Saturday, April 21, 2018

Geno Washington and Jimmy James

The two most outstanding live club acts from the 60s were Geno Washington & the Ram Jam Band and Jimmy James and the Vagabonds. Both signed with Pye Records and whilst they enjoyed moderate success as recording artists they were unquestionably the best live soul performers in the UK during the late 60s.

The Ram Jam Band formed circa 1964 as a Blue Beat band by Pete Gage (guitar) and Geoff Pullum (keyboards). They took the name from an old Inn on the A1 called the Ram Jam Inn. The band’s frontman was Jamaican, Errol Dixon a well-known Ska singer on the London club circuit. Dixon has released several singles prior to joining the group.

Sensing a change in musical taste, the group decided to change direction and wanted to play American soul. Keen to have an American singer Dixon was replaced by Geno Washington. Pete knew him from performing the Bentwaters USAF Base, East Anglia and offered to help finance him with his demobbing from the US Airforce to the States. On his return to the UK Geno joined the band. The group recorded "Shake Shake Senora" but it failed to attract attention.

The band managed to build up a strong following with the Mods due to their their energetic performances of soul music.

In 1966 they released a live album, which was rare for time, called Hand Clappin, Foot Stompin, Funky-Butt ... Live! It reached no.5 on the UK albums chart, and remained in the charts for 38 weeks.

The following year a second live album, Hipster Flipsters Finger Poppin' Daddies reached no.8 on the chart.

The group had far less success in the singles charts because their strength was very much in their live performances.

The band eventually broke up in 1969 and Geno Washington continued as a solo artist before returning to the United States. They did reform and Geno Washington and (new) The Ram Jam Band now enjoy popularity on the retro circuit.

In 1980, Dexys Midnight Runners had a number 1 hit with "Geno" written by Kevin Archer and Kevin Rowland. The song was in tribute to Geno Washington, and performed in approximately the style of the Ram Jam Band with the saxophone riff inspired by Washington's "(I Gotta) Hold on to My Love".

Michael James was born in 1940 in the US but was brought up in Kingston, Jamaica.

By the age of 20 he had two Number 1 Ska hits in Jamaican, "Bewildered and Blue," (1959) and "Come to Me Softly, (1960). Jimmy was asked to join the Vagabonds in 1960 and the group released the album, Presenting the Fabulous Vagabonds to critical success in 1964. The Vagabonds line-up was Rupert Balgobin (drums), Phillip Chen (rhythm guitar), Coleson Chen (bass), Wallace Wilson (lead guitar), Carl Noel (organ), Carl Griffiths & Fred Fredericks (sax), and showman extraordinaire Count Prince Miller, a crowd-pleaser who got the audience involved in the show.

Keen to pursue their careers the group relocated to London in 1965 and Decca released the album “Ska Time” under the name of Jamaica's Own Vagabonds. This is thought to be the first Jamaican ska music to be recorded in the UK.

The band quickly established themselves as regulars at the Marquee Club and were signed by Columbia and released "Shoo-Be-Doo You're Mine," to a look warm response. They switched labels to Pye Records (Picadilly) and released "I Feel Alright," followed by a cover of the Dells' "Hey Diddley Dee Dum Dum (It's A Good Good Feeling)" both singles sold reasonably well but failed to chart .

Jimmy James and the Vagabonds became one of the most popular live acts in the UK and like Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band were courted by the Mods across the country. Jimmy had a powerful voice ideal for the soul songs of the era. The band were managed by Pete Meaden (former manager of the Who). In 1966 the group released their best known studio album, The New Religion in 1966.

Sales were mediocre and once Pye realised the band had been under promoted after the seventh single failed to chart they were switched to the main label.

Pye released "I Can't Get Back Home to My Baby," in 1967 and a live album “London Swings: Live at the Marquee Club” , with one half to James & the Vagabonds and the other to fellow nightclub favorites the Alan Bown Set.

In 1968 James & the Vagabonds released a cover of Neil Diamond’s "Red Red Wine," and the single gave the band their first chart success, peaking at number 36. Then later in the same year his re-recorded version of "Come to Me Softly" was a minor hit in the US. Despite their sellout performances Jimmy James and the Vagabonds failed to translate into strong record sales, and commercial success remained elusive.

