Saturday, February 18, 2017

Betty Harris at the 100 Club

There was a time, back in the nineties, when US music legends would appear at London's 100 Club on a regular basis. Not any more. So it was a great privilege to see one of New Orleans' finest, Betty Harris, put on a show last night that was a real delight. Betty's recording career effectively began and ended in the sixties, with some classic soul and New Orleans styled material produced by, first, Bert Berns, and then Allen Toussaint. Her one hour set featured ten numbers, including many of her best known songs, and the good sized crowd showed how much they enjoyed her efforts.
Betty was backed by three female singers, two of them clearly still in their teens. They were led by Dayna Snell, from Connecticut, who mentors and helps young people in her home town. Dressed in a long black dress, Betty kicked off with Mean Man, a Toussaint produced number from 1968 recorded for Sansu, and followed up with one of her more dramatic songs  Twelve Red Roses. Betty confessed that she was singing some of these numbers live for the first time but you wouldn't know it, as this was an assured and well rehearsed set. She followed up with two more Sansu songs, I Don't Want To Hear It and Trouble With My Lover, before moving on to her classic 1963 version of Cry To Me, which was produced by Bert Berns and recorded for Jubilee. Betty let Dayna's young protege Aliyah take centre stage for the next number and the young singer did an excellent job on Can't Last Much Longer. Then it was back to Betty with the up tempo Bad Luck, featuring an excellent organ solo from the backing band Disposable Breaks (who did a great job throughout). Another classic followed with the slow and soulful Nearer To You, from 1967 and yet another with Betty's version of Lee Dorsey's Ride Your Pony, featuring some enthusiastic support from the backing trio. They left the stage at this point but returned for an encore featuring There's A Break In The Road, which Betty recorded for SSS International in 1969.
Altogether this was a highly enjoyable set which was much appreciated. Betty may be in her 78th year, but she can still hold an audience, even if her voice isn't quite what it was. I've seen Betty quite a few times over the years, including the Ponderosa Stomp (twice), the Porretta Soul Festival and, most memorably, at the Old Point Bar in Algiers, across the river in New Orleans where she did a full set.  On some of these occasions she had very little time on stage but this time she was able to express herself and rolled back the years with a great selection of her original sixties material.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Photos from The Rockin' Race

I'm back from sunny Spain to freezing England but the memories of this year's Rockin' Race Jamboree near Malaga remain. Here are some of the artists who appeared. First, here are a couple of the singer who, for me, was the star - Dale Watson.
Also very good were Los Straitjackets, who backed up a highly amusing double act involving Big Sandy and El Vez, the Mexican Elvis.
Of the other acts, one who I particularly enjoyed was Marcel Riesco, whose voice closely resembles that of Roy Orbison.
Sadly, there were few female acts on the bill and one who was, Alice Jayne, was disappointing.
I was impressed by Swedish band Fatboy.
Another decent band was German outfit Smokestack Lightning.
And I really liked the Cactus Blossoms, who sound uncannily like the Everly Brothers.
There was a fun set from The Big Six, featuring Sugar Ray Ford on vocals.
There were several shows taking place at the Barracuda Hotel, including this one with Eddie Angel, Big Sandy and Smokestack Lightning.
Also Glenn Doran and the Prairie Echoes.
Plus The Tacomas.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Rockin' Race Jamboree in Torremolinos

It's warm and sunny in southern Spain, a far cry from chilly England, so a weekend at the Rockin' Race Jamboree was just what I needed. Despite a shortage of genuine legends this year this rock and roll weekend, now in its 23rd year, lived up to expectations, with a varied bill and some good music, little of which could be described as rockabilly.
Highlight of Friday's line up was undoubtedly Los Straitjackets, complete with obligatory wrestling masks, who produced some hard driving guitar numbers and backed up the funniest musical double act I've seen in a long time: Big Sandy and El Vez, the Mexican Elvis. Sandy, immaculate in a tuxedo, sparred  with El Vez, dressed in an Elvis styled PVC costume, on a 'Big Sandy to the Rescue' duet, before El Vez launched into Mystery Train crossed with Night Train. Both of them tackled His Latest Flame, Sandy's cheeks by this time smeared with lipstick, and Sandy did excellent half Spanish versions of Lonely Teardrops, Be My Baby and La Plaga (Tallahassee Lassie). The pair dashed around the stage, with gymnastics from El Vez, as they belted out MalagueƱa (California) Sun, Land of 1000 Dances, an instrumental Rampage and, finally, Wooly Bully. Great fun.
Earlier, Marcel Riesco, from the US west coast, showed what a good Roy Orbison styled singer he is on originals such as Because He Broke Your Heart, Long Time No Love and Dumb Struck, and Orbison songs such as Rock House and Only The Lonely. He showed he could rock, too, with Cast Iron Arm. Following him on stage was London based Alice Jayne. Her band was good, but the less said about her the better, as she was distinctly average on covers like Dimples, When Will I Be Loved, Restless and Let Me Down Easy, on which she was flat and under whelming. Rather better was Swedish band Fatboy, who started well with a couple of melodic country rock numbers from their Moments album- Dreaming Like I Do and No Regrets. Other numbers included a couple of songs from their Overdrive album, Dragging The River and Bad News For Pretty Red Lips, which were interesting, but perhaps a little samey.
Saturday night's offering was another varied selection, with pride of place going to Austin's Dale Watson, looking very much the part of the Texas troubadour. His set ranged from rockabilly (You're Humbugging Me) through Tex Mex and country. Numbers included My Baby Makes Me Crazy, It's Heaven's Plan, Whisky or God, Sayonara Is All She Wrote, I Guess I'm Not The Man I Used To Be and an excellent Lonely Blue Boy. Quality stuff throughout and very enjoyable.
First act was German band Smokestack Lightnin', a four piece band with leanings towards Americana,whose varied set included The Highway Rolls On Forever, the Beatles' Run For Your Like, some swamp blues with Swamp Country and Polk Salad Annie, and El Camino Real. They were followed by the Cactus Blossoms, who harmonised beautifully on Everly Brothers sound alike numbers including You're Dreaming and I'm A Happy Man On a Gloomy Day.  Highly recommended. Also good in their way, and much enjoyed by the crowd, was the good time sound of The Big Six, featuring singer Sugar Ray Ford. Dressed in check zoot suits, their fun set included such rock and roll classics (!) as Tiger Feet, All Of Me and 20th Century Boy. Not for the purists, or me for that matter, but amusing and lively. Photos will appear soon.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Bobby Freeman RIP

It's another month and with it another rock and roll death - this time of Bobby Freeman, who will forever be associated with his 1958 biggie Do You Want To Dance. The record had a great B side - the rather non PC Big Fat Woman - and was covered by numerous other acts, including Del Shannon, the Beach Boys, Cliff Richard and Johnny Rivers. None of them could match the excitement of the
original and follow ups on Josie, mostly including the names of various women, including Betty Lou Got A New Pair Of Shoes, Shame On You Miss Johnson and Mary Ann Thomas, were equally good. Originally from San Francisco, Bobby moved to the King label, which resulted in a further UK release, (I Do The) Shimmy Shimmy, and then to the Autumn label, where he had further success wih the 1964 hit C'mon And Swim, written by Sly Stone, followed by S-W-I-M and The Duck. Sadly Bobby never visited the UK and didn't perform a great deal in later years so I never got to see him live, But as a rhythm and blues singer, with a very soulful voice, he was one of the best.
Another death this week is that of composer and arranger John Schoeder, who master minded the amazing success of Helen Shapiro in 1961 with Don't Treat Me Like A Child, You Don't Know and Walking Back To Happiness, Moving to Oriole he arranged a licensing deal with Motown which led to 19 singles and seven LPs being released on the label by the likes of the Contours, Little Stevie Wonder, the Marvelettes, Martha and the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye and Mary Wells. He even took a
chance on obscurities such as Mike and the Modifiers and the Valadiers, records by which sell for big sums today. Moving on to Pye John formed Sounds Orchestral, which had major success with Cast Your Fate To The Wind, and with his own orchestra released covers of soul and pop hits of the era on the Piccadilly subsidiary. He also launched the career of Status Quo before launching his own Alaska label in the early seventies.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Three more music deaths

Time to catch up on some more music deaths, including two significant soul men: Marvell Thomas and Tommy Tate.
Keyboard player and arranger Marvell Thomas, son of Rufus Thomas and older brother of Carla and
Vaneese, was a key figure in the development of Stax records. He was only 17 when he first played there and went on to contribute to many great records, including Rufus and Carla's Cause I Love You and William Bell's You Don't Miss Your Water. He co-produced Isaac Hayes' Hot Buttered Soul and played on dozens of records by the likes of Johnnie Taylor, the Staples Singers, Little Milton and Albert King. He also worked at Muscle Shoals on records by artists such as Etta James, Wilson Pickett and Denise Lasalle. Marvell played at the Porretta Soul Festival on several occasions and very much valued the high regard given to Memphis musicians at the festival which contrasted with attitudes by many in Memphis itself.
Tommy Tate never achieved great success but made some excellent southern soul records in a career that stretched from the early sixties until 2002 when he suffered a stroke. He started drumming and singing around Jackson, Mississippi, and made several records during the sixties with Tim Whitsett and the Imperial Show Band, a band that also featured Dorothy Moore. When the band broke up in 1970 he joined Stax and recorded several records for the Ko Ko subsidiary, the most successful of which was School of Life. He also wrote songs for Luther Ingram. He made several albums, including one (pictured), recorded at Malaco, which was released in Europe on the Timeless label. One oddity, revealed by Red Kelly in his A side blog, was a release on Atco by Andy Chapman called Happy Is The
Man, which is actually by Tommy. It seems that he made a demo while working as house drummer with Huey Meaux which was put out by Jerry Wexler as one side of this 45.
Another recent death is that of guitarist Tommy Allsup who famously lost the coin toss and as a result missed the fateful plane
trip that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. He became a session musician in Nashville and also recorded an instrumental LP of Buddy Holly songs, produced by Norman Petty, which was released in the UK on London in 1964.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Sam Moore's not so finest hour

I try to steer clear of politics on this blog - not because I'm not interested but because it's the music that matters. But the inauguration of Donald Trump yesterday left a sour taste in my mouth with his isolationist and protectionist rhetoric (if that isn't too overblown a word for his pathetic efforts at public speaking). I love the US and visit there from the UK a couple of times a year. I find most Americans welcoming, polite and friendly. But this President's inward looking view is worrying. He doesn't appear to have a clue or care in the least for the rest of the world. His catchphrase 'America First' is scarily reminiscent of 'Britain First', an extreme right wing British organisation which is anti immigrant, anti Europe, anti gay etc etc. His policies seem to be much the same as well.
Britain has its own problems as a result of the decision by a narrow margin to leave the European community. Many of those who voted for Brexit share the same narrow, racist viewpoint as Trump's supporters. Theresa May seems determined to push ahead with the hardest of hard Brexits come what may and the Government seems to think that a trade deal with the US will be easy to arrange and beneficial to the UK. Forget it: Trump has made it clear that he doesn't want trade deals unless they put 'America First', so why should a deal with Britain  be any different. The sight of the loathsome Brexiteer Michael Gove creeping up to Trump pretending to be the journalist he once was a week or so ago was disconcerting to say the least. Let's not pretend that Trump cares about the UK (apart from his Scottish golf course). He may have put Churchill's bust back in the Oval Office but he's a hard nosed businessmen who is in it for his own interests, certainly not ours and probably not those of the American people.  I predict that he will not finish his first term but even if he does there is no light at the end of the tunnel. A lot will have happened by 2020 - very little of it good.
Anyway, back to the music, and I was a little saddened to see the great Sam Moore singing at Trump's inauguration event. His rendition of 'America The Beautiful' was not his finest hour. It's a corny song and he sang it rather poorly I thought. I saw Sam at the Porretta Soul Festival a few years ago and would love to see him perform again. And his combination with Dave Prater produced some of the greatest soul recordings of all time. I saw Sam and Dave on the Stax Tour to the UK in 1967 and they stole the show, despite the presence on the bill of Otis Redding, among others. 'Hold On I'm Coming' lifted the roof of the Fairfield Hall, Croydon. Sadly those days are well behind him.
Here's a photo of Sam at Porretta in 2001 (actually it was held in Bologna that year).

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

New Year music deaths

It's time to catch up on several music stars who have passed away during the last few weeks.
The latest is Buddy Greco who has died in Las Vegas aged 90. Buddy is best known for his 1960 version of The Lady Is A Tramp which was a memorable if minor UK hit but his career spanned over
80 years. He first visited the UK in 1949 and became a long time resident of Essex, as well as the US. He celebrated his 80th year in show business with an event in Southend in 2013 attended by Kenny Lynch and Paul Young among others. His first successful record was Ooh Look-A There Ain't She Pretty in 1947 and other US hits included I Ran All The Way Home in 1951 and Mr Lonely in 1962. He recorded many albums from the 50s to the 90s and continued to perform live, including  a UK tour in 2012.
Another death is that of Sylvester Potts, a long time member of The Contours. Although not in the original line up, he joined in 1961 before the group had their biggest hit with Do You Love Me - a record which sparked the rise of Tamla Motown, certainly in the UK. Other smaller but equally exciting hits followed with Shake Sherry, Can You Do It and Can You Jerk Like Me. Sylvester left the group but rejoined a reformed line up and enjoyed more mid 60s success with Just A Little Misunderstanding and First I Look At The Purse. Sylvester remained with the group until 2004 when he left to form a new version of the band which, after an out of court settlement,
became The Contours featuring Sylvester Potts.
Debbie Reynolds, who died on December 28, the day after her daughter Carrie Fisher, was best known as an actress but had a huge hit in 1957 with the film theme song Tammy. Other recordings in the 50s and early 60s included All Grown Up and Am I That Easy To Forget? She even tried her hand at folk with an LP in 1963 and performed for several years in cabaret in Las Vegas but it was as a film, TV and stage actress that she made most impact. The first of her three husbands was 50s crooner Eddie Fisher, Carrie's father.
English singer Peter Sarstedt, who has died aged 75, was the brother of Eden Kane and Robin Sarstedt and achieved huge success in 1969 with Where Did You Go To (My Lovely), a song about a poor girl who joins the jet set, which went to number one in 14 countries. His career started under the name Peter Lincoln when he recorded a song called In The Day Of My Youth. Other records after his smash hit included You're A Lady, Beirut and I Am A Cathedral but none of them replicated his big hit and he joined several Silver Sixties shows in the 80s and 90s.
Less well known but another significant loss is Big Cynthia, aged
47, a southern soul singer who was the daughter of Junior Walker. Her songs included Ain't Nothing Like a Big Woman, Eating Ain't Cheating and That Nookie Thang.
RIP to them all.