Friday, September 29, 2017

Take Me To The River in Lafayette

After New Orleans we travelled on to Lafayette, stopping off at New Iberia, where I bought a few records from the same junk shop where I got some last year. We stopped for lunch in Abbeville, home town of Warren Storm and Bobby Charles. It's quite pretty in the centre but dead, like many other small towns in the South.
In the evening we went to the Acadiana Centre For The Arts in Lafayette for Take Me To The River, the second in a series of concerts around the US promoting the film of the same name about Memphis soul, directed by Martin Shore. I saw a similar show in London a couple of years ago and was looking forward to seeing two of its stars, Bobby Rush and William Bell, again. Sadly the third star of the London concert, Otis Clay, has died, but he had a more than adequate replacement in Charlie Musselwhite, who I haven't seen in many years.
The first part of last night's show, lasting about half an hour, turned out to have nothing to do with the movie, featuring local musicians the Blue Monday House Band, which included Lil Buck Sinegal on guitar. Various members of the band did one number each, including an excellent Your Love Is Slipping Away by Lil Buck. Other numbers included Higher And Higher, Let's Straighten It Out and Having A Party. It was all fine, but then they vacated the stage with no explanation.
The main show followed, introduced by Boo Mitchell, son of Willie, after a clip from the movie with some great singing by Otis Clay. The live music kicked of with Willie's 20-75 played expertly by the band, not surprising since it included several members of the Hi Rhythm Section. Just as in London the show featured several younger artists, who detracted, rather than added to the overall impact. The first of these was Ashton Riker, a graduate of the Stax Academy, who did four numbers (more than anyone else), two by Al Green and two by Otis Redding. He was joined on stage at various times by Frayser Boy and Al Kapone, who rapped, rather than sang. Ashton's voice is OK but this section went on too long, given that we were there for the real stars. It was a relief when the great Bobby Rush appeared, as youthful as ever aged nearly 84, dressed in a red suit, and gave us Porcupine Meat, Do The Push and Pull (a duet with Frayser Boy) and Garbage Man. Next up was Charlie Musselwhite who was also excellent on his three numbers, Your Love Can Keep Me Warm, James Cotton's West Helena Blues and I'm Going Home To You. Charlie had his metal harp case with him and blew his harps well, as did, of course, Bobby, and it was a real pleasure to see him. Finally it was the turn of William Bell, looking smart as ever. He began with Easy Coming Out, Hard Going In and was in great voice, as he was in his next number Private Number, a duet with one of the backing singers. A pity then that his final number I Forgot To Be Your Lover should be spoiled by the arrival onstage of Al Kapone, who rapped inappropriately. Fortunately William was able to continue alone, dropping the volume and the pace and showing off his brilliant voice, then ending in a terrific climax. All the acts then came onstage to celebrate a show that was good in parts. The three great veteran artists showed the youngsters how it should be done, exposing the shallowness of much of today's music. Long may Bobby, Charlie and William reign.
Nick Cobban

