Sunday, May 31, 2020

James Carr at Blackheath

Two days after returning from my trip to Trinidad in 1996 (see earlier post) I got to see the great James Carr for the only time at the Blackheath Concert Halls in south east London. He was appearing as part of the London Blues Festival on a line up that also included the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Corey Harris, Magic Slim and Big Clara McDaniel.
James has often been called the greatest soul singer of all time and it's hard to argue with that. His performance that evening was 'intense, hypnotic and quite brilliant' I noted at the time. He clearly put his all into his songs and the audience was spellbound, willing him to make it to the end. James had a number of mental problems, as Quinton Claunch, owner of Goldwax Records, told me when I met him in 2014. He said that he took James to the doctor's every couple of weeks to get him his shots. 'He couldn't hardly write his name but he could memorise words and get the phrasing just right', Quinton told me. 'James was very intense. I took him to New York where he was booked for three nights, but on the first night he couldn't hardly talk and I had to cancel the other two nights.'
After some time in gospel group the Harmony Echoes along with O V Wright, James met Quinton when he, OV and Roosevelt Jamison knocked on his door at midnight one night. Jamison had a song called 'That's How Strong My Love Is' that OV Wright recorded for Goldwax before Don Robey at Duke Records claimed a prior contract, Quinton went to to record some great records for James at Goldwax, including several that he wrote himself, including 'Love Attack' and 'I'm A Fool For You' and became James's mentor. James's 1996 UK tour came about soon after the Goldwax name was revived in the 1990's and two new albums, 'Take Me To the Limit' and 'Soul Survivor', both produced by Quinton, were released
I didn't get to see James when he appeared at Porretta in 1992, or on any other occasion, but that 1996 show made up for that. Here are some photos of James, and of some of the other performers at Blackheath.
Backing James Carr was Johnny Rawls, a n excellent blues and soul singer himself.
Also on the bill was Magic Slim.
Here's acoustic guitarist Corey Harris.
This is Big Clara McDaniel, who signed a photo of herself for me.
This gent is St Louis guitarist Bennie Smith.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Top girl group records 51 to 100

Following on from his top 50 girl group records listed the other day, Daniel has now extended his list from 51 to 100. There are some real obscurities here, along with lots of better known tracks, but they are all worth a listen. I've included a few Youtube links for some of the less well known songs. Comments are Daniel's own. Here they are.
The Ikettes - Peaches 'n' Cream' When they weren't singing behind ...
100. I’m blue -Ikettes 1961
99. Slowhand- Pointer Sisters 1981
98. Something here in my heart- Paper Dolls 1968
97. Boogie woogie man- Brian Sisters 1942
96. You’re never gonna get my loving- Enchanted Forest 1967
95. Round round- Sugababes 2002
94. Eddie my love- Teen Queens 1956
93. The promise- Girls Aloud 2008
92. Happy days and lonely nights- Fontane Sisters 1954
91. Gimme chocolate!!- Babymetal 2015 (all- female Japanese metal group- v v noisy! But different so definitely a place for it on this chart!)
90. Born to be with you- Chordettes 1956
89. Sleigh ride- Ronettes 1963
88. Soldier boy- Shirelles 1962
87. We’re in the money- the Gold Diggers of 1933 (ok- more of a chorus than a ‘girl group’, but they were technically an all-female group and I like the song- the oldest one on the entire list)
86. The hunter gets captured by the game- Marvelettes 1966
85. After last night -Rev Lons 1964
84. I never dreamed- Cookies 1964
83. Black coffee- All Saints 2000
82. Independent women part 1- Destiny’s Child 2000
81. Oop shoop- Shirley Gunter and the Queens 1954
80. Frankie- Sister Sledge 1985
79. He cried- Shangri Las 1966
78. Chains- Cookies 1962
77. Jimmy Mack- Martha and the Vandellas 1967
76. Hoochy coo- Fatimas 1967 (the only Garage rock song in the list!)
75. Frosty the snowman- Ronettes 1963
74.When the love light starts shining through his eyes- Supremes 1963
73. Don’t hang up- Orlons 1962
72. Tonight’s the night- Shirelles 1960
71. Cell block tango- Merry Murderesses 2002 (from the film ‘Chicago’)
70. Love is here and now you’re gone- Supremes 1967
69. Say my name- Destiny’s Child 2000
68. Lonely nights- Hearts 1955
67. Egyptian shumba- Tammys 1963 (do you know this one? It’s bizarre and crazy!)
66. I wanna love him so bad- Jellybeans 1964
65. He’s sure the boy I love- crystals 1963
64. All or nothing- Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles 1965
63. It’s gonna take a miracle- Royalettes 1965
62. When will I see you again- Three Degrees 1974
61. Love hit me- Orchids 1963
60. Whole again- Atomic Kitten 2001
59. He was really saying something- Velvelettes 1965
58. Don’t say nothing bad- Cookies 1963
57. Just a step from Heaven- Eternal 1994
56. Walk like an Egyptian- Bangles 1986
55. Sally go round the roses- Jaynetts 1963
54. We are family- Sister Sledge 1979
53. Lollipop- Chordettes 1958
52. Give us your blessings- Shangri Las 1965
51. Nowhere to run- Martha and the Vandellas 1965
 Martha and the Vandellas - Wikipedia

