Friday, August 19, 2016

Blues artists hit by Louisiana floods

My heart goes out to Louisiana residents who, yet again, have suffered severe flooding.The state is well used to flooding and songs like Randy Newman's Louisiana 1927 are testament to that scourge.This time it is Baton Rouge that has suffered worst, rather than New Orleans, but it seems that there has been little media coverage of this disaster, certainly not in the UK, but also in the US. Barack Obama has not paid a visit, although Donald Trump is threatening to go and no doubt do some electioneering.
A number of blues artists have suffered badly as a result of the floods. Singer and piano player Henry Gray (pictured at the 2005 Ponderosa Stomp), now aged 91, has reportedly lost everything. Bluesman Bob Corritore is raising money to help him. Larry Garner's home has been affected, and members of the Neal family, including Kenny, Darnell and Darlene, have also been badly hit.
I will be in Louisiana soon visiting the Blues and Barbecue Festival in New Orleans and also staying in Lafayette, and I can only hope that conditions have improved by then. But it's time that the US authorities and media took the situation seriously and provided more help for the victims.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Ernie Johnson's Blues Bash

Guest contributor Noah Schaffer reports on what sounds like a great show at R.L.’s Blues Palace II, Dallas, TX. 
The recent deaths of B.B. King and Bobby “Blue” Bland didn’t just mean the conclusion of their storied careers. It also meant the end of two of the last touring blues big bands.
Thankfully soul-blues belter Ernie Johnson is keeping the flame alive with his Ernie Johnson Show, a 9-piece orchestra that frequently performs around the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. 
Johnson’s discography dips back to 1968’s 'Lovin' You' and includes Southern soul hits on Jewel and Malaco in the 90’s. For his birthday Johnson puts on an annual show at R.L.’s Blues Palace, which surely ranks as one of the greatest juke joints in the United States. Owner R.L. Griffin, who also has several rare 45s to his credit, hosts local and national blues and Southern soul talent every Friday through Sunday night. The club is especially known for its late-night Hen Call, where the band breaks into a Bo Diddley beat while ladies of all sizes climb on stage to shake their booty. 
The venue’s fine house band was given the night off so the Ernie Johnson Show could be showcased all night. The band started off with an instrumental before 25-year bandleader and guitarist Sam Honey was showcased. 
Next up was a raunchy set from Lady Lotion, whose own booty shaking didn’t overshadow the fact that she’s a singer of great depth and emotion. During a short break a DJ entertained the full house with a set of popular line dance tunes and current Southern soul hits like Pokey Bear’s “Sidepiece.” (Pokey Bear will surely fill the Blues Palace when he sings there next month.) 
Soon it was showtime, with the birthday boy taking the stage for originals like the pleading “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” A tribute to his friend Bobby “Blue” Bland followed, featuring cameos from soul luminaries in the audience who included Vernon Garrett, Rue Davis and, most emotionally, an ailing Big Charles Young, who passed away a few weeks later.
Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” found Johnson roaming the audience before he returned to originals with the title track of his “I’m the One You Need” LP and the masterpiece 'Loves on the Other Line.'  The night ended with Johnson’s two trademarks: the upbeat anthem “It’s Party Time” and his oft-requested version of Otis Redding's 'Dreams to Remember'. Johnson’s next high-profile appearance will be as part of the spectacular lineup on offer at Austin’s East Side Kings Festival on Sept. 11.