By the end of the 60s soul music became passe chart wise and The Vagabonds called it quits in 1970. Their last album was LP Better By Far

Jimmy owned the name Vagabonds and recruited a new (all white) Vagabonds of Chris Garfield (guitar), Alan Wood (bass), Russell Courtney (drums), and Alan Kirk (keyboards). They continued to perform at live gigs and record. In 1971 he recorded the cult classic "Help Yourself."

Whilst, "I'll Go Where Your Music Takes Me" and "Now Is The Time," were not hits, the singles sold well enough and found a new eager audience in Northern Soul.

Meantime Count Prince Miller had a solo reggae hit in 1971 with "Mule Train."

Jimmy James continues to regularly perform around the UK.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The origins of hip hop: From Funk to Break

The origins of hip hop share provenance with clog dancing as a street dance art form. Clogging was brought to the US in the mid nineteenth century and local performers refined the steps into tap . Tap dancing was originally performed as an accompaniment to song and the percussive and rhythmic patterns produced by the snags heightened effectiveness. Movement grew larger as rhythms grew more intricate and greater emphasis was placed on elements of dance composition and design. Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, refined the minstrel tradition, and Fred Astaire made ‘hoofing’ a modern art form and corner stone of Hip Hop.

Break dancing like Rap are forms of flyting or intense (verbal) jousting common in in 16th century Scotland. Flyting was one step away from an actual rumble and is thought to have been used by Scottish slave drivers to encourage their human cargo not to physically harm each other. Feuding street gangs replaced flyting with Brooklyn uprock, a skilled choreography involving fancy footwork, shuffles, hitting motions, and movements that mimic fighting. The winner of the preliminary rocking decided where the real fight would be. Some authorities also believe uprock was influenced by an Afro-Brazilian martial arts called Capoeira. The kata describes a stylized dance incorporating aggressive combat movements performed to music. In any event uprock was quickly replaced with toprock because of its aggressive gang association. Toprock describes fancy footwork performed while standing up and is used as a prelude before transitioning into other dance moves performed on the floor.

The inspiration for Breakdancing is thought to be based on the choreography of James Brown on "Get on the Good Foot". People loved to mimicked the singer’s antics at parties.

By mixing recorded sounds Clive Campbell (aka) DJ Kool Herc developed the Merry-Go-Round technique with twin turntables to extend the fundamental vibrating loop at the heart of a record (the break). A break is a musical interlude during a song where the singing stops and the percussive rhythms are the most aggressive. He played a break on one turntable, then repeated the same break on the second turntable as soon as the first was finished. He looped these records one after the other in order to extend the break as long as he wanted. It was during these times that the dancers, later known as break-boys or b-boys, performed what is known as breaking.

By the 70s young people were dancing to New York based Black and Latino Americans uprock and break (dancing); and West Coast funk styles like locking, roboting, boogaloo, and popping. Although these dance styles were widely different they were grouped together as the dance phenomenon i.e. hip hop.

The West Coast Funk styles predated breaking by almost a decade and were danced to funk music rather than hip-hop music. Boogaloo was a style of music which started a fad dance in the 60s.

Later it became a dance style when Sam "Boogaloo Sam" Solomon (The Electric Boogaloos) started performing it in public venues. As a dance style, it is characterized by rolling hip, knee, and head movements as if the body has no bones. Electric boogaloo became the signature dance style of The Electric Boogaloos.

Don "Campbellock" Campbell (The Lockers) is credited with creating locking in 1973 in Los Angeles.

According to legend he developed the dance style accidentally while pausing in between dance moves when trying to remember how to do the Funky Chicken. Locking is characterized by consistently freezing or "locking" in place while dancing.

Charles "Charles Robot" Washington (The Lockers) was inspired to create roboting after he saw a mime artist named Robert Shields in 1969.

Charles first performed roboting on Soul Train in 1971 but two years later The Jackson 5 performed "Dancing Machine" on Soul Train, which ensured the dance’s popularity .

