Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Australian Rock'n'Roll History (Part 1)

Rock and roll (rock 'n' roll) originated in the United States in the later 40s and spread to the rest of the world in the following decade. As a musical genre it was a hybrid cross-over of blues and country and became rockabilly, with Sun Records in Memphis, the centre of the movement. In truth Rock’n’roll was a systematic sanitization of black music (R&B) for an appreciative young white audience. Rock’n’roll had long been an African-American euphemism for sex but when DJ Alan Freed used the term to describe a music genre, the term stuck. The fast beat with double entendres in lyrics only endeared itself further to the hearts of the baby boomers, keen to shed the doldrums of the post war period. As Jazz was to the Flappers, Rock’n’Roll was to the 50s teenagers. The music’s secret was in its rhythm, which was basically a boogie woogie blues rhythm (8 beats to a bar, and are 12-bar blues) with an accentuated backbeat, almost always on snare drum. In the earliest forms of rock and roll, which date to the late 1940s, the piano was the lead instrument (Fats Domino "The Fat man" -1949/1950).

By the early fifties, the saxophone had taken over as lead, and eventually this was replaced in turn by the lead guitar. By the late fifties rock and roll groups consisted of two electric guitars (one lead, one rhythm), an electric bass guitar, and a drum kit. In most people’s minds Bill Haley’s Rock around the clock was the beginning of the movement, but honours should go to “Crazy Man, Crazy" which first hit the American charts in 1952.

The follow up was a cover version of Big Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle and Roll," became the first ever rock'n'roll song to enter the British singles charts in December 1954.

"Rock Around the Clock" was recorded in 1954 but did little until it appeared a year later behind the opening credits of the 1955 film Blackboard Jungle starring Glenn Ford.

The film did not appear in Australian cinemas until 1956 but when the single was released by Festival Records it became the biggest-selling record in Australian history (150,000 copies). Keen to cash in on Haley’s popularity there was a follow up film showing Bill Haley in concern which included footage of the crowd hysteria that accompanied his live performances. It was this that gave Australian kids the lead and like every other teenager across the Western World, they jived in the aisles and ripped up the seats. Now inspired to play the music, legions of copyist sprung up everywhere, playing in the suburbs across Australia and thrilling local revelers in the dance halls. The first Australian rock’n’roll record was Frankie Davidson’s “Rock-a Beat’n’ Boogie (a Haley composition) which sold reasonably well although it was generally considered a novelty record.

In the US racial tensions had surfaced with African Americans protesting against segregation, but in Australia that 'race' connection meant nothing. Instead the development of a teenage culture widened the Generation Gap between kids and their parents and young Australians broke their shackles with the Old Country, following the new American heroes of Haley, Presley and Little Richard. Every Australian city developed its own local heroes but that is where they would have remained because distances were too great. Teenagers listened to the jukeboxes in milk bars and were trained to their transistor hoping to catch maverick radio presenters like Stan Rife (Melbourne) and John Laws (Sydney), spinning the latest releases from overseas. All that changed with Johnny O’Keefe who was inspired by Bill Haley, gave up a retail career to bop. Johnnie O'Keefe and the 'Dee Jays' released a Bill Haley song You Hit the Wrong Note Billy Goat in 1957, which was beginning of Australian home grown Rock’n’roll.

Keen to catch the new trend of teenage entertainment Channel Nine launched an Australian version of American Bandstand in 1958, compared by Brian Henderson and a year later, 1959 ABCs "Six O'Clock Rock" went to air with Johnny O’Keefe, at first a regular contributor before becoming the resident host. This was based on BBCs “Six Five Special.”

More often than not in Australia the actual artists were not always available to appear which gave local talent the opportunity to perform cover versions or mime to the latest hits. Popular Australian acts which whipped up excitement included Lonnie Lee & The Leemen, Dig Richards & The R'Jays, Alan Dale & The Houserockers, Ray Hoff & The Offbeats, Digger Revell & The Denvermen and New Zealand's Johnny Devlin & The Devils.

Col Joye and the Joy Boys was the star feature on Australia's Bandstand TV Show and Johnny O’Keefe’s nemesis. Col’s style was more country than rocker but did reasonable cover versions before eventually writing his own material with progressively more chart success than Johnny O’Keefe.

Lee Gordon was a North American millionaire and music promoter who came to Australia in the early 1954. He set up a circuit of venues across the Big Brown Land using open air stadium previously used for boxing promotions. Initially he had brought big name artists like Sinatra, Johnny Ray and Frankie Lane to sing but in 1957, Gordon’s Big (Bog) Show, included Bill Haley and the Comets, Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly. At first showed no interest in local talent and although Johnny O’Keefe wangled his way into the show the impresario remained ambivalent. Then when Gene Vincent was delayed in transit and Gordon was forced to replace him with Johnny O’Keefe, ‘The Wild One” put on the show of his life and won the crowd over and impressed the impresario so much, he became his manager.

