WRAP IT UP-THE ISAAC HAYES AND DAVID PORTER SONGBOOK.

Wrap It Up-The Isaac Hayes and David Porter Songbook.

Label: Ace Records.

Format: CD.

Release Date: 30th September 2022.

One of the most important songwriting partnerships in the history of Stax Records was Isaac Hayes and David Porter. They started writing together towards the end of 1964, and success came quickly for the pair when they teamed up with Raymond Moore to write How Do You Quit (Someone You Love) for Carla Thomas. The single reached number thirty-nine in the US R&B charts. This was just the start for the nascent songwriting partnership.

Over the next five-and-a-half years, Isaac Hayes and David Porter wrote over fifty songs. This included many hit singles and soul classics. Other tracks were album tracks or ended up or B-Sides. However, some of the pair’s best known songs won a various awards and accolades. What became one of Stax Records’ most important and successful partnerships had come a long way.

Nowadays, both men are celebrated in their home town. There’s a street named after David Porter, and part of Interstate 40 was posthumously renamed ‘The Isaac Hayes Memorial Highway.’ This is fitting given the part the two men played in the Memphis music industry and the rise of Stax Records.

David Porter originally worked in a grocery shop opposite Stax Records. However, all his free time was spent in the studio where he tried to convince staff of his potential as a singer and songwriter. Eventually his persistence paid off and landed a job at Stax Records. So did his future songwriting partner, Isaac Hayes.

He also wanted to pursue a career as a singer and songwriter. Isaac Hayes’ introduction to Stax Records was when he was the pianist in tenor saxophonist Floyd Newman’s band. Before that, he applied to be the lead vocalist in doo wop band The Ambassadors, and with blues band Calvin and The Swing Cats. Despite becoming one of the most successful singer and songwriters of his generation, he never landed either role. However, it wasn’t long before success came Isaac Hayes’ way.

This came after he met David Porter at Stax Records, and the pair embarked upon a songwriting partnership towards the end of 1964. They eventually wrote over fifty hit singles for artists signed to Stax Records. This included Carla and Rufus Thomas, Johnnie Taylor, The Soul Children, William Bell, The Emotions and Mable John. However, the pair also wrote a string of hits for one of the most successful soul duos, Sam and Dave.

Stax Records was distributed by Atlantic Records, which was the label that soul men Sam Moore and Dave Prater were signed to. A decision was made by Atlantic to “lend” the duo known to soul fans as Sam and Dave to Stax. It was hoped that the pair would be a beneficiary of the Stax sound. 

Sam and Dave were paired with Isaac Hayes and David Porter between 1966 and 1969. By then, the pair had forged a successful songwriting and production partnership. They were at the peak of their powers and it turned out to be a fruitful period for Sam and Dave. They enjoyed twelve consecutive pop and R&B hits and albums were peppered with Hayes and Porter compositions. The pair had the Midas touch. However, nothing lasts forever.

After five-and-a-half years and over fifty songs it was the end of the road for the Isaac Hayes and David Porter songwriting partnership. 

The partnership was over by mid-1969. By then, Isaac Hayes had just released his hugely successful Hot Buttered Soul album which launched his solo career and was the start of period when he could do wrong. However, the pair had enjoyed a successful songwriting partnership that played its part in the rise and rise of Stax Records. 

After the pair went their separate ways, it was Isaac Hayes who went on to bigger and better things. Between 1969 and 1973 four of the five albums he released topped the US R&B charts and Joy was certified gold. Isaac Hayes was by far the most successful artist signed to Stax or one of it imprints.

Sadly, in early 1975 Stax Records was no more. The label became insolvent and was bankruptcy proceedings began. 

Up until the demise of Stax Records, David Porter continued to work as a singer, songwriter and producer at the label. He had worked with new songwriting partners and including label executive Don Davis. The pair cowrote the Guide Me Well for Carla Thomas which was the penultimate hit the label had. 

Nearly ten years earlier, Carla Thomas had enjoyed a hit with How Do You Quit (Someone You Love) which Isaac Hayes and David Porter wrote with Raymond Moore. A lot had happened since then, and in the intervening years the pair had written themselves into soul music history. 

Since then, this successful songwriting and production partnership is remembered for the five-and-a-half years spell where they could do no wrong, and were at the peak of their powers.  Their partnership is celebrated on Wrap It Up-The Isaac Hayes and David Porter Songbook which will be released by Ace Records as part of their Songwriter Series on ‘30th’ September 2022.

There’s twenty-four tracks on Wrap It Up-The Isaac Hayes and David Porter Songbook. It features contributions from familiar faces including many who were signed to Stay Records during its glory days. There’s also tracks by Aretha Franklin, Charlie Rich, Delaney and Bonnie, Peter Frampton, Rachel Sweet and ZZ Top on this latest instalment in the long-running and successful Songwriter Series.

Opening the compilation is Sixty Minutes Of Your Love by Homer Banks. He covered this Isaac Hayes and David Porter composition for Minit in 1966. This driving, soulful dancer was recorded at the Royal Studios, in Memphis, but when it was released failed to find an audience. However, nowadays it’s a favourite of UK soul fans and is akin to a call to dance.

The Emotions recorded As Long As I’ve Got You for Volt but the song lay unreleased until 2004. That was when this demo made its debut on the compilation Songs Of Innocence and Experience…and Then Some. The arrangement is spartan and its understated sound allows the vocals to take centrestage and shine.

When Freddie King released his album Texas Cannonball on Shelter Records, in 1972, it featured Can’t Trust Your Neighbour. It’s a slow, moody blues with a soul-baring vocal that’s like a hurt-filled confessional from the late Texan blues man.

Originally, Isaac Hayes and David Porter wrote You’re Taking Up Another Man’s Place for Mable Johns. However, in 1986 the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin covered the song. Her bewitching and captivating cover appeared on her album The Delta Meets Detroit: Aretha’s Blues.

Sam and Dave’s version of Hold On I’m Coming is regarded as a soul classic. However, in 1967 The Righteous Brothers covered the song which was released as a single on Verve. The song is slower but the vocals are delivered with power, passion and intensity as they breath new life into a familiar song.

It was Sam and Dave last single for Stax Records was I Thank You. However, in 1979 the song was covered by Houston-based group ZZ Top for their album Degüello. It featured on their first album for Warner Bros, and when it was released as single reached thirty-four in the US Billboard 100. The song is a mixture of blues rock, Texas blues and classic rock which the group had developed during the seventies during their time signed to London Records.

Isaac Hayes and David Porter wrote Never Like This Before with Booker T Jones. The song was originally recorded by William Bell. After this, the song was covered by a number of artists including Louisiana’s R&B Queen Marcia Ball. She transforms the song into an irresistible, hook-laden dancer on her album Hot Tamale Baby which was released by Rounder in 1985.

When Stax Records released Sam and Dave’s Soul Man in 1967, the single reached number two on Billboard 100 and topped US R&B. Fifty-five years later and the song is a soul classic that’s a favourite of DJs and has also been covered by over eighty artists.

After the success of Hot Buttered Soul, Isaac Hayes decided to concentrate on his solo career.  This marked the end of his songwriting partnership with David Porter. However, one of the last songs they wrote was The Sweeter He Is (Parts 1 and 2) which was recorded by The Soul Children. It featured on their 1969 eponymous debut album when it was released on Stax Records. This beautiful song features a heartfelt vocal that’s bristling with emotion and is full of intensity. It’s a timeless track and was, without doubt, one of the highlights of the album. 

Something Is Wrong With My Baby was recorded by Otis Redding and Carla Thomas in 1966 and featured on their Queen and King album which was released by Stax in 1967. The song is a stunning slice of Southern Soul that epitomises everything that’s good about the genre. 

During his career, the Silver Fox, Charlie Rich recorded everything from rockabilly, soul, jazz, blues, soul and country music, a genre which he helped transform. However, in 1966 he was signed to Hi and recorded Love Is After Me. This soulful dancer was his only single for the label and showcases his talent and versatility.

I’m Dedicating My Life by Danny White closes Wrap It Up-The Isaac Hayes and David Porter Songbook. It’s a song they had written with Steve Cropper. The single was released on Atlas in 1967 and is an oft-overlooked hidden gem that’s a reminder of a truly talented songwriting partnership who achieved so much in just five-and-a-half years.

Despite their songwriting partnership lasting just five-and-a-half years, Isaac Hayes and David Porter achieved more than most. They wrote over fifty songs including anthems, hits singles and soul classics. Initially, many were recorded by artists signed to Stax. Soon, other artists were covering songs written by the pair and this continued into the seventies and eighties and beyond.

This continues to be the case and is testament to the quality of Isaac Hayes and David Porter’s songs. They’ve stood the test of time which is why artists continue to cover them. 

This includes some of the songs on Wrap It Up-The Isaac Hayes and David Porter Songbook which is the latest instalment in Ace Records’ Songwriter Series. It features songs from familiar faces and the great and good of music. Legends rub shoulders with some lesser known names on a compilation that oozes quality. It’s also a reminder of one of the great songwriting partnerships who for five-and-a-half years played their part in the rise and rise of Stax Records as it become one of soul music’s greatest labels.

Wrap It Up-The Isaac Hayes and David Porter Songbook.

 

TRIP ON ME-SOFT PSYCH AND SUNSHINE (1966-1969).

Trip On Me-Soft Psych and Sunshine (1966-1969).

Label: Big Beat Records.

Format: CD.

Release Date: 30th September 2022.

The perfect soundtrack to a long hot summer is Trip On Me-Soft Psych and Sunshine (1966-1969). It’s a lovingly curated collection of late-sixtes California sunshine pop and psych nuggets from the vaults of various independent labels and production houses. 

This new compilation from Big Beat Records, an imprint of Ace Records, features twenty-four pop tracks. They’re an eclectic selection of songs that were recorded in LA and San Francisco between 1966 and 1969. Some were recorded for labels like Mira and Era, while others showcase the talents of pioneering producers including Gary S. Paxton and SF’s Trident Productions. 