Although popping cannot be traced to any contemporary person or crew, most believe it has similarities to the style of professional dancer Earl "Snake Hips" Tucker .

In the 1920s he was a regular at the Cotton Club in Harlem.

The popping technique involves quickly contracting and relaxing muscles to cause a jerk in the dancer's body. The most recognizable form of popping is the backslide or moonwalk. Cab Calloway performed the backslide in 1932, but the most famous version was done by Michael Jackson in 1983.

Different cities have different variations on the dance and popping today is an umbrella term to include other techniques such as ticking, liquid, tutting, waving, gliding, twisto-flex, and sliding.

The zeitgeist of Hip hop included many influences including the ghetto blaster, popularity of martial arts films, televised gymnastics, and the formation of dance crews.

Teams of street dancers got together and develop new moves, and dance routines, before competing with rival crews. Commercial success came when hip-hop musical artists started to release songs with an accompanying dance. In the 70s the most influential groups were Rock Steady Crew, New York City Breakers, The Lockers, and The Electric Boogaloos,

Most hip hop social dances were short-lived but one of the most popular was the Cabbage Patch. The rap group Gucci Crew II created the dance and introduced it in their 1987 song of the same name, "The Cabbage Patch".

The Running Man was another social dance which enjoyed vogue and had been created by Paula Abdul. Janet Jackson popularized the dance when she performed it in her 1989 music video "Rhythm Nation", and rapper MC Hammer kept the fervor going when he started to do the Running Man in his performances.

In 1990, rapper MC Hammer created the Hammer dance and popularized it in his music video "U Can't Touch This".

Newer social dances such as the Cha Cha Slide (1996), the Cupid Shuffle and Soulja Boy also caught on. These are examples of urban line dances created from hip-hop songs of the same name and known more widely as Electric Slide. The Cha Cha Slide, Cupid Shuffle, and the Soulja Boy are always performed to their respective songs.

The Electric Slide is always performed to the song "Electric Boogie" by Marcia Griffiths.

Each year new dance steps are added and artists use social media like YouTube to spread the word. No self-respecting rapper would be would designer trainers with many crews sponsored over the decades by large shoe companies.Celebrity endorsement coupled with support from ‘medical experts’ enhanced sales of the latest footwear. The major shoe companies’ marketing is firmly targeted towards inner city youth, mainly Afro American, Hispanic or Asians. The shelf life of designs is very short and rarely lasts three months, which ogten corresponds to the length of the social dance craze.

Rappers, Hip Hoppers and sports personalities extol the virtues of being cool in them and peer pressure ensures parents part with enormous amounts of money to get the latest styles. Shoes which have been developed for the extreme, street sports like skate boarding are the new elite, worn by all ravers.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Chemical Generation: From Docs to Kicks

When inner city youths rejected hippy music and heavy metal in the late 60s they created an alternative culture which was more utilitarian, unisex and affordable to out of work street kids. Bomber jackets, fitted shirts, Levis & braces with Doc Martens (DMs) boots were hip but dancing took second place to a good punch up. Skinheads (or suede heads) was a very machismo movement soon hijacked by racists and Neo-Nazis but initially they listened to Reggie music which was replaced later by racist, Oi music.

The once ultra-conservative Dr Martens shoes became the trademarks of urban youth excited by violence.

Dr Klause Martens of Munich invented his air trapped soles in 1945. The inspiration came had come from a personal injury he experienced when skiing and he wanted a more comfortable pair shoes. He started to produce the air sole in 1947 but it took until the mid to late 60s to peak. DMs became the essential accessory of youth harnessing the aggression of the storm trooper into the streets. European skinheads made it their own in the seventies and used their DMs (Bovver Boots) fierce weapons to shatter the complacency of the bourgeoisie. Skinheads were not the first to do this and in the seventeenth century young men called 'footpads' terrorised the highways and byways. DM's were readily adopted by all and became a youth phenomenon worn by women and gay men and not just as weapons of terror.

