Friday, July 28, 2017

Farewell to the King of Cajun

Sad to hear of the death of the king of Cajun music, D L Menard, who has died aged 85. Born in Erath, Louisiana, he was hugely influential with his nasal vocal style and guitar playing. He was probably the most prominent artist in the Cajun field and I saw him perform on numerous occasions during visits to Louisiana. Probably his best known song was La Porte En Amere (The Back Door). The last time I saw him was at a screening of a film called First Cousins - Cajun and Creole Music in South Louisiana in Lafayette last October when he was in a wheelchair. My photo above shows D L at Jazzfest in New Orleans in 2013. The one below was taken at the Festival Louisianne in 2010.  
It's farewell too to Vancouver born singer Bobby Taylor, aged 83, who recorded with his band The Vancouvers for Motown in the late sixties. Bobby was probably better known as the man who  
discovered the Jackson 5 in Chicago and brought them to Motown, producing their first album. As a singer he and the Vancouvers, which included comedian Tommy Chong, had a hit with Does Your Mama Know About Me. Later records on Motown subsidiary VIP failed to sell but he had success on Tommy records with I Can't Quit Your Love in 1973. He recorded an album for Ian Levine's Motorcity label in 1990.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Final photos at Porretta

As the memories of this year's Porretta Soul Festival begin to fade I would like to congratulate all the performers on their enthusiasm, professionalism and 100 per cent effort. Of course, there were some acts who I preferred to others as my blog posts will have indicated. But the vast majority were very much to my taste. Particular credit must go to the Anthony Paule band and backing singers who were note perfect throughout and provided wonderful support for the majority of the acts.
Here is a final batch of photos from Saturday, the third evening, and some from daytime events on the Sunday. First, here is New Orleans piano player Davell Crawford, grandson of Sugar Boy Crawford, who opened the Saturday and Sunday shows and also played Hammond in support of many of the Sunday acts.
Vasti Jackson's tribute to Johnnie Taylor was excellent.
D-Mar (Derek Martin), the drummer in the Anthony Paule band, was fantastic, especially when he did his party piece of leaping over his drum kit, running around the stage and drumming on the stage stanchion.
Here's Wee Willie Walker, a superb exponent of deep soul, with Terrie Odabi, a new name to me but someone I will definitely be looking out for in future.
Here's one of Willie during his act.
This is Vaneese Thomas who was excellent.
Vaneese's older sister Carla Thomas was really good both as a solo artist and in duets, including with her sister.
This is Ricky Fante, part of the younger generation of soul singers. His duet with Carla on Tramp was great.
On Sunday morning the bridge across the Reno river was named in honour of Solomon Burke, who appeared in Porretta on four occasions. The plaque unveiling was carried out by Selassie Burke, Solomon's son, who also performed on Saturday and Sunday.
The stars gathered for a photocall on the steps of Helvetia Hotel. In the front row, three from the right, is Graziano Uliani, the man who makes it all possible every year.
Here is Falisa Janaye at the press conference.
Here's one of me with Falisa.
I'm with Terrie Odabi in this one, taken on Saturday night.
This is Noah Shaffer with Sue McCracklin of Sweet Nectar.
Here's one of me with Toni Lynn Washington.
Here we have Falisa with Noah and my travelling companion Alan Lloyd.
This is Willie Hightower with Marc Engel and me.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

More photos from Porretta

Here's another batch of photos from the Porretta Soul Festival, this time from the first two days. Highlight of the first night was the appearance of Martha High with members of the JBs.
MC Rick Hutton, who does such a sterling job every year introducing the acts and encouraging them to do it 'one more time', showed that he can sing a bit as well, with an appearance with the Gaudats Junk Band on the first night.
Not really a soul band, Lucille Hurt, lead singer of the Lucilles, had plenty of energy during their set on day one.
The second evening opened with the Original JB's, James Brown's band. Here is his MC and 'cape man' Danny Ray.
Here are trombonist Tyrone Jefferson and bassist Fred Thomas.
Fred Wesley came on stage for a few numbers.
Fred didn't seem too impressed by 'Tammy' who came on for one number.
Much better was singer Cynthia Moore.
A member of Sweet Nectar, Loralee Christensen did her customary one number on three of the nights.
Things really started to heat up with the arrival of Fanisa Janaye. A dynamic performer!
Next up was rock guitarist Scott Sharrard, former member of the Gregg Allman band.
LaRhonda Steele, from Portland, Oregon, with Bernard 'Pretty' Purdie.
Bob Paparozzi, former leader of the Blues Brothers band, appeared next.
A real highlight was the appearance of Willie Hightower.
This is the 'reigning queen of Beale Street' Barbara Blue.
Here is 80 year old Toni Lynn Washington, from Boston.
Finally, in this batch, here is one of me with Martha High.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Porretta final day + photos

