Got Live If You Want It 2019

Three live performances from the Y-tube, from 2019, that have demanded & rewarded repeated viewing. I don’t get to many gigs nowadays, the good ones are some distance from my small town & I don’t, can’t, won’t drive (carbon footprint & as Miller in  “Repo Man” says “the more you drive, the less intelligent you are”.) so Jah bless the Interwebs for bringing this energy into my living room.

 

 

Image result for fontaines dc boys in the better land"We are a friendly bunch here at loosehandlebars so it was an easy & amicable decision to leave it to bass player of the Gatefolds, original contributor Joe Brown to big up “Dogrel” in his forthcoming pick of the year’s pops. The debut LP from Fontaines DC, a young, talented gang of Dubliners is a cracker, an expression of what it is to be young, talented & Irish in 2019. Isn’t “The Boys in the Better Land” one of everyone’s songs of the year? We’re not stepping on Joe’s turf here because there are other tracks on the album that are candidates for that title.

 

Image result for fontaines dc"Here they are introduced by someone called Jimmy Fallon who I once saw in a film about Baseball & now, for reasons that are not apparent to me, has a talk show on prime time US TV. Fontaines DC come on strong, confident that they have something worth listening to & the ability to make people pay attention. A 21st century garage band (like the Modern Lovers…anyone?), fronted by singer Grian Chatten wearing Ian Curtis’ grey shirt & stare, declaiming like Mark E Smith & finding a style of his own. Bassist Conor Deegan III makes it acceptable to go out of the house in your favourite band tee shirt & a pair of Mayo GAA tracksuit bottoms which I know will please a friend of mine. These guys are “gonna be Big”.

 

 

Image result for mavis staples 1972"It’s been a good year for Mavis Staples. February saw the release of “Live In London”, a distillation of two shows at Islington’s Union Chapel, with no reliance on the golden hits she enjoyed with her family’s group the Staple Singers. There was plenty of material to select from the four albums with Jeff Tweedy & one with M. Ward she has made in her much-appreciated resurgence since 2010. This was followed in May with “We Get By”, 11 new songs of Faith, Hope & clarity written for her by producer Ben Harper. It’s a statement of the obvious that both records are as classy, inspirational & delightful as Mavis herself. The power & integrity of her message & her voice are undimmed by the passing of the years.

 

Image result for mavis staples michelle obama"It was in May that Mavis reached the milestone of her 80th birthday &  celebratory concerts were held in New York, the Apollo, Nashville, the Ryman & Los Angeles. She was joined on stage by David Byrne, Norah Jones, John Prine, Nick Lowe, a long list of others I know & those I probably should know.  Some of these unique moments are captured on Y-tube clips where the visuals are shaky & the fidelity is low. So, moving forward to the end of June in a Somerset field, let’s have Mavis & her small, tight, long-serving band finishing her Glastonbury Festival set with the Staples’ hit “Take A Hand, Make A Friend”. With their luggage lost somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean everyone is dressed casually in the festival tee shirt & stretching out (a shout to guitarist Rick Holmstrom) for the encore. This woman is beautiful & a legend. Just press play, it’s all there.

 

 

Image result for jason isbell ryman auditorium 2019"Jason Isbell joined Mavis at all three of her birthday shows. There’s been no new music from him this year but he kept busy as part of backing band for his wife Amanda Shires’ new venture The Highwomen, a Country supergroup who have done very well for themselves with their debut LP. In October he & the 400 Unit returned to the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville for a third annual residency, six sold out shows over nine nights. To change it up audiences were asked to select the songs they would like to hear. I don’t know if they had any say in the tunes the band chose to cover, whoever it was they did their job well.

 

Image result for jason isbell ryman auditorium 2019"A 10 minute version of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”,  with guest Hammond organ player, invokes the spirit & memory of Duane, Gregg, Dickey & all the original Allman Brothers. Dire Straits’ “Brothers In Arms” is a more surprising choice. Sadler Vaden may be the 400 Unit’s guitar hero, this is Jason’s solo turn. It’s an exhilarating, turbo-charged run through Tom Petty’s “Running Down the Dream” that makes the cut. Isbell has deservedly received accolades for his finely wrought roots-oriented songs but when this band makes some noise it’s the best American Rock currently around. The 400 Unit are the Heartbreakers, the E Street Band & Jason Isbell, he’s the Boss.