Among this veritable feast of sunshine pop and trippy soft psych are contributions by JP Rags, The Pretty People and A Thousand Faces. Then there’s sunshine pop favourites from The Forum, Primrose Circus and Filipino female quintet The Third Wave, who contribute two of their early rare recordings. On several songs legendary producer legendary Curt Boettcher adds backing vocals. That’s not all. There’s also album tracks, hidden gems and obscurities aplenty on Trip On Me-Soft Psych and Sunshine (1966-1969). It’s a captivating compilation.

Opening the compilation is Soul Sunrise a collectible obscurity by JP Rags. This fusion of folk and psych is taken from the group’s 1968 album Scruffety on World Pacific Records and was produced by Larry Goldberg and Doug Cox. Sadly, the album wasn’t a commercial success but nowadays is much-prized by collectors.

Originally, The Forum started life as a folk ensemble. However, by the time they recorded Trip On Me for Mira in 1967 they had reinvented themselves as a sunshine pop group. This single is regarded as the group’s finest moment, and nowadays, is a favourite by connoisseurs of the genre.

A much-prized album is The Pretty People’s 1969 eponymous debut album on Crestview Records. One of the highlights of the album is Going To San Diego where harmony pop and psych seamlessly melt into one.

Curt Boettcher produced The Candy Company’s 1966 single for ABC, The Happies. The single was recorded at Gary S. Paxton’s Homewood Studio and featured a stellar cast of session players. Tucked away on the B-Side was the Sugar Stone which was penned by Gordon Hayes and Doug Rothwell. The group chant their way through this hooky, lysergic hidden gem which is a welcome addition to the compilation. 

The Primrose Circus were from Houston, Texas but spent some time in San Francisco where they recorded the single PS Call Me Lulu for Mira in 1967. Dramatic describes this single which was produced by Don Altfeld and features the group at the peak of their powers. 

One of the previously unreleased track is Meadows and Flowers by Curt Boettcher who, at the time, was making a name as a producer. However, it was Gary S. Paxton who takes charge of production duties on this dreamy and trippy mixture of sunshine pop and psych. 

Originally, The High started life as The Echoes in 1966. In August 1968, the group recorded The Beatles’ influenced Roamin’ which was produced by Leo Kulka. Sadly, the song was never released and like Meadows and Flowers, makes a welcome if belated debut on Trip On Me-Soft Psych and Sunshine (1966-1969). 

The second contribution from The Forum is Go To Try And Put Out The Sun. It was released on Mira in 1968 and is quite different to their previous singles. It’s a catchy and memorable slice of sunshine pop that shows a different side to the group. 

The origins of Evergreen Tangerine can be traced to the Bay Area folk scene which Tom and Carolee Gillespie were part of. Back then, they were better known as Tom and Carol. However, by 1968 they had reinvented themselves and recorded a cover of Richard And Me with producer Leo Kulka. This song is perfectly suited to the female lead vocal which is heartfelt, emotive and dramatic. Sadly, the song which could’ve transformed the group’s fortunes was never released. It makes its debut on the compilation and is one of the highlights. 

One of the last singles released on Mira in 1968 was Little Balloon Lady by The Gallery. Sadly, this The Beach Boys infused single failed to make any impression on the charts. Nowadays the single is regarded as an oft-overlooked hidden gem from the label’s vaults.

 It’s A Groovy World was released by The Lollipop Fantasy on Era in 1967. It’s catchy and long on hooks as sunshine pop and psych unite and become one. 

Closing Trip On Me-Soft Psych and Sunshine (1966-1969) is Until Now by Augie Moreno which was released on the Mammor label in 1968. It was arranged and produced by Gary S. Paxton and Ben Benay. Their arrangement features horns and a sitar which compliment the impassioned vocal on this paean. Although quite different to other tracks it’s the perfect way to close the compilation.

Trip On Me-Soft Psych and Sunshine (1966-1969) is a lovingly curated compilation. It features a mixture of singles, B-Sides, unreleased tracks, hidden gems and oft-overlooked obscurities. These come courtesy of familiar faces and new names that were recorded in LA and San Francisco between 1966 and 1969. It’s quality all the way on Trip On Me-Soft Psych and Sunshine (1966-1969). This compilation of sunshine pop and psych nuggets is a veritable musical feast one that anyone interested in either genre will enjoy and want to add to their collection.

Trip On Me-Soft Psych and Sunshine (1966-1969).

 

 

LOOK BUT DON’T TOUCH! GIRL GROUP SOUNDS USA 1962-1966.

 

Look But Don’t Touch! Girl Group Sounds USA 1962-1966.

Label: Ace Records.

Format: LP.

Ever since the eighties, Ace Records has been the go-to label for girl group compilations. Since then, they’ve released ten volumes of their critically acclaimed Where The Girls Are as well as the Girls About Town and Stop, Look and Listen compilation series. Add to this various standalone collections on CD and the most recent addition to the Ace Records’ girl group family, the Girl Group Sounds USA series.

Recenly, Look But Don’t Touch! Girl Group Sounds USA 1962-1966 was released. This much-anticipated compilation is the fourth instalment in the series. Just like previous instalments in this successful compilation series it’s been released on vinyl. This has been the choice of discerning record collectors for the last few years. What better way to listen to a collection of tracks from the golden age of girl groups. Putting on the compilation is akin to musical time travel, and instantly, the listener is transported to another time and place when music sound very different and many people would say much better. Picking a  few highlights from this lovingly compiled compilation isn’t going to be easy. However, here goes

Side One.

One of the familiar faces opens the compilation. This is The Shirelles who are best remembered for their girl group classic Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow. Their contribution on Look But Don’t Touch! Girl Group Sounds USA 1962-1966 USA is Hey Rocky. This catchy and soulful sounding uptempo song was originally recorded when the group was signed to Scepter but never released. It made a belated and welcome debut on the Lost and Found collection which was released by Ace Records’ imprint  Impact in 1987. Twenty-five years later and it returns for a well deserved and belated encore. 

Nobody Loves Me was the first of six singles The Ikettes released on Modern Records. The group’s debut for their new label was released in 1964 and showcases the combined talents of Robbie Montgomery, Jesse Smith and Venetta Fields. Sadly, the single wasn’t a commercial success, and is best describe as girl group hidden gem. It’s also a reminder of what was a truly talented lineup of this group, who later, became The Mirettes.

LA- based group The Delicates were signed various labels  between 1963 and 1969. This includes the Challenge label where they recorded the Keith Colley and Nancy Mantz composition Dumb Song. Sadly, the this soulful tale of young love which says sashays along was never released. However, it makes a welcome debut on Look But Don’t Touch! Girl Group Sounds USA 1962-1966 and is a real find.

Singer and songwriter Linda Laurie wrote the song Chico with Bert Sterns whose label Keetch she was signed to. He also produced her 1964 single Jose He Say. Tucked away on the B-Side was Chico a heady brew of girl group, pop, R&B and Latin influences.

Tossin’ A Ice Cube was released by The Hollywood Chicks in 1962, and is one of the many dance craze records that were released over the next few years. This one was a commercial success, and also marks the recording debut of the legendary soul man Barry White who contributes handclaps on the track.

Side Two.

Larry Weiss produced the two singles that The Carolines released between 1966 and 1968. Many people thought was the only tracks the group recorded. However, that wasn’t the case. They recored Baby That’s Me with producer Larry Weiss which was never released until it was released on an EP in 2018 by Ace Records. It’s so good it returns for a well deserved encore on Look But Don’t Touch! Girl Group Sounds USA 1962-1966. Take a bow The Carolines with their version of this Jackie DeShannon and Jack Nitzsche song.

Sweet Kind Of Loneliness by The Darlettes was produced by Van McCoy and released on Mira in 1965. It features a beautiful, emotive vocal that’s wistful and tinged with sadness and later, longing. It’s a roller coaster of emotions on this cinematic relationship song that’s one of the highlights of the compilation. 

Carol Slade’s career began in the late-fifties when she was a member of The Gospelaires which also included sisters Dee Dee and Dionne Warwick. However, when not singing gospel, the talented singer worked as a backing vocalist with Judy Clay and Cissy Houston on records by some of the biggest names of the day including The Drifters, Garnet Mimms and Solomon Burke. After a successful solo career as a gospel singer Carol Slade crossed over. This she hoped would be a new and successful cheaper in her career. Sadly, she released just five singles including the Van McCoy penned I Wanna Know Right Now on Domino in 1963. It features a heartachingly beautiful and emotive vocal that’s tinged with uncertainty. Complimenting the vocal are lush sweeping strings and cooing harmonies. They play their part in what’s the finest single of a career that should’ve lasted longer and resulted in more success.

Closing Look But Don’t Touch! Girl Group Sounds USA 1962-1966 is Chu Sen Ling by The Bermudas. It was the B-Side of Donnie, which was the group’s first single for Era in 1964. It’s a reminder of the early sixtes West Coast sound which is still popular and remembered fondly today.

For anyone who has enjoyed the Where The Girls Are as well as the Girls About Town and Stop, Look and Listen compilations the Girl Group Sounds USA is another must have series. 

This includes the latest instalment in the series, Look But Don’t Touch! Girl Group Sounds USA 1962-1966. It was recently released on vinyl which is the perfect way to enjoy this eclectic selection of fourteen songs. It’s girl group goodness all the way on Look But Don’t Touch! Girl Group Sounds USA 1962-1966 which features singles, B-Sides, oft-overlooked hidden gems and previously unreleased tracks which make a welcome debut on this loving curated compilation from Ace Records.

Look But Don’t Touch! Girl Group Sounds USA 1962-1966.   

GIRLS WITH GUITARS GONNA SHAKE!

Girls With Guitars Gonna Shake!

Ace Records.

Format: CD.

There are very few compilation series that are still going strong after thirty-three years. Often, by then, the compiler has run out of material or musical tastes have changed.  However, some compilation series survive changing musical tastes and prosper. That’s the case with Ace Records’ long-running and successful series.

Incredibly, Ace Records  Girls With Guitars compilation series is still going strong after thirty-three years and recently, the seventh instalment hit the shops. This is Girls With Guitars Gonna Shake! 

