Saturday, June 30, 2018

Eugene Pitt of the Jive Five RIP and others

Sad to hear of the death, at the age of 80, of Eugene Pitt, lead singer of the Jive Five who had a huge hit in 1961 with My True Story. The group recorded for the Beltone label and followed up their US hit (which failed to chart in the UK) with Never Never and What Time Is It? before having further success with I'm A Happy Man on United Artists. Further recordings failed to score but they adapted to the soul sound in the seventies, with Pitt always in an ever changing line up. In the 1980s they recorded a series of jingles for the American kids' TV network Nickleodeon. I've seen Eugene on several occasions in recent years and each time he was in superb form. He was at the Doo-wop Weekend in Long Island in 2014 and 2016 (pictured above) and appeared alongside Herb Cox and Bobby Lewis at Viva Las Vegas in 2015. At the 2016 doo-wop show, at which Eugene and the Jive Five sang My True Story, What Time Is It? and I'm A Happy Man, I considered them the act of a very busy day. In My True Story the lyrics name Sue, Earl and Lorraine as the protagonists, but that 'names have been changed dear to protect you and I'. Eugene revealed in an interview a few years ago that it was actually about his girl friend of the time, name of Phyllis Little.
The Vinyl Word also raises a glass to some other musicians who have died during the last few weeks. D J Fontana, who has died aged 87, was the drummer at the Louisiana Hayride and joined Scotty Moore, Bill Black and a young Elvis Presley to form the Blue Moon Boys at Sun Records. He went on to back Elvis on most of his fifties records and was with him at his 1968 Comeback Special. My photo shows D J backing Charlie Gracie at the RNA Club in Plaistow in 1992.
Another recent death is that of blues guitarist Matt 'Guitar' Murphy at the age of 88. Born in Sunflower, Mississippi, he moved to Chicago aged 19 and joined Howlin' Wolf's band, which included Junior Parker at the time. He recorded with many Chicago blues greats including Sonny Boy
Williamson, Buddy Guy and Chuck Berry, and was part of the 1963 American Folk Blues Festival which I recall seeing at the Fairfield Hall, Croydon. He recorded with James Cotton in the 1970s but reached a far bigger audience when he appeared in the Blues Brothers films, playing the husband of Aretha Franklin,  and toured with the Blues Brothers band.
It's farewell too, also at the age of 88, to Clarence Fountain, long time leader of the Blind Boys of Alabama. Clarence toured with possibly the greatest, and certainly the best known, gospel group of all time from the 1940s to 2007. I saw them at least half a dozen times and they were a joy on every occasion, with Clarence's voice and stage presence well to the fore.
The Vinyl Word raises a glass to them all.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Doo-wop Legends at the 100 Club

The Apollo Theatre in Harlem of the 1950s was recreated at the 100 Club in London last night when three original doo-wop singers appeared on stage at the latest Tales From The Woods show. Sadly there was a less than capacity audience, consisting mostly of older music fans, but the performances were top notch and this was definitely a night to remember.
Backed by the ever excellent Tales From The Woods Band, and supported by the superb Barcelona based doowop quartet The Four Candles (aka the Velvet Candles), John Cheatdom, Tommy Hunt and Gaynel Hodge, have a combined aged of over 240 years, but they have still got the sweet voices that served them so well back in the day. After an introduction from Keith Woods, who has masterminded all the TFTW shows over the last ten years or so, the band played four numbers, two instrumentals and two - Don't Come Knockin. and Chicken Shack Boogie - on which lead guitarist John Spencely took the vocals.
The sound seemed a bit muddy at this stage but it improved once the Four Candles (pictured above), who performed for the remainder of the show, took the stage.Their lead singer Augie Burriel took the lead on several classic numbers, including the Velvets' Tonight, Dance Girl Dance, Little Darling and She's The Most, while the soft tones of Miguel Garro sang Fools Fall In Love, Cry Cry Cry and the Cleftones' Heart And Soul. This was harmony group singing at its very best - something we've come to expect from this group over recent years. They look right, with their white jackets with bow ties and their choreographed stage moves, and they sound right too: a throwback to the doo-wop groups of the fifties.
First solo act on stage was John Cheatdom, who had spells with the Velours and Penguins and was with the Platters for over 30 years. Wearing a colourful music themed jacket, John has a light high voice, with a slightly unnerving falsetto at times, and came across strongly on ten numbers, including Tears On My Pillow, some Platters songs (The Magic Touch, My Prayer and Harbour Lights), the Velours' Remember and the Fiestas' So Fine. He followed with a solo effort on Unchained Melody, the soft Remember When, Can I Come Over Tonight and, as an encore, Gloria. John said he became a doo-wop singer after seeing Billy Eckstine and the Ink Spots 60 years ago, and he hasn't looked back since. But, he said, it was a pleasant change to be backed by a full band, rather than a backing tape.
Next up was the star of a previous TFTW show, the ageless Tommy Hunt, who has had careers both in doo-wop and in soul. Now 85 his sense of humour and vocal ability remains undimmed and he was an absolute delight. This was very much a Flamingos set and he described the Candles as the new Flamingos (someone in the audience suggested they should be called the Flamencos), and included many of their best known numbers. He began with Ko Ko Mo, moving on to the Sam Cooke penned Nobody Loves Me Like You, and the rather drone-like A Kiss From Your Lips. There was rock and roll with Crazy Crazy Crazy, sweet harmony with Lovers Never Say Goodbye, a baion beat on Your Other Love and Besame Mucho, and - a song he apparently hates - Heavenly Angel. Always a highlight in a Tommy Hunt/ Four Candles set, Paul Robeson's Ol' Man River went down a storm, and finally the upbeat Jump Children rocked the joint. Tommy left the stage, but obviously he couldn't go without singing the Flamingos' greatest hit, I Only Have Eyes For You, which completed a set of the highest class.
The third doo-wop legend, Gaynel Hodge, was a little late coming to the stage so we were treated to Shake Rattle and Roll by Jackson Sloan (pictured above with DJ John Howard), before the ex member of the Hollywood Flames and the Turks, dressed in a dark suit and sun glasses appeared. Gaynel, who I saw at Rhythm Riot a few years ago, kicked things off with The Hollywood Flames' Buzz Buzz Buzz, followed by the somewhat lugubrious Emily. Then came I'm In Love and the latin flavoured Hey Senorita. Gaynel was at one time a member of the Penguins and co-wrote the classic Earth Angel, a song he sang while taking Claire Hamlin's place on keyboards, before tackling the Platters' Only You, Little Bitty Pretty One, I'm A Fool, Rockin' Robin and It's You. Gaynel mumbled a little between songs but his vocals were good and this was another strong set.
Finally all three acts came on stage for a finale of So Fine, with enthusiastic applause from the audience. Keith Woods must again by congratulated on putting on this fine show, and the Tales From The Woods Band, this time augmented on sax by Nick Lunt, also deserves the highest praise, as do the Four Candles. Such a shame that a show of this quality wasn't sold out. Why is it that doo-wop doesn't attract a younger audience, whereas the equally venerable rockabilly does?
Here are some photos of members of the band, namely John Spencely, Claire Hamlin and sax players Alex Bland and Nick Lunt.
Here's Jackson Sloan on stage.
The man who made it all possible Keith Woods.
Finally, here's one of me with John Cheatdom.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

3rd Blackpool International Soul Festival

Now firmly established on every Northern Soul lovers' calendar, the 3rd Blackpool International Soul Festival did not disappoint the 2,000 fans who attended. Once again the historic Winter Gardens was filled with great music, covering Northern Soul and Motown, jazz funk, ska and mod 60s club soul, modern soul and rarities. But for me, the attraction was a line up of five US soul acts, many of whom I hadn't seen before. And although all five were excellent in their way, pride of place went to Patti Austin (pictured above),a singer who I've always regarded as a bit too jazzy and smooth for my taste, whose 75 minute set on the Saturday evening was absolutely stunning.
But to start at the beginning, Friday saw the appearance of three legends, each of whom were given a mere 20 minutes or so to show what they could do. Time wise it was insufficient, as between them they did only 11 numbers, but I can't fault their professionalism or their ability or, indeed, the excellent backing by Snake Davis and his band. First up was Margie Joseph, looking great in a silver trouser suit, whose high voice did justice to her four numbers from her Volt and Atlantic back catalogues - I'll Always Love You, Come On Back To Me Lover, One More Chance and I Can't Move No Mountains. Afterwards Margie, along with most of the other acts, did a meet and greet and was full of fun as she signed autographs.
Next up was Ann Sexton, fresh from doing a 75 minute set in London which by all accounts was a stormer. She is a ball of fire - raunchy and mischievous - and set the stage alight, but it was a shame that her limited stage time meant that she only sang four numbers and was on stage for just 22 minutes. Originally a gospel singer, she recorded some excellent soul for the Sound Stage 7 label. She came across strongly on Color My World Blue, You Gotta Use What You Got, All Over But The Shouting and her biggest hit You've Been Gone Too Long. Can't wait to see her again.
Final act of day one was Nolan (N F) Porter, a swivel eyed, hat wearing soul man with an engaging manner and a good stage act. The first of his three numbers was Oh Baby from 1972, followed by the excellent If I Could Only Be Sure and his soul anthem Keep On Keepin' On, which went down a storm. 16 minutes was Nolan's allocation.  I saw Nolan perform at the 100 Club a few years ago when he did a full set and would love to have seen more of him but, as with the others, it was great to see them at all. Admittedly for many people attending it was the records and dancing, not the live acts, that were the main draw, but the attraction of such a talented group of soul legends must be huge for many.
Next day Nolan failed to turn up at a question and answer session, earning him the title of No Show, or NS, Porter, but the discussion between DJs Kev Roberts, Richard Searling (organiser of the festival) and Chris Curtis was fascinating. Topics covered included the rivalry, intense at times, between the Wigan Casino and Blackpool Mecca, the antics of DJs in the old days of covering up record labels to steal a march on their rivals, soaring prices of rare soul records and worries about who the live acts might be in 20 years time.
Saturday's live entertainment kicked off with Eloise Laws (pictured above), sister of Ronnie Laws, who looked great in a white blouse and red slacks as she sang three numbers - the upbeat If You Don't Watch Out from 1980, the ballad Love Comes Easy and her Northern hit from 1973 Love Factory. Another short but sweet set, and, as it proved, the perfect appetiser for the star turn of the weekend, Patti Austin.
I had my doubts about Patti beforehand, but she quickly dispelled them when she launched into her excellent 75 minute set. Looking elegant in a black outfit, her long silver hair swaying, she began what she described as a musical journey, covering some songs which she recorded as a teenager - and hadn't even listened to since - as well as some of her current much more sophisticated stage act. Early songs in her set included You're Too Much A Part Of me, the bouncy It Happens All The Time (recorded when she was just 14), at a time when she toured with Patti LaBelle and James Brown. Next came Do You Love Me?, Are We Ready For Love and the jazzy In & Out Of Love, during which she did some scat singing and whistling. It was clear that we were in the presence of a real star, whose stagecraft, rapport with her audience and vocal chords were fantastic . The upbeat (I've Given) You All My Heart followed, and her big Northern soul hit Take Away The Pain Stain. Then it was the jazz flavoured Quincy Jones number We're In Love, He's Good Enough For Me (recorded when she was just starting out), Leave A Little Love (better known as a hit for Lulu), Through The Test Of Time, with audience participation, and Someone's Gonna Cry. Betcha Wouldn't Hurt Me, a song written for Patti by Stevie Wonder, and the James Bond styled You Didn't Say A Word, followed before she brought her exquisite set to a close with Music To My Heart. Is Patti really a Northern soul artist? Maybe not, although some of her songs fit the bill, but she's a great performer and has real star quality. The audience certainly thought so, as the extended applause showed. Shame she wasn't at the meet and greet afterwards though. The arrival of all five acts on stage at the finale set the seal on a great weekend.
Next year's line up has already been announced and includes Eddie Holman, Philip Mitchell, Brenda Holloway and Randy Brown, so it looks like I will be making the trek to Blackpool once again.
Below are some photos of me taken with some of the acts.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Eli 'Paperboy' Reed at the 100 Club

