Monday, April 30, 2018

Big Jay McNeely still honking at 91

San Luis Obispo turned out to be quite a lively place on Thursday evenings. There's a farmer"s market with street food, entertainers and displays as well as the usual fruit and veg. Next day we set off for LA via Santa Barbara and checked in at the Rodeway in Culver City. The evening meal of herring at the Gravad Lax was followed by some beer at the hotel. Friday was a quiet day. Breakfast in Venice Beach was worked off by a walk along the sea front to Muscle Beach. Lots of people on motorised scooters and segways and sunny but chilly by LA standards. I bought a few 45s at Record Surplus and Amoeba and in the evening had shepherds pie at the the Olde Kings Head pub in Santa Monica. John, Alan and I completed last year's Route 66 road trip by checking out the sign marking the end of the route on Santa Monica pier.
Next day we had a look at the pretty canals after which Venice Beach is named and then enjoyed a real treat. Big Jay McNeely was celebrating his 91st birthday with a show at Joe's American Bar and Grill in Burbank. Jay had to be lifted onto the stage, but once there he showed that vocally he is still in great shape and that his sax playing remains of the highest calibre. What's more, he seemed relaxed and happy with life, smiling constantly. He was funny and his audience rapport was brilliant. Backed by the Rob Stone Band, comprising Steve Mugallion on drums, Brad Hayman on stand up bass, Bill Bates on guitar, Steve F'Dor on keyboards and Jim Holt and Al Rappaport on extra saxes, Jay began with some jump blues with All That Wine Has Gone. It was to believe that Jay has been playing sax for 75 years and first recorded on 1949 as he moved on to Big Fat Mama and Flip Flop and Fly, followed by his big hit There Is Something On Your Mind. Pretty Girls Everywhere followed, along with Get Up We're Gonna Boogie and a little bit of I Can't Stop Loving You, which suddenly changed into You Don't Miss Your Water Until The Well Runs Dry. Next it was pure blues with Sad Sad World before Jay finished off the first set with a funky Party. His second set featured more of the same with Let The Good Times Roll, a blues, Times Getting a Tougher Than Tough, sung by Rob Stone, the instrumental After Hours, the funky Everybody Needs Somebody, blues with Just a Country Boy and the New Orleans flavoured Zydeco Soul, before finishing with Party once again. Throughout his two sets Jay, dressed in a red jacket and hat, smiled and winked and was clearly enjoying himself. What a treat to see a living legend still sounding so good. Definitely a show to remember.
After Jay we intended to go to the Pure Pleasure Blues club, but Jay's was an afternoon show so we were a little too early. We went instead to the much more sophisticated La Louisianne where we very much enjoyed the smooth soul singing of songstress J P Miles, a Houston singer now based on the West Coast. There were a few numbers too from a good soul man named Jay Jackson, plus a rather less good song from a Michael Jackson wannabe called, I think, Scorpio, and the club's owner, who really shouldn't have been allowed on a stage. A good night though, after a fantastic afternoon with Jay.
Our final night in LA was again spent at La Louisianne, where veteran soul blues man Sonny Green put on a brilliant show backed by Lester Lands and his band. Sonny is a real showman and some of the ladies in the club got quite excited. Wearing a glittery jacket, his set included That's The Way Love Is, Last Two Dollars, Drown In My Own Tears, Love and Happiness, Bobby Bland's Members Only, and Down Home Blues, all performed with great panache and soulful styling. Lester contributed good versions of Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You, I'll Take You There, Bright Lights Big City and a medley of Sam Cooke numbers. An all round great night and a super way to finish off the trip. More photos soon as we will be heading for home tomorrow after a great three weeks.