Sunday, the final day at Porretta, traditionally features many of the artists doing cut down sets of just a couple of numbers, most of which they have performed on the previous nights. This was the case again this year, but with the addition of some new material here and there and a chance to take a proper look at a couple of singers who featured only marginally earlier in the festival. Davell Crawford started things off with a set that included only two of the numbers from the previous evening. New songs included Ain't That A Shame, Ruler Of My Heart, Danny Boy and Down By The Riverside. He returned later to add some great Hammond playing to some of the other artists' sets.
The ever fantastic Anthony Paule band began with an instrumental and numbers by Sue McCracklin and Loralee Christensen and there was a fairly weak segment featuring Scott Sharrard, who was joined on stage by Rob Paparozzi, Bernard Purdie and Barbara Blue for Statesboro Blues. Barbara, with her customary twitches and disconcerting facial expressions followed with A Woman's Blues. So far so good, but there then followed a couple of hours of pure heaven. First Willie Hightower reprised a couple of his numbers from his earlier set and was, again, brilliant. Then Terrie Odabi from Oakland, California, wowed the crowd with the intense Will You Still Love Me and a great self-penned piece of social comment in Gentrification Blues, about how parts of her home town are rapidly being gentrified. We can all relate to that I think. I thought she was great and can't wait to see her again. She was joined on stage by Wee Willie Walker for a superb duet on When Something Is Wrong With My Baby and then Willie left the audience spellbound with Second Chance and A Change Is Gonna Come. An electrifying, breath taking performance. Next up was Vaneese Thomas who reprised a couple of her numbers, to be followed by sister Carla Thomas, who sang B-A-B-Y and Little Red Rooster before teaming up with Vaneese for Walking The Dog.
The second half began with LaRhonda Steele, who was OK, and then Wee Willie returned to team up with Rob Paporozzi. former leader of the Blues Brothers band, on Knock On Wood and Soul Man. Selassie Burke took to the stage looking very much like his father as a young man and showed that he had inherited at least some of Solomon's talent with good versions of Joe Tex's Meet Me In Church and Solomon's Don't Give Up On Me. Falisa Janaye, this time wearing a sparkly dress, hit the stage and bounded through a couple of numbers including her excellent version of Baby Workout. I love her enthusiasm and energy. Ricky Fante reprised a couple of numbers effectively and Sax Gordon did a solo before Toni Lynn Washington brought some order to the proceedings with her delicious Every Day Will Be Like A Holiday and I Feel So Bad. Final act was Vasti Taylor, this time in a bright red jacket, who was again excellent on Who's Making Love and Last 2 Dollars. The artists crowded on stage for a finale with Bring It On Home To Me, and then Porretta was over for another year. Can't wait till the next one.
I've included a few photos from the final evening. Others will follow. Top photo shows Vaneese and Carla Thomas with Anthony Paule. Here's one of the excellent Terrie Odabi.
This is Selassie Burke.
Here's Willie Hightower.
This is Tony Lynn Washington.
Here's Wee Willie Walker with Rob Paparozzi, LaRhonda Steele and Bernard 'Pretty' Purdie.
Here's Sax Gordon, who played on all four nights.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Porretta Day three

