ANDREW HILL-SMOKE STACK.

Andrew Hill-Smoke Stack.

Label: Blue Note Records.

Format: Vinyl.

By the time Chicago-born pianist Andrew Hill released his sophomore album Black Fire on Blue Note Records in 1964, he was already thirty-two, and was making up for lost time. He had only started to play the piano when he was thirteen but made rapid progress. Earl Hines    spotted the young pianist’s potential and encouraged him, and so did German composer, conductor, musician and teacher Paul Hindemith who he studied with until 1952. This paid off, and just two years later, Andrew Hill began working as a sideman. It was a rapid rise for someone who only took up the piano eight years earlier.

Andrew Hill was born in Chicago on the ‘30th’ of June 1941, and was brought up by his parents William and Hattie alongside his brother Robert, who was a singer and classical violinist. As a child, the future jazz great attended the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. However, he didn’t start playing the piano until he was thirteen.

It turned out that he was a natural and his potential was spotted by another Chicago-born jazz pianist Earl Hines.  He encouraged Andrew Hill, which may have changed the course of his career.

He had started out as a boy soprano, singing, playing the accordion and tap dancing. This was all part of an act that Andrew Hill had developed, and between 1943 and 1947 he was a familiar face at talent shows in the Windy City, and won two Thanksgiving parties at the Regal Theatre, which were sponsored by the local newspaper, the Chicago Defender. This was ironic because a few years earlier, he was selling the paper on the city streets. The same paper would later document Andrew Hill’s career.

Before that, Chicago-born composer, arranger and musician Bill Russo met Andrew Hill and referred him to Paul Hindemith. The high respect German composer, conductor, violist and violinist was teaching at Yale and taught Andrew Hill on an informal basis until 1952. By then, his career was well underway.

Andrew Hill had been playing in local R&B bands and alongside touring jazz musicians since he was a teenager. He had already shared the stage with Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, and the future looked bright for the young pianist. However, he was still learning about music.

In 1950, saxophonist Pat Patrick taught Andrew Hill his first blues changes on the piano. This was a revelation for the nineteen year old, who three years later, would make his professional debut.

This was with the Paul Williams’ band and much later, Andrew Hill remembered: ”At that time, I was playing baritone sax as well as piano. However, he settled on the piano which was the instrument he eventually made his name playing.

The following year 1954, Andrew Hill made his recording debut as a sideman. Within a decade he had embarked upon a solo career. That was all in the future.

Over the next few years Andrew Hill worked as a sideman and established a reputation as an up-and-coming pianist. He also met two men who would influence him stylistically, Barry Harris and Joe Segal.

In the late-fifties, Andrew Hill started to work as an accompanist for jazz singer Chicagoan Dinah Washington. Her popularity had soared during the fifties and she was enjoying the most successful period of her career. Working with the Queen of the Blues was a prestigious gig for Andrew Hill who also embarked upon a solo career whilst in her employ. 

He signed to Warwick Records which had been established by Morty Craft in New York, in 1959. The new label released everything from rock ’n’ roll by Johnny and The Hurricanes to jazz albums by Pepper Adams, Curtis Fuller, Teddy Charles and Andrew Hill. His debut album was So In Love, a hard bop album which was produced by Fred Mendelsohn and released in 1960. However, the album wasn’t a commercial success and Andrew Hill continued to accompany Dinah Washington.

This he continued to do until 1961. By then, the nomadic life as a sideman and years spent touring had taken their toll, and Andrew Hill was ready to settle down.

He was thirty in 1961, and decided to move to  New York which became his new home. This made sense as the Big Apple was the jazz capital of America and home to many of the top jazz clubs. It was also where he worked with Al Hibbler and Johnny Hartman. Living in New York seemed to suit Andrew Hill. Despite that, he decided to move to Los Angeles.

This came about after he got the chance to work with Roland Kirk’s quartet who were playing at the Lighthouse Café, in Hermosa Beach. However, it wasn’t long before Andrew Hill was heading home having also played on Roland Kirk’s album Domino. It was released in November 1962, and was the second album he had played on that year.

The other was Walt Dickerson’s To My Queen. It was also released in 1962 and was a showcase for Andrew Hill’s piano playing. However, 1963 would be the busiest year of his career.

For part of 1963, Andrew Hill worked as sideman playing on Jimmy Woods’ Conflict and then on Hank Mobley’s No Room For Squares and Joe Henderson’s Our Thing which were released by Blue Note Records. This was the label that Andrew Hill had signed to, and in November 1963 would record his sophomore album.

Three years had passed since the release of So In Love, and Andrew Hill was keen to kickstart his solo career. There was no better place to do so, that at Blue Note Records which was jazz’s premiere label. He would be working with some of the biggest names in jazz as well as recordist Rudy Van Gelder and producer Alfred Lion.

Black Fire.

On the ‘8th’ of November 1963, Andrew Hill and his band travelled to the now familiar environs of Van Gelder  Studio, which was situated at 445 Sylvan Avenue, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. The band that arrived at the studio wasn’t the one that was meant to record the album. Drummer Philly Joe Jones had to drop out because of scheduling problems and was replaced by Roy Haynes. He was joined by in the rhythm section by bassist Richard Davis who later played on Van Morrison’s classic album Astral Weeks. Completing the lineup were saxophonist Joe Henderson and bandleader Andrew Hill who wrote the seven tracks on Black Fire.

Unlike many Blue Note Records’ albums which were recorded in a day, Black Fire took two days to record. The band made the return journey to New Jersey and recorded the rest of the album ‘9th’ of November 1963. Now Andrew Hill’s Blue Note Records’ debut was ready to release.

When Black Fire was released to critical acclaim in the spring of 1964, it was hailed as a powerful and impressive album that was unique. Here was an album that stood out from the crowd. The music was adventurous and innovative and  borrowed from avant-garde and combined this with hard bop, Afro-Cuban rhythms and modal harmonics. While the music on the album was complex and sometimes challenging it was rewarding and Black Fire was later heralded as a timeless modern jazz classic. Andrew Hill had set the bar high with his Blue Note Records’ debut. How would he follow this up?

Smoke Stack.

While many record labels would’ve waited until Black Fire has been released before sending Andrew Hill back into the studio, that wasn’t the way Blue Note Records operated. Alfred Lion decided that his new signing should return to the Van Gelder Studio n the ’13th’ of December 1963 and record the followup to Black Fire, Smoke Stack.

Just like Black Fire, Andrew Hill had written the seven tracks that would become Smoke Stack. It was going to be a very different album from Black Fire as it would feature two bassists.

Joining Andrew Hill at Van Gelder Studio were  drummer Roy Haynes and bassists Richard Davis and Eddie Khan. They worked their way through seven compositions and this time, the session lasted just the one day. However, Smoke Stack wasn’t released until August 1966.

By then, Andrew Hill played on Bobby Hutcherson’s 1965 album Dialogue and recorded six more solo albums. He released Judgment! in September 1964, which was followed by Point Of Departure in April 1965. After this, Blue Note Records decided the time was right to release Smoke Stack.

Nearly three years had passed by the time Smoke Stack was released in August 1966 and often, an album can sound dated. That wasn’t the case when it was released to mostly critical acclaim and hailed as a cerebral and innovative album which was a showcase for Andrew Hill’s enviable compositional skills and one of the leading pianists of the early-sixties. However, despite the reviews of Smoke Stack the album failed to match the success of Black Fire. It was the album that got away for Andrew Hill.

Looking back, Smoke Stack found Andrew Hill’s music evolving, and it was quite different to the previous album he had recorded in 1963, Black Fire and featured what were akin to seven impressionistic tone poems. They showcased a talented composer who was confident enough to eschew conventionally structured compositions and encourage spontaneity and allowed his band to improvise and play with freedom and fluidly. This was something that Andrew Hill explored on future albums, especially Point Of Departure.

On Smoke Stack, gone was much of the obvious Afro-Cuban rhythms on what was another  ambitious, adventurous, complex cerebral album of post-bop. It was an album where Andrew Hill was the midpoint between hard bop and free jazz. Having said that, Smoke Stack eschewed much of the looseness and dissonance of free jazz. However, the lengthy and sinuous modal improvisations made it a challenging album for some listeners. Those who understood and embraced  the album found it was a rewarding experience. 

That was despite some of the music being dark, broody and ruminative. It was also subdued and sometimes slightly discordant. However, the loose and nebulous song structures of the seven tone poems allowed the quartet to shine.

Andrew Hill came into his own on the angular modernist piano structures, and during the improvised solos his playing borders on provocative. Some critics described his playing insular and cerebral and a few as challenging. However, by 1963 when the album was recorded jazz was evolving and not everyone understood the direction the music was heading or what he was trying to achieve. On Smoke Stack Andrew Hill and his band play with an unbridled freedom and the constantly changing combination of two bassists made it  a unique and innovative album that stood out from the crowd. 

Among the album’s highlights are the beautiful, gossamer ballad Verne, which was dedicated to Andrew Hill’s first wife, Laverne Gillette. It’s haunting and poignant. Another highlight is the understated and blues-tinged 30 Pier Avenue. Then there’s Ode To Von which Andrew Hill dedicated to saxophonist Von Freeman. These three tracks are part of what was the most ambitious and innovative album that Andrew Hill had recorded during his career. Incredibly  Smoke Stack was recorded in 1963 and was without doubt an album that was way ahead of its time. 

The cerebral Chicagoan bandleader, composer and pianist was an innovator and pioneer and Smoke Stack is an oft-overlooked and underrated album. Partly because it wasn’t as successful as Black Fire and maybe because some critics and record buyers didn’t understand what Andrew Hill was doing or like the direction his music was heading.  

That was a great shame given the quality of music on Smoke Stack. It veers between broody and ruminative to beautiful, delicate, expressive, emotive and haunting on what’s an ambitious, innovative and complex album that captivates, challenges and ultimately is rewarding for those who embrace and understand Andrew Hill’s vision on Smoke Stack, which was recently reissued on vinyl by Blue Note Records.

Andrew Hill-Smoke Stack.

STARLESS-EARTHBOUND.

Starless-Earthbound.

Format: CD.

Label: Last Night From Glasgow.

Just over four years after Starless released their critically acclaimed eponymous debut album, the Scottish supergroup make a welcome return with their long-awaited and much-anticipated sophomore album Earthbound, which was recently released on the Last Night From Glasgow label. It’s the latest chapter in the Starless story, and is an album that was nearly two years in the making.

After the success of the group’s eponymous debut album, work began on the followup. By then, Paul McGeechan who “conceived, produced and realised” the Starless’ concept, was a veteran of the Scottish music scene.

His career began in 1982, when he cofounded Friends Again, which also included future Bathers’ lead singer Chris Thompson and James Grant, later of Love and Money. The group only released one album, the cult classic Trapped and Unwrapped in 1984. However, when the group split-up in 1984 a new group was born.

This was Love and Money which included three former members of Friends Again, Chris Kerr, James Grant and keyboardist Paul McGeechan. They released four albums to plaudits and praise between 1986 and 1993, including Strange Kind Of Love, and became one of the most successful Scotland’s most successful musical exports during this period. Sadly, the group split-up in 1994 and it was a case of starting over for Paul McGeechan.

Later in 1994, he joined a new band, Cowboy Mouth which featured Douglas MacIntyre, Gordon Wilson, Grahame Skinner and Michael Slaven. The new group released two albums 1994s Life As A Dog and Love Is Dead in 1995. Sadly, commercial success eluded both albums and Cowboy Mouth proved to be a short-lived venture.

By then, Douglas MacIntyre, Gordon Wilson and Paul McGeechan had already formed a new group, Sugartown who released their debut album Swimming In The Horsepool in 1995. Although it was well received by critics, the album failed to find the audience it deserved. This was another disappointment for Paul McGeechan, and not long after this he decided to move in a different direction.

He decided to concentrate on production which made sense as he had worked with some of the best in the business, including Tom Dowd and Gary Katz during his time with Love and Money.

Over the next few years, he worked with the great and good of Scottish music not just as producer, but also as a mixer recordist, remixer, and sideman. It seemed that artists across Scotland had Paul McGeechan’s number on speed-dial and he worked with Ricky Ross, Isobel Campbell, The Pearlfishers, James Grant, Justin Currie, the BMX Bandits, Emily Smith and Kris Drever. Paul McGeechan’s decision to reinvent himself had paid off. Then came a phone call out of the blue in 2011,

It was totally unexpected and was the phone call he never expected to receive. Love and Money had decided to reform to for what was billed as “one night only.” Love and Money were going to play at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall as part of Celtic Connections 2011. Soon, the show sold out, and when Love and Money made their comeback in their hometown, they received a rapturous reception as they worked their way through two entire albums, Strange Kind Of Love and Dogs In The Traffic. When Love and Money left the stage that night, a seed had been planted.

In December 2011, Love and Money’s comeback continued. This time, they played another hometown show, but chose the Clyde Auditorium. So successful was the show, that Love and Money decided to record their fifth solo album, and first since 1993.

This was The Devil’s Debt, which was released in October 2012 and received positive reviews from critics. It was the first Love and Money album in nineteen years and was welcomed by fans old and new. However, not long after this, Paul McGeechan’s thoughts turned to a project he had been contemplating for several years, Starless.

Starless.

The new group was the brainchild of Paul McGeechan, and a project he first contemplated a couple of years before the Love and Money reunion. It was only after the reunion, that he decided to return to songwriting and  his new songs found their way onto what became Starless eponymous debut album.

For his new project, Paul McGeechan had a wish-list of well known names from Scottish music. He knew it wasn’t going to be easy to persuade everyone to take part in the project. 

Apart from former Cocteau Twin Liz Fraser, everyone agreed to take part and Paul McGeechan was joined in the studio by some of the great and good of Scottish music for the recording of Starless. This included The Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan, The Bathers’ Chris Thomson, former Capercaillie vocalist Karen Matheson and folk singer Julie Fowlis. They were joined by Lau’s Kris Drever and Ewan Vernal who was by Paul McGeechan’s during much of the recording of Starless. Eventually, the album was completed and his dream had become reality.

When Starless was released in May 2016, it was to critical acclaim. Critics heaped praise on an album where the Scottish supergroup incorporated elements of Scottish-Gaelic traditional music, pop, rock, an element of theatre and were joined by The Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. It was an album full of ethereal beauty where troubled troubadours with worldweary vocals join lush strings in producing what was an almost flawless album. The big question was would there be a followup? 

Earthbound.

There was, and just like its predecessor Starless, the much-anticipated followup Earthbound was a star-studded affair that took the best part of two years to record. Joining Paul McGeechan this time around were some old friends from his musical past, including some of the cast from Starless.

This included his old friend from Friends Again, and Bathers frontman Chris Thompson and folk singer Julie Fowlis, who made a welcome return on Earthbound. They were joined by Hipsway’s Grahame Skinner, former Big Dish frontman Steven Lindsay, onetime Delgado Emma Pollock and Jerry Burns. There’s also contributions from Marie Clare, Karliene, Silvia Ramón Gérard and The Prague Philharmonic Orchestra who played such an important part in the sound of Starless. 

Recording of Earthbound took place in three studios in Scotland, Waterside Productions, Chem 19 and UWS. Then producer Paul McGeechan travelled to Smecky Studios in the Czech capital where he recorded the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra’s contribution. By then, he knew he had almost completed the project that was conceived nearly two years earlier. After nearly two years of hard work, Earthbound, the much-anticipated followup to Starless was complete. 

Eventually, in late-May 2020, Starless received their long-awaited sophomore album Earthbound. The band’s eponymous debut album had set the bar high, and it wasn’t going to be easy to match never mind surpass the quality of Starless. However, if anyone could do it, it was Paul McGeechan and his all-star band Starless on Earthbound.

Opening Earthbound is Long Bhriseadh (Shipwreck). It’s an emotive instrumental full of drama that paints pictures as strings sweep and the piano plays. Later, the sound of waves break on the deserted shore and in the distance a piper plays, adding to the heartbreak and drama on this cinematic sounding track.

The traditional Gaelic lament Ailein Duinn features a heartfelt and impassioned vocal from Karliene. Meanwhile, strings sweep, the piano plays and drums provide the heartbeat. Then later, the sound of waves lapping on the beach is added and is the finishing touch to what’s a truly beautiful track.

Paper is a piano lead track that features a tender, thoughtful vocal from former Delgado Emma Pollock. As the understated  arrangement unfolds and evolves there’s a nod to trip hop pioneers Portishead. Later, strings sweep, swirl and dance as the Castle Douglas-born singer delivers a tender, soul-baring vocal on one of Earthbound’s highlights.

Breakdown marks the Starless debut of former Big Dish frontman Steven Lindsay. He delivers an impassioned and bittersweet vocal that’s akin to a confessional. Meanwhile, drums, crack, strings cascade and along with the piano set the scene and add an element of drama to this four minute mini-drama.

Making a welcome return on Spellbound is Chris Thompson of The Bathers. A distant piano and strings set the scene on this understated and spacious. Just a lone piano accompanies the troubled troubadour as he enters and takes centrestage. Soon, he’s painting pictures with his lived-in, worldweary vocal and breathing life and meaning into the lyrics. Meanwhile, drums provide the heartbeat and strings sweep and later quiver and shiver. They frame the wistful vocal during a spellbinding performance from one of Scotland’s finest vocalists.

There’s a sense of melancholy from the opening bars of Glittering Light as a piano plays and the arrangement gradually reveals its secrets. This includes cinematic strings and a tender, heartfelt vocal from one of Scottish music’s best kept secrets Jerry Burns. She’s accompanied by an arrangement that shimmers and glistens as strings sweep and later with a voice full of emotion, asks: “where are you now?” 

The sound of Morse code opens Settling Mist before a lone piano plays and is joined by strings. They sweep majestically and later are joined by pipes in creating a cinematic track that latterly,  has a quintessentially Scottish sound.

The ethereal sounding Marie Clare Lee featured on Starless’ eponymous debut album. She makes a welcome return on Chase The Devil, where she lays bare her soul on a widescreen symphonic epic. 

Very different is Cridhe Aingeal, an eerie, atmospheric and filmic interlude that lasts just twenty-five seconds. 

Seesaw and sweeping strings add a melancholy hue on Somewhere In The Night as they accompany Steven Lindsay’s impassioned vocal. It’s joined by drums and synths as the drama builds on an arrangement that in parts, harks back to the eighties. Meanwhile, the vocal is mixture of power and passion as he sings: “so pray for me and shield me from the light, and wait for me.” Framing his needy pleas is a stirring, string drenched arrangement that proves to be the perfect accompaniment.     

Another of the highlights of Earthbound is Sea Shanty No.2 (Wish You Were Here) Hipsway frontman Grahame Skinner delivers a vocal full loneliness, longing and hurt. He sounds as if he’s lived the lyrics as the strings sweep and swirl and a backing vocalist adds to the sense of longing.

Chris Thompson returns Calvary which initially has an understated arrangement. Soon, its beating heart is joined by a guitar and strings that add a degree of urgency. Meanwhile his vocal takes on a confessional quality as the genre-melting arrangement builds and becomes dramatic. This is perfect backdrop for a vocal that’s akin to a cathartic unburdening from The Bathers’ frontman.

Closing Earthbound is the lament Ailein Duinn (1957) which was written in Gaelic for sea captain for Alan Morrison by his fiancée Annie Campbell. They set sail to Lewis in 1788, and sailed into a storm and the vessel sank with only Annie Campbell surviving. She was broken hearted and wrote this lament for her lost love. Sadly, she died a few months later having wasted away because of the grief and heartbreak and her lasting legacy is this lament.

Starless reinvent Annie Campbell’s lament and give it a ‘21st’ Century makeover. It opens with the sound of waves breaking on the shore and claps of thunder as Julie Fowlis’ vocal enters. It’s replaced by melancholy strings before she returns and continues to deliver a tender, heartfelt and emotive vocal. Then when it drops out the sound of waves crashing and gently breaking on the beach can be heard. They’re accompanied by a harpsichord and later, replaced by what’s meant to be a ship using Morse Code to tell of the shipwreck that they’ve discovered after the storm. It’s a sobering and heart-wrenching way to close the album with such a tragic story that is guaranteed to tug at the heartstrings.   

Nearly four years after the release of their eponymous debut album, Starless make a welcome return with the long-awaited and much-anticipated sophomore album Earthbound. Just like its predecessor, Starless founder Paul McGeechan was joined by an impressive all-star lineup. However, this time around, he’s shuffled the pack and some new names join the cast. This includes Emma Pollock, Grahame Skinner and Steven Lindsay. They joined Chris Thompson, Julie Fowlis and Marie Claire Lee who featured on Starless, and play their part in the sound and success of the followup Earthbound. So do the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra whose contribution to the album can’t be underestimated. 

They play their part in sweeping, widescreen arrangements that provide the perfect backdrop to songs that are variously atmospheric, beautiful, cinematic, dramatic. elegiac and ethereal. Other songs are haunting or full of hurt, loneliness, longing and melancholia and are brought to life by some of Scotland’s finest vocalists who breath life, meaning and emotion into the lyrics. They play their part in a near flawless opus that marks the welcome return of Paul McGeechan’s all-star band Starless, on their near flawless epic Earthbound.

Starless-Earthbound.

CULT CLASSIC: JOE HOUSTON-KICKIN’ BACK.

Cult Classic: Joe Houston-Kickin’ Back.

Joe Houston’s career began in 1941 when he was just fifteen, and a saxophonist in a touring band never turned up. This presented the bandleader with a problem. However, he needn’t have worried as Joe Houston was in the audience and this was the breakthrough the young saxophonist had dreamy about.

From an early age, Joe Houston was determined to make a career out of music. So much so, that he bought a red suit with white trousers which  was what many of the touring bands wore. One night, when the saxophonist didn’t show, Joe Houston who looked the part, offered his services. He grabbed his saxophone, and took to the stage and that night, his career began in earnest. By them, he had come a long way in a  short time.

Joe Houston was born on 11th July 1926, in Austin, Texas and it was in school, that Joe discovered music. Originally, he played the trumpet but before long he switched to the saxophone. Soon, he was an accomplished saxophonist and good enough to play in a touring band by the time he was fifteen. That was just the start of his career.

By 1943, Joe Houston had joined a touring band and spent three years touring Kansas, Chicago and the mid-west. These three years were an important part of his musical education and by the end of the Second World War, Joe Houston was ready to rub shoulders with some of the biggest names in music.

Among the musicians Joe Houston worked with, were pianist Amos Milburn and vocalist Big Joe Turner. He was impressed by the young saxophonist that he asked Joe to put a new band together for him. In return, Big Joe Turner recommended Joe Houston to Freedom Records.

When Joe Houston signed to  Freedom Records in 1949, he was only twenty-three. However, he had been a professional musician eight years. He had  played with some big names, and learnt from each of them. This included learning what it took to be a bandleader.

In 1951, he formed the Joe Houston and Orchestra and their first release was Blowin’ Crazy, which was released on Macy’s Recordings. He hoped to build on the success of previous “blowing’” saxophone releases and Blow Joe Blow gave him a regional hit in the South. This lead to the Bihari brothers buying the track which they planned to release nationwide.

The Bihari brothers were well known within the music industry and owned several labels, including Los Angeles’ based Modern Records. Just like Big Joe Turner, the Biharis were impressed by Joe Houston. They made the journey to Houston to record several sides they planned to release.

Before that, they released Blow Joe Blow. While it wasn’t a nationwide hit, it showed the Biharis that Joe Houston had a big future ahead of him. Their paths would cross again.

After meeting the Biharis, Joe realised that L.A. was jazz central. So he decided to relocate to tinseltown. This worked in Joe’s favour. He played on numerous sessions, and released singles on various labels, including Mercury, Combo, Modern and its subsidiary RPM. This somewhat scattergun approach paid off.