Friday, April 27, 2018

California road trip continues

Our California road trip continues. After breakfast at Pancake Circus, where the pancakes have a clown's face made of cherries, cream and pineapple, we toured Sacramento for a couple of hours. It's an attractive city, with the State Capitol at its centre, treelined streets reminiscent of the New Orleans Garden District and European style trams. As we were leaving we noticed that the Robert Cray Band was playing that night at the Crest Theatre so we decided to stay another day. Robert Cray was superb, playing many of his songs of (mostly) lost love, including Ain't Got You, I'll Always Remember You, Where Do I Go From Here, If You Don't Want My Love, You Had My Heart, Your Good Thing Is About To End and Strong Persuader. There were a couple of more rock orientated songs towards the end which I wasn't so keen on, but it was melodic and mellow and very enjoyable. He looks no different than when I first saw him 30 odd years ago, and sounds the same too.
Next day we drive south to El Cerrito, near Berkeley, and had a look around Down Home Records, which used to be the home of Arhoolie. There was quite a good selection and we all bought something and we then went to a nearby coffee shop to meet up with Frank Scott, who Gordon knew in London many years ago but whom he hadn't seen for 30 years. He used to run Down Home Music and still sells records by mail order as Roots and Rhythm. An interesting guy with many tales to tell. Afterwards we went on a fruitless search for a hotel in Oakland, which involved driving around derelict areas for quite some time to no avail. We gave up eventually and went back to Berkeley to stay at a rather expensive, but very pleasant hotel on University Avenue. After a mediocre Mexican meal on 4th Street, Alan and I went to see Los Lonely Boys at a place called Freight and Salvage. We arrived late and got in half price, which was just as well. Described as Americana, they were much more of a heavy rock band with repetitive and fairly tuneless numbers, so we left before the end.
Driving south again next day we stopped off at Salinas, home town of John Steinbeck, and had coffee and brownies at his family house, now a genteel restaurant staffed by several elderly lady volunteers. From there we to went to Shandon where James Dean crashed his car and died. There's a marker there and a James Dean themed restaurant and bar, the Jack Ranch Cafe and Hearst Winery. They specialise in locally produced cider, Perry and jerkum, a new one on me, which is made from fermented plums, nectarines and such like. We are staying the night at San Luis Obispo, a pleasant place where I stopped over on a previous trip. Tomorrow we are off to LA.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Last day of Viva Las Vegas

Our final full day in Las Vegas started rather late, as we were unavoidably detained in the bar of the Gold Coast Hotel until 4am. When we eventually surfaced next morning we made our now annual trip to Red Rock  Canyon for the obligatory photo shot, followed by lunch at Bonnie Springs. The final evening at Viva Las Vegas wasn't quite vintage, but it was pretty good. The first band we saw was the Kabooms, a rockabilly band from Spain, who were very professional but a bit formulaic I thought. On the main stage, keyboard player/guitarist Rip Masters played to a thin crowd and had a varied set including Long Gone Girl and a boogie woogie version of Swanee River. It didn't really come to life until he was joined on stage by Rollin' Rock rockabilly singer Ray Campi, who he has recorded with in the past, who performed one number with Rip. No such problem for Essex's own Jackson Sloan, who went down a storm with the crowd on a set comprising mostly original numbers. He's got a live wire act and really gets the audience going. Watch out for him at a Tales From The Woods show in London soon.
The real highlight of the night was the Stars of Rock and Roll segment with four acts dating back to the fifties. First up was a return visit by Doowop group Norman Fox and the Rob Roys. Norman's voice was a little shaky at times but the Rob Roys, looking like three identical bespectacled grey haired bank managers, were excellent. Numbers included Won't You Be My Lover Doll, Dream Girl, Pizza Pie and their biggest hit Tell Me Why. The next act, Mike Waggoner, appeared at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2015, but I had completely forgotten about him until Dave Thomas pointed out that I had put a photo of him on The Vinyl Word. Based on his set, my memory lapse is forgivable. His numbers, which included Good Rocking Tonight, Say Mama and his one original hit Baby Baby we're OK, but forgettable. Of much more interest were the next act, the El Dorados, which included original member Jewel Jones. Very much in harmony, their set included I'll Be Forever Loving You and an extended version of their great hit At My Front Door. The final act was the wild man and frequent visitor to the UK Roddy Jackson. Equally at home on the keyboards and saxophone, Roddy attacks every song in his animated and expressive way and came across strongly on his novelty songs Moose On The Loose and Hiccups, the slower Consider (the title track of a forthcoming CD), Baby Dont Do Me This Way and I've Got My Sights Set On Someone New. That was it for another year so far as I was concerned. In the past, greats like Lloyd Price and Dion have made it an unmissable event, and this year it was Jerry Lee Lewis. But can they conjure up someone of similar status next year? I doubt it.
After Las Vegas we've started our California road trip with a 563 mile drive to Sacramento, where we enjoyed a very good and inexpensive meal of soft shell crab. More soon, and photos when I get back.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sun shines at Viva Las Vegas