Saturday night at the Porretta Soul Festival is always rather special, with some major soul names taking part. This time the show featured a true legend on the shape of Carla Thomas, who was there right at the beginning of the Memphis sound in 1961. She is someone who, for various reasons, I had never seen live so this was really something to look forward to.
First up, however, was a touch of classic New Orleans piano artistry with Davell Crawford, who showed what an excellent piano player he is with an hour long set. Beginning with his grandad Sugar Boy's Jockomo, he included excellent versions of Something You Got,  Tore Down, Don't Play That Song, Let Them Talk, N'Awlins favourites It's Raining and Blueberry Hill and Louisiana 1927, among others, plus a duet with guitarist Vasti Jackson on Georgia On My Mind. The Anthony Paule band took the stage and there were numbers by Loralee Christensen and Sue McCracklin, followed by an excellent version of Drown In My Own Tears by Oakland singer Terrie Odabi. Vasti Jackson then hit the stage wearing a white suit and tore the place up with a tribute to Johnnie Taylor. Who's Making Love was followed by Take Care Of Your Homework, Jody's Got Your Girl and Gone, Dogging Me Around, Cheaper To Keep Her and Last Two Dollars. Great stuff, rounded off with drummer D-Mar leaping over his drums again.
Goldwax artist Wee Willie Walker came next, making a quick return visit, and was smoothness itself on numbers such as the bluesy After A While, I Don't Want To Take A Chance, Hate Take A Holiday, Romance In The Dark and Is That It?, a new song I guess as he was reading the lyrics as he sang. Your Good Thing Is About To End was good, as was a lively duet with Terrie Odabi on Lovey Dovey (she towered over him) but enjoyable though he was he didn't quite hit the heights (difficult when you're only five foot tall I suppose) as he has limited stage presence. Solomon Burke's son Selassie - in town to mark the naming of the river bridge in Porretta after his dad, who appeared here four times - appeared next and was pretty good on Try A Little Tenderness and a duet on Everybody Needs Somebody with Rob Paparozzi. And then it was the turn of not one but two of Rufus Thomas's daughters in a tribute to their dad. Vaneese was fine on Saturday Night At The River, John Fogerty's Down The Road and Wang Dang Doodle, but it was older sister Carla, now 74, who stole the show. She began with a great version of B-A-B-Y and followed with Little Red Rooster and Something Good before Vaneese joined her on stage for duets on two of Rufus's hits, Memphis Train and Walking The Dog.
Final act of the night was a new name to me, Ricky Fante. He had a soul hit a few years ago with It Ain't Easy and showed more than a hint of Otis Redding on These Arms Of Mine. Other numbers were Love Don't Live Here No More and, I think, Wrong To Let You Go. He's a genuine soul singer and didn't disappoint, especially when he was joined on stage by Carla Thomas for a brilliant and word perfect duet on Tramp. This was a very good evening, with no weak links, and Graziano must be pleased both with his choice of acts and the brilliant band. Porretta has been a triumph once again. The final evening features short sets by many of the acts. I will post something about it soon, plus the first batch of photos.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Porretta day two

The second evening of the Porretta Soul Festival was a marathon, with possibly too many acts to fit in. But it was a varied and interesting evening: 84 per cent good according to my friend Rod. I have to agree. The good acts more than compensated for a couple of duds.
The first 90 minutes featured the original James Brown orchestra, with many musicians who played with the great man. Acting as MC was his original 'cape man' Danny Ray and bass player Fred Thomas made sure the funky groove dominated throughout. A slightly odd aspect was the introduction of a blonde woman named Tammy who did a below par version of Get On The Good Foot, with Fred Wesley looking on rather disapprovingly I thought. Next came long time vocalist Cynthia Moore who  got things really going with Papa's Got A Brand New Bag and It's A Man's World. Fred's trombone was to the fore on Pass The Peas and the audience joined in on Breaking Bread. Martha High reprised  some of her numbers from the previous night, but was excellent on a soulful Try Me. She finished the set off with Sex Machine and her gospel number from Thursday's show. The whole set was professional and slick, but with a half hour change over it was two hours before the main backing band for the night, the excellent Anthony Paule band, set up.
After a couple of crisp instrumentals, including Town Without Pity, it was time for a couple of numbers by backing group Sweet Nectar, first Sue McCracklin with her dad's The Walk, and then Loralee Christensen with Darling Mine, featuring some great guitar by Anthony Paule. The show really came to life with the arrival of Falisa JaNaye, now a firm favourite at Porretta. She danced around the stage and injected plenty of energy into Betty Wright's Shoorah Shoorah. Her sexual innuendo on If Loving You Is Wrong was positively X rated as she made advances on drummer D-Mar, and Baby Workout was a show stopper. Wonderful stuff from Falisa I thought. Things went downhill rapidly with the next act, Scott Sharrard, one time musical director with Gregg Allman. He's an adequate rock guitarist and was good on High Cost Of Loving You, but too rock orientated in the rest of his set. Things picked up slightly with the next act, Oregon based singer LaRhonda Steele, with keyboardist King Louie, on Natural Woman,but they, along with the next act Rob Paparozzi were a waste of time, given some of the artists who appeared later. A harmonica version of Ticket To Ride was followed by Monkey Around, which was OK but not great. The night's high point followed, with the deep soul of Willie Hightower, who was brilliant, just as at the 2015 Ponderosa Stomp. Nobody But You, the Sam Cooke flavoured Time Has Brought A Change, It's A Miracle, Walk A Mile In my Shoes were all excellent as was the blues of You Used Me Baby. I forgave him for the singalong of If I Had A Hammer as he is a soul singer of the highest quality and a joy to watch. Next up was the self proclaimed Queen of Beale Street Barbara Blue. Built like an all in wrestler and heavily tattooed she has a strong voice and was enjoyable on Memphis style songs including I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down, Ko Ko Taylor's Keep Your Hands Off Him, the self penned A Woman's Blues and Heartbreak Hotel (apparently the first ever Elvis song recorded at Hi Studios). Final act was 79 year old Toni Lynn Washington who showed that she can still do her stuff on Ain't Nobody's Fault But Mine,Sam and Dave's I Take What I Want and a great version of Every Day Will Be Like A Holiday, with fine vocals from Sweet Nectar. Her final number was I Feel So Bad and she was joined on stage by many of the other acts. D-Mar did his party piece of leaping over his drum kit. A fitting climax to a great evening.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Porretta Soul Festival day 1

