Saturday, March 27, 2021

Howard Grimes - the Bulldog's story

Howard Grimes is one of the greatest drummers of all time and his metronomic backing behind Memphis artists such as Al Green, Syl Johnson and O V Wright is instantly recognisable. He was nicknamed the Bulldog by Willie Mitchell, who said 'When a bulldog get mad, you hear him knockin’ over shit, he don’t want to be bothered. I can hear you comin’, Howard, I know when you’re comin’, you put that foot down and clamp on that beat.' His autobiography 'Timekeeper: My Life In Rhythm', written with Preston Lauterbach (whose earlier book 'The Chitlin Circuit' is essential reading for lovers of soul and R and B) is due out in July. Howard's drumming career goes back to the earliest days of Stax and he played on such classic tracks as 'Gee Whiz' by Carla Thomas and 'You Don't Miss Your Water' by William Bell, but it's his work with Willie Mitchell at Hi that really made its mark. He played on Willie's 'Soul Serenade' and on tracks such as 'A Nickel and Nail' and 'Ace of Spades' by OV Wright - a man who he describes as the 'the finest vocalist I ever worked with'. He was the man keeping the beat on Ann Peebles' 'I Can't Stand The Rain', Denise Lasalle's 'Trapped By A Thing Called Love', 'Get Your Lie Straight' by Bill Coday and 'We Did It' by Syl Johnson. But it was his work behind Al Green, for whom he shared the drum kit with his friend Al Jackson, that he is perhaps best known. 'Tired Of Being Alone', 'Take Me To The River' and 'Love and Happiness' all featured Howard's drum work. Howard presents a gritty account of his life in Memphis, with violence, drugs and women problems never far away. He is less than complimentary at times about Al Green and Hi Records guitarist Teenie Hodges and even Willie Mitchell. He recalls how Johnny Baylor, who managed Luther Ingram and who screwed Isaac Hayes over after he had brought him into Stax, took a shine to him when he visited Hi and gave him his card, saying 'I Kill For A Living'. Memphis was a violent town. Howard's brother was murdered as was Al Jackson. And then Willie sold Hi Records and Howard was out of a job. His marriage had broken down and he became homeless. Howard says that despite problems between them Al Green did what he could to help and he says OV Wright never turned against him. He played with OV in Japan, but OV's drug and alcohol problems worsened and he died two years later. By the end Willie had to carry him into the studio to do his sessions, he recalls. Racism was another problem and he recalls a tour he made with Paul Revere and the Raiders when singer Mark Lindsay refused to perform because of racism towards Howard. Howard eventually found happiness with a new wife and his belief in God. The Hi Rhythm Section got back together in a tribute to O V Wright in 2009 with Otis Clay and the Masqueraders singing his songs. They played at the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans and he was invited by keyboard player Archie Turner, known as Hubbie, to play at Wild Bill's juke joint in Memphis. Hubbie introduced him to Scott Bomar who had formed the Bo-Keys with former Stax and Hi musicians. Howard says: 'I’m not angry with Stax. I’m not angry with Hi. But Scott Bomar at Electraphonic is the only person who’s ever paid me right.' His final words: 'When Elvis lifted Memphis music, we already had so much to work with. Nightclubs were full of talent. The schools developed talent. The fans wanted to come out and hear the best. That already existed before the big business side of things happened. Elvis’s hit records inspired studios to open up. Those studios found their own sounds, and made their own artists. The money and success that followed ended up being bad for the music. Greed, corruption, and violence killed us. It killed Al Jackson Jr. It killed Stax. It killed Hi Records. If we could have stayed on peace and togetherness, we’d still be on top.' The photo below shows Howard during one of the interview sessions at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2015 when he played with other members of the Hi Rhythm Section.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Ray Campi RIP

