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.

 

 

Here Comes Santa Claus (A Christmas Story)

One of the good things about working in construction was that it was one of the last businesses to pay your wages weekly. The days of cash, in hand or in a lovely packet, may have been over but you could still work hard in the week & be holding the folding for the weekend. So, Monday I got Friday on my mind, by the time it’s Friday, it’s 5 to 5 & I’m looking forward to a crackerjack few days. It’s a thing, wash off the day’s dust, a throwaway meal, neck it pronto, music that’s loud & fast, maybe a couple of cheeky lines, certainly a couple of cheekier friends & I’m ready to go. Then the phone rang…

 

“Hi Mal, I need a little favour”. That was my friend Sally & a “favour” usually involved her handing her 3 small children into my care. Charlie, Dani & George were a rambunctious gang of angels. I loved their company, loved being the “uncle” who could share their fun. I think that they liked me too.My weekend would have to wait. “OK, should I come to yours or will you bring them over ?”. “No it’s not that. I need a man with a big white beard in a big red suit”. It was the third week of December, I knew the fellow she was on about but…hmm…really ? “I know, but I promised a Santa & no-one else is around…Please !”.

 

So, within the hour I’m the most festively dressed man in this North Birmingham car park & thinking that this had all been a bit rapid. The kids knew that I could be a pushover but not all the time. The looks from & the amusement on the back seat clued me in to their surprise that Mum had got me to go along with this. The gig was on behalf of the local Round Table, not, unfortunately, the knights of Arthurian legend but a charitable network involved in raising money for their communities. There was a hubbub of door-to-door collectors drawn from various junior paramilitary set ups like the Sea Scouts & the Brownies. I was shown to my “sleigh”, a Land Rover-drawn carnival float, handed a large bag of sweets, y’know, for the kids, a microphone (interesting !), a cassette of popular Xmas hits & sent on my way.

 

 

Related imageOK, a couple of things, no right-thinking person should let me loose in the suburbs with a microphone. I’ve got information man ! New shit has come to light & people need to hear it. Also I’m never really seized by the festive spirit until almost the last minute. By Christmas Eve I’m as ready as a red-nosed reindeer. I love the time spent with family & friends, I just don’t get the materialism, the planning in October, the office party with people you avoid for the rest of the year (though I’ve had my moments at these). I’m really not a miserable person but, if asked “Are you ready for Xmas ?” then you may get short shrift & the wrong impression.

 

Another thing…I’m really not a great fan of Xmas pop songs. I know that there are plenty of offbeat, cool seasonal offerings (I can’t resist including one here) but the mainstream staples have always struck me as just being too much of a novelty, bland to start with & not helped by the annual repetition. Phil Spector’s “A Christmas Gift For You” was released in 1963, just as Santa brought me exactly what I wanted, a shiny new record player. It pretty much covered all the ground that needed to be covered. Much of what followed, for me, paled in comparison & no-one was ever going to look as good as the Ronettes did in those Xmas outfits. This was not my gig & I didn’t get to choose the playlist. No-one wants a halfhearted, smart arse Santa stinking up the evening so it was time to get my act together & I’d better be good for goodness sake !

 

 

And it all went very well. I gave it the full amplified “Ho, Ho, Ho”, curtains were opened, old ladies waved back & the kids came out to meet me. I handed out the confectionery & not one of the little mites saw through my disguise. In return, when they told me what they hoped to receive when I called on Christmas Day, I made promises that their parents would possibly be  pissed off about. I didn’t even rise to the cherub who, when asked what he wanted for Xmas, replied “Everything !”. Greedy little blighter !

Image result for santa sleighThe joviality was turned up to 11 despite being stuck with this music by all the usual suspects, Slade, Wizzard, Elton John, Wham. I was having a good game, my festive flow was in full effect. The quality & sincerity of “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” seemed incongruous & I wished the citizens of Kingstanding “Peace on Earth from John, Yoko & all the other Beatles”. that was as far as I was going to push it. There was a bit of a swerve when up came “Another Rock & Roll Christmas” by Gary Glitter, a man whose stage costumes resembled a foil-wrapped turkey but who had, more recently made the news because of his unsavoury sexual predilections. The Double Gee was a pervert & this was the wrong soundtrack to be handing out sweets to children. I needed to find the fast forward button sharpish to get to something less controversial (but equally offensive) like “Mistletoe & Wine” by Cliff Richard. Where’s an elf when you need one ?

 

 

Image result for bad santaI was still on roll when we left the residential avenues for the main road. The adults were corralled & we flash crashed a couple of pubs, y’know for charity. Back on my sleigh I gave a ride to Dani & her friend. My job done I passed them the mic & they serenaded passing pedestrians with the hits of Robbie Williams, who, for reasons that eluded me, was very popular at the time. Back at base photos were taken & everyone was very pleased with the evening’s work. Unfortunately they wanted the costume back & I was mild-mannered Clark Kent again.

 

I went back with Sally & the kids & when Dad, Bernie, returned from his late shift he was assailed with the stories of what he had missed. Bernie knew me well & he couldn’t quite believe that I had been persuaded to join the seasonal shenanigans. Sally was so pleased that I had helped her out that she fed me for the weekend (I like food !) & I stayed with this lovely family until Sunday. I wasn’t Santa anymore but I was full of peace & goodwill & knew that if he was busy I was up to the job of helping him out. Merry Xmas everyone.