From then onwards the Australian packages had the famous and not so famous, side by side. Sharing the bill with Gene Vincent was Little Richard who wowed the audience, but after seeing a sputnik, thought he had a signal from God and relinquished all his worldly goods to take up religion. Touring dance bands in Australia and New Zealand carried a much bigger repertoire than most and were as likely to need to play the popular standards of the Twenties, Thirties and Forties, as they would the latest tunes. This made Australasian musicians very accomplished with many from a jazz background. Some were influenced by R&B and "jump" music of performers like Louis Jordan, whereas others were inspired by American surf guitar maestros Dick Dale and Duane Eddy. A notable alternative to the mainstream pop fare emerged with 'surf' groups, like The Atlantics and The Denvermen (Sydney), and The Thunderbirds (Melbourne).

Many of these instrumental groups survived into the Beatles era by adding a lead singer, and several evolved into some of the top bands of the next decade. Without doubt the introduction of the electric guitar and availability of US guitars gave macho credence to nerds who today may be found playing with their computers, but then, the nerds thrived on electrifying their instruments and amplifying the sound. The greatest influence in the next phase of Australia rock came from an unlikely source, a specky geek from Newcastle, UK, with the unlikely name of, Hank Marvin.

Worth a listen:

Fats Domino
The fat man (1950)

Bill Haley and the Comets
Crazy Man, Crazy (1952)
Shake, Rattle and Roll (1954)
Rock around the clock (1955)

Frankie Davidson
Rock-a Beat’n’ Boogie

Johnny O’Keefe
You Hit the Wrong Note Billy Goat (1957)
The Wild One

Col Joye and the Joymen
Bye Bye Baby (Goodbye)

The Shadows
Apache (1960)

The Atlantics
Bombora (1963)

Monday, July 17, 2017

John Sebastian and Lovin' Spoonful

John Sebastian was brought up in New York’s Greenwich Village. His father played classical harmonica and his mother was a radio playwright. John (aged 16) enjoyed folk music and sang at the local folk clubs and coffee houses. By the time he was 18 he was a ’sideman’ on recordings. John Sebastian played bass on Bob Dylan's first electric album, Bringing It All Back Home.

Zal Yanovsky was Canadian and moved to New York with Denny Doherty (Mamas and the Papas). In 1964, the flamboyant Zal Yanovsky met John Sebastian in Cass Elliot’s apartment when they were invited to watch the Beatles make their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. Zal, Cass and Denny were in a folk group called Mugwumps and asked John to join them. John and Zal hit it off and were keen to explore the new sounds of the Beatles so they got together with Steve Boone (bass) and Joe Butler (drummer) to form the Lovin' Spoonful in early1965. The band took their name from a verse from a Mississippi John Hurt blues song and of all the American bands of the time, combined most aspects of popular American music including jug-band into what John Sebastian termed “good-time music”. The name stuck and The Lovin’ Spoonful had seven Top 10 hits in the three years. John Sebastian took lead vocals and sang with rather a flat voice and finger-picked his guitar whilst Zal kept the tunes light and lilting. Kama Sutra Records signed the Lovin' Spoonful in 1965 and they released their first single, "Do You Believe in Magic."

It peaked in the US Top Ten, and was quickly followed by "You Didn't Have to Be So Nice," which did reasonably well but their third single, "Daydream," was a number one hit.

John Sebastian wrote most of the group’s material and was very impressed with the Motown musicians when the Spoonful toured with the Supremes. Through the influence of the Funk Bros and listening to “Where did our love go” and Baby Love, John was able to develop the rhythmic shuffle heard on “Daydream.”

More hits followed with "Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?," and the classy "Summer in the City," which became their second number one hit.

1967 saw the Lovin’ Spoonful again riding high on the charts with "Rain on the Roof," and the absolutely brilliant "Nashville Cats."

The group’s albums also sold well. When not in the studio the band toured almost constantly and was one of the first rock bands to perform on college campuses. Zal was the clown prince of rock 'n' roll and when he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1967, he had a rubber frog dangling from the neck of his guitar.

John and he were notorious merrymakers onstage adding considerably to their live performance. In the 70s, Dr Hook and the Medicine Show adopted a similar chaotic live act to very good effect. In 1966, the Loving Spoonful music was very popular and they wrote and performed two soundtrack albums for up and coming directors: Woody Allen "What’s Up Tiger Lily?" (1966) and Francis Ford Coppola "You're a Big Boy Now." (1966).