In 1952 Joe enjoyed his first hit single with Worry, Worry, Worry. It reached number ten in the US R&B charts. Later, in 1952, Hard Time Baby also  reached number ten in the US R&B charts. After eleven years, Joe Houston had made a breakthrough.

Another two years passed and Joe Houston enjoyed a hit with All Night Long. It was released on John Dolphin’s Money Records in 1954. Soon, All Night Long was regarded as a South Californian classic. Joe Houston was back, and back with a hit.

Over the next couple of years, Joe Houston kept making records and working as a sideman. Then in 1956, Joe Bihari entered Joe’s life when he bought All Night Long and made it the lead track from his album Blows All Night Long. This was the first of seven albums Joe Houston released on the Biharis labels.

The other five were released on their Crown imprint. This included four albums in 1962 Rockin’ And Rollin,’ Doin’ The Twist, Twisting In Orbit and Wild Man Of The Tenor Sax. Then in 1963, Joe Houston jumped on another bandwagon, and released Surf Rockin.’ He followed this up with Limbo. It was his last album for another fifteen years.

Over a recording career that started in 1951, Joe Houston had watched musical genres and trends come and go. He had been there through when the twist and then surf music was popular. By 1978, another musical genre was at the peak of its popularity, disco. So with the help of his old friends the Bihari brothers, Joe Houston decided to release an album that just happened to include a couple of disco tracks.

By then, the Biharis were keen to release new albums. For some time, they had been running reissue label and while this was profitable they needed a change and decided to launch their new label, Big Town.

Having decided to setup a new label, Jules Bihari started to look for artists and decided to give Joe Houston a call. They knew each other well and had first worked together twenty-six years previously. 

The only problem was that Joe Houston hadn’t released an album since 1963. However, he had never stopped working during that period. He knew that his profile wasn’t as high as it once was, and that music had changed since he last released an album, but he was a versatile musician and jumped at the opportunity to make a comeback.

For his long awaited comeback album, Joe Houston and Jules Bihari penned eight tracks. Jules used the alias Jules Taub. This wasn’t fooling anyone especially the musicians who played on Kickin’ Back. They realised that Jules Taub was Jules Bihari.  

Joe Houston decided to produce his comeback album and put together a tight, talented band for the recording of Kickin’ Back. The rhythm section featured drummer Ross Solomone, bassist Ted Butler and Larry Johnson on bass and guitar. Bo Rhambo played alto and tenor saxophone, while Freddy Clark and Joe Houston both played baritone and tenor saxophone on Kickin’ Back. It was scheduled for release in 1978.

There was no fanfare when Kickin’ Back was released in 1978, and Jules Bihari didn’t go out of his way to promote Joe Houston’s long-awaited comeback album. When it was released the album passed most record buyers by. Adding insult to injury, Kickin’ Back was soon deleted by the Big Town label.

For Joe Houston his fusion of blues, funk and disco had neither proved profitable nor raised his profile and he returned to playing live in LA’s clubs. Kickin’ Back was a case of what might have been for the veteran saxophonist. If only the album had been promoted properly a wider audience might have discovered an eclectic album.

Hawaiian Disco opens Kickin’ Back and straight away, there’s an obvious early sixties hot rodding sound. It’s as if Joe Houston has been inspired by his 1963 album Surf Rockin.’ That’s no bad thing. It all starts with the drums, then the guitars and blazing saxophone join in. Soon, they’re in full flight and it’s an impressive sound and for five minutes, Joe Houston and his tight, talented band create a joyous and irresistible sounding dance track.

Not many artists would’ve have thought of fusing blues and disco. Joe Houston did, and the result was T Bone Disco. Surf guitars are joined by the rhythm section and then a growling, scorching saxophone. It soars above the arrangement as the drums and piano play leading roles. By then, musical genres are melting into one. Blues, disco, R&B and surf are combined by a band of hot shot musicians. Each and every one of them have earned their stripes, and unleash peerless performances.

The tempo drops on Mr. Big, which sounds as if it belongs on an early seventies Blaxploitation soundtrack. Just a loose, spacious rhythm section and chiming guitar provide the backdrop to what can only be described as a saxophone masterclass. Joe Houston never misses as a note, as his scorching, rasping solo steals the show. Everyone else plays a supporting role as the veteran saxophonist takes centre-stage.

Baby What You Want Me To Do sees Joe Houston return to the blues. The rhythm section and crystalline guitar set the scene for his needy, lived-in vocal. Then when his vocal drops out, guitarist Larry Johnson steps up and unleashes a glistening, shimmering solo, before replying to Joe’s vocal. He pleads and vamps his way through the lyrics, constantly asking: “Baby What You Want Me To Do.”

Trippin’ In sees another change of style. The tempo stays the same as the band create a chugging beat. This allows Bo Rhambo’s alto saxophone to take centre-stage as he adds a jazzy hue to the fusion of blues and R&B behind him. 

Why Don’t You Rock Me bursts into life and the chugging beat makes a reappearance. Meanwhile, stabs of piano and a chiming guitar accompany Joe’s blistering saxophone solo. He doesn’t hold back and used the track to showcase his considerable skills. In doing so, he once again steals the show.

Kicking Back-Part One sees Joe and his band at their funkiest. That’s the case from the get-go when  drums are joined by hissing hi-hats, wah-wah guitar and funky bass. The band kick loose, and produce one of their best performances. Adding the final touch is a scorching saxophone solo. It’s part ofwhat’s an inspired performance on a track that would later find favour with deep funk DJs.

Closing Kickin’ Back, is Kicking Back-Part Two. It picks up where Part One left off, and is a variation of a theme. That’s no bad thing as Joe Houston and his band are at their best, with a track that was right on trend, and even today, finds its way into many a DJs record box.

Fifteen years after releasing his last album, Joe Houston made a welcome return. Jules Bihari gave him the opportunity to rejuvenate his career and Joe Houston didn’t let him down. 

Seamlessly, Joe Houston and his tight, talented band switch between blues, disco, funk, jazz, R&B and surf throughout Kicking Back. Sometimes, they fuse several genres on the same track and it all seems effortless. That’s what Joe Houston and his band were capable of. They were also capable of making music that in 1978, was bang on trend.

That’s why Kickin’ Back could’ve and should’ve been a successful album, and maybe even featured a hit single? Sadly, that wasn’t to be because Jules Bihari decided not to promote Kickin’ Back. That was the same with his new label’s Big Town’s other releases. They sunk without trace, and were soon deleted.

For Joe Houston it must have been a disappointing experience. He must have felt he had been let down badly by a man who was supposedly one of his friends. After all, why release an album and not promote it? Thankfully, this  didn’t put Joe Houston off releasing another album.

He made a comeback in 1981, when he released Earthquake on Imperial. After that, Joe Houston continued to record and play live right until 2005. 

Sadly, Joe Houston suffered a stroke in 2005, and wasn’t able to played live again. He lived in Los Angeles until he passed away after suffering from a stroke on December the ‘28th’ 2015. However,  Joe Houston left behind a rich musical legacy including his cult classic  Kickin’ Back showcases his considerable talent and versatility.

Cult Classic: Joe Houston-Kickin’ Back.

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CULT CLASSIC: BROTHERS AND SISTERS-DYLAN’S GOSPEL.

Cult Classic: Brothers and Sisters-Dylan’s Gospel.

For too long, backing singers have been the forgotten heroes of music and that has been the case since the sixties. Mostly, they were largely anonymous figures and their raison d’être was to make the stars sound good. Backing singers, like session musicians, were hired guns and everyday, they found themselves working with different artists. So they had to be versatile and able to adapt. They could be singing soul today jazz tomorrow working on a rock album the next again day. The best back vocalists took this in their stride and often,  were called upon time and time again by producers. 

This included The Sweethearts of Sigma and The Sweet Inspirations who were among the creme de la creme of backing vocalists. So were Merry Clayton, Gloria Jones, Sherlie Matthews, Ed Wallace and Fred Willis who during the sixties, all worked with songwriter and producer Lou Adler. 

He had established a reputation as one of Los Angeles’ top producers and worked with the great and the good of music. Who Lou Adler didn’t know, wasn’t worth knowing. This also included the best session musicians and  backing vocalists LA had to offer.

When producing a session he always called upon the same backing vocalists who he had formed a good relationship with. So much so, that Lou Adler decided he wanted to make an album where the backing vocalists would play a starring role. The only problem was, by 1969, the songwriter, producer and artist manager was without a record label. Despite that, he decided now was the time to make the album with backing vocalists. He knew he would find a record company willing to release the album.

The result was Dylan’s Gospel the debut album from Brothers and Sisters, which featured some of the LA’s top backing vocalists.   In total, twenty-seven session singers appeared on Dylan’s Gospel. Among them are Merry Clayton, Ruby Johnson, Shirley Matthews, Clydie King, Patrice Holloway, Julia Tillman. So too did Edna Wright of The Honeycones and Gloria Jones who recorded the original version of Tainted Love in 1965. It was an all-star lineup that gathered at Sound Recorders Studios.

When the recording sessions at Sound Recorders Studios in L.A, Lou had drafted Gene Page, who arranged Dylan’s Gospel. Ten of Bob Dylan’s finest songs were chosen to be recorded by Brothers and Sisters. Accompanying Brothers and Sisters were some of L.A’s best session players. The rhythm section included bassist Jerry Scheff and drummer Gene Pello. Evelyn Freeman played organ, Gene Page piano and percussionist Joe H. Vaerga. Producing Dylan’s Gospel was Lou Adler. The Dylan’s Gospel sessions weren’t like most other sessions Lou Adler had produced.

Looking back, many who were present at the recording sessions at Sound Recorders Studios in Hollywood, remember the sessions as akin to a four-day party. The great and the good of music swung by. Carole King came to hear the  Brothers and Sisters. So did Peggy Lipton and Papa John Phillips. Then there cousins, mothers, partners and friends of the Brothers and Sisters. They ate, drank and enjoyed listening to what  was gospel rock ’n’ style. The sessions were like a four day party where the Brothers and Sisters transformed ten Bob Dylan tracks. 

Sadly, when Dylan’s Gospel was released on Ode Records in 1969, the album passed most people by. This unique album wasn’t a commercial success. For once, Lou Adler’s Midas touch failed him. Dylan’s Gospel joined the ranks of great albums never to be heard by a wider audience.  

The Times They Are A Changing opens Brothers and Sisters’ debut album Dylan’s Gospel. Just an organ and piano combine to create an authentic gospel backdrop for Merry Clayton’s vocal powerhouse. She unleashes a vocal that’s equal parts power, passion and emotion. She brings hope to the lyrics that “The Times They Are A Changing.” Meanwhile, harmonies, coo, sweep and soar while the drums add to the drama. Seamlessly, a Bob Dylan classic is transformed into a  hopeful, stirring, gospel track.

Just a lone piano opens I Shall Be Released. It’s joined by a rumbling bass and a heartfelt soaring vocal. Backing vocalists reply to the vocal. Meanwhile a wailing Hammond organ, piano and subtle drums provide the perfect backdrop. It never overpowers the vocal or harmonies. They’re at the heart of the track’s success. The vocal is a fusion of sincerity and emotion. So much so, that the lyrics take on a new meaning. Joyous describes the swaying, soaring harmonies which are the finishing touch to this reinvention of I Shall Be Released.

Edna Wright takes charge of lead vocals on Lay Lady Lay.  A bubbling bass, drums played with hands and harmonies accompany her tender vocal. Soon, a piano enters as the Brothers and Sisters kick loose.  Soulful and needy describes Edna’s vocal. She’s accompanied by cooing harmonies. They soar above the arrangement and later she combines gospel, soul and jazz and as she  kicks loose her vocal becomes sultry and sensual, as she delivers a vocal masterclass.

Distant harmonies and a gospel tinged piano make their way towards you. Then a rousing, stirring version of Mr. Tambourine Man unfolds. The song is totally transformed. Partly that’s down to the lead vocal which ensures the song swings. Then there’s the rousing harmonies and the tight talented band who transform this Bob Dylan classic which becomes a stirring, rousing celebration.

All Along The Watchtower is right up there with the best songs Bob Dylan has written. Here, new life and meaning is breathed into a familiar song. Atmospheric and dramatic describes the arrangement as the rhythm section, stabs of piano and washes of Hammond organ accompany soaring, swaying harmonies and handclaps. The lead vocal is a combination of controlled power, emotion and passion. This inspires the rest of the Brothers and Sisters as they clap their hands, stomp their feet and unleash some of their finest harmonies as they reach new heights on the album. 

Of all the songs on Dylan’s Gospel, The Mighty Quinn is the one that really takes on new life having been given a gospel makeover. The Brothers and Sisters throw themselves into the song and their rousing harmonies and handclaps are joined by a wailing Hammond organ, rhythm  section and rasping horn. Then there’s Merry Clayton’s joyous and celebratory vocal, which later becomes a vamp. It takes the song to new places and results in the song Bob Dylan had always hoped for.

Ethereal harmonies open Chimes Of Freedom and heavenwards. Then when they drop out, an impassioned lead vocal enters. It oozes emotion and so does the female vocal that picks up the baton. When they join together, they’re accompanied by a gospel piano, probing bass and washes of Hammond organ. They add to the spiritual sound of a track that Bob Dylan started and the Brothers and Sisters finished.

For many people, Gloria Jones’ name will be forever synonymous with Tainted Love. That’s until they’ve heard her vocal tour de force on I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight. As she kicks loose, swaying, soaring and joyous harmonies join a jangling piano that accompanies Gloria as she lays claim to the song, her vocal a mixture of sass and neediness.

Piano and drums combine as My Back Pages unfolds and a tender, wistful vocal is accompanied by rousing gospel harmonies. They coo above the arrangement, while the unmistakable sound of a Hammond organ is dropped in. Lou Adler’s timing is perfect and it adds to the emotion and is the perfect accompaniment to the Brothers and Sisters on this emotive opus.

Without doubt, Just Like A Woman is one of Bob Dylan’s finest hours. That’s why it’s a fitting way to close Dylan’s Gospel. Replacing the familiar harmonica in the introduction is a church organ. This sets the scene for the massed ranks of Brothers and Sisters. They throw themselves into the song. The twenty-seven Brothers and Sisters become one and it’s an impressive and powerful combination that is emotionally overpowering. In the midst of Brothers and Sisters, someone hollers “Yes She Should” while spontaneous vamps are unleashed. It sounds as if the Brothers and Sisters are having the time of their lives while making some of the best covers of Bob Dylan songs you’ll ever hear.

That’s no exaggeration. Bob Dylan songs are some of the most covered in the history of popular music. However, Brothers and Sisters’ ten covers of Bob Dylan songs are some of the best you’ll ever hear. The ten tracks ooze emotion, meaning, joy, hope and happiness. That’s thanks to some of the finest backing vocalists of the sixties.

They reinvent some of the tracks, especially The Mighty Quinn, Chimes Of Freedom and My Back Pages. These are tracks that Bob Dylan started and the Brothers and Sisters finished. They made this trio of tracks their own and their unique brand of gospel is tailor made for these songs. That’s the case with the rest of the ten tracks on Dylan’s Gospel. The songs literally, take on new meaning in the hands of the Brothers and Sisters. As a result, the music is rousing, stirring, joyous, celebratory and emotive. It was a session that nobody who witnessed it would ever forget.

It’s been described as a four-day part, where the great and the good of music swung by to hear the Brothers and Sisters. Carole King, Peggy Lipton and Papa John Phillips  were present and so were countless cousins, mothers, partners and friends of the Brothers and Sisters. They ate, drank and were merry as they witness gospel rock ’n’ style. The sessions were like a four day party where the Brothers and Sisters transformed ten Bob Dylan tracks. During the sessions, the onlookers must have thought that Dylan’s Gospel was bound to be a commercial success.

Sadly, when Dylan’s Gospel was released on Ode Records, in 1969, it wasn’t a commercial success. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the music which oozes quality. Maybe the problem was that Lou Adler signed the Brothers and Sisters to the wrong label? Ode Records was too small and didn’t have the funds and personnel to promote Dylan’s Gospel. A major label like Columbia Records or A&M would. If either of these labels had released Dylan’s Gospel, it would’ve been a huge commercial success and the album would’ve been hailed an innovative, modern classic. Sadly, that wasn’t the case and it was a case of what might have been the for Brothers and Sisters’ debut album Dylan’s Gospel.

Belatedly, Brothers and Sisters’ cult classic Dylan’s Gospel is starting to find a wider audience, and a now new generation of record buyers are  hearing some of the finest Bob Dylan covers ever recorded.

Cult Classic: Brothers and Sisters-Dylan’s Gospel.

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CULT CLASSIC: HOT PEPPER-SPANGLISH MOVEMENT.

Cult Classic: Hot Pepper-Spanglish Movement.

By 1977, it looked as if the disco bubble would never burst as it provided the soundtrack to danceflooors in Britain, Europe and North America. DJs and dancers had been won over by disco which had grown in popularity over the previous few years. Initially, disco was an underground movement that eventually moved into the mainstream. However, in late-1977 disco’s popularity exploded.

The first hint of what was about to happen was when the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack was released a month earlier and on November the ‘15th’ 1977. It featured a disco-lite soundtrack that included Bee Gees, Yvonne Elliman, Kool and The Gang and The Trammps that eventually sold sixteen million copies in America alone.

Just a month later, the Robert Stigwood produced movie Saturday Night Fever was released on December the ’14th’ 1977. The film that cost just $3.5 million to make grossed $237.1 million in America, and played a huge part in introducing disco to an even wider audience.

They were a captive audience for the myriad of disco singles that were released during the first few months of 1978. Week after week, the charts were full of disco singles which were selling in vast quantities. Disco was proving profitable for some record companies, but other record companies were late to the party.

When they saw the success that other labels were enjoying, they wanted to add disco artists and groups to their roster. Some labels started signing anything that was vaguely disco related, while other labels gave artists and groups on their roster a disco makeover. Meanwhile,artists whose career had stalled were jumping on the disco bandwagon, hoping to kickstart their career. Even some television and movie stars were jumping on the disco bandwagon in an attempt to give their profile a much-needed boost. Soon, though, the quality of music was starting to suffer.

Ironically, in their quest for short-term gain, many A&R executives at major labels were overlooking some talented producers who were producing groundbreaking disco singles and albums in America, Canada and Mexico. This included the man many within the Mexican music referred to as Tilico, who had just masterminded the new project by Hot Pepper, Spanglish Movement who was released as a private press in 1978. Sadly, this innovative cosmic disco cult classic passed A&R executives and record buyers by when it was released. That was a great shame and Tilico and Hot Pepper a case of what might have been.

Tilico was born Jose de Jesus Munoz Lopez in Compostela, in the Mexican state of Nayarit, on the ‘28th’ of October 1936. When he was growing up, Tilico discovered music and started playing the drums. Little did anyone realise that he would go on to play an important part on modern Mexican music.

This included working with some of the top Mexican conductors and producers, including Chucho Ferrer, Mario Patrón, Nacho Méndez and Raúl Lavista. Many of the recordings Tilico played on, were recorded at Estudios Churubusco. That was where  Tilico played on recordings by Jose Jose, Juan Gabriel, Jose Luis Gabriel, Lanny Hall, Perez Prado and Perry Como. They’re just a few of the artists Tilico accompanied whilst working as a session musician.

He was also the official drummer for the OFI International Festival and backed Carl Tjader, Paul Mauriat and Ray Conniff when they played live. Tilico also worked with Jorge Neri when he worked with the Teatro de los Insurgentes when they performed a variety of plays and musicals, including Cabaret and Una Eva y Dos Patanes. This was all good experience for Tilico who was a well known face on the Mexican music scene.

Especially when Tilico started writing songs. Soon, they were being recorded by the likes of Alberto Vazquez, Carlos Campos, Carmen Del Valle, Jose Jose, Los Dandys, Perez Prado and Sophy. With the great and good of Mexican music recording Tilico’s songs, his career as a songwriter was blossoming by 1977.

Buoyed by the success of his newfound success as a songwriter, and the popularity of disco, Tilico decided to embark upon a new project in 1977. He would write, record and produce Hot Pepper’s disco album Spanglish Movement.

For Spanglish Movement, Tilico wrote the lyrics and music to four lengthy tracks Deja Que El Mundo Sea Feliz Otra Vez (Let The World Be Happy Again), Camino Equivocado (Wrong Way), No Me Presiones (Don’t Push Me) and Cancion Ritual (Ritual Song). These songs were recorded by some of the top Mexican session musicians and vocalists, which included Tilico’s wife.

Although Tilico had decided to play drums and percussion on Spanglish Movement, he was also taking charge of production. He let his imagination run riot during four lengthy tracks which were punctuated by everything from funky and fuzzy guitars to stabs of Latin horns, spacey synths, thunderous drums, congas and myriad of percussion. There provided the backdrop for the soulful male and female vocals on an album that married elements of Afrobeat, disco, funk, Latin, proto-boogie and soul. Spanglish Movement was disco with a difference.

Spanglish Movement was a groundbreaking album of funky cosmic disco that oozed quality. That was apparent from the opening bars of Deja Que El Mundo Sea Feliz Otra Vez (Let The World Be Happy Again) which opens the album. It sounds as if The Salsoul Orchestra have been transported to Mexico and Vince Montana Jr is taking charge of production on this soulful and memorable fusion of disco, funk and proto-boogie. 

Camino Equivocado (Wrong Way) explodes into life, and initially, sounds as if it belongs on a Blaxploitation soundtrack. That is until Hot Pepper head in the direction of proto-boogie, while blazing horns punctuate the funky, cosmic disco arrangement. There’s even a Spanish guitar solo and soulful cooing vocals during this club classic that sounds as good today as it did in 1978.

No Me Presiones (Don’t Push Me) is another fusion of cosmic disco, funk and proto-boogie where a sassy vocal, synths, stabs of horns and handclaps play their in the sound and success of the track.

The funky and soulful comic disco of Canción Ritual (Ritual Wrong) incorporates elements of African, Latin and proto-boogie to create a timeless track. This closes Spanglish Movement on a dancefloor friendly high.

Spanglish Movement was very different and much more innovative album than much of the formulaic and third-rate disco that was being released in America and Britain in 1978. Back then, many artists were jumping on the disco bandwagon in the hope of kickstarting or launching their career. Meanwhile, Tilico was preparing to release Hot Pepper’s debut album Spanglish Movement.

Rather than shop the album to some of the bigger Mexican labels, or the major labels in America, Tilico decided to release Spanglish Movement as a private press. He approached the Discos label which was a relatively small label, who agreed to release the album later in 1978 as a private press. 

Only a relative small number of Hot Pepper’s debut album Spanglish Movement were released by Discos 1978. Just like many small labels who released private presses, Discos neither had the budget, nor the expertise to promote Spanglish Movement. If they had, maybe a bigger label would’ve heard Spanglish Movement and offered to license what was a  groundbreaking, genre-melting album of funky cosmic disco. Sadly, Spanglish Movement failed to find the wider audience it deserved when it was released in 1978.

Just a year later, the disco bubble burst in spectacular style on the ‘12th’ of July 1979. Disco had gone from her to zero in the space of two years, and was now a musical pariah. Record companies dropped disco artists, and DJs started looking for new music to play in clubs in Britain and America. 

Some DJs started spinning boogie which became flavour of the month in the post-disco era. Boogie rubbed shoulders with Italo disco, funk and New York sound as some DJs started playing much more eclectic sets. They dug deeper for floorfillers, and some launched onto the Hot Pepper single Deja Que El Mundo Sea Feliz Otra Vez. However, other DJs who had belatedly come across a copy of Spanglish Movement took to spinning Ritual Song, which became an underground classic. Somewhat belatedly, Hot Pepper’s debut album Spanglish Movement was starting to find an audience.

Since then, Spanglish Movement has become a cult classic. The only problem was that original copies of the album were becoming almost impossible to find. Anyone who is lucky enough to find a copy or will discover the delights of  Hot Pepper’s carefully crafted groundbreaking and genre-melting album Spanglish Movement.

