Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The great music continues in LA

The good music continued on Saturday as we moved to a motel in Burbank and spent a great evening at Joe's American Bar and Grill. The support act, Tom Kenny and the High Seas were terrific. I saw Tom, who was the voice of SpongeBob Squarepants, do a couple of numbers at the Ace Hotel in New Orleans with Los Straitjackets in 2017. This time he had a 12 piece band with three female singers and three sax players and he threw himself into his 60s style set with enormous enthusiasm. We had a taste with an excellent version of 'I Found a Love' at the sound check. The set itself rocked from start to finish with credible versions of a great mix of songs including 'Keep On Running', Mitch Ryder's 'Sock It To Me Baby', Alvin Robinson's 'Down Home Girl', Gene Pitney's 'It Hurts To Be In Love', Elvis's 'Like A Baby' (with great support from the girls), 'Don't Sign The Papers (I Want You Back), originally by Jimmy Delphs, Little Milton's 'We're Gonna Make It', Wayne Cochran's 'Some Of Your Sweet Love', 'Try To Find Yourself Another Man' ( recorded by the Righteous Brothers and Tommy McLain), Bobby Lewis's 'Tossin' and Turnin', and Frankie Ford's 'Roberta'. Tom may not have a great voice but in terms of energy he could not be faulted. The main act of the night were Los Straitjackets, wearing Mexican wrestling masks as ever, who provided some quality guitar instros. I didn't recognise all of them but among them were 'Casbah', 'Space Mosquito' (with a good solo from Eddie Angel), 'Woo Hoo' and 'Batman'. The set ended with cameo appearances by Johnny Ramos, son of Kid Ramos, on a Spanish language version of 'Tallahassee Lassie' and a sweet version of 'Angel Baby' by Jaalene, the 'Queen of the Teens'.
On Saturday we changed motels yet again, this time to one on Manchester Avenue near the airport and prepared ourselves for a night of blues. And what a night it proved to be. We started at Bell's Blues Workshop, a weekly blues jam in the converted garage of Franklin Bell's house in South LA. The band there was great and a succession of blues singers and guitarists came on stage to perform a few numbers, all of them highly entertaining. It's 10 dollars to get in and for that you get fantastic music and some fried chicken. It's an affair for locals with very few whites there and no pressure to give tips. Four of the singers were female including Shelley Gibbons, whose numbers included 'Down Home Blues'. Southside Slim provided some fine guitar backing for the next singer before Lester Lands came on stage to back Lady Renee, who excelled on 'Part Time Love' and 'Do It Again'. Also great was Sherry Pruit who has recorded several CDs including 'I've Been Bamboozled' which contains her self penned number 'Stay Away From My Man' which she sang. She played a pretty mean harmonica too.
From Bell's we went to the Pure Pleasure Blues Club for more great music. The band there, the New Soul Brothers led by veteran bluesman Joe Kincaid, were superb and we were treated to some amazing acts. Bobby Love performed some southern soul, including a good version of Al Green's 'Love and Happiness'. Next came a couple of numbers by Sir Stan Griggs, wearing a brown three piece suit and trilby, who was way over the top. John described him as the 'John McCririck of Soul' as he grabbed his crotch and attempted to woo the women on 'The Things That I Used To Do, 'I Need Someone To Love' and 'Dust My Blues'. Sonny Green, another veteran soul and blues singer who always goes down well appeared next but sang only one and a bit numbers before disappearing from the stage. His version of 'Who's Making Love' was a classic however. Sammy Lee, aka Harmonica Slim, did a super version of 'Sugar Momma' before a young guitarist and singer performed 'Polk Salad Annie' and an Elvis impersonation on 'Hound Dog'. Slightly out of place I thought. More in keeping with the soul theme was the next act, the attractive Sheryl
Monet who came across well on 'Fire' and 'Tonight Is The Night'. Sonny Green then reappeared, wearing a different but again very smart suit to launch into 'Let's Stay Together' and 'Papa's Got a Brand New Bag,'. He was joined on stage by a lady with pink hair named Asia Raye who really set the place alight with a dynamic stage act which brought to mind some the great soul women of the past. Tremendous stuff and thanks to Allen 'Charmin' Larman for the heads up. A wonderful night, not to be forgotten.
