Honky Tonk Angel (Emmylou Harris)

We were all, well myself & a few friends, a little in love with Emmylou Harris before we had seen even  a photograph of her. Gram Parsons & the Fallen Angels never crossed the Atlantic so, in 1973, all we had was his debut solo LP “GP”, a perfect expression of the beauty, honesty & purity of Gram’s Country vision. Emmylou provided backing vocals on the record & stepped forward for two sparkling duets. Move aside George & Tammy, Conway & Loretta, as good as you are “We’ll Sweep Out the Ashes” & “That’s All it Took” sounded like there were new Sweethearts of the Rodeo in town.

 

Related imageBy the time the follow-up LP “Grievous Angel” was released in January 1974 their professional & personal relationship had become closer. The byline was to read “with Emmylou Harris” & she was to appear on the cover. Unfortunately, in September 1973, Gram had overdosed & died aged just 27. His widow Gretchen removed the credit, the photo & the intended title track “Sleepless Nights”, a haunting duet written by Felice & Boudleaux Bryant. The posthumous LP reinforced the talent & vision of Gram & the strength of his partnership with Emmylou. Another better known song by the Bryants, “Love Hurts”, is as sad & beautiful & gorgeous as music can get. As fans losing Gram was a shock despite knowing of his penchant for the High Life. Back then good people were dying from that shit. We could only imagine the effect that losing her mentor & friend had on Emmylou.

 

 

One of the many things that made Gram’s solo records outstanding was the quality of the musicians taking part. The sessions for “GP” had involved members of Elvis Presley’s touring band & that’s a job you get for what you know not who. The full band came around for “Grievous…” & their commitment to this music showed when 3 of them not only joined the sessions for Ms Harris’ solo debut “Pieces of the Sky” (1975) but agreed to accompany her on live dates. “Pieces…” was a 100% classy operation & a template for future records with an immaculate song selection across the traditional & modern Country canon & a Beatles cover, “For No One” all perfectly sung. “Boulder to Birmingham”, the only song co-written by Emmylou, was really saying something, catharsis for her grief. There are some very good tunes on the record but “Boulder…” has deservedly become one of her signature pieces & I’ve got to include it here.

 

Image result for the hot band james burton“Elite Hotel” was released in the last week of 1975 & in the New Year Emmylou & her, aptly named, Hot Band came over to Europe for the first time. We were regulars at rock concerts, had seen some of music’s great stars & this was a special night. Elvis’s boys were there, bass player Emory Gordy Jr, arranger/pianist Glen D Hardin, a former Cricket (“Don’t Ever Change”…oh yes!), veteran of countless sessions & the “Shindig” TV show house band. His fellow Shin-digger James Burton’s guitar playing had helped shaped the sound of Rock & Roll. Every insertion he made on his Pink Paisley Telecaster a model of taste, precision, economy & wonder. John Ware on drums, Hank de Vito, pedal steel & young Texan Rodney Crowell, who had contributed a song to the first record, completed a stellar line-up. It must have given Emmylou confidence to have such strong onstage support. With her own talent & personality she certainly wasn’t in the shadows. I thought that I had some stuff about Gram sorted out but when she & her boys performed evocative versions of “Sin City” & “Return of the Grievous Angel”, songs I never thought I would hear done so well, look, I think I had a cold, I certainly had something in my eye…sniff.

 

 

“Elite Hotel” & “Luxury Liner” followed the same pattern. They were both #1 Country LPs & part of a string of 7 consecutive Gold records. James Burton stopped touring while continuing to show out at the studio. His replacement was Brit Albert Lee, already known as a fine player & the transition was seamless. Emmylou could sing the phone book & it would sound just fine, she continued to tip her stetson to GP & the choice of songs remained as strong as ever whether from the Louvin Brothers or Townes Van Zandt. Two years after that first concert I saw her play again, promoting “Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town” (1978). This time I was ready & enjoyed a wonderful evening, beautiful music beautifully played. (Perhaps I’m overusing that word today but hey, it’s true).

 

Related imageEmmylou did take some detours & extended her range with Bluegrass & then “The Ballad of Sally Rose” (1985) where she & her then husband Paul Kennerley wrote all the songs. In 1987 “Trio”, her collaboration with Dolly Parton & Linda Ronstadt, a long time coming what with schedules, labels & whatever, a whole lot of harmonic loveliness, was nominated as Album of the Year at the Grammies. Perhaps there came a time when there were enough Emmylou Harris LPs in your collection. Those first records set new standards for modern Country music which were difficult to match nevermind surpass. In 1992 at a damp, desultory, sparsely attended Crystal Palace Bowl her set lacked the intimacy of an indoor gig & the old songs sounded, well, a little old.

 

 

Form is temporary but class is permanent & in 1995 her 18th studio LP turned up on many of my friends turntables. “Wrecking Ball” was an update of the early records, well chosen contemporary songs, Neil Young, Dylan, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams & Gillian Welch…I did say well chosen, given an atmospheric, innovative working by producer Daniel Lanois (Eno, U2, Dylan). Emmylou’s vocals are a little more grainy, suiting the melancholy of the record. Her subsequent recordings are still getting nominated for awards & deservedly still winning them.

 

Image result for emmylou harrisWhen Emmylou began her solo career the Gram Parsons legend was not yet sewn into Rock’s Rich Tapestry & straight Country music was for the straights. What she had was her Hot Band & the voice of a honky tonk angel. Her talent to reach the emotional heart of a song has made her a legend, a Queen of Country. She has worked with so many fine artists, it’s a list & it’s a long one. I could have chosen so many tracks for this post, the quality is so high. As I’m the King round here a track from “Stumble Into Grace” (2003) makes the cut. “Little Bird” is a collaboration with Canadian sisters Kate & Anna  McGarrigle, a trio from my idea of Heaven. Just perfect.

 

While I’m here “Cowboy Angels” is a live radio broadcast from 1975. Emmylou & the Hot Band were still a new unit & they are a little less polished than on the studio recordings. It’s like listening to the best bar band in the world. In 1979 she recorded a duet with Charlie Louvin, the surviving brother of an act whose harmonies inspired Gram & Emmylou to make such beautiful, enduring music together. The EmmyLouvin Brothers…it’s right here !

 

 

Oh yeah, did I mention that I’m still a little in love with Emmylou Harris ?

 

 

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Random Notes (May 2017)

The days fly by & this month the UK has endured an election campaign instigated, ostensibly, by a government wanting to mask its bluff & bluster in negotiations with our former EU partners, more likely hoping to exploit the disarray of any opposition in England & Wales. The Tory party will remain in power (I’ve been wrong before) but the flakiness of their “strong & stable” mantra in the face of a half-baked “Dementia Tax” on the sick & the dead & a Labour manifesto which, at least & at last, promoted an alternative to austerity will prevent the landslide victory anticipated & hoped for by the government & most of our media puppets (“Crush the Saboteurs!” Oh fuck off!)