The 30th Porretta Soul Festival started on Thursday and once again this pretty little town in the hills south of Bologna is filled with soul music fans instead of the usual octogenarians taking in the spa waters. It's a chance to catch up with friends from the UK, the Netherlands, the US (Noah Shaffer) and of course Italy. This year for the first time there was an admission charge for the first evening, but there was a good crowd on to see what was a largely undistinguished line up.  Much better will follow.
First up were The Sweethearts, an all girl group from Geelong, Australia, comprising around 20 instrumentalists and vocalists. Their set was mostly standard soul fare with Otis Redding songs such as I Can't Turn You Loose and Mr Pitiful, enlivened by some fine drumming by Bernard 'Pretty' Purdie guesting on Cold Sweat. There was also a good original number called Favour. Sax Gordon also made a contribution, but this was only moderately interesting as a set, although the girls were quite a lot more professional than the last time they were here a few years back. The second act was the Gaudats Junk Band, featuring Italian musicians playing home made instruments with regular MC Rick Hutton on vocals. The less said about them the better (although the audience liked them) and the same could be said for the next act, Spanish band The Lucilles. Lead singer Lucille Hurt, a slim young lady in a geometric patterned mini dress shaking a tambourine, gave her all but it was a pop act, with very little in the way of soul included. Final act was the highlight of the evening. This was singer Martha High with members of James Brown' s band. They got into the Godfather groove, with Cold Sweat, Stay Tonight and a medley of Big Payback, Make It Funky, Open Up The Door, Think and Mama Feel Good. Martha, who was discovered by Bo Diddley when singing with a group in Washington DC, looked and sounded great and finished with the gospel number Got Something To Shout About. There was no 'One More Time' despite Rick Hutton's best efforts, but there will be more from them during the weekend, with an extended James Brown Orchestra.
More posts will follow covering this, the world's greatest soul festival, with photos when I get home.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Porretta number 30

The 30th edition of the Porretta Soul Festival begins next week and once again Graziano Uliani has assembled a high quality line up for this, Europe's, and my opinion, the world's greatest soul festival. It is appropriate that among the stars this year are Carla Thomas and sister Vaneese Thomas, as the festival, which is dedicated to Otis Redding, was built on the early appearances of their dad, Rufus Thomas. The arena where the artists perform is Rufus Thomas Park, there is a street in the town named after Otis, and this year the bridge across the river to the railway station is to be named after another of the soul greats who has played there, Solomon Burke.
Other artists appearing this year include Willie Hightower, who was very impressive when he appeared at the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans two years ago. There's also an appearance by members of James Brown's band, including Fred Wesley, Martha High, James's MC and 'cape man'
Danny Ray and bassist Fred Thomas. Other acts include Goldwax artist Wee Willie Walker, Scott Sharrard (Greg Allman's band leader), Memphis singer Barbara Blue (the new queen of Beale Street), the glamorous and ever popular Falisa Janaye (pictured at Porretta in 2013), drummer Bernard 'Pretty' Purdie, Rob Paparozzi of the Blues Brothers Band, Sax Gordon and Toni Lynn Washington. Bluesman Vasti Jackson is making a return visit with a tribute to Johnnie Taylor, as is New Orleans piano player Davell Crawford,  and there's also, a new name to me, Ricky Fante. 
It's 20 years since my first visit to Porretta, a quiet spa town hidden away in the mountains south of Bologna. This was a couple of years later than some of my friends, who had visited the festival and came back full of praise. That year, 1997, the stars were the Bar-Kays, Mable John, Jackie Johnson, James Govan, Rufus Thomas, Isaac Hayes, Irma Thomas, J Blackfoot (pictured with me below) and Otis Clay. Since then I've returned nearly every year and seen many other soul greats. In many cases they are no longer with us and this was their only appearance in Europe or, at least, their first since their sixties heyday. The line up has been variable but every year there have been artists who I have desperately wanted to see and the festival has never failed to be highly enjoyable, with top class backing bands (this year's, for the fourth year running is the Anthony Paule band). The audience, made up largely of locals, make up for their lack of soul music knowledge with tremendous enthusiasm.  Regular MC Liverpudlian Ricky Hatton, with his rather dodgy Italian, is another regular star of the show.
For the small group of Brits (and other non Italians) who attend every year, Porretta is a must. And it's not just the festival that appeals. There's the regular walk up the hill that overlooks the town and the late night bevvies in the Califfo Irish bar. There is free music during the day from Italian soul bands, a food and craft market and record stalls as well. It's a great weekend, and I can't wait!