There was more blues and soul on our final night at La Louisianne where Hank Carbo has a Monday night residency. Hank is the brother of New Orleans singers Chuck and Chick Carbo who were in the Spiders vocal group. He went to school with Irma Thomas but moved to LA where he recorded with another brother, Claude. Backed by Lester Lands, another New Orleans native, and the New Breed Band, Hank did an enjoyable two sets of Soul and blues covers including 'Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You', 'My Girl', 'Last Two Dollars', 'Down Home Blues and 'Use Me'. Lester himself did a good version of 'Baby Workout' and a deep voiced singer called Jay Jackson did a couple of numbers including one he wrote called 'Fool'. Having enjoyed an excellent oxtail dinner in this classy establishment, this was a great way to end our trip. It's home tomorrow and I will start putting some photos on the blog when I get back.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The road trip continues: Arizona to LA

After leaving Vegas we headed for Arizona, stopping off at Seligman, one of only a few towns on Route 66 that we didn't visit two years ago. There are several period buildings there plus the Roadkill Cafe which serves just that. An old cowboy called Dale, with two horses and rifles, persuaded us to pose for photos, thus officially transforming us from music journalists to tourists. This continued when we arrived in Williams  which was the last Route 66 town to be bypassed. There are a couple of western style bars there which are pretty authentic, and an excellent New Orleans cafe where we had a gumbo, but the main attraction is the railway based there which connects with the Grand Canyon. Before setting off there is a staged gunfight and after a couple of hours the train arrives at the Grand Canyon village. The views there are, as expected, awe inspiring but they were too much for John whose vertigo brought him to his knees. While I was hiking along the rim he was nursing several cigarettes well away from the edge.
The following morning we headed towards the Arizona desert, taking a look on the way at Prescott, an attractive town which for a while was the State capital. Further along in the small town of Quartzesite we sought out a curious memorial to Hi Jolly, a Syrian who set up a camel corps in Arizona. The camels died as the soldiers didn't look after them but killing a camel is still illegal in the State. The memorial proved hard to find and was unimpressive, comprising a small pyramid with a minute model of a camel on top. We ended the day in Palm Springs, an up market community where the temperature exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It's near Coachella, which stages the desert equivalent of Glastonbury.
Moving on to Los Angeles next day we found the cost of hotels to be exorbitant so landed up at a rather basic place in Culver City. An uninspired chicken and humus dish in Santa Monica followed. Next day we did the touristy thing again by taking the Warner Bros studio tour. It's pretty good actually with lots of info about the sound stages, props and costumes and close ups of the Friends set and stuff on Harry Potter and loads of other films and TV shows that have been made there over the last 96 years.
It was back to music on Friday evening at McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica with guitarist Smokey Hormel and his combo, comprising double bass, organ, sax/trombone and bongos. Smokey has played with numerous artists including Johnny Cash, Tom Waits and the Blasters and this was an eclectic and entertaining set ranging from jazzy instrumentals to African rhythms and Americana. Vocal numbers included Roy Brown's 'Butcher Pete', Tom Waits '219', the Blasters 'Barn Burning' and Dolly Parton's 'When Someone Wants To Leave'. An enjoyable if rather short set in a venue I hadn't visited before.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Viva Las Vegas #22 Part two

Saturday at Viva Las Vegas is Car Show day where dozens of hot rods and custom cars gather on the back lot of the Orleans Hotel with their proud owners. There is also live music, the first of which, featuring Linda Gail Lewis, with daughter Annie-Marie and Eddie Angel guesting on guitar as well as Danny B Harvey, was terrific. I've rarely seen her in such exciting form. Beginning with 'Boogie Woogie Country Girl' she rocked through favourites like 'Shake Rattle and Roll', 'Blue Suede Shoes' and 'Roll Over Beethoven' while Annie-Marie contributed 'Hot Rod Girl' and 'Should I Ever Love Again'. Linda continued with the aptly titled 'Sister of a Hell Raiser' before going through the Jerry Lee songbook with 'High School Confidential', 'Whole Lotta Shakin'' and 'Great Balls of Fire' and ending with 'Johnny B Goode'. Familiar material but expertly performed and a great set. Next up were The Coasters, featuring 86 year old original member Leon Hughes, who were filling in for Freddie Cannon, who in turn was due to replace Wanda Jackson, both of whom have seemingly retired for health reasons. Sadly the sound was poor on a batch of their hits including 'Poison Ivy'  'Young Blood', 'Charlie Brown' and 'Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart'. The guys then apparently forgot which group they were in by veering off into a medley of Drifters songs and went even further off topic with 'Sixteen Tons' and 'The Twist'. They finished with 'Love Potion No 9', Searchin' and 'Yakety Yak' but this was a disappointing set. The other acts at the Car Show, local favourites the Delta Bombers and the Rev Horton Heat, didn't appeal so we checked out Joey and the Showmen at the Pool Party. They are a good surf guitar group from LA with links to Dick Dale and the Deltones.
Most interesting act in the evening session was fifties rockabilly singer Sid King, a man who had rather less success than he deserved. Now 83 he looks younger and remains in good shape vocally. His full set comprised many of the songs he recorded back in the day, including 'Good Rocking Baby', 'Let Her Roll', Sag Drag and Fall', 'Booger Red', 'Shake That Shack Tonight' and 'I Like It' plus a couple of well known songs that he also recorded back in 1956 - 'Ooby Dooby' and 'Blue Suede Shoes'. His face was deadpan throughout but the singing spoke for itself and this was a good set. Earlier in the evening I caught a bit of Anita O'Night, from Barcelona, and Dutch band the Barnstompers, both of whom were pretty good, but the highlight were the Moontones, with singer Shannon Mac and a great horn section, who set the Bailiwick stage alight with songs such as 'Ding Dong Daddy' and 'Buzz Buzz Buzz'. Also good were the Rockin' Rebels which featured an eccentric stand up drummer and some good sax playing. The evening finished with Deke Dickerson's Guitar Geek Show which featured one or two numbers by various guitarists including Jim Heath and Los Straitjackets and his own new band the Whippersnappers. In some ways the real stars of the evening were the females in the crowd, many of whom dressed in long gowns in the style of 1950s Princess Margaret or exotic and revealing dresses with expertly applied make up.
On the final day John Howard and I, together with John's friend Russ Martin, kept up the tradition of heading out to Red Rock Canyon. This time, however, we didn't eat at Bonnie Springs as it has apparently closed down so went record hunting in the Arts District instead. The final evening at VLV began with a Stars of Rock and Roll segment which was shorter than usual and less satisfying. Essex's own Rod Glazebrook did a couple of numbers ahead of his main set, before Big Sandy introduced Hal 'Holiday' Schneider, a name new to me. Turns out he had a one off Christmas hit in 1960 as the Joker in Three Aces and a Joker, from Salt Lake City. Looking rather scruffy in a t shirt and baseball cap the 80 year old sang both sides of his hit, 'Sleigh Bell Rock' and 'Booze Party'. And that was it for his mini set. Next up were The Medallions,  a doowop group from LA featuring lead singer Billy Foster. They were very slick on their mostly car themed records, including 'Speeding, 'Volvo '59' and 'Buick '59', plus 'Magic Mountain' and 'Behind The Door'. Following them were The Majors, who proved to be a major disappointment. Only one of their numbers - 'A Wonderful Dream' - was one of their own songs, the others all being covers including 'Rockin' Robin', 'Zing and, after a couple of false starts, 'Book of Love'.
Chris Casello, former guitarist with Jack Scott was next on in the Bienville Room and I caught the last part of his set. Very strange it was too despite his obvious guitar artistry. After literally 'talking' through his guitar, he finished instrumentally with 'Spanish Flea', 'Classical Gas', a Magic Sam blues number and his own 'X-ray Man'.
Biggest hit of the night and indeed the whole weekend was Sy Cranstoun who played to a packed main hall and proved yet again what a dynamic showman he is, as well as a good singer. Numbers included 'Coupe De Ville', 'Ella Hula Hula', 'Open Up Your Heart' and his biggest hit 'Dynamo'. After a 'Shake  and twist' number he ended with a duet on 'You Got What It Takes. Judging by the reception he got, with many attempting to dance in the busy ballroom, he certainly has what it takes for the VLV audience. Excellent stuff.
Last year Chris Casello introduced a good looking songstress called Tammi Savoy. This year she deservedly got her own set and showed that she has poise and a decent voice in addition to her beauty. Songs included 'This Little Girl's Gone Rocking', 'I've Got It Bad and 'Them There Eyes' . I'm not sure Chris's intricate and at times intrusive guitar work suited her act and personally I would like to see her with a full band, but she comes across as a latter day Ruth Brown and has real potential. Other acts I caught during the evening were the Kingbees, a blues flavoured band, and Rod Glazebrook's House Rockers, whose rather sparsely attended set included 'You Shake Me', 'Red Cadillac and a Black Moustache', 'Dragging Main Street', 'Be Gone Long' and 'Two Left Feet, a song he said that had been inspired by a girl friend. By this time we were music'd out so missed Big Sandy's set, but this was a pretty good VLV, although probably my last. Now it's off to Arizona. More soon and photos when I get home.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Viva Las Vegas #22 Part one

I'm back at Viva Las Vegas (the 22nd) with John Howard for the sixth straight year. There is much to enjoy, although my appreciation of rockabilly as presented by earnest young groups with the obligatory stand up bass has faded somewhat. Thursday featured mostly younger or less well known bands but established singer and guitarist Kim Lenz made a big impression with songs such as 'Guilty' and 'Shake a Leg'. Most dynamic act of the night was undoubtedly LA band The Desperados, who rocked across the stage incessantly, mostly playing a single repetitive note on numbers such as 'Wasted and 'Let's Get Wild'. Also enjoyable and looking good in a slinky black dress was Ruby Ann, who impressed with 'Train to Satanville' and 'Dynamite'. Veteran UK neo-rockabilly band Restless came across strongly with singer Mark Harman in good form. They were introduced by Big Sandy who claimed they were his favourite band. Of the lesser known groups I was impressed by  Seatbelt on a couple of Sparkletones numbers. Spanish singer Al Dual was competent and Ross and the Wild Boys and the Nite Howlers were energetic if limited. As ever the crowd came in all shapes and sizes with fifties fashion and over the top tattoos much to the fore. The halls were pretty packed and it was only Thursday. I hate to think what the crush will be like over the weekend.
One of the highlights of Friday was the Stars of Rockabilly segment with three originals from the fifties. Billy Harlan, in a pink jacket, included early hits such as 'Schoolhouse Rock' and 'I Wanna Bop' and was joined on stage by three ladies, introduced I think as the Harris Sisters  for 'This Lonely Man' and 'I Ain't Elvis'. Ray Campi, celebrsting his 85th birthday the next day, appeared next waving a US flag. Confederate flags are banned at VLV this year so he had to leave his usual one at home. He was backed by Rip Masters on piano and despite looking a bit frail came across well on 'How Low Do You Feel', 'Rockin' at the Ritz' and 'Rockabilly Man'. Rip did a solo number before the third artist, Don Woody, came on stage. He was excellent on 'Bird Dog, 'Make Like a Rock and Roll', 'Red Blooded American Boy' and his best known song 'Barking Up the Wrong Tree'. Completing the segment, which was compered by Big Sandy, was Scandinavian rocker Jan Svensson, whose set included 'The Wayward Wind' and 'Pity Me'.
Earlier, the hillbilly flavoured vocals of Wayne 'The Train" Hancock went down well on numbers such as 'Juke Joint Jumping, 'Louisiana Baby', 'Johnny Laws', 'Honky Tonk Man' and 'Blue Suede Shoes'. The Boogie Playboys from Hong Kong dressed in matching pink suits were great fun on a mixture of old and new numbers sung in both English and Cantonese. Their set included a good version of 'That's Alright'. One act in the Piano Bar caught my eye. This was Messer Chups, a mostly instrumental trio featuring an attractive bass guitarist with a weird hiccup in her voice when she sang. Also appearing were Big Six, featuring Sugar Ray Ford, making their final appearance. Dressed in baggy check suits this six piece includes two horns and were highly entertaining on numbers such as 'Where's My Sombrero' and 'Blue Moon'. The evening ended, for me, with some of the female acts on Wild Records, including the lively Hi-Tones and Shanda and the Howlers.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Goodbye to Boogaloo

I'm off to the States again today, but before I go, a quick mention of a few music deaths.
I was lucky enough to catch Kent 'Boogaloo' Harris at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2013 but now he has died, at the age of 88. He joins a long list of musicians to have passed on having appeared at the Stomp and it's testament to its importance, and the great work of Dr Ike, that these near forgotten artists got a late chance to show the world what they are all about. Here's what I wrote at the time:
One of this year's highlights came next - Kent Harris, aka Boogaloo, - who recorded briefly in LA nearly 60 years ago and wrote some classic R and B numbers. His all too short set included early recording 'Big Fat Lie', 'She Put Me In The Doghouse Again', 'Clothesline' (later a hit for the Coasters), 'Big Chief Hug and Kiss', 'Cops And Robbers' (made famous by Bo Diddley) and 'Talk About A Party'.
Another recent death is that of Les Reed, aged 83, who wrote or co-wrote (with Gordon Mills, Barry Mason and others) some of the biggest hits of the sixties, including 'It's Not Unusual', 'The Last Waltz', 'Delilah', 'Tell Me When', 'Here It Comes Again' and 'There's A Little Hush'.
Other recent deaths include Joe Terry of Danny and the Juniors, and Johnny Hutchinson, drummer with the Big Three. RIP to them all.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Bobby Rush at the Jazz Cafe

Bobby Rush is always a delight to watch and last night's show at the Jazz Cafe was no exception. He's been described (by Dave Carroll) as the 'Donald McGill of the blues' and that's not a bad description. (For those unfamiliar with McGill's work he was the king of the saucy seaside postcard, featuring busty young women, fat old ladies, drunken men and honeymoon couples). Bobby Rush is equally non-PC, a throwback to the chitlin' circuit of the fifties and sixties when bawdy humour was not only acceptable but expected. (It still is in Louisiana and Mississippi among black audiences, but maybe less so elsewhere).
Now 85, Bobby has lost none of his energy and his 90 minute show included many of his best known songs, along with nods and winks, spontaneous guffaws and, of course, the presence of one of his glamorous lady dancers - the ever wonderful Mizzlowe, who played along to Bobby's jokes and innuendo with good humour and obvious pride in her companion. She appeared in a pink catsuit at the beginning of his set and, after quite a long gap, reappeared as a vision in black. It's always a delight to see her of course and she is a vital part of his revue, as is his band, most of whom have been with him for many years.
I've seen Bobby many times in the States, at Porretta and a couple of times in London, where his good natured, but somewhat bawdy and old fashioned humour has not always been appreciated. (This was particularly the case when he played the Barbican a few years ago. The audience didn't know what to make of him). The Jazz Cafe crowd, though, appreciated him for what he is: a living legend - and gave him a good reception. He proudly told the audience that he has been recording for 67 years, mixed with the likes of Muddy Waters, Little Walter and John Lee Hooker in the early fifties, and has made 377 records.