Into the 70s the generation of teenagers identified less with the sophisticated sounds of studio and disco but rediscovered simple rock music played live. All this took place at a time when the Western World was experiencing the beginning of economic hardship and aimless and unemployed street kids disinterested in finesse just wanted to be rocked.

Tapping into the movement came Malcolm McLaren and his girl friend Vivienne Westwood when in 1971, they took over the back part of the retail premises at 430 Kings Road in Chelsea, West London. Initially they sold rock n roll records, refurbished '50s radiograms and dead stock. Then they opened Let It Rock with Westwood repairing original clothing and making facsimiles. They designed clothing for theatrical and cinematic productions including as That'll Be The Day as well as catering for the brief fashion for all things Teddy Boy.

McLaren spent time in New York and was influenced by the New York Dolls what he saw at the notorious CBGB in New York City. He and Westwood opened SEX Boutique in the Kings Road and started to sell Westwood originals which appeared as simple clothing intended to shock. McLaren then decided to manage a makeshift band made up of SEX customers, John Lydon, John Ritchie, Paul Cook and Steve Jones with his shop assistant, Glen Matlock. The band were called The Sex Pistols and could scarcely play, no matter the Svengali, McLaren jumped at the opportunity to capitalize on their recording potential. The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle followed and the Sex Pistols became the front of a new teenage phenomenon called Punk Music.

Punk represented a return to more simplistic music and dancing to live music was back in small clubs and pubs. Crowed dance floors meant little room to do much more than pogo to the throbbing beat.

By the 80s, across Europe, groups of young men gathered on football terraces not to watch the games but to engage in fighting with rival fans.

Many were unemployed with no visible means of support yet wore extremely expensive designer clothes and shoes. Most were involved in crime and particular illicit drug trafficking.

Dubbed Soccer Casuals they joined the Chemical Generation who went clubbing) or frequented dance parties called Raves.

Acid house music parties started in Chicago but quickly spread and caught on in the UK within clubs, warehouses and free-parties. Activities were related to the party atmosphere of the hi-tech discos in Ibiza, a favorite holiday destination of British, Italian, Greek, Irish and German youth.

Looking good came with a new sartorial awareness. Shoes (kicks) needed to match the outfit and a hungry market was created.

To keep demand high, the giants like Adidas, Puma and Nike produced what were virtually fashion ranges of their popular sport shoes. Each season brought new design modifications, colour combinations (colourways) and logos, most of which were sales promotion ruses and had little to do with improving the efficiency of the shoe for exercise. The young enjoyed the exclusive designer element and cost was no barrier. A combination of clever marketing and the desire to rebel against conservatism assured the sneaker culture endured into the third millennium. Ravers danced ‘all-nighters’ and many took drugs like Ecstasy. This is a stimulant drug which contained methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). Electronic music both recorded and live were favored in clubs like Manchester’s Hacienda

Reviewed 20/04/2018

Randy Scruggs RIP

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Summer of Love and beyond

In the mid-sixties youth broke into two rival factions: the nouveaux moderns or mods who were followers of black music and designer clothes; and the macho rockers, or neo Ton-Up boys. Both styles had started in the fifties but now there were enough young people around to support a dual culture.

Mods evolved from the new moderns and had linage to the Skiffle movement of the 50s. Sixties Mods wore designer suits and shoes, or parkas with light dessert boots for their Italian scooters. They listened to black music from North America and gathered in discotheques.

Greasers continued the swashbuckling tradition of the earlier Ton Up boys with knee length leather boots, tight jeans, white T shirts, and leather jackets. They were rock’n’roll fans and congregated in the old dance halls preferring to maintain the dance steps of the previous decade.

Needless to say, these group did not enjoy each other's company and began to terrorise the English coastal towns by fighting each other. Mods and rockers fought over the beaches of south coast England wearing the trademarks of their generation, i.e. boots verses shoes.

Few in the fashion industry could predict Mod fashions and for a short time anyway chaos ruled within the rag trade. Whilst most young idealists followed the road to enlightenment and self-discovery many rejected materialism and dropping out. This was displayed symbolically by going barefoot. In the Era of the hippies the sandal (thong) became part of the accepted outfit along with kaftans, bells, loons and Afghan coats.