Sun Record artists took pride of place at VLV this weekend, not least Jerry Lee Lewis. Looking relaxed and in good mood, he played for 50 minutes and his keyboard playing was as good as ever, even if his voice is not quite what it was. Beginning with Down The Line, Jerry was fluent throughout. Numbers included You Win Again, Drinking Wine, Before The Night Is Over, Trouble In            Mind, Rockng My Life Away, C C Rider, Sweet Little 16, Mexacali Rose, She Even Woke Me Up, Great Balls Of Fire and Whole Lotta Shakin'. This was an excellent set by The Killer, the best I've seen for quite a while, and was enlivened still more by sister Linda Gail Lewis warming things up with Shake Rattle and Roll and Rip It Up while Annie Marie sang Hot Rod Girl.
The previous evening's Stars of Sun Rockabilly featured just about every other former Sun artist still performing. After Paul Ansell kicked things off with a couple of songs, 84 year old Rudy Grayzell came to the stage. He was lively enough but his vocals were indistinct, possibly the fault of the sound man, on Judy and Jig Da Lee Ga. Rather better was Johnny Powers, the only man to record for both Sun and Motown, on Mean Mistreater and With Your Kiss. Carl Mann, seated, was excellent on Ubangi Stomp, I'm Coming Home and Mona Lisa and duetted with Miss Ruby Ann on Baby I Don't Care. Hayden Thompson, resplendent in a red jacket, came across loud and clear on I Love My Baby, Rock and Roll Tonight, Whatcha Gonna Do and I Got the Blues, before being backed by drummer W S Holland on Ring Of Fire. Jimmy Van Eaton took over the drums for Alton and Jimmy, who were fun on I Got It Made, I Just Don't Know, No More Crying The Blues, on which they harmonised well, and Still Shakin'. Narvel Felts looked and sounded great on Kiss A Me Baby, Foolish Thoughts Of You, Lonely River and Did You Tell Me. Finally in this extended segment there were Sonny Burgess's Pacers (without Sonny of course) who were adequate on We Wanna Boogie, Ain't Got A Thing, My Bucket's Got A Hole In It and Red Headed Woman.
Back at the Car Show next day, Duane Eddy overcame sound issues to put on a good set of his many twangy hits, including Movin' and Groovin', The Lonely One, Shazam, 3.30 Blues, Ramrod, a couple of Fats Domino numbers, My Blue Heaven and Blueberry Hill, 40 Miles Of Bad Road, Yep, Peter Gunn and Rebel Rouser. The Stray Cats attracted an enormous crowd as they kicked off with Runaway Boys, but at this point I left to go with Noah, Ruth and Alan to an up market restaurant called Piero's to see soul man Sonny Charles at a regular gig. Amid the standards he included Black Pearl and, from his Steve Miller Band connection, The Joker. Also singing was former movie star Pia Zadora, whose self deprecating line in humour made up for any shortcomings vocally. She still looks good too. Other acts I caught at VLV included Michael Hurtt (a little too country on this occasion), Lil Mo and the Dynaflos (excellent Doowop, and great fun), Big Sandy and the Flyrite Boys (pretty good), Deke Dickerson at his Guitar Geek show ( he told a great story about how he tracked down Santo of Santo and Johny) and the excellent Gizzelle, one of many Wild Records artists performing, who looks great with her bright red hair and tattoos, and sings great too. One more day to go of what has been an excellent festival so far.

Friday, April 20, 2018

On to Las Vegas

Despite some cold and wet weather, we were able to fit some more sightseeing into the New England leg of our road trip. We had a look at Plymouth, where the Pilgrim Fathers landed, but it was snowing  lightly so we didn't linger, had a look at Cape Cod and finished off at Buzzards Bay where I bought some cheap LPs. Next day the weather was even worse, so we found a sports bar with the football on and watched a West Ham game, and on another screen the soaking wet runners in the Boston Marathon. On our last day we went to Salem, where the 1692 witch trials resulted in hundreds of locals being accused. The town is doing nicely out of it with several museums and witch related shops.
It was good to get to Las Vegas where the weather was warmer, although I certainly wouldn't recommend Spirit Airlines, who flew us there, which is basic and uncomfortable. Makes Ryan Air look good. This is my fifth Viva Las Vegas and as ever it is full of people covered in ink and dressed as though the fifties never ended, many of them overweight, but some looking drop dead gorgeous. The first day was pretty quiet with just a handful of bands appearing, including the Doowop group Freddy Velas and the Silvertones, who were pretty good, the Moontones, also quite promising, the rather dull Knockout Kings and Cherry Rat, featuring a good looking blonde singer. During the day we fitted in a trip to Wax Trax Records, which has rare vinyl to die for and where Elton John regularly shops, and a visit to an Irish bar, where brunch was really good and had football on the screens, this time Burnley v Chelsea.
Day two at VLV was busier, but still not great. Highlights included the Starjays from Seattle who were more than competent, and Chris Casello, former guitarist in Jack Scott's band, who was funny and also brought on the very lovely Tammi Savoy for a couple of numbers, This Little Girl's Gone Rocking and Voodoo Voodoo. Local band The Delta Bombers, all black shirts and beards, proved very popular but to me they were tediously loud and basic, while Robert Gordon sang covers such as Dreamin' and The Wanderer and came across as little better than a decent pub singer. Then there were the B Stars, a pleasant enough swing band, Justin Curtis, a Johnny Cash clone, and the Century's a below par rockabilly outfit. So overall a fair day, but not outstanding. The big names are still to come of course, but the festival is, as ever, packed and looking promising. Photos will follow when I get home.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Doowop and much more in New England

