Sixties Soul Sisters

These clips from “Beat Club”, a German TV series which ran from 1965 to 1972, are some of the best preserved appearances by artists from the 1960’s. The quality of sound & vision of the American series (“American Bandstand”, “Shindig”, “Hullabaloo”, it’s a list) is often too poor for repeated viewing while the BBC had a cavalier attitude to all of their archive, not just music, which bordered on disdain. You don’t know what you got till it’s gone. Here are 3 fine examples of singers who travelled over to Germany to have their performances captured in sharp monochrome.



Related imageCarla Thomas, the Queen of Memphis Soul. Her Daddy, Rufus, when he was not walking the dog, was a DJ & mentor of local black talent. His beautiful teenage daughter was recording for Satellite Records before it became Stax. It was her Top 10 hit “Gee Whizz (Look At His Eyes)” in 1961, when she was 18 years old, which alerted Atlantic Records to the talent to be found at East McLemore Ave in South Memphis. In 1966 “B-A-B-Y”, a production with more than a touch of Tamla Motown, was her most successful recording since then. The song was written by Isaac Hayes & David Porter, a young team who were just getting the knack of how a hit Soul tune went. I’m told by a young person that the song appears in the film “Baby Driver” (2017), an entertainment designed for those whose attention span has been worn to the nub by technology & which I found mildly irritating.


The following year Carla made an LP of duets with Otis Redding, “King & Queen”, which is as light, as pop, as anything the label recorded. It endures as an entertaining one-off, the final LP recorded by Otis. The stand out track, “Tramp” crackles & fizzes with chemistry & wit. I loved it on the radio in 1967, still do. Aretha was the undisputed “Queen Of Soul” but when she came to Memphis there was r-e-s-p-e-c-t & fealty to be paid to Rufus Thomas’ little girl Carla.





Image result for madeline bell picture me goneMadeline Bell from Newark, New Jersey came to the UK in 1962 as a performer in the Gospel musical “Black Nativity” & stayed. She became friends with Dusty Springfield, the best of our female singers & added backing vocals on many sessions. She got a deal with Phillips, Dusty’s label, & recorded 2 LP’s there in the 1960’s. The material chosen for her was a mix of Pop-Soul & supper club sophistication & as a result she never really found her own audience. There are clips on the Y-tube that all display her range & facility with any style. We’ll go for “Picture Me Gone” from the “Bell’s a Poppin'” LP (1967) because I love this song. Songwriter Chip Taylor & session guitarist Al Gorgoni combined to write & produce the song for Evie Sands (that’s the fabulous…), just one of the many of her records that should have been but weren’t.


Madeline became more visible as one of the singers in Blue Mink, a group that had 6 Top 20 hits in the UK between 1969-73. Her success gave her more control & the next 2 solo LPs, “Madeline Bell” (1971) & “Comin’ Atcha” (1973), the latter produced by John Paul Jones off of Led Zeppelin, were funkier, jazzier & better,





Image result for felice taylor i feel love comin onRight (gulp!), stop me if I’m oversharing here. In 1969 I lost my virginity in the back of a friend’s father’s Ford Cortina Estate car (cue Ian Dury). The back seat was down, I am not an animal. When we returned to the church hall the first record that the lovely mini-skirted Modette who was my companion & I danced to was this one. So, excuse the silly smile on my dial whenever I hear “I Feel Love Comin’ On” by Felice Taylor. I did, honestly, already like the song when it was a UK hit in 1967.


In California Felice was matched with Barry White & his partner Paul Politi. Later, when Barry got big, the “Walrus of Love” re-recorded her other 2 singles “It May Be Winter Outside” &  “I’m Under The Influence of Love” with his backing group Love Unlimited. “I Feel…” was leased for the UK by President Records & as Felice had not much going on back home she made a record with the label’s hit group the Equals. “Suree Surrender” is not his best work but if you are an Eddy Grant completist, as I know some of you are, then this meaty, beaty tune is just a click away.


Move Over Rover Let Jimi Take Over (Jimi Hendrix)

December 1966, I was just 14, you know what I mean. I’m not sure of the exact date, the TV music show “Ready Steady Go” had the tagline “the weekend starts here” but our regional company now aired it on a midweek evening at 6.30. R.S.G. had been cancelled, this was its penultimate episode & we often missed it because on the night of transmission 4 of us met up to play table tennis. It was a good night, a big room to ourselves, a few games, a lot of laughs & my Dad treated us all to pop & crisps. It was even more fun than that sounds.


Anyway, that night my friend & I held back until the last possible moment. It wasn’t because of Marc Bolan, not yet Tyrannosaurus Rex never mind T…. & his “Hippy Gumbo”, neither was it the Troggs, the Merseys or the Escorts who made us keep our friends waiting. It was the TV debut of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, a chance to see a new sensation who we had read about in the music weeklies, performing their debut single “Hey Joe” that delayed us. It was worth it &, for two music obsessed school boys, our world had shifted a little.



