Saturday, November 28, 2020

Spine tingling moments - Part three

Back in 2003 I wrote a piece listing 20 'spine tingling moments' - 20 gigs or music experiences that sent a shiver down the spine. The earliest of these was the Sam Cooke/Little Richard show in 1962 and the latest Roscoe Gordon at the Jazz Cafe in 2001. The list was published in the Tales From The Woods magazine at the time and later appeared in the Vinyl Word on January 29 and February 1, 2008. (check 'em out!)

With no live gigs this year my thoughts have turned to choosing 20 spine tinglers that I've experienced since I compiled my original list. Some of these were brilliant at the time, others featured artists who I thought I would never see in my life, while some of the shows were by artists who were at the end of their careers, perhaps past their best but who it was still a privilege to see. So here, again in two parts, are my 'spine tingling moments' over the last 15 or so years.

21. Phil Phillips, Ponderosa Stomp, 2005. This was my first visit to the Stomp, which took place in the old Rock 'n' Bowl that year, and was full of interest and excitement. Link Wray, who died soon afterwards, was incredibly loud, Blowfly was obscene and many others were great, including Scotty Moore, H Bomb Ferguson and Brenton Wood to name but a few. But Phil's act was truly spine tingling. He clearly hadn't performed much in recent years and he sang his big hit 'Sea Of Love' not once but twice. It was somehow magical as he stood stock still and sang his heart out. The audience was mesmerised.

Phil Phillips.

22. Pinetop Perkins, Hopson Plantation, Clarksdale, 2005. Later on in this trip I was in Memphis and rented a car to drive down to the Hopson Plantation, just outside Clarksdale, with Alan Lloyd and Ken Major. The occasion was Pinetop's homecoming: an annual event to mark Pinetop's return to the place where he had been a tractor driver before joining Muddy Waters' band and launching his solo career. There was plenty of blues to be heard, but not by Pinetop himself. He explained that it was a Sunday, and his pa had warned him never to perform on a Sunday. Later we went to Red's juke joint for the first time - the first of many enjoyable visits - and a few years later I stayed in one of the visitor shacks at Hopson's.

Ken Major, me and Pinetop.

23. Allen Toussaint, Jazz Cafe, 2006. I've seen Allen Toussaint many times over the years. Always dapper his piano playing was sublime and of course his song writing was second to none. One of the great memories I have of him was when he guested at Irma Thomas's Lion's Den club in New Orleans in the early nineties, but this show at the Jazz Cafe showed him at his best. He had recently recorded an album with Elvis Costello and was enjoying great success. Relaxed, smooth and always looking very fit, it was a shock when he died suddenly in Madrid whilst on a European tour in 2015.

Allen Toussaint.

24. Ike Turner, Jazz Cafe, 2007. Ike was arrogant, ruthless, probably abusive towards Tina, but he was a true original and a great musician. His recording of  'Rocket 88' is often named as the first true rock and roll record. I saw him a number of times in London, including Ronnie Scott's and Shepherds Bush Empire, where he appeared with Joe Louis Walker. The show at the Jazz Cafe was one of his last as he died later that year, His voice had gone but as a keyboard player and guitarist he was still good and his band was excellent.

Ike Turner.

25. Dion, The Metro, Oxford Street, 2007. I've always been a fan of Dion and his under the radar acoustic show at this small central London venue was quite a surprise. He was promoting his blues album 'Son of Skip James' and showed that he had lost none of his vocal ability. I first saw Dion when he toured with Del Shannon in 1962 and the most recent show I saw was at Viva Las Vegas in 2015. On every occasion he was brilliant but this London show in 2007 was possibly the most memorable of the lot.