 

Image result for manchester tony wilson we do things

 

This week’s horrific massacre in Manchester, a great city which has shown the empathy & community that is the best of Britain, will inevitably highlight the issue of national security. Already Mr Corbyn is being attacked for pointing out that the disastrous intervention in Libya contributed to chaos, anger, frustration & the rise of a new focus for militant Islam. The murder of innocent people enjoying a concert by their favourite Pop star is inexcusable & heartbreaking but atrocities are occurring across the Middle East in the name of the West’s War On Terror, in the cause of strength & stability. Robert Fisk is a journalist who I trust & respect…

“As long as we bomb the Middle East instead of seeking justice there, we too will be attacked. But what we must concentrate upon, according to the monstrous Trump, is terror, terror, terror, terror, terror. And fear. And security. Which we will not have while we are promoting death in the Muslim world and selling weapons to its dictators. Believe in “terror” and Isis wins. Believe in justice and Isis is defeated.”

OK, here’s some music…

 

 

Almost the best of the month, stick around that comes later, any new song by Bunny Wailer raises my spirits. As the last of the Wailing Wailers Jah Bunny is the keeper of the flame & he represents the great & influential group with integrity & style. “Baddest” is a Rub-a-Dub rework of Peter Tosh’ anthem, first recorded in 1967, “I’m the Toughest” in alliance with Dancehall queen Ruffi-Ann. Like everything Bunny releases on his Solomonic label it has a freshness & a vitality. He is a musical great who knows the spirit of Reggae &, at coming up 70 this year, is still able to capture it. “Baddest” may not be up there with the best music he has made but it could be the Feelgood Hit of the Summer. ♫Any Dub that you can play I & I can play it better♫ Yes Sir!

 

 

Image result for daniel romano modern pressureA new Daniel Romano record is always a big deal round our yard & even though “Modern Pressure” has not been here for long toes are tapping & choruses becoming familiar. Mr Romano is prolific, an album a year in the last 3 & a couple more from Altered Shapes, his Punk offshoot band. He’s become a bit of a shape-shifter too, the traditional Country, three chords & the truth about heartbreak, of his early records has all but disappeared. The lovely “Roya” would easily fit on those records while an expanded musical palette, Dylanesque organ swirls, treated guitars, everything louder makes “Modern Pressure” a Country Rock album. “The Pride of Queens” sounds like an epic to me, the closing, urgent “What’s To Become of the Meaning of Love” instantly appeals & the poppy “When I Learned Your Name” sounds like Nick Lowe/Brinsley Schwarz & that’s a good thing.

 

Like the best records last year’s “Mosey” took its own good time to reveal all its delights. At first it seemed to be quite a switch by Romano but it has become the album of choice for journeys of any distance, a collection of good songs which come together as an atmospheric whole. “Mosey” will still get played round here. Daniel Romano is a very talented songwriter & musician, his restless streak is matched by his inventiveness. Wherever he wants to take his music my interest is piqued enough to want to follow. I have high hopes that “Modern Pressure” will become a new favourite.

 

 

I’ve had my fancy-schmancy Internet powered TV for some time now. It’s an idiot box of electrickeries most of which I neither grasp nor have need of. The 7 (that’s 7!) channels of 24/7 sport are enough to sustain a sense of wonder about the Modern World. So it was more luck than judgement that the appropriate buttons were pressed to record the full series (8 episodes) of the 2005 BBC production of “Bleak House”. Fortuitous perhaps but it provided a televisual experience to rival this year’s superb “Taboo”, another of the Beeb’s finest.

 

Image result for phil davis smallweedI love Charles Dickens, what’s not to…, his satire, his social conscience his unmatched balance of sentiment & melodrama & his finely drawn parade of eccentric characters. It was all there on the screen. “Bleak House” was written as a serial & the series was originally shown in 15 30-minute parts, a pot-boiler yes but certainly not a soap opera. Writer Andrew Davies is the doyen of literary adaptors, it was beautifully filmed & the extensive cast is a delight. It’s a list, Anna Maxwell Martin (Esther), Gillian Anderson (Lady Dedlock) & young Carey Mulligan (Ada) led the way in Dickens’ only book with a female protagonist. Charles Dance was a dastardly Tulkinghorn, the contributions of Burn Gorman (Guppy of Kenge & Carboys), Phil Davies (Smallweed, “shake me up Judy”), Alun Armstrong (Inspector Bucket) & Johnny Vegas (Krook) were all perfectly pitched. I’m going to include Michael Smiley (Squod) here because I have recently enjoyed Ben Wheatley’s “Kill List” & “Free Fire” & he shines in both of them. Actor of the month.

 

I’m not the biggest fan of period drama but I do enjoy the grimy streets of London Town seen in “Bleak House” & “Taboo”. I appreciated too Whit Stillman’s film “Love & Friendship” (Kate Beckinsale “always watchable”). Either these things are getting more modern or I’m becoming more old-fashioned. Oh Christ, it’s the latter isn’t it ?

What If Something’s On TV And Never Shown Again ? (The Village Square)

“The Village Square” was a US TV show which originally aired out of Charleston, South Carolina & was syndicated across the country between 1965-68. A local band was renamed the Villagers & they covered the Top 40 hits of the day. Suited & booted for the middle of the road, Mod casual, with go-go dancers, for the British Invasion then kaftanned-up for the Summer of Love, everything they did had, at least, energy. It is the surviving clips of the guest artists, a chance to see quality, colour clips of acts that didn’t usually get star treatment, which are of most interest.

 

 

Image result for the tams The Tams formed in Atlanta, Georgia in 1960 & 2 years later an R&B hit “Untie Me” scored them a deal with ABC-Paramount. That first hit was written by fellow Atlantan Joe South. He & another local songwriter, Ray Whitley, provided the material to keep their name in the frame through the rest of the decade. Here from 1966, in living colour they perform “What Kind of Fool (Do You Think I Am)”, a Top 10 record in 1964. The label had used FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama for a Tommy Roe hit & brought the Tams around to get this new sound. It’s great to see such a good quality clip of the guys, fronted by gravel-voiced Joseph Pope, doing their thing. It’s even greater, for me anyway, to see the second song. “Shelter”, their current 45 at the time, a dynamic Soul Stomper, written by Joe South & my favourite track by a group who made many fine records.

 

Over in the UK the Tams were Northern Soul darlings, a scene which kept its favourites close, long after their expected shelf life. In 1970 a two year old 45 “Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy” got a wider hearing. It’s a surprise that it only made #32 on the chart because everyone knows that one. The following year “Hey Girl Don’t Bother Me”, recorded in 1964 & still a floor-filler, went to #1. The Tams crossed the Atlantic, were on “Top of the Pops” & were a big deal. The group continued to perform & in 1987 had a UK hit with “There Ain’t Nothing Like Shaggin'” which is apparently a dance. It means something else in British so was banned by  the BBC !

 

 

The US R&B charts of the early 1960 were a rich seam of material for the British Beat Boomers. I guess cultural appropriation was not yet a thing so the 3 Motown tracks on “With the Beatles” were a gateway to the delights coming out of Detroit. Same with Manfred Mann’s “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” & the Exciters. There are many examples, it’s a list. The third single by Manchester’s Hollies, their first Top 10 hit, was a rush of harmonious Mersey Sound which pointed me towards the original recording from way, way back in the olden days, 1960.

 

Image result for maurice williams the zodiacs“Stay” by Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs is such a  sure fire smash. It’s the sound of Doo-Wop moving into Soul. In 1960 the Drifters were hitting big adapting the Brazilian baion rhythm to R&B & “Stay” has a laid-back Caribbean feel. South Carolina beach music…it’s a thing. In 1958 he group, as the Gladiolas had recorded Maurice’s “Little Darlin'”, another individual vocal group song which was a bigger hit for the Diamonds. I had that record in a pile of 78 rpm discs (ask your grandma) that came my way & loved it when I was a kid.

 

The group are known as one-hit wonders but the second song here eventually earned them a gold record. There were, justifiably, high hopes for “May I”, written by Maurice, produced by the great Allen Toussaint & his partner Marshall Sehorn. Unfortunately Vee Jay went bankrupt just before the record’s release & it didn’t receive the promotion it deserved. “May I” is another good one, making use of the four voices & featuring the trademark Zodiacs’ falsetto. Once again, praise Jah for the Y-tube.

 

 

Here, in one clip, we have the duality of the Lemon Pipers, a band formed at college in Oxford Ohio. They signed with Buddah, a new label run by 24 year old Neil Bogart who had Captain Beefheart & Melanie on the roster but whose big idea was to grab hit Bubblegum Pop singles with the likes of 1910 Fruitgum Co & Ohio Express. Bubblegum for all its attractions (& there are many) relied upon an assembly line of writers & producers making ready-rolled records for faceless, or cartoon, groups. The Lemon Pipers were for real, they wrote their own songs. Trouble was that their debut single failed to sell & Buddah made them toe the company line.

 

Image result for lemon pipersSo here they are promoting their second single “Green Tambourine” provided by staff writers Paul Leka & Shelley Pinz. This Pop-Psychedelia, more Pop than Psych despite the sitar, was catching on after Strawberry Alarm Clock’s “Incense & Peppermints” & “…Tambourine” succeeded John Fred’s “Judy In Disguise” at the top of the charts. They also perform the B-side “No Help From Me”, written by keyboard player Bill Nave, a bluesy Psych-Rocker in the style of the Blues Magoos or Jefferson Airplane. The success of the single meant that the Pipers were knackered though weren’t they?

 

The debut LP was a real mix, 5 Leka/Pinz songs, the others, including the 9-minute “Through With You”, was from the band. The follow up single was “Rice Is Nice” & it was no “Yummy, Yummy,Yummy”, it really did suck the big one. There was another LP, another 50/50 deal & the Pipers played on bills with the Heavy bands of the day. Unfortunately cod-psych lyrics like “To the yellow ball of butter where the clouds are as fluffy as a parachute sail” (“Jelly Jungle of Orange Marmalade-lade-lade-lade-lade”) did tend to get held against the band with the one big Pop hit & perhaps deservedly so.

 

 

Up Down All Around Like A See Saw (Don Covay)

Well 3 clips may be the magic number & you are all busy people but Don Covay was responsible for a whole lot of great Soul music. There’s no way in Hull that I can do the right thing by him as an artist by only featuring his own recordings because he was an equally talented songwriter. Whatever the changing styles & tastes in 1960’s African-American music when other singers came around calling then Don Covay usually had a song that was just the thing for them. Here’s one he kept for himself.

 

 

“Mercy Mercy” was a Top 40 US hit for Don & the Goodtimers in 1964. It’s a Gospel-inflected Soul gem, simple with a raw edge to the vocal underpinned by a variation on the sort of guitar work Curtis Mayfield brought to the Impressions. If, as it seems, Jimi Hendrix played on this, he performed the song on early Experience gigs, then he did a fine job. At the time  Rolling Stones were the world’s foremost R&B covers band. With Jagger doing his best Covay impression, they recorded a fine version for their third LP “Out of Our Heads” (1965). This wasn’t his only song to be picked up by the British Beat Boomers. “Long Tall Shorty”, Tommy Tucker’s follow up to his big hit “Hi-Heel Sneakers” was covered by both the Kinks & the Graham Bond Organisation.

 

Image result for don covayCovay progressed from his family gospel group to the more secular Rainbows before touring with Little Richard as his chauffeur & as “Pretty Boy” his opening act. In 1960 “Pony Time”, a song he recorded with the Goodtimers was picked up by Chubby Checker, riding high on the Twist craze, & became a #1 record. Such a big hit brings people calling. As he said later “copyrights last longer than record labels”. For a while Don provided songs about new, real or imaginary, dances. One he kept for himself, “The Popeye Waddle” unfortunately didn’t catch on because I think I would be a natural. There was though a whole lot more to Don Covay than dance instructions.

 

 

Oh yeah, the lovely Gladys & her equally lovely Pips hit big with “Every Beat of my Heart” in 1961 when Ms Knight was just 17. Don Covay provided this follow-up, another US Top 20 hit. A direct, impassioned ballad, covered in the UK by Billy Fury, the best of our early rockers, showed another side to his talents. Solomon Burke, Atlantic’s biggest star, took “I’m Hanging Up My Heart For You” & in 1965 his old boss Little Richard came to New York for “I Don’t Know What You Got But It’s Got Me”, a slow-burning two part overlooked Deep Soul classic. (There’s no room here for these songs but they are in your Youtube & you should find them. Do you like good music ? Then you will love the Little Richard track). Atlantic signed Don as a performer at a time when they were striking a partnership with a new Hit Factory at Stax studios in Memphis.

 

 

Image result for don covay bobby womack“See Saw” is co-written with Steve Cropper, guitarist with Booker T & the M.G.s. This group & the Memphis Horns were bringing a raw power to Soul. Don only recorded 4 tracks at Stax, this R&B hit, 2 co-writes with Cropper & “Iron Out the Rough Spots”, a Jones/Cropper/Porter joint. They can be found on the 1966 LP “See Saw”, his most consistent collection to date. In the UK “See Saw” found an audience in the Mod clubs & its place in the repertoire of Soul covers bands. In 1968 Aretha Franklin took “See Saw” into the US Top 10. She already knew that she could get a hit record on a Don Covay song.

 

 

In 1967 Atlantic took their new signing Aretha Franklin to Muscle Shoals Alabama where FAME studios were making hits. The turbulence of that first visit is well documented but the label knew they were on to a good thing & by the end of the year there were 5 Top 10 singles & the new star was the Queen of Soul. Don Covay’s “Chain of Fools” was the 5th of those records, the opening track of her almost perfect LP “Lady Soul”.  Aretha’s vocals, FAME house band the Swampers (Joe South on guitar) & back-up Sweet Inspirations combined to produce a perfect song & a Grammy for Ms Franklin. This is where Soul was at 50 years ago.

 

Don had been around the block & Peter Wolf off of J Geils Band relates a story from that time. On the promise to Jerry Wexler (Atlantic’s head honcho) of a better song than “Chain…” the label delivered an array of top of the range musical equipment which Don then sold on. There are 854 recordings around where Covay is credited as songwriter. He knew that his royalty cheques didn’t always match what he thought he was due.

 

 

Image result for don covay bobby womackDon was an ebullient, energetic character, his confidence surely reinforced by his success. His recorded rarely but in 1968 he instigated the Soul Clan, an ambitious amalgamation of 5 Soul Stars, himself,  Solomon Burke, Joe Tex, Arthur Conley & Ben E King. Things did not run smoothly, Otis Redding died, Wilson Pickett pulled out, Burke’s plan to set up extensive black-owned businesses needed a million dollars from Atlantic that the label was unlikely to hand over. An LP, “Soul Meeting” (1968), was produced by Covay who provided a majority of the material. “That’s How It Feels”, the outstanding ensemble track of the album is co-written with Bobby Womack who was then having more success as a writer than with his own records & who often expressed his admiration for his collaborator.

 

Times were changing, Soul was getting Funky, with no label support & egos to juggle the Clan fizzled out. Don looked back & recorded with the Jefferson Lemon Blues Band, a pretty good LP with a touch of Taj Mahal about it. In 1972 he left Atlantic, his last 45 a cover of “Everything I Do Goin’ Be Funky”. The new head of A&R at Mercury was ready for the new thing.

 

 

Image result for don covay bobby womack“Super Dude” (1973) is such a good record. Don’s emotional story-songs are still straight to the heart but, now in his mid-thirties, things are getting a little more complicated.”I Was Checking Out, She Was Checking In”,his biggest Pop hit, is not the only fine “love gone wrong” ballad on the LP. Recorded in Alabama with Womack & the Muscle Shoals band, as good as it got back then, it really is a top class mature example of Southern Soul. Mick Jagger was still listening to Don Covay, you’ve heard “Fool To Cry” haven’t you ? A track from the sessions, the funktastic “It’s Better To Have (& Don’t Need)” made it on to UK radio & gave him a UK hit.

 

Don spent the Disco years at Philadelphia International, another right place at the right time. There was little more new music & in 1992 he suffered a stroke. Jagger & Richard are said to have helped with the rehabilitation expenses, friends & admirers recorded a tribute LP in 1993. There’s so much good music made by Don Covay. I must, at least, mention the songs he wrote with Wilson Pickett & the Reggae versions of his tunes. If you know his music then you know how big his contribution to Soul music was. If you don’t then he really is worthy of your attention.

 

 

 

 

I Wish That I Knew What I Know Now (Ronnie Lane)

Image result for small faces magazine coversBy 1975 Ronnie Lane had been successfully writing, recording & performing music for a decade. He was still a teenager when Small Faces’ R&B inflected Pop, as whip-smart as their Mod threads, became a UK chart-topping sensation of 1966. In collaboration with Steve Marriott he wrote 6 of the group’s 7 Top 10 hits. At the beginning of the 70’s Faces, a new alliance with Rod Stewart & Ron Wood, made a flash, spirited, raucous racket that was most pleasing on the ear. Ronnie’s more contemplative songs provided a lovely counterpoint to the good-time Stones-y rock. His pivotal role emphasised by the fact that on his departure in 1973 Faces continued but never recorded another studio LP. Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance was more restrained with a wider range of instrumentation & styles. A showcase for a mature songwriter who could raise a smile & touch your heart with equal facility.

 

At the beginning of 1976 Ronnie was back in the charts when “Itchycoo Park”, an innovative, perfect Psych-Pop single from 1967, East End hippies stoned in Stepney, was re-released. Plans for a Small Faces reunion were advanced but Ronnie only attended the one rehearsal before he decided that it was not for him. The business part of making music had not always worked out to Ronnie’s advantage & it would have been uncharacteristic for him to be taking such a backward step. Besides, back home on Fishpool Farm, in Shropshire on the England/Wales border, he had something quite unique going on & a busy year ahead.

 

 

 

In the burning Summer of 1975 Slim Chance had recorded “One for the Road”, their third LP. Down on the farm Ronnie had a 16 track mobile studio in an Airstream trailer & bucolic good times were captured with a rare immediacy & warmth. “Anymore for Anymore” (1974) shows the confidence of a man finally out on his own (“It was time to leave the band when Rod started buying his clothes at Miss Selfridge”) knowing & getting what he wanted. A debut 45, “How Come” had been successful but when “The Poacher”, a perfectly realised pastoral classic, was less so then commercial expectations for the album were probably revised. Such ageless, amiable, assured music didn’t suit the “progressive” taste of fans of British Rock in 1974.

 

Image result for one for the road ronnie laneReleased in 1976 it would take something for “One for…” to match the debut but it runs it close. There’s not the same mix of original songs & well chosen, sometimes surprising, cover versions, all 9 songs are written by Ronnie & some of them rank with his best. Even when he was laid-back & folksy our man’s tunes could still be anthemic. Live gigs became  a caravan of musicians & circus acts, the Passing Show. Often performing in a big top tent it was an idealistic if expensive way of making a Rock concert a new experience. I saw Slim Chance in 1975 (unfortunately not in the tent) & boy they were good. Kate, Mrs Lane, danced the Can Can to the closing “Ooh La La” & everyone in the place, band & audience, were having a very good time.

 

 

In October “Snakes & Ladders/the Best of Faces” hit the shops, a collection which seemingly diminished the part played by Ronnie in the group. It is understandable that the record label would want to piggy-back the international success of Rod Stewart but to include none of the songs on which Ronnie sang lead is less so. Any which way you hear it anyone with ears has the wondrous “Debris” in any Faces Finest collection, “Glad & Sorry” is pushing its way in there too. The LP sleeve has no trace of Ronnie either & that seems a little mean-spirited, particularly as the previous month had seen the release of an LP which highlighted how closely he had worked with his bandmates.

 

Image result for mahoney's last stand“Mahoney’s Last Stand” is the soundtrack LP to a rarely seen 1972 Canadian film. Ronnie Lane & Ron Wood co-wrote 12 tunes, arranged one traditional song & recorded them at Glyn Johns’ Olympic Studio in Barnes, London. They got their mates along to jam. Their fellow Faces, Pete Townshend, Rick Grech, the Stones’ horn section (Jim Price & Bobby Keyes), it’s a list & I’ve missed some fine players out. The album was tidied up in 1976, retaining its ramshackle feel. “Tonight’s Number” is a rocking instrumental opening jam, “Chicken Wired” made it on to “Anymore for…”. It’s “Safety Pin Queen” that features here because it’s a Faces riff (on the theme of “Cindy Incidentally” ?) & we get to hear the peerless keyboards of Ian McLagan, the bottleneck skills that got Woody a job with the Stones, underpinned with great work on the bass by Ronnie…glorious !

 

 

Image result for rough mix pete townshend album advertSlim Chance had been dropped by Island records & the expense of keeping his Passing Show on the road was making things tight. Ronnie had contributed to 3 LPs made in tribute to Indian spiritual master Meher Baba by Pete Townshend off of the Who. Ronnie contacted Pete with a view to having him produce his next record. This resulted in the pair entering Olympic Studios in the Winter of 1976 to record a collaborative LP. “Rough Mix” (1977) has 5 songs by each contributor & just one co-composition, the instrumental title track & the blend is seamless. It, in my opinion, is a great example of 1970s British rock & its influences made by those musicians who started in the 1960s. Up there with “Every Picture…”, “All Things…” & Exile…”, that good ! “Rough Mix” is worth some of your hard-earned just for that driving beat of Charlie Watts on Pete’s rocking “My Baby Gives It Away” or for Eric Clapton’s Dobro accompaniment to Ronnie’s poignant, perfect “Annie”.

 

Image result for ronnie lane newhamIt was during the “Rough Mix” sessions that Ronnie was diagnosed as having multiple sclerosis, a wasting disease which attacks the central nervous system & for which there is no known cure. This limited more than his musical activities, there was just one more solo LP, “See Me” (1979), A hook up with Steve Marriott (the clumsily named Majik Mijits) was recorded but not released for 20 years. After an extreme course of snake venom injections he was back & broke in London. The great & the good of the British Rock aristocracy rallied around for a benefit concert, Clapton, Beck & Page, the 3 guitar stars of the Yardbirds together, which went so well that there were 9 further US dates. Ronnie was able to move to Texas’ more beneficial climate. He played when he could, Page, Rod & Ron contributed to his medical bills. He died on the 4th of June 1997 in Colorado. He was just 51 years old.

 

 

Related imageThat’s a sad end to Ronnie’s story. I was lucky enough to spend just 10 minutes in his company, he was affable, funny, a true gent & this seems to be an opinion shared by those who knew him well. I do know that while writing this post I have listened to great music made by Small Faces, Faces, Slim Chance & with Pete Townshend. Twenty years after Ronnie Lane’s passing “Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake”, “Rough Mix”, a pile of unforgettable singles & the treasures from his own band are never far away & always lift the spirit.  “And now for your delight ah, the darling of Wapping Wharf launderette, Ronald ah ‘Leafy’ Lane!!!”. Get on it.

 

 

Random Notes (April 2017)

Well, the days fly by, a third of the year already gone & I’m late with this. The end of April was spent attending “Distorted Perspectives”, Donegal’s premier psychedelic festival. A long trek involving planes, trains & automobiles (“As much fun as I’ve had on this little journey, I’m sure one day I’ll look back on it and laugh.”) was made more than worthwhile by  a second chance to see my friends the Gatefolds play live. On a big stage, with a proper PA & sympathetic lighting they absolutely killed it. The following day I celebrated the marriage of Alison & Kevin, two lovely people, new friends made on my recent visits to Ireland. This was my first Irish wedding. Man, these people can drink & they can talk. The middle of the night bus ride back was a Flann O’Brien novel come-to-life. Wonderful people, great times.

 

OK, on to the music that has caught my ear in April.

 

 

Whitney’s LP “Light Upon the Lake” was a highlight of 2016. Short (30 mins), sweet & fresh its blend of indie-pop with touches of ramshackle roots was just what I needed when more established favourites seemed to be repeating the old tried & tested. Julien Ehrlich’s plaintiff falsetto & Max Kakacek’s precise guitar insertions give their music a distinct individuality which, for me, elevates Whitney from a horde of new sounds. The classy, considered brass contributions of Will Miller brings to mind Calexico & that’s a good thing too.

 

Image result for whitney band you've got a womanI caught Whitney’s set at Coachella (not a place I hung around for too long, them, Chicano Batman & I’m gone) & they have put their cover of Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” on Spotify. Now there’s an upcoming 12″ record featuring a couple of surprising cover versions. “Gonna Hurry (As Slow As I Can)” is a Dolly Parton demo that wasn’t released until 2009 while “You’ve Got A Woman” is a Pop-Psych-Funk classic (really !) originally recorded in 1975 by Dutch duo Lion who made just this one record & nothing else. Whitney have done a great job here, there’s a flash video to promote the song &, while Julien’s voice still seems to divide opinions, I think (OK, hope) that they are set for bigger things.

 

 

Robyn Hitchcock has a new record out, the CD case is on the table in front of me. It’s his first since 2014’s “The Man Upstairs”, a cover-heavy collection produced by the doyen of British Folk-Rock Joe Boyd, which turned down the whimsy & turned on the charm. “Robyn Hitchcock” is his 22nd studio LP (probably, someone else is counting) & is a return to the rocking good music he made with the Egyptians & the Venus 3. He’s relocated to Nashville, there are a couple of countrified tracks here, hooked up with co-producer Brendan Benson off of the Raconteurs, got some star guests including Gillian Welch & Grant Lee Buffalo, & assembled 10 new songs that are proving to be most pleasing.

 

Image result for robyn hitchcock 2017Hitchcock’s work is always shot through with imagination & wit. The record opens with the melodic Power Pop of “I Wast to Tell You About What I Want”, closes with the pretty glorious, jangling Revolveresque “Time Coast”. His 60’s influences (Beatles, Syd Barrett) are always apparent but “1970 in Aspic” & “Autumn Sunglasses” are new Hitchcockian gems. It’s tough to choose just one track & “Mad Shelley’s Letterbox” makes the cut because it reminds me of “Birds in Perspex”, an old favourite round here. “Robyn Hitchcock” is getting a lot of play this month.

 

 

Image result for black grape straightI’ve not yet listened to lead Kink Ray Davies’ new record “Americana” enough. I’m sure that, like “Working Man’s Cafe” (2007), it will get me in the end. So the third pick of the month is an immediate, groovy new single, the opening track from “Pop Voodoo” the new LP by Black Grape. I was not the biggest fan of Happy Mondays, at the time my ears were otherwise occupied, but I knew people who loved them. For a while they were everywhere & when I listened properly it did seem that someone had a handle on the varied influences of a bunch of drug-fucked Manchester chancers & was knocking up some very effective contemporary Dance-Rock. When Shaun Ryder hooked up with Kermit off of Ruthless Rap Assassins (a useful Hip-Hop crew from the north) in Black Grape “It’s Great When You’re Straight…Yeah” & its hit singles had a rush & a push of direct, appealing energy.

 

Happy Mondays have always had an audience for their reunions & Shaun has become a shoot from the lip Man of the People in his tabloid column & on reality TV. This is Black Grape’s first record for 20 years & I’ll nick Irving Welsh’s review, “The world is in a bit of a state right now, and bullshit reigns more than ever, and perversely disguised as candour. We need Manc street sass, intelligence and wit more than ever right now. This album has that in spades.” Hearing Shaun Ryder point out on “Everything You Know Is Wrong” that POTUS has “the biggest fucking lie in the world on top of his fucking nugget” to a very danceable rhythm provides a little, much needed & appreciated relief.