Image result for jimi hendrix engelbert humperdinckJimi Hendrix changed quite a few people’s lives, fans & musicians alike. “Hey Joe” was not the big hit I remember it being, “Purple Haze” & “The Wind Cries Mary” were. My friends & I didn’t have large record collections but the 2 LPs released in 1967, “Are You Experienced” & “Axis: Bold As Love”, were requested for birthdays or Xmas & if Santa didn’t come through then somebody’s big brother or sister was sure to have a copy. Transplanted from the US to Swinging London Jimi flourished in the creative freedom he was given. He could write Pop songs like “Fire” & “Wait Until Tomorrow”, he could journey to the higher realms of the astral plane with “Third Stone From the Sun” & the title tracks of both albums. He was an explorer of uncharted territory for his instrument & for the recording studio, claiming possession of both. I don’t know much about chordal arpeggios and contrapuntal motion, with tremolo-picked partial chords but I know what I like. There may have been other guitarists with skills but no-one combined technique, imagination & personality like Jimi.


Image result for jimi hendrix package tourBritish music may have been leading the world in 1967 but the business of show had not really caught up. In April the Experience undertook a 25 date tour with the Walker Brothers, Cat Stevens & “special guest star” Engelbert Humperdinck. The most expensive seats were less than $1 & I’m sure you were guaranteed an interesting night. We never bought that “Wild Man of Pop” tabloid tag, it seemed more than a little racist. Anyone who knew anything about the Blues knew that Jimi followed in a tradition of Black American players who combined ability & showmanship. Later, in 1969, when Jimi derailed the live Saturday evening TV show “Happening For Lulu” it wasn’t shocking it was hilarious. In November/December he headlined another UK tour with the Move, Pink Floyd, Amen Corner & the Nice. $1.10 for that one…bargain! By then Jimi, after an incendiary performance at the Monterey Pop Festival (aided by a can of lighter fuel in his jacket), was being reclaimed by the USA. I think that could have been the plan all along.



“Electric Ladyland”, a double album, was released in October 1968 & in the Summer of 1970 we were still listening closely & still hearing new things. We were a little older now, different herbs to Dandelion & Burdock, still needing crisps. “All Along the Watchtower” was & still is a magnificent thing. I love a lesser known, obscure Dylan cover but this collision of two great talents has to be near the top of the all-time great records. 15 minutes of “Voodoo Chile” could take you to some very interesting places while you had to hold tight for “1983…(A Merman I Shall Be). My friend Polly was on that cover of the album & very nice she looks too. She never liked to talk about it but me…I know someone on the cover of “Electric Ladyland” !



Related imageIn 1969 Hendrix was the highest paid musician in the world. He was the headline act at the Woodstock Festival but it overran so much that he appeared at 8 a,m, Monday morning before a tired, bedraggled & greatly reduced gathering. Just 2 years earlier his playing inspired positive thoughts about the possibilities of music & Life in the 1960’s. Here, having been awake himself for 3 days, he closed the greatest show on earth with an astonishing interpretation of “The Star Spangled Banner”, a sonic invocation of a nation fractured by war & violence. The film of “Woodstock” was seen by everyone, Hendrix fired a shot that was heard around the world. His performance has been called “probably the single greatest moment of the sixties”, I’m not sure about that but repetition & memory have neither blunted nor diminished the  power & (yeah) profundity of this startling piece of music.


Image result for jimi hendrixThere was constant touring, the chaos of superstar life at that time & LSD really was not a drug to be taken lightly or daily. Then, in September 1970 Jimi was gone, a great loss & a great shame. We were left with the “Cry of Love” LP, more evidence of his talent & range, the thoughtful, now poignant “Angel”, the furious “In From the Storm”. More perspicacious individuals than myself have had more things to say about Jimi Hendrix in books & movies. I do believe that had Jimi lived, extricated himself from management who insisted on a punishing schedule & allied himself with strong supporting players he would have continued to make music that pushed the boundaries of what the Rock guitar could achieve. There have been wonderful technical & individual guitarists since, all in some way influenced by Hendrix. When we lost Jimi he took his secrets with him & we lost something very special.

Ask Yo Mama (Chairmen of the Board)

Right here are the Chairmen of the Board on the Soul Train promoting “Finder’s Keepers” the lead single from their 1974 album “Skin I’m In”. The trio, General Johnson, Danny Woods & Harrison Kennedy, were being helped out by some friends. On keyboards it’s Bernie Worrell (that’s the great…) & on bass there’s Billy “Bass” Nelson (again that’s…), a couple of Funkadelics taking time out to be on the telly. It’s a rare treat to see drummer Zachary Slater, McKinley Jackson (trombone) & the multi-talented Donald Baldwin (guitar). These guys were busy being part of the house band at Invictus Records & didn’t get out of the studio much.