Friday, August 12, 2016

And now, Ruby Wilson

Fresh on the news that Ruby Winters has died comes news that another Ruby, the Queen of Beale Street, Ruby Wilson, has died aged 68. Although born in Texas, Ruby moved to Memphis aged 16 and became a regular performer on Beale Street. She was a superb blues singer who appeared regularly at B B King's club on Beale and at festivals throughout the US. She also had roles in several movies, including The Chamber, The People vs Larry Flint, Cookie's Fortune and Black Snake Moan. She suffered a stroke in 2009 but continued to perform and I saw her a number of times in recent years, including at the New Orleans Jazzfest in 2013 (pictured above), when she performed a tribute to Bessie Smith, and, most recently, at Ground Zero in Clarksdale in October 2014, where she was a guest performer with Super Chickan. Despite her disability she always looked glamorous and her voice was as strong as ever.
Below are a couple of photos at Ground Zero, including one with me. RIP Ruby (both of them),

Ruby Winters RIP

It's been reported that soul singer Ruby Winters has passed away at the age of 69. Born in Kentucky,
Ruby's first success was on a duet with Johnny Thunder in 1967 with Make Love To Me. She recorded several records for the Diamond label including I Want Action/ Better, which was released in the UK on Stateside  and became a highly collectable Northern soul favourite. Other Diamond releases included Always David (written by Dan Penn and Eddie Hinton), I Don't Want To Cry and Guess Who. After several less successful records for other labels she recorded I Will, a song that had been recorded earlier by Vic Dana in 1962 and Billy Fury two years later, which became a surprise top ten hit in the UK on the Creole label in 1977. She followed it up with another UK top 20 hit with Come To Me and had smaller hits with I Won't Mention It Again and Baby Lay Down.
Another recent death is that of producer and songwriter Leo Graham who was closely involved with many records by Tyrone Davis and the Manhattans. He wrote one of Tyrone's biggest hits, Turning Point.
It's farewell also to Bonnie Brown, a member of The Browns, who are best known for the 1959 hit The Three Bells. Other records included Scarlet Ribbons, The Old Lamp Lighter and Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Memphis '98

Following my last blog entry about the death of William Brown of the Mad Lads, I've been going through photos of my trip to Memphis in 1998, my second time there. It was the first time that I got to see the great Bobby Rush in action. He was at the Daisy Theatre on Beale Street and in those days he had four girl dancers. His act was rude, lewd and thoroughly enjoyable - just as it still is to day. Here are a couple of photos of him at the Daisy.
I drove up to Memphis from New Orleans with John Howard and we made our way to the Rum Boogie Cafe on Beale, where James Govan was in residence. Here he is in action.
While we were there we went to a reception ahead of the Handy Awards attended by Otis Clay among others. The Handy Awards themselves featured Ruth Brown and Robert Cray as joint hosts. The highlights of a fabulous evening included a duet with Keb Mo and Honey Boy Edwards, a great set by Johnny Adams (the last time I saw him before he died) and a wonderful duet with Bonnie Raitt and Rufus Thomas. Later we went to a blues club called the Junkyard where Kevin Kimbrough, son of bluesman Junior Kimbrough, was playing. We also went to the Beale Street festival where the stars included the Holmes Brothers, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Ruby Wilson, Shirley Caesar, the Doobie Brothers, Bonnie Raitt, the Jelly Roll Kings, the Neville Brothers, J Blackfoot, Steve Earle and Robert Cray, plus Anson Funderburg and Sam Myers (pictured). 
While we were in town we had a burger at Sun Studios Cafe (Jon Cleary was there) and also made our way to Al Green's church. We sat listening to the gospel music at the service for a couple of hours, while the collection plate came round several times, before they announced that the Reverend Green would not be there today!
One of the highlights, as already mentioned, was our visit to Royal Studios. Willie Mitchell was sitting at the entrance with his feet up. He was very welcoming and we went through to the recording studio with Donnie Mitchell where William Brown showed us around, before Otis Clay walked in with Scott Billington. Here's a photo of me with Willie Mitchell.
While we were at the Rum Boogie Cafe we bumped into Lee Wilkinson, Tony Papard and Keith Woods, Here they are with John Howard (left) and another guy we were chatting to.
At that time Stax Studios was just a memory, having been demolished. The only indication of where it had been was this marker. Thankfully the Stax Museum is now keeping its memory alive.
Finally, here's one of me at the Levitt Shell in Overton Park where Elvis made many appearances and which still hosts music concerts today.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Danny Rivers RIP