Ray Campi, often called the 'King of Rockabilly' has died at the age of 86. Born in New York, he moved to Austin as a child and made his first record in 1956. I visited his bungalow in Los Angeles in 2014 and Ray was a superb host, making us feel very much at home. Here's what I wrote at the time. 'One of many highlights of my recent US trip was a visit to the Los Angeles home of the King of Texas Rockabilly Ray Campi. The visit was thanks to the Jive Aces, who extended their invitation to his house to John Howard, Paul Waring, Gordon Fleming and myself. Ray turned 80 a few days before our visit, but he is still rocking. Next month he appears at the Ink-N-Iron festival in Long Beach with a diverse line-up, including the Buzzcocks, Merle Haggard, the Damned, Wanda Jackson, the Skatalites and Si Cranstoun.
Ray was an excellent host at his modest bungalow, happily showing us his music and film posters and mementos of a career that actually  stretches back to the age of one, when he appeared on an advertising poster. Over the years he has recorded cassette interviews with dozens of Hollywood figures which really should be transcribed and published.  His musical career dates back to 1956 when he recorded Caterpillar for the TNT label, which was followed by 45s for Dot, Domino, D, Verve and Colpix, but his career really took off in the 1970s, when, after many years as a teacher, he was rediscovered by Ronny Weiser, owner of Rollin' Rock Records. and recorded some great rockabilly tracks, including Rockin' At The Ritz and Tore Up. Over the last 20 years or so Ray has been a regular visitor to the UK and other European countries, playing his.exciting brand of rockabilly, and his white stand up bass has become a trademark.
In 1959 Ray recorded the first tributes to Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper shortly after their deaths, backed by the Bopper's band, and he has recently re-recorded these tracks - Ballad of Donna and Peggy Sue and The Man I Met - with his long time piano player Rip Masters. He was good enough to give each of us a signed copy.'
Photos show Ray at home and at Viva Las Vegas in 2018 and 2019.
Another recent death is that of Trevor Peacock.Best known for his role in 'The Vicar of Dibley', he made a record in 1961, a cover of Ral Donner's 'I Didn't Fugure On Him To Come Back'. We also say a fond and sad goodbye to my friend Pierre Baroni, a top photographer, DJ and radio announcer in Melbourne, Australia, who has died of pancreatic cancer. I got to know Pierre on one of our many visits to New Orleans in 2008 and drove him, along with my late girlfriend Maxine to Memphis, where we spent a great evening at Wild Bill's. We met subsequently on other trips to New Orleans for the Ponderosa Stomp and my photo shows us at DBA in 2013.

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Chris Barber and Bunny Wailer RIP

Two towering figures in music have died in the last day or so. Chris Barber's love of jazz made him one of the key figures in the development of music in the UK from the time he bought his first trombone in the late forties. His New Orleans style band had enormous success and started the trad boom, as well as enjoying success both in the UK and the US with 'Petite Fleur'. But he also led the way to the the emergence of rock and roll in the UK with his encouragement and support of Lonnie Donegan, the banjo player in his band, who personified the rise of skiffle. Chris made sure that skiffle featured heavily in the band's sets and played bass with Lonnie on his early hits such as 'Rock Island Line' and 'Lost John'. It was Chris who arranged for blues artists such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Muddy Waters and Memphis Slim to visit the UK, which led to the R and B boom in the sixties. Chris's love of New Orleans music led to him recording with Dr John and I remember him playing trombone in Dr John's band on my first visit to JazzFest in 1989. His death at the age of 90 brings an end to a story that has been central to the UK music scene for over seven decades. His career is well documented in Pete Frame's excellent book 'The Restless Generation'. May be Rest In Peace.
The second music great to have passed on at the young age of 73 is Bunny Wailer (Livingstone), an original member of the Wailers along with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. Bunny's father lived with Bob Marley's mother in Trench Town so they were close from an early age. When they met up with Peter Tosh via reggae pioneer Joe Higgs to form the Wailers they went on to become the first global reggae band, beginning with their debut album 'The Wailing Wailers' in 1965. They signed with Johnny Nash's JAD label and Bunny sang lead on occasions showing off his roots reggae vocal style but was mostly in the background on their recordings. After recording 'Burnin' for Chris Blackwell's Island label, on which he sang lead on two numbers, he left the Wailers in 1973, along with Peter Tosh, and began a solo career. He had success with 'Blackheart Man' and formed his own Solomonic label, recording albums such as 'Protest', 'Struggle', 'Rock n Groove' and 'Roots, Radics, Rockers, Reggae'. He went on to win three Grammy Awards for albums recorded in the nineties.