Saturday, February 25, 2017

Leroy Hutson at the Union Chapel

When Curtis Mayfield left The Impressions in 1971 he was replaced by Leroy Hutson. It was an obvious choice, as Leroy had been a protege of Curtis as a member of The Mayfield Singers, a group put together by the great man. Leroy's smooth, soft, soulful voice fitted in perfectly with the Impressions' sound and he recorded two albums for the group for the Curtom label. When he left two years later to follow a solo career Leroy enjoyed success with a series of high quality albums for Curtom including Love Oh Love, The Man!, Hutson and Closer To The Source. He also enjoyed a degree of chart success in the black singles charts during the seventies, but although his reputation was growing, he remained something of a cult among die hard soul fans.
Last night, at the Union Chapel in London, he showed that at the age of 71 he has lost none of his vocal quality, with a sweetly soaring voice which stayed faithful to his original recordings. He also looked great too - much younger than his real age - dressed in a multi coloured jacket and red cap. Disappointly, though, he sang only seven of the 11 numbers in his set, the remainder being split between young British soul diva Gizelle Smith and his highly proficient eight piece backing band The Baltic Soul Orchestra.
Leroy's own vocal numbers included some of his best known tracks including All Because Of You, Lover's Holiday, Love The Feeling, It's Different and Lucky Fellow, with an encore of So Nice. I particularly enjoyed So In Love With You, a song which would certainly have suited Curtis himself, The stage was set up with keyboards, but Leroy spent little time playing them, leaving the backing to the band. Their take on his funk hit Blackberry Jam was effective. Gizelle also did a good job on her two numbers, Leroy's compositions Trying To Get Next To You and Cashing In, originally recorded by Arnold Blair and The Voices of East Harlem respectively (thanks to Dave Carroll for this bit of research). The audience, which included in the row in front of me, clearly enjoyed Leroy's quite beautiful vocal ability, but no doubt would have wanted more: the show lasted less than an hour and considerably less time than that of Leroy himself. So I have mixed feelings about this one. Someone near me said that they felt short changed, and I can see what they meant. But this was the first time I've seen Leroy so at least it's now possible to put a face to the voice.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Some recent music deaths

Time to catch up on a few music deaths over the last few weeks - some of them not that well known, but influential.
Clyde Stubblefield, who has died aged 73, was THE funk drummer, having played with James Brown on many hits including Cold Sweat, There Was A Time, I Got The Feeling, Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud. and the album Sex Machine. Named the second best drummer of all time by LA Weekly, having been sampled by the likes of Run-DMC, Public Enemy, LL Cool J and Prince, Clyde played regularly in his home town of Madison, Wisconsin, having left the James Brown band, and also backed Maceo Parker and Bootsy Collins, among others. He released a solo album The Revenge of the Funky Drummer in 1997.
Another noted percussionist to have died is ska, rocksteady and reggae performer Noel Simms, also
known as Scully and Zoot Simms, who recorded solo sides for Prince Buster including Press Along and as one half of Simms and Robinson. He also recorded with bands such as the Upsetters and the Heptones and toured as part of the Jamaica All Stars. He was 81.
We've said farewell also in recent weeks to Louisiana blues and swamp pop musician Guitar Gable, who recorded the original of the swamp pop classic This Should Go On Forever. A member of the Musical Kings, which also included drummer Jockey Etienne, he became part of Jay Miller's studio band, backing artists such as
Lazy Lester, Classie Ballou, Bobby Charles and Slim Harpo. Along with singer King Karl he recorded Life Problem on Excello and its
B side the instrumental Congo Mambo. I saw Guitar Gable at the Blues Estafette in 1998 (pictured), along with King Karl, and he attended the Swamp Pop reunion in Crowley in 2011, although he didn't perform because of ill health.
Al Jarreau, who was 76, straddled jazz and soul as a singer and won no fewer than seven Grammy Awards. His most successful album was Breakin' Away and he sang the theme for the 1980s series Moonlighting.
Another recent death is that of jazz guitarist Larry Coryell, known as the Godfather of Fusion. His first solo album, Lady Coryell, was released in 1968 and others included Coryell, At The Village Gate and The Lion and the Ram.
Also Peter Skellern, aged 69, who had a huge hit in 1972 with You're A Lady. He later had a minor hit with Love Is The Sweetest Thing and was ordained as a Church of England minister in October, 2016.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Betty Harris at the 100 Club