It was masterminded by drummer, producer and songwriter Tilico, and with the help of some of Mexico’s top session musicians, fused cosmic disco, electronica, funk, proto-boogie and soul on what was Hot Pepper’s one and only album Spanglish Movement. However, what an album Spanglish Movement was. Hot Pepper’s 1978 debut album Spanglish Movement is an oft-overlooked funky cosmic disco cult classic, that features four floorfillers including the underground club classic Ritual Song. 

Cult Classic: Hot Pepper-Spanglish Movement.

 

 

 

CULT CLASSIC: BILLY COBHAM-MAGIC.

Cult Classic: Billy Cobham-Magic.

By 1977, Panamanian-American jazz and fusion drummer Billy Cobham had only been a solo artist since 1973, but he already accumulated a wealth of experience since his discharge from the US Army in 1968. Soon, he had joined Horace Silver’s Quintet, then became the house drummer at Atlantic Records and a session musician at CTi Records and Kudu Records. All this was good experience for Billy Cobham.

Especially when he cofounded the fusion group Dreams with John Abercrombie and The Brecker Brothers, Michael and Randy. They only released two albums Dreams in 1970 and Imagine My Surprise in 1971. After that, Billy Cobham’s interest in fusion grew when he joined Miles Davis’ band and played on the 1970 classic Bitches Brew and A Tribute to Jack Johnson in 1971. After that, Billy Cobham and guitarist John McLaughlin left Miles Davis employ and cofounded one of the legendary fusion bands, the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

The first incarnation of the Mahavishnu Orchestra was relatively short-lived and was together for just three years. However, Billy Cobham was only a member until 1973 only played on their first two studio albums 1971s The Inner Mountain Flame, 1973 Birds Of Flame and the live album Between Nothingness and Eternity which was released in November 1973. By then, Billy Cobham had signed to Atlantic Records and embarked upon a career as a solo artist.

When he released his self-produced debut album Spectrum  on October the ‘1st’ 1973, it was to widespread critical acclaim. Critics noticed the influence of Miles Davis and the Mahavishnu Orchestra on a genre classic that set a new standard for fusion. Spectrum topped the US Jazz charts and reached number twenty-six in the US Billboard 200. This was the perfect start to Billy Cobham’s solo career.

Following the success of Spectrum, Billy Cobham returned in 1974 with his sophomore album Crosswinds which enjoyed the same critical acclaim, but didn’t replicate the success as his debut. However, Total Eclipse came close later in 1974 when it reached thirty-eight in the US Billboard 200 and twelve in the US R&B charts. By then, Billy Cobham was one of the leading lights of the fusion scene and one of its most successful practitioners.

In 1975, Billy Cobham returned with two more albums including his first live album Shabazz which was recorded in Europe. Later, in 1975 he returned with A Funky Thide Of Sings where his music moved from fusion to jazz funk. However, when Billy Cobham returned with 1976s Life and Times, he had returned to his first love, fusion. This would continue as a new chapter began in the life of Billy Cobham.

After releasing six albums for Atlantic, Billy Cobham’s recording contract had come to an end, and to complicate matters, The Billy Cobham/George Duke Band a quartet which also featured Alphonso Johnson and was no more. It was a relatively short-lived band that released just one the album Live On Tour In Europe, in 1976. However, after its release, Billy Cobham decided to sever all ties with the band and its members. In doing so, this left him free to concentrate on his solo career.

By then, he had been offered a recording contract by CBS who had a stellar and enviable roster of jazz and fusion artists. Given Billy Cobham’s track record, especially during the early days of his career at Atlantic Records, CBS were keen to add him to their roster. He realised that this was the perfect opportunity to rebuild career which had stalled in recent years signed to CBS, and soon, began work on his new album Magic which was the next chapter in Billy Cobham’s career.

Magic.

Having signed to CBS, Billy Cobham was determined to make the most of what was a new start. He needed to kickstart his career after a couple of albums that failed to replicate the commercial success of his earlier albums. Billy Cobham also knew that the executives at CBS were looking for successful albums, when he began work on an Magic, which he hoped would reach the heights of Spectrum and Total Eclipse. If not, he knew his time at CBS could be short-lived that, and that didn’t bare thinking about.

Magic which was Billy Cobham’s seventh album overall, saw the drummer and percussionist write On A Magic Carpet Ride, AC/DC, Leaward Winds, Puffnstuff, “Anteres” The Star and the three cart suite Magic. These tracks were written by Billy Cobham and would be recorded with a band that featured some of the top musicians of the day.

Electric Lady Studios, New York had been booked for the recording of Magic, and Billy Cobham had decided to produce his CBS debut. He was no stranger to production having co-produced Shabazz and A Funky Thide Of Sings. However, this time around, he was taking charge of production on Magic.

It was recorded by a core band featured a rhythm section of drummer and percussionist Billy Cobham, bassist Randy Jackson and guitarist Peter Maunu. They were augmented by clarinetist Alvin Batiste, conga player Sheila Escovedo and her brother Pete Escovedo who played timbales and added vocals on Magic alongside Kathleen Kaan. Meanwhile, Joachim Kühn played piano, Fender Rhodes and synths while Mark Soskin switched between piano, keyboards and synths. When it came to recording the vocals on Puffnstuff, Billy Cobham left his drum kit and stepped up to the microphone. By then, Magic which was being produced by Billy Cobham, was starting to shape and it wasn’t long before the album was ready to be mixed and mastered.

After Magic had been mixed and mastered, CBS scheduled the album’s release for later in 1977. This allowed CBS’ PR department plenty of time to promote Billy Cobham’s new album Magic.

Executives at CBS had been impressed by Magic from the first time they heard the album. It was slick, polished album where all the rough edges had been smoothed away by Billy Cobham who produced the album. This was the fashion circa 1977, as  his all-star band unleash a series of spellbinding performances as they combine fusion, funk and jazz on Magic. 

Magic opens with On A Magic Carpet Ride which features a fleet fingered and sometimes skink piano solo by Billy Cobham that takes centre-stage. He switches to drums and powers this fusion jam along as guitarist Peter Maunu comes close to stealing the shows with lengthy blistering guitar solo. In doing so, he plays his part in a track sets the bar high for the rest of the album. 

Billy Cobham rises to the challenge on AC/DC which is built around a tight Latin rock groove as the rhythm section showcase their considerable skills. Especially guitarist Peter Maunu who again takes centre-stage with a scorching guitar solo. Meanwhile Billy Cobham unleashes his secret weapons…his Octoban drums as the Escovedos add a percussive backdrop while synths and even a clarinet are added to the mix as it continues to build, and Billy Cobham’s comeback continues.

Then the summery and melodic sounding Leaward Winds breezes along with Peter Maunu’s guitar and slinky keyboards playing starring roles during a track veers between jazz and fusion.

Puffnstuff is one of the most complex tracks on Magic, but Billy Cobham’s band cope admirably during this six-minute workout and seamlessly cope with the changes in tempo as they switch between fusion, funk and jazz. Later, Billy Cobham almost raps his anti-drug message before guitarist Peter Maunu steps in and unleashes another blistering solo. He’s without doubt one of the stars not just of Puffnstuff, but of Magic. 

“Anteres” The Star is another track built around a Latin rock groove  which comes courtesy of the rhythm section and the Escovedos’ percussive skills. Meanwhile, the clarinet, Fender Rhodes and Peter Maunu’s guitar all play leading roles during this irresistible track.

Magic was an ambitious three-part suite that lasted just over thirteen minutes, and literally explodes into life with rhythm section driving it along. This allows Peter Maunu’s guitar to enjoy its moment in the sun, while later, Billy Cobham’s thunderous drums match him every step of the way. This gives way to the finger clicking swing section which is followed by (Reflections In The Clouds) where Kathleen Kaan and Pete Escovedo share the lead vocal. They’re accompanied by a piano which later, moves centre-stage before (Magic-Recapitulation) closes the suite and indeed the album.

When Magic was released, the album was well received, especially by the jazz critics who had documented Billy Cobham’s solo career since his 1973 debut Spectrum. Magic which was his seventh album, should’ve been the album that rejuvenated Billy Cobham’s career. Sadly, Magic wasn’t the success that Billy Cobham and CBS had hoped. However, it was hoped that a tour would stimulate interest in the vastly underrated and overlooked album, Magic.

As Billy Cobham embarked upon the tour, he was hoping that it would help sales of his CBS debut Magic. Sadly, the tour wasn’t the success that Billy Cobham and CBS had hoped, and some of the concerts weren’t well received by critics. So much so, that when Billy Cobham reached Minnesota, a decision was made to cut the tour short. This meant that there would be no West Coast leg, and to make matters worse, the live album that Billy Cobham was meant to record in Minneapolis fell through. By then, Billy Cobham must have felt that the world was against him, as nothing seemed to be going to plan. However, Billy Cobham’s luck was about to change.

By 1978, Billy Cobham had released his seventh solo album Magic, which is one of the hidden gems of his back-catalogue. It’s an oft-overlooked album, partly because the polished production style which divided the opinion of many record buyers. However, forty-two years later, and Magic has stood the test of time and showcases the combined and considerable talents of Billy Cobham’s all-star band. This includes guitarist Peter Maunu and keyboardist Mark Soskin who play leading roles on Magic, as Billy Cobham’s band seamlessly switch between and combine musical genres during the eight tracks on the album.

It finds Billy Cobham leading an all-star band who unleashed a series of electrifying performances on Magic, which is an oft-overlooked album. It was his seventh solo album and the one that got away for Billy Cobham. Magic failed to find the audience it deserved and  it was a disappointing way start to  Billy Cobham’s career at CBS.

He only released two more albums during for CBS, Alivemutherforya and BC. Commercial success eluded both albums, and after the release of BC, Billy Cobham parted company with CBS after releasing three albums in two years. It was  a case of what might have been for Billy Cobham who by then, was  regarded as an influential, innovative, inventive and progressive drummer as his cult classic Magic shows. It’s a reminder of the man many jazz critics believe was fusion’s finest drummer Billy Cobham.

Cult Classic: Billy Cobham-Magic.

CULT CLASSIC: THE BLACK HIPPIES-THE BLACK HIPPIES.

Cult Classic: The Black Hippies-The Black Hippies.

One of Nigerian music’s best kept secrets, are The Black Hippies who only ever released two albums. Their finest moment was their 1977 eponymous which was released in 1977, on EMI. Sadly, by then, disco and funk were flavour of the month and The Black Hippies were a year too late releasing their debut album. It was a case of what might have been.

If The Black Hippies had been released in 1976, commercial success and critical acclaim would’ve come their way. Instead, the album disappeared without trace. It was a case of the wrong album at the wrong time. However, since then,  a new generation of record buyers have discovered The Black Hippies and it’s now regarded as a lost classic and is without doubt their finest hour. 

The Black Hippies story began back in 1973. Founding member Joseph “Pazy” Etinagbedia was a member of The Fire Flies, one of the top bands in Warri. They played a mixture of American and European pop hits, highlife, jazz and rock. Soon, The Fire Flies were one of Nigeria’s biggest bands, especially amongst the expats.

Many expats had arrived in Nigeria from America and Europe. Nigeria was in the throes of an oil boom. It was akin to a gold rush, albeit of the liquid variety. At night, expats far from home, had money to spend so headed to Warri’s clubs, where The Fire Flies held court. They played an eclectic selection of music and much of that music reminded the expats of home. For a while, Joseph “Pazy” Etinagbedia was happy playing with The Fire Flies. Then eventually, he became restless and decided to form his own band, The Black Hippies.

His reason for forming The Black Hippies was he wanted to change direction musically. He wanted to play hard rock. This type of music was popular amongst Nigerian youths and at the time, there was a ready made market for The Black Hippies’ unique brand of fuzzy rock. 

Soon, The Black Hippies were the toast of the Warri music scene. The trio led by Joseph “Pazy” Etinagbedia were soon one of the city’s biggest bands and  were soon playing alongside some of Warri’s biggest names including vocalist  Tony Grey. Before long, The Black Hippies were spotted by EMI and their legendary producer producer Odion Iruoje. The Black Hippies were signed to EMI and entered the studio in 1976.

The Black Hippies recorded five songs for their eponymous debut album. It was released in 1977, on EMI and is a captivating fusion of Afro-beat, fuzzy rock, psychedelia and voodoo funk. However, by the time The Black Hippies was released, music had changed.

Disco and funk were now flavour of the month and when The Black Hippies was released their eponymous debut album, it was a year too late. Sadly, the album wasn’t a commercial success and disappeared without trace. It was a huge disappointment for the group, producer Odion Iruoje and EMI who thought the group were the “next big thing” in Nigerian music. That’s no surprise given the quality of music on this lost classic. 

Opening The Black Hippies is Doing It in the Street. Pounding drums, hissing hi-hats and percussion lock into a groove. They’re joined by stabs of a dusty Hammond organ and a blistering wah-wah guitar. An urgent, impassioned vocal enters and then when it exits stage left, The Black Hippies kick loose. It’s a joy to behold. Searing, sizzling guitars combine voodoo funk with rock and psychedelia. Meanwhile, the rhythm section, percussion and Hammond organ create a mesmeric, hypnotic backdrop on this genre-melting hidden gem.

I Have The Love On You bursts into life. Here, the rhythm section, percussion swathes of Hammond organ and blistering rocky guitars driving the arrangement along. Joseph “Pazy” Etinagbedia’s emotive vocal sounds as if he’s been inspired by soul and reggae. When his vocal drops out, it’s time for some grandstanding. Wah wah guitars, funky bass, pounding Afro-beat drums, a myriad of percussion and the unmistakable sound of the Hammond organ combine. Each of The Black Hippies seems determined to outdo the other. It’s akin to a game of daring do. This has the effect of driving each of The Black Hippies to greater heights as they unleash a blistering, joyous slice of irresistible music.

There’s no let up in the tempo on the joyful, funky Love. From the get-go, The Black Hippies kick loose. Chiming, funky guitars join the rhythm section and Hammond organ in propelling the arrangement along. They’re joined by percussion and blistering, scorching wah wah guitars. Then there’s a needy, heartfelt vocal which oozes emotion. It’s enveloped by the wall of uber funky guitars, hissing hi-hats and a wailing Hammond organ. Genres melt seamlessly into one including everything from Afrobeat, fuzzy rock, jazz, psychedelia and voodoo funk on this dancefloor friendly paean which  is one of The Black Hippies’ greatest songs.

The Black Hippies drop the tempo slightly on the celebratory The World Is Great. A riffing Hammond organ sets the scene for the vocal. Meanwhile, the rest of teh group provide the arrangement’s pulsating heartbeat. They combine a myriad of percussion with the rhythm section and wah wah funky guitar. Before long, they kick loose. It’s as if they can’t contain themselves and soon, another dancefloor friendly epic unfolds. Resistance is impossible when The Black Hippies unleash their uber funky music.

Closing The Black Hippies is You Are My Witness. Drums, hissing hi-hats and the percussion combine and before long, bursts of guitar and stabs of Hammond organ make their presence felt. They lock into the tightest of hypnotic grooves. This is the perfect backdrop for the vocal. It’s akin to a confessional and is delivered with power and passion, sometimes, briefly becoming a vamp. As the vocal drops out, blistering, searing guitars enter. They veer between funky and rocky and briefly steal the show. Then later, they join the rest of The Black Hippies in driving the arrangement to it’s dramatic, funky crescendo.

Although The Black Hippies features just five songs, it’s an album that oozes quality. From the opening bars of Doing It in the Street, right through to the closing notes of You Are My Witness, you’re hooked. Seamlessly, The Black Hippies fuse musical genres and influences. This includes everything from Afro-beat, fuzzy rock, jazz, psychedelia, reggae, soul and voodoo funk. Sadly, by the time The Black Hippies was released, musical tastes had changed. 

The Black Hippies were a victim of circumstances. If disco and funk hadn’t become the most popular genres in Nigeria, the album would’ve been a huge commercial success. Sadly, that wasn’t the case and commercial success and critical acclaim eluded The Black Hippies. Their debut album disappeared without trace. So, Joseph “Pazy” Etinagbedia decided that The Black Hippies should change direction musically.

For their sophomore album Wa Ho Ha, Pazy and The Black Hippies drew inspiration from a variety of sources. This included disco and reggae. Just like many artists, The Black Hippies had jumped onboard the disco bandwagon. However,  Wa Ho Ha didn’t come close to replicating the quality of The Black Hippies.

Not by a long shot. The Black Hippies finest hour was their genre-melting eponymous debut album which sadly passed most people by. Since then, a small number of enthusiasts have been flying the flag for one of Nigeria’s forgotten bands The Black Hippies, and their eponymous debut album which is a lost classic that after one listen you’ll be smitten. 

Cult Classic: The Black Hippies-The Black Hippies.

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CULT CLASSIC: THE DEADBEATS-ON TAR BEACH.

Cult Classic: The Deadbeats-On Tar Beach.

There aren’t many teenagers who dream of leaving the Florida sunshine to head to London, and form a band. That’s what Suzie May did in 1979.

She left her home in the Florida suburbs, and arrived in Camden Town, London. Already Suzie May was halfway towards fulfilling her dream. That was to form a band whose music was a combination of sixtes girl groups like The Ronettes, Motown and Merseybeat sound  Just over a year later, she achieved her dream.

The story began after Suzie May placed an advert in Melody Maker saying singer “seeking musician with quiffs.” This was the first chapter in The Deadbeats story which began after  Suzie May arrived in London, and quickly settled in to Camden Town’s thriving music scene. She quickly made friends with local musicians and got a job as a waitress in Dingwalls, one of Camden’s many music venues. After work, Suzie May headed home to the squat she was living in where she wrote songs on a guitar she had bought in a charity shop. All the time, she was determined to form a band and before long, her dream would become a reality.

Two exiled Nottingham musicians, bassist Kevin Green and guitarist Tony Berrington saw the advert in Melody Maker. They couldn’t miss an advert that only said singer “seeking musician with quiffs.” Intrigued, the two former members of the GTs answered the advert. 

Unlike Suzie May, Kevin Green and Tony Berrington were both experienced musicians and the GTs had contributed two tracks to the punk album Raw Deal and after this, they were asked to join The Favourites, which consisted of former members of Plummet Airlines. Then in December 1980, the pair answered Suzie’s advert.

When Suzie May met Kevin Green and Tony Berrington it was a meeting of minds. They had similar musical tastes, including The Beatles, Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, Brill Building pop and Gene Vincent. Given they shared the same musical tastes, the trio decided to form a band. All they needed was a drummer.

This was where Parker Semmons came in. Previously, he had been a drummer in rockabilly bands. Suzie, Kevin and Tony approached Parker and he agreed to come along to a rehearsal. After just one rehearsal, Parker realised this was a band going places. He agreed to join the band which became The Deadbeats. 

Before long, The Deadbeats were playing around London. During this period, The Deadbeats started writing their own material. Suzy was the main songwriter and used the music of her childhood as a basis for her songs. Suzie drew inspiration from an an eclectic range of sources including  everything from sixties girl groups, The Beatles, adverts and jingles. What they each had in common was they were melodic. That was key for Suzie and the rest of The Deadbeats, who were part of London’s burgeoning rockabilly scene.

Although Suzie was the principal songwriter, the rest of The Deadbeats helped shape a new song. They moulded it into shape. Gradually, during practise sessions and concerts, The Deadbeats were honing their sound. They had firm ideas about how their music should sound. That meant when The Deadbeats recorded a demo, they knew what they were trying achieve.

Recording of The Deadbeats’ demo took place at EMI’s Manchester studios. Taking charge of the sessions was former Babe Ruth guitarist Alan Shatlock. For a while, there was talk that The Deadbeats were about to sign for EMI. However, sudden “budget cuts” resulted no contract being forthcoming. It was after this, that drummer Parker Semmons left. Not long after this, The Deadbeats’ luck changed.

Peter Jenner and Blackhill Enterprises approached The Deadbeats about managing the band. As an added incentive, they offered The Deadbeats the chance to record at Workhouse Studios. Tenpole Tudor drummer Gary Long would play drums. The result was The Deadbeats’ first single.

Crazy Hound Dog, Crazy When I Hear That Girl and New Girl were recorded at Workhouse Studios in 1982. Producing the sessions was Laurie Latham. He came up with the idea of giving Crazy Hound Dog a Spector-esque makeover. He was preaching to the converted as The Deadbeats were huge Phil Spector fans and were excited that New Girls would be their homage to their idol.

Unfortunately, New Girls wasn’t released a single, and instead, Crazy Hound Dog was. On the B-side was Crazy When I Hear That Girl. Releasing their debut single should’ve been one of the most exciting periods of The Deadbeats’ career. However, it was and it wasn’t.

For any band, the release of their debut single is a cause for celebration. This was the case for The Deadbeats. The release of Crazy Hound Dog in 1982, was  landmark in The Deadbeats’ career. Unfortunately, not long after the release of Crazy Hound Dog, Blackhill Enterprises became insolvent and went into receivership. It was one step forward and two steps back for The Deadbeats.

Things improved in early 1982. The Deadbeats found the drummer they’d been looking for. This was ex-Meteors drummer Mark Robertson. His addition to The Deadbeats’ lineup proved to be a blessing in disguise.

Not only was he a talented drummer, but a Francophile who could see beyond the White Cliffs of Dover. The country he loved most was France and he spoke fluent French. This came in useful when The Deadbeats met Jiri Smetena, who owned a club in Paris, Le Gibus. He helped organise a lengthy tour of France for The Deadbeats and even better, helped arrange a record deal with Frech record label, New Rose Records. 

Now signed to New Rose Records, The Deadbeats headed to Jackson’s Studio, in Rickmansworth, where they would record ten songs. Nine of the songs were penned by Suzie May. The other was a version of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. It was arranged by The Deadbeats. Producing what became On Tar Beach was Vic Maile, who  previously, had produced The Animals’ single We’ve Got To Get Out of This Place and Motorhead’s 1980 classic album Ace Of Spades. Vic had also worked with Led Zeppelin, The Kinks, Jimi Hendrix, The Small Faces and Eric Clapton. So having Vic produce On Tar Beach, was something of a coup for The Deadbeats.

Especially since Vic’s mixer at Jackson’s Studio was a vintage, all-valve desk. This fitted in with The Deadbeats’ policy of only using vintage instruments. The Deadbeats believed this helped them to recreate an authentic early sixties sound. However, this came at a price. Bassist Kevin Green and guitarist Tony Berrington only played vintage Harmony and Gretsch guitars and basses. Similarly, drummer Mark Robertson used a 1963 Gretsch drum kit. Instruments like those used by The Deadbeats were expensive, particularly instruments in good condition. However, The Deadbeats believed this was important to creating an authentic sixties sound to their as yet, unnamed album.

Having recorded their debut album, the only thing it lacked was a name. Then a friend of Suzy’s, Scurvy D. Bastard just happened to mention that when he grew up in New York in the early sixties, people escaped the oppressive heat by sleeping on the roof. This Scurvy said was spending time “on tar beach.” Straight away, everyone realised this was the perfect title for The Deadbeats’ unnamed album.

On Tar Beach was released in 1985. Originally, On Tar Beach was meant to be released only in France. Then Andy Hurt, a reviewer for Sounds wrote a review. He gave the album five stars. This was the highest accolade any album could receive. However, On Tar Beach wasn’t really promoted in Britain. The only promotion On Tar Beach received was a short promotional film.

Despite this, The Deadbeats ended up supporting The Pogues on a tour of the North of England. Sadly, On Tar Beach wasn’t a commercial success in Britain. Things were very different in Mark Robertson’s beloved France.

Over in France, The Deadbeats were a hugely popular band. Night after night, The Deadbeats played to sold out crowds. This included some of France’s premier venues, including Chez Paulette in Roul, The Rex in Paris and Heartbreak Hotel in Sete. Throughout that 1985 tour, The Deadbeats were winning friends and influencing people coast-to-coast. This translated into record sales and On Tar Beach was New Rose Records’ second biggest selling album. Only The Cramps outsold The Deadbeats. On Tar Beach was a huge success. 

Fall In Love Tonite opens On Tar Beach. Suzie hollers, as the rhythm section provide a sixties-inspired heartbeat. She literally swaggers her way through the lyrics. Surf style guitars reverberate into the distance, as harmonies answer Suzie’s feisty vocal. When all this is combined, the result is a strutting slice of rocky, raunchy music with a vintage sound.

As Crazy When I Hear That Beat unfolds, there are similarities to Dick Dale and the original Batman theme. There’s even a nod to Gene Vincent. Soon, the arrangement is akin to a wall of sound. Key to this wall of sound are the surf guitars. Suzie’s vocal sounds not unlike Debbie Harry. She combines a similar mixture of sass and confidence. Good as Suzie’s vocal is, Tony Berrington’s glorious guitar solo proves show stealer. He sounds as if he was weaned on surf music, as he unleashes a blistering solo and adds the finish touch to this hidden gem. 

Straight away, it’s hard to believe the wistful New Girl wasn’t recorded in 1963.. That’s down to the rhythm section, Tony Berrington’s Shadow-esque guitar and Suzie’s vocals which is full of heartache and hurt. Meanwhile, the bass helps drive the arrangement along. A strummed acoustic guitar is panned left, drums pound and chimes add to the Spector-esque wall of sound. Suzie adds the final touch to this homage to Phil Spector and his early sixties girl groups with her heartbroken vocal.

Bobby shimmers, before the arrangement gallops along. When Suzie’s vocal enters, it’s dramatic, and full of sadness and regret. Gradually, the story unfolds. Drums are at the heart of the galloping arrangement. They’re joined by harmonies, a Hammond organ, surf guitars and chimes. They add a Spector-esque twist to a song that’s full of pain and pathos. It sounds as if it should’ve been recorded by The Shangri-Las or The Ronettes. 

Suzie’s vocal is full of drama on Delilah. No wonder. She’s about to confront her cheating man. The arrangement is jazz-tinged and understated. That’s before it reveals its secrets. Soon, Suzie is accompanied by standup bass, hissing hi-hats and piano. The bass also helps power the arrangement along and later, so does Tony’s searing, chiming crystalline guitar. As usual, it plays an important roll in The Deadbeats’ sound. So do the bass and pounding drums. Together, The Deadbeats join forces to create an atmospheric, dramatic and cinematic backdrop to Suzie’s feisty vocal.

Don’t Tell Joe sees The Deadbeats kick out the jams. Scorching, blistering guitars are responsible for a rockier sound. Suzie’s vocal is edgier. She mixes power, with fear and frustration. Meanwhile, the rhythm section provide the heartbeat. Later, Tony unleashes another guitar masterclass. His scorching solo is spellbinding. The same can be said of Suzie’s vocal. She delivers the lyrics as if she’s lived them. As she does this, a breathy, whispery vocal is panned left and finger clicks are panned right. They’re  finishing touches to this rocky kitchen sink drama.

A quivering guitar sets the scene for Suzie’s dramatic vocal on Sexy Sadie. Soon, The Deadbeats kick loose. The rhythm section lock into a tight groove. A punchy bass is a perfect foil for Tony’s shimmering, surf guitar. He unleashes some blistering licks. Suzie swaggers her way through the track. Sassy harmonies, handclaps and another guitar masterclass provide the perfect accompaniment to Suzie’s vocal.

Stabs of drums and guitar are joined by an organ that provides an authentic sixties sound on When You Dance. Suzie mixes confidence and sass, as the track swings. Again, The Deadbeats sound as if they recorded this track back in the sixties. It’s not just the style of music, but their use of vintage equipment. All this plays its part in a rollicking slice of sixties inspired, hook-laden music.

Never before will you have heard Swan Lake like this. The Deadbeats take what’s a seminal piece of music and give it a rousing makeover. Expect whoops, hollers, twangy, jangling, surf guitars and pounding rhythm section. What follows is a musical roller coaster that you won’t want to get off.

Closing On Tar Beach is Johnny Reb. Here, Suzie sounds not unlike Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders. Jangling guitars join the rhythm section in providing the backdrop for Suzie’s vocal. It’s a mixture of drama, emotion and sadness. Her vocal, like the arrangement, grows in power. Then as if to reinforce the drama and pathos, the tempo slows, before increasing. Later, the arrangement marches along, as it becomes a homage to The Shangri La’s Leader Of The Pack. Drama, emotion and pathos are combined to create a poignant track to close On Tar Beach.

Released in 1985 to critical acclaim, On Tar Beach could’ve been the start of the rise and rise of The Deadbeats. It wasn’t. Instead, 1985s On Tar Beach proved to the only album The Deadbeats recorded. It’s a hidden gem of an album that is a reminder of another era.

On Tar Beach is akin to a love story to the music that inspired The Deadbeats. This was what Suzie May had hoped when she flew from Florida to London. She fuses not just sixtes girl groups like The Ronettes and The Shangri Las with Motown and Merseybeat, but surf music, perfect pop, rockabilly and rock. There’s even a nod towards psychedelia, Blondie, The Stray Cats and The Pretenders. On Tar Beach is a glorious melange of musical influences and genres by one of music’s best kept and most melodic secrets, The Deadbeats.

Cult Classic: The Deadbeats-On Tar Beach.

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PYRAMID PIECES 1:MODAL AND ECO JAZZ FROM AUSTRALIA 1969-1979.

Pyramid Pieces 1: Modal and Eco Jazz From Australia 1969-1979.

Label: Roundtable.

Over the last few years, independent and major record labels have released compilations of American, British, European and Japanese jazz. They’ve focused on everything from bebop and hard bop to modal and modern right through to avant-garde, free and spiritual jazz. It’s been a veritable feast for jazz lovers. However, despite the release of all these lovingly curated compilations there was still, until very recently, one omission…Australian jazz.

For some reason compilers overlooked one of the most important periods in Australian jazz, when the scene was vibrant and thriving, This was between the late-sixties and late-seventies. During this period modern jazz in Australia was flourishing.  

Across the country, many talented and innovative musicians and groups were releasing ambitious albums of modern jazz that was as good, if not better than anything their American, British, European and Japanese counterparts were releasing. These albums should’ve found a wider audience. 

Sadly, the albums failed to find the audience they so richly deserved. There were several reasons for this. Sometimes the bigger record labels didn’t know how to market jazz artists, and other times they failed to support the artist they had signed. Sometimes it was as simple as the record label failing to promote an album properly, and when it was released it sunk without trace. It was a case of what might have been.

That was why some artists thought that there had to be another way? An alternative was to found small, independent labels which specialised in releasing jazz. During the time that modern jazz was flourishing, independent record labels such as Jazznote and Horst Liepolt’s 44 Records were founded. They became part of what was a new, underground movement when modern jazz was thriving between the late-sixties and late-seventies.

The only problem with releasing albums on small, independent record labels was that they often lacked the expertise, budget  and marketing muscle. Often the albums they release were discovered by a small discerning group of jazz connoisseurs. Other times, the album failed the audience it deserved. It was a familiar story. 

Sadly, many of the musicians and groups that were around during this golden era for Australian modern jazz are almost unknown in their own country. The albums they released failed to find an audience and commercial success and critical acclaim eluded them.

Ironically, some of these musicians and groups went on to enjoy successful career in Britain and America. Despite that, they’re largely unknown in Australia. It’s another case of talent not guaranteeing commercial success. Sadly, it only gets an artist so far and often hugely talented artists can release groundbreaking albums that are overlooked for forty or fifty years. 

Sometimes, though, the inclusion of a track on a compilation can relaunch or rejuvenate an artist’s career, or has introduced their music to a new audience. Hopefully, that will be the case with the six artists and groups on a new compilation that has just been released by the Australian label Roundtable. It’s entitled Pyramid Pieces 1: Modal and Eco Jazz From Australia 1969-1979, and takes its title from an infamous Australian jazz composition by the Jazz Co-Op. 

Side One.

Opening side one of Pyramid Pieces 1: Modal and Eco Jazz From Australia 1969-1979 is Jazz Co-Op’s A La Coltrane which is from the group’s 1974 eponymous debut album. It was written by pianist Roger Frampton who had played alongside Don Rendell and Joe Harriott in Britain, before emigrating to Australia. By the time Jazz Co-Op was recorded he was head of jazz studies at Sydney Conservatorium of Music where saxophonist also Howie Smith worked. They were part of what was an important albeit short-lived collective of composers and improvisers which also included a rhythm section of drummer Phil Treloar and bassist Jack Thorncraft. They all play their part in the success of an eight minute modal jazz opus that is a fitting homage a to a giant of jazz, John Coltrane.

Nowadays, Alan Lee is regarded as Australia’s greatest ever jazz vibes’ player. His career began in the sixties, and he was heavily influenced by Milt Jackson. By 1973, he had led several bands and had founded The Alan Lee Quartet who released their  eponymous debut album on the Jazznote label. It features a summery sounding cover of Freddie Hubbard’s spiritual jazz standard Sunflower which showcases the considerable talents of the Quartet and especially its leader Alan Lee. 

During his career, John Sangster had a reputation as a musician who was will to embrace the new and experiment musically. During his career, the bandleader also worked as a session musician. A talented and versatile musician he recorded everything from psychedelia and soundtracks to Musique Concrete. He was also a pioneer of the Australian Eco-Jazz movement, which was influenced by the natural environment and a feature of the recordings is the unusual instrumentation. An example of this is Exploration Of The Sun an unreleased track by The John Sangster Quartet from the 1969 soundtrack Once Around The Sun.

Side Two.

Galapagos Duck were formed in 1969 and named after a Spike Milligan sketch. They were for a time the house band at The Basement, the famous Sydney jazz club. Although they released a number of albums, their finest recording was their 1974  sophomore album The Removalists, which was the soundtrack to the adaptation of playwright David Williamson’s urban crime melodrama. One of its highlights of the soundtrack was the mesmeric Kate Did, which was written by pianist Dave Levy and is played in 6/8 time.

Just like John Sangster, Brian Brown is regarded as a modernist and one of the most progressive Australian jazz musicians of his generations. After recording a cover of Miles Davis’ modal classic Milestones for an EP in 1958, he decided he would only record his own music in the future. That was the case, and in the seventies, Brian Brown was one of he pioneers of Eco-Jazz and one of the first Australian musicians to use synths in jazz music. However, his contribution to this compilation is one own composition Wildflowers which was recorded by The Brian Brown Quintet for their 1979 album Bells Make Me Sing.

Closing Pyramid Pieces 1: Modal and Eco Jazz From Australia 1969-1979 is People Make The World Go Round which was covered by Peter Gaudion’s Blues Express on their 1979 eponymous album.  Philly Soul classic. However, this jazzy remake is full of emotion and beauty and brings something new to what’s a familiar and much  Philly Soul classic made famous by The Stylistics in 1971.

Pyramid Pieces 1: Modal and Eco Jazz From Australia 1969-1979 is a tantalising taste of the various sub-genres of modern jazz that were part of what was a new, exciting and vibrant scene. This included everything from deep spiritual jazz to ‘Eco Jazz, modal and avant-jazz film soundtracks that were popular during this period. 

These sub-genres were part of a scene that was populated by future icons of Australian jazz including John Sangster and Alan Lee, through to the sadly oft-overlooked Jazz Co-op and The Brian Brown Quintet. Their music should’ve been discovered by a much wider audience but sadly, that wasn’t the case. Maybe their inclusion on Pyramid Pieces 1: Modal and Eco Jazz From Australia 1969-1979 will introduce their music to the wider audience and there will be a resurgence of interest in the one of Australian music’s best kept secrets, modernist jazz.

Pyramid Pieces 1: Modal and Eco Jazz From Australia 1969-1979.

CULT CLASSIC: BARIS MANCO-NICK THE CHOPPER

Cult Classic: Barış Manço-Nick The Chopper.

Some twenty-one years after his sudden and tragic death, Barış Manço is still remembered as one of the pioneers of modern Turkish music. His career began in 1958, and continued right up until his death in 1999. 

During his career, Barış Manço was one of the founding fathers of Anatolian rock. He helped popularise this hybrid of Turkish folk and rock. Soon, other artists were following in his footsteps and Anatolian rock’s popularity was growing.

It helped that at the vanguard of this new musical movement was a musician that was a pioneer and was capable of creating ambitious and innovative music. That was the case throughout Barış Manço’s long and illustrious recording career. 

Throughout his career, Barış Manço was a truly prolific artist. That was the case since the early days, when he recorded and collaborated with wide variety of groups and artists including Harmoniler, Jacques Denjean Orchestra, Les Mistigris and Kaygısızlar, Moğollar and Kurtalan Ekspres. However, this was just part of the Barış Manço story.

Barış Manço was also a solo artist, and by 1977 was still to make a commercial breakthrough. When he came to record his sophomore album Nick The Chopper, he thought that this was the last roll of dice for him and the most important album of the thirty-four year old’s career.

 Barış Manço was born in Üsküdar, Istanbul, Turkey on the ‘2nd’ of January 1943, into a musical family. His mother Rikkat Uyanık has been a successful singer, and as she watched her son grow-up, little did she realise that her son would later, follow in her footsteps.

By the time Barış Manço was a pupil at  Galatasaray High School, he founded his first band, Kafadarlar. They mainly played to the students at nearby schools,but this was enough to give Barış Manço a taste of life as a professional music.

When Barış Manço was nineteen, he formed a new band Harmoniler. They accompanied Barış Manço when he recorded his debut single, Twistin USA, which was released in 1962, with Do The Twist following later that year. The third and final single Barış Manço released with Harmoniler was Cit Cit Twist in 1963. These three singles were among the first Anatolian rock releases. Barış Manço was part of a new musical movement. Despite this, after graduating from high school, he decided to spend some time travelling across Europe.

Initially, Barış Manço headed to France, and spent some time in Paris. This was where he recorded a single with the Jacques Denjean Orchestra, Baby Sitter. It was released in 1964, but soon, Barış Manço was on the move again.

He then moved to Liege in Belgium, where enrolled and studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Liège, Belgium. This was where Barış Manço encountered the other members of Les Mistigris. 

Les Mistigris. 

Before long, Barış Manço joined the band, and they released three singles while Barış Manço was a member. The first was Il Arrivera in 1966, with Bien Fait Pour Toi following later that year. A third single Bizim Gibi was released in 1967, and by then, Les Mistigris’ popularity was spreading, and the  band were playing much further afield. 

Les Mistigris  were playing not just in Belgium, but France, Germany and Turkey. However, Barış Manço time with Les Mistigris came to an end in 1967.

Later in 1967, Barış Manço was badly hurt in a car crash. It was then that he decided to grow a moustache to hide a scar. This would eventually become one of his trademarks, and a familiar sight to music fans when commercial success and critical acclaim came his way. Before that, Barış Manço would form a new a new band, Kaygısızlar later in 1967.

Kaygısızlar.

Unlike the last couple of bands Barış Manço had been a member of Kaygısızlar featured just Turkish musicians. During his travels, Barış Manço had worked with musicians from different countries. This hadn’t been easy, given the language barrier. This time, Barış Manço was joined in Kaygısızlar by Mazhar Alanson and Fuat Güner and they spent the next two years together. 

Kaygısızlar’s debut single Kol Düğmeleri was released later in 1967, and was followed in 1968 by Kızılcıklar, Bebek, Karanlıklar İçinde and Bogaziçi. By the end of the 1968, Kaygısızlar’s popularity had grown. They had graduated from playing in venues in Turkey to touring internationally. Barış Manço’s new band had come a long way in a short space of time.

As 1969 dawned, Kaygısızlar released Runaway, and followed this with Aglama Değmez Hayat and Kağızma, which proved to be Kaygısızlar’s swan-song. The story came to an end later in 1969 when Mazhar Alanson and Fuat Güner told Barış Manço that they didn’t want to move, and live abroad. After eight singles, Kaygısızlar were no more. However, as the sixties gave way to the seventies, Barış Manço founded a new band, Barış Manço Ve.

Barış Manço Ve.

The newly founded Barış Manço Ve headed into the studio to record their debut single during early 1970. This multinational group’s debut single was Dağlar Dağlar (Mountains, Mountains!), and when it was released later in 1970, the single sold in excess of 700,000 copies. 

Buoyed by the success of their debut single, Barış Manço Ve released their debut album in 1971 Dünden Bugüne…Alas, which was the only album the band released. Despite the success of Barış Manço Ve, its founder was ready to move on.

Moğollar.

Next stop for Barış Manço was Moğollar, who were one of the pioneers of Anatolian rock. They had been formed in 1967, and were still growing strong when Barış Manço joined in 1971. He features on their 1971 single Bin Boğanın Kızı, but after this, Barış Manço decided to reform Kaygısızlar.

Kaygısızlar.

After reforming, Kaygısızlar only released one more single, Fil ile Kurbağa. It was released in 1972 and after this, the members of Kaygısızlar moved on to new projects. Mazhar Alanson and Fuat Güner went on to form MFÖ. Meanwhile, Barış Manço formed another new band, Kurtalan Ekspres.

Kurtalan Ekspres.

Barış Manço’s latest band wasted no time beginning work on their debut single Ölüm Allah’ın Emri, which was was released in 1972. Little did anyone know that this fusion of Anatolian rock and psychedelia marked the debut single by one of the most innovative and influential Turkish bands of the early seventies. They pioneered Anatolian rock, and took the genre in new directions.

Initially, had Kurtalan Ekspres combined Anatolian rock and psychedelia. By 1973, Anatolian rock was evolving as Kurtalan Ekspres moved the genre towards progressive rock. This became apparent when they released their first single of 1973, Lambaya Püf De. It was followed by Gönül Dağı later that year. Kurtalan Ekspres were musical chameleons, whose music continued to be innovative and influential. 

This continued as Kurtalan Ekspres released two new singles released during 1974. The first was Nazar Eyle, which showcased a folk-tinged sound,wiyh the followup Bir Bahar Akşamı showcasing a psychedelic sound. Each single was different from its predecessor as Kurtalan Ekspres’ music evoked and they ensured that their music stayed relevant. Despite this, commercial success continued to elude Kurtalan Ekspres as 1974 gave way to 1975.

The  last two years had been frustrating for Barış Manço, who had just spent two years in the Turkish military. There was no getting round this as national service was mandatory.

At least Barış Manço’s college education meant that he entered as an officer, which made the two years that bit more bearable. During that period, he was regularly pictured in the Turkish teen magazines in his uniform with his head shorn of his long hair. However, eventually the two years were over and Barış Manço returned home, to continue his musical career.

By then, Barış Manço was thinking about where his career was going? He had experienced commercial success with Barış Manço Ve, and  knew that Kurtalan Ekspres was a talented group, but time was beginning to run out for them. Barış Manço was forty-two in 1975. So he was hoping commercial success was just around the corner. 

Alas, when Kurtalan Ekspres released Ben Bilirim as a single in 1975, the single failed to find an audience. Barış Manço however, had a plan and was ready for one last throw of the dice.

Later in 1975, Kurtalan Ekspres were about to release their debut album. It was a genre-melting concept album where songs rubbed shoulders with instrumentals. This became 2023, which was released in 1975. 2023 with its groundbreaking and futuristic music that was meant to transform the fortunes of Kurtalan Ekspres. Sadly, the only countries where 2023 sold well, were Romania and Morocco with album topping the charts in both countries. Elsewhere, 2023 failed to find the audience it deserved, and for everyone involved it was a frustrating time. 

Especially when Kurtalan Ekspres’ 1976 single Çay Elinden Öteye Rezil Dede failed commercially.By then, Barış Manço’s career was officially at a crossroads.

Barış Manço’s career received a boost when he starred in the movie Baba Bizi Eversene. Buoyed by the success of the movie, he decided to travel to Belgium where he hoped to find a label that would transform his fortunes.

By then, Barış Manço knew that CBS in Belgium had a successful track record and had recently released a string of singles and albums. The man behind the success of CBS in Belgium was Jean Huysmans, who had been involved in music for two decades. He had joined Les Cousins in 1961 and played an important part in the band’s success. That was Jean Huysmans’ past, and by  1976 he was running CBS in Belgium when he met Barış Manço.

Jean Huysmans already knew Barış Manço who was a member of Moğollar when they were signed to CBS in the early seventies. The head of CBS in Belgium also knew that Barış Manço was a hugely talented, versatile and innovative musician. Soon, Jean Huysmans had drawn up a three-year contract which Barış Manço was more than happy to sign. After that, work began on Barış Manço’s sophomore album Nick The Chopper.

Nick The Chopper.

Barış Manço and Jean Huysmans wasted no time, and soon had hired twenty-nine musicians to record Nick The Chopper. This included three drummers, two bassists, two guitarists, two string quartets, two pianos, a nine piece horn section, backing singers Heart Of Soul and Turkish musicians Ohannes Kener and former roadie turned percussionist Cetal Guven. The  band recorded the ten songs that became Nick The Chopper in two Brussels’ studios.

This included Studio Katy and Morgan Studios, Brussels where Jean Huysmans took charge of production on Barış Manço’s sophomore album Nick The Chopper.Barış Manço wrote Little Darlin’ (We’ll Be Kissing), Nick The Chopper and Ride On Miranda. He penned six other songs with various songwriting partners including Jonathan Glemser, who wrote album closer Old Paulin’.

When Barış Manço’s sophomore album was released by CBS in 1976, the title was Barış Manço.It was released as part of series that included Kansas, Phoebe Snow and even Johnny Mathis.Sadly,Barış Manço was the album that failed to find an audience in Belgium.         

Record buyers who didn’t speak Turkish found the lyrics unwieldy. At least exiled Turks were familiar with the melodies. The only problem was that the exiled Turks either wanted heavier sounding songs or folk-tinged songs. Barış Manço had taken as a starting point Anatolian rock, which is a hybrid of Turkish folk and rock and added elements of blues, electronica, folk, funk, progressive rock and psychedelia. The result was a genre-melting album that oozes quality,

From the opening bars of Little Darlin’ (We’ll Be Kissing), through  Lonely Man and Old Paulin’ the versatile, charismatic and talented Barış Manço leads his twenty-nine piece band on  Lucky Road, Emerald Garden and Nick The Chopper, which tells the story of a homeless woodcutter. On each of these songs Barış Manço puts three decades of experience to good use. That is the case on Tell Me Old Man, which gives way to Blue Morning Angel and Lady Of The Seventh Sky which are highlights of the album. It closes with the memorable Ride On Miranda.

Sadly, Nick The Chopper was released  commercial success eluded Barış Manço’s sophomore album. It was a huge disappointment for everyone involved in the project. 

Undeterred, Barış Manço headed home to Turkey where he embarked upon a forty-five date to promote his sophomore album which was retitled Nick The Chopper. The tour was a success until they played in Balikesir, where Kurtalan Ekspres were attacked by right-wing protesters and two band members were hospitalised. Despite this, the tour continued.

In December 1977, Barış Manço played a concert in London, and afterwards was hospitalised. He was diagnosed with a liver infection and had to have a tumour removed. It was a worrying end to a year that had promised much. 

Especially after the release of his genre-melting sophomore album Nick The Chopper which should’ve transformed his career. Sadly, that wasn’t to be and it was case of what might have been. However, forty-four years later and the cult classic Nick The Chopper is a a truly irresistible and heady  musical brew, and one of the hidden gems in Barış Manço’s back-catalogue.

Cult Classic: Barış Manço-Nick The Chopper.

THE LADIES OF TOO SLOW TO DISCO VOLUME 2.

The Ladies Of Too Slow To Disco Volume 2.

Label: How Do You Are?