Their next hit single, “Darling , be home soon" came from the “You’re a big boy now’ album and was followed up by “Six O’Clock.”

Despite their success problems arose when Zal Yanovsky and Steve Boone were ’busted’ on marijuana charges in May 1966. The Lovin’ Spoonful were a “hippy band” (counter culture) and when Zal Yanovsky and Steve Boone named their supplier to avoid prosecution (and deportation for Yanovsky) the Spoonful received negative publicity that seriously damaged their commercial appeal. Zal Yanovsky left the band to pursue a solo career and was replaced by Jerry Yester (Modern Folk Quartet). The band parted ways with their producer, Erik Jacobsen in the same year and their last chart entry was "She's Still a Mystery."

In 1968, John Sebastian left the band to go solo. Joe, Steve and Jerry continued as the Lovin’ Spoonful and had a minor success with "Never Goin' Back" which featured the legendary Nashville session musician, Red Rhodes on pedal steel guitar.

The Loving Spoonful broke up in 1969. John Sebastian started working on solo projects after rejecting an invitation to join a trio of his friends, Dave Crosby, Stephen Stills & Graham Nash. He had a minor chart success with “She’s a lady” which was originally written for a Broadway play called ‘Jimmy Shine“ (starring Dustin Hoffman).

When John Sebastian changed his record company, legal problems ensued and inferior recordings were released. Meantime John made an impromptu appearance at Woodstock (1969) to much acclaim giving him a new status as a rock festival favourite. Despite this however his record sales were disappointing.

In 1975 John was asked to write a theme song for a new television series, ‘Welcome Back, Kotter‘ (featuring John Travolta). Both series and single were instantly successful and John was back in the US charts in 1976 but this was to be his swan song as a pop singer.

John Sebastian carried on performing as a solo artist and has made many guest appearances on other artist’s recordings. In the nineties he formed a jug band called John Sebastian and the J-Band and they played in Greenwich Village venues. The Loving Spoonful reformed in 1991 with Joe, Steve and Jerry and they still perform. After a brief solo career Zal became a restaurateur in Canada until his untimely death in 2002.

Worth a listen:

Lovin’ Spoonful
Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind (1965)
You Didn't Have to Be So Nice (1965)
Do You Believe in Magic? (1965)
Summer in the City (1966)
Daydream (1966)
Nashville Cats (1966)
Darlin' Be Home Soon (1967)
Six O-Clock (1967)
She's Still A Mystery To Me (1967)
Money (1968)

John Sebastian
Welcome Back (1976)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Burt Bacharach

Burt Bacharach was born in 1928 in Kansas City, Missouri but the family moved to Kew Gardens in Queens, New York in 1932. He started studying the cello, drums and piano aged 12 and dreamed of becoming a professional footballer. The young Burt loved jazz with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker his heroes and when he realised he was too small to become a professional football player he resigned himself to his music. Aged 15, he had his first 10-piece band and made pocket money playing at friend’s parties and local dances. When he left high school he went to McGill University where he wrote his first song, "The Night Plane to Heaven." His post graduate studies took him to Mannes School of Music in New York and the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California. Somewhere in-between he did a short stint in the army. During this time he met Vic Damone and later became his piano accompanist. Burt first job as a song writer was for the Famous Paramount Music Company in the Brill Building, New York. When he met lyricist, Hal David, they hit it off and wrote their first hit for Marty Robbins with "The Story of My Life" (1957).

Not long after Perry Como took "Magic Moments" to the top of the US charts and Johnny Mathis had a UK hit with "Heavenly" into the UK charts.

Burt also scored a novelty hit with "(Theme From) The Blob.

Keen to expand himself, he toured with Marlene Dietrich as her musical director and visited Europe and the United States (1958-1961). The sixties saw more hits for Bacharach and Bacharach and David. Burt Bacharach songs combined jazz and pop and Brazilian music, always with memorable melodies but unconventional and shifting time signatures and unique chord changes. This was a new sound which was superbly complemented by Lyricist Hal David’s sharp and bittersweet, melodramatic lyrics which often contrasted with Burt Bacharach's soaring melodies. Technically their sophisticated compositions were meticulously crafted. Whilst they were working with the Drifters, Burt met Dionne Warwick, a member of backup vocal group called, the Gospelaires. Dionne Warwick was a conservatory trained vocalist and possessed a remarkable ability to sing difficult melodies and tempos. Burt and Hal started her as a demo singer in 1961, but soon realised Dionne’s demos were better than other singers. More and more they wrote for her voice alone. Dionne was ambitious and feisty and when she learned "Make It Easy On Yourself" was not going to be her commercial debut, she angrily remonstrated with the songwriters using the phrase "Don't make me over, man!" (slang for don't lie to me). This struck a chord and the angry response became the seed of the song writing duo next project, "Don't Make Me Over," became her first US hit in 1962.

