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In Memoriam – September 2011

October 3rd, 2011 4 comments

The headline death this past month was that at 75 of Sylvia Robinson, who featured on this blog before with her 1973 hit “Pillow Talk”, a song taught Donna Summer all she needed to know about pleasured moaning to a disco beat. But Robinson was much more important than that. As the founder of Sugar Hill Records, she produced and released the first ever rap hit (“Rappers’ Delight”). Robinson’s label also released what I still regard as the greatest rap record of all time, Grandmaster Flash’s monumental “The Message”.

Also notable is the death a day later of Marv Tarplin, who was something of a shadow member of Smokey Robinson’s Miracles: he was always listed as a member, but rarely pictured as one. Tarplin co-wrote many great songs with Smokey, including Tracks Of My Tears, Going To A Go-Go, Ain’t That Peculiar and I’ll Be Doggone (both for Marvin Gaye), and later Smokey solo hits like Being With You and Cruisin’, on many of which he played guitar (including that exquisite intro of Tracks Of My Tears).

Most probably, few will know Wardell Quezergue, but many have heard the music he arranged and/or produced on records by the Dixie Cups, King Floyd, Robert Parker, Jean Knight, Stevie Wonder, The Spinners, Dorothy Moore, Eddie Bo, Paul Simon, Neville Brothers, Dr John and Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown. A New Orleans native, he lost almost everything in Hurricane Katrina.

In August we lost Pinetop Perkins; in September his long-time collaborater Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith passed away at 75, just over half a year after winning a Grammy for his work with the Legendary Blues Band (whom you might have spotted as John Lee Hooker’s backing band in The Blues Brothers).

The romantic in me was sad to learn of the death of Johnny Wright, who would have celebrated his 75th wedding anniversary with the country legend Kitty Wells in October 2012 (they got married on 30 October 1937!).

Wright wasn’t the month’s oldest music casualty; that was Wade Mainer, who had been recording music since 1936 and reached the age of 104. On the other hand, two musicians in their 20s departed: DJ Medhi, who died at 24 in a freak accident, and British electronica muscian Joel Devers, apparently of suicide at 25.

Suicide is also a suspected cause of the death of soul singer Vesta Williams. Bottles of prescription drugs were found with her body in a hotel room. And, to reiterate, I tend to mention suicides not to titilate: to my mind, few things are more tragic than suicide, and few deaths as stigmatised. By mentioning suicide, I hope to offer a little contribution towards its destigmatisation.

Fans of Beatles covers will note the death of collage artist Richard Hamilton, who designed the poster that appeared in the White Album, and that double LP’s cover (in as far as it was designed). A week later, Robert Whitaker died. He was The Beatles’ in-house photographer in the mid-’60s, and most famously took the butcher cover pic for the group’s 1966 US album release Yesterday And Today. The photo, which was intended to communicate that the Fab Four were just ordinary human beings of flesh and blood, caused a huge outcry among people who cheerfully defended the Vietnam war (possibly even Johnnie Wright), and was quickly pulled from circulation.

Tom Hibbert, 59, English music journalist (Smash Hits, Q), on August 28
Brothers Johnson – ‘Q’ (1977)

Orangie Hubbard, 77, rockabilly musician, on September 1

McKinley ‘Bug’ Williams, percussionist and founding member of Maze featuring Frankie Beverley, on September 3
Maze feat Frankie Beverly – The Look In Your Eyes (1980)

Ray Fisher, 70, Scottish folk singer, on September 5
Ray Fisher – Far Over The North (1965)

Albie Wycherley (aka Ed Trent/Jason Eddie), 68, frontman of The Centremen, client of Joe Meek and brother of Billy Fury, on September 5

Wardell Quezergue, 81, New Orleans bandleader of Royal Dukes of Rhythm, arranger and producer, on September 6
Robert Parker – Barefootin’ (1966, as producer)
Jean Knight – Mr Big Stuff (1970, as producer)

Eddie Marshall, 73, jazz drummer, on September 7

Graham Collier, 74, British jazz bassist and composer, on September 10
Graham Collier Sextet – Down Another Road (1969)

Wade Mainer, 104, bluegrass singer and banjo player, leader of The Sons of the Mountaineers, on September 12
Wade Mainer’s Mountaineers – Just One Way To The Pearly Gates (1936)

Don Wayne, 78, country songwriter, on September 12
Lefty Frizzell – Saginaw, Michigan (1964, as songwriter)

DJ Mehdi (Mehdi Favéris-Essadi), 34, French-Tunisian hip hop end electro musician/producer, on September 13
DJ Mehdi – Signatune (2007)

Richard Hamilton, 89, British artist (designed The Beatles’ White Album cover and poster), on September 13
The Beatles – Good Night (1968)

Wilma Lee Cooper, 90, country singer, on September 13
Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper – Highway To Heaven (1974)

Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, 75, blues musician (with Muddy Waters, Legendary Blues Band), on September 16
Bo Diddley – Diddy Wah Diddy (1955, on harmonica)
Legendary Blue Band – Blues Today (1992)

Cora Vaucaire, 93, French singer, on September 17
Cora Vaucaire – La complainte de la butte (1955)

Asnaqètch Wèrqu, 76, Ethiopian singer and actress, on September 17
Asnaqètch Wèrqu – Endègèna

Vesta Williams, 53, soul singer and actress, on September 20
Vesta Williams – Congratulations (1988)

Joel Dever, 25, multi-instrumentalist in English electro trio Battant, on September 20

Robert Whitaker, 71, photographer who took The Beatles’ famous butcher photo, on September 20
The Beatles – I’m Only Sleeping (1966)

John Du Cann, 66, singer and guitarist of British prog rock band Atomic Rooster, on September 21
Atomic Rooster – The Devil’s Answer (1971)

Jumpin’ Jack Neal, 80, bassist with Gene Vincent’s Blue Caps, on September 22
Gene Vincent & His Blue Caps – Wedding Bells (Are Breaking Up That Old Gang Of Mine) (1956)

John Larson, 61, trumpeter with The Ides of March, on September 22
The Ides Of March – Vehicle (1970)

Paul Kirby, 48, singer-songwriter and member of roots rock band The Cactus Brothers, on September 25
The Cactus Brothers – Big Train (1993)

Jessy Dixon, 73, gospel singer, on September 26
Jessy Dixon – I Won’t Bow Down (1985)

Harry Muskee, 70, Dutch blues singer, on September 26
Cuby + Blizzards – Window Of My Eyes (1968)

Johnnie Wright, 97, country singer (Johnnie & Jack), husband of Kitty Wells, on September 27
Johnnie Wright – Hello Vietnam (1965)

Johnny “Country” Mathis, 77, singer-songwriter, on September 27

Leonard Dillon, 68, member of Jamaican reggae group The Ethiopians, on September 28
The Ethiopians – Let It Be (1977)

Sylvia Robinson, 75, soul singer, producer and record label executive, on September 29
The Moments – Love On A Two-Way Street (1970, as producer)
Sylvia – Give Up In Vain (1973)
Sugarhill Gang – Rappers Delight (Extended 12″ version) (1979, as producer)

Marv Tarplin, 70, guitarist of The Miracles and songwriter, announced on September 30
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – Tracks Of My Tears (1965)

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Yet more '80s soul

November 20th, 2008 5 comments

I’m not sure whether it is due to popular demand after last week’s compilation, but here is a second ’80s soul mix, with a third and final installment in the works. The first mix was an attempt to create a fairly representative cross-section of the genre. This mix is less self-conscious about that. What we have here, then, are some of my favourite soul tracks from that comparatively barren decade. As in any compilation of favourites, the measure of quality may be secondary to the compiler’s emotional connection to a song. Is Smokey’s Just To See Her any good? I don’t rightly know. It may not be a better song than Being With You. But much as I like Being With You, it does not transport me back to a particular time. Play Just To See Her, however, and I smell the girl’s hair, taste the vegetarian gunk I used to eat, feel the anticipation of going to the club and the anxiety of missing my friends in London. And so it is with many songs in this mix (especially Pendergrass’ wonderfully Marvin-esque Joy). Read more…

80s Soul: The redemption – Vol.1

October 8th, 2008 5 comments
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After the glorious era of the ’60s and ’70s, soul music found itself in a bit of a rut in the ’80s, and has never recovered from it. Where in the golden age the public standard bearers of soul were the likes of Aretha Franklin and Al Green, in the ’80s it was Whitney Houston and Lionel Richie. I am referring to popular perception, of course. Still, the soul giant of the 1980s was Luther Vandross; rather a step down from Al, Ike, Marvin or Curtis (soul singers are always referred to by their first names). Much of ’80s soul was too smooth to be sexual, even as the lyrics promised total sexual gratification, or your money back. The more the singers sang about makin’ lurve to you awawawawall nighyeet, the more sexless the genre became. Things were called soul that weren’t much soulful. Like Whitney Houston, like Lionel Richie (though both made some excellent soul records). Read more…

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1985

July 23rd, 2007 3 comments

A great year in which I got to see loads of concerts. In 1985 I was a huge U2 fan, and saw them in successive weeks at Milton Keynes, at Phoenix Park in Dublin, and at Torhout in Belgium, and in between saw Bruce Springsteen twice at Wembley Stadium. I rounded off the summer by being at Live Aid, which despite its largely crap music was a fantastic event. I had another unrequited crush on a McGirl (the lovely Lucy McGrath) and got to meet a lot of famous people while working in a restaurant in Chelsea. A great year indeed.

Big Sound Authority – This House (Is Where Our Love Stands).mp3
I saw the Big Sound Authority live at Camden Town in January 1985, a really good gig, and thought they’d make it big. This fine soul-pop song (released in late 1984 but a top 20 UK hit in ’85) apart, they never did. Puzzling and, indeed, it’s almost perverse. The brass was rather brilliant, the sound was rich and energetic, and singer Julie Hadwen had a mighty voice for a petite woman. She is still recording, it seems. Video of “This House” here.

The Colourfield – Thinking Of You.mp3
Another one hit top 20 wonder. The Colourfield was the new group of Terry Hall, formerly of the Specials and Fun Boy Three. This is a cute song, with its vaguely Bossa Nova guitar and Hall’s slightly flat singing complemented by Katrina Phillips vocals. Video here.

Strawberry Switchblade – Since Yesterday.mp3
I saw Strawberry Switchblade, who looked like the cutest Goth girls, supporting Howard Jones (yeah, I know, I know) in 1984, and was quite smitten. When the enchanting “Since Yesterday” (video) rose up the charts, I was very excited: the first act I had seen play live before they hit the big time. Alas, this remained the only big time they hit, even though their cover of “Jolene” was excellent. Idiot record buying public. For more Strawberry Switchblade music, right click and open into a new window/tab out this treasure trove of rare tracks. (previously uploaded)

Killing Joke – Love Like Blood.mp3
Killing Joke were the original grunge band, except on “Love Like Blood” they sounded like a U2 and Soundgarden hybrid (we didn’t know that yet, of course, because Soundgarden didn’t exist). Truth be told, I have little time for much else by Killing Joke but the Night Time album which yielded this track.

Duran Duran – A View To A Kill.mp3
Well, Duran Duran had to be accommodated at some point in an ’80s review. The theme song to Roger Moore’s funniest Bond movie, “A View To A Kill” had a great video. Simon Le Bon and his wife Yasmin used to frequent the restaurant where I worked (I once gave his serviette to a Duran fan I knew; it was the only time I know of that I brought a girl to an orgasm without touching her). In 1986, the British tabloids played up Yasmin’s pregnancy and subsequent miscarriage. At one point, when the whole press hype had died down, the Le Bons patronised the restaurant. As usual, we waiters were discreet and pretended not to recognise the celebs. Except Juan, a huge, extravagantly camp winewaiter from Spain, who moseyed over to Simon and Yasmin, and gormlessly asked: “And how is the baby”? Ouch. To Simon’s credit, he responded simply: “I think you have the wrong couple”.

Godley & Creme – Cry.mp3
The 10cc veteran’s surprise hit reminds me of the Heysel Stadium disaster, its chart run broadly coinciding with that traumatic event. It’s a good song, but it scraped into the top 20 on strength of a great, groundbreaking video, with faces morphing into one another (an overdone device since, but very remarkable in 1985). I love the chipmunk “cry” at the end of the song.

Marillion – Kayleigh.mp3
I got into Marillion the previous year, with tracks like “Punch And Judy” and “She Chameleon” (which I nearly uploaded for the ’84 trip). Those tracks sound terrible now, horrendous prog rock. I don’t remember much about Misplaced Childhood, from which this song came. I don’t think I liked it very much. But “Kayleigh” I loved so much, I even bought the 12″ picture disc. I left it behind when I departed from London in 1987; my records were supposed to be sent on to me in South Africa, but never were. I hope the picture disc is worthless now. It probably isn’t.

