Randy Newman:Songwriter For Hire

I first became aware of Randy Newman (that’s the great) in the early months of 1967 when the Alan Price Set had a UK Top 5 hit with the lyrically dexterous “Simon Smith & His Amazing Dancing Bear”. Price’s previous group, his Rhythm & Blues Combo, had become the Animals who’s second single, the momentous British Beat interpretation of a folk standard “The House of the Rising Son” (1964), deservedly became a massive international success. The label of that 45 contained the words “Trad-arr:A Price”, an astute move on his part which triggered “musical differences” & his departure from the group soon after the first royalty cheques arrived.

 

Related imageThe seven-piece Alan Price Set didn’t write their own material, the debut LP, “The Price to Play” (1966), was a mix of the American Blues, R&B & Soul they played on stage. In a shift in style, on 1967’s “A Price on His Head” there were no less than seven Randy Newman songs. Four of these were included on Randy’s own eponymous debut LP released the following year. By 1968 it was becoming a given that if you needed a song which combined individuality, direct emotions & a dry wit then he was your man. The list of artists who selected from his catalogue was long, impressive & growing.

 

 

Randy, who dropped out of his music studies at the University of California, was joining the family business. Three of his uncles were established composers of film & TV scores. The most notable, Alfred Newman, won 9 Oscars for his soundtracks. He went pro when he was 17 & “They Tell Me It’s Summer”, a b-side to a Fleetwoods hit record provided financial encouragement to the aspiring songwriter.  I know now that Randy had written songs before “Simon Smith…”. I was not aware of the quality of the artists who had recorded his music & that he had written familiar songs that had been sizeable hits in the UK.

 

Image result for irma thomas anyone who knows what love isI didn’t know until recently that he has a co-credit for the incredible Irma Thomas song “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)”. Imperial Records were based in Los Angeles, Newman’s hometown, & enjoyed much success through a connection with Dave Bartholomew, a major player in the development of New Orleans music. Young Irma already had a fine string of impassioned Soul ballads behind her when “Anyone Who…”, a co-write between Randy, aspiring Country singer Jeannie Seely, then a secretary at Imperial & two others who appear to have written little else, was paired with “Time Is On My Side” for a 1964 single. The latter proved ideal for the Rolling Stones brand of bluesy British Beat. The atmospheric, enchanting “Anyone Who…” has received greater recognition since it’s inclusion in an episode of Charlie Brooker’s “Black Mirror” series. Together they comprise one of the most desirable & satisfying 7″ plastic discs released in the decade. Click on the clip above because Irma Thomas was, & still is, quite something.

 

 

1964 was the year that Randy Newman’s name really started getting around. Established artists such as Bobby Darin, Lou Rawls & Jackie De Shannon picked up his songs. The most substantial, enduring title was “I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore” given a dramatic interpretation by the consummate Jerry Butler, enjoying solo success after leaving the Impressions. A double A-side with “I Stand Accused”, there’s another covetable piece of vinyl. Over in the UK three Americans, the Walker Brothers were enjoying great popularity & the song was ideal for the expressive voice of Scott Walker. “I’ve Been Wrong Before” was a Top 20 UK hit for the Beatles mate Cilla Black &, in the  same year, appeared on “Ev’rything’s Coming Up Dusty” by Britain’s leading lady vocalist. Newman’s intriguing ballads & Ms Springfield were a great match. Her version of “I Don’t Want to Hear It…” was recorded for the impeccable “Dusty in Memphis” (1969). It makes the cut here because if you ever get the chance to listen to Dusty Springfield sing then take it.

 

 

Image result for gene pitney rolling stones tourGene Pitney had his biggest US successes in 1962. There were not only 2 Top 10 singles but “Rubber Ball” (Bobby Vee), “He’s A Rebel” (The Crystals) & “Hello Mary Lou” (Ricky Nelson) were his songs that you know by other  people.He lost a little direction though “Gene Pitney Meets the Fair Young Ladies of Folkland” (1964) is worth having for the title & cover. The two 1965 albums of duets with Country legend George Jones have worn very well too. His first UK hit, 1963’s “Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa”, Bacharach & David’s capsule soap opera, was an obvious quality item, A visit over here with Phil Spector,  hanging out with the Rolling Stones, recording an early song of theirs, made him kinda cool. His career revived in the US but he always seemed more popular in the UK. Two of his 11 Top 10 singles here were written by Randy Newman. “Nobody Needs Your Love (More Than I Do)” was another pinch of Jerry Butler, a quickened tempo, added orchestration & Gene’s trademark double tracked vocals gave him his usual hit. I probably have a preference for Jerry’s take but then if “The Ice Man” sang the weather forecast I would consider buying it.

 

“Just One Smile”, originally a B-side for the Tokens, a Doo-Wop group from Brooklyn, was Pitneyfied & added to his list of creditable hits. With a growing maturity & confidence Randy Newman began to develop a more individual style. Songs like “Tickle Me”, “So Long Dad”, “Mama Told Me Not to Come” & others displayed an original approach to the popular song, an acerbic wit & a slightly skewed view on Life through an assemblage of characters. He could still write those affecting, often slightly forlorn ballads & the queue to get a hold of his new songs got even longer. His own records were great then greater & don’t get me started on “Good Old Boys” (1974) because this is about Randy as a jobbing songwriter so…another time.

 

 

I was going to end this with the Nashville Teens & “The Biggest Night of Her Life”, a 1967 UK 45 which, for a couple of weeks I was convinced was headed for the charts. As I said there are songs that I know but I didn’t know Randy Newman wrote. Here is a version of “Just One Smile” by an absolute master of Chicago Soul & favourite of mine that I wasn’t aware of for years. It was recorded but failed to make the cut for Walter Jackson’s LP “Speak Her Name” (1966). Walter’s husky baritone, powerful & subtle, could make a grown man (that would be me) have a little something in his eye. Magnificent.

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New Music For September 2018

Can it be 30 years ago that I was sat with the woman lucky enough to be my companion in the well-appointed foyer bar of one of the concrete fun palaces on the South Bank of the River Thames eagerly awaiting a concert by the pioneering master trumpet player Don Cherry? I was raised to be respectful & to listen when someone is talking, notably good advice when you are hoping to make a good impression on the someone you have invited to share the evening. I admit that I was a little distracted when a very striking woman, Don’s step-daughter Neneh, stood nearby. I knew about Neneh from her time as singer with Rip Rig + Panic who released 3 LPs of Post Punk, Jazz Funk, did a couple of sessions for DJ John Peel & appeared on “The Young Ones”, the preferred TV comedy of the day for the nation’s youth.

 

Image result for neneh cherry rolling stoneBy the end of the year a lot more people knew who Neneh Cherry was. “Buffalo Stance”, a sparky, sparkling confection of Rap, R&B, Beats & sass, the first single from her solo LP “Raw Like Sushi”, was the brightest of modern Pop & in the UK Top 10. She appeared on Top of the Pops, almost 7 months pregnant, in stretch Lycra & she looked as good as she sounded. The single repeated its success in the US & in 1989 her music, videos & image were everywhere while she was celebrating the birth of her daughter Tyson with her husband-collaborator Cameron McVey.

 

 

 

It was 3 years before Neneh made the follow up record. “Homebrew” was good, not as commercially successful & I guess that she was not too concerned. Neneh was never too bothered about being a Pop star & since then she has worked when, where, with whoever she wanted & the music has always been interesting. The one you know is the trilingual “7 Seconds”, a 1994 hook up with Youssou N’Dour, a big hit all across Europe. The list of her collaborators is long, varied & very impressive.

 

Related image“Kong” is her first release since 2014’s “Blank Project” LP. It’s a serious , empathic commentary on the state of things, on the world in a state, “Goddamn guns and guts and history and bitter love still put a hole in me”. Back in 1988 Massive Attack’s 3D contributed to her song “Manchild”. He returns to co-produce with Four Tet & the talented pair have created an atmospheric Trip-Hop soundscape. “Kong” has more than a little of Massive Attack about it & that’s better than a good thing as there is not enough of that about nowadays. I put a friend on to the accomplished video & she was not just surprised that Neneh was still making music but also commented on how good she looked. Now I’m much too evolved to remark upon a woman’s appearance but I’m with Gigi on this one.

 

 

Extended exposure to “Joy as an Act of Resistance”, the powerful new collection of Punk pique by Idles, has created the need for a little time to chill so that I’m not gobbing on Life like it’s still 1977. The current soundtrack to the restoration of my equilibrium is “Lifted”, the new album, his fifth, by Israel Nash, a musician living in Texas whose work has passed me by for almost a decade. Seems like I’ve been missing out on something good.

 

Image result for israel nash liftedI became aware of Israel Nash Gripka, as he was then, with his debut “New York Town” (2009). The standout track “Pray For Rain”  sounded like the best track that John Fogerty had never recorded, I liked it but y’know, I have Credence records. Israel has got his band together, moved to Dripping Springs, Texas where he makes his records at home. He likes a full, chimeric, light-Psych sound. His mature lyrics are matched to mostly mid-tempo melodies & that’s OK,on “Lifted” perhaps the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. Israel still can write a mean Neil Young tribute, the harmonies evoke Crosby, Stills & Nash, even the Beach Boys on “Sweet Springs”. His influences are easily identified & they are all the good ones. The swooning pedal steel brings to mind the first Jerry Garcia LP & there’s not a lot better than that. While you click on the terrific “SpiritFalls” I’m putting the new Calexico on hold for 2015’s “Silver Season” then working my way back through his catalogue. This is the kind of Americana I like.

 

Neneh Cherry may have my vote for the single of the year so far but here at Loosehandlebars Mansions we welcome the opinions of others & a good friend of the blog, Raymond Gorman, formerly of That Petrol Emotion, now a member of The Everlasting Yeah, has been canvassing support for this. I think that Raymond may be one of the dancers in this video…Yeah, he wishes.

 

 

Image result for chaka khan magazine coverOnly good things can be said about Chaka Khan. In her early twenties when the group she fronted, Rufus, broke through you watch her performances on “Soul Train” & she is a hootie tootie disco cutie, magnetic, a talent & a star. Here’s the first hit “Tell Me Something Good”, before the group became “…featuring Chaka”. I recently made a mix of 80’s R&B for a mate, helping to make the day in his cab a little funkier, & her super smash with Prince’s “I Feel For You” was an obvious ingredient. I had to match it with the abiding “Ain’t Nobody” by Rufus, a permanent fixture on our house party tapes in that decade.

 

Image result for like sugar chaka khan“Like Sugar” is the Great Khan’s first track for a decade, the lead for a new album. It’s recorded with Switch, formerly off of Major Lazer & producer for many, including M.I.A. The song proves that Old School or New School, what the heck’s the difference as long as it’s got the Funk. There’s a heavy sample of the Fatback Band/Sarah Ruba version of “(Are You Ready) To Do the Bus Stop” & the all-dancing video will make you smile. If you have missed this up to now then get your groove on & remember what a fine Summer we had. There’s a Switch remix that’s worth a listen too. Ms Khan is, of course, a legend, just this week she performed at Aretha’s funeral. It’s great to have her around again.

 

I Know, I Know, I Know (Bill Withers)

Image result for bill withers just as i amBill Withers (that’s the great…) came late to making records. Born in 1938 in Slab Fork, West Virginia he joined the US Navy at 18 where he served 9 years before settling in Los Angeles, working a day job to finance his demo tapes while performing at night. His luck changed in 1970 when Sussex Records signed him to make an album. Sussex had a producer who was new to California but an old hand behind the studio desk. Booker T Jones, off of “& the M.G.’s”, had gotten tired of working too hard for too little financial reward at Stax in Memphis. He married Priscilla Coolidge, Rita’s sister, relocated & was looking for new challenges. For “Just As I Am” (1971) Booker T called in his old rhythm section Al Jackson (drums) & Duck Dunn (bass), Stephen Stills brought along some L.A. friends. The first single, “Ain’t No Sunshine”, you know it, sold over a million copies, made the US Top 10 & was awarded the Grammy for the Best R&B song of that year. Bill Withers, reluctant to quit his job making toilet seats for Boeing 747’s, became an unlikely & deserving star.

 

 

Image result for bill withers muhammad ali“Just As I Am” hits the ground running with the evocative, picaresque “Harlem”, “Ain’t No Sunshine” a sure-fire smash, the touching, universal “Grandma’s Hands” & the sheer class keeps on coming. Bill was no Soul shouter, his direct Folk-Gospel suitably framed in simple, driving arrangements with taut string flourishes. A cover of Lennon & McCartney’s “Let It Be” is more successful than Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin'” but it’s the mature plainspeak of his own lyrics that marks Bill Withers as an outstanding, individual talent. The sad & beautiful “Hope She’ll Be Happier”, a late-night broken hearted farewell to an ex, never fails to affect. This performance is from 1974, a highlight of a concert in Zaire arranged as part of the Ali – Foreman rumble. The cameras stay on the singer & his authentic Star Power is confirmed.

 

When Bill had to go to work at his new job he knew just the crew to to share the stage with. Keyboard player Ray Jackson had assisted him with those early demos. Ray’s fellow members of Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd St Rhythm Band, Benorce Blackmon (guitar), Melvin Dunlap (bass) & the inimitable drummer James Gadson all handed in their notice & joined Bill’s band. The evidence of just how good they were is right here & on the Y-tube there is a half hour show from 1972 which touches greatness. They all knew it too, enjoying laying down the coolest, in-the-pocket groove. They did it sitting down, imagine how good they would have been if they had stood up!

 

 

The band, with percussionist Bobbye Hall, recorded & produced the next LP “Still Bill” (1972) which hit the same spots & more. The modern day hymn “Lean On Me”, you not only know that tune but you know the words too, was a US #1 while the sensual “Use Me”, not just the hook of the year but one for all-time, peaked at #2. No-one else’s songs this time just great originals like “Who Is He (And What Is He To You)?”, a typically accurate encapsulation of jealousy covered most successfully by groups with female leads (Gladys Knight & the Pips, the Soul Children). The best tracks…it’s a list but I hear the joyous funk of “When I’m Kissing My Love”  & I’m singing it for days.

 

Image result for bill withers carnegie hallThe following year the Bill Withers gang released “Live at Carnegie Hall” & what a life-affirming disc that is. The hits are played, “Use Me” twice, & enthusiastically received by a full house. The singer’s & band’s performances have a little more drive & grit than on studio recordings & that’s nothing but a good thing. The 5 new songs include the empathic “I Can’t Write Left Handed” about a young man who lost an arm in the Vietnam War. Bill didn’t write polemics, didn’t involve himself with the politics of the day. His stories about himself & others contain a sensibility that is more enduring than strident sloganeering. “…Carnegie Hall”, with the long revivalist encore of “Harlem/Cold Baloney” is one of the great live albums.

 

 

Image result for bill withers posterThese three albums are the imperial phase of Bill’s career. He could take his seat at the top table of Soul alongside Marvin, Stevie, Curtis & others. After this the business of the music business started to get in the way. “+Justments” (1974) is a fine record, the last with his band & possibly a little rushed. Sussex Records was closed by the Inland Revenue & Bill was left hanging before signing with Columbia. In no way should his time with a major label be dismissed, the records are still warm & individual but a production gloss moves him away from his original sound & the company often rejected tracks while making inappropriate suggestions for material. Bill tells a great story about white “blaxperts” insisting that Elvis’ “In the Ghetto” was the song for him!

 

There were still successes. “Lovely Day” (1977) became yet another of Bill’s songs that entered the public consciousness. A collaboration with Grover Washington, “Just the Two of Us” won the Grammy for Best R&B Song in 1981. It’s not just the hits, on every record there are songs & vocal performances that deserved a wider hearing. In 1985, after a 7 year hiatus, he released an album including the slow jam “Something That Turns You On”. Some of the songs on “Watching You Watching Me” were ones that had previously been rejected. Bill had a life before touring, recording & promoting product & now, happily married with a young family, he stepped away from the business & rarely recorded again.

 

 

Image result for bill withers 2009In 2009 the documentary “Still Bill” brought the reticent star back into the public eye. It’s a portrait of a 70-something man who has lived a good life well & learned some stuff along the way. Bill Withers is not only a very, very nice man his domestic, grounded Zen wisdom, still unimpressed by the star-making machinery, marks him as an admirable person. A highlight of the film is when he joins guitarist Cornell Dupree onstage for “Grandma’s Hands”. Two maestros doing what they do to the delight of the audience, to myself & to pretty much everyone I know. Accolades have come Bill’s way, a Wonder (Stevie) & a Legend (John) assisted him in his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. It is the four or five songs of his that everyone knows & others that we should know that mark him as an outstanding, abiding artist. The full documentary is on the Y-tube so if you have 70 minutes to spare. Hey, make sure you see it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music For Half Time

OK, there’s no football for a couple of days & while it’s probably not coming home the England team are still in Russia. I’ll be, like the rest of the country, shouting at the TV on Saturday afternoon, my neighbours will appreciate that it’s not my turn to host this time. Dan has only been in his house for a month, I’m sure that his new friends next door will be OK with the noise. Today is the sixth birthday of Loosehandlebars so let’s feature some of the music that has been filling the gaps between some very enjoyable World Cup matches.

 

 

Related imageThe new LP from Half Man Half Biscuit is titled “No-one Cares About Your Creative Hub So Get Your Fuckin’ Hedge Cut”…that’s a good start. It’s over 30 years now since the first 2 albums by HMHB were at the front of the stack & at #1 in the UK Indie chart. On “Back in the DHSS” (1985) & “Back Again…” (1987) Nigel Blackwell’s lugubrious commentaries on British popular culture matched to a spirited bit of Punk Rock were wry relief from the dole-drums of Thatcher’s Britain. Playing in the band got the boys away from daytime TV & declining to appear on “The Tube” because of a previous Friday night appointment with Tranmere Rovers confirmed that they walked it like they talked it. Maybe, just maybe, references to Fred Titmus, Nerys Hughes, Bob Todd (“99% of Gargoyles Look Like…”) & Len Ganley didn’t mean much outside of the UK but HMHB were making the most pertinent funny music sice the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. Which of us here have not often called the mind the opening lines of “Dickie Davies’ Eyes”, “Mention The Lord Of The Rings just once more & I’ll more than likely kill you”. That’s so right.

 

Image result for half man half biscuitThe band still has a big enough following to play plenty of gigs & subsequent records have come to my attention when the band has been discovered by those younger than myself. There are always good songs & it’s not only “Restless Legs”, “Joy Division Oven Gloves” & “National Shite Day” (“There’s a man with a mullet going mad with a mallet in Millets”) that’s made Nigel a bit of a national treasure. On “No-one cares…” he’s still piercingly accurate about pretension, going on about football, “Swerving the Checkatrade”, “Knobheads on Quiz Shows” is self-explanatory. There are even a couple of  more poignant songs about ageing & loss. Great titles, better lyrics, British Folk Pop Punk, they do that better than anyone.

 

 

Image result for richard and linda thompson in concertOne of my favourite recent purchases (alongside a rather fine Popeye the Sailorman tee-shirt) is “In Concert, November 1975” by Richard & Linda Thompson. I can’t remember why I missed out on this tour because I loved the first 2 records by this pair & “Pour Down Like Silver”, the new album at the time, has become the one I play the most from an outstanding, enduring body of work. In 2007, 25 years after the Thompson’s professional & romantic separation, Island Records finally released this gem from a couple at the top of their game backed by an all-star band.

 

Image result for richard and linda thompson in concertThere are plenty of Richard & Linda classics, the extended versions of “Night Comes In” & “Calvary Cross” (all 14 minutes!) are even better than the studio versions. There are cover versions, Hank Williams, Buck Owens, Ricky Nelson, reflecting Richard’s interest in American Country as well as British Folk music. “Now Be Thankful” first appeared on “Full House”, the final LP Richard made with Fairport Convention. On that fine record it’s sung by co-writer Dave Swarbrick. I’m an enthusiast of Fairport’s work, I know (& so do you) that Sandy Denny is one of the great vocalists but when Linda sings & Richard plays resistance is futile. I just kick back & enjoy some of the most beautiful, emotional music that I am aware of. This spectacular rendition took my breath away, touched my heart & opened my wallet.

 

 

Image result for one fast move or i'm goneThe weather’s been great here this past week, how about you? Time to dig out the past feelgood hits of the Summer to be enjoyed sitting outside with a cold beverage, a refreshing bit of green & good conversation. There’s been, of course, plenty of Reggae, Marvin & Tammi’s “United” always hits the spot & every Summer, however fleeting, since 2010 “One Fast Move or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur” has been a fine accompaniment to warm evenings. Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie, Postal Service) & Jay Farrar (Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt) didn’t seem to the most likely pairing, brought together by a mutual respect for Jack Kerouac & producing an album of, mainly Farrar’s, songs. This is not Beat poetry & anyway I’m more a Steinbeck man myself, it’s a fine collection of modern Country Rock, a fresh take on the music I’ve enjoyed since the late 1960’s.

 

Right, I’m away to order a Gareth Southgate waistcoat from Amazon. Happy Birthday to the blog & bring on Sweden!

From My Toes Up To My Ears (The Man In Me)

I was already looking upon “Small Town Crime”, the latest film written & directed by the Nelms Brothers, with a kind eye because it stars John Hawkes, one of my favourite current actors. The choice of “Good Times” by Eric Burdon & the Animals to accompany the opening credits clinched the deal & I settled into the sofa to enjoy a capable, violent, low-life thriller which tips its hat to the Coen Brothers & to Tarantino. Speaking of the Coen Brothers, I do like a good tune at the start of a movie & I do like this.

 

 

“The Man In Me” is from “New Morning”, Bob Dylan’s second LP of 1970. The sprawling, deliberately indulgent double album “Self Portrait” was the future Nobel laureate’s way of letting the Woodstock Nation know that if they really wanted a leader to follow then they should be looking in another direction. Bob’s retreat from the public gaze after his motorcycle accident in 1966 added mystery to the legend, leaving the Dylanologists to pore over & think too much about his recorded output. The superbly lyrical “John Wesley Harding” & the Country-croon of “Nashville Skyline” were a break from the early topical Folk songs & from the phosphorescent Rock & Roll of the mid-Sixties. On “New Morning” Dylan was bringing it all back home but Home was a different place now .

 

Image result for new morning bob dylan“New Morning”, quickly recorded in New York, is a lovely piece of kit. “Day of the Locusts”, about an uncomfortable time at Princeton & “Went to See the Gypsy”, an imagined meeting with Elvis, showed Dylan was still master of the spiky put-down but it’s an album with a predominantly romantic, contented outlook. The title track, “If Not For You” (an instant classic),”Sign on the Window” & others were simple, tender paeans to domestic bliss. “The Man in Me” is in that category &, to some extent, it was “The Big Lebowski” that brought it back to the world’s attention. Over here in the UK we already knew what a great love song it was because in the Summer of 1977 you didn’t go to a club or a blues dance without hearing this great version.