Ever since the birth of rock ’n’ roll, musical genres have fallen in-and-out of fashion, and what’s popular today can be consigned to the dustbin of musical history tomorrow as tastes change. That happened to everything from psychedelia and progressive rock to disco which suddenly sucked, to the West Coast sound. However, many of these genres made a comeback, just like flares, fishtail parkas and in some places, double denim and desert boots.

Over the last few years, there’s been a resurgence in interest in the West Coast sound which fell from grace in  the late seventies. Before that, the West Coast sound had won over the hearts and minds of record buyers, and provided the soundtrack to much of the seventies. This wasn’t surprising. 

The West Coast sound was slick and full of hooks. Trademarks of the West Coast were clever chord progressions and lush harmonies. This proved to be irresistible combination, and was why across America, radio station playlists were dominated by the West Coast sound. However, like all good things, the success story that was the West Coast sound had to come to an end.

Then around 2014, there was a resurgence in interest in the West Coast sound, and several compilations were released. However, the West Coast sound had been rebranded and was being referred to as Yacht Rock or Vanilla Funk. Nothing it seems is sacred. At least compilers were rediscovering the West Coast sound. This included DJ Supermarkt and the good people at the How Do You Are? label.

They released a new compilation in May 2014, Too Slow To Disco. It was so successful that Too Slow To Disco Volume 2 followed in June 2014. Then there was a new addition to the series when The Ladies Of Too Slow To Disco followed in April 2016. The new addition was a welcome addition to the Too Slow To Disco family, and it was hoped that a followup would soon be released.

Four years later and somewhat belatedly, The Ladies Of Too Slow To Disco Volume 2 has just been released by How Do You Are. It features sixteen tracks from the likes of Terea,  Diane Tell,  Karla Bonoff, Martee Lebous, Kristle Murden,  Janis Siegel, Ullanda McCullough, Nicolette Larson, Elkie Brooks and Holly Near. These tracks tell a much more political story as the latest Ladies Of Too Slow To Disco make their way in a music industry what was still  predominantly a man’s world.

Despite that, many talented singer-songwriters emerged during late-sixties and seventies, and some enjoyed commercial success and critical acclaim. Some of the artists on The Ladies Of Too Slow To Disco Volume 2 were signed to majors, while others were signed to smaller indie labels. Meanwhile, Holly Near and Linda Tillery setup their own labels to release their albums. Just like all the artists on The Ladies Of Too Slow To Disco Volume 2 they were part of the Women’s Music movement and were determined to make their way in what was still a man’s worlds. They played their part in bringing about change and four decades later their music is celebrated and features on The Ladies Of Too Slow To Disco Volume 2.

Opening The Ladies Of Too Slow To Disco Volume 2 is Terea, who will be  familiar face for fans of Leonard Cohen, Sharon Robinson. She had two spells as one of his backing singers and also cowrote, arranged and produced the legendary Canadian singer-songwriter. However, in 1977 Terea released her eponymous debut album Pretty Bird on the Baby Grand label. It was different to most labels.

The albums that labels like Baby Grand released weren’t meant to make a profit. Instead they allowed wealthy investors who set up the company to realise a tax credit in excess of their initial investment. That was as long as the album didn’t make a profit. One way to ensure that didn’t happen was only to press a few copies of the album.

That was why when Terea was released the album sank without trace, and record buyers failed to hear songs of the quality of Pretty Bird. It was written by Sharon Robinson and was produced by Dennis Dreith and John Seiter. Their jazz-tinged arrangement provides the perfect backdrop for Terea’s impassioned vocal as encourages the “Pretty Bird fly to your freedom now.”  It’s a beautiful song and sets the bar high for the rest of the album.

Marti Caine was a British light entertainer who was popular during the seventies and eighties.  Away from acting and comedy, she released five albums. This included  Point of View, which was released in 1981 on BBC Records and failed to find an audience. Part of the problem was an ineffective promotional campaign. That was a great shame as the album featured the sensuous groover meant that music fans  Love The Way You Love Me.

Award-winning singer-songwriter Diane Tell’s career began in the-seventies, and in 1982 she released her Chimères on Polydor. It’s an album of the smoothest AOR and features Mon Amie-E, where the chanteuse from Quebec City delivers a heartfelt and emotive vocal.

In 1977, twenty-five year old Karla Bonoff released her eponymous debut album on Columbia. By then, she had been a songwriter since she was fifteen, and wrote eight of the ten songs on her debut including the ruminative ballad Isn’t It Always Love. When Linda Ronstadt heard the album, she decided to cover three of the songs. This was a huge boost forKarla Bonoff’s career and she went on to write songs for some of the biggest names in music and has enjoyed a successful career.

Another successful songwriter is Chicago-born Frannie Goldie, who contributes  Here I Go Fallin‘ In Love Again to the compilation. It’s taken from the album Frannie which was released on the Portrait label in 1979. From the opening bars of this soulful and funk track Frannie delivers a sultry vocal as she sings of the inevitability of falling in love again. She’s accompanied by a carefully crafted arrangement where tender harmonies, sweeping strings and a stunning saxophone solo play their part in the sound and success of what’s the best track on the compilation.

In 1974, Lonette McKee released her debut album Lonette on Sussex Records. It features The Way I Want To Touch You, which was written by Toni Tennille. The album was produced by Dennis Coffey and Mike Theodore. They’re responsible for a carefully crafted and slick arrangement that is dancefloor friendly, funky and jazz-tinged. This is the perfect backdrop a Lonette McKee’s lovestruck vocal which is the perfect introduction to a truly talented vocalist whose music deserves to be heard by a much wider audience.

Ullanda McCullough’s career began when she was thirteen,  and by the early seventies she was singing on jingles. She graduated to signing backing vocals for everyone from Ashford and Simpson, Carly Simon, Chic, Diana Ross and Luther Vandross. Still,  Ullanda McCullough found time to record three solo albums including her 1981 eponymous album. It features I’ll Just Die where pop, funk and soul combine with disco strings to create a hidden gem of a dance track. 

Nicolette Larson’s contribution to the compilation is a plucky and feisty country soul cover of Marvin Gaye’s Baby, Don’t You Do It. It’s taken from her 1978 album Nicolette, which was her finest hour and also features her best known song Lotta Love.

By 1978, disco was at the peak of its popularity, former Vinegar Joe vocalist Elkie Brooks was signed to A&M Records. A decision was made that she should record an album of disco and soul and she was recorded Live and Learn with an all-star band at the Record Plant, in Los Angeles. One of the highlights of the album was The Rising Cost Of Love where for one night only, Elkie Brooks transformed into a strutting disco diva.

Closing The Ladies Of Too Slow To Disco Volume 2 is Holly Near’s Back Off. This is one of her own compositions from her 1982 album Speed Of Light. Above a slow, smouldering groove where elements of funk, jazz and rock combine, sits a vocal which veers between tender and sassy. It ensures that the compilation ends on a high.

That was only part of the story of The Ladies Of Too Slow To Disco Although I’ve only mentioned eleven of the nineteen track I could’ve picked any of them. That’s how good The Ladies Of Too Slow To Disco Volume 2 is. It’s all killer and no filler thanks to  compiler DJ Supermark’s crate-digging skills. He has  dug deep to find the music on The Ladies Of Too Slow To Disco Volume 2 is.

Singles, album tracks hidden gems and rarities sit side-by-side on The Ladies Of Too Slow To Disco Volume 2. There’s contributions from familiar faces, old friends and new names on this lovingly curated compilation. 

Instead, many are album tracks. This makes a pleasant change. Usually, compilers look no further than singles. However, that isn’t DJ Supermarkt’s modus operandi. Instead, he eschews the obvious for long forgotten album tracks which most people nether know nor remember. They’ll only be remembered by diehard fans. However, that is about to change as a a new generation of music lovers discover the delights of these tracks. The same can be said of the West Coast sound.

The Ladies Of Too Slow To Disco Volume 2 is the latest addition to the series, and the perfect introduction to the West Coast sound. Hopefully The Ladies Of Too Slow To Disco Volume 2 will the start of a voyage of discovery, where newcomers will discovers the delights of the West Coast sound, with its clever chord progressions, lush harmonies and slick, hook-laden sound.

The Ladies Of Too Slow To Disco Volume 2.

CULT CLASSIC: SEA LEVEL-BALL ROOM.

 

Cult Classic: Sea Level-Ball Room.

In 1980, Southern rockers Sea Level released their fifth album Ball Room, which was a new start for the band. They had been signed to Capricorn Records since the release of their eponymous debut album in 1976. After recording four albums for Capricorn Records, Sea Level signed to Clive Davis’ Arista label. This band leader Chuck Leavell hoped was the start of a new and exciting chapter in Sea Level’s career. Much had happened since the band was founded in 1975.

By August 1975, all wasn’t well within The Allman Brothers. It hadn’t been for the last couple of years despite  being at the peak of their popularity. Their last three albums had sold over a million copies and were certified platinum. Meanwhile, they were one of the most successful live bands. They regularly earned over $100,000 a show during their 1974 tour. This allowed The Allman Brothers to hire Led Zeppelin’s private jet Starship, and fly coast-to-coast in style. However, the constant touring was part of the problem,

Several of The Allman Brothers’ had developed serious drug problems. Now that the band had more money than ever, their drug problems began to spiral out of control. This wasn’t the only problem though.

Some members of The Allman Brothers were no longer as close as they once had been. It seemed the friendship had gone from the band. Greg Allman and Dickie Betts had both released successful solo albums during 1974. The following year, three other members of The Allman Brothers decided to form a new band as a side project.

The the band was named We Three by its founding members. They were Jai Johanny Johanson a.k.a. Jaimoe, bassist Lamar Williams and keyboardist, pianist and vocalist Chuck Leavell. When the new band was formed they were keen to stress that We Three would work round The Allman Brothers’ schedule. They were going to be busy between August 1975 and May 1976. 

In August 1975, The Allman Brothers release their sixth album Win, Lose Or Draw in August 1975. When it was released, it didn’t receive the same critical acclaim as previous albums. However, it still reached number five in the US Billboard 200 and was certified gold. By then, the Allman Brothers had headed out on the road and were playing forty-one arena shows. Some nights, the shows were disjointed and lacklustre. It was as if the Allman Brothers were merely going through the motions. This was very different to the band that some nights opened for The Allman Brothers, We Three.

Occasionally, the nascent We Three took to the stage. Those that saw the band play, were impressed by We Three. They were the complete opposite of the Allman Brothers, who some nights, looked as if they were on their last legs.That proved to be the case.

For the Allman Brother, their 1975-1976 tour wasn’t their finest hour. Some nights, they didn’t even bother with a soundcheck. They just headed out on stage and seemed to be going through the motions. The band didn’t play well, and were a shadow of their former selves. What didn’t help was the excessive drug use, bad feeling between the band and death threats.

The bad feeling and death threats stemmed from Greg Allman’s decision to testify in the trial of security man Scooter Herring. This didn’t go down well with the rest of The Allman Brothers. They saw Greg Allman as a snitch. Following the trial, the rest of the band stopped communicating with Greg Allman. Meanwhile, he started to receive death threats. For Greg Allman and the rest of the band, this only made a bad situation worse.

In May 1976, the Allman Brothers returned from their forty-one date tour. By then, the writing was already on the wall. The Allman Brothers split-up. Greg Allman formed the Greg Allman Band; Dickie Betts formed Great Southern while Jaimoe, Lamar Williams and Chuck Leavell decided to continue as Sea Level.

No longer were the three friends playing together as We Three. They had decided to changed the band’s name to Sea Level. This was a result of some wordplay surrounding Chuck Leavell’s name. His family always pronounced their surname as level. Chuck took the first initial from his christian name, and Sea Level were born. The newly named band began honing their sound.

By then, three had become four. Guitarist Jimmy Nails joined Sea Level as the band headed out on tour. Over the next few weeks and months, dedicated themselves to honing and tightening their sound. Some nights, Sea Level experimented, by heading in different directions musicians. Mostly, though, they concentrated on refining, tightening and honing their sound. This paid off, and eventually, they were ready to record an album. 

By then, several record companies were chasing Sea Level’s signature. Eventually, the band settled on Capricorn Records, which had been home to the Allman Brothers. Once the contracts were signed, Sea Level began work on their eponymous debut album.

Sea Level.

For Sea Level’s debut album, Chuck Leavell became the band’s songwriter-in-chief. He wrote five of the eight songs. The other three tracks were covers of Edward Hoerner’s Shake A Leg, Neil Larsen’s Grand Larceny and the traditional song Scarborough Fair. These songs were recorded with one of the most successful producers of the seventies, Stewart Levine.

Recording took place at Capricorn Sound Studios, in Macon, Georgia. This was familiar territory for the three members of Sea Level, as The Allman Brothers had recorded at Capricorn Sound Studios. To augment Sea Level, guitarist Jimmy Nails and a horn section were brought onboard. Meanwhile, Sam Whiteside engineered the sessions. They progressed smoothy, with Sea Level combining Southern Rock and jazz funk. Once Sea Level was complete, it was ready for release on Capricorn Records later in 1976.

Before that, critics had their say on Sea Level’s eponymous debut album. Sea Level was well received by critics, who complimented the nascent band on their debut album. Despite the reviews, Sea Level failed to make an impression on the charts. Despite this, Sea Level decided to expand for their sophomore album, Cats On The Coast.

Cats On The Coast. 

Shortly after the release of Sea Level became a sextet when drummer and percussionist George Weaver joined, which allowed  Jaimoe to switch to congas. The other two newcomers were guitarist Davis Causey and keyboardist, saxophonist and vocalist Randall Bramblett. This newly expanded lineup began working on their sophomore album, Cats On The Coast.

This time round, Chuck Leavell wrote just two of eights songs, Storm Warning and Song For Amy. Davis Causey wrote  Cats On The Coast and cowrote That’s Your Secret with Randall Bramblett. He penned Every Little Thing and also cowrote Had To Fall with Jimmy Nalls and Lamar Williams. The other two songs were cover versions, including Neil Larson’s Midnight Pass and Hurts to Want It So Bad which Charles Feldman, Tim Smith and Steve Smith penned. Just like their debut album, Sea Level returned to Capricorn Sound Studios.

At Capricorn Sound Studios, producer Stewart Levine and engineer Sam Whiteside began work with the newly expanded Sea Level. Other sessions took place in Los Angeles, at Hollywood Sound Recorders. Gradually, Cats On The Coast began to take shape and eventually was completed.

Cats On The Coast was scheduled for released later in 1977. Before that, critics had their say on Sea Level’s sophomore album. It found Sea Level switching between Southern Rock and fusion. While the album found favour with critics, Cats On The Coast passed record buyers by.While the album failed to chart, the lead single That’s Your Secret reached fifty in the US Billboard 100. It was a small crumb of comfort for Sea Level.

They had released two albums, but neither had come close to troubling the charts. It was frustrating for Sea Level. They knew that there was nothing wrong with the music. Instead, it was a case of the wrong albums at the wrong time. Southern Rock was no longer as popular as it had once been. Many Southern Rock bands weren’t enjoy the success they once had. For a new band like Sea Level, trying to make a breakthrough was doubly difficult. So much so, that two members of Sea Level decided to leave the band just before work began on their third album, On The Edge.

On The Edge.

Exiting stage left were Jaimoe and George Weaver. This left Sea Level without a drummer. However, George Weaver was recruited and Sea Level continued as a sextet.

Just like Cats On The Coast, several members of Sea Level contributed songs to On The Edge. Chuck Leavell wrote A Lotta Colada and Uptown Downtown, and penned On The Wing with Lamar Williams. Jimmy Nails wrote Fifty-Four while Randall Bramblett contributed This Could Be The Worst and Electron Cold. He wrote King Grand with Davis Causey. The two men also wrote Living In A Dream with Arch Pearson. These eights songs would become On The Edge.

Just like their two previous albums, On The Edge was recorded at Capricorn Sound Studios, with producer Stewart Levine and engineer Sam Whiteside. This was the third lineup of Sea Level they had worked with. However, they were all experienced musicians, and the recording sessions went to plan. Some additional sessions took place at The Hit Factory, in New York. After that, On The Edge was ready for release later in 1978.

Prior to the release, critics received their advance copies of On The Edge. They discovered an album where Sea Level switched between and combined elements of Southern Rock, fusion and jazz-funk. It was a slick, accomplished and well produced band that featured a tight and talented band. Praise and plaudits preceded the release of On The Edge, but despite this, the album failed commercially and didn’t come close to troubling the charts. For Sea Level, it was yet another disappointment.  

Long Walk On A Short Pier.

Despite the commercial failure of On The Edge, Sea Level weren’t about to give up. They began work on their fourth album Long Walk On A Short Pier. 

Chuck Leavell wrote two new songs for Long Walk On A Short Pier, Tear Down This Wall and Just A Touch. Lamar Williams penned Just A Touch, while  Jimmy Nails wrote Twenty Miles From Nowhere and penned A Two ’n’ Two with Davis Causey. He contributed Canine Man and Thirsty, and then wrote Morning Light with Randall Bramblett. The other song was a cover of the Weaver-Walker composition Too Many Broken Hearts. With the material for Long Walk On A Short Pier complete, Sea Level made the journey to Macon, Georgia. They were joined by a new band member percussionist and conga player David Earle Johnson.

When Sea Level arrived at Capricorn Sound Studios, nothing seemed to have changed. The studio looked the same as ever. However, this time, Sea Level were going to co-produce Long Walk On A Short Pier with engineer turned producer Sam Whiteside. He had engineered Sea Level’s three previous albums, so knew how the band worked.  Sam Whiteside had served his apprenticeship and was ready to step out of Stewart Levine’s shadow.

Despite his promotion to co-producer, Sam Whiteside  still engineered Long Walk On A Short Pier. He brought David Pinkston onboard, to assist him with his engineering duties. They watched on as Sea Level switched between Southern Rock and fusion on Long Walk On A Short Pier. The music seemed to flow through Sea Level and  gradually,  Long Walk On A Short Pier began to take shape and the album was almost complete.

All that recorded was for a horn section to be overdubbed at Sea Saint Studio, in New Orleans. Then Long Walk On A Short Pier would be ready for release by Capricorn Records.

Little did Sea Level know that all wasn’t well at Capricorn Records. The label was teetering on the verge of insolvency as promotional copies of Long Walk On A Short Pier were sent out. Sea Level were totally unaware of this. 

When reviews of Long Walk On A Short Pier were published, critics were impressed by Sea Level’s fourth album. Just like their previous album, Sea Level flitted between Southern Rock and fusion on Long Walk On A Short Pier. It was another accomplished album from Sea Level. Maybe it would’ve been the album that transformed their fortunes?

It wasn’t to be. Just as Long Walk On A Short Pier was released, Capricorn Records went out of business. They were insolvent and had no option but to file for bankruptcy. For Sea Level, this was a disaster. Their fourth album was dead in the water. 

Copies of Long Walk On A Short Pier made it as far as distributors. That was as far as they got. Later, it became apparent that a few copies of Long Walk On A Short Pier made it into circulation. However, it wasn’t until 1998 that Long Walk On A Short Pier was heard by the wider record buying public.

After Capricorn Records filed for bankruptcy, the future looked bleak for Sea Level. They had recorded an album that was never released properly. That cost the band time and money. They could’ve been touring, as Sea Level were still a popular draw on the live circuit. All the time, expense and effort that went into recording Long Walk On A Short Pier had been for nothing. Now they were left with no recording contract. Despite this, Sea Level decided to record a new album with producer Sam Whiteside, Ball Room.

Ball Room.

Having made the decision to continue, there was a change in Sea Level’s lineup. Percussionist and conga player David Earle Johnson left the band. He was replaced by percussionist Matt Greeley, who was about to make his recording debut.

Before that, the members of Sea Level began work on writing their fifth album. Chuck Leavell wrote Anxiously Awaiting and Don’t Want To Be Wrong, while Lamar Williams contributed Struttin’. Randall Bramblett penned Wild Side, School Teacher, Comfort Range and Brandstand. He also wrote We Will Wait and You Mean So Much To Me with Davis Causey. These nine songs would become Ball Room, which was recorded at two studios.

For the first time since Sea Level were founded, they weren’t heading to Capricorn Recording Studios to record an album. Instead, Ball Room was recorded at Axis Sound Studio and Web IV Studios. Engineer Sam Whiteside co-produced Ball Room with Sea Level. They put their considerable talents were put to good use on Ball Room. Onlookers witnessed Sea Level in full flight, with Chuck Leavell and Randall Bramblett sharing lead vocals. Once Ball Room was complete, Sea Level started shopping the album to record labels.

Eventually, it was Clive Davis’ Arista Recorsd that expressed an interest in signing Sea Level. Clive Davis was the man with the Midas touch. He had transformed the career of countless artists and groups. Sea Level were hoping he could do the same for them. So they signed on the dotted line, and hoped that Clive Davis would work his magic.

Later in 1980, Ball Room was scheduled for release by Arista. After five albums, they were at last, signed to a label with the financial muscle and expertise to get behind Sea Level’s fifth album Ball Room. Arista Records go to work on promoting Ball Room.

Critics who were sent copies of Ball Room found Sea Level at the top of their game. The Southern Rock of Wild Side opened Ball Room, and set the bar high. Sea Level then kick loose on the anthemic bar room rock of School Teacher. Then there’s a drop in tempo on Comfort Range. It’s a mid-tempo, cinematic rocker that features one of Randall Bramblett’s best vocals as he brings the lyrics to life, so much so that it’s possible to imagine the song’s protagonist as they live life on the edge. Anxiously Awaiting shows another side of Sea Level, as they drop the tempo on this rocky, ruminative and timeless ballad. After that, it’s all change.

Struttin’ is an instrumental, where Sea Level enjoy the opportunity to stretch their legs and showcase their talent and versatility as they fuse rock, jazz and funk. The tempo drops on We Will Wait, a quite beautiful, dreamy and atmospheric song. It features Sea Level at their best and most inventive, as they combine elements of rock and jazz. You Mean So Much To Me is a heartfelt pean, with a languid groove. There’s a nod to Hall and Oates, as pop, rock and jazz combine seamlessly. Don’t Want To Be Wrong is an uptempo and rocky love song where Chuck Leavell takes charge of the lead vocal, while  Randall Bramblett adds alto saxophone. This proves a potent partnership. Then one of Sea Level’s finest ballads Bandstand, closes Ball Room. It was, without, doubt, one of the best albums of Sea Level’s five album career.

When Ball Room was released, it followed in the footsteps of their previous albums, and failed to chart. For Sea Level this was a disaster. Things got worse when the lead single School Teacher never came close to troubling the charts. Sea Level were at a crossroads.

As 1981 dawned, Sea Level realised that after five years and five albums, they were no further on. Sea Level had nothing to show for fives years of recording and touring. All that hard work had been for nothing. Part of the problem was Sea Level released their albums at the wrong time.

If Sea Level’s five albums had been released earlier in the seventies, when Southern Rock was at the peak of its popularity then things would’ve been very different. Realising that music was changing, Sea Level tried to move away from their Southern Rock roots.

While Southern Rock featured on each of their albums, Sea Level’s first four albums headed in the direction of fusion, jazz-funk and even blues and rock. Then on Ball Room, Sea Level flit between Southern Rock to jazz, funk, pop and rock. They’re even transformed into a bar room band on School Teacher. It’s part of what was one of Sea Level’s most eclectic and best albums. Sadly, commercial success eluded Ball Room, which nowadays is an oft-overlooked hidden gem. Ball Room was Sea Level’s swan-song. They decided to call time on the band. There was only one problem.

Over the last five years, Sea Level had run up some debts. They were in the red and the time came to settle their debuts. Sea Level had to embark on one more tour. When the venues were finalised, it was apparent that Sea Level were going to be playing mostly dive bars. Many of them were situated in low rent shopping centres. Realising this, Sea Level decided to call the tour the Shopping Centre Tour. That was the last laugh Sea Level enjoyed.