26. Betty Harris, Old Point Bar, Algiers, 2008. I had never been to this old fashioned place across the Mississippi in New Orleans before, but it was perfect for this low key show featuring one of the greats of New Orleans soul. 'Cry To Me' and 'Nearer To You were among the numbers that Betty sang to great effect. I was with my late girlfriend Maxine on that trip and we met up there with a group of Aussie DJs, including Pierre Baroni, who I've stayed in touch with ever since (although only meeting in the US). Betty performed at Porretta in 2007, the Stomp in 2008 and the 100 Club in 2017 and was due another visit this year I believe. Hopefully I will see her perform again.

Betty Harris.

27. ? and the Mysterians, Ponderosa Stomp, House of Blues, New Orleans, 2008. Another Stomp and another stellar line up, including Barbara Lynn, William Bell, Ronnie Spector and many others. The highlight though, for me, was Question Mark and the Mysterians, an act I thought I would never get to see live and who appeared so late in the proceedings that many people had gone to bed by then. He and the band were worth staying up for and it was fantastic to hear '96 Tears' performed by the original singer. Question Mark 'dashed around the stage wearing an outrageous orange frilly top' I wrote at the time. A great showman.

Question Mark.

28. Alton Ellis, Jazz Cafe, 2008. The 'king of rock steady' made his final appearance just two months before he died. He looked very smart in a white suit and hat and was fine as he ran through some of back catalogue, but handed over after a while to his son as he left the stage claiming tiredness after a hectic touring schedule. He reappeared for a couple of numbers to great applause but it was clear he wasn't 100 per cent. Great to see him though.

Alton Ellis.

29. Spencer Wiggins, Porretta Soul Festival, 2009. Porretta has never failed to live up to its potential with many appearances by soul singers who I had never seen before. One such was Goldwax recording artists Spencer Wiggins - a singer who I had admired ever since those great Memphis recordings first appeared in the 60s. Spencer's brother Percy, who was also at Porretta, had appeared with the Bo kays at the Stomp the previous year, but it seemed Spencer was only singing gospel these days and seemed unlikely to perform. When he did he showed that his voice was as pure as ever - and his numerous false endings to his classic 'Uptight Good Woman' got the hairs on the back of my neck standing up.

Spencer Wiggins, me and Percy Wiggins.

30. Sharon Jones, Festival Louisianne, Lafayette, 2010. Sharon's exciting stage act made her a must see act when she appeared on the scene with the Dap-Kings in 2002. Her performance at Lafayette was dynamic and energetic and showed that there was much to be enjoyed in the world of retro soul. Later, in 2011, she appeared with fellow Daptone artists Charles Bradley at the Barbican in London, but sadly Sharon died in 2016 and Charles Bradley passed away the following year. So many great artists have passed away including many this year (more of which later).

Sharon Jones.
'Spine tinglers' part four will follow soon.

Saturday, November 07, 2020

Johnny Marvel's Blues Groove - 'Live At The Tea Bar'

This year has been a disaster so far as live music is concerned. Since my trip to the Rockin' Race in Spain in February I haven't been to a single gig. And there's nothing on the horizon it seems as the virus shows no sign of going away. It's great, therefore, to get the opportunity to listen to a live LP recording - on vinyl no less -  of Johnny Marvel's Blues Groove recorded live at the Tea Bar in Basingstoke (Johnny Rock Records).

Johnny Marvel, the band's singer and harmonica player, is well known to Woodies and others as John McGarvey and I've spent many happy hours in his company, along with his dad Seamus, at festivals as far afield as Blackpool, New Orleans, Porretta and Detroit. The nine piece band that he leads plays fairly regularly around the Basingstoke area and is immersed in blues, soul and New Orleans funk. Members are Phil 'Houndog' Howe on guitar, Lofty Spires on guitar and backing vocals, Dan Leese on keyboards, Tom Prince on bass, Matt Alexander on drums, Miguel 'All The Way From Venezuela' on percussion and the 'Cream Horns', featuring Andy Kennedy on saxophone and and Colin Berry on trumpet.. Together they make a groovy and powerful sound and the record captures the atmosphere of their show perfectly.