Image result for Chairmen of the BoardThe Chairmen were having a good 1970’s. They hooked up with Holland-Dozier-Holland when the greatest hit makers of the decade left Tamla Motown to form Invictus/Hot Wax Records in 1969. General Johnson’s teenage group, the Showmen, had a hit with the marvellous “It Will Stand”. This time around he was ready to make his contribution. The label had big  hits with “”Want Ads” by Honey Cone & Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold”. General J co-wrote the former & had songs ready for Freda’s albums. Contractual folderol with Motown meant that H-D-H had to employ the pseudonym “Edith Wayne”, they, with Ronald Dunbar, provided the Chairmen of the Board with “Give Me Just a Little More Time”, a smash hit debut.


The group continued to make uptempo Pop-Soul records in the tradition of the label owners’ previous employers. All of them raise the spirits & make you dance. If anything they were more popular in Britain than in the US. The General became a producer & all three Chairmen got to make their solo albums. For the group’s 1972 LP “Bittersweet” he co-wrote all but one of the songs. Two years later, for “Skin I’m In”, others in the Invictus posse added their talents.



Image result for Chairmen of the Board Skin I'm InJeffrey Bowen came over from Motown where he had written for Marvin Gaye & produced the Temptations to be Vice President of the new label. He was given the tapes which were to become “Skin I’m In” & set about creating a whole new sound for the Chairmen of the Board. George Clinton’s psychedelic Funkateers were signed to Westbound Records while recording for Invictus with Ruth Copeland & under the old Parliament name. Bernie Worrell added layers of synthesizer, Billy Nelson co-wrote a couple of tracks with Donald Baldwin, a classically trained musician/arranger, a protege of Bowen’s who was proving to be very useful. Funkadelic guitarist Eddie Hazell was around too. The released LP, influenced by the Psychedelic Soul of Sly & the Family Stone & the Temptations, the new Funk of the Isley Brothers & Earth Wind & Fire is damn near a masterpiece.


The “Finder’s Keepers” clip shows Danny giving Ronald Isley a run while the band races, bubbles & has some fun. “Life & Death” is a suite, a Sly Stone joint linked by two Bowen/Nelson pieces. It’s Prog Funk, in a good way, & it’s amazing. Bernie Worrell’s work on this sits with stuff like this he did for Funkadelic & Talking Heads. The 9 tracks continue to surprise & delight. “Skin I’m In”, like the previous year’s O’Jays LP “Ship Ahoy”, displays the expanding range & ambition of Black American music. Both deserve to be considered alongside albums that are more highly regarded.



We have some time left here so let’s end with one of the classic singles that the Chairmen of the Board are remembered for. I’m spoilt for choice here so it’s “Pay to the Piper” for no other reason than it’s irresistible.



We Got More Soul, Dig It (Dyke and the Blazers)

I live a quiet life, when the football (proper football, invented in China, the laws codified here in Britain) takes a break for meaningless international games it’s too bloody quiet. The tender mercy of discovering a high quality Y-tube clip of the only TV appearance of a short-lived but influential Soul group has an added piquancy on evenings when there are 57 (and more) channels in my telly & no grown men chasing a ball around a field on any of them.



Image result for dyke and the blazers advertDyke & the Blazers first came together in Phoenix, Arizona when “Dyke”, Arlester Christian, & 2 of his fellow musicians found themselves without a band & without the means to return to Buffalo, New York. In 1966 their first single attracted attention as “Funky Broadway” was the first instance of that adjective being used in a song title. It was a Top 20 R&B hit, by the end of 1977 James Brown had covered it, Wilson Pickett had taken it into the US Top 10 & pretty much everything I do gonna be funky from now on. Dyke & the Blazers had a direct, rough & ready, heavy on the horns sound but they had ambition too . On their debut LP “The Wrong House” finds the singer extemporising a a story of mistaken location while the band find the groove & stay on it. There were not many 10 minute long tracks being issued in 1966 &, as the engineer shouts at the end, it “sounds fantastic”.



That initial success kept the group working & in the studio & their records made the R&B Top 40. The timeline on band membership is a little blurred. Dyke now had the fare back to Buffalo but the new touring band, two drummers, didn’t stay together for long. What Dyke had was a recording contract with Original Sound the label owned by famed Los Angeles DJ Art Leboe. On the West Coast he was able to use musicians from the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band including the great drummer James Gadson. Their ability to stay loose while still keeping it tight suited Dyke’s basic, very effective soul-shouting.