 

 

This Week’s Pick Of The Pops (New Music)

It’s not even the middle of the month but this can’t wait. In March my head was more than turned, it was spun around, by 3 new LPs all of which made it into my collection & will be played for a long time. This week it’s been 3 individual tracks, clear, crisp, just 3 and a bit minutes each, that have been doing the trick. I’m not sure that any new lovely 7″ vinyl discs are still being manufactured, there’s probably not a radio station that’s going to pick up on these very same songs so I’m going to put them somewhere where I can easily find them & I can play them to my heart’s & ears’ content. That would be here then…

 

 

This is, for me, genuinely exciting. It’s been 20 years since the last new music from Peter Perrett. “Woke Up Sticky” (1996) was released as P.P & the One & that came 16 years after the last studio LP from his group the Only Ones. Peter’s affection for serious drugs is well chronicled & has hindered continuity in his musical creativity. It is a measure of just how good he can be that 39 years after we first heard “Another Girl, Another Planet”, the one song of his you all know, we are still enthusiastic to listen to any music he wants to make. In those uncertain, monochromatic, early-Thatcherite years when the 1970’s became the 1980’s the Clash provided political idealism & calls for unity while the Only Ones soundtracked a cogent, more personal reaction, acerbic cynicism leavened by heart & humour. “Why Don’t You Kill Yourself”, that was meant to be funny.

 

Related image“How the West Was Won” is recognisably Perrettian, verse, chorus & a blazing guitar solo. A slow “Sweet Jane”/”If Not For You” riff, the Velvets & Dylan, classic Rock influences. The lyrics are a forthright, caustic condemnation of the Evil Empire, the verse in praise of a Kardashian rear-end seems a little incongruous but it’s making me laugh. There was a planned LP when the Only Ones reunited in 2008 but steroid use for  a lung condition led to Peter’s voice developing a helium-tinge & it never happened. It’s great to hear him sounding so much stronger. This is the title track from a new LP, backed by his sons Jamie (guitar) & Peter Jr (bass), produced by Chris Kimsey whose long CV includes co-credit on many Rolling Stones records. 10 new songs to come, it’s gonna be good. Domino Records, 30th June 2017, say hello if you see me in the queue.

 

 

A new track from Jason Isbell will always cause a stir round our yard too. It’s a taster for “The Nashville Sound”, a new LP due to surface on June 16th (man, I’m going to have to save my pennies!). “Southeastern” (2013) & “Something More Than Free” (2015) deservedly placed Jason at the forefront of American singer-songwriters after over a decade of honing his craft with Drive-By Truckers & on 3 earlier solo records. The blend of Country, Blues & Soul influences is perfectly balanced. His getting clean, his marriage to Amanda Shires, gave him great material & his skill at translating the personal into something sympathetic & more universal made for 2 great records. Jason’s doing well, he gets awards, he’s playing bigger halls. I know people who like this kind of thing but don’t know this music, he should be flipping massive !

 

Related imageSo, if I’m going to listen to anyone sing about Trump America then it’s Isbell. “Hope the High Road” is no call to arms, more an acknowledgement that many people are feeling pretty pissed about the way it went down in 2016, that “there can’t be more of them than us” & well, let’s hope things get better.  I’m reminded of the anthems Springsteen & Jackson Browne used to write & if “Hope…” lacks the authority of those then these are different, less certain times. The new record is credited to Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, his touring band who have all played on the last 4 LPs. Maybe, as he says, “I’ve sung enough about myself”, Jason is smart enough to know that relying on autobiographical lyrics for a third time could be one too far. The postman brought me tickets for his Autumn tour today so c’mon, let’s get Summer over & done with !

 

 

OK, after a couple of artists I have followed for some time here’s something that I was only recently put on to. Ette’s “Attack of the Glam Soul Cheerleaders (Part 1 & 2), (how could I resist that title ?) is from last summer’s “Homemade Lemonade”, a collaboration between Carla Easton & Joe Kane. “Attack…”‘s  bustle, brio & catchiness (I’m still on a Pop poetess Shirley Ellis kick at the moment) brought to mind the early records of the Go Team & I liked that. 2016 was a busy year for Carla, her band TeenCanteen released their debut LP “Say It All With A Kiss”. Just one look at the 4-piece group’s videos that’s all it took.

 

Image result for teencanteenTeenCanteen have been around Glasgow since 2012. Carla’s voice is strong, individual & her songs are equally impressive. Their C86 lo-fi indie take on the Wall of Sound has echoes of the classic girl-group sound (Oh yeah, the 4 members of TC are all female) & the retro/modern balance is just right. They have a Sunshine Pop charm & you can never have too much of that. “Millions”, with its crying that is so Shangri-Las, is in the shops on the 22nd of April, part of a 4 track EP “Sirens”. In a parallel universe where the attraction of a 3 minute blast of pure pop music has not been diminished “Millions” would be the follow up to 2 or 3 big hit records (here’s one of them, “How We Met (Cherry Pie)“) & I wouldn’t have to carry on about just how good they are.

Better Late Than Never (Motown Hits)

In March 1965 a series of 6 four track EPs marked the establishment of the Tamla Motown label in the UK. Previous releases had been through London American, Fontana, Oriole & finally Stateside. The assembly line at Hitsville USA in Detroit was sustaining 5 subsidiaries, Tamla, Motown, Gordy, Soul & V.I.P. The same writer/producers, the same musicians, a unique & successful operation, “the Sound of Young America”. There were 43 singles on the new label in the first 9 months. They couldn’t all be chartbusters, weren’t all by the great stars of the roster. Sometimes it took a little longer for the record buying public to catch on to some of the gems from Tamla Motown.

 

 

Image result for isley brothers soul on the rocks“This Old Heart of Mine” by the Isley Brothers was the #1 record of my youth club years (that’s the ones immediately before I could get served in pubs). The debut Motown release for the Brothers, January 1966 in the US, March in the UK, it was their only Top 20 hit in the US for the label & scraped into the Top 50 over here. If you were not already out on the floor then you certainly were before Ronald started singing. Over two years later the song was still being played in the great Soul/Ska sets I attended in the upstairs rooms of bars. A re-release saw it become a Top 3 hit, another smash for the crack Holland-Dozier-Holland unit. Trouble was, for Motown, the Isley Brothers had already left the label before this success.

 

“The Isleys’ wild call & response songs “Shout” & “Twist & Shout” had been picked up by the British Beat Boom & the group were a little too rugged for the sophisticated Detroit sound. The first LP for Motown had heavy involvement from H-D-H but 3 of their songs were a little second-hand having already been hits for others. On the “Soul on the Rocks” LP (1967) the A Team were absent & , while talented people were around to produce, the Isleys were dissatisfied with with the material & promotion they received. Motown went back to an old hit “I Guess I’ll Always Love You” & it did well again. “Behind a Painted Smile” had not been considered as a single in 1967. By May 1969 it & other stomping Isley tracks were favourites in the Soul clubs. This dense, dramatic classic, a perfect blend of impassioned vocals & the driving Funk Brothers rhythm section (James Jamerson, Benny Berrigan ?), Joe Messina’s fuzz guitar became a Top 5 hit. The Brothers Isley were more popular in the UK than at home until “It’s Your Thing”, on their own T-Neck label, scored their biggest sales yet. A couple of years later resistance was futile as their expanded family band just took over.