I'm three days into my latest US music trip (with Alan Lloyd, John Howard and Gordon Fleming) and   I've been busy, the highlight being a highly enjoyable Doowop show last night in New Bedford, Massachusetts. We flew in to Boston on Thursday, picked up a car and drove the 30 odd miles to the small town of Mansfield, where we are staying in New England - much cheaper than downtown Boston. Next day we toured Boston on a trolley tour and were impressed  by the actors at the Tea Party experience: touristy, but fun. Back in Mansfield we had a superb Italian meal.
Yesterday we drove south to Providence, state capital of Rhode Island, for breakfast and then circumnavigated the tiny state, taking in Jamestown and Newport, famous for its jazz and folk festivals. It was a sunny day and the up market resort was busy, so we continued to New Bedford, once the centre of the whaling industry, where we toured the whaling museum. It's quite impressive but manages to glamourise the gory trade. We went to have a good Portuguese meal locally.
The Doowop show, in the Zeiterion Theater, is the 16th such show organised by enthusiast Todd Baptista, and featured four acts, each performing 8 or 9 songs. It's a good format which gives the acts a better chance to show off their repertoire than the Hauppagge shows, where only three or four are the norm. First up were The Orlons, not really a Doowop group perhaps, but good pop performers, featuring original members Stephen Caldwell and Jean Brickley. They were excellent on hits such as Not Me, Crossfire, Wah Watusi, Don't Hang Up and South Street and also included a couple of more obscure numbers - their 1961 debut number (Soldier Boy) I'll Be There and (Happy Birthday) Mr 21. Next up were The Mystics, from Brooklyn, with a lineup including original lead singer Phil Cracolici and second tenor George Galfo. They harmonised sweetly on Tonight, Don't Take The Stars, Chapel Of Dreams, All Through The Night and a dramatic Cara Mia. They did a quick take on Teenager In Love, a song written for them by Pomus and Shuman but given to label mates Dion and the Belmonts they said, before ending with their own smash Pomus and Shuman song Hushabye and Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart.
The second half began with the first appearance in 22 years by members of the Del Vikings including originals Ritzy Lee, Doug White and Joe Lopes (now in a wheel chair). The set included hits such as Whispering Bells, I'm Spinning, Cool Shake, Sunday Kind Of Love and, of course, Come Go With Me. There were also less well known tracks including the very similar Come Along With Me, Bring Back Your Heart (featuring soaring tenor by Terry Jones, one of the newer members), The Sun and Kiss Me, from their ABC Paramount era. Superb stuff. The final act was the wonderful La La Brooks, still in great voice and looking fabulous in a shiny silver trouser suit, who joined The Crystals aged 13 and sang lead on Then He Kissed Me, Da Doo Ron Ron,  Little Boy and I Wonder, all of which she sang to perfection. Other numbers included There's No Other Like My Baby, Uptown and Be My Baby before ending with an exciting version of Proud Mary, during which she mingled with a rapturous crowd. Great stuff from a great artist and overall a really great show. Todd insists on the acts singing their original material and on them meeting the fans in the foyer afterwards, all of which contribute to the success of his shows.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Off on a US road trip (again)