 

Image result for mavis staples ben harper"

Midnight Walker, Sweet Soul Talker (Soul November 1969)

Another month, another Cash Box R&B Top 10 dominated by “the Sound of Young America” Tamla Motown. On November 15th 1969 four entries were releases from the Detroit company & across town former writing/producing team Holland-Dozier-Holland were responsible for “Crumbs Off the Table” by Glass House, a fine single by a short-lived group featuring Scherrie Payne, a future Supreme. There were to be two more chart-topping Motown records before the year was out so this month let’s see what else was coming around.

 

 

Image result for syl johnson poster"If you own a copy of the 81 track “Complete Mythology” collection of the works of Syl Johnson then you will know that he suits the tag “legendary”. Born in Mississippi Syl moved north to Chicago when he was a teenager. He & his brothers acquired their musical skills alongside his neighbour, Blues guitarist Magic Sam, a young man who had made the same journey. In a decade of recording his music, whether it was Blues or more contemporary Soul, was always dynamic & entertaining. By the mid-60’s he was socking it to us with with bright songs about different strokes, mini skirts & the latest dances & making an impression on the R&B charts. “Is It Because I’m Black”, at #32 on the chart & rising, was a different kettle of Blues-Funk, a straight ahead, no punches pulled commentary on race in America in 1969. I’ve selected the full 7 minute long album version here because it’s a monumental track, a classic record. A message from a mature Black man, telling it like it is.

 

Image result for syl johnson"The hit single & subsequent LP were by no means a case of bandwagon jumping. James Brown was saying it loud but this was a year before significant albums by Marvin Gaye & Sly Stone placed social consciousness at the forefront of Black music. Syl’s new vision was helped by the Pieces of Peace, the new hit sound of Chicago, the band behind the success of Tyrone Davis & Young Holt Unlimited,. After a disagreement with producer Carl Davis they brought their talents to Twinight Records & the singer made good use of them. The funked up covers of the Fabs’ “Come Together” & Joe South’s “Walk A Mile In My Shoes” complement Syl’s impassioned songs of discrimination (“Concrete Reservation”) & hopes of integration (“Together Forever”). The closing track “Right On” is a tower of Funk power, singer & band hitting the groove & just not stopping. A fine end to an absolutely outstanding & significant album.

 

Syl hooked up with his friend Willie Mitchell who had something good happening at the Hi studios in Memphis. In his time there less use was made of his own material. While he may have been overshadowed by the success of Al Green & Ann Peebles, Mitchell’s productions at the time were second-to-none & Syl recorded some fine sweet Memphis Soul. Extensive sampling of his music brought renewed interest & he later resumed his recording career. If you are not too familiar with Syl Johnson then you know the drill.

 

 

Image result for johnny adams it can't be all bad 1969"Stalled at #41 was a single by a wonderful singer, another one who never enjoyed the success he deserved. Johnny Adams had been working & recording around New Orleans for a decade with just “A Losing Battle”, produced & written by Mac Rebennack (Dr John) grazing the national R&B chart in 1962. A potential move to Motown was thwarted by a previously signed contract & some of his records were selling no more than a couple of hundred copies. In 1968 Johnny was signed to SSS International in Nashville & his fierce version of the country classic “Release Me” shamed Engelbert Humperdinck & put him back on the R&B Top 40. The label matched Johnny with country writers Myra Smith & Margaret Myers for the gorgeous “Reconsider Me”, as good as Country Soul got & a Top 30 Pop hit. “I Can’t Be All Bad”, from the same team, has a marvellous Bluesy feel. I have no idea who was the Nashville cat in the studio that day but his guitar playing is as clean as country water, wild as mountain dew.

 

Image result for johnny adams 1969"Johnny Adams, “The Tan Canary”, had a range & versatility, accomplished in many styles, powerful but still smooth, that few singers could match. He recorded 4 singles for Atlantic, no album, & one of them Jagger/Richards’ “Salt of the Earth” is from the very top shelf of Stones covers, a hit that got away. Johnny was in his fifties when he began a series of records for Rounder, Jazz, Blues, Soul, tributes to Percy Mayfield & Doc Pomus, all accomplished & classy. In 1970, with his name more visible than ever, SSS assembled the best of his recordings up to that date &”Heart & Soul” is the Johnny Adams primer, an entry into the good stuff.