Image result for dyke and the blazersAfter variations on the “Funky” theme had been played out “We Got More Soul”, an update of “Sweet Soul Music” name-checking some of the great artists around in 1969, & the still extraordinary “Let A Woman Be A Woman” crossed over to the lower reaches of the Top 40. “You Are My Sunshine” (see above), well everyone knows this one & how great to see Arlester grab hold of the song & find the Soul within while the band mime it like they mean it. This clip is a real find.





There had been a rather optimistically titled “Greatest Hits” package released in 1968 & surely a second Dyke & the Blazers LP was the next move. The 1970 single “Uhh”, a brilliant title for a gutbucket Funk record, was taken from the first LP. The B-side, “My Sisters’ & My Brothers’ Day Is Comin'” shows, in my opinion, that Dyke was sharp & sussed enough to respond to the changing music scene. It would have been interesting to have heard songs written for an album rather than as 3 minute singles. Unfortunately we would never get to hear them.


In March 1971 Arleston was shot to death in the street outside a bar in Phoenix. The details are murky, the perpetrator was found not guilty because of self-defence. Arleston Christian was just 27 years old, he had a band & a sound that James Brown kept a close eye on because Dyke & the Blazers were as Funky as it gets.





J Geils Band Put Me On It

I’m finally getting round to putting this clip in a safe place, somewhere I can find it whenever I want to watch it, which is pretty often. It’s one of the best excerpts from “The Old Grey Whistle Test”, a long running British TV programme from the olden days that was, for the most part, decidedly average ( anyone who says otherwise does so through a very rosy tint). Anyway it was all we had. The kind person who uploaded it to the Y-tube employed such an obscure title that I’ve had to wade through several pages of the Google every time I need a blast of  Rock & Roll energy. Right, I know where it is now so let’s get to it…Somebody Help Me !

I caught the J. Geils Band on this 1973 tour & they were very good. The campus of my chosen university was a peculiar social experiment. High density, high rise living on the edge of a town full of skinheads & squaddies suspicious of those book-reading longhairs. It was a long walk to the nearest proper pub, a longer walk home so the student union was the only game in town at the weekend. Often entertainment was provided by those humdrum bands featured on the “Whistle Test”, lacking the necessary wit & imagination but determined to inflict their latest concept on us…that’s Prog Rock for you. J Geils Band were having none of that audience sitting cross-legged on the floor nonsense, they were there for a Saturday night dance, they had both kinds of music, Rhythm & Blues, resistance was futile & they were the very thing for a Winter weekend.

Image result for j geils band looking for a love“Looking For A Love” was a hit for the Valentinos, the group formerly known as the Womack Brothers, in 1962. the J.G.B., from Boston, recorded their version for their second LP “The Morning After” (1971) & it became their party piece in the following decade, included on both live albums released in this period. They had previous, 5 of the 11 tracks on their debut were well-chosen cover versions including the Motown stomper “First I Look At the Purse”. If the band didn’t always improve on the originals they always approached these oldies with energy & a lack of inhibition. Singer Peter Wolf was not only a very effective, rousing frontman but he knew his stuff about obscure R&B records.

J Geils Band had a reputation as a live attraction. “Full House” (1972) was more commercially successful than their studio efforts & earned them their first Gold record. “Bloodshot” (1973) opened with “Ain’t Nothing But a Houseparty”, we knew that one in Britain, a breakout Northern Soul favourite by the Showstoppers which made our Top 20 in 1968. “Hold Your Loving” was a new one on me, I went back to the 1957 original & blimey, what a great way of spending two & a half minutes

Image result for titus turnerTurns out that I know more songs written by Titus Turner than I knew I knew. He made records in the 1950’s before a partnership with Little Willie John created that great singer’s hit “All Around the World”. Later given a Soul revamp by Little Milton, the song contains the lyric “grits ain’t groceries, eggs ain’t poultry & Mona Lisa was a man!”. Titus made a contribution right there. He wrote songs covered by the Beatles (“Leave My Kitten Alone”) & Elvis Presley (“Tell Me Why”) but missed out on any serious royalties when both tracks remained unreleased. Then there’s the terrific “People Sure Act Funny”, a 1968 Soul hit for Arthur Conley. Titus is remembered as a songwriter, there are compilations of his recordings & “Rockin’ & Boppin'” includes “Hold Your Loving, a B-side, so that’s the one.

Image result for faye dunaway peter wolf“Bloodshot” hit the Top 10 & the J Geils Band continued to make records without finding a major breakthrough success. The records featured more songs written by Wolf & keyboard player Seth Justman. The template remained the same, space provided for Justman, guitar player Geils & Magic Dick’s harmonica to display their  skills. The band were doing just fine, always a live draw & Peter Wolf spent the last half of the 1970’s married to Faye Dunaway so that sounds good right. 1975’s “Hotline” opened with “Love-Itis”, another nugget from the vaults that had passed me by.