There was a time, back in the nineties, when US music legends would appear at London's 100 Club on a regular basis. Not any more. So it was a great privilege to see one of New Orleans' finest, Betty Harris, put on a show last night that was a real delight. Betty's recording career effectively began and ended in the sixties, with some classic soul and New Orleans styled material produced by, first, Bert Berns, and then Allen Toussaint. Her one hour set featured ten numbers, including many of her best known songs, and the good sized crowd showed how much they enjoyed her efforts.
Betty was backed by three female singers, two of them clearly still in their teens. They were led by Dayna Snell, from Connecticut, who mentors and helps young people in her home town. Dressed in a long black dress, Betty kicked off with Mean Man, a Toussaint produced number from 1968 recorded for Sansu, and followed up with one of her more dramatic songs  Twelve Red Roses. Betty confessed that she was singing some of these numbers live for the first time but you wouldn't know it, as this was an assured and well rehearsed set. She followed up with two more Sansu songs, I Don't Want To Hear It and Trouble With My Lover, before moving on to her classic 1963 version of Cry To Me, which was produced by Bert Berns and recorded for Jubilee. Betty let Dayna's young protege Aliyah take centre stage for the next number and the young singer did an excellent job on Can't Last Much Longer. Then it was back to Betty with the up tempo Bad Luck, featuring an excellent organ solo from the backing band Disposable Breaks (who did a great job throughout). Another classic followed with the slow and soulful Nearer To You, from 1967 and yet another with Betty's version of Lee Dorsey's Ride Your Pony, featuring some enthusiastic support from the backing trio. They left the stage at this point but returned for an encore featuring There's A Break In The Road, which Betty recorded for SSS International in 1969.
Altogether this was a highly enjoyable set which was much appreciated. Betty may be in her 78th year, but she can still hold an audience, even if her voice isn't quite what it was. I've seen Betty quite a few times over the years, including the Ponderosa Stomp (twice), the Porretta Soul Festival and, most memorably, at the Old Point Bar in Algiers, across the river in New Orleans where she did a full set.  On some of these occasions she had very little time on stage but this time she was able to express herself and rolled back the years with a great selection of her original sixties material.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Photos from The Rockin' Race

I'm back from sunny Spain to freezing England but the memories of this year's Rockin' Race Jamboree near Malaga remain. Here are some of the artists who appeared. First, here are a couple of the singer who, for me, was the star - Dale Watson.
Also very good were Los Straitjackets, who backed up a highly amusing double act involving Big Sandy and El Vez, the Mexican Elvis.
Of the other acts, one who I particularly enjoyed was Marcel Riesco, whose voice closely resembles that of Roy Orbison.
Sadly, there were few female acts on the bill and one who was, Alice Jayne, was disappointing.
I was impressed by Swedish band Fatboy.
Another decent band was German outfit Smokestack Lightning.
And I really liked the Cactus Blossoms, who sound uncannily like the Everly Brothers.
There was a fun set from The Big Six, featuring Sugar Ray Ford on vocals.
There were several shows taking place at the Barracuda Hotel, including this one with Eddie Angel, Big Sandy and Smokestack Lightning.
Also Glenn Doran and the Prairie Echoes.
Plus The Tacomas.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Rockin' Race Jamboree in Torremolinos