This new compilation features twenty-five tracks from the golden age of girl groups and she pop. This golden age began around 1964 and continued right through to the dawn of the seventies. However, the tracks on Girls With Guitars Gonna Shake! were recorded between 1960 and 1969. Sadly, a number of tracks weren’t released until much later, and three make their debut on Girls With Guitars Gonna Shake!

The Belles were formed by guitarist Debbie Weaver, who formed the group in South Florida when she was just fourteen. In 1966, the group signed to the Tiara label and released a feminised remake of Them’s Gloria which was retitled Melvin. In an instant, this familiar Van Morrison composition is transformed and the track is reinvented. Tucked away on the B-Side is Come Back. With its lo-fi arrangement and an emotive vocal it’s a welcome addition to the compilation, and showcases this talented group whose career was sadly, short-lived

In 1963, in Blackpool, Lancashire, bassist Pauline Moran, drummer Janet Baily and guitarist Andrea Tune formed The Missfits. The three teenage friends advertised for a rhythm guitarist and fourteen year old Carola Daish applied and completed the lineup. A year later, in April 1964, the nascent group entered and won a talent competition at Pontins’ Squires Gate holiday camp. The prize was to record a single in a London studio. Three covers were chosen John Lee Hooker’s Dimples,  the Willie Dixon composition You Can’t Judge A Book By The Cover and Chuck Berry’s I’m Talking About You. Sadly, the tracks were never released and the group split-up in 1965. Now fifty-eight years after they were recorded, this triumvirate of girl group gold makes a belated and welcome debut on Girls With Guitars Gonna Shake! They’re a reminder of a truly talented girl group who could’ve and should’ve gone on to greater heights.

In 1965, the second lineup of Goldie and The Gingerbreads covered Ray Charles’ What Kind Of Man Are You. It was produced by Shel Talmy and released on the Atco label. This cover version is a  slow, moody and mesmeric mix of blues and R&B that without doubt, is  one of the highlights of the compilation. 

Previously, the five members of The Beat-Chics had been members of the prestigious Ivy Benson Band, This new group was a new chapter in their career. In late 1964, they released a cover of Bill Haley and The Comets’ Skinny Minnie. A familiar track is reimagined and reinvented and  taken in a new direction. On the B-Side was Now I Know the urgent and driving mix of girl pop and R&B which has stood the test of time.

When Joyce Harris recorded a blistering version of I Got My Mojo Working in 1960, she was backed by the Texas bar band The Daylighters. The track for Domino was never released until 1998. That was when I Got My Mojo Working by Joyce Harris and The Daylighters made its debut, on the Ace Records’ compilation The Domino Records Story.

Sandra Barry and The Boys released Really Gonna Shake on Decca in 1964. By then, the singer was a familiar face in the London club scene, where she was usually backed by The Jet Blacks, a group which featured John Paul Jones. However, this memorable slice of girl group pop from its golden era is one of the highlights of Sandra Barry’s career.

The legendary Bob Shad produced The Wrongh Black Bag’s cover of the Al Kooper’s Wake Me, Shake Me. It was released as a single on the Mainstream label in 1968. It’s a driving, fusion of garage rock and psychedelia that features a powerhouse of a vocal from Chris Bernardoni who struts and swaggers her way through the song oozing sass.

Closing the compilation is Stardust Come Back by Girls Take Over. It was the B-Side of their 1969 single Hi Heel Sneakers which was released on Pentagon. However, as is often the case, the flip-side is vastly underrated and this heartachingly beautiful ballad brings Girls With Guitars Gonna Shake! to a poignant close.

It’s now thirty-three years since the release of the first instalment in Ace Records Girls With Guitar compilation series. Recently they released the seventh volume in this long-running and successful series. This was Girls With Guitars Gonna Shake! which has been released on CD. It’s a welcome addition to the series. The reason for this is simple, the quality of music

Rather than making the Girls With Guitar series an annual occurrence, Ace Records have decided to concentrate on quality rather than quantity. It’s two years since the previous volume in the Girls With Guitars Take Over! series was released. 

Just like previous instalments in the series Girls With Guitars Gonna Shake! doesn’t disappoint. No wonder. It features twenty-five songs from the golden age of the girl group and she pop. There’s familiar faces, new names and a sprinkling of hidden gems on Girls With Guitars Gonna Shake!which is a welcome addition to this long-running and critically acclaimed compilation series.

Girls With Guitars Gonna Shake!

CLOWNS EXIT LAUGHING-THE JIMMY WEBB SONGBOOK.

Clowns Exit Laughing-The Jimmy Webb Songbook.

Label: Ace Records.

Format: CD.

Although singer-songwriter Jimmy Webb was born in Elk City, Oklahoma, on August the ’15th’ 1946, he grew up in Laverne, Oklahoma. His father, a US Marine Corps veteran, was now a baptist minister, who ran and preached in churches in rural southwestern Oklahoma and west Texas. The Webb’s were a family a religiously conservative family. However, the church was where Jimmy Webb’s musical talents first came to prominence.

His mother had encouraged her son to learn to play the piano and organ. Jimmy Webb was a naturally talented and gifted musician.

By the age of twelve Jimmy Webb was good enough to accompany the choir on the organ at his father’s church Each Sunday,his mother played accordion and his father the guitar during worship. The Webb family were all musical. Despite this, strict restrictions were placed on the music that Jimmy Webb could listen to.

His father only allowed him to listen to white gospel and country music on the radio. Meanwhile, Jimmy Webb’s musical creativity was burgeoning.

The more he practised the better Jimmy Webb got. By the late-fifties, he was still playing at his father’s church. However, he was already rearranging hymns, improvising and breathing new life into them. He even wrote some new religious songs. However, already the aspiring songwriter was changing direction because of the music he was hearing on the radio.

A big influence was Elvis Presley who he had heard in the radio. However, the first record that fourteen year old Jimmy Webb bought in 1961 was Turn Around, Look At Me by Glen Campbell. It was the singer’s distinctive voice that the young songwriter was drawn to. This was fate.

Just six years later, on October ‘23rd’ 1967, Glen Campbell released By the Time I Get to Phoenix, which was written by Jimmy Webb. It was one of the singer’s most successful singles and this future classic won two Grammy Awards. That was still to come.

In 1964, the Webb family moved to from Oklahoma to Southern California. Jimmy Webb enrolled at San Bernardino Valley College where he studied music. However, in 1965 tragedy struck for the Webb family.

After Jimmy Webb’s mother passed away in 1965, his father started making plans to return to Oklahoma. His son decided to stay in LA and continue to pursue his career as a songwriter. As his father, Robert was about to leave Southern California he warned his son: “This songwriting thing is going to break your heart.” Seeing that his Jimmy Webb was determined to make a success of his chosen career, he handed his son $40, saying: “It’s not much, but it’s all I have.”

Jimmy Webb’s breakthrough came when he was hired to transcribe other people’s music for a small music publisher in Hollywood. This was just the start.

Like so many aspiring songwriters Jimmy Webb went in search of a songwriting contract. After several rejections he made his way to Jobete Music, the publishing arm of Motown, in LA, where he had  a meeting with Frank Wilson and Marc Garden.

Fortunately, Frank Wilson who spotted Jimmy Webb’s potential and offered him a songwriting contract. 

In 1965, The Supremes recorded My Christmas Tree for their 1965 album, Merry Christmas. This was the first time that a Jimmy Webb song had been recorded. Despite this, his time at Jobete was short-lived. However, it wouldn’t be long before Jimmy Webb made a name for himself as a songwriter.

After leaving Jobete Music, he moved to the Audio Arts company where he over the next few years, Jimmy Webb wrote several of the songs that established his reputation as a musical master craftsman.

Meanwhile, Marc Gordon joined forces with singer Johnny Rivers to setup Music City Records. They needed singers and songwriters. That was when Marc Gordon remembered Jimmy Webb. 

They went in search of the young songwriter and having found him, and listened to the new songs that he had written, realised that he was a truly talented songwriter. Jimmy Webb signed to Music City Records, and the next chapter in what would be a long and illustrious career began.

It’s documented on Clowns Exit Laughing-The Jimmy Webb Songbook, which was recently released by Ace Records. It’s the latest addition to the label’s long-running and critically acclaimed Songwriter Series. It features classics, singles, album tracks and hidden gems penned by one of the greatest songwriters of his generation.

Opening Clowns Exit Laughing-The Jimmy Webb Songbook is the cinematic opus By The Time I Get To Phoenix by Glen Campbell. It was the title-track to the 1967 album released on Capitol. When it was released as a single it reached just twenty-six on the US Billboard 100. It’s one of the songs that Marc Gordon and Johnny Rivers bought the publishing rights to. Later, Frank Sinatra called this classic: “the greatest torch song ever written.” That’s very true, and the perfect way to open the compilation.

Although Sunshine Company  originally recorded Up, Up and Away, it gave 5th Dimension a number seven hit in 1967. A year later, in 1968, it was covered by Dionne Warwick for her Valley Of The Dolls which was released by Scepter. The song was produced by Hal David and Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Their carefully crafted multilayer production includes lush, meandering strings, subtle bursts of horns that provide the perfect accompaniment to a vocal that’s best described as tender and benefits from an intimacy and is beautiful.

The Latin-tinged Carpet Man was the third single that Jimmy Webb wrote for 5th Dimension. It reached twenty-nine on the US Billboard in 1968. Later that year, the song was covered by The Nocturnes, a Manchester-based group. Sadly, the single wasn’t a hit and remains a hidden gem. from a group who went on to release two further albums before splitting-up in 1969 after five years making music together.

Jimmy Webb penned Honey Come Back while he was a songwriter at Jobete Music, Motown’s publishing company. In 1967, soul man Chuck Jackson covered the song. It featured on his Goin’ Back to Chuck Jackson and features a needy, impassioned, pleading vocal.

The Moon’s A Harsh Mistress was recorded by The Walker Brothers in 1975, but wasn’t released until 2001 when it featured on the If You Could Hear Me Now compilation. It’s a tender and deeply moving rendition of a this Jimmy Webb song.