Image result for harvey scales##In the early 1960’s Harvey Scales was a face on the Milwaukee music scene. “Twistin’ Harvey”, that was him. He & the Seven Sounds had a Top 40 R&B hit in 1967 with the dance record “Get Down” but it was the infectious B-side, “Love-Itis”, that has made the lasting impression. There were a number of cover versions including a fine piece of Jamaican Soul Reggae by the Fabulous Flames before J.G.B. resurrected the tune. Harvey hit big in 1976 when he co-wrote “Disco Lady” for Johnnie Taylor, the first single to be certified platinum. His songs were more in demand & he made a couple of solo records. The compilation of Harvey Scales & the Seven Sounds’ work includes soundtracks to 60’s dances that never caught on, “The Get Down”, “The Yolk”, “The Funky Football” & “Bump Your Thang”…it’s great stuff.

With the new decade came a new but not necessarily improved J Geils Band. “Love Stinks” (1980) was their biggest selling LP for a while before “Freeze Frame” (1981) reached a whole new level. The title track & “Centrefold” were both US Top 10 singles. For the first time 5 of the 9 songs were solely credited to Seth Justman, both the Rhythm & the Blues seemed to have been left behind. Peter Wolf, not comfortable with this new Pop-Rock inclination,  hung around for one more live album before leaving for a solo career. The group had been around a long time & such success was not begrudged. I prefer to remember them as a lively, energetic band with great taste in old records. Let’s close with the Marvelows’ “I Do” from 1965, covered by J Geils Band in 1977. The sound of Doo-Wop colliding with Soul & a perfect song for the Saturday night hop.

Searching For Love In Forms It Never Takes (Pinegrove)

I was looking forward very much to hearing the new LP from Pinegrove, their third. “Cardinal” (2016) made an instant impression, it appealed as a fresh take on the kind of melodic American guitar music that I’ve always liked. I bought the record, heck I even ordered a tee shirt online (not from the band) which I paid for but never arrived! Robbing the fans of a fairly obscure group seemed such a niche crime & it was my first, hopefully my only, experience of such a 21st century crime so I bit it. “Cardinal” got played a lot but not as much as the sensational live session they did for Audiotree which captured the dynamism & clarity of Pinegrove’s sound better than the record. Ones to watch out for, for sure.



“Intrepid” is the first track to be found from the upcoming “Skylight album. It does that quiet-loud thing they do very well &, once again, a live version recorded for a radio station in November appears to be have more drive than the one released. The camera is mainly pointed at singer-songwriter Evan Stephens Hall. He’s pretty good but the contributions of Zack Levine (drums) who has been around since 7th grade (whatever that is) & Sam Skinner (guitar) should not be underestimated. Nandi Plunkett (vocals/keyboard) seems to have split & bass is played by whoever is around. Things were looking good for the arrival of the new record in March 2018.


So far so predictable until a couple of weeks later, a long rather rambling letter from Hall, responding to charges of sexual coercion by a former girlfriend, appeared on the band’s Facebook page. In consideration for the other person involved Evan kept the details vague & was possibly guilty of over-sharing about the emotional effect of the charges. An admittance that he has in the past abused his privilege as a performer & had sex with members of his audience seemed to be rather irrelevant (musician has sex with fans shock!). The band cancelled all dates, the hiatus has been extended & plans to release the new LP have been shelved. Let’s hope that Evan’s therapist can help him resolve his issues.



It is not my intention to minimise the charges made against the singer. I would appreciate if he & others accused of assault & coercion responded more directly to actual events rather than issue opaque apologies. If “Skylight” is never released & Pinegrove don’t return then so it goes. If wanting to hear it makes me an enabler of abusers then maybe I need a therapist. I do know that an insistence on moral rectitude from the artists whose work I admire would mean I have a lot fewer records & a lot less stuff. I’m still going to listen to & watch the “Aphasia” clip because there’s not much new music around that’s better than this.

The Musics Fine Like Sparkling Wine (Doc Pomus)

“A.K.A. Doc Pomus” is a documentary about the great songwriter of the late 1950’s & early 1960’s. Like anyone with an interest in the music of that time I know his name, usually in a co-credit with Mort Shuman, from the labels of a lot of very good records. I now appreciate that he not only wrote a whole lot more than those but that he was also a unique character whose influence on the New York music scene continued long after those hit-making years.