It's warm and sunny in southern Spain, a far cry from chilly England, so a weekend at the Rockin' Race Jamboree was just what I needed. Despite a shortage of genuine legends this year this rock and roll weekend, now in its 23rd year, lived up to expectations, with a varied bill and some good music, little of which could be described as rockabilly.
Highlight of Friday's line up was undoubtedly Los Straitjackets, complete with obligatory wrestling masks, who produced some hard driving guitar numbers and backed up the funniest musical double act I've seen in a long time: Big Sandy and El Vez, the Mexican Elvis. Sandy, immaculate in a tuxedo, sparred  with El Vez, dressed in an Elvis styled PVC costume, on a 'Big Sandy to the Rescue' duet, before El Vez launched into Mystery Train crossed with Night Train. Both of them tackled His Latest Flame, Sandy's cheeks by this time smeared with lipstick, and Sandy did excellent half Spanish versions of Lonely Teardrops, Be My Baby and La Plaga (Tallahassee Lassie). The pair dashed around the stage, with gymnastics from El Vez, as they belted out MalagueƱa (California) Sun, Land of 1000 Dances, an instrumental Rampage and, finally, Wooly Bully. Great fun.
Earlier, Marcel Riesco, from the US west coast, showed what a good Roy Orbison styled singer he is on originals such as Because He Broke Your Heart, Long Time No Love and Dumb Struck, and Orbison songs such as Rock House and Only The Lonely. He showed he could rock, too, with Cast Iron Arm. Following him on stage was London based Alice Jayne. Her band was good, but the less said about her the better, as she was distinctly average on covers like Dimples, When Will I Be Loved, Restless and Let Me Down Easy, on which she was flat and under whelming. Rather better was Swedish band Fatboy, who started well with a couple of melodic country rock numbers from their Moments album- Dreaming Like I Do and No Regrets. Other numbers included a couple of songs from their Overdrive album, Dragging The River and Bad News For Pretty Red Lips, which were interesting, but perhaps a little samey.
Saturday night's offering was another varied selection, with pride of place going to Austin's Dale Watson, looking very much the part of the Texas troubadour. His set ranged from rockabilly (You're Humbugging Me) through Tex Mex and country. Numbers included My Baby Makes Me Crazy, It's Heaven's Plan, Whisky or God, Sayonara Is All She Wrote, I Guess I'm Not The Man I Used To Be and an excellent Lonely Blue Boy. Quality stuff throughout and very enjoyable.
First act was German band Smokestack Lightnin', a four piece band with leanings towards Americana,whose varied set included The Highway Rolls On Forever, the Beatles' Run For Your Like, some swamp blues with Swamp Country and Polk Salad Annie, and El Camino Real. They were followed by the Cactus Blossoms, who harmonised beautifully on Everly Brothers sound alike numbers including You're Dreaming and I'm A Happy Man On a Gloomy Day.  Highly recommended. Also good in their way, and much enjoyed by the crowd, was the good time sound of The Big Six, featuring singer Sugar Ray Ford. Dressed in check zoot suits, their fun set included such rock and roll classics (!) as Tiger Feet, All Of Me and 20th Century Boy. Not for the purists, or me for that matter, but amusing and lively. Photos will appear soon.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Bobby Freeman RIP

It's another month and with it another rock and roll death - this time of Bobby Freeman, who will forever be associated with his 1958 biggie Do You Want To Dance. The record had a great B side - the rather non PC Big Fat Woman - and was covered by numerous other acts, including Del Shannon, the Beach Boys, Cliff Richard and Johnny Rivers. None of them could match the excitement of the
original and follow ups on Josie, mostly including the names of various women, including Betty Lou Got A New Pair Of Shoes, Shame On You Miss Johnson and Mary Ann Thomas, were equally good. Originally from San Francisco, Bobby moved to the King label, which resulted in a further UK release, (I Do The) Shimmy Shimmy, and then to the Autumn label, where he had further success wih the 1964 hit C'mon And Swim, written by Sly Stone, followed by S-W-I-M and The Duck. Sadly Bobby never visited the UK and didn't perform a great deal in later years so I never got to see him live, But as a rhythm and blues singer, with a very soulful voice, he was one of the best.
Another death this week is that of composer and arranger John Schoeder, who master minded the amazing success of Helen Shapiro in 1961 with Don't Treat Me Like A Child, You Don't Know and Walking Back To Happiness, Moving to Oriole he arranged a licensing deal with Motown which led to 19 singles and seven LPs being released on the label by the likes of the Contours, Little Stevie Wonder, the Marvelettes, Martha and the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye and Mary Wells. He even took a
chance on obscurities such as Mike and the Modifiers and the Valadiers, records by which sell for big sums today. Moving on to Pye John formed Sounds Orchestral, which had major success with Cast Your Fate To The Wind, and with his own orchestra released covers of soul and pop hits of the era on the Piccadilly subsidiary. He also launched the career of Status Quo before launching his own Alaska label in the early seventies.