It's almost exactly ten years since I first saw Eli 'Paperboy' Reed perform solo in the top room of a pub in Chalk Farm. I was knocked out by this Boston boy's amazingly soulful voice and I've followed his career with interest ever since, bumping into him in LA a couple of years ago when we both, separately, toured the city's blues clubs and catching him at various gigs in London over the years. He has made several albums during the intervening years, comprising mostly original songs, and has now teamed up with the High and Mighty Brass Band, a New Orleans styled combo from New York, on a new album, featuring remakes of some of his older songs.
Eli and the brass band appeared at a packed out 100 Club in London last night to reveal the new sound. The High and Mighty band comprise two trombones. two trumpets, two drummers and a sousaphone and I guess if you like brass bands you would be in heaven. But for me it was a rather mixed experience. Eli's voice is as strong as ever, but whether the rather discordant backing of a loud brass band really shows off his wonderful voice to best effect is debatable. The band began by playing three instrumentals which set up the mood for Eli, who came on stage with his right leg in a cast, but otherwise looking good. He used his powerful voice to overcome the somewhat raucous backing, but it seemed a struggle at times. Maybe my recent attack of deafness in one ear (caused by attending too many loud gigs over the years) has affected my appreciation of what was undoubtedly a full blooded set, but some of the up tempo numbers were not really to my taste and I would have liked to have heard Eli with less intrusive backing.
Numbers included The Satisfier, Well Alright Now and the Joe Tex styled Name Calling, all from the new LP, but all previously recorded with Eli's old group The Trueloves. Your Sins Will Find You Out was a highlight, as was the excellent Walking and Talking (For My Baby). Other songs included I'm Gonna Getcha Back and Take My Love With You, also on the new album. The encore ended with Eli and the band leaving the stage for two stirring gospel numbers - Just A Closer Walk With Thee and Glory Glory Hallelujah - sadly invisible to most at the wrong end of the venue (I had left by this stage, so thanks to Dave for this bit).
It's always good to see Eli perform and I just love his voice, which has hints of Otis Redding, Sam Cooke and even James Carr. But the brass band format was risky as it threatened to dominate. The crowd seemed to love it though, so maybe he's on to a winner.


Saturday, June 02, 2018

Two more down

It's only a couple of days since my last post, but there have been two more significant music deaths already - both of them artists who I saw perform in fine form only three years ago.
Eddy 'The Chief' Clearwater. aged 83,was among the most colourful of bluesmen, frequently wearing a Native American head dress in his act. Influenced very much by Chuck Berry, he was a popular blues artist around Chicago for many years, playing left handed guitar and appearing at the Kingston Mines club. His first record, Hill Billy Blues in 1958, was recorded under the name of Clear Waters, a play on Muddy Waters. He became better known in the eighties with albums on the Rooster Blues label and later recorded for Alligator. A regular at blues and rock and roll festivals, I saw him in 2015 at the Rockin' Race Jamboree in Spain. I wrote at the time that he made a stunning visual impression and was one of the stars of the festival. His set included the early recording Boogie Woogie Baby, a couple of tracks from his 2014 album Soul Funky, and two Chuck Berry tunes, ending with You're Humbugging Me and Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin On. The photos show Eddy at the Spanish festival.
The second death in the last couple of days is that of Texas born Royce Porter at the age of 79. Based in Houston, he recorded rockabilly for the Spade label before achieving success with Starday. After a spell in the Navy he returned to recording, cutting some sides for Huey Meaux's Tear Drop label, before relocating to Nashville, where he achieved enormous success as a song writer in the country field. He wrote a string of hits for, among others, George Strait, which made him a wealthy man. I saw Royce perform at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2015 (pictured below), where his set included Yes I Do and Looking. There's an excellent in depth write up of Royce's career here: