Kindness And Friendship, And Dancing (Denise LaSalle)

Image result for cyrille regisStill a week to go in the first month of the year & Death has been felling too many tall trees. In the late 1970’s, when my football team had an away game, I would take the #11 bus around Birmingham’s Outer Circle to see Cyrille Regis play for West Bromwich Albion. A combination of strength & grace allied to a knack for scoring show-stopping goals transcended the parochial tribalism of English football fans & his talent merited greater international recognition than he received. On & off the field his quiet dignity in the face of hateful, ignorant racism inspired the next generation of Black footballers to believe that they too could make their mark. Hearing some of that generation, now retired, overcome by emotion in their tributes was testament to Cyrille’s legacy as a player & as a man.


Image result for hugh masekela 1969Hugh Masekela’s trumpet featured on the Byrds 1967 classic “So You Want to be a Rock & Roll Star”. The following year he had a #1 hit of his own with “Grazing in the Grass”. Masekela, already an eminent musician, left South Africa in 1960 when, after the Sharpeville massacre the manners of the White government became even more oppressive. Throughout a 30 year exile his music, for the head, the heart & the hips, never left Africa. His talent, his struggle, informed me about the insane apartheid policies of his home country as much as the travails of Nelson Mandela. (A shout here to the late Bill Clayton, a family friend who left Capetown when he was racially “reclassified” by the government. Even my 12 year old self knew that this was not only wrong but batshit crazy!).


Image result for mark e smithThe Fall have been part of the musical landscape of the UK for 40 years. There’s been a lot of wind talked about Mark E Smith who died yesterday. A contrary outsider, a trenchant motormouth &, later, an irascible drunk. “Hey dude! Give the info a rest and use your mind”. The Fall were popular enough to release 36 albums. If you want to hear their best songs well I’ve got 50 of them & a pile more in my pocket if you don’t like those. His voice & lyrics may seem individual but  his accurate, acerbic, archly humorous take on the world is one I recognise & has always been worth listening to. His band, despite a revolving-door personnel, was always on point. Mark’s autobiography reminded me of the year I spent in Manchester & the old boys I met in the pub (drinking at lunchtime…I miss that !). I liked them & I liked Mark E Smith. Over the years, when I have listened more closely, his band, his songs, his book, have been the best thing to have around.


As if this wasn’t quite enough loss there are others less celebrated on their departure who nonetheless made their mark. On the 8th of January the singer Denise LaSalle died aged 78 & it’s certainly worth spending some time with her music & to remember her.




Related imageIf Denise LaSalle had only made one record then “Trapped By a Thing Called Love” would be enough. From 1971 it was a #1 R&B hit when you had to be better than good to get that sort of attention. (It was preceded by the Persuaders’ “Thin Line Between Love & Hate”, displaced by Marvin’s “Inner City Blues”). “Trapped…” is a perfect realisation of the new Memphis Soul sound coming out of Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studios. The vocal is sad, sweet & soulful & so is the band. It’s a song that’s built to last & in 2013 was central to a key scene in Jim Jarmusch’s film “Only Lovers Left Alive”. You know it, Eve (the White Witch off of Narnia) tells Adam (Loki) that eternal Life as a vampire really isn’t all that bad & they dance to this wonderful tune.


Denise was born in Mississippi & moved to Chicago when she was a teenager. It wa there, with Chess Records that she made her first recordings. “A Love Reputation”, co-written by the fantastic Billy “the Kid” Emerson, is R&B mixed with that driving Motown beat. Northern Soul 4 years before the term was coined, it was a small regional hit in the US & an enduring floor-filler in the clubs of the North of England. In the words of Disco-Tex & his Sex-O-Lettes “Get Dancin'” !



Denise wasn’t a kid when she made that first record & when it didn’t work out at Chess she had it together for the second time around. “Trapped…”may have had the inimitable Hi stamp & Mitchell is credited with the arrangement but the production is by Crajon Enterprises, LaSalle & her husband Bill Jones, who had a deal with Detroit’s Westbound Records for our star & for other artists. The LP recorded on the back of the hit is a classic of Southern Soul, a couple of well-chosen covers & the rest written by Denise herself.


Image result for denise lasalle lick itWillie Mitchell was busy with Al Green & Ann Peebles & in the mid-70’s Disco was the thing so Denise followed the trend. She continued to record regularly, gaining the title “Queen of the Blues”. Her strong voice matched her adult tales of relationships gone wrong. “Lick It Before You Stick It” is not the only song that is not suitable for work. In 1984 she found herself on Top of the Pops when her  synth-pop Disco cover of Rockin’ Sidney’s zydeco “Don’t Mess With) My Toot Toot” was a Top 10 hit in the UK. There are a lot of records & all of them are classy & well made.



Image result for denise lasalleIt’s the 3 records Denise made for Westbound in the early 70’s that, for me, are the real gold. “Here I Am” (1975) employed the arranging talents of David Van De Pitte whose credits at Motown included “What’s Goin’ On”, “Let’s Get It On”, “Psychedelic Shack” & plenty of others you know so you can be sure that this will be listening time spent well. “Married, But Not To Each Other”, another of her own songs, was picked up by Barbara Mandrell & became a Top 3 Country hit. Denise LaSalle left a legacy of fine music, she deserves to be & will be remembered fondly.