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Daniel's Top 50 girl group records

My son Daniel has produced a list of his favourite 50 records by girl groups. He's a bit of a music nut (takes after his dad) and has good taste. Although there are a few on the list that I'm not too familiar with (mostly the newer ones, although his earliest choice dates back to 1934) I have to say that most of them would be on any similar list of mine as well. In fact, the top five would probably be my favourites too. I've included Youtube clips for a few of the ones that may not have made my top 50, and one or two that would.
Here it is:
The Bobbettes - Wikipedia
50. Mr Lee-  Bobbettes 1957
49. My baby must be a magician- Marvelettes 1967
48. Don’t let go- En Vogue 1997
47. Heatwave- Martha and the Vandellas 1963
46. Chapel of love- Dixie Cups 1964
45. Rock and roll- Boswell Sisters 1934
44. Give him a great big kiss- Shangri Las 1965
43. Cherry bomb- Runaways 1976
42. Needle in a haystack- Velvelettes 1964
41. Please Mr Postman- Marvelettes 1961
40. Maybe- the Chantals 1958 
39. Stop in the name of love - Supremes 1965
38. Pure shores- All Saints 2000
37. Baby I love you- Ronettes 1964 
36. Born too late - Poni Tails 1958
35. Nothing but a heartache - Flirtations 1969
34. Wannabe - Spice Girls 1996
33. Captain of your ship- Reparata and the Delrons 1968 
32. He’s so fine- Chiffons 1963
31. No scrubs- TLC 1999
30. Where did our love go- Supremes 1964
29. Sweet talking guy- Chiffons 1966
28. Substitute- Clout 1978
27. Foolish little girl- Shirelles 1963 
26. I can never go home anymore- Shangri las 1965
25. Dancing in the street- Martha and the Vandellas 1964 
24. Don’t you love me - Eternal 1997
23. He’s the greatest dancer- Sister Sledge 1979
22. Survivor- Destiny’s Child 2001
21. Lady marmalade- La Belle 1975
20. One fine day- Chiffons 1963
19. You keep me hanging on- Supremes 1966
18. Past present future- Shangri Las 1966
17. Tell him- Exciters 1963
16. Then he kissed me- Crystals 1963
15. My boyfriend’s back- Angels 1963
14. Iko iko- Dixie cups 1965
13. Eternal flame- Bangles 1989
12. Da doo Ron Ron- Crystals 1963
11. Waterfalls- TLC 1995
10. Mr sandman- Chordettes 1954 
9. Overload- Sugababes 2000
 8. Boogie woogie bugle boy- Andrews Sisters 1941
7. You can’t hurry love- Supremes 1966
6. Never ever - All Saints 1997
5. Leader of the pack- Shangri Las 1964
4. Will you love me tomorrow- Shirelles 1961
3. Remember (walking in the sand) - Shangri Las 1964
2. He’s a rebel- Crystals 1962
1. Be my baby- Ronettes 1963
Former Ronettes singer Estelle Bennett dies at 67 | The ronettes ...