The Shopping Centre Tour was a soul-destroying experience for Sea Level. They played dive bars and slept in the cheapest motels they could find. It was a miserable experience. Especially as Sea Level were only receiving expenses. Eventually, the tour was over and the band were free of their debts. That was the last time Sea Level played together as a band.

They had been together seven eventful years, and released five albums that showcase a truly talented band. Sadly, the five albums Sea Level released failed to find an audience. It’s only now that Sea Level’s albums are starting to find a wider audience. One of their finest albums was Ball Room, which is an oft-overlooked hidden gem that features Sea Level in full flight and their inventive best.

Cult Classic: Sea Level-Ball Room.

THE BLUE NILE-HIGH

The Blue Nile-High.

 Label: Confetti Records.

Format: 2 CD Set.

Release Date: ‘5th’ June 2020.

Enigmatic, reluctant and contrarian are words that best of describe The Blue Nile. They’re the complete opposite of most bands. The Blue Nile have been described as publicity shy. That’ is an understatement. Ever since Paul Buchanan, Robert Bell and Paul Joseph Moore formed The Blue Nile, they’ve been one of the most low-profile bands in musical history. It seems that when they were formed thirty-nine years ago, The Blue Nile ticked the “no publicity” box. This has proved a double-edged sword, and resulted in The Blue Nile becoming one of the most enigmatic groups ever. Their story began thirty-nine years ago. 

The Blue Nile were formed in 1981, when two friends Paul Buchanan and Robert Bell, met Paul Joseph Moore, all of whom met at Glasgow University. Before forming The Blue Nile, Buchanan and Bell were previously members of a band called Night By Night. Try as they may, a recording contract eluded them. Night By Night’s music  wasn’t deemed commercial enough. So Paul, Robert and P.J. decided to form a new band, The Blue Nile.

Once The Blue Nile were formed, they set up their own record label Peppermint Records. It was on Peppermint Records that they released their debut single, I Love This Life. This single was then picked up and rereleased on the RSO label. Unfortunately for the Blue Nile, RSO became part of the Polygram label and I Love This Life disappeared without trace. Despite this setback, The Blue Nile persisted.

Still, The Blue Nile kept writing and recording material after the merger of RSO with Polygram. Some of that material would later be found on A Walk Across the Rooftops. That was in the future.

Recording of The Blue Nile’s demos took place at Castlesound studio near Edinburgh. That’s home to the man whose often referred to as the fourth member of The Blue Nile, recording engineer Calum Malcolm. He was listening to recently recorded demos through the studio’s Linn Electronics system. It had recently had a new set of speakers fitted. So the company founder, Ivor Tiefenbrun, decided to visit Calum Malcolm to hear his thoughts on the speakers. That’s when Ivor Tiefenbrun first heard The Blue Nile. 

Calum Malcolm played Ivor Tiefenbrun a demo of Tinseltown In The Rain. Straight away, the founder of Linn was hooked. He decided to offer The Blue Nile a record contract to the label he was in the process of founding. Most bands would’ve jumped at the opportunity. Not The Blue Nile.

It took The Blue Nile nine months before they replied to Ivor Tiefenbrun’s offer. When they did, the answer was yes. The Blue Nile’s debut album A Walk Across The Rooftops would be released on Ivor Tiefenbrun’s new label Linn Reords.

A Walk Across the Rooftops.

Linn Records and The Blue Nile seemed a marriage made in musical heaven. Linn Records weren’t like a major label, pressurising The Blue Nile into making a decision and delivering an album within a certain timeframe. Instead, Linn Records allowed The Blue Nile to do what they did best, make music. From the outside, this looked as if it was working, and working well.

Years later, Paul Buchanan commented that during Linn Records didn’t operate like a record label. Mind you, he conceded that, during this period, The Blue Nile didn’t operate as a band. However, eventually, in May 1984 The Blue Nile’s debut album was released on Linn Records.

On the release of A Walk Across the Rooftops, it was released to critical acclaim. Critics described the album as a minor classic. A Walk Across the Rooftops was described as atmospheric, ethereal, evocative, soulful and soul-baring. It also featured the vocals of troubled troubadour Paul Buchanan. Despite the critical acclaim A Walk Across the Rooftops enjoyed, it wasn’t a huge commercial success, reaching just number eighty in the UK. However, since the A Walk Across the Rooftops has been recognised as a classic album. So has the followup Hats.

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Hats.

Unlike most bands, The Blue Nile weren’t in any rush to release their sophomore album Hats. There was a five year gap between A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats. It was worth the wait. The Blue Nile had done it again. Hats was a classic. 

Featuring seven tracks, written by Paul Buchanan, Glasgow’s answer to Frank Sinatra He’s a tortured troubadour, whose voice sounds as if he’s lived a thousand lives. Producing Hats was a group effort, with Paul, Robert and P.J. taking charge of production duties. Guiding them, was Callum Malcolm. On the release of Hats, British and American audiences proved more discerning and appreciative of The Blue Nile’s sophomore album Hats.

On the release of Hats in the UK in 1989, it was critically acclaimed and commercial success, reaching number twelve in the UK. Then when it was released in America in 1990, audiences seemed to “get” Hats. Not only did it reach number 108 in the US Billboard 200 Charts, but The Downtown Lights reached number ten in the US Modern Rock Tracks charts. It seemed that The Blue Nile were more popular in America, than in Britain. Gradually, The Blue Nile’s music was beginning to find a wider and more appreciative album. Especially when they decided to embark upon their debut tour later in 1989.

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Although The Blue Nile were formed in 1981, and Hats was The Blue Nile’s sophomore album, the band had never toured. Partly, The Blue Nile seemed worried about replicating the sound of their first two albums. They needn’t have worried, with The Blue Nile seamlessly replicating the sonic perfection of A Walk Across The Rooftops and Hats on the sold out tour. The Blue Nile’s star was in the ascendancy.

Their first ever tour had been a huge success. The Blue Nile had conquered Britain. However, The Blue Nile had also made a breakthrough in America. Hats had sold well, and their American tour had been successful. Most bands would’ve been keen to build on this and released another album before long. Not The Blue Nile.

Seven long years passed, where Blue Nile fans wondered what had become of Glasgow’s most enigmatic trio. However, they’d been busy. After Hats found its way onto American radio stations, The Blue Nile, who previously, had been one of music’s best kept secrets, were heard by a number of prestigious musicians. Among them were Robbie Robertson and Annie Lennox, Michael McDonald. After a decade struggling to get their music heard, The Blue Nile were big news. During this period, America would become like a second home to The Blue Nile, especially Paul.

Paul took to life in America, and in 1991, decided to make it his home. This just so happened to coincide with Paul’s relationship with actress Rosanna Arquette between 1991 and 1993. Hollywood starlets and Sunset Boulevard was a long way from Glasgow’s West End. In the midst of Paul’s relationship, disaster struck for The Blue Nile, they were dropped by their label.

Linn Records and Virgin decided to drop The Blue Nile. For some groups this would’ve been a disaster. Not for The Blue Nile. 

They signed a million Dollar deal with Warner Bros. While this sounded like the ideal solution for The Blue Nile, Paul made the deal without telling  P.J and Robert. He later explained that “none of the others were in town at the time.” With a new contract signed,  The Blue Nile began thinking about their third album, Peace At Last.

Peace At Last.

So the band started looking for the perfect location to record their third album. They travelled across Europe looking for the right location. This location had to be private and suit their portable recording studio. Cities were suggested, considered and rejected. Among them, were Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Venice. Being  The Blue Nile, things were never simple. Eventually, after much contemplation The Blue Nile ended up recording what became Peace At Last in three locations, Paris, Dublin and Los Angeles. For the first time, The Blue Nile recorded an album outside of their native Scotland.

For their first album for a major label, things began to change for The Blue Nile. They brought onboard drummer Nigel Thomas, a string section and a gospel choir. Peace At Last was going to be a quite different album to A Walk Across The Rooftops and Hats. However, one things stayed the same, The Blue Nile continued to work with Calum Malcolm. With his help, Peace At Last was ready for release in June 1996. Before that, critics had their say.

Critics remarked upon the change of sound on Peace At Last. It had a much more understated, restrained sound. Acoustic guitars and piano play important parts. Still, The Blue Nile’s beloved synths remain. Occasionally, The Blue Nile add strings. There’s even a gospel choir on Happiness. Gone was the sound of A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats. Peace At Last showed a different side to The Blue Nile and their music, one that divided the opinion of critics and fans. Paul, Robert and P.J. were back, but it was a different sound. One constant was Paul’s worldweary vocal. Glasgow’s very own Frank Sinatra, Paul Buchanan plays the role of the troubled troubadour, to a tee on songs about  love, love lost, betrayal, heartbreak, growing up and growling old. Paul was still the tortured soul, who wore his heart on his sleeve on Peace At Last.

On the release of Peace At Last, in June 1996, it reached just number thirteen and sold poorly. For The Blue Nile this was disappointing, given it was their major label debut. Worse was to come when the lead single Happiness failed to chart. The Blue Nile’s major label debut hadn’t gone to plan. Alas, Peace At Last was the only album The Blue Nile released on a major label.

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High.

Following Peace At Last, it was eight years before The Blue Nile released another album. High was released in 2004. During the last eight years, the three members of The Blue Nile had been leading separate lives.  P.J. and Robert were content  with their lives in the West End of Glasgow, while Paul had been spending his time between Glasgow and Hollywood. Now they were back and ready to record their fourth album, High. 

Once High was recorded, all that was left was for The Blue Nile to find a label to release the album. The Blue Nile had been dropped by Warner Bros. So with the completed album, The Blue Nile shopped High to various labels. Eventually, they settled on Sanctuary, which would release High in August 2004. However, before that, critics welcomed back The Blue Nille.

Eight years after the release of Peace At Last, critics remarked that High was a much more grownup album. Songs of family life and heartbreak sat side-by-side. Paul who had been suffering with illness and fatigue, seemed to have found a new lease of life. His lyrics are emotional, observational, cinematic and rich in imagery. They’re also poignant, and full hope, hurt and anguish. Meanwhile, Paul’s vocals were worldweary and knowing, while the music is emotive, ethereal and evocative. Critics love High. So did music lovers.

When High in August 2004, the album reached number ten in the UK. High proved to be The Blue Nile most successful album. This proved to be fitting.

Disc One.

Opening High is The Days Of Our Lives. Stabs of hypnotic, melancholy keyboards are repeated throughout the track. They provide the backdrop to Paul’s worldweary vocal. Soon, washes of synths, swathes of string and the occasional bursts of funky bass can be heard. Later, drums crack, adding to the drama, while Paul’s vocal is wistful and full of pathos. Just like he’s done so often, he makes the lyrics come alive, as he looks backwards at the past. This proves fitting, as High was their swan-song. 

I Would Never was the first released from High. It has an understated, lush arrangement. That comes courtesy of washes of crystalline synths, acoustic guitar and pulsating bass. Then there’s Paul’s vocal. Glasgow’s troubled troubadour delivers a heartfelt vocal as he assures his partner “I Would Never turn my back on.” Quite simply, this is a beautiful ballad from a grown up Blue Nile.

Broken Loves opens with Paul’s half-spoken vocal accompanied by stabs of urgent keyboards. Frustration and emotion fill his voice as it grows in power and despair. The despair is caused by a relationship that’s all but over. This results in some soul searching from Paul. He paints pictures, reminiscing about their pasts. Memories from childhood seem to trigger an outpouring of emotion. His vocal becomes needy, and he’s determined they don’t give up on their relationship. Dramatic, emotive and heartbreaking, it’s an evocative description of a relationship gone wrong. 

Just a lone acoustic guitar opens Because Of Toledo, as Paul delivers a worldweary vocal. Heartbroken and despondent, his life’s lost meaning and direction, because his relationship has ended. Again, Paul makes the lyrics come to life. They take on a cinematic quality. Soon, pictures unfold before your eyes, a heartbroken Paul sitting despondent, in the motel he sings about during this heartbreakingly beautiful breakup song.

Ethereal describes the introduction of She Saw The World. That’s before the tempo and drama increases. Driven along by drums, keyboards and washes of synths Paul delivers an urgent emotive vocal. Memories come flooding back as he reminisces about two people who drifted apart. Sadness fills his voice as he sings: “ She Saw The World and wanted it all.” Paul he remembers what he once had and lost. Oozing emotion, Paul’s lived-in, weary vocal and one of the best arrangements on High, result in one of the album’s many highlights.

Washes of synths shimmer, while a lone piano provides a contrast as High unfolds. Paul’s vocal is tender, but with a sense of resignation at the relationship that’s gone wrong. A drum machine provides the heartbeat as Paul’s vocal becomes a cathartic outpouring of emotion. Mixing power, passion and drama Paul lays bare his weary soul for all to hear.

As Soul Boy unfolds, drums crack and are matched by a pulsating bass and meandering guitar. Paul’s vocal is tender and needy. He delivers the some of the best lyrics on High. This includes: “let me be the one, there’s been no other one, trusted and true, for so long…I just want to be loved by you.” With an arrangement that’s reminiscent of vintage Blue Nile and Paul’s needy, seductive, vocal this is The Blue Nile back to their best.

Everybody Else is quite different from the previous track. It shows The Blue Nile are determined their music stays relevant. It’s an uptempo track that’s the nearest thing to a dance track The Blue Nile produced. Paul’s vocal is accompanied by swathes of sweeping strings, pounding bass and hypnotic drums. He’s plays the role troubled troubadour to perfection, as The Blue Nile demonstrate another side to their music, on a track that’s not short of poppy hooks.

Stay Close closes High and sadly, the recording career of The Blue Nile. The tempo is dropped, a drum machine, crystalline guitar and washes of synths providing a melancholy backdrop for Paul’s vocal. He’s saved the best to last. It’s as if he knew this was farewell. Digging deep, he unleashes a soul-baring Magnus Opus. His vocal is needy as he pleads, “Stay Close to me.” However, he knows though, “you’ll go your own way.” You’re drawn into this scenario, feel and share Paul’s pain and heartache. He’s not giving up though, and delivers a heartachingly beautiful vocal on this heartbreaking paean. What a way for The Blue Nile to call time on their recording career?

Side Two.

While High marked the end of The Blue Nile story, there was still unreleased tracks in the vaults. This included remixes, live tracks, alternate takes and even some unrleased songs. Most bands would’ve been making the most of this musical treasure chest and releasing the usual ‘Best Of’, a live album and box set. However, The Blue Nile are not most bands.

Sadly, there’s been no box set nor live album. Even a best of would’ve been welcomed during this latest musical drought. And it’s taken twenty-four years to reissue High, which completes the set. The reissue of High is sure to quench the thirst of fans of Scotland’s finest group of the past forty years. 

Those who settled on the recently reissued CD version of High would be pleased to see a second disc with six bonus  tracks. It opens with the cinematic ballad Wasted, which stylistically draws inspiration from The Blue Nile’s first three albums. 

This is followed by remixes of including The Days Of Our Lives and the one of High’s highlights She Saw The World. It finds Paul Buchanan laying bare his soul as he delivers a cathartic confessional on this tale of love and love lost. 

He’s in troubled troubadour mode on I, which is a hidden gem from The Blue Nile’s vaults and is a welcome addition to the reissue. The tempo rises on Big Twin where Paul Buchanan vamps his way through the lyrics.

It’s a case of saving the best until last with Here Come The Bluebirds. An acoustic guitar is strummed as Paul Buchanan tenderly sings: It’s you and I, against the world” before strings sweep as he paints pictures with the lyrics. Later, a church bell rings and harmonies soar during this heartachingly beautiful ballad that is the perfect way for The Blue Nile to say goodbye.

Although The Blue Nile only recorded four albums in a twenty year period, it’s the quality of music that matters. These four albums were almost flawless. Certainly A Walk Across The Rooftop and Hats are classics, while Peace At Last is probably the most underrated album in The Blue Nile’s back-catalogue. That brings us to High. 

Having not released an album for eight years. During that period, The Blue Nile had been living separate lives. P.J. and Robert were living in the West End of Glasgow, while Paul lived a nomadic existence, flitting between Hollywood, Europe and Glasgow. He’d been involved in some high profile relationships, and by 2004, just when everyone thought The Blue Nile were no more, they rose like a phoenix from the ashes. They didn’t even have a record deal, so agreed a deal with Sanctuary Records to release High. It proved to be the most successful album of their career.

During the time they’d been away, The Blue Nile had matured as a band. Some people said they’d grownup. What had happened was life. Having been outside the bubble that was Blue Nile, P.J. and Robert had to get on with life. The Blue Nile was on a hiatus, maybe a permanent one. As for Paul, he was leading a very different life. This gave him the material for High. 

On the nine songs that comprise High, you’re drawn into the album’s lush, atmospheric sound. Having captured your attention, The Blue Nile don’t let go. Before long, the listener has fallen in love. They fall in love with music that’s hauntingly beautiful, emotive, dramatic and pensive. Much of this is thanks to peerless vocal performances of Glasgow’s very own Frank Sinatra, Paul Buchanan. He plays the role of the troubled troubadour, to a tee. His worldweary, emotive, heartfelt and impassioned vocal sounds as if it’s lived the lyrics he’s singing about. Lived them not just once, but several times over. Paul’s vocal adds soulfulness to an album that references Brian Eno, Kraftwerk, Tim Buckley, classic soul and seventies funk. The result is a compelling, innovative album, High. 

After High, people thought that The Blue Nile would return, possibly after another lengthy break. Sadly, that wasn’t to be. The Blue Nile were no more.

At least they did things their way. Right up until the release of High, The Blue Nile were enigmatic, almost reclusive and publicity shy. The Blue Nile weren’t exactly your normal band. Not for them the rock “n” roll lifestyle favoured by other bands. In many ways, musical fashions and fads didn’t affect them. Their attitude was almost contrarian. Albums were recorded slowly and methodically as The Blue Nile strived for musical perfection. This wasn’t a group willing to jump onto a musical bandwagon in pursuit of fame, fortune or starlets. Quite the opposite. It seemed to be their way or no way in the pursuit of musical perfection. The Blue Nile achieved that perfection four times, and ended their career on a High.

The Blue Nile-High.

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JOHN LEE HOOKER-DOCUMENTING THE SENSATION RECORDINGS 1948-52.

John Lee Hooker-Documenting The Sensation Recordings 1948-52.

Label: Ace Records.

In 1946, Detroit-based Bernard Besman joined forces with accountant John Kaplan and bought Pan American Record Distributing. Later that year, they also founded Sensation Records which they named after a local nightclub, the Sensation Lounge. The next step was to sign some of the best local musicians.

This was Bernard Besman responsibility as he in charge of A&R, while his business partner looked after the finances. Soon, the nascent label had signed Milt Jackson, Russell Jacquet, The Harmonicats, TJ Fowler and Todd Rhodes, and had recorded sessions by singers Connie Allen and LaVern Baker. By then, Sensation Records had signed a distribution deal with King Records. This was just the start.

Towards the end of 1948, Bernard Besman heard a demo by a local blues musician John Lee Hooker, and realising his potential ranged what was his first recording session. He was sent into the recording studio with engineer Joe Siracuse to record a solo version of Boogie Chillen’.

The only problem was the studio they used was very basic, and when they ran through the track Bernard Besman and Joe Siracuse realised that they John Lee Hooker had to produce a stronger sound. They had no amplifier so had to improvise. This involved putting a microphone onto the guitar, and then putting a speaker in a toilet bowl with a microphone underneath it. The theory was that the sound would bounce off the water, and create the echo effect Bernard Besman wanted. When John Lee Hooker played, the sound went back into the speaker where it was picked up along with the vocal. Meanwhile, they had played a board under the bluesman’s foot and placed a microphone under it to capture the sound of him tapping his foot. It was a case of make do and mend, but Boogie Chillen’ was successful.

After the recording session in September 1948, Bernard Besman realised that Boogie Chillen’ had potential and decided to lease  the song to a bigger label. He chose Modern Records to release and distribute Boogie Chillen’ This proved profitable for Sensation Records and Bernard Besman as received a cowriter’s credit for all the singles he released on the label. 

All of these singles feature on a new three CD set released by Ace Records, Documenting The Sensation Recordings 1948-52. The singles are only part of the story, as there’s alternate takes and extended versions. In total, there’s seventy-one tracks on the three discs. This includes five alternate takes and the original version of Boogie Chillen’, plus an alternate take of the B-Side Sally Mae. They’re part of the definitive overview of John Lee Hooker’s Sensation Records’ years.

When Boogie Chillen’ was released in November 1948, Sally Mae was on the B-Side. Listeners on hearing the single were struck by its primitive sound, the driving guitar that inspired so many musicians and a dark, ponderous sounding vocal from John Lee Hooker who is in a reflective mood on what was his debut single. It struck a never with record buyers, selling over a million copies and launching John Lee Hooker’s career. 

For the followup, Hobo Blues was chosen, and an alternate track is included in this compilation. So is the B-Side Hoogie Boogie. When the single was released in 1949, it reached number five in the US R&B charts and gave John Lee Hooker his second hit single.

Two became three later in 1949, when he released Crawling King Snake as a single, with Drifting From Door Oo Door on the B-Side. It reached number six in the US R&B charts. This John Lee Hooker classic and the flip-side both feature on the compilation.

Burnin’ Hell was also released in 1949 with Miss Sadie Mae on the B-Side. However, it was the one that got away for John Lee Hooker. Despite that both sides feature in the box set and just like Weeping Willow the B-Side of Whistlin’ and Moanin’ Blues from 1949, are a reminder of one of the great blues men as he embarks upon his recording career. 

As the fifties dawned, John Lee Hooker was about to enter a prolific period. One of the tracks he recorded in 1950 was Wednesday Evening which is a welcome addition to the box set. He also released a number of singles on Modern Records and Sensation Records during what was a roller caster of a year.

The single Howlin’ Wolf was released on Modern Records in 1950, but failed to trouble the charts. However, it features in the box set. So does Roll N’ Roll which wasn’t a commercial success. It featured Give Me Your Phone Number on the B-Side, and an alternate take is included on the compilation. For John Lee Hooker the lack of commercial success of the singles he released on Modern Records was disappointing

Other John Lee Hooker singles released during 1950 were released on Sensation Records.This included Let Your Daddy Ride with Goin’ On Highway #51 on the flip-side. Both feature on the box set along with the singles My Baby’s Got Somethin’ and five alternate takes of Boogie Chillen’ #2. John Lee Hooker would record various versions of Boogie Chillen’ over the next few years. It was an attempt to replicate the success of the original.

Later in 1950, Sensation Records released Huckle Up Baby as a single with Canal Street Blues on the B-Side. However, the single stalled at fifteen on the US R&B charts. Both tracks featured on the three CD set and this single marked the end of era. It was the last John Lee Hooker released on Sensation Records who closed their doors in late 1950. Despite that, Bernard Besman continued to record John Lee Hooker.

The pair struck gold when John Lee Hooker released I’m In The Mood in 1951, with How Can You Do It on the B-Side. The single reached thirty in the US Billboard 100 and topped the US R&B charts. The original version of In The Mood is joined by four alternate takes including one where a harmonica was overdubbed. They show different sides to this familiar blues, while the flip-side How Can You Do It is a hidden gem that features a vocal full of disbelief and despair. John Lee Hooker had the ability to breath meaning and emotion into a song, and was well on his way to becoming one of the most successful blues players.

He was a prolific artist and for the next couple of years, spent a lot of time recording with Bernard Besman. In 1951, they recorded Women in My Life, Tease Me Baby and Turn Over A New Leaf which featured on the 1962 compilation John Lee Hooker Sings The Blues. Then in 1952, they recorded  Bluebird Blues, That’s All Right and It’s Time for Lovin’ To Be Done. Other tracks recorded in 1952 would feature on a compilation released in 1962. However, that was all in the future.