Tony Joe White’s cover of Wichita Lineman featured on his album Black and White, which was released on Monument, in 1968. It’s quite different to Glen Campbell’s version which was released the same year and nowadays, is regarded as a classic. Strings are also deployed on this version which benefits from a lived-in vocal that sounds as if it’s live the lyrics. Despite that, there’s a tenderness and warmth to the vocal, that’s a reminder of a truly underrated singer. 

Since James Darren first recorded Didn’t We for Warner Bros in 1967, over 150 artists have recorded the song. This version is slightly quicker than future covers. There’s a sense of melancholia as the lyrics are delivered by the former teenage star who was no longer as popular as he had once been. It was the one that got away, but is a welcome addition to the compilation.

In 1972  The Supremes released their Produced and Arranged By Jimmy Webb on Motown. One of the highlights was I Keep It Hid, a beautiful song which showcases the combined talents of this latest lineup of the group.

When Johnny Rivers originally recorded Do What You Gotta Do for his album Rewind in 1967, it was a powerful and heartfelt reading of the song. A year later in 1968, Nina Simone covered the song for her album Nuff Said. It was released as a single but stalled at eighty-three in the US Billboard 100. This beautiful,  soul-baring rendition breathes life and meaning into Jimmy Webb’s lyrics.

By 1699, B.J. Thomas was signed to the Scepter label. For his album Young and In Love he covered The Worst That Could Happen. He tries to exercise restraint upon receiving unwelcome news from a former girlfriend but still his vocal is tinged with emotion, sadness and regret.

P.F. Sloan was a tribute to Jimmy Webb’s fellow songwriter. He recorded the song o his album Words and Music, which was was released on Reprise in 1970. In  2012, Rumer covered the tribute to the songwriter for her 2012 album Boys Don’t Cry. It features a spartan country-tinged arrangement and a quite beautiful, rueful, tender vocal.

Closing Clowns Exit Laughing-The Jimmy Webb Songbook is If This Was The Last Song by Dee Dee Warwick With The Dixie Flyers. It featured on the album Turning Around which was released on Atco in 1970. The album was produced by Dave Crawford. Sadly, the album wasn’t a commercial success but is a reminder of the genius of songwriter Jimmy Webb.

On August the ’15th’ 2022 Jimmy Webb celebrated his seventy-eighth birthday. He followed his dream and has spent a lifetime as songwriter and recording artist. 

Since his official debut album Words and Music in 1970,  Jimmy Webb has released albums to plaudits and praise. They may not have have been huge commercial successes but showcase a truly talented singer and songwriter who nowadays, is regarded as one of the greatest songwriters of his generation. 

Jimmy Webb has written countless classics and songs that nowadays, are regarded as standards. These songs have been recorded by the great and good of music, and are still heard on radio all over the world. Many of these songs are cinematic, painting evocative pictures that the vocalist brings to life. This includes many of songs on Clowns Exit Laughing-The Jimmy Webb Songbook. It features twenty-four tracks that are a tantalising taste of one of the twentieth century’s greatest songwriters and a musical master craftsman at the peak of his considrable powers.

Clowns Exit Laughing-The Jimmy Webb Songbook.

LEON THOMAS-BLUES AND THE SOULFUL TRUTH.

Leon Thomas-Blues and The Soulful Truth.

Label: BGP.

Format: LP.

Release Date: 26th August 2022.

Some labels prove to be the perfect fit for an artist, and this was the case when Leon Thomas signed to Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions. 

By the late sixties, Leon Thomas had embraced free jazz fully. He turned his back on the blues and his vocal style was totally transformed. His vocal encompassed Afrobeat, blues,  jazz R&B and soul as he scatted and yodeled. It was a vocal style that was truly unique. Many people within the music industry didn’t understand what Leon Thomas was doing but Bob Thiele at Flying Dutchman Productions did.

During his career, Bob Thiele had worked with some of the most innovative and creative musicians in the history of jazz. He realised that often, large record companies aren’t the best environment for innovative and creative musicians. Often, these musical mavericks didn’t thrive within such an orthodox environment. Their creativity is restricted, meaning they’re unable to experiment and innovate like they would like. 

Having left Impulse following the musical equivalent of a musical coup d’etat, Bob Thiele founded Flying Dutchman Productions. His new label would be the perfect environment for musical mavericks to thrive. He signed some of the most innovative jazz musicians of the late-sixties and early seventies. Among them weer Ornette Coleman, Gil Scott Heron, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Louis Armstrong and Lonnie Liston Smith and His Cosmic Echoes. Another artist signed to Flying was Leon Thomas.

Leon Thomas released a quartet of albums between 1969 and 1973. His Flying Dutchman debut was 1969s Spirits Known And Unknown. The following year, he released his sophomore album The Leon Thomas Album in 1970. Flying Dutchman was the perfect label for Leon Thomas. It was as if having found a label that understood him. He was allowed to unleash his creativity, and with each album, pushed musical boundaries even further. That was the case on his third album,  Blues And The Soulful Truth which will be reissued on LP by BGP on the 26th August 2022.

By Blues And The Soulful Truth release in 1972, Bob Thiele’s latest signing had come a long way since he first heard Miles Davis back in St. Louis.

Leon Thomas was born in East St. Louis, Illinois, in October 1937. From an early age, his life revolved around music. His parents were avid music lovers and his hometown had a thriving musical scene. Inspired by a blues’ shouters like Big Joe Turner, was a familiar face on the local music circuit. Then when Miles Davis came to town, it was akin to a musical awakening

The night Miles Davis played St. Louis his band featured John Coltrane. That night, they embraced improvisation and pushed musical boundaries to their extremes. For Leon Thomas, this showed him what was possible musically. Here was musical that was inventive, innovative and influential. So much so, that it inspired Leon Thomas to study musical at Tennessee State University.

Having left Tennessee State University, Leon Thomas became a familiar face on the jazz circuit. Having signed to RCA in 1958, he recorded what should’ve been his debut album. Sadly, it wasn’t released and this was a huge disappointment.

By the early sixties, Leon Thomas was the vocalist with Count Basie’s band. This continued right through until the mid-sixties. During that time, his style is best described as traditional blues. However, his style changed when he headed to Los Angeles.

It was is Los Angeles that Leon Thomas embraced free jazz. Already an admirer of improvisation within jazz, free jazz took things further. Even better, Leon Thomas met musicians who not only shared similar musical philosophies, but political and social values.

This included saxophonist Arthur Blythe, drummer Leroy Brooks and pianist Horace Tapscott. Together, they were the Underground Musicians and Artists Associations. Meeting these three musicians, resulted in Leon Thomas finding his real voice. With their help, his voice became like an instrument. He fused musical influences, with blues, jazz and Afro-beat combining with soul, as his vocal veered between a scat and a yodel. This was unique, avant garde and groundbreaking. Leon Thomas was a pioneer, as he headed to New York looking for fellow travellers.

By 1967, Leon Thomas had met saxophonist Pharoah Sanders. This was a perfect match for Leon. Here were two groundbreaking musicians. In Pharoah Sanders’ hands, the saxophone was transformed. He had been a member of John Coltrane’s band until the legendary saxophonist’s death in 1967.

After that, he formed his own band comprising Leon Thomas, pianist Lonnie Liston Smith and Pharoah Sanders. This band of musical pioneers recorded Pharoah Sanders 1969 album Karma, which was released on Impulse. It featured The Creator Has A Master Plan which showcased Leon Thomas’ unique vocal style. A compelling, spiritual track where he yodels and scats his way through the track, it was truly groundbreaking.

One man who realised Leon Thomas’ potential was Bob Thiele, founder of Flying Dutchman Productions.Having heard the vocalist feature on Pharoah Sanders’ album  Karma ,he signed Leon Thomas to Flying Dutchman Productions.

His Flying Dutchman Productions’ debut was 1969s Spirits Known and Unknown. It was an ambitious and groundbreaking album that showcased Leon Thomas’ unique vocal style. Plaudits and praise accompanied the release of the album. Sadly, it wasn’t a commercial success. However, Spirits Known and Unknown was only Leon Thomas’ debut album.

A year later, he returned with The Leon Thomas Album. Released in 1970, as the new decade dawned, it was hailed as innovative and ambitious. Critics realised that here was an artist who was determined to move jazz in a new direction. Standing still wasn’t an option, and this was admirable. However,  the album didn’t sell well. It was an age old problem. Here was an artist that was way ahead of the musical curve. Would his third album Blues And The Soulful Truth see him make a breakthrough when it  was released in 1972?

For his third album, Blues And The Soulful Truth, Leon Thomas wrote Love Each Other and L-O-V-E. He also arranged the traditional song C.C. Rider; cowrote Shape Your Mind To Die with Neal Creque and Let’s Go Down To Lucy’s with Alfred Ellis. He and Leon Thomas  cowrote China Doll with Jesse Kilpatrick. Other tracks included covers of Gabor Szabo and George David Weiss’ Gypsy Queen and John Lee Hooker’s Boom-Boom-Boom. These eight tracks became Blues And The Soulful Truth.

When recording of Blues And The Soulful Truth began, Pee Wee Ellis had been drafted in to arrange and conduct the band. He also played piano and tenor saxophone. Different lineups played on different tracks. So the rhythm section included variously drummers Bernard Purdie, Jesse Kilpatrick and Airto Moreira, bassists Stanley Clarke, Donald Pate and Gordon Edwards, plus guitarists Cornell Dupree and Larry Cornell  They were joined by pianist Neal Creque, percussionist Baba Feme and Gene Golden on congas. Horns came courtesy of trumpeter Dick Griffin, trombonist John Eckert and baritone saxophonist Cecil Payne. Leon Thomas sang the vocals and played percussion on Blues And The Soulful Truth.

When Blues And The Soulful Truth was released in 1972 it marked a change in direction from Leon Thomas. Critics called it the most accessible album he had released. The addition of Pee Wee Ellis had played an important part in this. He realised the importance of choosing the right tracks for the album. The eight tracks allowed a pioneering vocalist to shine. They also allowed what’s a hugely talented band to showcase their considerable talents and sometimes, stretch their legs musically. The result was one of the most exciting and exhilarating vocal jazz albums of the early seventies.