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Memories of Trinidad - 1996

In the last few months I've published my diary entries for some of my US trips in the late 1980s and '90s. This time I am turning to my diary of a different type of trip - to Trinidad, Tobago and Grenada in 1996. I travelled around the islands with a friend, Sarah Jane (SJ), who, as a Trini, was able to take me to parts of the islands that the tourists do not normally see. There was music as well, with Soca playing a big part along the way. Plenty of photos too, and I'm including some here.
'May 10. I’m on the flight to Tobago, having taken off one and a half hours late (caterers’ strike). Two interesting weeks ahead.  Well I certainly hit the ground running. SJ met me at the airport and we picked up a rickety jeep and went to the rented flat – surrounded by cockerels, goats, bread fruit and trees. We had a nice meal at the Peacock Inn, which was deserted. Then we went to a gig which was brilliant fun – reggae singer Eddie Lovette, soca star The Shadow and a strange crooner called Elvis Gaines. Hundreds of Tobagons celebrating Mothers Day and having a good time at the Golden Star. Back to the flat where there was a scorpion on the floor. After much jumping around the scorpion was squashed! Didn’t sleep much.
Steel band at Pigeon Point.
Audience at the Eddie Lovette/Shadow show.
May 11. Up early – my body clock was six hours out – and SJ cooked me breakfast. We went to Fort George near Scarborough which was pretty, then drove up the coast to Charlotteville at the north end for lunch. Drove down a really rough road in the north west of the island and found Jonathan’s (Coke-Smyth) uncle’s plantation. An English guy called Gordon was living there alone in a little house on the top of the cliffs slowly renovating the main house. Drove round the island along endless winding roads which disturbed SJ. Had an undistinguished and expensive meal in a touristy restaurant and then had an early night and slept much better.
May 12. Went to Pigeon Point and swam – very idyllic. Then to Stone Bay for a cheap local meal. There was a steel band playing. This part is being spoilt by development. Had an excellent meal in the evening at a place called Marcia’s where they played a great soul tape. Caught a crowded taxi to Scarborough to catch the overnight ferry.
May 13. Arrived ridiculously early in Port of Spain (4.30am). Waited around for ages and eventually had fish bake at the Breakfast Shed. Had a wash at the Holiday Inn and then sorted out travel arrangements at Navarros. We caught a crowded maxi taxi to Arima and then on to Cumuto where SJ’s friends Denise and William live in a wooden house in the middle of nowhere. William (Mr Lyrics) took me for an afternoon ‘liming’ at a camp in the woods with Mr John (a rasta), Mr Brown and Mr Malcolm. He was carrying a machete and a duck was killed Halal style and cooked with ‘provisions’. There was much fruit, beer and herbs and an impromptu game of cricket which broke the ice and they accepted this pale white guy into their group. All very different and fascinating. I had an appalling headache afterwards but I recovered – SJ had been in Port of Spain and came back in the evening.
Liming in the back woods in Trinidad.
May 14. A very hot sticky night on a mattress on the floor listening to the buzzing of mosquitos which bit me furiously.  Up early, having been bitten to death. We met SJ’s friend Mary in Arima and then went to the airport to catch the flight to Grenada. The house here is great, overlooking the Grand Anse beach which is beautiful and has many locals selling trinkets. I walked down to the beach for a quick swim while SJ watched music videos on TV. She cooked in the evening (blue marlin and bread fruit) and I had an early night.
May 15. Hired a jeep and went into St George’s, the capital. The whole island is beautiful and in the centre of town there is a branch of Barclays with a policeman outside directing the traffic. We had a rum punch at the Nutmeg bar overlooking the lovely bay and a roti there later and looked around the town. Later spent some time on the beach before coming back to the house. In the evening went to the Candoulet restaurant – a lovely place overlooking the harbour .