 

 

Oh yes ! The Elgins only got the one shot at Motown. The LP “Darling Baby” (1965) was produced by Brian Holland & Lamont Dozier, again featuring song’s by Detroit’s most talented songwriting trio with 4 covers of Atlantic hits as the filler. The title track & “Heaven Must Have Sent You” were R&B hits but there was to be no second LP from the group. In 1967 singer Saundra Mallett Edwards left the group & though she was replaced just look at the clip, from “Swingin’ Time” & you will see why she was missed. “Swingin’ Time” was a music show out of Windsor, Ontario, just across the river from Detroit. They got some great Motown acts as guests & the surviving Y-tube clips are worth searching out.

 

Image result for the elgins heaven must have sent youBy 1970 columnist Dave Godin had identified a North-South divide in UK Soul fans. While Funk began to carry the swing in the USA “Northern Soul” fans were more interested in crate-digging for obscure uptempo dance records from the mid-60’s. In 1971 the 6 year old “Heaven Must Have Sent You” was re-released, broke out of the clubs & was a Top 3 hit. In the Spring of 1971 Stevie Wonder released “Where I’m Coming From”, Marvin Gaye “What’s Going On”, Diana Ross, no longer a Supreme, was filming “Lady Sings the Blues” & plans for Motown to leave Detroit for Los Angeles were in advanced stages. The success of “Heaven Must…” showed that the public still wanted to dance & sing along to those classic Holland-Dozier-Holland, themselves no longer with the label, songs OK…♫ I’ve cried through many endless nights, just holding my pillow tight. Then you came into my lonely day, with your tender and your sweet ways. ♫ Smashing !

 

 

 

Image result for r. dean taylor there's a ghost in my houseCanadian R Dean Taylor signed for Motown as a songwriter & recording artist in 1964. The records didn’t go so well but writing credits kept his name in the frame. There was a Marvelettes track with Norman Whitfield, a Brenda Holloway A-side with Frank Wilson. In 1967 “7 Rooms of Gloom” was the 4th single from the 4 Tops greatest LP “Reach Out”. It was the B-side, “I’ll Turn to Stone”, with the credit Holland-Dozier-Holland-Taylor (that’s good company to keep), which became a dancefloor favourite. A dramatic self-produced single from that year, “Gotta See Jane”, written with Brian Holland, failed at home but reached the UK Top 20 in 1968. With the departure from the label of the great trio Motown’s production staff had to step up to keep the hits coming. Taylor had co-credits on two singles by Diana Ross & the Supremes, “Love Child”, a #1,& “I’m Living in Shame”. You know more R Dean Taylor songs than you thought you did.

 

In 1970 R Dean moved to Rare Earth, a label Motown set up for white artists. He scored with “Indiana Wants Me” an odd song about a murderer chased & caught by the police. It was his only US success but we hadn’t finished with him yet in the UK. Back in 1966 he had recorded “There’s a Ghost in my House”, another track with that impressive H-D-H-Taylor credit. Another irresistible Motown stomper that went missing at the time, it became a staple of Northern Soul DJ sets & reached the Top 10 in 1974. That’s 3 Top 20 hits for R Dean Taylor, an individual Motown talent.

 

All 3 of these songs were resurrected by the Northern Soul scene but you didn’t have to be a regular at the Casino or the Twisted Wheel to appreciate & enjoy them. The scene was big in the early 1970’s, these rediscovered breakout hits received wider radio play & sold to a bigger audience. We were listening to Sly, Marvin, the Isleys, Funkadelic, the new sounds of Black America but the fact remained that you could not beat a bit of classic Tamla Motown to make your weekend go better.

Out Here On The Perimeter (Prince Far I/Creation Rebel)

ARTEFACT DESCRIPTIONWell, look at this ! I have not seen this poster since…I have never seen this poster before… but I made the gig on the 23rd of April 1979. There were only the 3 of us going to see Prince Far I when we were usually team handed for any chance of a good night out. Not only was it a Monday, the night best spent relaxing on a saline drip after a bloody good weekend & an hallucinatory first day of the working week but also the gig was in Stockport . We were in Manchester, only 7 miles distant but a long way away.

 

I was good with the small turnout, just me & 2 young women, always a good balance. S was my girlfriend…ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t have fallen in love with ? That’s her. J was a new friend who, at a time I needed good friends, was as solid as a rock without me ever having to ask. We were in Janet’s car for the first time. I wonder how good a driver she would be ? She, like myself, liked to get high. Hey, it probably improved her driving…probably. She had only just splashed her cash on the vehicle to make her commute to work easier. Fortuitously Janet worked in Stockport so she knew the way.

 

Image result for prince far iThis journey into the unknown was being undertaken because a chance to see Prince Far I was too good to miss. Reggae, you know it…the music that goes chang-a, chang-a, was moving on up in the late 1970s. Bob Marley & the Wailers’ popularity had opened ears to the Rastafarian inspired Roots music from Jamaica. At house/blues parties we heard Dennis Brown & Gregory Isaacs. Dillinger, Culture & Burning Spear featured in Punk DJ sets while John Peel, the national treasure of British music radio, always attracted to the outre & the surprising, played the latest Dub plates & plenty of Prince Far I. His first LP “Psalms For I” (1975) was simply that, a voice of thunder intoning sacred songs over simple, similar rhythms. “Under Heavy Manners” followed in 1977, less religion more politricks. Whether Far I’s proselytising was sacred or secular he convinced you to sit up & listen.

 

So, put yourself in Ray’s Place yeah. Trying too hard, unsubtle, and inauthentic, that’s the definition of cheesy. I’m not the guy who’ll make cracks about Stockport & sophistication but it was a faded aspirant nightclub & there was a good reason why I avoided joints like this. In Manchester we had the Apollo & the Free Trade Hall for the bigger gigs (no 20,000 seat arenas then). The Factory/Russell Club in Hulme was the perfect post-Punk hangout, rough & ready with the best music of the time right in front of you. If you just wanted a beer, a band & a night with your mates then you went to see Ed Banger & the Nosebleeds at the Band on the Wall in Swan St. OK, this was…er, different but the company was good, the bar was open until 2 a.m. & we had a “Reggae Spectacular” about to start. Happy Days !

 

 

Image result for creation rebel 1979The show, known as “Roots Encounter”, was quite special. Creation Rebel took the stage & made themselves comfortable. they were staying for the whole night. The band already had their own LP “Dub From Creation” (1978), rhythm tracks recorded in Jamaica, polished in London. The addition of drummer Lincoln “Style” Scott, through the Far I hook up, added class, Dr Pablo’s melodica made for a distinct sound. With subsequent releases Creation Rebel would find their deserved place in our collections, usually finding the turntable at around 1 a.m. after a night of smoking it up. Tonight they were the backing band, first for the toaster Prince Hammer then vocalist Bim Sherman.