Image result for doc pomusJerome Felder was born in Brooklyn in 1927. At the age of 6 he contracted polio & was unable to walk without the aid of crutches & leg irons. A gregarious boy, excluded from his friend’s more athletic activities, he often had nothing going on but the radio & his knowledge & love of the Blues began. “Doc” was adopted so that his mother didn’t make the connection that the only overweight, white, teenage, Jewish Blues singer in NYC was her son. He made some records & was proud when his hero Big Joe Turner recorded one of his songs. In 1956 Ray Charles hit with “Lonely Avenue”, Doc’s first chart success. A year later “Young Blood” by the Coasters, co-written with Atlantic’s tyros Leiber & Stoller made him enough money to persuade him that songwriting was something to concentrate on. At his wedding, unable to dance with his wife, he encouraged her to do so with other guests & he had an idea to write a song about it.




“Save the Last Dance for Me” (1960) was one of a run of songs by the Drifters which, according to a very good book, “elevated the entire art of American popular music”. Doc was comfortable writing Blues songs for adults but felt that he needed some assistance to connect with the teenage market so he partnered up with Mort Shuman who was 10 years younger. They had 10 hits in 1959 & led the songwriting pack with 13 in 1961, providing material for the teen idols of the day. Not all of them were up to the standard of “Save the Last…but “A Teenager in Love” was a solid gold smash for Dion & the Belmonts & the pair were invited to Britain to write for our home-grown rock & rollers.


Image result for doc pomusIn London they made a connection that could get their songs to Elvis Presley, at the time doing his army service in Germany. “A Mess of Blues” was on the flip side of “It’s Now or Never”  & of the 12 tracks on “Elvis’ Golden Records Vol 3”, covering 1960-62, 4 were written by Doc. In all Presley recorded 18 of his songs including “Suspicion”, “Little Sister” & “Viva Las Vegas”. I was not the biggest fan of Elvis’ post-military output, those big ballads were never to my taste. He could still rock though & never more so than on the Bo Diddley/Buddy Holly influenced “(Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame”…it still sounds fresh. Elvis rang Doc once, he thought it was a prank & hung up !



The Elvis money meant that Doc was living pretty well in the suburbs of Long Island with a hotel suite across from the office in the week, hanging out & writing with Phil Spector when the Tycoon of Teen came to town. Then those pesky young Brits & Bob Dylan started writing their own songs Those off-the-peg Brill Building tunesmiths were less in demand. Pomus & Shuman split, they had written more than 500 songs, his marriage ended, a fall meant that he was restricted to a wheelchair & the taxman was calling. For a decade he made his living from the poker game he ran. It wasn’t until Elvis’ death in 1977 that the boost in sales brought increased royalties.



Image result for doc pomusDoc Pomus held court in the lobby of the Westover hotel, working from his apartment on the 11th floor. The assembly included admirers from all walks of New York city life, a Damon  Runyon novel made real. He found new collaborators & there are 7 songs across 2 1979 LPs from good work done with Dr John. His companion was very impressed when they attended an award ceremony to find that John Lennon had insisted on being seated at the same table. Mink (Willy ) De Ville was in thrall to the baion rhythm & Ben E King’s vocals on those classic Drifters records. For “Le Chat Bleu”(1981) there are 3 songs written with Doc . The rather tasty “Just To Walk That Little Girl Home” is an evocative homage to earlier times.


He attracted many aspiring songwriters & salons were held in his apartment where old friends Lou Reed, Tom Waits, Otis Blackwell (“All Shook Up”, “Great Balls of Fire”) & others would pass along their experience. Doc’s work with the Rhythm & Blues Foundation unearthed long-owed royalties & helped out artists less lucky than himself. In 1991 he became the first white recipient of that body’s Pioneer award. His sweet, sad, soulful songs continued to be recorded by many artists but unfortunately he died from lung cancer in March of that year.



Doc Pomus’ funeral was quite a scene. Lou Reed spoke, Dr John played & the great Little Jimmy Scott scored a recording contract after he sang. I’ll end with Lou’s immense version of “This Magic Moment”, recorded for a tribute LP & featured in David Lynch’s film “Lost Highway”. It’s a much covered song & this is not the shimmering Doo Wop of the Drifters’ 1960 original. It is though a timeless love song & you can never have too much Lou Reed.



Percy’s Progress (Percy Sledge)

PERCY SLEDGE…Here it is, you all know this one.



Related imageOne of the defining moments in the new Soul sound, in 1966 “When A Man Loves A Woman” was a major international hit. Percy’s impassioned, forlorn, powerful vocal is matched by the patiently building arrangement, Spooner Oldham’s perfect organ, those horns at the end. The song has become a classic, covered by many, the original never bettered. It was the first US #1 record for the group of producers, writers & musicians based in Muscle Shoals Alabama. It gave Atlantic Records a much needed mega hit, a platform to them becoming a major sponsor & distributor of this Southern Soul strain.


Percy Sledge never repeated the massive success of his debut single & nowadays it is that song for which he is remembered. There were 8 albums & a Greatest Hits package in the next decade. The concord between his fine voice & the creativity of his associates produced much enduring music &, as I don’t do lists, there are too many tracks too mention here. So, here are 3 of my favourites, because I get to pick & OK, I may have steered you wrong in the past but I’m right about how good Percy Sledge is.