In Grenada: view of St George's; Barclays Bank (I was working in Barclays PR department in London at the time); Sarah Jane at the Nutmeg; and Esther and Sarah Jane at Grand Etang lake.
May 16. Went to see SJ’s cousin Esther, living in the hamlet of Mardigras, again  in the middle of nowhere. She was lively, good looking and very sexy. The three of us went into St George’s and then into the mountains to see the Allandale Falls and Grand Etang lake, then on to Grenville, a distinctly non touristy but colourful town for lunch. Kids were playing an impromptu game of cricket in the middle of the road. Back via terrible roads, picking up one of Esther’s friend en route who came for dinner.
May 17. Drove up the west side of the island (very pretty) to Sauteurs and Carib’s Leap, where the last of the native Caribs jumped to their deaths in 1651 to avoid capture by the French. Lazed on a beautiful beach for a couple of hours. On the way back stopped for a sandwich in Victoria. Later went into St George’s and I got a couple of reggae LPs and T shirts. In the evening had curried lambie (conch) at the Nutmeg and watched Miss Universe on TV.
May 18. Up early to prepare for leaving Grenada. The flight was late and then we had to wait for ages for the hire car. Drove to Cumuto to pick up our things, then to Sangre Grande to meet SJ’s friend Mary. Up the coast to find somewhere to stay – the planned place was no good, but eventually found a huge old place overlooking the sea in Rampranalgas on the wild and sparsely populated north east coast. I think we’ll be OK here. Tired after much driving. First we had to check in at the local police station for security reasons. The place was a wooden hut with huge moths flying around and the local policeman sitting on the verandah with his feet up.
Beach views during the trip, plus the beach house we stayed in at Rampranalgas.
May 19. Rather a frustrating day but had a quick swim at a nearby beach and then Mary and her estranged husband Rene and two kids arrived. After some food I drove to the beach at Sans Souci on the north coast with Rene and Ron and had a swim and a game of catch. Also looked at the lighthouse where the Caribbean meets the Atlantic. Limed around later and then did the interminable drive to Sangre Grande once again to take Mary home.
May 20. Up early to go to Port of Spain via SJ’s father’s house in Valencia and SJ’s friend Maurice. Got some cash and narrowly escaped having the car towed away, got my plane ticket to Tobago and had lunch at Wayne’s restaurant. Walked around POS for a bit and got some records at Rhyner’s Records, including a couple of soca LPs (such as the David Rudder one at the top). Saw the sights of the city and then drove to Sangre Grande in heavy rain where we met Liz for some food and SJ’s brother Robert and uncle Vernon. Eventually back to Rampranalgas.
May 21. It rained hard overnight so we’re having a lazy day at the house, SJ occasionally making phone calls about various work possibilities. The place stinks of the anti mosquito coils which are essential in these parts.
May 22. Drove to Port of Spain and parked the car at Wayne’s restaurant. I spent a couple of happy hours searching through the upstairs room at Rhyners’ which was packed with records (some of them quite rare UK issues) while SJ talked to prospective job people. Later walked around the Savannah taking photos of the big houses there. Went for a quiet meal at an upmarket place called Baba’s and then met another of SJ’s friends, Joy, on Brian Lara Promenade. We went to calypso night at the Mas Camp pub  - Bill Trotman (better known as Trinidad Bill), Mighty Conqueror, Fanny, Tigress, El Fousto – great fun and a really super evening. Sadly I’ve lost my voice. After the show we drove to TK’s by the sea at San Fernando for the night, arriving at 1.30am.
Calypso night in Port  of Spain: Bill Trotman (top) and Tigress (second from top). Not sure of the others but if anyone can name them please let me know in comments.
May 23. Last full day. Went to see the Pitch Lake – a geological oddity comprising a huge natural area of ashphalt in the south west of the island. Called in on a volleyball contact of SJ and bought a blender at a mall. Then to Sangre Grande and the beach at Manzanilla – very windy. Still no voice. Back to Rampranalgos to pack. Early night.
May 24. Back to reality. Up early, then to the airport via Cumutu. Fond farewells. I don’t know if I’ll be back but what a fortnight. Like no other I’ve ever experienced.'
The Pitch Lake.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Betty Wright RIP