Very sorry to hear of the death of Danny Rivers, a mainstay of many Tales From The Woods shows over the last decade. Born in Liverpool in 1942, he grew up in London and was discovered by Larry Parnes and Joe Meek at the age of 18. He toured with Johnny Burnette and many other big names of the day and appeared on the Wham TV show. Danny recorded some good quality rock and roll singles for Top Rank (produced by Dick Rowe), Decca and HMV (produced by Joe Meek) during the early sixties, all of which are now quite collectable. He was asked to perform at the first 2 Is show by Keith Woods and became a regular, appearing at the Rockin' at the 2 Is show in 2007, Rockin' At The TV Hop in 2008, and at smaller shows at the Water Rats in Kings Cross and at pubs in the West End and Ladbroke Grove, among others. Sporting jet black hair, his voice was well suited to Elvis numbers and he was particularly good on Little Sister. In the 2014 Tribute To Joe Meek show however, (see photo above) he varied his repertoire. I wrote at the time: 'Trying different material, with a Joe Meek connection, was Danny Rivers, who usually sticks to Elvis style numbers. This time he began with his jazzy Top Rank debut single Hawk and continued with some early recordings of his, including I'm Waiting For Tomorrow, Can You Hear My Heart, My Baby's Gone Away, We're Gonna Dance and the excellent Movin' On. Great to hear him sing his original numbers which showed what potential he had in his early days and what a good voice he continues to possess.'  Danny was one of the nicest guys around and it's a real shame that he's passed on.
Two more Memphis musicians have also died in the last week or so. William Brown, who has died aged 69, was a founder member of the Mad Lads who recorded some great tracks for Stax during the late sixties, including Don't Have To Shop Around, I Want Someone, I Want A Girl and Patch My Heart. He went on to become a studio engineer at Stax (he was involved in Isaac Hayes's Shaft), Ardent and Royal Studios in Memphis. I well remember the occasion in 1998 when John Howard and I called into Royal Studios on spec, to be greeted at the door by Willie Mitchell himself. Willie introduced us to William who went out of his way to show us around the studio, playing some recently recorded gospel music. A delightful and very friendly guy. Then who should walk in but Otis Clay, accompanied by Scott Billington, for a recording session. A memorable visit.
Another Memphis musician who has died is Lewis Steinberg, at the age of 82, who was the original bass player with Booker T and the MGs and played on Green Onions. He played on the first two Booker T LPs, Green Onions and Soul Dressing, and as part of the Stax house band, also played behind various other artists inclusing Otis Redding.
Thanks to Harry Grundy for alerting me to news of the death of Pat Upton, lead singer of Spiral Staircase, best known for their 1969 US hit I Love You More Today Than Yesterday.
Another important music figure who has died is Gary S Paxton, 77, who produced two of the best
novelty hits of the early sixties - Alley Oop and Monster Mash. Gary was Flip in Skip and Flip, who had success with It Was I, Fancy Nancy and Cherry Pie. He became an important, if rather weird, producer in LA and was involved with the Association, Paul Revere and the Raiders and Tommy Roe among others. Later he moved into the country field in Bakersfield and then into the gospel field, having become a born again Christian. He was shot by a country singer who he had upset, nearly ending his life, but he survived and continued to produce records.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

More photos from Porretta

Here are some more photos from this year's Porretta Soul Festival, including several taken at the launch of Bobby Rush's new CD Porcupine Meat at the Helvetia Hotel on Sunday. Bobby was with producer Scott Billington and played several tracks, which sounded well worth a listen, including a timely song about the unfairness of the US justice system when dealing with African Americans. Bobby described himself as 'a blues man with a funky beat' and explained that porcupine meat is 'too fat to eat and too lean to throw away.' Asked what he would really like, he said he wanted a Grammy. Amen to that!
Here's one of Bobby with Scott.
Nearly all the artists attended the launch. Here they are on the steps of the hotel.
Here's one of Stan Mosley and George McCrae.
Here's one of John Ellison of the Soul Brothers Six.
On the Friday I managed to get a photo with Fred Wesley.
Here's one with Falisa JaNaye taken the same evening.
Back to Sunday's event, here is American music fan and occasional guest writer Noah Schaffer with Scott Billington.
Here are a few of me (Nick Cobban) with some of the artists. Firstly, Bobby Rush.
With Vasti Jackson.
With George McCrae.
With Toni Green.
With Frank Bey.
With Stan Mosley.
With Bobby Rush's dancer, Mizz Lowe.
Finally, here are some of the excellent Anthony Paule Band, with firstly, Anthony himself.
This is saxophone player Nancy Wright.
Lastly, this is Sue McCracklin, daughter of Jimmy McCracklin, who is a member of backing group Sweet Nectar.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Porretta final day + photos

The final day of the Porretta Soul Festival featured all the acts (excepting Fred Wesley and the New JBs who had left by this time) and was another delight. There were some new numbers and some reprises of songs previously heard, and included some real highlights.
These, for me, included a sweet rendering of Soul Serenade from the saxophone of Nancy Wright, part of the Anthony Paule Band, and a raunchy, rocking version of her new song Midnight by the gorgeous Falisa JaNaye, this time wearing a short black dress. John Ellison was superb on What Can You Do When You Ain't Got Nobody: no animal prints this time, but a blue suit, the jacket of which he took off before he even started to sing. Also excellent was Stan Mosley, whose southern soul number You Can't Keep Throwing Our Love Away was a masterpiece. Toni Green appeared in a shiny green outfit and gave her usual diva like performance on Ain't Working Out, with high drama as she lay on the floor and wailed. Theo Huff was excellent - his best set of the weekend - with Johnnie Taylor's Stop Dogging Me Around and Last Two Dollars. George McCrae once again delivered his disco pop, which the bulk of the audience much enjoyed, Vasti Jackson's choice of Nothing Compares To You was a strange one, but effective, and Frank Bey once again gave a polished performance. The Anthony Paule Band was once again excellent and special mention must be made to the drummer D-Mar.
It was left to Bobby Rush to round off the evening with another stand out performance, featuring Mizz Lowe, which included Got To Be Funky, They Call Me The Howling Wolf and My Babe. As a finale all the artists came on stage to sing The Blues Is Alright and clearly enjoyed themselves immensely, as did the audience.  Here it is on Youtube: This was the best finale Porretta has seen and was a suitable climax to a great weekend. Graziano we salute you: long may this brilliant festival last!
I took loads of photos during the action packed weekend. Here are a few of them.
This is Bella Black, of James and Black, who made a good impression on day one.
Here's Fred Wesley, who kicked off proceedings on the second day.
Falisa Janaye, from Mississippi, impressed both with her energy and voice, and also looked great. Here are a couple of her in action.

Stan Mosley was another act who exceeded expectations. A brilliant soul singer.
George McCrae kept lovers of disco happy, especially with his great hit Rock Your Baby.
Here is Vasti Jackson, an excellent guitarist who also backed Bobby Rush.
Frank Bey appeared on three nights with his regular band led by Anthony Paule, all of whose members worked their socks off over the weekend.
The star of Anthony's band was drummer D-Mar whose athleticism and enthusiasm surely has no equal.
Jerry Jones provided some well delivered straight ahead soul during the weekend.
Here is Soul Brothers Six lead singer John Ellison, wearing his animal print outfit.
Toni Green, the Queen of Porretta, wore amazing costumes on each of her performances.
Here's Toni doing a duet with Theo Huff.
Here's another one of Theo.
Bobby Rush was great as ever: charismatic, funny, funky and bluesy.
Here's Bobby with Mizz Lowe.
More photos will follow. Here are some Youtube clips that I filmed. John Ellison:   Falisa Janaye:    Stan Mosley: