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.

New Music From Derry (Winter 2018)

Last Summer friend of the blog Emmet Brown put us all on to TOUTS, in his opinion & many others, the best young band in Derry. Self-described as “a singer that can’t sing, a mod that can’t play bass and a drummer that can’t see” the three piece have been consolidating their reputation with quality support gigs for Paul Weller & Liam Gallagher. In October they released “Lit”, their second four track EP, which featured this great racket.



Image result for touts band“Bombscare”, Pure Punk-Pop for Now People eh! TOUTS are maybe too young to have experienced bombs & scares but those things are part of the collective Northern Ireland experience in a way that those of us on the UK mainland find difficult to imagine. Matthew, Jason & Luke have an energy & aggression which we have heard before from that country’s bands but this is no retread/revival. When it’s done right, which it is here, this music is fresh & relevant. I have a friend who is a major fan of Stiff Little Fingers & I know that she will love TOUTS. The 2 EPs were collected on 12″ vinyl in January but there are only 100 copies of this around & I’m sure that we’re too late for one. Get on over to their Soundcloud page where you can hear some gloriously loud music.


A return visit to Derry is overdue. I’m waiting for better weather, global warming can’t come quick enough. When that does come around I’m hoping that it collides with a gig by the Barbiturates. My first experience of the Barbs’ music was a suite inspired by Jodorowsky’s kaleidoscopic, brain-scrambling visionary film “The Holy Mountain”. That’s ambition of Himalayan proportions, something to be admired in a young band. Singer Amytal Gnostic is an e-friend of mine, Everyone’s social media feed needs a sprinkling of random substance-influenced ramblings & Amytal is my guy. Shoot, if the Internet had been about when I was his age capricious & erratic would have been all you got from me & everyone I knew. I like him.



Image result for the barbiturates derryThe Barbiturates don’t compromise & I like that too. “Only Folkin Jokin”, released this week, is their new musical/video project. The only bite-sized chunk for the 21st century attention span is “The British Political Disaster”, a serious, truthful, moving reflection on the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre. It’s not an easy watch. The 25 minute video mash-up above plays fast & loose with continuity, copyright & musical styles. I’m guessing at Psych-Folk. The Barbiturates are direct, honest & give them a chance. You will not see or hear much like this anywhere else & it will get you in the end. Head over to Bandcamp where you’ll find & can buy the whole shebang, 24 tracks, for just 5 of our British pounds. I look forward to a live encounter with the band.



Image result for damian o'neillLastly, certainly not leastly, it’s back to where it all began, a new track & video by Damian O’Neill & the Monotones. When Damian was a teenager he got his kicks by playing in the Undertones, the Derry band that rocked the world. The band continue to tour for part of the year & I really must stir myself to catch a set full of perfectly crafted Punk-Pop (hang on, I used that term earlier). Damian continued to impress with That Petrol Emotion & with his current band The Everlasting Yeah on hiatus he has recorded a solo LP “Refit Revise Reprise”.


His contribution to the ‘Tones is probably undervalued. With bassman Micky Bradley he wrote “My Perfect Cousin” & “It’s Gonna Happen”, singles good enough to be ranked alongside the songs of his big brother John. For “Sweet ‘n’ Sour” Damian has dug out his platform boots & made a T-Rexstatic, rifftastic slab of Glam Rock. I’m sure that there will be more of the same on the LP which currently is available to buy on Pledgemusic. You shouldn’t have to wait, the records are pressed, I’ve seen the photos.

Hear That Distant Love Song When The Wind Blows Right (Low Anthem)

This week sees the release of a new LP by the Low Anthem & that’s a good thing. I’m not sure yet whether I’ll be sending some of my hard-earned the way of “The Salt Doll Went to Measure the Depth of the Sea” but it’s coming close to payday, give me a couple of days with their new song & video “Give My Body Back” & it will probably be nailed on that I will be contacting Joyful Noise records.



Image result for low anthemIt’s been almost 10 years (well, that went quick) since I became very close to “Oh My God, Charlie Darwin”, the Low Anthem’s third LP. The mellifluous “To Ohio” found its way on to our UK radios, the group found itself part of a wave of beardy American Neo-Folk. You know em, Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, Midlake & others I’ve forgotten. I liked Midlake while I was cooler about the first two. “To Ohio” was a little sweet for my taste but live sessions on their visit over here displayed a greater range & “…Charlie Darwin” was soon on heavy rotation round our end. The Low Anthem could do those harmonies &, on songs like “The Horizon is a Beltway” could rock out . I found songs like “Ticket Taker” to be particularly affecting & this, “To the Ghosts Who Write History Books”, remains, for me, one of the songs of the century.



Image result for low anthemOh yes, “And when you go, where the winds are strong. When you go where flowers bend. Please take along all the best of my luck and come back unchanged”. Those lines still hit the spot. I saw the Low Anthem play live & they roused a restrained Folk festival audience to be the highlight of a fine day. Their multi-instrumentalism, swapping & changing for every song was impressive, the music confident & intelligent. The band injected energy into their version of the Jack Kerouac/Tom Waits hook-up “Home I’ll Never Be”. A great romp through “Cigarettes, Whiskey & Wild, Wild Women”, a Sons of the Pioneers song from the 1940’s & a favourite since Peter Sellers performed it with the Muppets, displayed the sense of humour which attracted me & set them apart from those other serious boys.


I didn’t really connect with the follow up LP “Smart Flesh” (2011), the band seemed less visible, the songs less immediate. I get the feeling that the Low Anthem would not be happy getting caught in the cycle of recording, releasing, promoting then touring successive records. They played prestigious support gigs & built up a following but the Rock & Roll treadmill did not suit such a creative group of people. When first Mat Davidson then the charming Jocie Adams left the band it did seem that something was lost from the sum of the parts & “Eyeland” (2016) passed me by.



Image result for low anthemRobin Knox Miller & Jeff Prystowsky regrouped in Providence, Rhode Island where they have built their own studio in an old vaudeville theatre (I don’t think that there are any new ones!). There are 4 of them again, Bryan Minto & Florence Grace Wallis have been around for some time. I don’t know if the recorded version of “Drowsy Dousing Dolls” is similar to the live one here, the band do tend to experiment with different arrangements, tones & instrumentation. I do know that I do like a musical saw & that the 2 tracks here from “The Salt Doll Went to Measure the Depths of the Sea” have the delicate beauty & imagination that first attracted me to the Low Anthem & it feels like the time to give them more of my consideration.

Kindness And Friendship, And Dancing (Denise LaSalle)

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


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


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


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




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


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



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


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



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



His Own Way Of Working (Tom Petty)

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


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




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


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




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


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



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


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



Bam Bam and the Calling and The Gweedore


Way, way back in September 2015  an impressive response to a benefit gig for Syrian refugees provide a one-night-only chance to see the best of Derry’s musical community play live. So I made my first journey to Northern Ireland & what a night it was. The clincher was a rare appearance by Bam Bam & the Calling, the same 4 guys I had worked & played out with 30 years ago. They were good people to know & their band rocked, always had & still did. This week they reassembled to celebrate the Gweedore Bar, a touchstone for the city’s musicians, fans & drinkers who came of age in the 1980’s. It was Xmas, I had places to go, people to see, all of them a long way from Derry. These clips, from the set at the well-appointed Nerve Centre, show that I sure missed something.


Derry, indeed all of Northern Ireland in the 1980’s, was a different deal to mainland Britain. Those Troubles, troops & bombs & the shame-faced manoeuvres of political leaders who lacked the will to find a solution, were part of an everyday experience that needed somewhere to go to do good things like play & listen to music. I asked Joe Brown, bass player of Bam Bam & the Calling, for his memories of the Gweedore & an appreciation of its importance to the musically minded youth of his generation




For many of us The Gweedore Bar in the 1980’s was a safe zone. Back then Derry’s city centre  was a different place, other establishments  were  bombed out, burned out, under surveillance (from various factions involved in the conflict) or worse, transforming into a dodgy wine bar attracting people in pastel colours, home perms, no socks and linen jackets rolled up to the elbows…and that was just the blokes!!


The Gweedore itself back then was a dingy, dull hole, the faded decor untouched since the “glory days” of the early 70’s. The place was held together with beauty board, flock wallpaper,and the strong aroma of a new smell of something burning other than war. For all its dull outward appearance it was the most colourful, vibrant, comical, open minded, free thinking joint in the town, indicative of its patrons and staff and at the helm was its Captain.


Willie Barrett…everything flowed through Willie…he championed everything, from awaydays to see Derry City’s games, quizzes, darts tournaments and his influential starring role as “entertainments manager”. He took it on and became a mentor to every musician who played a note in that bar. The upstairs “lounge” became our very own CBGB’s/100 Club… Any list of the bands that played there would be a very long one & there would still be hundreds of faces & noises that we have forgotten.





Image result for the gweedore bar derryNational music magazines, record companies, A&R people, braved the “Troubles” to get a piece of what was becoming the most talked about live venue in the north..and still, the flock wall paper played a starring role…to this day people remember careers being launched/ended and launched again there… Bands came and went, emigrated, recorded, wrote songs, released records, helped one another out and became part of a scene that proved to be both innovative and inspiring.


In the new decade the music continued with new faces, longer hair, and t-shirts over baseball tops. There were new owners, redevelopment & wall paper strippers which cleaned up the joint & it was time to find somewhere else that would have us. The impact of those years still reverberates around Derry & further afield. It was a creative explosion of a different kind. In a city where life could be difficult the dirty Gweedore was a place where things could be said, arguments could be had & new music was created & appreciated. The Gweedore and its ethos will live forever…. SEE THE LOSERS IN THE BEST BARS, MEET THE WINNERS IN THE DIVES….(Neil Young “Sail Away”)




Image may contain: one or more people, people on stage, people playing musical instruments, night and concert

photo © Lorcan Doherty Photography

OK Joe, “where the people are the real stars” yeah. Thanks Joe for remembering that & thanks too to Jim Cunningham for remembering to take his camera to the Nerve Centre. Jim’s clips capture a band of brothers with an undimmed passion to play the music they like & like they mean it. It’s great to see the award-winning animator John McCloskey onstage. John unfortunately missed the gig I attended, he knows how these songs go, his guitar adds muscle to the dynamic tension of the band. Bam Bam & the Calling keep the flame of big guitar music, Derry music, burning. This great photo of singer Paul Pj McCartney, a man of individual preference in shirts & immaculate taste in music, turning it up & leaving it on, makes me wish I’d been there for the reunion. Next time for sure.





Getting Down With Joe Brown (2017)

Joe Brown, bass player of the Gatefolds, is a founding member of the Loosehandlebars karass & our original guest selector. This is the sixth time Joe has thrown his cat into the ring (?) & he has never steered us wrong. In 2017 I received great hospitality as a guest of the Brown family. It’s a house that buzzes with good humour & as all sound systems have the Bass turned up to 11, shakes with the fine, fine music.


This time last year too much time was spent listening to the music of those who had left us. For me 2017 sounds like a fresh new year with many contenders for a “best of” list. Before I get to my chosen 3 I must check for great albums by King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard  (all 4 or 5) of them, Sleaford Mods, Moon Duo (2 more), Derry’s own Invaderband and a great and uplifting double act that is Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett.




Image result for flatworms bandThis year it’s been a quieter house as our 3 sons have gone off to see the world. The noisier bands have filled some of the silence & replaced some of the energy. The buzzsaw punk of Los Angeles based Flatworms absolutely fits the bill. The trio have top ranking credentials having played with enough bands to fill the bill at the September Liverpool Psych Fest. “Motorbike” (click above), from their debut album is as short & sharp as something from the late 1970’s while the feedback drenched closing track “Red Hot Sand” is a most agreeable racket, Turn up your headphones for this one, your ears are meant to be ringing after listening to Flatworms.




Image result for idles bandBack on the proper side of the Atlantic it’s another loud bunch that have caught my ears. Idles are from Bristol & their LP “Brutalism” opens with the instantly arresting “Heel” & the declaration “No Surrender”, a phrase hollered by many an imbecile in this part of the world. Idles have their tongue in their cheeks & rammed down your throat at the same time. Post-Brexit Britain, the celebration of puritanism & philistinism, the effect of austerity in the inner cities, are no laughing matter & these jokers are direct, serious & angry. I’ve seen Punk purists knock Idles as “mock rock” but I’m not buying that. It’s affirming to hear the Spirit of 77 applied in such a modern, effective way. “The best way to scare a Tory is to read & get rich”…Well Done !



Related imageFinally a band I have loved for a long time, who have musically morphed on occasions but only when necessary and each manoeuvre has been masterful. Queens of the Stone Age have been in everyone’s sin bin after the deplorable onstage antics  of front man Josh Homme (for which he has deeply apologised and I’ll leave that for now). “Villains” is the first LP for 4 years, it’s a diverse collection spread over 3 sides of a double album, yes they included some ornate artwork on the fourth just to show off. Produced by Mark Ronson the riffs  & Homme’s searing vocal range are familiar. The menacing swagger of the Queens is spritzed with, dare I say it, a little glitz & glam. Certainly the feelgood hit of the Summer.


This Xmas Joe’s original band, Bam Bam & the Calling, are coming together for the first time in 2 years as part of a 1980’s reunion gig in Derry. I would love to be there but…it’s Xmas. If you are in the area of the Nerve Centre on the 27th of December you will be in for a treat & will hear just why the group deserve their legendary status in the city.

Danny Remembers Some Nights In 2017

Danny McCahon, the noted Scottish playwright & an authority on Glam Rock, is another of our end-of-year regulars. It’s always a pleasure to hear from him & I do sometimes canvass more regular contributions but our Danny is a busy man. This year he was very excited to meet one of his musical heroes & that memorable evening was sure to be top of his list.


Before the Clash was the only band that mattered, there was Mott The Hoople. And while a young Mick Jones was following the hardest working band in the land up and down the country, my mates and I were passing around the lead singer’s book, “Diary of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star”. Written on the road during the band’s tour of the United States in November and December 1972, Ian Hunter’s witty expose stripped away any notion of glamour and laid bare all the warts of a band the appeared destined to always be on the up but never make it. But at the end of the tour, as Hunter headed back to his London flat thinking about cleaning up the cat dirt from the kitchen floor he knew the band was bigger than the last time he’d set foot in Blighty.



Image result for ian hunter rant band southamptonWithin a couple of hit-filled years, Mott The Hoople was finished, but Hunter never put down his guitar and almost 44 years after I first saw him on stage at Glasgow Apollo, Ian Hunter gave me the best show I saw in 2017. A 78 years of age he and his assembly of great players, The Rant Band, held the audience at Southampton’s Engine Rooms in thrall for more than two hours. And to make the night even more of a thrill, I had a few beers with the great man afterwards. Whoever said you should never meet your heroes obviously hadn’t had a chat with Ian Hunter. A true gent, he listened to me gush about that first show at The Apollo and added his own memories of the night. We both agreed that the Apollo bouncers were a breed apart.


The show had many highlights but I had goosebumps when The Rant Band backed their leader on this hit released by Hunter and his band a few months after their return from that US tour and reflecting the mood of the classic book. Absolutely joyous. I walked back to my hotel that night, a bit drunk on beer supplied by Ian Hunter, convinced I had just met The Last Rock ‘n’ Roll Star.


In Year Zero when the Clash did matter, one of the most interesting guys on the Glasgow music scene went by the name of Jimmy Loser. Jimmy knew stuff, about books and films and especially about music. He played guitar and wrote songs and he and I became mates. During quiet drinking sessions in anonymous Glasgow pubs, Jimmy and a few others filled me in on what had been happening before I looked beyond Glam Rock. One band we did share a love of was Mott The Hoople.


Long after Sid had died and Malcolm had got bored, Jimmy was still writing songs and, to paraphrase his own lyric, the Loser became King and put together a band that, after another sensational combo, for me is the best band ever to come out of Glasgow.



Image result for james king and the lonewolves mcchuillsJames King and the Lonewolves did things their way. Always. And the use of a cussword on the BBC’s “Old Grey Whistle Test” slowed their rise. But not forever. James brought the band back together and released an album in 2014. I’ve seen them quite a few times since that reunion and this year they gave me one of my favourite nights out. In November they took the stage at Glasgow’s finest live music pub, McChuill’s. (Free gigs in 2017!)


Jimmy is still writing good tunes and a new album is planned but in a set that filled McChuill’s with more power than I’ve heard anyone else ever do, the live reinterpretation of the song that had upset the Beeb was a highlight.



Image result for barry adamson king tut'sAnother famous Glasgow venue provided a third live highlight. We all like Magazine and The Bad Seeds, but it’s his solo work that has made bassist Barry Adamson a big favourite of mine. He showed up alone on the stage at King Tut’s and played a full band show. The set was, as the young folks might say, all killer but Big Bad Barry threw in a few surprises including this hit from his first band.





I do more than nostalgia and don’t only listen to old tunes resurrected by men of a certain vintage. And here’s a record from Jane Weaver, who I saw play last week, to prove it. If a single is still a thing, this was my single of the year. (Peter Perrett’s was my album of the year.)