Bruce Springsteen – Trapped (live).mp3
Long a Springsteen concert staple, Broooce played this Jimmy Cliff cover on his 1985 tour, a highlight in the 3-hour show as the band builds up to a crescendo and then dramatically drops in unison to let Roy Bittan’s keyboard hum on quietly. This recording appeared on the We Are The World compilation, but we shouldn’t hold that against it.

The Pogues – Sally Maclennane (live).mp3
I bought the single for the b-side, a particularly version rousing of “The Wild Rover”, the greatest drinking song of them all. That is no reflection on “Sally Maclennane”, which was on the album anyway (this file is a live recording). Few acts can make you feel so happy one minute, and then make you weep as the Pogues do (you try to laugh when you hear “Thousands Are Sailing” or “Streets of Sorrow/Brimingham Six”).

China Crisis – Black Man Ray.mp3
It was never really cool to like China Crisis, at a time when uncool was not yet the new cool. 1982’s “Christian” and 1984’s “Wishful Thinking” were fine songs, but “Black Man Ray” (from Flaunt The Imperfection, produced by Steely Dan’s Walter Becker) is the classic in the China Crisis canon.

Maze feat. Frankie Beverley – Too Many Games.mp3
One of my all-time favourite soul groups. In 1985 Maze announced a five-nighter at the Hammersmith Odeon. I hurried from Archway, where I lived, to Hammersmith to buy my ticket (as I often did) before having to go to Chelsea for work. When I arrived, people were queuing around the block. I couldn’t join the long line of Wide Boys, and even the ticket agencies were sold out. It still hurts to have missed the gigs; Maze were an incredible band in concert, as their two live albums prove (and DVDs thereof). “Too Many Games” is a great song, a real ’80s soul favourite of mine; but it scraped into the Top 40 on the back of its flipside, the funk instrumental “Twilight”, a club
fave at the time.

New Order – Sub Culture.mp3
Like the “1-2-3-4-5” of XTC’s “Senses Working Overtime”, so is the chorus of this piece of electro bombast burnt into my subconscious. I tend to spontaneously break out into singing the line, “What do I get out of this, I always try, I always miss”. I think it might be the anthem of my life.

Feargal Sharkey – A Good Heart.mp3
I forgive Feargal Sharkey a lot for having been an Undertone, even this unworthy #1 hit. Actually, it’s quite a sweet song, but not as nearly good as the soulful “Loving You” from earlier that year (reaching only #26). Around the time “A Good Heart” was a hit, one of my three flatmates, David, took me out clubbing. We went to Golders Green where his friend Camilla lived, so that we could drive to Charing Cross in her car. As we were ready to leave, the backdoors opened, and on both sides two black chicks got in, one pretty, the other quite ugly. They said “hello”. Their voices were deep. So the nickname Camp David was not a reference to the US president’s holiday home. The plan obviously was to take straight dude to a gay club, flanked by crossdressers. And so we ended up at Heaven. Initially I was nervous, but once inside I relaxed. It was a liberating experience to be clubbing without invoking the “How Soon Is Now” scenario of not having scored. I was very flattered when I was approached by guys wanting to buy me a drink. I declined but rather enjoyed the notion that here was a club where I could pull, if only I was gay….

The Waterboys – The Whole Of The Moon.mp3
More evidence that the British record-buying public have always been idiots. This work of utter genius (about an utter genius) reached only #26 in the charts. At the same time, Paul McCartney’s Frog Chorus was making a run on the top 10, and the same sort of imbeciles who propelled the unspeakable Jennifer Rush to the top of the charts in June were now buying Elton John’s revolting “Nikita” instead of “The Whole Of The Moon”. Grrrr…

U2 – Bad (live).mp3
My all-time favourite U2 song, which provided one of the few musical and dramatic highlights at Live Aid (remember a mulletted Bono dragging the girl from the crowd for a dance. I bet she was terrified that she’d have to screw the chief roadie later for the privilege. She certainly did look petrified). At the concerts in June, Bono would ad lib some lines from “Do They Know It’s Christmas” during the performance of “Bad”. Except he’d sing “do they know that springtime is coming”. There is no springtime anywhere in June, Bono. Even metaphorically, Band Aid was hardly going to create a symbolic springtime for the starving Ethiopians, just a bit of relief. This proves that Bono was a self-important idiot even in his pre-shades years. Nonetheless, “Bad” is a great song, and he doesn’t do that Band Aid shit on this fine performance from the Wide Awake In America EP, which was released in the US for no good reason whatsoever in 1985. (Below, my pic of Bono at Torhout. Even from far away, you can make out his horrid mullet).