Tuesday, February 27, 2018

There's No Other...Barbara Alston and others

As the snow sweeps in from the east and we freeze here in the UK (quite unusual these days), it's time I caught up on a few deaths in recent weeks. These include two guys who were members of the Woodies roots music group, of which I am also a member, and who will be sadly missed.
But first, some music legends who have passed away. Barbara Alston, who has died aged 74, was the first lead singer of the Crystals and took the lead on There's No Other (Like My Baby), Uptown and the controversial He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss). Without asking, Phil Spector handed the group's name to Darlene Love and the Blossoms for He's A Rebel as the real Crystals were touring, and the naturally shy Barbara handed over the role of lead singer to La La Brooks, who still performs today and looks fantastic, for Da Doo Ron Ron, Then He Kissed Me and other later tracks. Barbara left the group in 1965, but her importance in one of the greatest of all girl groups cannot be underestimated.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yddyrxU0HwI
Eddy Amoo, who has died aged 73, grew up in the largely black area of Toxteth, Liverpool 8, a place
I knew well in the seventies before it was largely destroyed by the 1981 riots, and formed the doowop group the Chants. Although they never had a major hit, Pye releases such as I Don't Care, I Could Write A Book and Sweet Was The Wine attracted quite a lot of interest and the band was popular in Liverpool, even having the Beatles back them on occasions. Eddie's brother Chris formed his own band The Real Thing in 1975 and won Opportunity Knocks on TV. Eddy joined the band and they had huge disco hits with You To Me Are Everything and Can't Get By Without You. Later hits such as You'll Never Know What You're Missing, Love's A Wonderful Thing and Can You Feel The Force, were written by the Amoo brothers.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dPtYAggDOx8
Another death is that of Martin Willis, a Sun stalwart, who played sax with Billy Lee Riley and Bill Black's Combo. Martin began his career playing with Conway Twitty when he was still known as Harold Jenkins, and toured with him before becoming part of Sam Phillips' Sun stable.
Woodie Cliff White (left) was an award winning soul music journalist whose name can be found on the sleeve notes of any number of Charly compilations, from the Tams to the Showmen, and who was responsible for the ground breaking James Brown Star Time box set, for which he won a Grammy. He wrote for New Musical Express and Black Music, among other titles, and was just about the most knowledgeable soul man I've ever met - and I've met a few. A great loss, aged 72.
And now I hear that one of our American Woodies, Jay McCaddin has died. Jay lived in Mobile, Alabama, and, as a former Navy man, dressed in full naval uniform when he attended the Rhythm Riot a few years ago. I met up with Jay in the States on several occasions, including the 2013 Ponderosa Stomp and at a bar in Oceans Springs a couple of years later. Another great loss. The photo below shows Jay with me outside the Prytania Hotel in New Orleans in 2013.
The Vinyl Word raises its traditional glass to them all, and to crooner Vic Damone, who has also died aged 89.

Friday, February 16, 2018

In celebration of the EP

In the absence of any live music lately, I've been putting some photos of UK EPs on Facebook. The extended play record is something of the poor relation of the vinyl world - not as glamorous as a really good or rare single and rather short compared with an LP. Many of them were just rehashes of the A and B sides of a couple of 45s. But some of them contained tracks unobtainable elsewhere at the time. And, given the lack of picture sleeves for UK releases in the fifties and sixties, they were the only seven inch with a decent cover.
Here are a few of the EPs featured so far. There are some collectable items and some which are really quite naff, but hopefully some, at least, are of interest. More will follow.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Female soul stars of the future

With so many blues and soul artists from the classic era passing away - the latest being Dennis Edwards, lead singer of the Temptations on such monster hits as Cloud Nine, I Can't Get Next To You, Ball Of Confusion and Papa Was A Rollin' Stone - maybe it's time to look to a new generation to carry the flag. The Porretta Soul Festival has showcased several younger soul singers in recent years, including, last year, Oakland-based Terrie Odabi (pictured above), whose loss of community song Gentrification Blues was a highlight of her short set. I'm delighted that she's on the bill again this year, with more time I hope. Another young soul man who's impressed on a couple of occasions is Theo Huff, from Chicago, who has all the swagger of a Johnnie Taylor or Wilson Pickett and a voice to match. I would love to see him do more original material though.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YzeOyf6Io0
I'm not a fan of TV talent shows, with their fake excitement, artificiality and overall blandness. To really shine, new artists need to go on the road, put in the miles and the hours and develop their acts on tour in clubs and theatres. Here are three female singers who have come to my attention, although in all but one case I have yet to see them live.
Bette Smith was born in Brooklyn but recorded her first album Jetlagger in Water Valley, Mississippi. It was produced by blues man Jimbo Mathus, with backing from Memphis musicians such as Marc Franklin and Kirk Smothers, and came out on Big Legal Mess, a subsidiary of Fat Possum, last September. Videos show that she has a powerful and very soulful voice and looks great as well. There's a rough, tough edge to her voice on tracks like the funky Shackles And Chains and her new track the moody Durty Hustlin' which suggests she has loads of potential. She's due to play the Borderline in London on April 30 so UK soul fans will have the chance to check Bette out. Unfortunately I will be away on my next US road trip then (all being well), but I look forward to receiving feedback (thanks Dave!).    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8XA9ArpsZk
Another young female soul singer who I like the sound of is Liz Brasher, who began in gospel and whose idol is Mahalia Jackson. Another Fat Possum artist, she's recorded with Scott Bomar and wrote all her own songs on her first album which is due out soon. Tracks of hers worth a listen include Body Of Mine and Cold Baby. Her publicist says she's a 'Memphian of Dominican descent who grew up singing Spanish in the church,, and synthesises the sounds of 60s garage, girl groups sounds, dirty blues, holy roller church music and Bob Dylan into something completely her own.'  Worth checking out I think.    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JziNKsGyup4
The third female singer, with a wonderfully bluesy voice, is J J Thames, who I first came across at Hal and Mal's Blue Monday jam session in Jackson, Mississippi in 2013. Originally from Detroit, she made her name on the chitlin circuit appearing with the likes of Willie Clayton, Denise LaSalle and Peggy Scott-Adams, but it wasn't until 2014 that she made her first album Tell You What I Know for Dechamp Records. I bought a copy when I saw her again at Hal and Mal's in 2015 and it's a cracker. Since then she has been touring with her group, the Violet Revolt, and has by all accounts been going down a storm. Her latest album is entitled Raw Sugar. She has toured Europe but has yet to visit the UK. Hopefully she will do so soon.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_tG88U1Yjgc