OPen air festivals became all the rage and dancing was more self-expression with little interaction between partners. The dance style of the time resembled folk dancing of ancient times. Experimentation with mind altering drugs meant less well co-ordinated movements were common and hence no need for supportive footwear.

When soldiers returned from Vietnam suffering battle fatigue some found themselves unable to adjust to civilian life. Alternative lifestyles such as nomadic bikers became more popular. Membership of the Hell's Angels Motorcycle Clubs (1%' ‘rs) grew in vast numbers.

The teenage cult movie "Easy Rider" for once did not depict the standard adolescent fun and games at high school but instead dealt with real adult themes living in a country still divided by prejudice. 'Easy rider` also assured the urban cowboy image was legitimised and the Hollywood cowboy boots, a macho icon forever.

Reviewed 19/04/2018

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Ian (Lemmy) Kilmister (1945 – 2015)

Ian Fraser Kilmister was born in 1945 in Stoke-on-Trent and grew up in North Wales. At school he earned the nickname Lemmy, because of his persistent habit of asking friends for money and his favourite phrase, "lemmy (lend me} a quid till Friday.” After seeing the Beatles at the Cavern Club, he learned to play guitar and joined some local bands, including the Sundowners, the Rainmakers and then the Motown Sect. He got by working at menial jobs but then in 1965 he joined the Rockin' Vickers who released three singles on the CBS label. The records failed to attract any attention.

The Rockin' Vickers moved to London in 1967 where Lemmy shared a flat with Noel Redding (Jimi Hendrix Experience). For a short time Lemmy became a roadie for the band. He joined Sam Gopal in 1968 and they recoreeded the album Escalator and the single "Horse".

He left to join Opal Butterfly but only stayed with the group for a couple of months before being asked to leave. In 1971 Lemmy joined Hawkwind, one of the earliest space rock groups in the UK. Although he was asked to play bass he was a complete novice but quickly developed a distinctive style using double stops and chords rather than the single note lines preferred by most bass players. His bass work was a fundamental part of the Hawkwind sound. He also provided the lead vocals on the band's biggest UK chart single, "Silver Machine", which reached No. 3 in 1972. By now, Lemmy had gained a reputation for his hard-living lifestyle and regular consumption of alcohol and amphetamines. After he was arrested for drugs possession on the North American Tour in 1975, he was fired from the group.

Lemmy teamed up with Larry Wallis (Pink Fairies and UFO) and drummer Lucas Fox to form "Bastard. “When the manager told them the name of the band would prevent them from appearing on Top of the Pops, Lemmy changed the band to "Motörhead" which was the title of the last song he had written for Hawkwind. When Wallis and Fox left they were replaced by "Fast" Eddie Clarke (guitar) and drummer Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor. The band's success peaked in 1980 and 1981 with several UK chart hits, including the single "Ace of Spades", and the UK No. 1 live album No Sleep 'til Hammersmith. Motörhead became one of the most influential bands in heavy metal.

The band is often considered a precursor to, or one of the earliest members of, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, which re-energised heavy metal in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Motörhead released 23 studio albums, 10 live recordings, 12 compilation albums, and five EPs over a career spanning 40 years. Lemmy's guttural vocals were unique in rock and have been copied many times with the rise of punk rock. Despite many changes to the band’s line up over the decade Lemmy/Clarke/Taylor is considered quintessential Motörhead. Lemmy continued to record and tour regularly with the band until his death.

His life style mellowed with age and laterally he suffered diabetes and hypertension. Four days after his 70th birthday, one of the wildest men in rock died at his home in Los Angeles from prostate cancer and heart failure

Monday, April 16, 2018

Eddie Cochrane (1938-1960)

Ray Edward Cochrane (1938-1960) was born in Albert Lea, Minnesota but the family moved to California for Eddie’s health and it was here he grew up. His older brother taught him to play the guitar and by 12 he had mastered the instrument and put his first band together, four years later he was playing professionally. In 1954 Eddie is teamed up with country singer Hank Cochran (unrelated) and they toured as The Cochran Brothers playing rockabilly.