 

 

Image result for bobby womack poster"I’m really spoiling myself this month, I hope you feel the same. At #39 was “How I Miss You Baby” by Bobby Womack, a man who, from his involvement with Sam Cooke in the 1950’s until working with Gorillaz in the 2010’s, remained relevant & influential. While still in the family group, the Valentinos, he co-wrote “It’s All Over Now”, the first #1 hit for them Rolling Stones, Bobby wasn’t too pleased until the royalty cheques arrived. His marriage to Cooke’s widow, Barbara, less than three months after his idol’s death met with some disapproval & his records were not played on the radio. He found a place as a songwriter, with hits for Wilson Pickett, & as a session guitarist around Memphis. In January 1969 “Fly Me To The Moon” was a fine start to his solo career. The title track, an old standard & “California Dreamin'”, a new one, put him in the R&B Top 20.

 

Image result for bobby womack 1977"“How I Miss You Baby” is the lead single from “My Prescription”. More of the same, Bobby’s strong raspy gospel-inflected voice, clearly enunciating just like Sam taught him, telling his own stories, finding the Soul in sometimes unlikely easy listening classics (“I Left My Heart in San Francisco”), perfect accompaniment from the Memphis Boys at American Sound Studios. This was his most successful single yet before a change of label, with increased promotion, & a move down to Muscle Shoals in Alabama brought a regular R&B Top 10 presence. This string of early 1970’s 45’s, often employing a trademark introductory monologue, is a long, impressive list. I would be remiss of me if I did not at least mention “Across 110th Street” & “Harry Hippie”. Of course Bobby Womack kept on keeping on, a Soul Survivor adjusting to changing taste, always the real deal. “The Poet” (1981) is probably his most well known LP, one day I’ll take the time to tell you just how good “So Many Rivers” (1985) is.

 

I’ve had the company of some fine fine music this week. I’m aware that my recent selections have been predominantly male singers. Next month’s #1 is by America’s most successful female group of the 1960’s so that’s a start & I’ll have no problems ending the year by redressing any imbalance.

Some Of That Old Moonstomping (Reggae November 1969)

This year I have enjoyed looking back 50 years to both the Soul music from the US & the, as we called it at the time, “Progressive” sounds coming out of the UK in 1969. Of course there was still plenty of popular, more straightforward Pop around. In November, “Sugar Sugar”, the made-to-measure bubblegum of cartoon group the Archies had been the UK #1 for like forever (it was actually 8 weeks but seemed longer) while “Call Me Number One” by the Tremeloes was close behind. More significantly lower down the UK Top 10 for 23rd of November were three records from Jamaica, the first time this had happened. In 1969 Reggae was a thing so Pop Pickers, at #8, down from #5, is one that when it hits you feel no pain .

 

 

Image result for return of django"There was this girl I saw around college (not a US college, a UK place for 16-18 year olds). Friends would notice the pretty blonde she was usually with but, purely on first impressions, I was attracted to the tall, skinny one with long straight hair. She had a Saturday job on the local town market & I would make a point of passing her stall. There was no more than an “Hi, how are you doing?” acknowledgement, hardly a “stop & chat”. I was 16 & hadn’t quite got this talking to women thing down yet. Then, during another such brief encounter it started to snow & as my army surplus olive green combat jacket (oh yes!) had no hood I was invited to take shelter under the stall’s canopy. She was friendly, funny & I hope that I was too. She had a ready smile & I had a goofy fixed grin. The clincher was that she had spent a portion of that day’s wages on “Return of Django” by the Upsetters, the infectious, cool sound of Kingston that was filling UK dance floors & had broken into the national chart. This girl had got good taste. When I left the market an hour later I was smitten & resolved to ask her out. Unbelievably I did just that, more improbably she said yes &, to cut a long story short, 5 years later we knew a lot more about Reggae & were about to be married.

 

The Western movies were always big in Jamaica & it showed in the titles of Ska tunes like “Tall in the Saddle” & “Vera Cruz”. The new Spaghetti Westerns caused an even bigger fuss & groups like the Upsetters were inspired to check for cowboy heroes in the titles of their instrumentals. “Return of Django”, coupled with “Dollar in the Teeth”, Val Bennett’s saxophone leading over an eager drum & bass rhythm was Rock Steady on the cusp of becoming Reggae & the first international hit for the now legendary producer Lee “Scratch” Perry. Perry’s inventive, intuitive sonic experiments, influential far beyond Jamaica, were in the future. The two LP’s he made at this time with the Upsetters (same name, different line ups) display his ability to craft a more simple song & give a hint of what was to come.