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Skatalites at Tipitina's

I kicked off my latest US road trip yesterday (along with Alan Lloyd, Dave Carroll and Lee Wilkinson) and did it in style, by going to the legendary Tipitina's in New Orleans to see the equally legendary Skatalites. It's a venue I used to visit regularly when I was in town,, but good shows there are few and far between now. This was a good one though.
The openers, reggae band Jamaican ME Breakfast Club, were no great shakes, but I enjoyed the Skatalites a lot, even though the line up has changed a great deal since I last saw them ten or so years ago. The only original member now is singer Doreen Shaffer, but they have the sixties Jamaican drummer Sparrow Thompson with them, along with veteran Jamaican bassist Val Douglas. The keyboard player and band leader Ken Stewart led the band well and also did some crazy dance moves at one point, whilst the horn section was in the best tradition of the Skatalites.
The band began by counting down to Freedom and quickly showed they knew what they were about. James Bond 007 followed, along with the Don Drummond number Confucius and Latin Goes Ska, from the band's Treasure Isle days, all of them excellent. Ken then brought Doreen to the stage and she launched into My Boy Lollipop, made famous by Millie. Doreen's voice was strong and the crowd loved her. They grooved to the ska of Delroy Wilson's Can't You See, Bob Marley's Nice Time, When I Fall In Love and Sugar Sugar. This was genuine sixties ska and great to hear. It was back to instrumentals then with Rockford Rock, with some audience participation, and the two biggest Skatalites hits Guns of Navarone and Phoenix City. Personally I didn't think the youngish horn section, comprising Travis Antoine on trumpet, Zem Audu on trumpet and Buford O'Sullivan on trombone, quite matched the guts and drive of the original Navarone, but they were all very good musicians and did not disappoint. Doreen returned to the stage finally for You're Wondering Now (the theme for TV show Death In Paradise) and we adjoined to our hotel, after a long day of travel, well satisfied.
We are off to Lafayette today for more music so stay tuned! Photos will follow in due course.
Nick Cobban

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Charles Bradley RIP

Very sorry to hear of the death at the age of 68 of Daptone artist Charles Bradley. He was suffering from stomach cancer and his death comes only ten months after the death of fellow Daptone star Sharon Jones. Charles was a late developer, only getting noticed in the late 1990s when he performed as a James Brown impersonator under the name of Black Velvet. He was noticed by Gabriel Roth, co-founder of Daptone Records, and released several singles but it wasn't until 2011 that his debut album 'No Time For Dreaming' was released. Subsequent albums were 'Victims Of Love' and 'Changes', which was released last year.
Charles was scheduled to appear in London in December. I only saw him once, when he opened for Sharon Jones at the Barbican in 2011. Here's what I wrote at the time. 'Opening the show for Sharon was fellow Daptone artist Charles Bradley, nicknamed the Screaming Eagle of Soul because of his swooping arm movements. Charles is no newcomer, having been through hard times for most of his 63 years, and his impassioned and heartfelt singing is a true throwback to the great sixties soul men. His set included deep soul songs that allowed him to show off his gritty voice to good effect, including Heartaches and Pain, No Time For Dreaming, Lovin' You Baby, The World Is Going Up In Flames, How Long, Golden Rule and the autobiographical Why Is It So Hard (To Make It In America). I would love to see him in a sweaty club somewhere, rather than the staid surroundings of The Barbican, as his is an act that really gets into your soul.' RIP Charles.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Stomping once again

