Thursday, August 23, 2018

Lazy Lester RIP

One of the last of the Excello bluesmen, Lazy Lester, has died at the age of 85. There was a time not so long ago when Lester appeared so frequently both in Louisiana and, occasionally, in the UK that it was said he would turn up for the opening of an envelope. He never disappointed, with his excellent harmonica and guitar playing and his Louisiana drawl which made his asides between numbers indistinct to say the least.  I first came across Lester when I'm A Lover Not A Fighter obtained a UK release on Stateside in 1964.
When I started visiting the US regularly in the late '80s Lester was an ever present at festivals and one off shows. He played the Ponderosa Stomp in 2005 and again in 2011 (pictured above) when he performed alongside fellow swamp bluesman Rudy Richard. Visits to London included shows at the 100 Club in 1989 and 1993, at the Metro in Oxford Street in 2006 and, memorably, a Tales From The Woods show at the Thomas Guy Club in 2012 alongside Little George Sueref. It was an intimate evening - there were only about 20 people in the audience - but, as ever, Lester put on a highly enjoyable show which included not only blues numbers but some country numbers including Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain, from his then current album, and Your Cheating Heart. Frustratingly he didn't play I'm A Lover Not A Fighter or Sugar Coated Love, its B side. (Photo below).
Lester played with pretty well all the great Excello blues artists, including Slim Harpo and Lightnin' Slim, when he recorded at J D Miller's studio in Crowley. When he made his comeback in the late 1980s he recorded with Kenny Neal, Lucky Peterson and Jimmy Vaughan, among others.
Here's another photo of Lester, this time at Rhythm Riot in 2013.
I haven't covered the death of the Aretha Franklin on The Vinyl Word as, quite rightly, the world's media gave it front page coverage with many tributes coming in from all sides (even Donald Trump apparently). She was, of course, the Queen of Soul and although she made a few crap records along the way, her most successful numbers such as I Never Loved A Man, (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman and I Say A Little Prayer, not to mention her version of Respect, will live forever. Much of her rather derided early recording career at Columbia was pretty good too. Here is a selection of her many LPs.
One other death worthy of mention is that of Eddie Willis, guitarist with Motown's in house studio band The Funk Brothers, who played on dozens of hits by the likes of the Temptations, Supremes, Stevie Wonder and the Marvelettes.
I gather from Tony Rounce that Jeanie Greene, a mainstay of Muscle Shoals backing singers, has also died. She only had one single release in the UK. It's co-written by Eddie Hinton and is a superbly soulful item. She began her recording career with three country singles under the name of Jeanie Johnson. She then recorded a couple of singles for RCA including one written by Dan Penn and future husband Marlin Greene. She went on to record backing tracks including at Chips Moman's American studio and backed various artists including Elvis.

Monday, August 13, 2018

King of Ska Derrick Morgan at the Jazz Cafe

The Jazz Cafe was packed last night for the King of Ska Derrick Morgan. The atmosphere resembled a Jamaican blues party of the sixties with boisterous dancing,  especially from a contingent of ageing skinheads, exuberant singing and incessantly brilliant ska and rocksteady. It was a fantastic vibe and Derrick, now aged 78, seemed to thrive on it. Now unsteady on his feet, he sat for much of his 65 minute set, but his voice is as strong as ever. Backing by the Ruff Cutt Band, featuring Japanese sax player Miss Megoo (real name Meguni Manaku), a former busker in Brixton, was top notch, and the time flew by as classic track followed classic track.
Derrick was one of Jamaica's most prolific recording artists in the sixties and early seventies, with no fewer than 17 singles being issued in the UK in 1968 alone, so his set could do no more than scratch the surface of his back catalogue. But many of his biggest hits were included, including his first ska record 'Fat Man', released in 1960. First up was 'Reggae Train' and others included 'Miss Lulu', 'Don't Call Me Daddy', 'Conquering Ruler', 'Moon Hop', 'Greedy Gal', 'Be Still' and 'Tougher Than Tough'. There was a charming version of 'Houswives Choice', with Miss Megoo taking Patsy Todd's role and sounding quite similar, despite her Japanese accent. Derrick launched into a couple of medleys which included 'Wet Dream' and Desmond Dekker's '007 (Shanty Town)', along with a couple of his big rival Prince Buster's songs, such as 'Black Head Chinaman', a song which Buster, unhappy about Derrick's success, wrote to satirise Derrick's relationship with Leslie Kong. Derrick's retort, the classic 'Blazing Fire', followed.
Derrick was introduced by veteran Jamaican DJ Dennis Alcapone who said that Morgan was the man who had inspired him, who then came on stage to lead the very loud applause. Rather than leaving the stage, Derrick remained for his encore, comprising the skinhead anthem 'Moon Hop', which got the older skinheads dancing even more enthusiastically (unbothered by how many people they grabbed or shoved) and finally Toots and the Maytals' '54-46 Was My Number'.
This was the first time I had seen Derrick and I'm so glad that I've caught him at last. This was truly an evening to remember.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Latest music deaths

Time to catch up briefly on a few music deaths over the last month or so.
The latest is that of Louisiana swamp pop singer G G Shinn, at the age of 78, one of the stars of Ponderosa Stomps in 2011 and 2017 (picture above). I wasn't too familiar with him when he appeared in 2011, dressed in a velvet smoking jacket and coming across, as one of my friends remarked, like the 'Louisiana Liberace.' Once a member of the Fabulous Boogie Kings, he was a fine singer with star quality, as his 2017 performance showed.
Another former Ponderosa Stomp artist (in 2008) who has died is rockabilly singer Lorrie Collins, who was one half of fifties rock and roll act the Collins Kids. Lorrie was just 16 when she appeared as Ricky Nelson's girlfriend on the TV show 'The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet' and teamed up with her brother Larry as a successful rockabilly act. Larry is still in great form as a guitarist, as he showed at last year's Viva Las Vegas.
New Orleans piano player Henry Butler is another superb artist who has passed on. When I first saw him at Jazzfest as part of the Henry Butler Trio in 1989 he was playing jazz, but he was a very capable of New Orleans styled boogie woogie, as he showed at the Porretta Soul Festival in 2008.
One of the first pop singers who caught my attention way back in 1957 was Tab Hunter, whose
version of 'Young Love', was a smash hit. My sister brought it home as a 78, as she did with the follow up, Ninety Nine Ways. Tab wasn't a great singer but was very successful as a film actor, appearing in over 40 movies with the likes of John Wayne and Robert Mitchum. He was 86 when he died.
The Vinyl Word raises a glass to them all.