Image result for percy sledge adsThe singer was a working as a hospital orderly, singing part-time with the Esquires when he hit big. Atlantic were keen to keep their new star busy & 2 LPs were released in 1966. However hastily these 21 tracks were assembled  there’s a consistent quality running across both records. On the one named after the Big One “Thief in the Night”, later a Treasure Isle gem from Jamaica when John Holt recorded it as “Stealing”, sounds like a hit to me. The next releases on 45 were from the 2nd album. A cover of Joe Haywood’s “Warm and Tender Love” was the most similar to “When a Man…”, it & the slightly faster, insistent “It Tears Me Up”, written by two of the new talents at Muscle Shoals, Dan Penn & Spooner Oldham, both made the US Top 20.




Image result for percy sledge magazine coverThere’s an appropriate title for the third LP because “The Percy Sledge Way” (1967) was certainly a thing. When Sledge covered a song, this is a record full of them, he may not have bettered the source material (“Tell it Like It Is”, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”) but his distinctive brand of heartbreak with uncomplicated, dramatic backing from his regular crew impressed an individual stamp on to anything he recorded. Overseen by producers Quin Ivy & Marlin Greene at Norala Sound Studio, just up the road from the better known FAME studios, they knew how The Percy Sledge Way went & they knew that it worked. “Just Out of Reach (of My Two Empty Arms)” was first recorded in the 1950’s by Stewart & the Arkansas Cowgirls (anyone…?) & a hit for Solomon Burke. I guess that there was little crossover into Country for black artists back then but Percy’s version is a fine piece of work.


Image result for percy sledge ads“Take Time To Know Her” (1968) is quite something. The title track did just what it says on the advertisement & provided Percy with his biggest hit since the first one. Over half of the material is contributed by the young guns from Alabama, 3 from Penn/Oldham, 2 by Marlin Greene & Eddie Hinton & a Bobby Womack composition. Affirmed by a string of successful records these guys were at the top of their game & this collection of mid-tempo Soul ballads is a classic of Southern Soul. “Out of Left Field” was released as an early single from these sessions & “It’s All Wrong But It’s Alright” wasn’t, both stunning productions & Percy’s vocals knocking it out of the park. All of these first 4 records are very good . In my opinion, “Take Time…” is the great one & one to have.




The hits were getting harder to find as the musical landscape changed rapidly. Sledge’s brand of Gospel-tinged Country Soul held less appeal to audiences who preferred a brand new funky bag. He cannot have been helped by disruption in Alabama when Marlin Greene & Eddie Hinton split to join the FAME rhythm section at their new Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. “My Special Wish For You” (1969) has cover versions with a couple of Christmas songs thrown in. “True Love Travels On A Gravel Road”, Duane Allman on guitar, stands out but Elvis was cutting that song in Memphis & stealing Percy’s thunder.


“Kind Woman” a song from the new-fangled Country Rock, written by Richie Furay for Buffalo Springfield’s “Last Time Around” was ideal material to undergo Sledge-ification. I would have liked to have heard his interpretation of more modern material but this great track did not make the LP & it didn’t trouble the Hot 100 when released as a single. When Percy finally did go to Nashville for “…Sings Country” in 1979 the songs selected were traditional Country standards, nothing out of left field at all.


Image result for percy sledge south africaIn 1970 Percy toured South Africa. Initially engaged to perform for non-white audiences the American Soul experience was a sensation, restrictions were relaxed & he stayed for 17 weeks. His final 2 LPs for Atlantic, “…in South Africa” & the film soundtrack “Soul Africa” arose from this trip. I’m not sure how much promotion these records had in the US but Percy Sledge found that in Africa, in Europe, in fact all over the world he was welcomed & appreciated. As long as he brought along “When A Man…”, which he did, then audiences could say that they had seen something pretty special.



Right, just one more. In 1974 another Southern set up, Capricorn Records, wedged up after the success of the Allman Brothers, got Percy, Quin Ivy & the Muscle Shoals gang back together & sprung for the “I’ll Be Your Everything” LP. (Hit the link & you’ll see Percy lip-synch the title track on a Dutch TV programme). Nothing had been diminished in the 5 year gap & it’s another good record but the commercial Soul sound was now smoother, more urban. Disco was coming up fast on the rails. “Behind Closed Doors” was a Grammy award winner for rocker Charlie Rich who found success with a new Countrypolitan sound. Not really my cup of Lapsang Souchong but Percy’s version, a little bit Gospel, a little bit Country & a whole lot of Soul hits the spot for me every time. It also, unfortunately, brings out my inner pub singer so stand clear if it comes around near me.