His Own Way Of Working (Tom Petty)

By 2007 Tom Petty had been a successful recording artist for 30 years. He & his band of brothers, the Heartbreakers, released their attention-grabbing debut in 1976. Big records followed, a world tour as Bob Dylan’s backing band was a measure of their progress & the estimation in which they were held. Solo LPs added to his collection of gold & platinum records as did his turn as Charlie T Wilbury Jr in a group of superstars & friends. They were the backing band for Johnny Cash’s resurgence on his American recordings. In 2007 he was the subject of  an all-but 4 hour long film directed by Peter Bogdanovich. His steadfast commitment to anything that’s Rock & Roll, his resolve when faced with music business shenanigans & the consistent quality of his output meant that he was now ranked alongside the artists of the 1960’s who had inspired him to make music.


Tom was in the enviable position of being able to carry his audience down whatever path he chose. What he did was get his old band together. An album bearing their name was released 34 years after they had first entered a studio. Naturally, a cover of a Byrds song was a highlight of this collection.




Image result for mudcrutchMudcrutch (really ?) had been the best band in Gainesville, Florida (pop:64,510 in 1970). They sold their possessions to finance a move to Los Angeles & signed a deal with Shelter Records, home of producer Denny Cordell whose UK success with the Move, Procol Harum & Joe Cocker had continued with Leon Russell when he crossed the Atlantic. So far so Hollywood but a single failed to connect & sessions for an album were not working out. The label felt that the talent was the singer/songwriter &, while the band were running down a shared dream, drummer Randall Marsh & guitarist Tom Leadon were dropped from the roster. Tom made his smartest decision ever to keep Mike Campbell & Benmont Tench, virtuosi on guitar & piano. The pair were fellow travellers until Tom’s premature death in 2017. The rest is their story.


From the opening bars of Side 1, Track 1 of the first record it was obvious to anyone with ears that TP & the Heartbreakers had listened closely to the Byrds. “American Girl” was an urgent update on the Rickenbacker jangle. Here in the UK we were early adopters of this fresh take on classic American Rock. “Lover of the Bayou” opens “Untitled” (1970), the double LP that shows the later incarnation of the Byrds at their best. ‘Crutch (sorry, but Mud is already taken) began as a covers band & I’m sure that “Lover…” was included in their early sets. Their mature take on the song is sturdy, modern & most acceptable, maybe not as loose & swampy as the original. In 2011 “Rolling Stone” rated Mike Campbell as the 79th best guitarist while in 2003 Clarence White of the Byrds was ranked at #41 so I guess the difference is 38 !




Image result for del shannon beatlesPetty’s obsession with music began with a brief encounter with Elvis when he was 10 years old. The deal was sealed 3 years later when the Beatles arrived in the US. Del Shannon had his hits in the time between. “Runaway” (1961) with it’s strong vocal, instantly memorable chorus & a musitron ( a homemade electronic  keyboard) instrumental break, sounded great back then & still does now. For a while Del resisted & embraced the tsunami of the British Invasion. He recorded songs by the Beatles & the Stones, the Fabs’ posh mates Peter & Gordon had a hit with his “I Go to Pieces” & “Keep Searchin'” (1964) was an absolute belter. His excursions into Psych-Pop were less commercially successful. “Home & Away” an LP recorded with Stones’ manager Andrew Loog Oldham & intended to be the “British answer to “Pet Sounds”” was made in 1967 but not properly released until 2006. Audiences still wanted to hear the hits so Del made a living as a golden oldie.


Image result for tom petty del shannonTom Petty was listening back in the day, he wrote about it in a song. In 1981 he & his Heartbreakers joined Del in the studio to produce “Drop Down & Get Me” & they made a very good record. The update is respectful, there are 3 well-chosen covers (including Jagger/Richards’ “Out of Time”), the arrangements are kept simple, the focus on Del’s voice, still strong, the falsetto still in working order. The band & Jeff Lynne, were working with Del again when Roy Orbison, another master of dramatic 60’s Pop & a Travelling Wilbury, unfortunately passed away. Shannon was a logical replacement but was then a troubled man who took his own life in February 1990. Del Shannon was very good, there’s more to say about him…later.



Image result for roger mcguinn american girlIn 1977 Roger McGuinn off of the Byrds met Tom Petty & recorded “American Girl”. It seemed to be the right move. In 1974 I had seen Roger perform a long set, something solo, something Byrds & it was a true pleasure to be there. When he hooked up with Rolling Thunder, Bob Dylan’s Rock & Roll Circus he met Mick Ronson who produced the LP “Cardiff Rose” for him. “Thunderbyrd” (1977) was a set of laid-back Folk-Rock released at a time when audiences were expecting & enjoying a new energy in our music. Columbia, who McGuinn had been with since “Mr Tambourine Man” did not renew his contract & it would be 14 years before there was another solo LP from him.


Related image“Back from Rio” (1991) found TP & the band playing & co-writing on several tracks.”King of the Hill” (see above) is the standout, the 12-string Rickenbacker sound that all the right people love for all the right reasons. Tom has no production credit but I’m sure that the song sounds exactly as he wants it. There’s a telling scene in the documentary where Petty harangues clueless A&R men who are trying to foist inferior songs on to Roger, “a great man who has achieved great things”. His respect for Rock’s legacy & for the necessity of doing it right in the studio is non-negotiable. His disregard for the men from the label is apparent too. It’s only Rock & Roll but he likes it. So do I.