I'm off to the States again next week, taking in various music gigs and festivals in Louisiana and Mississippi. The highlight will be the 13th edition of the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans, possibly, no definitely, the world's greatest roots music festival which celebrates the 'unsung heroes of American music'. There's a great line up on offer and I can't wait to see them, and listen to the stories told by many of them at the conference sessions which Dr Ike, the organiser and originator, also stages during the weekend. To celebrate this wonderful event, and as a reminder for those who have been to previous Stomps, here is a selection of photos from the 2008 Ponderosa Stomp, which was held in the House of Blues. First, here is one of the wild men of rock and roll Barrence Whitfield.
One of the stars again this year, here is great left handed guitarist and swamp blues singer Barbara Lynn.
Now no longer with us, this is another wild man of rockabilly, Joe Clay.
The man who made the record after which the Ponderosa Stomp is named, Lazy Lester.
One of the lesser known blue eyed New Orleans bluesmen, this is Skip Easterling.
Here is Tony Owens, a carriage driver in New Orleans when he was rediscovered by Dr Ike.
This is Jean Knight. A Vinyl Word reader Will Porter commented that her 1974 hit Mr Big Stuff was the highest selling US record released on Stax (although recorded in Jackson) selling 3 million copies. Will said it was shameful that Jean was not involved in Stax shows and that in Memphis she was even replaced by an impersonator despite still being in fine voice.
Dr John played a brilliant rock and roll set, featuring guitar as well as piano,
Here's Tami Lynn, who had a huge hit with I'm Gonna Run Away From You.
The great sax and trumpet player Herb Hardesty was busy selling his CDs. Here he is with Michael Hurtt. Herb died last year.
Another great musician no longer with us, here is guitarist Skip Pitts, leader of the Bo-Keys.
Another great no longer with us, this is trumpeter Ben Cauley, who survived the 1967 plane crash which killed Otis Redding and his fellow band members in the Bar-Kays.
Still with us, and a recent visitor to the UK, here is New Orleans singer Betty Harris.
Also with us, and still in brilliant form, this is William Bell.
This is Mary Weiss, lead singer of the most dramatic of all girl groups, the Shangri-Las.
Here are the Collins Kids. Larry Collins now performs solo and showed earlier this year at Viva Las Vegas that he's an excellent guitarist.
Here's another act who are on at this year's Stomp - Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators.
Here's one the great Memphis soul men, Syl Johnson.
This is blues piano player Henry Gray, now 92, who I'm hoping to catch at his regular weekly show in Baton Rouge.
One of the true stars of this and any show, here's Ronnie Spector.
Here is bluesman Rosco Robinson.
This is Earl 'Soul' Jackson, with my girlfriend Maxine, who sadly died of brain cancer the following year.
Here is the great New Orleans piano player Eddie Bo, pictured with Herb Hardesty.
Finally, here is the late night highlight of the second night - and brilliant they were too - ? and the Mysterians.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Dion, William Bell, Sam Moore in New York

Noah Shaffer reports on a great show in New York.
Wednesday night Conan O'Brien guitarist Jimmy Vivino hosted a number of his friends for a sold-out Blues Foundation benefit at BB King's in NY. Besides leading a 9-piece house band Vivino's deep rolodex yielded advertised appearances by Dion, William Bell, Sam Moore and John Sebastian, which was enough to get me there. 
The single three-hour set started 40 minutes late but quickly picked up steam as Ruthie Foster and Catherine Russell opened with the gospel standard "John the Revelator." This was followed by a jug band segment (sans actual jug) featuring Sebastian, Bill Sims Jr. and Catherine Russell on mandolin which was one of the highlights of the night. Sebastian did his medley of "Mobile Line" and "Bullfrog Blues" which he recorded with Vivino in the J Band some 20 years ago while Sims' leads included a jug band version of "Rainy Day Women #12 and #35." A similar viewpoint was offered by a not-young artist I was previously unfamiliar with, Chris Barnes, who was introduced as having made a new "hokum blues" record produced by Letterman bassist Will Lee who was in the house band. Barnes did a humorous Country Joe-style tune about the need to smoke more weed under the current administration. I'm looking forward to hearing more of his music.
Catherine Russell reappeared for "Tell Mama" -- a rare chance to hear her powerful voice tackle full-throttle soul rather than the jazz-oriented material she currently focuses on. Next up was some Chicago blues -- Shemekia Copeland did "Wang Dang Doodle" with Russell and several of her own songs. It was great to hear her with a horn section. Bob Margolin took the lead on some chestnuts like "Mojo Workin.'" Ruthie Foster also came back for one of her originals, "Phenomenal Woman," which got a big response. Local guitarist King Solomon Hicks did some BB King -- likely one of the few times that the music of the club's namesake has been heard on the venue's main stage in recent years.
Not surprisingly there were some guitar heroes on the bill. I have to confess that between my lack of interest in blues-rock and the antics of some intoxicated Gov't Mule fans near me (their keyboardist was in the house band) I didn't pay a lot of attention to this segment. Young Warren Haynes clone Marcus King, who regardless of his middle initial might want to reconsider his "MLK" guitar strap, did an unfortunate cover of "Cry Baby." Someone from the London Souls and Greg Allman bandleader Scott Sharrard who some of us saw in Porretta were better and were only on for one song each. Joe Louis Walker straddled the blues-rock line convincingly.
Right in the middle of the guitar hero portion William Bell strode on stage surprisingly early and did the "Private Number" duet with Ruthie Foster. (Catherine Russell also did a great job with the Judy Clay part when she toured with Bell last summer.)  At this point two very good things happened: William Bell sang his masterpiece "I Forgot to Be Your Lover" and the most drunk and obnoxious of the Gov't Mule clan announced to me that he was bored and going to the bathroom where he apparently stayed for the rest of the night. Bell's segment ended with "Born Under a Bad Sign" featuring a surprisingly tasteful cameo from Gary Clark Jr. who had not been announced.
Although Bell went midshow the other two headliners closed out the night. It's hard to imagine that in 2017 William Bell might not be the best male soul singer on any package, but Sam Moore sure gave him a run for his money on his surprise opener "Get Out My Life Woman." He then announced that he was going to do a song from a forthcoming patriotic LP and that if people liked it "they should BUY, BUY, BUY it." I cringed since Moore infamously appeared at the Trump inauguration, but no politics were referenced, and somewhat confusingly the "patriotic" selection was "Imagine" (whose lyrics aren't exactly a call to consumerism) and Moore sang it wonderfully before finishing with a lengthy "Soul Man."
Now Vivino announced it was "time to go to the Bronx," and a wave excitement spread through the crowd, since even in his hometown Dion Dimucci appearances are rare. He opened with a tough-as-nails "King of the New York Streets" before doing his recent "Gangster of Love" which he recorded with Vivino. Dion was as badass as ever and backed by the best band I've ever seen him with. Finally Vivino welcomed back Sebastian and Margolin who had asked to be on stage for "The Wanderer."
The night ended on a mellow night with Vivino, Margolin and Sebastian playing "Texas Flood" in tribute to those who had been impacted by the recent weather events. While it may not have been the most consistent evening of music, it sure offered a lot of sparks in aid of a great cause.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Stax Prom at the Albert Hall

London's short Memphis soul season continued last night with the Stax Prom at the Royal Albert Hall celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Stax/Volt tour - a show that I was lucky enough to see and review for my local paper in Croydon. I didn't go to the Prom - it started late and its advertised length seemed rather short - so I watched it live on BBC4. Staying at home proved to be the right decision, as it was all rather unsatisfactory.
Booker T Jones and Steve Cropper sat in with Jools Holland's Rhythm and Blues Orchestra throughout giving the band some authenticity. But the opening act consisted of three British acts with no connection with Stax - Sir Tom Jones, Beverley Knight and someone called James Morrison, who murdered Sweet Soul Music. To be fair, Tom still has a decent voice, as does Beverley, and his version of Hard To Handle wasn't bad. but the following duet with Sam Moore on I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down (an odd choice of Sam and Dave number I thought) was mediocre. Sam, the man who sang at Donald Trump's inauguration, seemed doddery and later asked Jools if he was seeing the prince - he didn't say which one and Jools was clearly baffled. Sam made a decent stab at Soul Man however.
Next up was Beverley Knight who did a tribute to Carla Thomas with B-A-B-Y. Why not have Carla herself, as those of us who were at Porretta know that she's still in fine voice? The highlight of the evening followed with William Bell (who wasn't on the 1967 tour) smoothly singing I Forgot To Be Your Lover, and then dueting with Beverley on Private Number. Excellent stuff. Eddie Floyd appeared next, not in the greatest of voice, but adequate on Knock On Wood, but James Morrison, despite his best efforts, couldn't match the excitement of Otis Redding on Try A Little Tenderness. After Booker T and Steve Cropper reprised Green Onions yet another British act appeared in the form of Ruby Turner, who sang I'll Take You There. She has a good voice, but this seemed a little out of place, given that the Staples Singers didn't record it until several years after the tour. Even more out of place was Blues For New Orleans, featuring Booker T and Jools's orchestra. Not much connection with Stax there.
Rather better was Tom Jones singing Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay, with Steve Cropper in support, but then the worst act of the night - by far - appeared. A rap duo called, I think, Sweetie Irie and Nadia Rose - made a complete dog's breakfast of Walking The Dog. Truly awful. Whoever invited them onto the show should be fired. Finally we had rather second rate duets by Beverley and Sam on Hold On I'm Coming, and Eddie and James Morrison on Wilson Pickett's 634-5789, before all the acts joined in on another attempt at Sweet Soul Music.
The BBC has to be congratulated on including soul music in this year's Proms, but this was all a bit of a mess and lasted barely more than a hour. Admittedly there aren't many original Stax artists left, but they could have done better.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Don Bryant at Ronnie Scott's

Last night's show by Don Bryant at Ronnie Scott's in Soho was an absolute masterclass in soul music. Backed by the excellent Bo-Keys, led by bassist Scott Bomar, Don showed that he remains a singer of the highest order, with a set that was just magnificent from beginning to end. Now 75, Don was a recording artist for Hi in the 1960's, releasing seven singles and an album of covers called Precious Soul. Surrounded, as he was, by talents such as Al Green, Otis Clay, Syl Johnson and his wife Ann Peebles, Don stopped recording and concentrated on song writing and supporting Ann's career in the seventies and then moved into the gospel field.
But now he's back - and how! He's recorded his first secular album in nearly 50 years, Don't Give Up On Love, on Fat Possum, and it's a classic, with several self penned compositions, both old and new, and a varied mix of material ranging from ballads to funk. Last night he focused largely on this album, but included quite a few other songs with which he has been associated as well. The Bo-Keys, who backed him on the album, provided superb support, with the excellent Archie Turner on keyboards, David Mason on drums, Joe Restivo on guitar, Marc Franklin on trumpet and Kirk Smothers on sax.
Don began with a searing version of A Nickel and a Nail, made famous by fellow Memphian O V
Wright, and followed up with the album's second track, Something About You. Next came the beautiful ballad I'll Go Crazy, a Hi single from 1968, and I Got To Know, which he wrote for the Five Royales when they recorded with Willie Mitchell back in 1960. Don't Give Up On Love, a gorgeous piece of deep soul came next, followed by One Ain't Enough, a funky track from his new album, and the mid tempo What Kind Of Love. He completed the first set with Willie Mitchell's bouncy That Driving Beat, on which Don was the uncredited singer and which gave the Bo-Keys' horn section full rein.
After a short break, Don and the band returned with a scorching version of King Curtis's Memphis Soul Stew, followed by the other side of That Driving Beat, Everything Is Gonna Be Alright, both of them ideal vehicles for the Bo-Keys. The self penned ballad How Do I Get There came next, a great song which had the audience eating out of his hand, followed by It Was Jealousy, which Don wrote for Ann Peebles' 1975 album Tellin' It and which was also recorded by Otis Clay. A funky version of the Big Jay McNeely hit There Is Something On Your Mind followed, also a 1960's 45 by Don on Hi, and then a wonderful song called Don't Turn Your Back On Me, which sounded like a Solomon Burke number but was actually another of Don's 45s on Hi in 1965. Probably Don's best known composition, among many, is I Can't Stand The Rain, a big hit for Ann Peebles, and this came next, going down a storm. Finally, as an encore, Don turned to another beautiful soulful ballad from his new album, First You Cry.
It's incredible to think that Don's talent has been hidden away for nearly five decades. I saw him
appear with Ann Peebles at the Porretta Soul Festival in 2001, the year it was held in Bologna, (see photo) but he took second billing to his equally talented wife on that occasion. This time around his talent is very much in the spotlight and his return to recording and performing is one of the best things to have happened to Memphis soul music in recent years. He looked great, wearing a floral jacket in the first set and a darker version for the second, and his stage presence was excellent.  Among the crowd at Ronnie's last night was Graziano Uliani, who masterminds the brilliant Porretta festival every year, and it's to be hoped that he can persuade Don to appear next year. What a treat that will be.