When Ride ‘Til I Die was released on Modern Records in May 1953 It’s Stormin’ and Rainin’ was on the B-Side. Despite the quality of the single once again, commercial success eluded John Lee Hooker. 

In 1963, The Great John Lee Hooker was released and would introduce many aspiring musicians to one of the great bluesmen. The album featured It Hurts Me So, Key to the Highway and I Got Eyes for You. There’s also an alternate take on Documenting The Sensation Recordings 1948-52. It lay unreleased until 2001, the year that John Lee Hooker passed away. Blues music had lost one of its greats.

By the seventies, blues music was no longer as popular as it once was. It had been overtaken in the popularity stakes by soul, rock and pop. That was despite many rock musicians championing the blues and trying to introduce the music to a wider audience. However, many critics felt the music was no longer as relevant as it had once been. Given all this, it was no surprise that many bluesmen were struggling to make a living. John Lee Hooker continued to tour and released albums. This included a new compilation in 1970.

When Alone was released in 1970, its featured Alberta, Graveyard Blues, Momma Poppa Boogie, Sailing Blues and Black Cat Blues. They were joined by Rollin’ Blues, Three Long Years Today, Do My Baby Think of Me, Walkin’ This Highway and I Need Lovin’. For many record buyers this Speciality Records’ compilation introduced them to John Lee Hooker’s music.

The following year, 1971, Speciality Records released another compilation, Goin’ Down Highway 51. It featured tracks of the quality of Henry’s Swing Club, Sail on Little Girl, Alberta Part 2, Queen Bee and  Grinder Man. They helped to introduce the veteran bluesman’s music to a new audience. That’s that is the case with the Documenting The Sensation Recordings 1948-52 box set.

With access to the Sensation Records master tapes the compilers were able to choose from singles, B-Sides, album tracks, alternate takes and unreleased tracks which feature on the three discs. 

On disc one there’s an alternate take of War Is Over (Goodbye California) and two extended versions. There’s also three alternate takes of Alberta and Build Myself a Cave. These tracks show the songs evolving and gradually taking shape.

Then on disc two there’s another trio of unreleased tracks. This includes an extended version of Strike Blues and alternate takes of The Story of a Married Woman and Moon Is Rising. The sound quality is remarkably good given they were recorded between 1948 and 1952 on quite primitive equipment.

The third disc features four more unreleased tracks. This includes the opening track John L’s House Rent Boogie and an alternative incomplete take. There’s also an alternate take of It Hurts Me So and an under dub of That’s All Right Boogie. These are interesting additions and part of the most comprehensive overview of John Lee Hooker’s Sensation Record years.

 For fans for the late John Lee Hooker, Documenting The Sensation Recordings 1948-52 is an opportunity to hear some of his earliest recordings including a numbers of singles. His hits and misses rub shoulders with B-Sides, album tracks, alternate takes and fourteen unreleased tracks. They’re welcome additions to this lovingly curated box set which is a cut above many similar releases. The big difference with Documenting The Sensation Recordings 1948-52 is the sound quality and liner notes which are part of what’’s a fitting homage to one of the giants of the blues, John Lee Hooker.

John Lee Hooker-Documenting The Sensation Recordings 1948-52.

 

SOUL VOICES-60S BIG BALLADS.

Soul Voices-60s Big Ballads.

Label: Kent Soul.

For many soul afficianados, the sixties was a golden age with labels like Stax, Atco, Goldwax and Motown releasing some of their best and most successful singles. Five decades later, and some of these singles are now regarded as classics and are favourites of radio DJs. 

Sadly, many other singles failed to find the audience they deserved, and passed record buyers by. It was a case of what might have been as they were consigned to the bargain bin or lay unloved in warehouses for many a year.

It was only much later that some of these tracks belatedly found an audience. That was the case when Northern Soul DJs crossed the Atlantic on crate-digging trips and when they returned home with boxes of rarities and hidden gems which they added them to their sets.

Some of these tracks were also discovered by compilers looking for new material for compilations. They made the same journey as the Northern Soul DJs searching out dancers, floaters stompers and ballads like those on a new compilation from Kent Soul, Soul Voices-60s Big Ballads.

There’s twenty-four tracks on Soul Voices-60s Big Ballads, including eight previously unreleased tracks. Just like the rest of the tracks on the compilation they showcase the considerable talents of some top male soul balladeers. This includes Ben E King, Clyde McPhatter, Garnet Mimms, James Carr, Lou Johnson, Roy Hamilton, Tommy Hunt, Tony Mason and Walter Jackson. Each of these vocalists deliver a soul-baring vocal against a subtle arrangement. Strings, horns and harmonies provided to the backdrop to these three-minute kitchen sink dramas.

Opening Soul Voices-60s Big Ballads is Walter Jackson’s Forget The Girl, which was recorded in 1968, during what was his last session for the Okeh label. The track lay unreleased until 2007, when it featured on Kent Soul’s Walter Jackson compilation Speak Her Name: The OKeh Recordings, Volume 3. It finds him laying bare his soul as he delivers a vocal full of hurt and heartbreak. 

Heartache (Hurry On By) was released by Roy Hamilton on RCA in 1965, and his vocal bristles with emotion and is filled with regret at the thought of the one he loves in the arms of another man.

After leaving The Drifters, Clyde McPhatter embarked upon a solo career that initially was successful. However,  by the time he released Lonely People Can’t Afford To Cry on Amy in 1967, the hits had dried up. Despite that, Clyde McPhatter was able to breath meaning and emotion into this mid-tempo ballad that later, was popular on the UK Northern Soul scene.

Gloomy Day was written by Jimmy Bishop and Kenny Gamble and recorded by Herb Johnson. He released the single on Arctic in 1965, which showcases wistful vocal full of hurt and despair. It’s delivered against an orchestrated arrangement complete with pizzicato strings and is a tantalising taste of the music that would soon emerge from Philly.

Just Outside Of Lonely was recorded by Clarence Pinckney in 1973, and was meant to be the B-Side of Climax’s Life and Breath. However, the single was never released and Just Outside Of Lonely makes a welcome debut on Soul Voices-60s Big Ballads. Given Clarence Pinckney’s impassioned delivers the lyrics it’s as if he’s experienced losing someone he loved, and the loneliness that followed.

In 1962, Dionne Warwick released a cover of Bacharach and David’s Don’t Make Me Over as her debut single. The following year, 1963, Tommy Hunt covered the song for the Scepter label, who never released it. It lay unreleased until 1986 when Kent released the Tommy Hunt compilation Your Man. He delivers a needy vocal     against as orchestrated arrangement where backing vocals answer his call which is akin to an impassioned plea.

Another Bacharach and David song is Reach Out For Me with was covered by Lou Johnson. It was produced by the legendary Burt Bacharach and released on the Big Top label in 1963 and reached thirty-three on the US R&B charts. The song benefits from a symphonic arrangement and backing vocalists who accompany Lou Johnson’s tender, heartfelt vocal. It’s a beautiful version of this classic. However, a year later, in 1964, Dionne Warwick recorded what’s now regarded as the definitive version of Reach Out For Me.

Van McCoy wrote I Can’t Stand To See You Cry, which  was recorded by Chuck Jackson for Wand in 1965. Sadly, the song lay unreleased until 1987 when it made its debut on the Kent Records’ compilation A Powerful Soul. It returns for a well deserved encore on Soul Voices-60s Big Ballads and is a mixture confusion, drama, emotion, regret and sadness.

There’s a frustration and despair in Gene Burk’s vocal on  Can’t Stand Your Fooling Around which was released on Arock, in 1963. This cathartic confessional has a Southern Soul influence and is one of just three singles the New York born singer released between 1963 and 1967.

When Southern Soul great James Carr released Lover’s Competition on Goldwax in 1965, producers Quinton Claunch and Rudolph Russell combined Latin rhythms with pop and soul. When it was combined with a needy, hopeful vocal full of emotion the result is a timeless ballad and one of the compilation’s highlights.

You Are A Lucky So And So was produced by Kenny Gamble composition which he produced with Jerry Ross and Joe Renzetti for Sammy Sevens. The single was released on Swan in 1963 and features an impassioned and emotive vocal. This was one of two singles that were credited to Sammy Sevens. At the time, it was rumoured that the singles had actually been recorded by Chubby Checker. However, that was highly unlikely as he was enjoying one of the most successful periods of his career and had just had several hit singles on a rival label. 

Closing Soul Voices-60s Big Ballads is Junior Lewis’ I Love You So Much. It was recorded for the Arock label in 1962, but has lain unreleased since then. That is a great shame given it features a tender, heartfelt vocal delivered against an understated arrangement that allows Junior Lewis’ paean to take centrestage.

For anyone who has even a passing interest in soul music, Kent Soul’s Soul Voices-60s Big Ballads features twenty-four tracks on including eight that have never been released before and make their debut on the compilation. These tracks, like the rest on the compilation showcase the considerable talents of some top male soul balladeers. 

They deliver heartfelt, impassioned, needy and soul-baring vocals against a subtle and sometimes symphonic  arrangements. Strings, horns and harmonies provide the backdrop to these ballads from soul greats, familiar faces and what will be new names for many people. 

They breath life, meaning and emotion into these songs about love and love lost, and tales of hurt and heartbreak. It’s as if they experienced the lyrics on Soul Voices-60s Big Ballads and lived to tell the tale on these three-minute kitchen sink dramas about the fragility and importance of relationships.

Soul Voices-60s Big Ballads.

 

 

  

BOB STANLEY AND PETE WIGGS PRESENT OCCASIONAL RAIN.

Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs Present Occasional Rain.

Label: Ace Records. 

As the sixties gave way to the seventies, psychedelia prepared to kiss the sky and say goodbye as it exited stage left. However, all wasn’t well despite all the groundbreaking music released during the last few years.

After Woodstock and the Altamont Free Concert the press wrote about acid casualties, bad drugs, chaotic festivals and the death of some the genre’s leading lights. It was a sad end to what had been an exciting musical era. There was no encore, although many mourned psychedelia’s passing.  

Instead, music was in a state of flux as record buyers awaited the “next big thing.” When it arrived it was progressive rock. There was a new kid in town and the times they were a changing in Britain.

During the post-psychedelic and pre-progressive era the music being released is best described as eclectic as musical genres melted into one as musicians created new types of music. That was the case during the period that the music on Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs Present Occasional Rain covers. It  was recently released by Ace Records and features Traffic, Cressida, Keith West, Clouds, The Moody Blues, Yes, Argent, Michael Chapman, Andrew Leigh and Catherine Howe. They combined elements of disparate genres, including folk and jazz as the sixties gave way to the seventies. 

Meanwhile record buyers in Britain awaited the white smoke which was the signal that The Beatles had split-up. Now the blame game could begin.

This wasn’t the only change taking place in Britain. After six years, Harold Wilson’s labour government was defeated at the polls by the Conservatives. It was a new start for the country which had changed over the last few years.

Especially town and city centres which had been redeveloped and were now unrecognisable. Brutalist buildings scarred the skyline and even the newly built homes were starting to crumble across the country. For many it was a worrying time. 

That was why many musicians were writing about what was happening around them in Britain. They watched on and wrote about crumbling towns and cities, poverty, people struggling to find a direction in how and how bad the weather was. All this is documented on Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs Present Occasional Rain.

Opening the compilation is Hidden Treasure from Traffic’s 1971 album The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys. It was released on Island Records and produced by Steve Winwood and Hidden Treasure is an evocative tale of the beauty and benefits of country living, something the band dealt with earlier in their career and decided to return to.

Progressive rockers Cressida signed to the Vertigo label and released two albums between 1970 and 1971. Home and Where I Long To Be is one of the highlights from their 1970 eponymous debut album, which finds the London-based band fusing and flitting between classical, folk and jazz on what’s a vastly underrated album.

By 1967, the Scottish trio 1-2-3 had moved to London and were a popular draw at venues like the Marquee. Despite that, the band changed their name to Clouds and released three albums. However, Once Upon A Time didn’t feature on any of the progressive rockers albums and made a belated and welcome debut on a 2010 compilation Up Above Our Heads (Clouds 1966-71).

In 1969, The Moody Blues who are regarded as the inventors of the progressive suite of songs released their fifth album To Our Children’s Children. It was their first album on Threshold label and the version on the compilation is the single version. It’s atmospheric, beautiful, cinematic and one of the highlights of an excellent album.

Although Shape Of The Rain were formed in Sheffield in 1964, they only released two singles and one album. Wasting My Time was on the B-Side of their single Woman when it was released in 1971. The same year it featured on their debut album Riley, Riley, Wood and Waggett when it was released on RCA’s short-lived imprint Neon. This hidden gem combines elements of the West Coast sound with a quintessential Englishness and is part of an underrated album that deserved to find a wider audience.

When Yes released their eponymous debut album in 1969, it was very different to much of the music being released at the time, and as new, exciting and innovative. One of the album’s highlights is Sweetness. It features a tender Beatlesesque vocal which combines with a dreamy, ethereal arrangement on this beautiful melodic track that played its part in the success of this classic album

Freefall is a track from Argent’s 1969 eponymous album. It was released on CBS and is marked a new chapter in the career of keyboardist Rod Argent. The group rose like a phoenix from the ashes of Three Dog Night and released six albums between 1969 and 1974. One of Argent’s finest moments on their debut is Freefall a  jazz-tinged and melodic rock track.

After training as an art and photography teacher, Michael Chapman taught at Bolton College, in Lancashire and spent his spare time playing the folk circuits. That was where he first encountered John Martyn and Roy Harper. By 1969, Michael Chapman had signed to Harvest Records and turned his back on teaching. Later that year, he released Rainmaker with Fully Qualified Survivor following in 1970 and reaching forty-five in the UK charts. It featured Postcards Of Scarborough which is a tantalising taste of this truly talented and maverick the singer-songwriter and guitarist who is still going strong and releasing music fifty years later in 2020.  

Very few people will have heard of ‘Igginbottom, a short-lived band that was the first to feature guitarist Allan Holdsworth. They only released one album ‘Igginbottom’s Wrench, which released on Deram in 1969. It was a mixture of fusion and progressive rock and has been described as variously bizarre, complex, eclectic and understated. It’s also underrated and innovative as The Castle which opened this oft-overlooked hidden gem of album proves.

Closing Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs Present Occasional Rain is Innocence Of Child from Catherine Howe’s 1971 album What A Beautiful Place. It’s a highly personal album where the Halifax-born singer-songwriter lays bare her soul. One of the most beautiful tracks is the understated and jazz-tinged Innocence Of Child which is the perfect way to close the compilation.

Of all the compilations Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs have curated, this is the best by far. They’ve managed to combined tracks from familiar faces with hidden gems from new names and real rarities like ‘Igginbottom’s The Castle and Catherine Howe’s Innocence Of Child. They’re part of what’s a captivating and lovingly curated overview of the late-sixties and early seventies during the post-psychedelic and pre-progressive era. 

During this period, the music was eclectic and insprired by a variety of genres, especially folk and jazz. Musicians created genre-melting music that was new, exciting and innovative. The songs are variously beautiful, dreamy, ethereal, haunting and ruminative. Other tracks on Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs Present Occasional Rain are cinematic and paint pictures and take the listener back to a time and place, when both music and Britain was changing, and not always for the best.

Of all the compilations released during the first half of 2020, Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs Present Occasional Rain is one of the best. Hopefully, this isn’t a one-off compilation and that there will be a followup to Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs Present Occasional Rain where once again, we’re reacquainted with old friends and meet new friends and discover more rarities and hidden gems from the the post-psychedelic and pre-progressive era. 

Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs Present Occasional Rain.

DON’T BLOW YOUR COOL! MORE 60S GIRLS FROM UK DECCA.

Don’t Blow Your Cool! More 60s Girls From UK Decca.

Label: Ace Records.

For the British music industry, the success of The Beatles was a gamechanger. The only problem was that the pop boom caught some record labels unaware and they weren’t prepared.  They came to the party late, and it didn’t hep that some record label executives thought that pop music was a passing fad, and were reluctant to commit scarce resources to it. This had disastrous consequences. 

By the time, these labels eventually arrived at the party, their competitors had signed the most talented artists. One of the labels who had arrived at the party early were Decca.

During the sixties, Decca had an enviable network of A&R executives and talent scouts the length and breadth of Britain. Their finger was on the pulse of the local music scene and night after night, these talent scouts headed out to local pubs and clubs, where they listened to new bands and singers. Promising artists were signed to contracts, before other labels even had a chance to hear them. This included Steve Kimble, Dana Gillespie, Lulu, Marianne Faithfull, Barry St John, Vashti,  Billie Davis, Twinkle, Clare Torry and Kathy Kirby They all artists feature on Don’t Blow Your Cool! More 60s Girls From UK Decca which was recently released by Ace Records and is the followup to the critically acclaimed Love Hit Me!-Decca Beat Girls 1962-1970. 

Opening Don’t Blow Your Cool! More 60s Girls From UK Decca is All The Time In The World by Stevie Kimble, which was released in 1966. It was written and produced by John Macleod and Tony Macauly who produced the  singles with Bill Farley. They’re responsible for a big, bold arrangement while  Stevie Kimble seems to have been influenced by Sandie Shaw as she delivers an impassioned vocal.

During a career that  has spanned five decades Dana Gillespie has released around seventy albums and over twenty singles. Her career began at Pye Records and in 1968 she signed to Decca and released a cover of Donovan’s You Just Gotta Know My Mind. On the B-Side was one of Dana Gillespie’s compositions He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not. It features an arrangement that could only have been recorded in the sixties, and lyrics that are akin to a stream of consciousness as she wonders aloud whether her partner loves her? The other contribution from Dana Gillespie is Tu N’as Vraiment Pas Change which is a French language cover of Donovan’s You Just Gotta Know My Mind which nowadays, is a rarity. 

In 1964, seventeen year old Marianne Faithfull signed to Decca and enjoyed a hit single with As Tears Go By. Two years later, in 1966, she recorded With You In Mind which featured on her fourth British album Love In A Mist.  It features a heartfelt and emotive vocal from Marianne Faithfull. Meanwhile Decca released two EPs in France and  this included  À Bientôt Nous Deux which featured a beautiful version of Nuit D’été (Summer Night).

Kathe Green was born in Beverley Hills into a musical family. Her father was the Oscar-winning composer and conductor Johnny Greene, and initially didn’t follow in his footsteps when she made her acting debut aged fourteen. Later, she landed a part in the Peter Sellers’ film The Party and moved to London. That was where her musical career began when she signed to Deram  and  released the single Primrose Hill which featured on her 1966 album Run The Length Of Your Wildness.  It’s a cinematic song where sweeping, swirling strings accompany Kathe Green’s vocal with veers between tender and emotive to powerful. Her other contribution is Promise Of Something New which also featured on Run The Length Of Your Wildness and showcases a talented and versatile vocalist who can breath life, meaning and emotion into lyrics.

Having travelled to New York aged eighteen, and discovered the music of Bob Dylan, Vashti Bunyan decided that she wanted to make a career out of music. Two years later, she was discovered  Andrew Loog Oldham, and in June 1965,  recorded the Jagger and Richards composition a peerless cover pf Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind. When Vashti’s debut single was released it failed to find an audience. That was the case when the followup single Train Song in 1966, and her 1970 debut album Just Another Diamond Day which was credited to Vashti Bunyan. She was so disappointed by the failure of her debut album that she turned her back on the music industry.

Thirty years later, Vashti Bunyan made a comeback after her  music was discovered by a new generation of musicians and record buyers. She went on to release two critically acclaimed albums, 2005s Lookaftering and her 2014 swansong Heartleap which is the perfect introduction to Vashti Bunyan.

Heartache Hurry On By was released by American born Joy Marshall in 1965. By then, she was a versatile singer who was best known as a jazz singer, but also sang soul. She delivers a hurt filled vocal powerhouse on what’s one of her finest recordings.

Before embarking upon a solo career, Margaret Burns was the lead singer of Margo and The Varvettes, the group she formed in County Down, Northern Ireland. By 1969, she was signed to Deram and was billed as Margo when she released the soulful sounding The Spark That Lights The Flame which is one of the compilation’s highlights.

Beverley Kutner was born in Coventry, and was studying drama when she started busking with her friend Des Partridge who was an aspiring folk singer. He managed to convince his friend to take to the stage at the Jack Hammer club. This was just the start, and by 1966, Beverley as she was  now billed, was signed to Deram and released her own composition Picking Up The Sunshine. After this, the up-and-coming folk singer began work on her debut album and returned in 1967 with a cover of Donovan’s  Museum. When the single failed commercially the album was scrapped, and in 1968 Beverley signed a deal with Joe Boyd and married fellow folk singer John Martyn. The pair went on to release two albums in 1970, Stormbringer and The Road To Ruin which are essential for anyone interested in Beverly or John Martyn’s music.

Mention Clare Torry and most music fans remember the singer for her wordless vocals on Pink Floyd’s The Great Gig In The Sky from Dark Side Of The Moon. By then, she had been working as s singer since the late-sixties and released several singles. This includes Love For Living in 1969, which is a reminder if any was needed, of a truly talented vocalist who enjoyed a long and illustrious career and worked with the great and good of music.

Closing Don’t Blow Your Cool! More 60s Girls From UK Decca is Kathy Kirby’s The Adam Adamant Theme. It was released in 1966, and sounds as if it’s a distant relation to the Goldfinger theme.

That is the story of Ace Records’ new compilation Don’t Blow Your Cool! More 60s Girls From UK Decca. It’s another lovingly curated compilation that features familiar faces and new names. Among the familiar faces are Marianne Faithfull and Lulu and were already enjoying successful careers.

Other artists, including Vashti and Beverley were relative newcomers and their careers were in their infancy. Just like other artists and groups on the compilation they hoped that they would enjoy successful careers. Sadly, that often wasn’t the case and they didn’t enjoy same longevity or success. That was despite the quality of the music that they were releasing. These singles and album tracks were the ones the got away and make a welcome return on Don’t Blow Your Cool! More 60s Girls From UK Decca.

Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that commercial success passed these artists by and it’s no wonder that some of them turned their back on music. Often, reality kicked in, and artists realised that three or four years of struggling was enough. It was time to try something else. Other after releasing a several singles that failed to find an audience, they realised their future lay elsewhere. There was no point kidding themselves. Others, however, refused to give up on the dream.

They reasoned that the difference between success and failure was slim. Maybe, just maybe, their next single would result in that elusive hit single? However, often, there  was no justice, as perfectly good songs failed to find an audience. Eventually, artists realised that it was the end of the road. If they didn’t, someone else would take that decision for them.

As a result, some of the artists who had been ‘discovered’ by Decca’s talent scouts, returned to the drudgery of the 9-5 lifestyle. For them, the dream was over. 

For others, the journey had just begun and commercial success and critical acclaim came their way, and they’ve enjoyed long and successful careers, and the tracks on Don’t Blow Your Cool! More 60s Girls From UK Decca are from the early part of their career, when anything seemed possible, and the dream was still alive for all of the Decca girls.

Don’t Blow Your Cool! More 60s Girls From UK Decca.  

BOPPIN’ BY THE BAYOU-FEEL SO GOOD.

Boppin’ By The Bayou-Feel So Good.

Label: Ace Records.

When Ace Records released Boppin’ By The Bayou in 2012,  little did anyone at the label realise that they had just released the first instalment in what would become their longest running and most successful compilation series. However, it was so successful that another instalment in the series was commissioned and compiled by Ian Saddler.

Boppin By The Bayou More Dynamite followed in 2013, and enjoyed the same commercial success as its predecessor. The nascent By The Bayou compilation series looked like it could be Ace Records’ latest success story. 

And so it proved to be. Seven years later, and Boppin’ By The Bayou-Feel So Good has just been released by Ace Records and is the twenty-second instalment in this long-running and commercially successful compilation series. It features twenty-eight tracks including twelve that have never been released before. A number of familiar faces make a welcome return and some new names feature on Boppin’ By The Bayou-Feel So Good which in the space of a few bars transports the listener to steamy Louisiana.

