Saturday, August 19, 2017

Sonny Burgess RIP

Sonny Burgess, one of the last surviving original Sun recording artists, has died at the age of 86. Born in Newport, Arkansas, Sonny was the original wild man of rock and roll, dying his hair red to match the rest of his outfit. His double sided 45, his first for Sun, combined Red Headed Woman with We Wanna Boogie and just about defines what rockabilly was all about. Together with the Pacers, which included Bobby Crafford on drums, Jack Nance on guitar, Ray Kem Kennedy on piano and Johnny Hubbard on bass, Sonny recorded five singles for Sun, including Restless, Ain't Got A Thing and My Bucket's Got A Hole In it.  His final Sun single was Sadie's Back In Town, released on the Phillips International label, which also got a UK release on London (now a very collectable 45).
Sonny toured extensively while at Sun with the likes of Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison but his record sales were relatively modest at the time. After leaving Sun he recorded a number of singles for labels such as Arbus, TSBS, Ara and Rolando, plus several for Razorback in which his friend Bobby Crafford had an interest. He continued to play a mixture of rock, country and R and B and recorded occasionally in later years, including the albums They Came From The South and Still Rockin' and Rollin'.
Sonny appeared in the UK several times and I caught him at festivals in the States on a number of occasions, the most recent being at Viva Las Vegas in April of this year (pictured above) when he appeared, as on many other occasions, with Bobby Crafford. He was on good form and included his Sun hits in his short set. with Bobby singing Ain't Got No Home. At the King Biscuit Festival in Helena, Arkansas, in 2014 (pictured below) he included several blues and R and B numbers in his set, including Just A Little Bit, Caldonia, Sweet Home Chicago, Ronnie Hawkins' Odessa, Long Tall Sally, The House Is Rocking and Fulsom Prison Blues. He put on an excellent show and showed what a fine guitarist he was, as he always did when I saw him, and it's sad to see him go. RIP Sonny.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Doowop debacle

