Sunday, September 30, 2018

Blues in Bogalusa

Bogalusa is a small town in the north east corner of Louisiana dominated by a huge paper mill. It hasn't got a lot to recommend it (although i found a few records in a flea market) but its annual Blues and Heritage Festival, now in it seventh year, has put it on the map. Located in a pleasant park outside town it's a laid back affair. And the first act, Big Daddy O and his band, shared that laid back vibe. He's been around
quite a few years playing mostly roadhouses and has a low key approach which was gently pleasing. Numbers included Baby What You Want Me To Do, the rocking Get Over It, The Sporting Life and Rock Me Baby, all performed well. A decent start to the evening. Next up was Kenny Neal, playing on home turf and demonstrating why he's still doing well after more than 30 years in the business. He's a solid blues man with a lot of showmanship, including the obligatory audience walk. He was high octane much of the time on what he called his gutbucket numbers but changed his pace for numbers like Funny How Time Slips Away and Honest I Do. Plain Old Common Sense, from his recent Bloodline slbum, was a tribute to his grandma and B B King and other numbers included Sweet Little Angel, The Things I Used To Do and a sing along Since I Met You Baby. He finished with some zydeco with Toot Toot and When The Saints. A highly enjoyable 90 minute set by a class act. Final act on day one was Sonny Landreth, a brilliant guitarist but one who strays onto heavy rock at times. This time he started with a short acoustic set which was a delight. His slide skills were well exhibited on Sneaking Behind Your Back, a big Bill Broonzy number and Creole Angel, a great song. After a pause he returned for his main set, beginning with a Robert Johnson song (not sure which) and It Hurts Me Too. Then it was on to the heavy rock sound with loud guitar so after a couple of numbers we called it a day.
Day two started with Fessaround, a tribute to Professor Longhair  who came from Bogalusa. Pianist Tom Worrell played some Fess favourites and there were all too short contributions from Al 'Carnival Time' Johnson and Marilyn Barbarin who briefly sang Wang Dang Doodle before she was dragged off as the set was over running. Shame these great veterans didn't get more time. Other acts during the afternoon were local singer Crispin Schoeder, who had a bit of a folky/country tinge, and Chris LeBlanc, who did a hard rocking set including Living In The USA, Born On The Bayou and Rock This Town. There was some Slim Harpo as well and some soul with That's How Strong My Love Is and Love and Happiness. Despite the awful finale, Star Spangled Banner, this was a good set.
With such a sparse crowd it was hard to whip up an audience response, but the next act, Vasti Jackson, did his best. Formerly Johnnie Taylor's musical director he's a good guitarist with a lot of energy as a couple of extended crowd walks testified. Sometimes a little heavy with his guitar playing he was best on his more soulful stuff, such as Last Two Dollars and Dangerous Curves and his soft reggae segment with Stir It Up. Enjoyable but a shame the crowd was so small. He was followed on stage by sheer class in the form of Ruthie Foster , a singer songwriter who is equally at home on blues, folk and gospel. She has a purity of voice which also has real soul in it and more often than not a message. Beginning with Brand New Day her set included Singing The Blues (inspired by Bobby Bland), The Devil (a Staples song), I'm A Woman, the beautiful My Kind Of Loving, a great slow version of Johnny Cash's Ring Of Fire, and gospel in the form of Travelling Shoes and her final number I Want To Be Ready. A classy set and highly enjoyable.
What can you say about the headline act Bobby Rush? He's coming up 85 but is ageless, never looking any different, failing to give pleasure or, it has to be said, changing his act. Accompanied on stage by two lady dancers, including the delightful Miss Lowe, he gave us all his old favourites: She's Fine, jokes about his big fat woman with oversized knickers, the Old Hen Young Hen routine, Garbageman, Hoochie Coochie Man, Michael Jackson and Elvis, Night Fishing and Porcupine Meat. With his huge smile Bobby gets away with being non PC and is genuinely funny, a relic from another era who deserves to be venerated. Long may he last.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Back in Louisiana for another road trip

I'm off on another US road trip with Dave Carroll, Alan Lloyd and Lee Wilkinson. We flew into Houston and I drove along I10 to Lafayette. The weather was abysmal with heavy rain. After some gumbo at Prejean's Cajun restaurant we went to the new Rock 'n' Bowl in downtown where an entertaining group called Terry and the Zydeco Bad Boys were playing some good soul covers as well as zydeco numbers. Quite a smart modern place and a good addition to Lafayette's music scene. What do you know - Dave and Julie Thomas walked in, three weeks into their six week Anerican tour.
Next day we drove to Baton Rouge, calling in at a museum in West Baton Rouge devoted to the sugar plantation that was there. There are various buildings including a recreated juke joint where they sometimes hold live events. Kenny Neal was there recently for an event commemorating Lazy Lester and he will be back soon for the annual sugar festival. There are also recreated slave quarters, plantation store and barn as well as plenty of exhibits in the main building. From there we went to a record shop and museum dedicated to R and B singer and band leader Buddy Stewart which is now run by his daughter Philippa. I spent a happy hour or two going through the many piles of 45s and picking out a few and then had a look round the museum where there are photos and memorabilia of Buddy and other local musicians including Kenny and Jackie Neal, Tabby Thomas and Bobby Rush. In the evening we had an overpriced 'fusion' meal in a deserted downtown and then went to the blues jam at Phil Brady's bar which has been taking place every Thursday for 40 years. Two bands played rather predictable cliche blues numbers such as 'Got My Mojo Working' and 'Every Day I Have The Blues and when the second band launched into a pedestrian version of 'Mustang Sally we decided we had had enough. Now it's on to Bogalusa.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Big Jay McNeely RIP