In 1955, they saw Elvis Presley perform which convinced Eddie he should be playing rock’n’roll. Eddie and Hank parted company professionally and Eddie began collaboration with a young aspiring songwriter and drummer, Jerry Capeheart. Between the two of them, they were to produce some of Eddie's finest work. Twenty-Flight Rock /Dark Lonely Street became Eddie’s first hit record.

Aged 18 he got his first break in the movies. The girl can't help it (1956), starred Jayne Mansfield and Edmond O’Brien but it was also a show of Rock’n’roll talent including Julie London, Fats Domino, The Platters, Little Richard and Gene Vincent. Gene Vincent and Eddie became good buddies.

Eddie appears in another film “Untamed Youth' (1956) but music was his first love. To publicise his next single 'Sittin' On the Balcony' (1957), he joined the Biggest Show of Stars for '57, along with Buddy Holly (who also became a close friend), Chuck Berry and The Everly Brothers. The tour extended to Australia with Gene Vincent, Little Richard and Elis Lesley (the female Elvis Presley). This was the first American rock and roll show ever to come to Australia. Every single date was sold out. It was during this tour Little Richard threw his jewelry into the Botany Bay, declaring he would leave show business and dedicate himself to religion.

When he was back in the States, Eddie and Jerry Capeheart, tried to find a song that reflected the hopes and yearnings of teenage life and come up with Summertime Blues. It became a teenage anthem and had not only appealed to kids of the 50s but was also was loved by fans of the Who when they did a cover version a decade or so later (1970).

Eddie Cochran was well known for his favorite electric guitar the Gretsch 6120 This was a classy electric guitar with a hollow body and f holes. Chet Atkins had made them popular but it never gained the popularity of Fender's Stratocaster or Gibson's Les Paul during its time of production. Gretsch ceased production of guitars in the late 70's. It is said that Pete Townshend used a 6120 on much of the classic "Who's Next" album.

Eddie Cochrane was filming Go Johnny Go with Ritchie Valens days before the fatal air crash which killed Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens (February 3, 1959). Eddie had been scheduled to join the 1959 Winter Dance Party tour but was prevented from doing so because of filming commitments. Eddie was devastated at the loss of his friends and always avoided flying whenever he could. Eddie was a decent sort and had a remarkably uncomplicated life style for a teenage rocker. His girlfriend was Sharon Sheeley, was also a songwriter and the couple had been introduced by Phil Everly. Sharon worked with Eddie to produce C’mon Everybody and the single that followed Something Else. 'C'mon Everybody' was used on the soundtrack for an ad for Levi-s 501 Jeans, to commemorate the fact that Sharon Sheeley had been wearing jeans on her introduction to Eddie.

He decided to consolidate his popularity in the UK and undertook a tour of Great Britain with his friend Gene Vincent. Eddie was the darling of the British teenagers. They loved his music and his all-American good looks, turning out in number for his live television and radio appearances. Eddie was also a personable celebrity and the envy of every would be rock’n’roller. Someone dedicated to Eddie was Joe Brown a UK rocker who spend hours listening and talking to his hero. No one had seen guitar playing the young American was capable of.

The UK tour was such a resounding success that it was decided to extend it for a further ten weeks. Eddie and Sharon thought they would give themselves a break and fly home for Easter with Gene Vincent as their guest. En route to London Airport the car blew a tyre and crashed into a lamp post. All three were rushed to hospital. Gene Vincent was treated for broken ribs and collar-bone and further injury to his bad leg. Sharon Sheeley suffered a broken pelvis but Eddie Cochran sadly had been thrown through the windscreen and had severe brain injuries which he never recovered from. That was April 17, 1960. Almost a quarter of a century later in 1987 Eddie Cochrane was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His contribution to popular entertainment was immense and despite dying forty years ago his music continues to inspire young rockers.

Worth a listen:
Twenty-Flight Rock (1957)
Summertime Blues (1958)
C'mon Everybody (1959)
Three Steps to heaven

Little Richard
The Girl Can't Help It. (1956)
Don McLean
American Pie
Joe Brown and the Bruvers
That Yellow Dress