Related imagePercy recorded more sporadically in his later career. His range was never as broad as the greatest Soul singers but what he did was still pretty great & he recorded some of the best music that came out of Muscle Shoals. He continued to perform, retaining the goodwill of audiences & his peers. Accolades came his way, his acceptance speech on his induction at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2005 is that of a humble, happy & successful man. He died at his home in Baton Rouge in 2015 & his music will always be around.

Painting My Mailbox Blue (Taj Mahal)

There’s been a Taj Mahal revival round at our house. Recently a young woman showed up on my doorstep with a couple of bags & nowhere to go after her parents had asked her to leave. I don’t think that I have a heart of gold but Mollie is a friend, she was skint, screwed & homeless so what can a poor boy do except sleep on the undersized sofa for a couple of weeks while helping her to find somewhere to live. She’s 19 & reckons that my musical taste ranges from absolutely archaic to downright weird. That’s the way the youth should feel about old people’s music. A concordance was reached one evening when she returned to a flat filled with Taj’s unique, calming rhythms. It’s harmonious in however many meanings that word has.



Related imageOh yes! “Sweeter than a honey bee”. Taj, his Regal RC-56 Tricone Resophonic guitar & a couple of friends on a Sunday morning ride around New Orleans in a horse-drawn carriage playing “Queen Bee”, a track from his 1977 LP “Evolution (the Most Recent)”. What could be better?…not much. In 1968 Taj released 2 LPs of soulful electric Blues, respectful to the tradition, modern without resorting to psychedelic gimmickry. The eponymous debut contained songs by Sleepy John Estes, Blind Willie McTell & Robert Johnson while “The Nach’l Blues” dipped into the Stax catalogue with tunes from William Bell & Homer Banks. I liked this new talent, I liked his range, it reflected my own listening preferences when it came to African-American music.


Throughout the next decade Taj Mahal continued to make quality music. With support from guitarist Jesse Ed Davis the first 3 albums featured a great rocking band. Subsequent records, it’s a fine list, provided a tasty, diverse menu. The ingredients already included Blues, Soul, Folk Gospel & Jazz, Taj added a strong seasoning of Caribbean rhythms. As he told us on “Mo Roots” (1974) his grandfather married “one fine St Kitts Woman”. This was though no musicologist’s pick & mix of World Music. Whether Taj was picking his guitar or banjo or banging a couple of sticks together his own unique, soothing inner rhythm into whatever the origin of the songs he chose to interpret.



Image result for taj mahal singer“Take a Giant Step”, written by Gerry Goffin & Carole King & originally recorded by the Monkees was the B-side of “Last Train to Clarksville in 1966. Three years later it became the title track of the electric half of Taj’s 3rd album. This version, my preferred one, is taken from the LP “Live & Direct” (1979) credited to Taj Mahal & the International Rhythm Band. A couple of years earlier he added Trinidadian steelpan virtuoso Robert Greenidge to his group. The pan is not my favourite instrument but maybe I’d not heard it played right until I heard Greenidge. “L&D” is such a bright, entertaining record, the band, including long-time contributor Rudy Costa on sax, flute & pan pipe, hit a groove that you want to go on & on. Ditching my cassette collection didn’t seem too drastic at the time but I would have this one back in a heartbeat. Now I have a set the group performed at Berkeley Community Theatre in September 1977, taped for my listening pleasure by KSAN.



The contracts with Columbia & Warner Bros ended & there were less records released in the 1980’s. His reputation meant that he could still draw a crowd & I saw Taj play 3 times in that decade. His 1987 Glastonbury set, closing the festival on the Sunday night left me so satisfied & tickled too that 7 days later I was down the front at the Town & Country Club in London for more of that good stuff. “Like Never Before” (1991) had a bigger budget, a polished production, a guest list of heavy friends (Hall & Oates, Dr John, David Lindley). The record attracted a little more attention & “Take All the Time You Need”, a song written by Jerry Williams, the great Swamp Dogg, joined that long playlist of essential Taj Mahal tracks. It sounded like the kind of Rock & Roll that I wanted to hear back then & it surely still does now.



Image result for taj mahal singerSo that was going to be my triple whammy choice of Taj tracks for today. I’ll mention his show in London on a Summer evening in 1998 when he & the Phantom Blues Band performed a fine Soul-Blues review show. There has been a fine, wide mix of collaborations & solo releases since but it’s the charm of those early records that keep me listening to him. Then I stumbled upon this clip from 2014 which shows where Taj is now so much better than I can. Here he shares a stage with an all star band including Ryland P Cooder who, as a 17 year old had been a fellow member of the Rising Sons, a Blues Band from Los Angeles. “Statesboro Blues” is that Blind Willie McTell song they played in 1966. Taj fills the stage with his presence, his personality & his ability. When Taj plays you can’t help but smile.