It's only four months since I was lucky enough to see Big Jay McNeely celebrate his 91st birthday at Joe's American Bar and Grill in Burbank. He had to be helped onto the stage, but his saxophone playing was still great, as were his vocals. Four years ago I met up with Big Jay at his home in Los Angeles and, together with Gordon Fleming and Paul Waring, we went with him to his local IHOP for a fascinating chat with one of the true greats of rock and roll.
Now Big Jay is dead. It comes to all of us but it's a sad day. At least, it can be said, Big Jay lived life to the full. He was still active until recently, both in terms of live performances and recording. He made an experimental album with an Austrian band shortly before I met him in his home in Watts in 2014. Jay began his career in the late forties and played as large a role as anyone in the birth of rock and roll. In addition to his exciting sax style, he was an innovator in terms of showmanship, lying on his back while honking his horn and painting it with luminous paint so that it would shine under black lights. It was a travesty that, despite his incredible influence on other artists, he was never admitted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, despite a campaign on his behalf. He certainly deserved such an accolade, as he was one of only a handful of artists who had been active before 1955 still performing.
I saw Big Jay in London 30 odd years ago, at Jazzfest in New Orleans and at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2011. At the Jazz Cafe in 1991, when he was a mere 64 (pictured below), he honked his horn at every girl he could find and even went outside and played his sax along Camden Parkway. When I saw him earlier this year (pictured above) he included some jump blues including Big Fat Mama and Flip Flop and Fly, his big hit There Is Something On Your Mind, some country and some blues, even some zydeco. Dressed in a red jacket and hat, he smiled and winked his way through his set and was clearly enjoying himself. It was a treat to see a living legend still sounding so good.
RIP Big Jay. We will miss you.
Here's one of Big Jay at the 2011 Ponderosa Stomp.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Dave Berry at the Water Rats

The latest Tales From The Woods live gig, at the Water Rats near King's Cross last night, starred Dave Berry, a man who had several hits during the sixties but is probably best known for 'The Crying Game', a song that was featured in the 1992 film of the same name. Now 77, he is still slim and has quite a bit of stage presence, with his trademark of toying with the microphone cord  still very much part of his act. His vocal range is rather limited these days, meaning that high notes have to be disguised, but he came across pretty strongly, due in no small part to the backing of the Tales From The Woods Band, on this occasion a three piece with guitar, bass and drums.
Dave came on stage wearing one white glove and began with Fats Domino's 'I'm Ready', moving on to his first hit, a cover of Chuck Berry's 'Memphis, Tennessee'. Most of his act comprised R and B standards, including 'Watch Your Step', 'Stormy Monday Blues', 'Route 66', 'Mona', 'My Baby Left Me' (his second single) and 'Let's Work Together'. But it was on his own material that he was most effective, notably 'This Strange Effect', written by Ray Davies, which proved ideal for his mesmeric mic cord movements. 'The Crying Game' was, not surprisingly the high point and he finished off with a rousing version of 'Promised Land'. An enjoyable, if not actually great, set I thought.
Earlier the Tales From The Woods trio (without their usual keyboard and horn players) performed a rock and roll set under the name of the Bi-Polar Bears, with John Spencely's excellent guitar work and first rate vocals coming across well on number's such as Chuck Berry's 'Come On' and 'Peggy Sue Got Married'. Not sure why they wore yellow and black stripey convict shirts (maybe they had just been let out for the night), but they sounded good and it was a great start to the evening.
This was followed by a rather strange shortish set by Johnny Stud, once of Rocky Sharpe and the Replays. Dressed in a black and white jacket. he seemed under rehearsed or nervous possibly, forgetting the lines at one point and reading the lyrics from his music stand on occasions. He began with Ritchie Valens' 'Come On Let's Go' and followed up with Rosie and the Originals' 'Angel Baby'. I happen to love Rosie's sweet innocent sounding original (to coin a phrase) but this was anything but sweet and innocent. Other numbers included 'I'm Walkin'', 'It's Only Make Believe', Roy Orbison's 'Ooby Dooby' and 'Who's That Knocking', first recorded by the Genies in 1959. Keith Woods, who once again promoted this show, said afterwards that this was the first time that Johnny had performed without a vocal group behind him, and it showed.
This is the last TFTW show until next June and, although poorly attended and uneven at times, it was good fun, thanks largely to Dave and those Bi-Polar Bears - John Spencely, Rob Davis on bass and Jeff Tuck on drums.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

'I Need Your Loving' - Don Gardner dies

It's been reported that Don Gardner, who shot to fame with Dee Dee Ford on the brilliant Ike and Tina Turner influenced call and response song 'I Need Your Loving' in 1962, has died aged 87. Don
was already a musician in the late 1940s when he formed the Sonotones, which included as one of its members organ maestro Jimmy Smith. When Jimmy left he was replaced by Richard 'Groove' Holmes. After some records on Gotham and DeLuxe, Holmes was himself replaced by Dee Dee Ford and the band came to the attention of Arthur 'Big Boy' Crudup who recommended them to Bobby Robinson, owner of the Fire and Fury labels in New York.
'I Need Your Loving' became a big hit and was released in the UK on Stateside, as was the follow up 'Don't You Worry', which was also a fair sized hit in the US. After one more record Don and Dee Dee split with Bobby Robinson and eventually, after the death of his wife and a tour of Sweden, Don and Dee Dee split up. He came back in 1970 with a duet with Baby Washington on the Holland/Dozier song 'Forever' on the People label. Later, Don was a prominent
figure in Philadelphia's jazz scene.
I will be off on my next US road trip in a few weeks but unfortunately will not be able to attend my Boston friend Noah Shaffer's birthday bash which stars Willie Hightower and Thelma Jones. Should be one hell of a night! Here's Noah with Willie at Porretta in 2017.