Noah Schaffer reports on a disappointing show.
It was an unforgettable afternoon of music -- but for all the wrong reasons. Billed as “The Biggest Show of Stars for 2017,” it promised sixteen acts, including a number of the last remaining pioneers of doo-wop and rhythm & blues, all taking place on the field outside Lamont’s, one of the Eastern Seaboard’s great juke joints. 
Instead it ended prematurely with the sound system being disassembled while groups were standing in the wings waiting to perform, the promoters using an armed escort to flee the venue, 7 advertised acts never appearing and a field of shocked and angry ticketbuyers and stiffed performers. 
One can’t say there weren’t warning signs. Two of the promoters are veterans of the doo-wop business: New York-based agent Paul Errante and DC-based Millie Russell, the manager of the current Orioles group and the widow of Diz Russell who kept the group going after original lead Sonny Til passed away. 
But the third raised a number of eyebrows: Florida teenager Peter Lemongello Jr., whose face graced the flyer. One obvious question is why a high school student would be mounting a high-risk concert requiring tens of thousands of dollars in upfront funding hundreds of miles from home. And Lemengello’s family history seems straight out of a John Waters film. His father, Peter Lemengello, was a 1970’s lounge singer who starred in what is said to be the first ever direct-order TV commercial for a recording. The ads for 'Love 76' were so incessant that they inspired the Chevy Chase character of Peter Lemon Mood Ring on Saturday Night Live. Lemongello Sr. also made scores of “Tonight Show” appearances and even had a bit part in the “Godfather.”  But after a major label deal fizzled, he ended up linked to a bizarre series of kidnappings and arsons in which his cousin, a professional baseball player, was also charged. The 1980’s press accounts don’t say whether he served any jailtime, but today he lives in Florida and performs at the retirement communities where many of his New York-bred fans now reside. 
Peter Jr. hosts an Internet doo-wop radio show, “Peter Lemongello Jr’s Swingin’ Soiree,” and performs locally as an Elvis impersonator. His past efforts to mount concerts in Florida resulted in events that were postponed before eventually get cancelled amid accusations that some acts were advertised without ever being confirmed. 
Despite this dubious past he somehow convinced Errante and Russell to join forces for a marathon concert at Lamont’s, the Pomonkey, Maryland venue that has long been the only chitlin’ circuit spot in the Northeast. The likes of William Bell, J. Blackfoot and Clarence Carter have graced its stage, and Southern soul favorites Hardway Connection perform biweekly for a “grown folks” crowd. Lamont’s is also a popular gathering spot for African-American motorcycle enthusiasts. 
Besides oldies circuits favorites like Charlie Thomas’ Drifters, the Dubs and Peaches & Herb, the show also advertised some major coups. Tommy Hunt sang lead for the Flamingos before having a solo smash with “Human.” He’s lived in the United Kingdom for decades where even at 84 he keeps up a steady schedule of live dates but hasn’t done a US concert in years.  Also billed were Joe Grier and the Charts and Eddie Rich and the Swallows, two groups that are beloved by group harmony fans but who are rarely booked onto commercial oldies events. 
Although several DC and Baltimore residents told me local publicity was nominal, a vintage-style flyer for the show quickly spread on social media. Friends and associates of Tommy Hunt were stunned to see him advertised, as Hunt had said he was willing to do the show but was never sent a contract, airline ticket, hotel arrangements or the deposit entertainers typically obtain before they travel to a concert date. Even after promoters admitted he wouldn’t be present (shamefully claiming non-existent health issues) he was still on the flyer and his name was on the Lamont’s marquee the day of the show. 
Also surprised to see his name advertised was veteran Baltimore musician and bandleader Milton Dugger Jr, who said he had also never confirmed that he would lead the house band during the revue. Despite a string of increasingly angry Facebook posts threatening legal action his name remained on the flyer as well. 
It was enough to make one doubt the entire event. But then the bulk of the roster called into Washington radio station WPFW the week before the show to promote it and confirm their planned presence. Herb Fame of Peaches & Herb (and a former DC cop) came by the studio and discussed the show at length. One of the Charts posted that he had boarded his plane to the gig. It seemed like, aside from Hunt and Dugger, audiences would still get to hear a long afternoon of R&B heavy hitters. 
The afternoon of August 5 couldn’t have been more perfect. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, nor was there any of the humidity that can make DC unbearable in the summer. At the gate of Lamont’s stood none other than Peter Lemongello Sr. and his wife Karen taking cash from walk-up buyers. As the 1 p.m. start time approached one artist was finishing their sound check: JT Carter, the last surviving member of the Crests. Carter’s group boasted a new lead singer on “16 Candles”: Peter Lemongello Jr. 
The place wasn’t empty, but the audience was modest considering the number of groups slated to perform. There were perhaps 150 present, and when one took out the group members, their families and guests and members of the media, it was hard to see how, even at $40 a pop, the ticket revenue could come close to matching the talent budget. 
About 20 minutes after the show was slated to start local singer Barbara Washington sang a few tunes to pre-recorded tracks. She was followed by the Voices of Harmony. The Young Bucks, a longtime DC band led by Eddie Jones, did some well-received covers, including a duet with Eddie’s sister on “Private Number.” Then it was back to tracks with Baltimore soul man Winfield Parker (doing mostly covers plus his “SOS") and an unannounced set from the Dynamic Superiors, the Motown act famous for their ballad “Shoe Shoe Shine.” 
Finally, well after 3pm, the audience was treated to a vintage legend singing live to a band: Ronnie Dove, the only white artist on the bill. Opening with “Mountain of Love” and closing with his pop hit of Wanda Jackson’s “Right or Wrong,” the 82-year old Dove displayed a great example of blue-eyed soul at its finest. 
The show really picked up steam with the Swallows (pictured below), still led by 86-year old Eddie Rich, who is surely one of the only living singers who recorded in the late 40’s. Not only were his vocals as passionate as ever on the ballads like “When The Swallows Come Back To Capistrano” and “Beside You” but he showed he can still dance up a storm on “Ride, Eddie, Ride.” This was living group harmony history at its finest. The Orioles’ backing band did a good job behind Dove and Rich. 
While there are no living Orioles left, the current group of singers who spent years with Russell did an excellent job recreating their classic sound. The current Washington-DC Clovers (there’s another version out there that includes original Harold Winley) did their best although they were hampered by a poor backing track. 
At this point I went to the parking lot to grab something from my car and witnessed a strange sight: a woman was following the Lemongellos and Errante yelling at them about someone not getting paid. Although she didn’t personally say she would do anything violent, she made it clear that “someone” might want to do them bodily harm unless the money showed up.
Shortly thereafter the band members started unplugging their instruments and packing up, grumbling to each other about getting stiffed. The promoters, via their armed escort, took off as well. Rumors started flying. Shep’s Limelites, another legacy group, went on with tracks and did an admirable job entertaining the audience considering they knew their chances of going home with their full pay was nominal. 
Once the Limelites exited the sound crew quickly broke down the PA equipment. Charlie Thomas of the Drifters, a trooper if there ever was one, stood by the stage greeting his fans and saying he still hoped to somehow gather a band and sing. The Dubs also walked around apologizing for the situation. Peaches & Herb were never spotted. Of course with no PA there could be no announcement. Inside Lamont’s annoyed ticketholders vented to the security staff, who explained that the club had simply been rented to the outsiders. Slowly people dispersed. Group members compared notes to figure out who had been paid in full, in part or not at all. 
In the aftermath fingers started pointing. Millie Russell said her only role was to arrange the Washington-based groups, which were unpaid. Errante said the sound crew had been paid but had only been hired to work until 5 p.m. and that they had a later gig. Saying that he was also a “victim,” he added that an unnamed third party had promised funding which he only learned during the show would never materialize, and pledged to get the artists their full fees although he himself was out a considerable sum. As for Lemengello and his parents, there’s been total silence in the days following the show. 
All of the promoters have a true love for the music. Errante and Russell have been involved in it for decades. It’s inconceivable that anyone set out on this ill-fated journey with the intent of ripping off the singers they love or the dwindling fans of 1950’s harmony. But the adults involved should have stopped indulging the unrealistic dreams of a 50’s obsessed teen long before the day of the show. Let’s hope that they can figure out a way to make things whole for both the artists, who’ve long suffered through the financial indignities of the music industry, and for the fans who got far less than the show they bought tickets for.

Glen Campbell RIP

The death of Glen Campbell at the age of 81 marks the end of the career of a man who had a knack of finding memorable songs which straddled country and rock. Born in Arkansas. he learned to play the guitar and became a session musician on moving to Los Angeles in 1960, also joining The Champs. His session work included playing on records by Bobby Darin, Ricky Nelson, the Monkees, Elvis, Frank Sinatra and Jan and Dean among others. Early solo efforts included Winkie Doll, recorded under the name of Billy Dolton, and Turn Around Look At Me, both of which got a UK release. He also toured briefly as a member of the Beach Boys, filling in for Brian Wilson.
He signed to Capitol and his first success came with a cover of Buffy Sainte-Marie's Universal Soldier. Greater success came with Gentle On My Mind and a series of memorable Jimmy Webb songs including By The Time I Get to Phoenix, Wichita Lineman and Galveston. Later hits in the seventies included Rhinestone Cowboy and Allen Toussaint's Southern Nights. He wrote the theme and appeared in the 1968 movie True Grit and hosted his own Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour TV show, which attracted top guests including the Beatles, the Monkees, Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond. Glen suffered alcoholism and cocaine addiction but it was Alzheimers that brought him back into public prominence when he undertook a farewell tour in 2012 and recorded his final album, Adios, which was released earlier this year. Adios Glen. You and the Wichita Lineman will not be forgotten.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Mike Sanchez stars at Summertime Swing