Dionne Warwick had 39 singles co-written or produced by Bacharach, including twenty-two (22) Top-40 hits on the American Billboard Hot 100 charts before their association came to an acrimonious end. Fortunately they did get back together. Meantime Bacharach and David songs were being sung by many artists including the Drifters‘, "Please Stay,” Gene Pitney "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," and "Only Love Can Break a Heart", in 1962 Jerry Butler and "Make It Easy On Yourself," (later recorded by the Walker Bros).

Burt collaborated with other lyricists to commercial success: Gene McDaniel’s "Tower of Strength" by Gene McDaniel (co-written with Bob Hilliard), The Shirelles "Baby It's You" (lyrics were by Hal's brother Mack David and Barney Williams).

He wrote “Any day now” with Bob Hilliard which was recorded by Chuck Jackson.

Although Burt had written the music for the Blob movie earlier in his career, wife and actress Angie Dickenson encouraged him to do more and he came up with Alfie, the theme tune for the film of the same name.

He also wrote the film score for Woody Allen’s What's New, Pussycat?, After The Fox, Casino Royale and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

"My Little Red Book", from Casino Royale was originally recorded by Manfred Mann, but promptly covered by Love in 1966, and become a rock music standard.

In 1968, Bacharach and David collaborated with Broadway producer David Merrick to work with Neil Simon (playwright) on a musical version of the 1960 Billy Wilder film The Apartment. 'Promises, Promises,’ run for three years. In 1966, Burt Bacharach became a recording artist in his own right with an album which consisted of mainly instrumental re-recordings of some of his best-known songs. Through the decade he has repeated this and on each occasion his records have all sold well. During the 70s changing public tastes created a more competitive atmosphere for pop music. Pressure and disappointments from unsuccessful projects led to a fall out between Burt Bacharach and Hal David. As a result Dionne Warwick felt abandoned when her songwriters refused to work together and they are ended up suing each other and dissolving their partnership. By the eighties Burt had remarried and with new wife and lyricist Carole Bayer Sager, they set to writing. In collaboration with Peter Allen and Christopher Cross the husband and wife team wrote "Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)" sung by Christopher Cross (1981).

Burt also scored the film. The couple also wrote "Stronger Than Before," Carole Bayer Sager (1981); "Making Love," by Roberta Flack (1982); "That's What Friends Are For," Dionne Warwick and Friends (1985); "On My Own," by Patty Labelle and Michael McDonald (1986); and Dionne Warwick and Jeffrey Osborne "Love Power," (1987).

A collaboration with Neil Diamond resulted in an other hit with "Heartlight” (1982).

The latter part of the 80s was quiet by comparison and it took until the early nineties before Burt was back again with a number of new projects, notably a reunion with Hal David and Dionne Warwick for the song "Sunny Weather Lover" from Warwick's Friends Can Be Lovers album.

In 2000, Burt composed the score and reunited with Hal David and Dionne Warwick for two songs for Isn't She Great, a film based on the life of novelist Jacqueline Susann. In 1998 Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello began to work together this including writing, recording and touring. Elvis Costello collaborated on a rendition of "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" for the soundtrack to the Austin Powers sequel "The Spy Who Shagged Me," and the duo made a cameo appearance in the film.

Burt Bacharach continues a successful concert career and has been occasionally joined by Dionne Warwick.

Worth a listen:

Marty Robins
The Story of My Life (1957)

Perry Como
Magic Moments (1957)

Johnny Mathis
Heavenly (1959)
Faithfully (1959)

The Shirelles
Baby It's You (1961) and The Beatles (1963)

The Drifters
Please Stay (with Ray Ellis)
Mexican Divorce (with Claus Ogerman)
Let the music play, (with Gary Sherman)

Dionne Warwick
Don't Make Me Over (1962)
Anyone Who Had a Heart (1963)
Walk on By (1964)
Do You Know the Way to San Jose? (1968)
Promises, Promises (1968)
That's What Friends Are For (1982)

Gene Pitney
Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa (1963)

Dusty Springfield
I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself (1964)
The Look of Love (1967)
Wishing and Hoping

Sandie Shaw
(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me (1964)

The Walker Brothers
Make it Easy On Yourself (1965)

Jackie DeShannon
What the World Needs Now Is Love (1965)

Tom Jones
What's New Pussycat? (1965)

Cilla Black
Alfie (1966)

Aretha Franklin
I Say A Little Prayer (1968)

Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass
This Guy's in Love with You (1968).