 

 

Image result for matumbiMatumbi were a keystone in the UK Reggae scene. A homegrown group who paid the bills backing touring Jamaican artists, their early singles, a cover of Hot Chocolate’s “Brother Louie”, the Rasta-influenced “Wipe Them Out”, didn’t really get a wide hearing. At the time the national charts were based on high street & chain sales, excluding specialist independent shops. “After Tonight” (1976), a self-penned, sweet, harmonious harbinger of Lovers Rock, stayed on the Reggae charts for almost 6 months without bothering the Top of the Pops list. The following year “The Man in Me” was the most successful Reggae 45 in the UK & still never made the Top 40. Matumbi did not get the shot they deserved.

 

After signing with a bigger label the group released a debut LP “Seven Seals” (1978), which, beautifully produced by guitarist Dennis Bovell, still is some good listening. Reggae was being heard a lot more after Bob Marley but it was newer, younger Black British groups, Aswad, Steel Pulse, who were getting the attention. Bovell was busy with other projects. He became a partner/producer for the Lovers Rock label, writing the sure-fire smash “Silly Games” for Janet Kay,. There were Dub albums released under the pseudonym Blackbeard, his Dub Band provided the imaginative musical foundation for the poems of Linton Kwesi Johnson & he scored Franco Rosso’s sound system drama “Babylon” (1980). Dennis Bovell was a groundbreaker & an inspiration for those who came after him on the British Reggae scene.

 

When, in 1979 during the sessions for “London Calling”, the Clash made a demo of “The Man in Me”. It was the UK Pop Reggae of Matumbi they were covering not the Dylan original. It seems that Matumbi themselves discovered the song from another group’s version recorded in 1971.

 

 

Image result for the persuasions street corner symphonyNow here’s a group that you don’t hear enough about. Formed in New York in 1962 the Persuasions were an acapella group who caught the ear of Frank Zappa, a champion of Doo Wop music, who recorded them for his Straight label. Through the 1970’s they continued to make records which were never anachronistic or revivalist because they always sang with Soul & Joy. “The Man in Me” is included on “Street Corner Symphony” (1972) possibly the best of their albums though their just vocals versions of classic songs are all worth checking out.

 

The Persuasions kept on keeping on. At the end of the 20th century there was a Christmas record then one for kids before in 2000 “Frankly A Capella-The Persuasions Sing Zappa” was not only very entertaining but made a whole lot of sense. This began a series of albums based on the catalogue of a single artist, the Grateful Dead, the Beatles, U2 & Dylan. These are perhaps not as successful as the Zappa one but no-one does what the Persuasions do better than them & Jah bless them for it.

 

Post-Lebowski “The Man in Me” spawned many more cover versions. I do like the one by Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires (I would, wouldn’t I?), it’s exactly the heartfelt, honest love song that Jason, inspired by his new wife, was hoping to emulate. My favourite thing this week is not only worth featuring here but is also a fine piece of synchronicity.

 

 

Image result for bobby vee new soundBobby Vee is from Fargo, North Dakota (hello to the Coen Brothers again) who, in 1959 as a 16 year old, had a hit in Minnesota with his first single “Suzie Baby”. 18 year old Bob Dylan, calling himself Elston Gunn, blagged a short-lived gig as a piano player with Vee, his first professional experience. When Bob went his way, to New York in search of Woody Guthrie, Bobby exchanged his rockabilly pompadour for a haircut your mother would like & became the biggest, 5 Gold records, of the early 1960’s teen idols. The British Invasion put an end to all that & Bobby Vee, despite covering a couple of Beatles songs, & the label cheekily calling the album “…Sings the New Sound From England”, had just one more hit in 1968. Dylan always spoke very fondly of that brief period & performed his own version of “Suzie Baby”, once when Bobby Vee was in the audience.

 

Image result for bobby vee bob dylanIn 2012 Bobby Vee was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease & his 3 sons spent some quality time with their father in the garage studio at his home in Tucson Arizona. The result was “The Adobe Sessions” (2014), a record I’m unfamiliar with but if there’s anything else as good as this take on “The Man in Me” then further investigation is required. There are younger groups making this kind of Folk-Rock who are being hailed as the new incarnation of the Band! It’s an assured, quite moving version & I like it a lot.

 

So there’s 4 versions of this great song. It may not be “Like A Rolling Stone” or “All Along the Watchtower” but it states a simple truth about Love & that honesty is the best you can ask from a Pop song. “Take a woman like you to get through to the man in me”. That’s right!

 

 

New Music From Derry (Spring 2018)

The occasion of a new video from STRENGTH N.I.A. is a time to sit up & pay attention. Their self-described “Werewolf Pop”, indigenous Derry music made on pieces of dead machinery was so effective & affecting that, to do things right, I asked a friend who  knew a bit more about the band to contribute their views. In July of 2016 Paul Pj McCartney, a stalwart of & an authority on the Derry scene kindly wrote this piece. If you missed it it’s just a click away. Strength N.I.A’s new song “Brendan Bradley” to my ears, sounds like the most complete realisation yet of a manifesto to reflect the culture of their city in their music.

 

 

Brendan Bradley was a footballer from Derry in N.Ireland, he holds the record for the most goals scored by an individual in League of Ireland soccer history. His career spanned from 1966 – 1986. Brendan Bradley grew up in the Creggan area of Derry, a Catholic estate that was a ‘No Go’ area for the British army during the troubles in Northern Ireland. It was during this time that Brendan was detained by the British army at a border checkpoint in the 1970s whilst traveling between the North and the South of Ireland for football games. The British army could detain people at will under the Terrorism act of 1974. Brendan was later released and went on to become a true Irish sports legend scoring a total of 235 goals.

 

What a song this is, spare & true with a haunting beauty. A celebration of a local sportsman who made his mark on a wider stage. The video is filmed in the city & features the new Derry City stadium at the Brandywell. When I visited last year the Candystripers were playing out of town, it’s a place I must visit when I return. Singer Rory proudly wears the shirt worn by Owen de Gama, a South African & the only player in the league with his own fan club, in the 1988 FAI Cup Final. I love music, I love football & I love this song. Congratulations to the band & all involved. Strength N.I.A. play a show at the Nerve Centre in Derry next weekend. That’s not one to miss.

 

My good friend Mickey Rooney has knocked around the music scene a bit. I know, judging from the mix that is always playing whenever I get in his motor, that he has great taste in guitar music. So, when he throws his support behind CHERYM it’s only polite to give them a listen &, of course, he’s right. Cherym, formed in early 2017, are guitarist/singer Hannah Richardson, her long-time friend Lauren Kelly on drums & bass player Nyree Porter who explained  “it just clicked we got on and they all wanted to be my friend”. Their first single “Take It Back” is exactly the kind of fresh energetic Pop-Punk you want to hear from a bright young band & it goes like this…

 

 

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing

 

I know, good isn’t it? As Damian O’Neill, still an Undertone, now a Monotone, said “I’m just about to play it again”. The song deservedly caught the attention of local & national radio. You can own it by clicking on “Buy” in the link above. On 12th of May “Mouth Breatherz”, a new EP will be available, live dates across Ireland & the UK are planned as are BBC radio sessions. All the latest news is on Cherym’s Facebook page & I suggest that you get on to them early because these young women have a live set of impressive original material & if you wait until the end of the Summer there will be a long queue.

 

Image result for wood burning savagesOn my first night in Derry I saw the WOOD BURNING SAVAGES play an acoustic set. My impression that they were good guys was confirmed when later in the weekend one of their members picked us up in his van & took us home at 1 a.m., sparing us the hoo-ha of finding a taxi that is traditionally part of a night out in the city. The four piece were formed in 2012, played the BBC Introducing stage at Glastonbury in 2014 & have plenty of experience gigging all over Ireland & the rest of Europe. What I saw that night was very enjoyable but I’m getting the impression that I did not catch W.B.S. in full effect. From what I’ve heard & seen since these guys like to rock.

 

 

Image may contain: 4 people, including Kevin Magee, people smiling“Stability” is the debut LP by the Wood Burning Savages & will be available next week on the 27th of April. Frontman Paul Connolly says it’s  “a collection of songs about a working class furious at years of empty promises”. You can judge for yourself from the clip above for “Purple Heart” & another for the rifftastic “I Don’t Know Why I Do It To Myself”. They are both full on & very good. Paul isn’t always furious, here he seems happy to help out one of the city’s less fortunate with a copy of the album. (Sorry, couldn’t resist that. Kevin is one of the nicest people in Derry & lucky enough to be married to the lovely Ali). You can satisfy all your Wood Burning Savages needs  by visiting their website. Me, my fancy is taken by the combination offer of a CD & a rather tasty band tee shirt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sound & Vision (April 2018)

As regular readers (a big “Hello” to both of you) will know this past month I have been mainly listening to & writing about Soul & Funk, music that continues to fascinate & delight. I do still keep an ear on new Rock music but, for me, much of it sounds like something that has not only been done before but done better. Currently the only non-Soul records at the front of the stack are much-played discs by XTC & Teenage Fanclub (oh & Steely Dan…always the Dan). News of a new release by a guitar hero of mine has piqued my interest & caused me to temporarily give up the Funk to investigate further.

 

 

“The Tracers” is the first track to be released from “Call the Comet”, the upcoming album from Johnny Marr. Of course Johnny is always going to be best remembered for his work over 30 years ago (I know!) with the Smiths. His layered soundscapes perfectly framed Morrissey’s sometimes downcast, always droll lyrics to revitalise British guitar music & make them the best band in the country. After the break-up he became a guitar-for-hire, content to add quality to whatever took his fancy. The 3 Electronic albums with Bernard Sumner off of New Order & others are the only ones where he has put his name to the songs & stepped to the front of the stage.

 

Image result for johnny marr the messengerThis will be the third solo LP by Marr & I will be on it because I took too long to get around to the previous two. “The Messenger” (2013) is up there with the best records of the decade. No new ground is broken but from the rush & the push of the opener “The Right Thing Right” through to the dead stone classic “New Town Velocity” its capacious jangle, anthemic without bombast, updates a quintessential 1980’s Manchester sound. Of course the music can remind you of his old band, it’s what Johnny Marr does. He’s not from the traditional axeman hero mould. He has some pretty good Rock & Roll influences along with the taste & imagination to incorporate them into his own distinctive, melodic playing. His proficiency in creating the sound of the Smiths brings to mind Tony Hicks off of the Hollies, another Manchester guitar hero of mine who knew how a great Pop single went.

 

 

So, what’s on the TV then?  Nothing much, I know. I binged the latest series of “Schitt’s Creek” in 2 days because, except for the new batch of “Curb…”, it’s the only comedy that makes me laugh out loud. Yesterday I discovered how to edit the “continue watching” on Netflix so that’s a whole lot of disappointment out of my life for ever. The one series this year that has had me hooked, good enough to make me want to consider what I’ve just watched, too good to rush onto the next episode is “Counterpart”.

 

Image result for counterpart jk simmons“Counterpart” is a parallel universe spy thriller set in the two Berlins, one in the Alpha world (that’s ours) the other in the Prime world ( the same as ours but different). The only portal between the two is strictly controlled but, people being how they are in any world that they hook up to, there are bad things going on & these things get messy. It’s a 10 part season, light on the science, heavy on the fiction, which takes its time in telling its tale. The series is anchored by two star performances by J K Simmons. In a complex plot you usually know which of the Howard Silks you are watching from his demeanour. The supporting cast includes the “always watchable” Olivia Williams, Richard Schiff, Adeel Akhtar & its good to see Stephen Rea, a fine actor, with a meaty part. “Counterpart” may not be for everyone, there are plot holes which will give sci-fi pedants a bumpy ride. Its concerns with Love, loss, & identity kept me watching & the arrival of “The Management” in the final episode has me waiting eagerly for series 2.

 

OK, the new series of Legion” starts this week. I’ll watch but if it keeps messing me about with whole episodes that never really happened then I have an off switch on my remote & I’m not afraid to use it. Later this month sees the return of Jim “Brockmire”, a series I did find to be funny first time around. In the meantime it’s back to the Netflix to see if there’s anything that I want to “continue watching”.

Dogs & Chickens In Space.

Up to now, & it has been quite a while, I have avoided slapping a single song on to here, knocking out a couple of sentences about it & throwing it out on to the Internet. That seemed a little easy, even lazy, it didn’t really fit the loosehandlebars template (which anyway happened more by luck than judgement) & it could be the beginning of a slippery slope where I end up posting photos of kittens. I don’t want that, neither do you, no-one wants that, at least no-one I know. But…there is so much great music that I would like to have around the blog. So, here is the first of possibly an endless series, probably one that will run out of steam in the middle of next week.

 

This is the fantastic Five Du-Tones from 1964 & the stratospheric “The Chicken Astronaut”.

 

 

Image result for five du tonesThe Five Du-Tones recorded the original version of “Shake A Tail Feather”, a boisterous variant of “Twist & Shout” which some will remember from James & Bobby Purify & all of us know from “The Blues Brothers”. The group released 9 singles on the One-derful label between 1963-5, most of them expositions of dances that never caught on. “The Flea”, “The Gouster”, “The Woodbine Twine” & “The Cool Bird”, you remember them…no, nor me. Their ragged Doo-Wop, delivered with energy & humour, was never more effective than on this space oddity “The Chicken Astronaut”, a touching tale of a less than intrepid explorer who would prefer to keep both feet on Earth.

 

 

Image result for belka space dog badgeWhilst we are on the subject of Mankind flinging its agents “ever outward…into the colourless, tasteless, weightless sea of outwardness without end” (Kurt Vonnegut), how about this rather desirable enamel badge of Belka, one of the first living animals to orbit the Earth & survive. In August 1960 Belka, along with another doggie cosmonaut, Strelka, had a grand day out aboard Sputnik 5, lived to wag the tail & became a hero of the Soviet Union. One of Strelka’s puppies was presented by Premier Khrushchev to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy & went to live in the White House which seems a much more civilised way of fostering US-Russian relations than being peed on by prostitutes (allegedly).

 

They followed in the pawsteps of the, probably more famous, Laika, the “Muttnik” who, it was reported, died after 6 days in orbit when the oxygen supply ran out. It was over 40 years later that it was revealed that Laika lasted only 6 hours before stress & over-heating proved fatal. Belka & Strelka were much less fazed by their trip to outer space &, from the available photos, seem very happy about the experience. They are immortalised in all sorts of Soviet-era paraphenalia & their preserved bodies are on display at Moscow’s Memorial Museum of Cosmonauts which seems like a better place to visit than Madame Tussaud’s.

 

Image result for belka and strelka space dogsImage result for belka and strelka space dogs

 

Doh! What do you know? I’m posting photos of cute animals already. There is no hope for me!

Going To Chicago (Tyrone Davis)

For someone who has released 30 albums & enjoyed over 20 Top 20 R&B hits, 3 at #1, Tyrone Davis is not as celebrated & remembered as well as some of his contemporaries. He came to wider public attention in February 1969 when his first successful single replaced Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” at the top of the R&B charts. Two weeks later it was succeeded by “Everyday People” by Sly & the Family Stone. You know those two songs & you can see that it took a pretty good record to make it to #1 back then. “Can I Change My Mind” was more than pretty good, it was Soul Dynamite.

 

 

Image result for tyrone davis can i change my mindBy 1968 two of the leading lights of the talented group who had gathered at Chicago’s Okeh Records were looking for greater independence & a management takeover by Epic was proving to be an obstacle. Curtis Mayfield made plans to leave his group the Impressions & establish his own label Curtom. Similarly A&R manager/producer Carl Davis struck out for himself & founded Dakar. One of his first signings was a former valet/chauffeur to Blues man Freddie King whose records as Tyrone the Wonder Boy had not made a mark. In the time he took to change his name Tyrone Davis gave the label their first hit. “Can I Change My Mind”, originally a b-side, moved Chicago Soul forward. The punchy, buoyant horns are still there, the bass of Bernard Reed & guitar of “Mighty” Joe Young adding an intriguing modern funkiness which influenced the way Pop-Soul sounded from now on. In Jamaica, after Alton Ellis had a hit at Studio 1, it became a song that great singers, Delroy Wilson, Gregory Isaacs, Dennis Brown & others, all wanted to record.

 

Tyrone’s first LP is the one named after the hit single. Half of the songs are taken from the Atlantic Soul catalogue but this is no set of covers  quickly assembled to cash in while the singer is a hot property. Opening with Wilson Pickett’s “She’s Looking Good” followed by a surprising & effective interpretation of “Knock On Wood” Davis’ strong, bluesy voice is encouraged by immaculate production & arrangements by Willie Henderson & Don Myrick. The Chicago session regulars, equally at home with Blues or Soul are on point too. The LP may not have been as expansive or as ambitious as the greatest of the records made by African-American artists at that time but it’s a finely realised collection of songs that belongs on the top shelf alongside them.

 

 

Image result for tyrone davis turn back the hands of timeWithin 18 months Tyrone was back at the top of the R&B charts & crossing over into the Pop Top 10. “If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time” is a smooth, impeccably crafted hit single while the rest of the LP with that title is a showcase for the singer’s extensive range . On the ballads it’s as if Bobby “Blue” Bland was a Pop singer & that’s a high compliment. This “Soul Train” clip is from December 1972, some time after the song was top of the pops. It’s as good an example of Tyrone in his pomp as there is. By the end of 1970, with the success of other singles taken from this record, Tyrone Davis was a fixture in the US R&B best sellers.

 

I’m going to be repeating myself here because listening to “I Had It All the Time” (1972) is another fine experience. Willie Henderson still directs, making use of 3 different arrangers. The short stabs of the horns, the swirl of strings, the female backing vocals, the inventive bass & guitar lines, all contributed to an individual & popular sound. Changes in style & taste were reflected back with an innovative Chicago twist for good measure. At the forefront was Tyrone’s rich, assured voice.

 

 

Image result for tyrone davis michael ochsTyrone Davis was Dakar’s star artist & there was an album from him every year until 1975. When his friend, Leo Graham, who had co-written the b-side of “Turn Back…, became his producer Tyrone returned to #1 in the R&B charts with “Turning Point” in 1976. It is a sign of the changing times that such a successful record made no impression on the Pop charts. Deep Soul music no longer got played on the radio, the days of Disco were upon us. “Turning Point” was his last LP for Dakar & Tyrone signed for Columbia where he continued his partnership with Graham.

 

It’s maybe another time for Tyrone’s Columbia years. The 7 LPs he made at Dakar are the ones that keep me coming back to him. The Greatest Hits compilations from these years are indeed great. Songs such as “What Goes Up (Must Come Down)” (1974) were made to be played on the radio & to keep Tyrone’s name in the frame. The 2 CD “Ultimate” & the 3 CD “Ladies Choice” reissues include album tracks, lesser known gems, like “Was It Just a Feeling” which push things a little further & are a delight to discover. There’s a roster of outstanding Chicago Soul singers, Jerry Butler, Gene Chandler, Major Lance, Walter Jackson, Billy Stewart, Jackie Wilson.  (I’m not forgetting Etta James, Barbara Acklin, Chaka Khan), it’s a list & it’s not complete (oh blimey…Lou Rawls!). Tyrone Davis continued this fine timeline into the 1970s & if you like those singers then you will love the music he made at that time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soul UK (Geno Washington & The Ram Jam Band)

Image result for geno washington ram jam bandI never saw Geno Washington & the Ram Jam Band play live but I know some (older) people who did. How do you know someone saw Geno? Don’t worry they will tell you. In the mid-1960’s as the Beat Boom gave way to Modernism the local semi-professional bands replaced the R&B standards they had copied from the Stones first LP with the Soul hits of the day. If “Knock On Wood” & “Hold On, I’m Coming” were not in your set then you didn’t get the gig. In clubs across the country knowledgeable crowds came together at the weekend to dance to the American music they loved. The records were great but  when Geno Washington & the Ram Jam Band came to your town it was the nearest to the charge, the bolt, the buzz of an American Soul revue that many people were likely to get.

 

 

 

Image result for geno washington posterGeno had come to Britain to fight the Cold War in the early 1960’s. His singing ability was noticed & the Ram Jam Band went to lengths to keep him in Britain, even considering buying him out of the USAF. Managed by the Gunnell brothers, owners of the Flamingo Club, the group had a ready made London residency to establish their reputation. They had a recording contract with Piccadilly, a subsidiary of Pye Records, who in 1966 released a single by John Lennon’s father, a couple of minor hits by singer David Garrick & a lot of easy listening.  The 4 singles released by Geno that year all hovered in or around the Top 40 at a time when only the Top 20 was a thing.

 

Capturing the effervescence of the live experience was always going to prove difficult. In a year when “Reach Out, I’ll Be There”, “Try A Little Tenderness”, “When A Man Loves A Woman” & “It’s A Man’s Man’s World” arrived in the shops then you had to make a pretty good record to separate a Soul fan from their money & the Ram Jam’s records didn’t really stand out. Of course the answer was to record the group live so an audience was invited to Pye’s Marble Arch studio & “Hand Clappin’ Foot Stompin’ Funky-Butt…Live!” was the outcome.

 

 

In 1966 “H.C.F.S. F-B…Live!” rose to #5 in the UK LP charts. A record of a great night out was what fans wanted & in the following year “Hipster, Flipsters, Finger-Poppin’ Daddies” followed it into the Top 10. Geno may not have been the greatest singer but he was a passionate communicator. If the man with the microphone was telling you to get down & get with it while the band played & danced up a storm then it would be rude not to reciprocate & a great time was had by all.

 

Image result for geno washington posterThe band were kept busy playing to packed crowds all over the country. In the Autumn of 1966 they closed the first half of a package tour which featured the Butterfield Blues Band, Chris Farlowe, Eric Burden & the New Animals & headliner Georgie Fame. Now that’s one for when I finally get this time machine working. The tour was co-promoted by the pirate Radio London & in the Summer of 67 they gave great support to a single which, I thought, would be the breakthrough for Geno Washington. “She Shot A Hole In My Soul” was a minor US R&B hit for Clifford Curry which did not get a UK release at the time. Geno & the Ram Jam Band’s full-bodied Pop-Soul failed to break the charts. The gig diary was always full but the hit single continued to elude them.

 

 

In 1968 the Ram Jam Band went to see the Gunnell Brothers about getting paid & found themselves out of a job. Geno’s new group had longer hair, ditched the Mod clobber & the choreography. The musical landscape was shifting, a set full of Soul covers was no longer on the cutting edge. My friend Pete saw Geno at Brixton’s famous Ram Jam club supported by the upcoming Jimi Hendrix Experience. It’s a good story that I’ve heard many times but there is a lot more Jimi than Geno in it.

 

Image result for geno washingtonBy the Autumn of 1969 the band had broken up. Geno didn’t hang around long before returning to the US. I have always thought that with a better choice of material & more sympathetic production Geno could have had that first hit record & made the break from the club scene to the mainstream. Even without that hit there surely should have been a place for him on the new scene. Even the most stoned of hippies couldn’t fail to be roused by an all-action set of Soul standards. More pertinently a whole lot of people had not given up on this music. In the early 1970’s, through the Northern clubs who had kept the faith, there was a Soul revival which Geno would have been a part of. Instead we are left with folk who are stood on the landing wondering why they had even come upstairs but can remember every moment of the time they saw Geno Washington & the Ram Jam Band. Legend.