Every year swing band The Jive Aces takes advantage of their stately home at Saint Hill Manor in East Grinstead, home of Scientologists in the UK, to host their Summertime Swing, a laid back event featuring the band's excellent swing and jive material and a selection of invited guests whom they back on stage. This year the weather was kind and it made for a pleasant afternoon in the sun, enlivened in particular by the appearance of boogie woogie piano man Mike Sanchez, who topped the list of guest artists. The former leader of the Big Town Playboys was excellent on his five numbers and the Jive Aces' backing was, as ever, note perfect. Kicking off with Down The Road Apiece, he followed up with Little Willie Littlefield's Happy Pay Day, Fats Domino's Ain't That A Shame and I'm Ready and Amos Milburn's Chicken Shack Boogie.
This was high quality playing and singing from a master of his craft, but the rest of the show was good too, despite a sound failure as the Jive Aces were half way through Just A Gigolo with the first guest act Amy Baker. The sound problem having been resolved, Ian Clarkson, leader of the Jive Aces as well as their vocalist, trumpet player and ukelele expert, introduced Rebel Dean to the stage. He was apparently in a touring version of That'll Be The Day and was no great shakes, wrongly attributing the originators of three of his four numbers - I Hear You Knocking, You Win Again and Hallelujah I Love Her So. Fortunately the seven piece Jive Aces helped him through, as they did with the next act Peter Donegan, son of Lonnie. Peter's voice is not unlike his dad's as he showed on It Takes A Worried Man, Jack Of Diamonds and Corrine Corrina.
All the while the dance stage at the rear of this beautiful natural amphitheatre was packed, while others inspected the classic cars on show. After a break the Jive Aces restarted with Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens, before introducing Cassidy Janson (pictured below) to the stage. She has just finished a theatre run as Carole King in the musical Beautiful and has a powerful voice, as she showed on Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean, That Old Black Magic (a duet with Ian Clarkson), A Natural Woman and I Want You To Be My Baby. Much of the Jive Aces material is borrowed from Louis Prima and Big Joe Turner and is ideal for a relaxed afternoon in the sun. Despite their allegiance to the Scientologists, and the presence here and there of obvious cult members (the ones in suits), there is no pressure to join, although I picked up a Jive Aces booklet entitled 'The Way To Happiness', which advises readers to take care of themselves, be temperate, avoid promiscuity, love and help children and honour their parents, among other platitudes. Scientology aside, this is a great venue for a music festival and was  a very enjoyable afternoon.
Here is band leader, and a very good MC, Ian Clarkson.
This is Ian with Amy Baker.
Here is Rebel Dean.
A view of the band stand.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

C C Adcock and the Lafayette Marquis in London

C C Adcock may well be Louisiana's finest guitarist. He is a swamp pop enthusiast and has backed many Louisiana swamp artists over the years, as well as being the leader of the brilliant and much lamented L'il Band of Gold and its successor the Mama Mama Mamas. He is known as the Lafayette Marquis and this name has now been adopted as the name of his band, which played the second of two London dates at the Lexington in Pentonville Road last night.
Charles Adcock brings a swagger to everything he does and is not afraid to turn up the volume, the reverb and the amplification on stage. The band comprises a drummer, a stand up bass and zydeco artist Curley Taylor (pictured below), who alternated between playing rub board, accordion and filling in as a second drummer. But it is C C Adcock who dominates with his stunning guitar work and two microphones which add a great deal of echo to his vocals. The band kicked off with an instrumental and a couple of rock orientated numbers whose titles escaped me. The crowd enjoyed it, but I was hoping for more in the way of subtlety, with more Cajun and zydeco influences. I can remember previous L'il Band of Gold gigs where C C's swamp rock style gradually gave way to Steve Riley's Cajun influence and David Egan's lyrical songwriting style and I was hoping that this would happen during the Lafayette Marquis set.
To an extent it did, and numbers like Maison Creole and Joe Barry's I'm A Fool To Care were more to my taste. A new song called, I think, She Knows It, was particularly good, with  a strong zydeco influence. Its lyrics, bringing in references to London landmarks such as Portobello Road and Ladbroke Grove, were appreciated by the audience. Shake It was another song that I thought showed the band off to to good effect. When the band left the stage C C returned to sing two acoustic numbers about his beloved Louisiana and New Orleans, written respectively by David Egan and Bobby Charles, and the less frantic style suited him well. Finally the whole band came back for an encore on Shake Your Hips.
There's no doubting C C's commitment to Lousiana music and I applaud him for it. I've seen him appear unheralded in the backing band for a swamp blues show in Crowley and for Barbara Lynn and Roy Head in New Orleans last year, as well as at the Blues Estafette back in the 90's. He has an aura about him and considerable stage presence. He is a swamp rock and roller at heart and his powerful guitar work is never under stated. His band is good too and great to watch, but maybe the overall impact can be a little over the top at times.