The Carpenters
(They Long to Be) Close to You (1970)

B.J. Thomas
Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head

Nancy Wilson
Reach out for me

Billy J Kramer
Trains and boats and planes

Manfred Mann
My Little Red Book

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A brief history of the Apollo Theatre, Harlem

The most famous club for popular music in the US is the Apollo Theater in Harlem, at 253 West and 125th Street. This is where many of the great African American acts including Nat King Cole Trio, Aretha Franklin, and Duke Ellington have all appeared. It first opened its doors in the mid 1860s as a dance hall and ballroom but in 1913 the new Apollo was relocated and ran as a burlesque venue (Hurtig and Seamon’s (New) Burlesque Theater) until 1928.

The new Apollo had a white audience policy despite Harlem being a mainly black residential and commercial area. Sidney Cohen bought the Apollo in 1932 and two years later, the doors were open to African American patrons. The change of policy was driven by simple economics and African American entertainers were cheaper to hire. When burlesque become too vulgar for polite society Cohen introduced variety. Whilst the Apollo featured old-time vaudevillefavourites it was their Wednesday night Amateur Night Shows that inevitably brought the Apollo, international recognition. The talent show launched the careers of many artists including Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and James Brown.

Indeed the late, great James Brown was so important to the Apollo and its audience, his body was laid there in state so devoted fans could pay their last respects to “the Godfather of Sole.”

If ever a set of lyrics were true, Fred Ebb's New York New York’s “if I can make it there, I can make it, anywhere, ” then this was the Apollo. For the audiences were notoriously, ferocious and considered to be the "world's toughest.” They had the power to make or break an act and frequently booed artists off the stage only minutes into their performances. If there was pandemonium in the theatre on Wednesday night then it spilled out into the streets with fights and mayhem resulting. It was often commented there was more noise in Harlem at midnight on a Wednesday night than some parts of Midtown New York during the day. In 1934 a young dancer-turned-vocalist made her Amateur Night debut, her name was Ella Fitzgerald. In the thirties the Apollo became a premier venue for Jazz and the 1935 New Year’s Eve Concert featured Bessie Smith.

Two years later Count Basie made his Apollo debut and introduced a gorgeous vocalist who because of stage fright, nearly did not appear. Fortunately once she was in the spotlight, Billie Holiday regained her complete composure and dazzled the audience with her wonderful voice.

During the war years the Apollo became the centre where Zoot Suits and GIs clambered to be at to hear the latest and greatest in live music. Sarah Vaughan won Amateur Night in 1943 and was quickly signed as vocalist for Earl Hines’ orchestra. Nat “King” Cole and his trio sold out the Apollo Theater for two straight weeks in 1945 and a year later Lionel Hampton’s band were so popular they had to play seven shows a day for seven days.

The Apollo was the premier venue of the “Chitlin circuit” which catered for African American artist with safe places to perform; other theatres included the Regal Theater in Chicago and the Howard Theater in Washington, D.C. The Chitlin Circuit was well known to many Jazz and Blues performers. The term ’chitlin” derives from the "soul food" of chitterlings (fried pig intestines) that was a staple at early performances. Sammy Davis, Jr., made his debut on the Apollo stage dancing with the Will Matsin Trio in 1947.

By the fifties some white acts, notably Buddy Holly and the Crickets (1957), had been booked to appear at the Apollo. Apparently Buddy was booked because it was assumed by management they were a black act. Needless to say Buddy Holly and the Crickets did very well with the Apollo audiences.

Berry Gordy Jnr brought his Motown Revue to the Apollo which featured Motown’s young emerging stars including: Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Little Stevie Wonder, the Temptations, Martha and the Vandellas, and The Contours. Now that would have been a show.

A year later when The Beatles made their first trip to New York City, the first place the fab four wanted to visit the Apollo Theater.

To make as much money as possible the management maintained a policy of alternating live stage shows with B movies (allegedly to clear the house) but also guaranteed more punters through their doors. During the Harlem riots in the mid sixties, the Apollo Theater was left untouched as a mark of respect. In 1969, The Jackson Five, won the Amateur Night when Michael Jackson was only ten years old.