Despite this, Blues And The Soulful Truth passed record buyers by. However since then, a new generation of music lovers have discovered the album.

Side One.

Let’s Go Down To Lucy’s opens Blues And The Soulful Truth. From the get-go the listener is hooked as chiming guitars, growling horns and a funky rhythm section join forces with meandering keyboard. It’s powerful, sassy, lived-in. Meanwhile, the rhythm section provide the funky, pulsating heartbeat as bursts of blazing horns punctuate the arrangement. Leon Thomas vamps his way through the lyrics. He vamps and jive-talks his way through the track combining jazz and soul with power, sass and humour.

Finger clicks, percussion and a meandering piano create the groove to L-O-V-E. Soon, the bass, hissing hi-hats and soaring, soulful harmonies sweep in. That’s Leon Thomas’ signal to kick loose as crystalline guitar licks, grizzled free jazz horns and a hypnotic bass combine. By now, he’s singing call and response with the backing vocalists. He seems to be drawing inspiration from Isaac Hayes on this gloriously soulful, funky track.

Straight away, Gypsy Queen sees Leon Thomas return to the more familiar sound of his two previous albums. Keyboards flit across the arrangement, while the arrangement create a shuffling, spacious beat. A tender scatted vocal is joined by rasping horns enter. Then the vocal grows in power. It sometimes sounds like Terry Callier and is heartfelt, impassioned and like the arrangement, grows in power. Meanwhile elements of jazz, funk and soul are combined as the vocal veers between a scat and a yodel. This is very different from the previous tracks. Especially it’s transformed into a free jazz powerhouse. The song is transformed and becomes something very different to the song Santana popularised on Abraxas. It’s reinvented and  transformed  into something that writers Gabor Szabo and George David Weiss never envisaged.

Side Two.

Love Each Other has a funky, jazz-tinged and soulful sound. The rhythm section, electric piano and harmonies accompany Leon Thomas’ impassioned, joyous vocal. Horns rasp and growl punctuating the arrangement. The rhythm section lock into a groove and with the electric piano create the perfect backdrop for a heartfelt, impassioned and soulful vocal tour de force. 

Shape Your Mind To Die has an Eastern sound. That comes courtesy of the horns. They’re joined by percussion and the rhythm section. Just like the previous track the bass line is at the heart of the arrangement. Leon Thomas’ vocal is deliberate and dramatic. The lyrics are cerebral and full of social comment. Midway through the track he unleashes a haunting laugh. That’s the signal for the band to stretch their legs. They don’t need to be asked twice, and combine everything from funk, jazz, psychedelia and rock. When the vocal returns it breathes life and meaning into the lyrics on a tracks which is spiritual jazz at its finest.

Most people will know John Lee Hooker’s Boom-Boom-Boom. It’s a familiar blues track. However, Leon Thomas transforms the track. In his hands, the song swings. Driven along by the piano rhythm section and crystalline, rocky guitar he combines jazz, blues and rock. A scratchy fiddle and Hammond organ are added. By now, an old blues track has been transformed and swings. 

China Doll marks another change of direction from Leon Thomas. Flourishes of piano join percussion, cymbals and finger clicks. He adds a scatted vocal and gradually, the arrangement shows its hidden secrets. A wistful piano, meandering bass and myriad of percussion combine. They create the backdrop to a needy, sassy vocal. Harmonies coo while the piano meanders and percussion is sprinkled across the understated arrangement. When all this is combined, the result is a track that’s soulful, sassy and jazz-tinged. It also showcases versatile vocalist and talented storyteller who can bring lyrics to life.

The familiar sound of C.C. Rider closes Blues and The Soulful Truth. Growling horns, jazzy piano and the rhythm section combine blues, funk and jazz. They’re joined by a glistening guitar and scratchy fiddle. Together, they set the scene for a heartbroken vocal. It’s a mixture of power, frustration and despair. Then when his vocal drops out, the band take centre-stage. They enjoy the opportunity to kick loose. A glorious rocky guitar solo steals the show. Then an atmospheric Hammond organ picks up the baton it unleashes flourishes of jazz-tinged, funky and dramatic music. Stabs of piano, rocky guitar and scratchy fiddle compete for the listener’s attention as the all-star band grandstand. However, with a minute to go, a heartbroken, dramatic and impassioned vocal powerhouse takes centrestage and provides a fitting finale to Blues and The Soulful Truth.

Released in 1972, Blues and The Soulful Truth was Leon Thomas’ third album for Flying Dutchman Productions. However, his two previous albums hadn’t sold well. Something had to change. What changed was his musical direction.

Gone was Leon Thomas’ unique and inimitable free jazz style.Whereas he scatted and yodelled on his two previous albums, Blues and The Soulful Truth had a much more traditional sound. Granted he returned to his trademark sound on Gypsy Queen. Apart from that, he eschews scatting and yodelling and instead, sticks to a much more traditional vocal jazz style. Leon Thomas had moved towards the jazz mainstream. Maybe it was  a case of needs must?

No record label can continue to release albums that don’t sell. That would be folly, and a recipe for insolvency. It was why Leon Thomas recorded his most accessible and mainstream album, Blues and The Soulful Truth. It was a revelation and should’ve been a huge commercial success. It showcased a versatile and multi-talented vocalist who could sing blues, jazz, R&B, rock or soul.

The  band were equally versatile as they strut their way through eight tracks  flitting between, and sometimes, fusing blues, free jazz, funk, jazz, psychedelia, R&B, rock and soul. Not once do they miss a beat. Mind you, what do you expect from what was a band comprising some of America’s top musicians? Sadly, despite their best efforts, Blues and The Soulful Truth wasn’t a commercial success. 

Leon Thomas it seemed, wasn’t going to enjoy the commercial success his music deserved. He had even changed direction and released the most accessible and mainstream album of his career, Blues and The Soulful Truth which  is the album that should’ve transformed  his career and fortunes. Sadly, that wasn’t to be and Blues and The Soulful Truth proved to a lost classic.

That wasn’t the end of Blues and The Soulful Truth. As time went by, a new generation of music lovers discovered Leon Thomas’ music. They realised that he was one of music’s best kept secrets. Here was an artist whose groundbreaking, genre-melting albums should’ve enjoyed commercial success.

Sadly, as many artists have discovered, talent alone doesn’t result in commercial success. If it did, Leon Thomas would’ve been one of the most successful jazz singers of the early seventies. That wasn’t the case. However, Leon Thomas will always be remembered as one of  jazz music’s true pioneers. 

Proof of that is the quartet of albums Leon Thomas released for Flying Dutchman Productions. Blues and The Soulful Truth was the most accessible and mainstream album of Leon Thomas career, and a reminder of a  pioneering jazz vocalist who had his own unique and inimitable vocal style.

Leon Thomas-Blues and The Soulful Truth.

LONNIE LISTON SMITH AND THE COSMIC ECHOES-RENAISSANCE.

Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes-Renaissance.

Label: BGP.

Format: LP.

Release Date: 26th August 2022.

Innovative, influential and way ahead of the musical curve, describes the music of Lonnie Liston Smith, and specially the five albums he recorded with The Cosmic Echoes for Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions between 1973 and 1976  This began with Astral Travelling in 1973 with Cosmic Funk followed in 1974. This was just the start.

Expansions which followed in 1975 featured Lonnie Liston Smith at the peak of his powers on what was the most successful album of his career. He had brought onboard his brother Donald, whose vocals added a new dimension to the groundbreaking music.

Later in 1975, Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes released Visions Of A New World. It was their penultimate album for Flying Dutchman Productions which was tailor made for pioneering artists like Lonnie Liston Smith. It was a smaller label where artists were encouraged to experiment and innovate and produce music the music that they really wanted. Often this resulted in albums of groundbreaking music. This included Reflections Of A Golden Dream which was released in 1976, and turned out to be Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’ swan-song for Flying Dutchman Productions.

In 1976, there was a takeover of Flying Dutchman Productions by RCA. After some changes at the parent company it was decided to release Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’ next album on RCA rather than Flying Dutchman Productions. It was the end of an era. However, Renaissance which will be reissued by BGP on LP on the 26th August 2022, was another album of innovative music from Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes. 

Led by musical visionary Lonnie Liston Smith Renaissance finds him pushing musical boundaries to their limits and sometimes, beyond. That’s had been the story of his career which began a decade earlier. Since then, the man who had been born to make music had been establishing himself as a musician.

For Lonnie Liston Smith, it was almost written in the stars that he would become a musicians. He was born in 1940, into a musical family and his father was a member of Richmond Gospel music group the Harmonising Four. Growing up, members of gospel groups The Soul Stirrers and Swan Silvertones were regular visitors to the Smith household. With all this music surrounding him, Lonnie Liston Smith learned piano, tuba and trumpet in High School and college. After college, he headed to Morgan State University.

Inspired by Trane, Bird and Miles Davis, Lonnie Lonnie Liston Smith embarked upon a degree in musical education. Throughout his time at University, he continued playing the pianist in local clubs and singing backing vocals. He played with alto saxophonist Gary Bartz and trombonist Graham Moncur. This was all part of Lonnie’s musical eduction. Having completed his BSc in musical education at Morgan State University, Lonnie Liston Smith walked straight into a job.

On leaving Morgan State University, Lonnie Liston Smith got a job with the Royal Theatre’s house band. For a young musician, this was would help turn them into a musical all-rounder. After all, they had to be able to accompany a wide range of artists. For Lonnie Liston Smith this was the next stage in his musical education. The next part of  his musical education took place in New York.

Having moved to New York, Lonnie Lonnie Liston Smith was luck enough to get a gig playing piano in Betty Carter’s band. This helped Lonnie Liston Smith get his name known in the Big Apple. Then in early 1965, he caught a break.

He joined Roland Kirk’s band and made his recording debut on March 14th 1965. That was when Here Comes The Whistleman was recorded live in New York  Lonnie Liston Smith only played on the title-track, Making Love After Hours, Yesterdays and Step Right Up. Then he featured on Roland andAl Hibbler’s 1965 live album A Meeting Of The Times. After this, he joined one of jazz’s top bands.