 

Natty dread was taking over Ray’s Place. The hard edges were softened by rhythms that demanded that you dance. The crowd were moving together at the front of the stage & everything felt a little warmer. Adrian Sherwood was a young fan with a talent for mixing tracks & for getting things done. He was already involved with all of the acts on tonight & after a couple of false starts he formed his own label, On-U Sound. Sherwood had intriguing & experimental thoughts on production & the label soon became a hallmark of quality, its varied output of Reggae & beyond always worth investigation. Tonight was his idea of how a Reggae show should go, Creation Rebel stretching out & taking up the slack between sets, the music never stopping. A good idea it was too.

 

 

Image result for prince far iWhen the star of the show arrived onstage there was definitely a surge of energy in the place. The man had presence, his individual growl serious & impressive. He described himself as a “chanter” rather than a toaster, whatever it was it worked. Creation Rebel were dubbing it up, heavy on the bass to match the lyrics. Prince Far I trod his own path & I was reminded of another unique talent, Captain Beefheart. There can be no higher praise. I have no idea what songs he played, refreshments had been taken & I was having a time. I’ve included “Message From the King” here because I love the combination of Prince & Culture’s Joseph Hill. If you have the time & the inclination towards fine music then check the Peel Session from June 1978 which gives a better idea of what we heard on the night.

 

There’s a lot of Prince Far I’s music about. His alliance with Adrian Sherwood worked to their mutual benefits, Far I got his records released & Sherwood gained access to Jamaican artists recorded by the Prince. Between 1978 & 1981 4 chapters of “Cry Tuff Dub Encounter” were produced alongside a couple of other LPs in each year. In 1983 Prince Far I was shot & killed during a robbery at his home in Kingston Jamaica. He was a great loss to not just Reggae music & his lyrics continue to stir & inspire today. I was privileged to be able experience his live show. It was worth visiting Stockport after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steal Away to the Dark End of the Street (James Carr)

This short clip, just 50 seconds long, is all we have of one of the great, if not the greatest Southern Soul singers in his prime. It’s from 1966 & “Love Attack” was the follow-up to a Top 10 R&B hit “You Got My Mind Messed Up”. James Carr’s rich, powerful, emotional voice was gaining him comparison with Otis Redding, the new shooting star of Soul. James’ star never took the same trajectory. It could’ve, maybe should’ve but that was not the way it turned out to be.

 

 

Image result for james carrIn 1964 a couple of Memphis store owners, Quinton Claunch & Doc Russell, started Goldwax Records. Claunch was a music guy, a guitarist, a songwriter then a partner in Hi Records. He was looking to record some of the talent drawn to the city by the success of the Stax label. Late one night he was called on by two singers with Gospel backgrounds, forgotten groups with great names…the Redemption Harmonizers,  Sunset Travelers, Harmony Echoes. Their companion, Roosevelt Jamison, had a song “That’s How Strong My Love Is” & O.V. Wright made it a Soul classic, later covered by Otis & the Rolling Stones. Unfortunately O.V. had signed an earlier contract with someone else which meant that he was off the label. It was the other equally talented caller, James Carr, who Goldwax hoped would become their new star.

 

 

Image result for james carrOf the 14 singles released by James between 1965 & 1969 only two made the R&B Top 10 & none had significant impact on the pop charts. These 28 tracks, collected on “The Complete Goldwax Singles” make a wonderful thing. If this music fits right in with the prevailing energy & creativity of the contemporary Memphis scene it’s probably because many of the same musicians were sitting in on the sessions. Those Memphis Boys sure could play but a James Carr record is dominated by the guy singing the Blues not the band. The breakout “You Got My Mind…” was the 4th release, “Love Attack” was followed by “Pouring Water on a Drowning Man”, a great song by two guys who seem to have written nothing else, then by “The Dark End of the Street”. This much covered, though never bettered, instant classic was from the brief collaboration between Dan Penn & Chips Moman out of American Sound Studio. Moman had produced earlier Goldwax records for a bottle of whiskey & a couple of pills. With “Dark End…” he was getting paid & proving to be worth it. The impeccable “These Ain’t Raindrops”, a Quinton Claunch composition, was the b-side of Carr’s cover of the Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody”. Quality control was pretty high at the studio.

 

James was not the easiest of individuals to deal with. Roosevelt Jamison was around in the early days to help with personal affairs such as depression & a growing dependency on drink & drugs, as well as any business problems arising from James’ illiteracy. Other agents & managers offered more opportunity when a friend from the old days could have been more helpful. Singers with less emotional range, Percy Sledge, Eddie Floyd, Arthur Conley, found that one song that put them high on the charts while James Carr never did. He had a rare talent but was ill-suited to the life of a touring artist.

 

 

Image result for james carr dark end of the street“She’s Better Than You”, another b-side, was written by O.B. McClinton, on the staff at the label as a writer & singer. Goldwax had minor hits with the Ovations & Spencer Wiggins but James was their great hope. As problems increased with the star, he would sit silently for hours in the studio before performing, differences between the owners led to Goldwax being dissolved in 1969. The only two LPs they had released were both by James.

 

There was a single recorded in Mississippi & released by Atlantic in 1971 but that was it from James for 20 years. His mental health problems worsened, periods of hospitalisation followed while Jamison did what he could to help his friend. In 1979 there was a tour of Japan where a stressed James took a double dose of anti-depressants & froze onstage. The first collection of his A-sides came around in 1987 with the tagline “the World’s Greatest Soul Singer”. Soul fans like myself, kids in the 1960’s, caught up in the explosive excitement of Otis, Aretha & the wicked Pickett, were older now, able to appreciate the depth of feeling & experience that James brought to his music. He was rarely seen & not in great shape but his reputation continued to grow.

 

 

Image result for james carrIn 1991 Goldwax was revived & James made a comeback LP produced by Roosevelt Jamison. Then, a year later at the Porretta Soul Festival in Italy an unassuming old man with staring eyes was introduced as James Carr. He looked nothing like the handsome, pompadoured singer from 1966 but, from the opening notes of  “Lovable Girl” you knew who this was & that you were in for a very rare treat. The casually dressed all-star backing band includes the Memphis Horns with Andrew Love & Wayne Jackson, on guitar is Teenie Hodges, mainstay of the many great records made at Willie Mitchell’s Hi studios. James’ voice was not what it was, this is 35 years later but he is in control of his instrument, knows what he can still do & how to turn up the power. Maybe it’s because there are no clips of a younger James singing “Dark End…” that I keep returning to this version of “You Got My Mind Messed Up”. The singer himself seems to know that he’s delivered & his take on “drops mic & leave” at the end is just brilliant.

 

James Carr died in a Memphis nursing home in June in 2001 aged 58. Did he ever gain the recognition & reputation that his work deserved ? I don’t worry about that. I do know that when I want to hear a great collection of mature Memphis Soul from the 1960’s then I reach for “The Complete Goldwax Singles”.