As the seventies progressed despite the array of now international artists appearing at the Apollo, financial mismanagement caused the Apollo to go bankrupt forcing it to close its doors (1978). Then in 1981 the theatre was bought by a group of private investors and recognised as a building of interest. Harlem’s oldest functioning theater reopened in 1985. The Apollo Theater Foundation, Inc., now manages the affairs as a nonprofit organization, dedicated to fund, and program the theater. The Apollo Theatre continues to introduce new acts to its mixed audience and provides a premier venue for mega stars like the late, Prince (1993) and Tony Bennett (1997) among many, many others.

Worth a listen:
Nat King Cole
Unforgettable (1954)

Aretha Franklin
Respect (1967)

Duke Ellington
In a sentimental mood (1935)

Ella Fitzgerald
When I get low I get high (1936)

Sara Vaughan
Serenata Sarah Vaughan (1960)

James Brown
(I got you) I feel good (1965)

Billie Holliday
I can give you anything but love (1936)

Count Basie
Swinging the blues (1938)

Earl Hines
Piano man (1935)

Buddy Holly
That’ll be the day

Smokey Robinson
Tracks of my tears

Stevie Wonder
For once in my life

When Doves Cry

Tony Bennett
Let the good times roll

Friday, July 14, 2017

Marty Wilde

Marty Wilde was born Reginald Leonard Smith in 1939 in Blackheath, London. He grew up the son of a professional soldier and lived in various parts of England throughout his childhood before coming back to London as a teenager. Young Reggie could play the ukulele and loved the new skiffle movement, so he was soon performing as Reg Patterson in the Condor Club in Soho. One night Tommy Steele’s manager, Larry Parnes saw Reggie and was keen to sign him. Parnes loved to give his acts memorable names which were designed to leave an impact. He liked short and sharp sounding surnames such as Steel, Eager, Fury, and Power. Reg Patterson was renamed Marty Wilde, and became an overnight sensation on a package tour which was touring the UK. This catapulted Marty into the public eye and television, and a recording contract with Philips Records, followed. His first single was a cover version of Jimmy Rogers "Honeycomb," but this made no impact on the charts.

In 1958 "Endless Sleep" entered the UK charts giving Marty his first hit.

Marty’s band the Wild Cats, were an exceptional set of musicians for the time and included Big Jim Sullivan (lead guitar), Tex Makins (bass), Tony Belcher (rhythm guitar), Alan LeClair (piano), and Bobby Woodman (drums). Unlike a backup set of musician they became an integral part of Marty’s performances suffice in partnership they became more popular. The line up changed and Brian "Licorice" Locking replaced Tex Makins and Bobby Woodman left and Brian Bennett (Shadows) took his place. This was considered the best format and The Wild Cats backed Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent when they toured England. Marty Wilde was billed as the mean and moody singer with a dark and brooding quality to his voice. His balled style was reminiscent of Gene Vincent. In 1959, Marty released cover versions of Ritchie Valens' "Donna"; Dion’s "A Teenager in Love" and "Sea of Love," all of which did well in the UK charts.

It was the fashion then for UK and Australian artists to cover US hits which often sold better than the originals. His last single for the year was the dark and threatening "Bad Boy," which he wrote and it became an overnight hit even charting in the US.

Although he just predated Cliff Richard they were billed as major rivals but in truth became good friends. Mary Wilde had become a firm fixture on UK television’s Oh Boy and Boy Meets Girl and regularly appeared on BBCs 6.5 Special. When Cliff Richard joined Jack Good’s Oh Boy the two singers shared star billing. Larry Parnes was unhappy and pulled his star from the popular program and Cliff continued to become the major star. Marty tried his luck as a film actor in 1959 and appeared in Jet Storm but was back in the charts in 1961 with another hit, this time a cover version of Bobby Vee’s “Rubber Ball.”

Marty’s last song to reach the UK hit parade came a year later with “Jezebel.”

By 1963 changes in popular musical tastes meant Marty’s career as a pop star were over and like Joe Brown and Jess Conrad he tried musicals, appearing in the West End version of Bye Bye Birdie. In 1968 Marty saw his song writing skills bare fruit with his compositions entering the charts with Ice in the Sun by Status Quo, "Jesamine" by The Casuals, and Lulu's "I'm a Tiger“.

Marty also made his last chart entry in the US with "Abergavenny," under the pseudonym, Shannon.

In the early 70s Marty briefly tried to reinvent himself as Glam Rocker, Zappo but did not share the success Shane Fenton’s had with his transformation to Alvin Stardust.

In 1975 Marty appeared in the Stardust movie which starred Adam Faith and David Essex. Marty was on hand in the studio to help and encourage his daughter Kim, who enjoyed popularity with new wave.

Marty Wilde continues to perform and enjoys popularity on the nostalgia and retro circuits.