Over the last few years, The Jazz Messengers had established a reputation for young musicians looking to make a name for themselves. Lonnie Liston Smith joined in 1965. He shared the role with Mick Nock and Keith Jarrett. However, with The Jazz Messengers ever evolving lineup and only played in three concerts. These three concerts just so happened to be at the legendary Village Vanguard. Despite playing at such  prestigious venue this must have been a disappointing time for an up-and-coming pianist. Luckily, Lonnie Liston Smith was rehired by Roland Kirk. 

He rejoined Roland Kirk’s band in time to play on his 1968 album Now Please Don’t You Cry, Beautiful Edith. This established his reputation as the go-to-guy for anyone looking for a pianist. It was the start of period where Lonnie Liston Smith worked with some of the most innovative and inventive jazz players. Musical boundaries were about to be pushed to their limits as Lonnie joined Pharaoh Saunders’ legendary free jazz band.

Pharaoh Saunders had worked closely with John Coltrane right up to his death in 1967. The following year, Pharaoh Saunders formed a new band. Their music is best described as groundbreaking free jazz. Musical boundaries were pushed to their limits and beyond by one of the genre’s pioneers. Recognising a fellow believer in free jazz, Pharaoh Saunders asked Lonnie Liston Smith to join his band.

He went on to play on three of Pharaoh Saunders best albums. The first of this trio was 1969s Karma. It was followed in 1970 with Jewels of Thought and 1971s Thembi. The other Pharaoh Saunders album Lonnie Liston Smith played on was 1970s Summun Bukmun Umyun. which was released on Impulse. Just like the three albums Pharaoh Saunders recorded for Flying Dutchman Productions it was an innovative album that was way ahead of the musical curve.

During this period, Pharaoh Saunders and his band were constantly pushing boundaries and rewriting the musical rulebook. Their music was truly groundbreaking. Even Lonnie Liston Smith was challenged. On Thembi, Pharaoh asked Lonnie to play the Fender Rhodes. This was the first time that Lonnie Liston Smith came across an electric piano. However, he rose to challenge and wrote Thembi’s opening track Astral Travelling. Later, Astral Travelling would become synonymous with Lonnie Liston Smith and The Echoes. Before that, Lonnie Liston Smith would play with some of jazz’s maverick.

One of these mavericks was Gato Barbieri. He had just signed to Bob Thiele’s nascent label Flying Dutchman Productions. It was establishing a reputation for providing musicians with an environment where innovative and creative musicians could thrive.

Bob Thiele believed musical mavericks didn’t thrive within such an orthodox environment like a major label. Their creativity was restricted meaning that were unable to experiment and innovate like they would like. So, he signed Gato Barbieri to Flying Dutchman and Lonnie  Liston Smith was asked to play on his 1969 debut album The Third World.

The next signing to Flying Dutchman Productions was Leon Thomas, and Lonnie Liston Smith played on his debut album Spirits Known and Unknown. Soon, Lonnie was a regular at Flying Dutchman sessions.

When the time came for Gato Barbieri to record his 1971 sophomore album Fenix, Lonnie Liston Smith was called upon. He played on Fenix and joined Gato Barbieri’s band. A year later he played on his 1972 album El Pampero and toured throughout Europe with the band. Then came the opportunity of a lifetime. After El Pampero, Lonnie Liston Smith got the chance to work with another jazz legend.

Liston Smith was a member of Gato Barbieri’s band when Miles Davis got in touch. He wanted the pianist to join his band. At this time, Miles Davis’ music was changing direction. The direction it was heading in was funk.

Electronic instruments were the flavour of the month for Miles Davis and he was exploring their possibilities. However, he was doing this outside the studio environment. That’s why there are very few recordings of Lonnie Liston Smith playing alongside Miles Davis at that time. That came later when the two men were reignited and worked together. Meanwhile, he decided to move on with his solo career and his debut album Astral Travelling.

Astral Travelling.

When recording of Astral Travelling began, Lonnie Liston Smith had put together some of the most talented and innovative musicians. The Cosmic Echoes’ rhythm section included bassist Cecil McBee, drummer David Lee and guitarist Joe Beck. Sonrily Morgan and James Mtume played percussion and conga, Gee Vashi tamboura and Badal Roy tabla. George Barron played tenor and soprano saxophone and Lonnie played piano and electric piano on Astral Travelling. Bob Theile produced Astral Travelling, which was released in 1973.

On its release in 1973, Astral Travelling was critically acclaimed. Critics were won over by Astral Travelling’s fusion of avant garde, experimental, free jazz and orthodox jazz. The music was variously beautiful, dramatic, explosive, ethereal, flamboyant languid, mellow, serene spiritual and urgent. It was as if Lonnie had drawn upon all his experience working as a sideman. He had worked with Pharaoh Saunders, Gato Barbieri, The Jazz Messengers, Leon Thomas, Stanley Turrentine and Miles Davis.

The result was Lonnie Liston Smith’s unique brand of cosmic jazz. It went on to influence several generations of musicians and music lovers, and show that  Lonnie Liston Smith was no ordinary musician. Instead,  he was an innovator, who was determined to push musical boundaries to their limits and beyond. This was apparent on Astral Travelling, and its followup Cosmic Funk.

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Cosmic Funk.

Cosmic Funk featured six tracks, three of which Lonnie Liston Smith wrote. They were the title-track Cosmic Funk, Beautiful Woman and Peaceful Ones. The other tracks were Wayne Shorter’s Footprints, James Mtume’s and John Coltrane’s Naima. These six tracks were recorded by an all-star band.

For the recording of Cosmic Funk, Lonnie had put together some of the most talented and innovative musicians. The Cosmic Echoes’ rhythm section included bassist Al Anderson, drummer Art Gore. Lawrence Killian played percussion and conga, while Doug Hammond, Ron Bridgewater and Andrew Cyrille played percussion. George Barron  soprano saxophone, flute and percussion, while Donald Smith played piano, flute and added vocals. Lonnie played acoustic and electric piano plus persuasion on Cosmic Funk. Bob Theile produced Cosmic Funk, which was released in 1974.

Cosmic Funk was released in 1974. Critics heard a different side to Lonnie Liston Smith on Cosmic Funk. It was a much more orthodox album. One thing remained the same, the reaction of critics. Just like Astral Travelling, plaudits and critical acclaim followed the release of Cosmic Funk. It turned out to be a a transitionary album Lonnie Liston Smith, which sadly, wasn’t a huge commercial success. 

Cosmic Funk proved to be a much more orthodox jazz album from Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes. Elements of jazz, funk, Latin and soul were combined on Cosmic Funk. The music veered between anthemic,  beautiful, ethereal,  experimental, flamboyant, funky, futuristic and wistful. Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes was a stepping stone.

Despite  its much more orthodox jazz sound, Cosmic Funk found Lonnie Liston Smith and and The Cosmic Echoes one step nearer finding his trademark sound. They found his trademark sound on his third album, Expansions, which was released in 1975. It was the first two albums of which  were part of a musical voyage of discovery. 

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Expansions.

By the time Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes released Expansions in early 1975, Bob Thiele had take Flying Dutchman Productions’ releases to RCA. This safeguarded Flying Dutchman Productions’ future. By then, Bob Thiele had discovered RCA wanted sales, and sales was what they got.

Expansions reached eight-five in the US Billboard 200, twenty-seven in the US R&B charts and number two in the US Jazz charts. This made Expansions one of Flying Dutchman Productions’ most successful albums. 

Meanwhile, club and radio DJs were spinning tracks from Expansions. Belatedly, Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes were the flavour of the month among DJs, dancers and discerning record buyers. So, it’s no surprise that Bob Thiele sent Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes into the studio again, where they recorded Visions Of A New World.

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Visions Of A New World.

For Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’ fourth album, Visions Of A New World, Lonnie penned seven tracks, including Lonnie Liston Smith’s hopeful anthem, A Chance For Peace. The other track, Devika (Goddess) was written by Dave Hubbard and Sarina Grant. These eight tracks were recorded at Electric Ladyland Studios, New York.

At Electric Ladyland Studios, Bob Thiele and Lonnie Liston produced the eight tracks that eventually became Visions Of A New World. Accompanying Lonnie were The Cosmic Echoes. Their rhythm section featured bassist Greg Maker, drummer Art Gore and Wilby Fletcher and guitarist Reggie Lucas. Percussionists included Michael Carvin, Ray Armando, Angel Allende who added bongos and Lawrence Killian who also played congas. Flautist Donald Smith also added vocals on three tracks. The horn section included soprano saxophonist Dave Hubert, trombonist Clifford Adams and trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater. This was a very different lineup of The Cosmic Echoes that featured on Astral Travelling. Lonnie Liston Smith on keyboards was the only constant. This constantly evolving lineup didn’t affect the reception of Visions Of A New World.

Just like previous albums, critics hailed Visions Of A New World was hailed an album of ambitious and groundbreaking music. Lonnie Liston Smith was seen as a musical pioneer, capable of creating music that was dreamy, elegiac funky, hopeful, ruminative, sensual, smooth and sultry. It was also ambitious and  innovative, and soon, was hailed a minor classic where elements of free jazz, funk, fusion, rock, smooth jazz and soul. The result was another album that was way ahead of the musical curve. It was also Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’ most successful album.

When Visions Of A New World was released in the summer of 1975, it reached number seventy-four in the US Billboard 200, fourteen in the US R&B charts and number four in the US Jazz charts. Visions Of A New World was Lonnie Liston and The Cosmic Echoes’ most successful album.  After four albums, Lonnie Liston and The Cosmic Echoes’ music was reaching a much wider audience. Now Lonnie Liston and The Cosmic Echoes had to do it all again on Visions Of A New World.

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Reflections Of A Golden Dream.

For his fifth solo album,  Reflections Of A Golden Dream, Lonnie Liston Smith penned nine tracks, and cowrote Peace and Love with Leopoldo Fleming. The ten tracks were recorded by Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes, which featured some top musicians.