 

 

Image result for skinhead girls 1969"It was the Skinheads what done it. A retort to the changing styles of dedicated followers of Mod fashion the cropped hair, boots & braces look appealed to the predominantly working class hard Mods of London. Along with the new dress code Ska music from Jamaica, heard in local clubs & at parties, was embraced. In the late 60’s British youth liked a fight at the football on a Saturday afternoon. The visibility of Skinheads in this violence encouraged the fashion & led to a new moral panic in the media. The same model citizens who had spent the past five years moaning about long-haired youths were now complaining that hair was too short. There’s no pleasing some people! There were enough Skins to put their favourite records into the lower reaches of the chart & so catch the attention of the single national music radio station. Long hair, short hair, what the hell do we care? It’s a credit to UK youth, dancing fools all, that this music, new to many of them, sold in such large quantities.

 

Image result for harry j the liquidator"The Upsetters’ Winston Wright’s swirling then stabbing Hammond organ is the featured instrument on “The Liquidator” by the Harry J All Stars, fast rising from #17 to #9. Harry Johnson was a successful Jamaican producer, his All Stars, the new session band in town, the Hippy Boys, included the Barrett siblings Aston (bass) & Carlton (drums) later to become the rhythm section for the Wailers. The song was quickly adopted as an anthem by football fans, played as the teams ran out at Chelsea, Wolves, West Bromwich Albion & others. Harry hit big again the following year with “Young, Gifted & Black”, a duet by Bob Andy & Marcia Griffith. With the proceeds from the two hits he built a state-of-the-art studio in Kingston where Bob Marley & his group recorded four LP’s, a major contribution to Reggae going truly international.

 

 

The third hit of the times, at #7, was the upfull “Wonderful World Beautiful People” by Jimmy Cliff. Jimmy had returned to Jamaica after a debut LP recorded in the UK had not been successful. With his original mentor, Leslie Kong, at the controls a self-titled LP included “Many Rivers To Cross” & the anti-war “Vietnam”. There should have been more hits for the singer but his time would come with a starring role as Ivan in the film “The Harder They Come” (1972). Meanwhile Leslie Kong, “The Chinaman”, was enjoying his greatest success.

Image result for desmond dekker it miek 1969"Desmond Dekker was pivotal in the advancement of Jamaican music to a wider audience in the UK. In 1967 “007 (Shanty Town)”, with support from the pirate radio stations, reached the UK Top 20. It may have been something of a novelty hit but DD’s name was in the frame & in April 1969 “Israelites” (you know it, everybody does) was at #1 & broke into the US Top 10. The record’s massive sales & extensive international success opened up new possibilities for the vibrant Jamaican music scene. The equally lively follow up “It Miek”, like the others produced by Leslie Kong, entered the Top 10 later that summer. It was 30 years later that I saw Desmond Dekker perform when he topped a bill of mostly tribute acts. His energetic, joyous performance of his greatest hits (there were more) was perfect for a sunny afternoon in the park.

 

Image result for trojan records 1969"All of this would not have been possible without the founding of Trojan Records in 1968 by Island label boss Chris Blackwell & his partner Lee Gopthal, both champions of Jamaican music, both expert in the release & distribution of records for the Afro-Caribbean community. Initially they had the shops where Reggae could be bought & when the explosion of interest came they had the infrastructure to ensure that these discs were available on the high streets of every town & city. In late 1969 the British group Symarip released the popular “Skinhead Moonstomp” & followed that with an album full of similar titles. At that time there were probably three Skins in my small town (when there were more I had no trouble, I went to school & yeah, fought on the terraces with the top boys). When I went out with my new friend the Soul was not yet “Northern” & the Reggae soon to be but not yet “Skinhead”. It was all just the best music in the world to dance the weekend away.

 

A shout to the records not mentioned here that were DJ staples & crowd favourites back then. “Long Shot Kick the Bucket” (the Pioneers), the salacious & banned “Wet Dream” (Max Romeo) were hits & the 1967 almost hit “Train to Skaville (the Ethiopians) were all that & all there. We’ll get on to Laurel Aitken & Derrick Morgan some other time.