I'm off on another US road trip tomorrow, with Alan Lloyd, John Howard and Gordon Fleming. This has become a twice yearly event for me since I retired a few years ago, and long may these visits continue. This time we are starting off in the Boston area - a city I haven't visited before. The musical highlight of this part of the trip will be a doowop show at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center in New Bedford where the Orlons, the Del Vikings, the Mystics and La La Brooks are performing. (Photo shows La La with me at last year's Doowop Weekend in Long Island). I will no doubt catch up with my Boston friend Noah Shaffer, who has advised us of some more shows which are on while we are in Massachusetts. Keep an eye open for future reports.
After Boston we fly to Las Vegas where we shall be going to Viva Las Vegas, undoubtedly the biggest rockabilly festival in the world, for the fifth year running. Big names from the rock and roll era who are performing include Jerry Lee Lewis, Duane Eddy, Carl Mann, Narvel Felts, Hayden Thompson, the Eldorados, Norman Fox and Roddy Jackson, but there are dozens of other, younger acts, including the Stray Cats, our own Jackson Sloan, Big Sandy, Deke Dickerson, Lil Mo and the Dynaflos and Paul Ansell. And then there's the fabulous Burlesque Showcase which is a sight for sore eyes. The photo below shows Jerry Lee on his 'farewell' 80th birthday visit to the UK two years ago. at the London Palladium.
After Vegas we are heading out to California. Not sure where exactly at the moment, but we will probably take in Sacramento, San Francisco and Los Angeles, from where we fly home in three weeks time.
To say this is a pensioner's outing is a little insulting, but undoubtedly true. I will be the youngest of the four on tour and I turned 72 this week! We all believe in growing old disgracefully, but I hope that we won't get escorted from a hotel at gunpoint, as happened in Nashville a few years ago, or threatened with a hurricane, as we were in New Orleans last year. Let the good times roll, as they say down there. Keep on eye on regular reports on The Vinyl Word, with lots of photos following, probably when we get back.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

London International Ska Festival

It's 50 years since Trojan was launched as a reggae and ska record label and 30 years since the inaugural London International Ska Festival took place. Now a regular fixture over the Easter weekend, this year's festival has featured some of the bigger names of sixties ska, including the Clarendonians, Doreen Shaffer of the Skatalites, Otis Gayle, Derrick Morgan, Freddie Notes, Horace Andy and Johnny Clarke.
Last night's show, at the O2 Academy in Islington, starred Ken Boothe and the original Aces, who backed Desmond Dekker back in the day. And an enjoyable evening it was too, once the rather annoying two tone group  who were on stage when I arrived finished. Presenting a full set, before backing Ken and the Aces, were Pama International a fairly authentic ska band of recent vintage who have recorded for Trojan. Featuring a horn section and two female singers (pictured below), the eight piece band sounded just about right on Phoenix City and several big hits from the ska era sung by Cara, a dreadlocked young lady who danced around the stage and got the large crowd well involved. Numbers included Let Your Yeah Be Yeah, John Holt's version of Help Me Make It Through the Night, two classic Phyllis Dillon songs, Perfidia and Don't Stay Away, Just My Imagination and the Melodians' Sweet Sensation. The second singer, who also played guitar, sang Susan Cadogan's take on Hurt So Good, a little screechily I thought, but effective none the less.
The band stayed on stage to support the star acts and it was time for the original Aces - three of them dressed in red shirts and black waist coats, including two lead singers and a guitarist. It was a short set, featuring just three Desmond Dekker hits - It Miek, The Israelites and 007 (Shanty Town) - but highly enjoyable, their voices strong and melodic. A singalong section on 007 went down particularly well and their 15 minutes on stage was rather less than most of us wanted. I for one could have happily listened to double that.
Any disappointment was soon forgotten, however, as they gave way to Ken Boothe, now aged 70, who looked slim and trim, wearing a pale blue suit and white silk scarf. After a subdued first number, which revealed that his voice is a little ragged these days, he got the audience swaying along to one of his best known songs Crying Over You. His next number, the upbeat Artibella, showed that Ken can still move with the best of them, and his final number Everything I Own went down a storm with an appreciative audience, who, it has to be said, never stopped swaying and dancing all evening. The main criticism I have was that Ken was on stage for less than half an hour so it was not particularly good value for money.
It's clear that ska and rocksteady continue to have a big following, even though I suspect that most of the audience came to it via the two tone movement rather than from sixties originals, judging by the average age of the audience. If only transport in London worked properly over the Easter weekend I would go to more of the festival events, but at least I beat the lack of trains by driving up to town on this occasion.