Just like with previous albums, the lineup of The Cosmic Echoes seemed in a constant state of flux. The Cosmic Echoes’ rhythm section featured bassist Al Anderson and drummer Art Gore and Wilby Fletcher. Percussionists included Guilherme Franco and Leopoldo Fleming who also added congas and guaitar. Flautist Donald Smith also added vocals on three tracks; while Dave Hubert switched between flute and soprano saxophonist. The horn section also included tenor saxophonist George Opalisky; plus Joe Shepley and Jon Faddis who played trumpet and flugelhorn. Backing vocalists included Maeretha Stewart, Patti Austin and Vivian Cherry. They augmented this latest version of The Cosmic Echoes on Visions Of A New World Astral Travelling. 

Lonnie Liston Smith, played keyboards, piano and added vocals. He also co-produced Reflections Of A Golden Dream with Bob Thiele. However, it later became apparent that Lonnie Liston Smith more or less took charge of production on Reflections Of A Golden Dream. Bob Thiele’s role, was more of an executive producer. That didn’t seem to affect the reviews of Reflections Of A Golden Dream.

Critics, when they received their advance copies of Reflections Of A Golden Dream, found Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes combining dance-floor friendly music with social comment on Get Down Everybody (It’s Time For World Peace) and Peace and Love. Meditations featured a much more pensive, spiritual sound; while Journey Into Space saw Lonnie Liston Smith became a musical voyager. Just like previous albums,  Reflections Of A Golden Dream received plaudits and critical acclaim. That was all very well. However, would Reflections Of A Golden Dream ensure that Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes run of commercial success continued?

When Reflections Of A Golden Dream was released in 1976, the album sold well, but didn’t match the commercial success of Visions Of A New World. It remained the most successful album of Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’ time at Flying Dutchman Productions. However, it turned out that  Reflections Of A Golden Dream was the last album that Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes released on Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman  Productions.r-910451-1172042457-jpeg

By 1976, changes were afoot at Flying Dutchman Productions. Bob Thiele’s label had been taken over by RCA who had distributed the label since 1972. Straight away, RCA began a review of their latest acquisition.

Eventually,  RCA decided that the only artist from the Flying Dutchman Productions’ roster they wanted to keep was Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes. This wasn’t good news for the label Bob Thiele had spent years building up. Worse was to come for him. He would be retained as a producer on a project-by-project basis. This began with  Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’s album Renaissance.

Renaissance.

For Renaissance, which was  Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’s debut for RCA Victor, the bandleader and pianist wrote five tracks. This included Space Lady, Mardi Gras (Carnival), Starlight And You, A Song Of Love and Between Here. He also wrote the music to Renaissance which features lyrics by Jeff Gaines. Meanwhile, Dave Hubbard had written Mongotee which would feature on  Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes sixth album of cosmic jazz, Renaissance.

Bob Thiele brought Horace Ott onboard to arrange the strings, woodwinds and backing vocals on Renaissance. It was another ambitious, innovative genre-melting album from Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes.

When recording began, Harvey Goldberg was the engineer and would later mix the album with Bob Thiele. The latest incarnation of The Cosmic Echoes was a multitalented and versatile band who were capable of making groundbreaking music. It featured a rhythm section of drummer Wilby Fletcher and bassist Al Anderson. They were joined by Gene Bertoncini on acoustic guitar, Leon Pendarvis on clavinet, conga player Lawrence Killian,  percussionist Guilherme Franco and Ken Bichel on Moog synth. Two musicians who played an important role on David Renaissance were Hubbard who played flute, tenor and soprano saxophone while Donald Smith played flute and added vocals. Bandleader Lonnie Liston Smith switched between acoustic and electric piano and coproduced the album with Bob Thiele who had mixed Renaissance. 

When Renaissance was released it was to plaudits and praise. Critics were impressed with an album that combined cosmic jazz and jazz funk. Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes had effortlessly combined to create a musical potpourri that was melodic, rhythmic and continued the spiritual consciousness of previous albums. Later, the album would be considered a cosmic jazz classic. That’s no surprise given  the quality of music on the album.

Side One.

Renaissance opens with Space Lady where cosmic jazz and jazz funk are combined by Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes. They then unleash the jazz dance classic Mardi Gras (Carnival) which is one of the highlights of the album. Starlight and You which features a vocal masterclass from Donald Smith is a beautiful cinematic ballad that’s often overlooked and is one of the hidden gems on the album.

Side Two.

Very different is Mongotee which opens side two and heads in the direction of jazz. It’s all change on the dancer A Song Of Love which benefits from an emotive and heartfelt vocal from Donald Smith. However,  the thoughtful, pensive and spacey sounding Between Here And There is without doubt one of the album’s finest moments. Bringing Renaissance to a close is the title-track which features lyrics by Jeff Gaines. Originally the song was going to be an instrumental but a chance meeting resulted in the lyrics being written and a new ending to Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’ sixth album and RCA Victor debut.

Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’ sixth album and RCA Victor debut was an captivating and eclectic mixture of moods and musical genres. It finds the pioneering bandleader and pianist leading a band on Renaissance which later became a cosmic jazz classic. However, it’s not just a cosmic jazz that features on Renaissance. There’s also jazz funk and elements of avant-garde, experimental, free jazz, funk, fusion and jazz on what was a truly ambitious album.

Renaissance like the five albums that Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes released on Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions was an innovative genre-melting album that is still influenced a new generation of musicians. That’s no surprise as Lonnie Liston Smith was a leader, not a follower, and pioneer whose music was way ahead of his time. Renaissance. and the albums that Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes released on Flying Dutchman Productions feature a true musical visionary at the peak of his considerable creative powers.

Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes-Renaissance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HAPPY IN HOLLYWOOD-THE PRODUCTIONS OF GARY USHER.

Happy In Hollywood-The Productions Of Gary Usher.

Label: Ace Records.

Format: CD.

Release Date: ‘29th’ July 2022.

Although Gary Usher was born in Los Angeles, California, on December ‘14th’ 1938, he spent his childhood and teenage years living in New England. That was where his lifelong love affair with music began.

Growing up, music was an important part of Gary Usher’s life. He spent time listening to the radio at the family home in New England. Then at the dawn of the rock ’n’ roll era he began collecting records. Elvis was a favourite of the future producer.

By 1957, Gary Usher had returned to California and was working as a labourer for his uncle Benny who lived in Hawthorne, south-west LA. This wasn’t far from the Wilson family who had three sons Brian, Dennis and Carl.

Gary Usher’s career as a labourer was short-lived, when he got a job with the Bank Of America. This was where he met guitarist Dick Burns, who taught him how to play a few basic chords. Little did either man realise that this was the start of Gary Usher’s musical career.

Before it began, Gary Usher enlisted in the US Army and was posted to Seoul, where he became a company clerk. In his spare time, he formed a group with other soldiers. 

The nascent group played a mixture of chart hits while Gary Usher began writing his own compositions for the first time. This was an important development.

When Gary Usher was discharged from the US Army and returned to California he knew that wanted to pursue a career in music. He was reunited with  his friend Dick Burns when he joined Bobby Fry and His Troupe. The group entered the studio which was a new experience for Gary Usher. However, he had a dilemma.

He wasn’t sure whether he wanted to pursue a career as a songwriter or producer. Despite this, Gary Usher released singles on two local labels, Titan and Lan-Cet. However, neither single sold well and it looked like his solo career was going to be short-lived.

It was at this time that Gary Usher met the Podolor brothers. Don Podolor helped him with the business side of music, while his brother Richard would go on to play on a number of Gary Usher productions.

Over the next few months and years, Gary Usher met musicians who would play on his sessions. This included drummer Wayne Edwards plus singer and guitarist Les Weisner, who were part of the Bobby Fry Group. That was in the future.

Before that, in 1962, Gary Usher, who was still living in Hawthorne at the time, heard good things about the Wilson brothers and visited them for the first time. Straight away, he bonded with Brian the eldest brother and they began writing songs for The Beach Boys. 

The group was just starting to make a breakthrough, and the first Usher and Wilson composition was 409, which featured on the B-Side of their sophomore single, Surfin’ Safari. The song lent its name to the group’s debut album, which featured five further compositions from the burgeoning songwriting partnership. This, however, didn’t please everyone.

Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson’s father Murray, who was also the group’s manager, made it clear to his sons that he didn’t want outsiders cowriting songs. He was of the belief that songwriting should be kept within the family. After all, publishing was a lucrative business.

By 1963, Gary Usher had signed to Four Star Music as a songwriter and to Challenge Records as a recording artist. However, during this period, he started to learn more about the music business. This included the role of the producer.  Gary Usher watched and listened to the arrangers and engineers he worked with, absorbing their knowledge which he would soon be put to good use.

Later in 1963, Gary Usher released singles by two studio he groups he put together. This included The Sunsets and The Four Speeds, a project which Dennis Wilson was involved with.  There was also The Super Stocks, which was the up-and-coming producer’s first project for Capitol Records.

Meanwhile, Gary Usher was also working with local DJ Roger Christian. The pair cowrote numerous surf, drag and hot rod tracks that became singles and various compilations. Many groups recorded the pair’s songs including The Competitors, The Hondells and The Kickstands. Usually, Gary Usher was the arranger but by 1964 was being credited as producer.

In 1964, Gary Usher was in demand as a producer and was enjoying the most successful period of his career. Between 1962 and 1969 he produced twenty-four hit singles and twenty-four of the albums that he produced went on to chart. Three of these albums were certified gold.  

As the sixties drew to a close, Gary Usher was regarded as a versatile producer who was able to seamlessly switch between musical genes. Music was changing and producers had to be adaptable. By then, the thirty-four year old had already produced an eclectic selection of successful singles and albums. This was just the start of a long career as a producer.

His career is celebrated on Happy In Hollywood-The Productions Of Gary Usher. It’s the latest instalment in Ace Records’ Producer Series, and this twenty-four track compilation will be released on the ‘29th’ July 2022.

Amongst the artists on Happy In Hollywood-The Productions Of Gary Usher are The Byrds, Gene Clark, The Hondells, Keith Allison, The Spiral Starecase, The Neptunes, The Surfaris, The Sons Of Adam, Brian Wilson and The Peanut Butter Conspiracy. These tracks are part of a carefully curated overview of Gary Usher’s production career between 1964 and 1987.

