigan's Casino Club over 40 years ago). His set ended with the adoring crowd joyously singing along to his Northern Soul anthems 'Lovin' On The Losing Side' and 'Crackin'Up Over You.' At one of his well-attended meet and gretet sessions Hunt offered up the happy news that he'll be performing in the US this summer as part of a large early rock'n'roll event in Atlantic City.
Wrapping up Saturday was Dean Parrish (above), who earned his place in Northern Soul history when 'I'm On My Way' became one the last three songs played at each Wigan Casino dance. He remains in excellent voice, opening with his version of the Exciters hit retitled 'Tell Her', the Paul Weller-written 'Left, Right and Center,' Ray Charles' 'Unchain My Heart' and, proving his vocal prowess, Timi Yuro's 'It'll Never Be Over For Me' before ending with a powerful take on Bobby Bland's 'Turn On Your Love Light'.
Sunday afternoon found the fine UK soul man Paul Stuart Davies offering a chance to hear live songs associated with the likes of Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson. Chris Clark reprised her duet with Davies on 'The Way You Do The Things You Do' and sounded quite comfortable with the jazzy arrangement.
Sunday night started with Pat Lewis, a Detroit singer who is beloved in the UK but under-recognised on her home shores. Opening with mid-60s cuts like 'I'll Wait', which was written by George Clinton before there was a Parliament or a Funkadelic, Lewis hit her stride on the Levine-produced 'Something New To Do' and a just-released cover of Gil Scott-Heron's 'The Bottle'. She invited by inviting Sidney Barnes (below) up for 'Can't Shake It Loose', which he had co-written for her along with Clinton some 50 years ago.
Sidney Barnes is a man with a fascinating history as a singer, songwriter, actor and industry insider at Motown among many other labels. He finished up the night with his own energetic set, and yet again George Clinton was represented via 'Heart Trouble' and the JJ Barnes classic 'Our Love Is In The Pocket' which Sidney Barnes wrote with Clinton. This was billed as Sidney's farewell UK appearance, but he explained that he simply wanted to focus on music business endeavours that don't involve international travel.
Other songs touched by Barnes included the Jeff Barry-produced 'You'' Always Be In Style' and an especially powerful take on his debut single 'Wait My Love.' The segment finished with a rollicking 'Standing On Solid Ground', Barnes' modern soul anthem. All of the entertainers from the weekend, except for Eddie Holman, were still present, and, per Skegness tradition, they reappeared to recreate the famous '3 Before 8', the last songs of the night played at the Wigan Casino. Paul Stuart Davies started things off with 'Long After Tonight Is All Over' and Diane Shaw offered 'Time Will Pass You By.' Of xourse there was no need for anyone to sing a cover of I'm On My Way' with Dean Parrish present. the night ended with the entire cast coming back for an extended 'Do I love You. If there was any doubt that both artists and audience did not want the evening to end it came when the band finished up and exhausted stage crew put the house lights and music back on. Tommy Hunt, Chris Clark and Dean Parrish started singing along to 'Wade In The Water'. Davies also announced that he had been recording all the veteran acts in his Butlins bedroom and would be releasing a charity single featuring all of them.
Next year's Skegness weekend will focus more on UK-based acts, including Angelo Starr (Edwin's brother), Lorraine Silver, Parrish, Hunt, the Signatures, Davies and, interestingly, the Voices of Africa Gospel Choir which has collaborated with Davies in the past. Brenda Holloway will be representing Detroit. Shaw and her phenomenal band will be taking the year off to focus on theirown music. Whoever takes their place will have a high bar to clear.
Photos by Jarek Majdzinski.