Opening Boppin’ By The Bayou-Feel So Good is Carol which  was recorded by Jim Miller, from Port Arthur in Texas when he was just seventeen. This meant his parents had to sign the contract with Spindletop who released this memorable rocker in 1962.

Rockabilly singer Al Ferrier is a veteran of the By The Bayou compilation series and has previously featured on six volumes and contributes four tracks to this volume. His first contribution is the driving and irresistibly catchy You’re Humbuggin’ Me which was the B-Side to Be Boppin’ Baby, when it was released by  Showtime in 1976. It’s joined by three unreleased tracks including the hidden gem I Got A Good Woman. The other two tracks show different sides of Al Ferrier. I’m The Man features a  boastful vocal full of machismo, while his vocal is full insecurity on What Is That Thing Called Love which was recorded by Al Ferrier and His Bopping Billies. These four tracks feature a talented and versatile singer who could bring lyrics to life.

Frankie Lowery originally trained as an opera singer but ended up singing rock ’n’ roll. He enjoyed a successful career and has also featured on six volumes of the By The Bayou series. His contribution is the unreleased track Jealous Woman which is a soul-baring ballad. 

Im A One Woman Man was released on the Dixie label on 1957 by Thumper Jones. He was a versatile singer who was equally comfortable singer hillbilly and rockers. This is one of his rockers which isn’t as well known as his covers Blue Suede Shoes or Heartbreak Hotel.

Erwin Babin recorded several rockabilly songs including Black Cat Boogie, which was produced by JD Miller. It originally featured on the 1980 Flyright Records’ compilation Boppin’ It. Forty years later it makes a welcome return and is a reminder of a talented singer who never enjoyed the commercial success his talented deserved.

 Linda Brannon only enjoyed one hit single, Just Another Lie during a career than began in the late-fifties and was over by the early sixties. During that time, she recorded several rockers. Two of her best were released on RAM Records. This includes  Woe Is Me the B-Side to her 1957 single Don’t Bother Me, and Baby, I Can’t Let You Go, the flip side to the 1959 release Any Way You Do. 

Just like Margaret Lewis and Linda Brannon, Charlotte Hunter was also signed to RAM Records. She recorded Love Me Baby which was never released and makes a welcome and belated debut Boppin’ By The Bayou-Feel So Good.

Walkin’ Out was released by Dwight James and The Rockin’ Knights on the Spindletop label in 1961. Sadly, it was the only single that the group from Port Arthur, Texas released. 

During his career, DJ turned singer Johnny Jano, recorded everything from cajun and rockabilly to swamp pop. In 1962, he released the joyous sounding That Beat Keeps Going On on Jador. It’s one of the highlights of the compilation and will brighten up even the darkest day.

Closing Boppin’ By The Bayou-Feel So Good is Johnnie Allan’s  Let’s Do It, which  was released on Jin in 1964.  It’s an explosive track that  bursts into life as the rhythm section and piano drive the arrangement. Meanwhile, Johnnie Allan vamps, yelps and shrieks while horns punctuate the arrangement  which by now is swinging and ensures that the compilation ends on a high. Ian Saddler has saved the best until last.

The recently released Boppin’ By The Bayou-Feel So Good is the twenty-second instalment in Ace Records’ long-running and successful compilation series. Just like the previous instalments in the series it was compiled by Ian Saddler. Hecontinues to dig deep for new material and on Boppin’ By The Bayou-Feel So Good he’s chosen singles, B-Sides, alternate tracks, album tracks and twelve unreleased tracks. The result is another lovingly curated compilation with hidden gems aplenty. There’s also tracks from old friends, familiar faces and veterans of the critically acclaimed By The Bayou compilations series, which looks like it’s going to run and run.

Boppin’ By The Bayou-Feel So Good.

CULT CLASSIC: ALAN HAWKSHAW AND BRIAN BENNETT-SYNTHESIS.

Cult Classic: Alan Hawkshaw and Brian Bennett-Synthesis.

Nowadays, the seventies are regarded as a golden age for library music, and  two of its leading lights during this era were Alan Hawkshaw and Brian Bennett. They were responsible for some of the best library music that KPM Records released during its golden era. This included the library music classic Synthesis, which was released in 1974, the same year as another of their finest hours, Synthesizer and Percussion.

Back in 1974 they were among the many library music albums that were released by KPM Records that year. They were recorded by talented and usually anonymous musicians who often went on to greater things. Others preferred the low profile and steady income that library music offered. 

Nowadays, Alan Hawkshaw and Brian Bennett are among the doyens of library music, and original copies of Synthesis as well as Synthesizer and Percussion are now highly collectable. That’s the case with many other KPM Records’ releases.

Everyone from sample-hungry hip hop producers and crate-digging DJs to film producers collect library music. They remember hearing  library music in cartoons, documentaries and quizzes as they growing up in the seventies and eighties. So will many other people who listen to a KPM Records’ releases including Synthesis which was released in 1974, nearly two hundred years after the company was formed.

The Rise and Rise Of KPM 

Robert Keith founded a comp[any in 1780, to make of musical instruments, and fifty years later, in 1830, entered into a partnership with William Prowse, a music publisher. The newly formed partnership was named Keith Prowse Music (KPM), and over the next hundred years, the company grew and expanded into other areas,

By the early twentieth century, Keith Prowse Music was selling sheet music and concert tickets, but it was  the invention of the gramophone that proved to be a game-changer.

Demand for sheet music and concert tickets grew, and in 1955, Keith Prowse Music was decided to diversify, into one of the most profitable areas of music, music publishing.

One of the reasons behind the decision to diversify into music publishing, was to feed the demand for soundtracks for radio, television and film. Previously, music libraries supplied classical music, which was what was required.  By the mid-fifties, and the birth of television, the world and music were changing, and changing fast.

Four years later, in 1959, Associated Rediffusion bought another music publisher Peter Maurice and merged it with Keith Prowse Music. The newly merged company became Keith Prowse Maurice, which became known as KPM Music.

The newly named KPM Music was a much bigger player in the world music publishing. However, in the mid-sixties, a new name took the helm at KPM Music, and transformed the company into one of the biggest names in library music.

When Robin Phillips joined KPM Music in the mid-sixties, he proved to be an astute and visionary businessman. Two decisions Robin Phillips made demonstrate why. His first decision was that KPM Music should switch from the old 78 records to the LP, which made sense, as LPs were what people were buying. They were less prone to breakage, which meant less returns and more profit. LPs could contain more music, and could be released in limited editions of 1,000. The other decision he made was to hire the best young British composers and arrangers. 

Among the composers Robin Phillips hired were Keith Mansfield and Johnny Pearson, whose talent and  potential as composers he recognised.  Robin Phillips managed to hired them before they’ had established a reputation,  although they were known within music publishing circles.

Later, Robin Phillips managed to hire some of jazz musicians of the calibre of John Cameron, Syd Clark, Alan Hawkshaw and Alan Parker. Their remit was to provide him with new music, which was referred to as production music. Many of their remits was to write music which matched themes or moods, which initially, wasn’t isn’t easy, but soon, the composers were able to do so. Almost seamlessly, the composers created themes for many well known television shows and films.  

For the composers and musicians involved in writing and recording library music, they were part of what was one of the most lucrative areas of music. When EMI realised that KPM Music had one of the best and most profitable music libraries and decided to buy the company. Executives at EMI had spotted the profitability of library music and the consistency, quality and depth of KPM Music’s back catalogue. However,  not everyone within the music industry approved of library music.

Other songwriters looked down on writers of library music, and the British Musician’s Union wasn’t fan of library music. They banned their members from working on recording sessions of library music. Somewhat shortsightedly, the Musician’s Union thought that eventually, there would come a time when there was no need for any further recordings. Their fear was that the sheer quantity of back-catalogue would mean no new recordings would be made, and their members would be without work. Fortunately, KPM Records thought of a way to subvert the ban.

KPM Records would fly out composers, arrangers and musicians to Holland and Belgium, where local musicians would join them for recording sessions. This meant that often, the same musicians would play on tracks that were penned by several composers. For the musicians involved, this proved lucrative and some were reluctant to turn their back on session work for companies like KPM Records.

Still the Musician’s Union’s draconian ban continued, and it wasn’t until the late seventies that they lifted their ban on new recordings of library music. By then, the Musician’s Union realised that they were fighting a losing battle and had no option but to concede defeat.

Meanwhile, the music that was being recorded in Europe and once the ban was lifted in Britain, found its way onto albums of library music released by KPM Music. Again, KPM Music were innovators, and  released limited editions of library music. Sometimes, only 1,000 albums were released, and they were sent out to film studios, television and radio stations and advertising agencies. However, by then, interest in library music had grown. 

Although the albums of library music  were never meant to be commercially available, a coterie of musical connoisseurs had discovered KPM Music’s albums of library music and were determined to add each release to their collection. They weren’t alone.

Later, DJs and sample hungry hip hop and house producers discovered the world of library music. This was a boon for many of these producers who were musically illiterate, and could neither read music nor play an instrument. However, with some lots of practise the musically challenged “producers” were eventually able to sample albums of library music for their latest “production” and very occasionally, this resulted in a hit single for the musical pirates. However, most of the credit should’ve gone to those who made the music that had been sampled.

This included pianist and Hammond organist Alan Hawkshaw and former Shadows drummer Brian Bennett. When Brian Hawkshaw and Brian Bennett teamed up they laid down some of the slickest and funkiest library music was ever recorded in the UK. Especially the music they recorded for KPM which ‘inspired’ several generations of musicians.

Brian Hawkshaw and Brian Bennett’s KPM recordings have been sampled by artists like Dilla, Nas, Kanye West and Drake. That is no surprise as Brian Hawkshaw and Brian Bennett’s beat driven tracks are among the best library music tracks recorded during the seventies. This includes the tracks on Synthesis which was released in 1974.

When Synthesis was released back in 1974, Alan Hawkshaw and Brian Bennett’s latest collaboration was described as: “vivid contemporary sounds for a fresh visual image.” The album featured twelve tracks composed by the pair, which were part of what could at the time have been described as synth concept  album. Little did anyone know at the tine that Synthesis would become one of most important and innovative library music albums KPM Music released during the seventies.

Nowadays, Synthesis is a library music classic, remembered for its uber funky sound on an accessible album of  what was described as “weird electronic music.” Part of the success Synthesis was the ARP Odyssey  synth, which plays a leading role in the album’s sound and success. 

Opening Synthesis is Collision Course, which soon reveals an urgent sound, while The Executive which sounds as if it belongs on the soundtrack to a UK television show circa 1974 or 1975. Hovercraft continues the funky sound, while, Big Black Cadillac is urgent sounding  and features a flawless fleet fingered synth solo. Deadline with its dramatic, cinematic sound soon bursts into life as synths play a leading role on this tough, funky sounding track. It later featured in several video game soundtrack. Hit Me, Hit Me finds the library music masters at work on the track that closes side one of Synthesis.

Alan Hawkshaw and Brian Bennett continue with their trademark funky sound on the dramatic Forum, while Where The Action is one of Synthesis’ highlights with its tough fast and funky sound. It gives way to Hit Me, Hit Me and Where The Action Is, Getting It Together and Helter Skelter as the funk factor is still in the ascendancy. 

 It’s all change on the icy laid back Alto Glide with its funky sound. It has Alan Hawkshaw and Brian Bennett’s names written all over it. Closing Synthesis is Mermaid, which floats and glides along as piano, percussion and synths combine perfectly. This chilled out soundscape is the perfect way to close Synthesis, and leaves the listener with happy memories of a library music classic.

Forty-six years after its release in 1974, Synthesis is quite rightly  regarded as a library music classic. It’s also a reminder of Alan Hawkshaw and Brian Bennett, two giants of British library music at the peak of their creative powers in 1974. 

It was a good year for Alan Hawkshaw and Brian Bennett who also released their Synthesizer and Percussion album, which is another musical tour de force. However, the prolific pair’s finest hour was Synthesis, which nowadays is regarded as one of the ,most important and innovative library music albums ever released by KPM Records and a genre classic which features the two titans of library as  they create their uber funky concept album.

Cult Classic: Alan Hawkshaw and Brian Bennett-Synthesis.

 

CULT CLASSIC: BERT MYRICK-LIVE ’N WELL.

Cult Classic: Bert Myrick-Live ’N Well.

Many record collectors have an album that has continued to elude them for many years. So much so,  that it is the equivalent to finding the holy grail. They’ve searched for years, and never come close to finding that elusive and rare album. It gets that they can’t pass a record store, junk shop or thrift store without looking for their musical holy grail.

When they enter the shop, there’s always the hope that this, time they’ll come out clutching the album that has eluded them for so long. It’s the one album that they’ve dreamt about finding, preferably a mint copy in the Dollar bin. This is something that all record collectors dream about. There’s always one particular record that for too long, has eluded them.

For some jazz fans, it’s the six albums the short-lived Detroit-based Strata Records’ released between 1973 and 1975. This includes Bert Myrick’s 1974 album Live ’N Well eluded them which is one of the rarest jazz albums ever released. The story behind this album began Motor City in 1930.

Bert Myrick it seems, was always destined to be a drummer. He was born in Detroit in 1930, and growing up pounded away at pots and pans. They were the drums that Bert Myrick never had, but always wanted. With money tight, drums were a luxury. However, Bert Myrick wasn’t going to give up on his dream of becoming a drummer.

Helping him on his way was his friend Elvin Jones, who was three years older than Bert Myrick. While Bert Myrick was born in Detroit, Elvin Jones was born and brought up in Pontiac, Michigan. Their paths crossed on the local music scene, and Elvin Jones took Bert Myrick under his wing. He became his mentor, and his Elvin Jones playing style would rub off on Bert Myrick. Elvin Jones would go on to play on many classic albums, including John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, and never forgot his friend Bert Myrick.

When Elvin Jones returned to Detroit to play with a band, he would always ensure that Bert Myrick and his friends got in to see the gig. Even if it meant leaving a window open, which Bert Myrick and his friends would scramble through. Bert Myrick would sit and watch, and dram that one day, he would be sitting where Elvin Jones was.

That dream eventually came true. After his discharge from the US Military in the early fifties, Bert Myrick started studying and playing alongside pianist Barry Harris, who was one of the leading light’s of Detroit’s bebop scene. Soon, Barry Harris had become Bert Myrick’s mentor, and helped him find his feet in Detroit’s vibrant jazz scene.

Before long, Bert Myrick was the go-to-guy for any jazz musicians who arrived in Detroit without a drummer. He played alongside Joe Henderson, Sonny Stitt, Terry Pollard and Yusef Lateef. For Bert Myrick, this was the equivalent of his musical apprenticeship.

In April 1964, Bert Myrick was a member of drummer Bill Hyde’s quintet that played at Odum’s Cave. That was how Bert Myrick and trombonist George Bohanon first met. The pair became friends, and later in Bert Myrick was asked to join a quintet led by trombonist George Bohanon and tenor saxophonist Ronnie Fields. Sadly, the Bohanon-Fields Quintet was relatively short-lived, and once the job ended, the members of the quintet started founding their own bands.

This is how the band that played on Live ’N Well came about. It was formed in 1964, and it took a while to settle on a rhythm section. The problem area was the bass, and various players tried out. They never quite clicked with the rest of the rhythm section. That was until Will Austin, who arrived back in Motorcity after playing alongside Etta James and the great and good of jazz, including  Helen Hume, Jackie McLean, Joe Williams, Kenny Dorham, Philly Joe Jones, Wes Montgomery. Will Austin auditioned, and proved to be the missing link in the quintet’s rhythm section.

At last the quintet’s lineup was complete. The rhythm section featured drummer Bert Myrick, bassist Will Austin and pianist Kenny Cox. They were joined by trombonist George Bohanon and Ronnie Field on tenor saxophone. It seemed that Bert Myrick was following in the footsteps of the Jazz Crusaders, who had popularised the tenor and trombone frontline. This would prove popular and soon, the quintet were making waves around Detroit.

The quintet was soon one of the top band’s on Detroit’s thriving jazz scene. There was more to Detroit than soul, and many talented jazz bands were playing in the city’s clubs. However, Bert Myrick’s band was a cut above the competition, and when they took to the stage, were capable of creating musical magic. That was the case on the ‘4th’ of April 1965.

Bert Myrick’s band were booked to play at the University Of Michigan Student Union on the ‘4th’ of April 1965. Pianist Kenny Cox decided to record the concert. Whether he was thinking of trying to interest a record company in the concert is unknown. However, as Bert Myrick’s band took to the stage, thankfully, someone pressed record.

That night, drummer Bert Myrick lead his talented quintet that featured bassist Will Austin, pianist Kenny Cox, trombonist George Bohanon and Ronnie Field on tenor saxophone. They worked their way through a four song set that opened with Sevenths which gave way to Scorpio’s Child, Paramour and closed with The Latin Bit. As the quintet left the stage after a masterful performance, they received standing ovation. Despite this, the recording that became Live ’N Well lay unreleased for nine years.

Following the recording of what would later become Live ’N Well, Bert Myrick’s quintet continued to play live, and proved a popular draw. Mostly, they played in Detroit, but sometimes, ventured further afield. However, gig goers realised that when Bert Myrick’s quintet took to the stage, they were capable of producing fireworks. That was the case right up until the quintet split-up around 1967. 

Only Bert Myrick and bassist Will Austin remained in Detroit. They were never short of work, and spent much of their time playing alongside pianist Terry Pollard. However, the rest of the quintet, Kenny Cox, George Bohanon and Ronnie Field left Detroit’s jazz scene behind, and headed for pastures new.

Trombonist George Bohanon went on to forge a long and successful career. He had also been a regular member of Motown’s studio band The Funk Brothers, and his work with various jazz bands would stand him in good stead for the future. George Bohanon played on over 470 recordings as a session musician, ranging from jazz, funk, rock and soul. Meanwhile, Kenny Cox had plans for the future.

Pianist Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet had joined forces, and in 1968, released their debut album Introducing Kenny Cox And The Contemporary Jazz Quintet on Blue Note Records. It was followed up a year later by Multidirection, which was released on Blue Note Records in 1969. However, when The Contemporary Jazz Quintet returned with a third album in 1973, it would be on a different label.

By 1973, much had changed for Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet. They had Blue Note Records behind, and were now billed as The Contemporary Jazz Quintet. Kenny Cox was still The Contemporary Jazz Quintet pianist, and had founded his own record company, Strata Records. He had founded Strata Records in Detroit, and for the nascent label’s first release, chose The Contemporary Jazz Quintet’s third album Location. 

After the release of Location, Kenny Cox started thinking about what Strata Records’ second release should be. That was when he remembered the recording of the Bert Myrick quintet at the University Of Michigan Student Union, on the ‘4th’ of April 1965. It featured a masterful performance from Bert Myrick’s quintet, who had been a popular drawn around Detroit and further afield. This was the perfect addition to Strata Records’ discography.

When Kenny Cox approached Bert Myrick about releasing the recording of the concert at University Of Michigan Student Union, he agreed. The concert became Live ’N Well, which was released on Strata Records baring the catalogue number SRI-102-74. For  Bert Myrick, Live ’N Well was his long-awaited debut album.

Just like The Contemporary Jazz Quintet’s album Location, Bert Myrick’s Live ’N Well didn’t sell in vast quantities. However, it found favour with a small, but discerning coterie of jazz lovers. While the sales were disappointing, forty-four year old Bert Myrick had belatedly released his debut album Live ’N Well. It was something to celebrate.

Opening Live ’N Well is Sevenths, where from the get-go, the quintet play with urgency Bert Myrick’s drums and Will Austin’s bass propel the arrangement along. They’re join by the rasping, braying horns, that are played with power and speed. By contrast, pianist Kenny Cox playing is slower but confident, as he chooses each note with the utmost care. Up until then, Kenny Cox and the horns are stealing the show. That is until Bert Myrick unleashes a masterful solo. Soon, he’s making good use of his full kit. He powers his way around the kit, rapid-fire drums fills and rolls join hissing hi-hats during what can only be described as a drumming masterclass. It quite rightly receives a standing ovation.

Scorpio’s Child is the centre-piece of Live ’N Well, and at first, pianist Kenny Cox’s plays hesitantly, gradually finding his way as the horn brays and cymbals hiss. Soon, Bert Myrick’s drums are adding the elusive percussive element, as the piano meanders and flows along when the horns drop out. Meanwhile, Bert Myrick’s drums provide the heartbeat, and with Will Austin’s bass helps propel the arrangement along. However, the piano plays a starring role and is played with power, passion and confidence. This encourages Bert Myrick to raise his game, and the two together until Will Austin delivers his solo. Then the band reunite and the piano and horns play a leading roles. However, Bert Myrick never misses a beat. This is apparent when he takes centre-stage. His playing is crisp, clean and concise as Kenny Cox provides the perfect foil. With his help, Bert Myrick reaches new heights on this fourteen minute, progressive hard bop epic.

Paramour is a fifteen minute musical adventure. Initially, it’s just the piano the played confidently before Bert Myrick caresses the hi-hats. Sultry horns join the frae, as the arrangement meanders along. Bert Myrick’s playing veers between measured and understated to powerful and dramatic. As Will Austin’s walking bass helps propel the slinky arrangement along, Bert’s playing remains understated. This allows the horns and piano to take centre-stage. Soon, though the rest of the band make their presence felt, but don’t overpower the piano and horns. When the horns drop out, the rest of the rhythm section accompany Kenny Cox’s drums, and form an effective trio, which shows a different side to the band. Later, Bert plays with power and precision, which signals the return of the horns and the band reunite. Soon, the horns drop out and the arrangement becomes spartan as it dissipates, leaving just a memory of this beautiful, hopeful and dreamy opus.

The Latin Bit bursts into life, and soon, it becomes apparent that Bert Myrick is determined to close Live ’N Well on a high. It’s the piano and horns that play leading roles, leaving Bert and bassist Will Austin to power the arrangement along. Bert switches between drums and cymbals, as braying horns join the jaunty piano. Kenny Cox plays with care and confidence, sometimes pounding the piano, before the horns take centre-stage and sweep high above the arrangement, where they’re played with power.  When they drop out, the baton passes to the piano which is played with speed and precision. Meanwhile, Bert powers his way round his kit. Latterly, stabs of horns interject as the piano plays and Bert ensures that The Latin Bit and Live ’N Well ends on a memorable and melodic high.

Live ’N Well is one of jazz music’s long lost hidden gems. It’s an that should’ve reached a much wider audience. Sadly, the album passed most record buyers by when it was released in 1974. Sadly, that was a taste of what the future held for Kenny Cox’s Strata Records.

Detroit jazz collective Sphere’s debut album Inside Ourselves was released later in 1974. It was a familiar story for Kenny Cox’s Strata Records. They had released a groundbreaking album, but one that failed to find the audience it deserved. History repeated itself when Maulawi released their eponymous debut album later in 1974. Although it was early days, Kenny Cox’s Strata Records wasn’t exactly a resounding success.

As 1975 dawned, Strata Records made plans for their next release. The album they chose was The Lyman Woodard Organization’s debut album Saturday Night Special. Funky and soulful, it was an album that should’ve found a much wider audience. Sadly, it wasn’t to be, and time was running out for Strata Records. When Larry Nozero’s Time which featured Dennis Tini was released later in 1975, it was another ambitious album that veered between jazz-funk to soul-jazz to jazz. However, when it failed commercially, it was the end of the road for Strata Records. 

Strata Records closed their doors for the last time in 1975, and now, forty-five years later there’s been a resurgence of interest in the six albums the label between 1973 and 1975. This includes  Bert Myrick’s hidden jazz gem Live ’N Well which is a reminder of a truly talented drummer as his one only album and cult classic shows.

Cult Classic: Bert Myrick-Live ’N Well.