There were many of his usual songs on display, some of them more like monologues or raps, including 'She's Fine', 'Hoochie Coochie Man', 'Garbage Man', 'Chicken Heads, '19 Years Old', 'Booga Bear', 'Night Fishing' and his latest Grammy winning song 'Porcupine Meat (Too Fat To Eat but Too Lean to Throw Away'). He used his harmonica skills effectively and, played guitar rather more than in most shows, even sitting down for a few numbers.
There were brief snatches of some of his favourite impersonations, including Michael Jackson and Elvis, but on this occasion he did not produce the customary giant pair of knickers to extol the virtues of a big fat woman (maybe he thought British sensitivities would not appreciate it). So perhaps it was a slightly toned version of his act, but great fun none the less. He is probably the last act of his kind, and long may he remain so. As his song 'Got Me Accused' - a song about a miscarriage of justice - pointed out, 'this may be the last time you see me'. Let's hope not.
Big Joe Louis and his Blues Kings provided excellent support earlier in the evening with some solid blues, including 'Old Mother Nature and Father Time' among half a dozen numbers. A fitting way to start a night of blues in London - and a good way to celebrate my birthday.

Monday, April 01, 2019

Two Louisiana music deaths

Music deaths continue with two Louisiana-based friends of the Woodies roots music group among the latest.
Margaret Lewis appeared at two Tales From The Woods events in 2008 and 2010 and was one of the highlights on both occasions. Maggie recorded rockabilly records for the Shreveport-based Ram label in the late fifties before moving on to songwriting, with 'Reconsider Me' her best known song. She was instrumental in reviving the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport after marrying Alton Warwick and in 1998 she released an album on the Ram label called Maggie Lewis-Warwick and the Thunderbolts. Her 2008 appearance at the 100 Club was great. I wrote at the time: 'It was an American visitor who stole the show. Margaret Lewis from Shreveport, Louisiana, writer of country soul classics such as 'Reconsider Me' and 'I Almost Called Your Name', and reviver of the famous Louisiana Hayride, performed three numbers and went down a storm. Kicking off with 'Shake A Leg,, a rockabilly number she said she had almost forgotten, she then went on to perform her own 'Reconsider Me' (a song I love by Johnny Adams) quite brilliantly, before finishing with a lively version of 'Midnight Special'.
After her appearance at the 2010 show (pictured above) I wrote:' Once again this dimunitive lady made a big impression with a series of rockabilly numbers, including 'Good Rockin' Tonight' and her own 'Shake A Leg', plus her big hit 'Reconsider Me'. Margaret sounds just as good as ever and added a welcome piece of US authenticity in this otherwise UK-centric show.' More recently, at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2017, Maggie took part in a conference session about Ram Records along with Alton Warwick and Bobby Page of swamp pop band the Riff Raffs. Many Woodies will have fond memories of visiting the Louisiana Hayride with Maggie a few years ago. The photo below shows Margaret with Kenny Bill Stinson at Jazzfest in 1997.
The other Louisiana artist to have died over the weekend is rockabilly singer Jay Chevalier. His best known songs included 'The Ballad of Earl K Long', former Louisiana State Governor, which was banned initially as being too political, and 'Come Back To Louisiana'. He recruited Grace Broussard to his show at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas and she, along with Dale Houston, recorded the number one hit 'I'm Leaving It Up to You'. When Jay appeared at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2007 he sang with Grace (in Dale's place) and he appeared again in 2008 and 2011. In 2010 he put on a solo show especially for the touring Woodies at Peaches Record Store in New Orleans (pictured below).
The most widely publicised recent death is that of Scott Walker, at the age of 76. The Walker Brothers never did much for me despite some decent covers of songs such as 'Make It Easy On Yourself' and 'The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Any More'. I regarded them as second division Righteous Brothers, but there's no denying their popularity or their good looks. Scott Engel's early work is much praised but when he moved into more individualistic esoteric music as a solo artist he lost much of his fan base and his career eventually suffered.
A couple of other deaths to mention: David White, who co-wrote Danny and the Juniors' 'At The Hop', and Al Hazan, who, in a varied music career, topped the UK charts as B Bumble and the Stingers on 'Nut Rocker'.