The album is an excellent representation of blues, soul and funk. Kicking off with Willie Dixon's 'I'm Ready' side one continues with a lively version of Leiber and Stoller's 'Love Potion No 9', which merges into 'Evil Ways'. Aretha's 'I Never Loved A Woman' follows and side one ends with an excitingly bluesy version of the Box Tops' 'The Letter'. Clarence Carter's 'Snatching It Back' opens side two, followed by Georgie Fame's 'Somebody Stole My Thunder'. 'The Next Time', a funky original number written by John, follows and the album ends with a glorious New Orleans celebration incorporating 'Hey Pocky Way and 'Iko Iko'. There's some superb keyboard work and great support from the horns is what is an impressive debut album.

Altogether this is an exciting first LP by a local band who deserve to be better known. I'm sure that, like the rest of us, they can't want to get back to performing live on a regular basis. And I look forward to seeing them again, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Friday, November 06, 2020

More music deaths including Len Barry

Not being a great fan of progressive rock I never paid too much attention to Uriah Heap, although various of their LPs have passed through my hands (and onto Ebay) over the years. I was therefore unaware until reading up on the life of guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Ken Hensley, who has died aged 75, that prior to Heap he was a member of two bands whose LPs are now highly collectable - The Gods and Head Machine - examples of which I picked up for next to nothing in charity shops a few years back.
Hensley founded the Gods in 1965 with future Rolling Stone Mick Taylor (another member was Greg Lake). The band recorded two LPs, including 'To Samuel A Son', and several singles before breaking up and a third LP featuring Hensley was later released under the name of 'Orgasm' by Head Machine. All three albums were produced by David Paramor. Hensley briefly joined Cliff Bennett's new band Toefat before joining prog rock band Spice, which changed its name to Uriah Heap in 1970. Hensley was the main songwriter with the band and Uriah Heap had great success in the seventies with albums such as 'Very 'Eavy ...Very 'Umble', 'Salisbury', 'Demons and Wizards' and 'The Magician's Birthday'. After leaving Uriah Heap in 1980 Hensley formed Shotgun and then moved to the US where he joined the hard rock band Blackfoot. Based in St Louis in semi retirement he recorded from time to time with WASP and Cinderella and took part in a Uriah Heap reunion in 2000. He recorded a solo album called 'Running Blind' in 2002 and was subsequently involved in various Uriah Heap related projects.

Another recent death is that of Bishop Rance Allen, (71) whose gospel group based in Ohio made many exciting recordings for Stax. Rance had an extraordinary vocal range which is shown to good effect on tracks such as 'Showdown' and 'I Got To Be Myself'. Rance's group featured in the movie Wattstax in 1972. I never got to see them live but by all accounts the Rance Allen Group's live act was superb.

The recent deaths of Jerry Jeff Walker and Johnny Bush have been something of a body blow for the Texas based 'outlaw' scene. Now a third singer/song writer of the genre has died - Billy Joe Shaver, at the age of 81. His song writing led to an album of his songs being recorded by Waylon Jennings and others such as Elvis and Kris Kristofferson also recorded his material. His own albums, recorded from 1973 onwards, included 'Old Five and Dimers Like Me', 'When I Get My Wings', 'Gypsy Boy' and 'Salt Of The Earth'.
The latest death is that of the great Len Barry, one of the best blue eyed soul singers of the sixties. He was lead singer of the Dovells, whose smash Cameo Parkway hits included 'Bristol Stomp', 'Hully Gully Baby', 'You Can't Sit Down' and 'Bristol Twistin' Annie'. When he went solo with US Decca he had a huge hit with '1-2-3' (a number one hit on my personal top ten) and followed up with another big hit in 'Like A Baby'. Other solo 45s included 'Somewhere', 'It's That Time Of The Year', 'I Struck It Rich' and, after moving to RCA, 'The Moving Finger Writes' - all of them excellent records.
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