As if this week could get any worse, we now hear of the death of Betty Wright at the age of just 66. Betty made some great records, including of course 'Clean Up Woman' and 'Tonight's The Night', but also many others from age 14 onwards. She was also a dynamic performer. She appeared at the Jazz Cafe and the Assembly Hall in Islington just seven months apart in 2012/13 and was great on both occasions. I wrote about these shows on The Vinyl Word at the time and, as a tribute, I am reproducing these reviews with some of the photos.
Of her Jazz Cafe show in July, 2012 I wrote:
'Betty Wright is one hell of a woman and a dynamic soul performer, as she showed at the Jazz Cafe last night. The Miami based singer had her first major hit Clean Up Woman over 40 years ago but she is still creating high class original music today: her recent album Betty Wright: The Movie, recorded with The Roots and featuring input from Joss Stone, Snoop Dogg and Lenny Williams among others, has picked up positive reviews.
Wearing a big Afro, short spangly dress and high heeled suede thigh boots, Betty stormed her way through a near two hour high energy set of new and old material. She has personality in spades and a great sense of humour. "Do I look like a male basher?" she asked. Well, yes, maybe!
Kicking off with her 1988 hit After The Pain she got the females in the audience going by urging them to join her in repeating "That's the way I like it."  She moved onto In The Middle Of The Game (Don't Change The Play), a track from The Movie album, before rocking into her 1974 UK hit Shoorah Shoorah, written by Allen Toussaint. After an exquisite version of Tonight Is The Night (allegedly about her first sexual experience) she told the story of how she had fought - and won - a legal battle when she found out it had been sampled in I Wanna Sex You Up by Color Me Bad and used in the movie New Jack City.
Betty slowed things down next with another track from her recent album -  Go - an emotional and intense song about domestic abuse. She seemed almost in tears as she acted out the fear and tension of being beaten by an abusive partner. Then it was back to the old days with a fantastic version of Clean Up Woman, with some James Brown style Licking Stick/Soul Power additions. Her last two numbers were her 80s hits Keep Love New and No Pain No Gain - both of them performed with great power and not a little humour. Her encore - a rather cacophonous tribute to Michael Jackson - was something of an anti climax, but overall this was a quite brilliant show, and definitely my gig of the year so far. Betty's backing band were excellent, as were her female vocal backing threesome, comprising her daughters.'
The following February she appeared in Islington and this is what I wrote:
'Just seven months after she stormed her way through a two hour set at the Jazz Cafe, Betty Wright was back in London last night, this time before a full house at the Islington Assembly Hall. It was another high energy set, with a mix of well known and not so familiar songs, and she bounded around the stage singing at full voice, occasionally emitting a high pitched squeal, with fine backing from her band and backing singers. The Afro hair-do we saw last time was replaced by long braids and this time she wore a spangly green top. The audience comprised a high proportion of black females who clearly loved her full-on 'women in charge' approach and knew her records by heart. Betty responded with a classy and hugely enjoyable set.
I'm not sure of the name of her first, eighties style soul number, (maybe someone can let me know), but she moved on to the disco flavoured Sinderella and then to one of the crowd favourites, After The Pain. Next was her up tempo early seventies hit Secretary (a number she didn't sing last time), followed by the slower Thank You For The Many Things You Do, her big New Orleans style hit Shoorah Shoorah and Keep Love New, a hit for her in the eighties. An extended 15 minute version of Tonight Is The Night followed - to the delight of women in the audience, with some mid-song rapping, excursions into I'll Take You There and even a bit of on-stage drumming, before moving on to her classic Clean Up Woman, which once again went down a storm. Finally it was another crowd favourite No Pain No Gain and then what seemed to be an impromptu encore of Smother Me With Your Love.
Betty has been around for 47 years and it's a mark of how successful she has been over the years that most of the audience weren't even born when her career started. Last night's show was sold out and she is scheduled to appear again tomorrow. She's welcome in London any time.
RIP Betty. You will be missed and the world is the poorer for your loss.

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Little Richard - the greatest of them all. RIP

It's no exaggeration to say that Little Richard, in his prime, was the most exciting live act I've ever seen. He toured the UK several times in the early sixties, not least when he came over with Sam Cooke in 1962 and I had the good fortune to meet them both backstage and get their autographs. If only I had had a camera!
Now he's died at the age of 87. It's a good age and until a few years ago he was still a great performer, if somewhat whimsical at times. His act could include anything from 'Tutti Frutti' and 'Long Tall Sally' - probably the best double sided record ever to be cut - to 'Incy Wincy Spider Climbed Up the Spout'. Richard Penniman will rightly receive many plaudits in obituaries over the next few days and I won't attempt to cover his amazing life story in detail here. In fact, you could do a lot worse than read Red Kelly's biographical entry on 'The B Side' from 2007.
Richard was the original king (or queen) of rock and roll and the excitement he brought to his records and live performances was unmatched, even by the likes of Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. In the late fifties it was quite hard to get opportunities to hear his records unless you had enough money to buy them new,. I was too young to have that sort of cash, so much of my Little Richard education was gained at the local fair where the likes of 'Keep A Knocking', 'Ooh My Soul' and 'The Girl Can't Help It' were blasted through the speakers. A few years later, after his religious period, he returned to touring and I saw him several times in the UK and these visits continued sporadically for many years after that on 'Giants of Rock and Roll' package shows. Richard would never miss the opportunity to distribute religious pamphlets on these occasions.
There will never be another Little Richard: he broke down so many barriers in terms of race and sexual orientation as well as musically. His music will last forever and will never become stale. RIP Richard.
Here's the autograph I got at Tooting Granada in 1962, and, although not really an album artist, some of his early LPs, which I still play regularly to this day.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Farewell to Millie and Bobby

The lack of gigs and music festivals has meant that there is little positive to write about music-wise. Car boots and charity shops are closed, as are record shops, so on-line is the only way of buying records these days. Fortunately I have plenty of records to listen to - enough for a few more months, if not years, of lock down (let's hope not).
Music deaths continue however, the latest being Millie Small, at the age of 73, whose 1964 hit 'My Boy Lollipop' brought ska to the consciousness of everyone. Born in Clarendon, Jamaica, Millie's high pitched voice could first be heard on duets with Owen Gray and Roy Panton on Coxsone Dodd's Studio One label.She came to the attention of Chris Blackwell who brought her to the UK where she enjoyed almost immediate success with her second Fontana release 'My Boy Lollipop', arranged by Ernest Ranglin. Follow ups included 'Sweet William' and the Marv Johnson cover 'I Love The Way You Love' but later releases were less successful. Her career got a boost in the late sixties with the emergence of reggae and she had several LPs released on Trojan, including a mix of solo songs and duets with Jackie Edwards. Sadly Millie's career faded and by 1987 she admitted to a journalist that she was destitute. Eventually she was recognised by the Jamaican government who awarded an Order of Distinction but in the UK, where she lived for most of her life, she was largely forgotten until she gave her first in-depth interview to US journalist Tom Graves in 2016.
Another recent death is that of Bobby Lewis, at the impressive age of 95. Originally from Indianapolis he moved to Detroit aged 12 before running away from a foster home two years later. He made a record for Chess in 1952 - 'Mumbles Blues' - and was managed for a while by Nat Parnopol, who later managed Jackie Wilson. Bobby 's recording of 'Tossin' and Turnin' for the Beltone label was the biggest US hit of 1961, spending seven weeks at number one. Follow ups included 'One Track Mind' (a personal favourite of mine), 'I'm Tossin' and Turnin' Again' and 'What A Walk'. By this time Bobby was almost blind and the demise of Beltone in 1963 began a steady decline in record sales. I was lucky enough, however, to see Bobby perform at Viva Las Vegas in 2015 alongside Eugene Pitt of the Jive Five and Herb Cox of the Cleftones. Aged 90 at the time, he had to be helped to the stage and lifted by two security men when he stood to sing, but he gave it his all on his two biggest hits and 'I'm So Glad I'm Living In the USA'.

Other recent deaths include;
Dave Greenfield
, keyboard player with The Stranglers, who has died of COVID 19 aged 71. His playing on such records as 'Golden Brown' helped make The Stranglers one of the most accomplished punk bands of the late seventies and eighties.
Tony Allen was a Nigerian drummer who played with Fela Kuti's band and was one of the founders of Afrobeat.
Alfred 'Uganda' Roberts was a New Orleans drummer who recorded at Allen Toussaint's Sea-Saint studio on records by The Meters and Allen Toussaint and also performed with Professor Longhair, Willie Tee and the Wild Magnolias.
The Vinyl Word raises a glass to them all.
Music deaths come thick and fast these days and now it's the turn of Florian Schneider, one of the founder members, along with Ralf Hutter, of the German electronic music group Kraftwerk. I was a huge fan of the group in the seventies - still am - and greatly enjoyed their classic albums, from 'Autobahn' in 1974, through 'Radio-Activity'. 'Trans Europe Express', 'The Man Machine' and 'Computer World'. German precision at its finest. Florian is top centre in the album cover photo below.