Worth a listen:

Honeycomb (1957)
Endless Sleep (1958)
Donna (1959)
A Teenager In Love (1959)
Sea Of Love (1959)
Bad Boy (1959)
Rubber Ball" (1961)
Jezebel (1962)

Aberavon (1968)

Status Quo
Ice in the Sun (1968)

The Casuals
Jesamine (1968)

I’m a tiger (1968)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

John (Winston) Ono Lennon (1940 - 1980)

John Winston Lennon, was born in the middle of an air raid over Liverpool on the 9th October 1940 to Julia and Alfred "Freddie" Lennon. Julia found difficulty copying with John when Freddie left her and the five year old was brought up by his Aunt Mimi. John grew up in a middle class suburb of Liverpool and although she was strict with her nephew they both shared the same sense humour and became very close friends. Uncle John, bought young Lennon his first harmonica and Julia who would visit him, taught her son to play banjo and piano before eventually buying him his first guitar. He was 17 when she died in 1957, the same year he started the Quarrymen. Despite his rough Teddy boy exterior John was severely traumatized by the loss of his mother. John showed no academic ability and was troublesome bully as a student and left art school before graduation. He did meet Cynthia Powell (his first wife) and she appeared to have a calming influence on the troubled youth. Paul joined the group then George Harrison (lead guitar) completed the line up with Stuart Sutcliff (bass) an art school friend. The Quarrymen played skiffle but were influenced by Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Little Richard.

Lennon and McCartney started to write songs whilst at school and their first composition was “Hello Little Girl” which was recorded by The Silver Beatles then later by The Fourmost.

The Beatles, with Lennon at the helm, went to Hamburg in 1960 with Pete Best on drums. At first they were a pretty mediocre outfit but the long sessions and endless gigs tightened their formation and stage craft. The Beatles made their recording debut with singer Tony Sheridan with ’My Bonnie” whilst still in Hamburg. “Ain’t she sweet” recorded at the same session, captures John singing lead in a distinctive Gene Vincent style.

By the time the boys were back in Liverpool in 1961, the Beatles were the best band around and regulars at The Cavern, Liverpool where Brian Epstein, local impresario saw them and signed them.

The following year the Beatles released ‘Love me do’ on the Parlophone label.

The single features John on harmonica and McCartney singing solo on the chorus line. By 1965 and two films later, Help the signature theme to the Beatles film, said much about the internal strife suffered by John in the band.

Most of the Lennon and McCartney compositions had been written in a couple of hours usually after a concert in an overcrowded hotel room. Despite their phenomenal success the Beatles stopped performing live in 1966 to concentrate instead on studio work. After the death of Brian Epstein (1967) John grew resentful of Paul and his control of the band and eventually left the Beatles in 1969. The Lennon and McCartney song writing partnership was over. Following The Beatles' split in 1970 John Lennon released the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album.

He had three solo singles: "Give Peace a Chance.” "Cold Turkey", and "Instant Karma!". John was back.

In the seventies John and Yoko epitomised advent garde art and as extreme eccentrics as they were always newsworthy if not controversial.

During the white period he recorded Imagine (1971) and a year later released Some Time in New York City (1972) which was more loud, raucous, and explicitly political.

John had become interested in left-wing politics and this was reflected in his songs of this time. Fighting extradition from the US and an open critic of President Nixon and Vietnam John was very high profile but radio stations refused to broadcast most of his works because of their political content. Despite this his albums sold well. Walls and Bridges came out in 1974 and featured a duet with Elton John which went to #1 "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night;" and possibly my personal favourite Lennon track, "#9 Dream".

John followed this up with a tribute to the old rockers which were produced by the controversial Phil Spectre. The best track for me was "Stand by Me" which highlight the best of Lennon sharp singing style and was produced by Phil Spectre.

John and Yoko gave up live performances with the announcement of an impending baby and John resigned himself to writing and recording only. By the end of 1980 he had an impressive amount of new material to record and now a house husband (prototype metro-man) he and Yoko produced Double Fantasy, a concept album focusing on their relationship.

As the single "(Just Like) Starting Over" began climbing the singles charts John and Yoko seriously thought about touring again. John and Yoko had been recording at a studio and were returning to the luxury flat in the Dakota Building (just across from Central Park). Mark David Chapman opened fire and John fell dying, it was 8 December 1980. The day the music died.

He continues to be mourned throughout the world three decades later and in Central Park adjacent to the Dakota Building there is Strawberry Fields, a memorial garden where fans from across the world accumulate at Imagine.

Despite his phenomenal success John Lennon was throughout his life a tormented soul who, thank goodness, was able to put his pain to good use and pleasured tens of millions with his music.

Worth a listen

The Beatles
Love me do (1963)
A Hard Day's Night (1964)
Ain’t she sweet (1964)
Help (1965)
You've Got to Hide Your Love Away (1965)
Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) (1965)
In My Life (1965)
Ticket to Ride (1965)
Rain (1966)
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (1967)
Strawberry Fields Forever (1968)
Come together (1969)

Plastic Ono Band
Give Peace a Chance (1969)
Cold Turkey (1969)
Instant Karma! (1970)
Mother (1970)
Love (1970)
Working class hero (1970)
Power to the people (1971)

John Lennon
Imagine (1971)
Happy Xmas (War is Over) (1971)
Mind Games (1973)
Whatever Gets You Thru the Night (1974)
# 9 Dream (1974)
Stand By Me (1975)
(Just Like) Starting Over (1980)
Woman (1981)
Happy Xmas (War is Over) (1982)
Jealous Guy (1988)
Nobody Told Me (1988)

The Fourmost
Hello Little Girl (1963)

David Bowie
Fame (1975)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Johnny Kidd and the Pirates

Freddie Heath (1935 - 1966 ) joined his first group which was a skiffle outfit called "The Frantic Four" then later "The Five Nutters. " The group covered primarily played skiffle, pop and rockabilly. When the skiffle fad passed Freddie formed the Pirates in 1959 with Alan Caddy, Tony Docherty, Johnny Gordon and Ken McKay. The band would dress in pirate regalia and Freddie adopted the stage name Johnny Kidd and always wore an eye-patch (not always over the same eye). Their first single release 'Please Don't Touch' (written by Johnny Kidd) managed to reach the chart, but the follow up did less well and their third single 'You Got What It Takes,' was overshadowed by a version by Marv Johnson.

In the pre Beatle days and post Rock’n’Roll, UK record companies were unsure whether to allow the wild live performances from acts like Johnny Kidd and the Pirates and Billy Fury to be captured onto vinyl. Consequently Johnny Kidd and the Pirates were constrained to meek cover versions. This is a great pity since they were a very competent group and could with better management have been more influential than they were. None the less Johnny Kidd and the Pirates were a superb live act and a model to many that followed. The Pirates line up gradually changed and Brian Gregg (bass) and Clem Cattini (drums) replaced Johnny Gordon and Ken McKay. Now Johnny Kidd and the (new) Pirates saw their first real chart success with Shaking All Over.

The famous guitar riff was played by session man Joe Moretti (subbing for Alan Caddy). "Shakin' All Over" started off as a hurriedly composed b-side, thrown together in a matter of minutes. The single represents one of the best UK rock’n’roll songs, pre Beatles. The popularity of beat music in the early 60s saw more lineup changes and in 1961, Johnny Patto (guitar), Johnny Spence (bass), and Frank Farley (Drummer) moved into key positions. In the next year Mick Green replaced Johnny Patto who had grown tired of touring. It was Mick Green’s guitar which featured prominently in “I’ll never get over you.”

Johnny Kidd and the Pirates were popular among other musicians and made their living playing clubs and smaller concert venues. Unfortunately they were never able to sustain their recording success past the early '60s and when Johnny Kidd died in a car accident on October 7th 1966 near Bolton (UK), the band broke up. Many rock historians consider Kidd's UK Top 50 disc "A Shot Of Rhythm And Blues" c/w "I Can Tell" (1962) to be the bridge between British Rock and Roll and British Beat /British R&B.

Mick Green was a well respected musician and his guitar style on the Fender Telecaster Deluxe was to mix lead and rhythm parts which became an inspiration to others including, Pete Townshend, Tony Hicks (Hollies) and Wilko Johnson (Dr Feelgood). Before the accident Mick Green had left the Pirates and joined the Dakotas. His presence made them one of the most respected Mersey Sound groups and he stayed with them until they broke up in 1967. Mick Green went on to work with Cliff Bennett and Englebert Humperdick before joining the reformed Pirates in 1976. A trio of Johnny Spence, Mick Green and Frank Farley got together for a one-off reunion however such was the audience reception, the band stayed together until 1983.

The Pirates became a cult band with a strong following. Their live repertoire included punk, rockabilly, blues, and classic rock & roll. Mick Green (1944 – 2010) became a well respected guitarist and has subsequently worked with Paul McCartney, Van Morrison, Bryan Ferry and Peter Green.

Worth a listen
Please don’t touch (1959)
Shakin’ all over (1960)
Shot of Rythym and blues (1962)
I’ll never get over you (1963)
Ecstasy (1963)