Opening Happy In Hollywood-The Productions Of Gary Usher is Lady Friend by The Byrds. It’s the B-Side to their 1967 single Old John Robertson. The session wasn’t an easy one for the newly appointed producer. Gene Clark had left the group in late 1966, and this session was punctuated by squabbling between Roger McGuinn and David Crosby. This resulted in the producer spending part of his time acting as referee and peacemaker. Despite the conflict, the group recorded what’s regarded as one of their finest songs.

Gene Clark was seen as the best songwriter within The Byrds. He left the group in March 1966, and was soon offered a solo recording contract by Columbia. So You Say You Lost Your Baby is one of the singer’s compositions and features on the album Gene Clark With The Gosdin Brothers. The song was arranged by Leon Russell and produced by Gary Usher and is one of the highlights of what’s now regarded as an influential album which featured everything from baroque pop to country rock and folk rock.

In early 1967, a studio only lineup of The Hondells entered the studio to record a new single for Columbia. This was Yes To You. The B-Side was Just One More Chance a slice of memorable sixties pop-psych arranged and produced by Gary Usher who proves that he’s an innovative producer who could work across disparate musical genres. 

Keith Allison was a familiar face on American television by 1967. He featured on the popular program Where The Action Is. That was how Larry Marks asked him to record the In Action album. Originally, the project was meant to be produced by Larry Marks. However, when he left Columbia Gary Usher took over and completed the project. The finest is the album opener Louise, a joyous fusion of sixties pop, psych and rock.

The Spiral Starecase were based in Sacramento where this talented group played regularly. However, for many people lead singer Pat Upton was seen as the group’s shining star. This included Gary Usher who arranged and produced their cover of Baby What I Mean, which had previously given The Drifters a hit single. For the session, members of the Wrecking Crew replaced band members and were augmented by a horn and string session as they accompanied the charismatic vocalist. Despite the all-star lineup this pop-rock single stalled at 111 on the US Billboard 100.

When The Neptunes recorded Shame Girl for Warner Bros in April 1964, at Western Recorders in LA, members of the Wrecking Crew  played on the session. Sharing lead vocal dudes were Chuck Girard and Gary Usher who also arranged and produced a track whose roots are in the surf, drag and hot rod which was popular at the time. 

I Don’t Wanna Say Goodnight was released by The Forte Four in November 1966. It was Gary Usher’s first production for Decca. It’s a slick, carefully crafted track with a commercial sound that should’ve found favour with DJs and record buyers. 

Gary Usher began working with The Surfaris in 1964. In 1965, he arranged and produced their cover of The Beach Boys’ Don’t Hurt My Little Sister. Tucked away on the B-Side was Catch A Little Ride With Me a memorable example of a sixties Californian pop song which is based around a fairground theme and features drummer Ron Wilson on lead vocal. Sadly, the single failed commercially and this hidden gem was only unearthed much later.

For their classic album Sweethearts Of The Rodeo, this latest lineup of The Byrds covered Bob Dylan’s You Ain’t Going Nowhere. It was recorded in Nashville while Gram Parsons was a member of the group during the session. He plays an important part in the sound and success of this country rock track. It’s a reminder of a truly talented group who pioneered this genre. 

Show Me, Girl was The Hondells swansong for Mercury. This Goffin and King cover was one of six recorded during June 1966. Just like the rest of the songs, it was arranged and produced by Gary Usher and released as a single later in 1966. Despite its commercial sound, the single failed commercially and it was a case of what might have been for the group? 

When Brian Wilson recorded his 1988 eponymous album for Sire, a variety of producers were used during the lengthy and complicated sessions. Gary Usher produced Let’s Go To Heaven In My Car, which featured on the soundtrack for Police Academy 4. It’s one of the highlights of the album and is a welcome reminder of one the legendary figures of music as he makes a welcome return.

Happy In Hollywood was the title-track from California’s 1976 album for A&M. The group features many big names from the LA music scene, including David Batteau who in 1967 worked with Gary Usher on his previous project, Sagittarius. This time around, the pair co-produced the album. The title-track is a perfect example of laid back soft rock and without doubt, is one of the album’s highlights. It’s the perfect way to close the compilation.

Happy In Hollywood-The Productions Of Gary Usher is the perfect introduction to one of the most innovative and versatile producers in LA during the sixties. He was able to seamlessly switch between musical genes. Proof of this can be found on the compilation which features a variety of disparate genres which show that music was changing and producers had to be adaptable. 

Not all producers were as adaptable as Gary Usher. However, his ability to work with a wide range of groups resulted in him producing many critically acclaimed albums during the sixties across various musical genres. Between 1962 and 1969 he produced twenty-four hit singles and twenty-four albums that he produced went on to chart. Three of these albums were certified gold. This was just the start of a long career as a producer.

Gary Usher’s career continued through the seventies and into the eighties. By then, he was a hugely respected figure and was working with some of the biggest names in music. This included his old friend Brian Wilson who he met back in Hawthorne, LA in the early sixties. A lot had happened to both men since.

Just two years after working with Brian Wilson, Gary Usher died in LA on May the ’25th’ 1990. He was just fifty-two. The singer, songwriter, musician, arranger and producer had enjoyed a career that spanned three decades and enjoyed commercial success and critical acclaim. 

However,  it’s as a producer that Gary Usher is best known. He was a musical pioneer whose productions were inventive and innovative. Partly, this was to do with the musicians he worked with, including members of the legendary Wrecking Crew. They can be heard on some of the tracks on Happy In Hollywood-The Productions Of Gary Usher which is a fitting tribute to a pioneering producer whose much missed.

Happy In Hollywood-The Productions Of Gary Usher.

MASTERPIECES OF MODERN SOUL VOLUME 6.

Masterpieces Of Modern Soul Volume 6.

Label: Kent Dance.

Format: CD.

Release Date: ‘29th’ July 2022.

Almost nineteen years ago,  in October 2003,  Kent Soul released the first instalment in the Masterpieces Of Modern Soul series. Since then, another six volumes have been released.

The first came in January 2009, when Masterpieces Of Modern Soul Volume 2 was released. 

Just over two years passed, and then Masterpieces Of Modern Soul Volume 3 hit the shops in November 2011. However, connoisseurs of modern soul had to patiently wait the release of Masterpieces Of Modern Soul Volume 4. 

A year passed, and then two became three, and still, there was no sign of Masterpieces Of Modern Soul Volume 4. Then after nearly four long years, the much anticipated fourth volume in one of Ace Records’ most popular compilation series was released to critical acclaim in September 2015.

Then, as 2016 dawned, the Masterpieces Of Modern Soul series converted from CD to vinyl when a compilation Masterpieces Of Modern Soul was released. This was a welcome addition to the long-running series.

Another three years passed before  Masterpieces Of Modern Soul Volume 5 was released by Kent Dance in June 2019. Since then, there’s been no further instalments in this much-loved series. That, however, will soon change.

On the ‘29th’ July 2022 Masterpieces Of Modern Soul Volume 6 will be released by Kent Dance, an imprint of Ace Records. It features twenty-four tracks from familiar faces and some new names. However, all the tracks have one thing in common…quality. This includes the unreleased tracks. Just like previous instalments in the series, the emphasis is on quality.

Opening Masterpieces Of Modern Soul Volume 6 is Wake Up Smiling by Janice. This is a track from her critically acclaimed eponymous album released on Fantasy in 1975. It’s an uplifting, driving dancer with horns and strings that sets the bar high for the rest of the compilation.

Joe Graham had just signed to Aware when the Atlanta-based label imploded in 1975. He had just recorded four tracks earlier that year. One of them was the previously unreleased Higher Than The Sun. This soulful, funky dancer is a welcome inclusion and a reminder of a truly talented singer.

Dee Erwin wrote You Make Me Happy which he recorded for Hotatlanta in 1975. Given the demise of the label, the track was never released. Now forty-seven years later this joyful and anthemic mixture of soul and gospel-tinged harmonies makes it’s debut. It’s one of the best of the unreleased tracks and highlights of the compilation, and is sure to find favour with fans of modern soul.

Legendary jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd, was brought onboard to produce The 3 Pieces’ 1975 album Vibes Of Truth for Fantasy. One of the highlights was If Only I Could Prove To You, which  was arranged and conducted by Wade Marcus. He’s responsible for the string chart that plays such an important part in the song’s success. Guesting on guitar during the session for the Washington-based group’s debut album was Ray Parker Junior. He plays his part on a soulful paean with a soul-baring vocal which is a hidden gem from an album that sadly, failed to find the audience it so richly deserved.

In 1969, Margie Joseph released One More Chance on Memphis-based Volt. Hidden away on the B-Side was Nobody which was penned by Willie Tee and features a defiant but deeply soulful powerhouse of a vocal. It’s  accompanied by horns and harmonies that play their part in making this such a memorable track, and one that’s stood the test of time.

Another of the unreleased tracks is Jean Shy’s What Tomorrow Brings. It was recorded in 1977 and is a Leaptop Production. Soul is combined with disco on what can only be described as a call to dance that’s sure to become a favourite with DJs and dancers on the modern soul scene. 

In 1975, soul man Phillip Mitchell made his way to Muscle Shoals Sounds where he recorded this alternate take of I’ll See You In Hell First for the Event label. Producer Brad Shapiro is responsible for a big, bold arrangement where soul and funk are combined. The lyrics which are different to the final version are akin to a mini soap opera about a relationship that’s gone badly wrong, and tragically, love has turned to loathing. 

Joe Hinton was signed to Atlanta-based Act One label when it crashed and burned. One of the tracks he had recorded that was never released was You and Me Baby. It’s a prime slice Southern Soul with an emotive, heartfelt vocal and a carefully crafted arrangement that oozes quality. 

Maggabrain was an eight-piece funk band from Atlanta, who in 1975, released their debut single New Wavin’. Three years later, in 1978, the ground recorded Sam Dees and Stephen Perry’s Have A Good Time at the city’s Sound Pit studio. Sadly, the track was never released. It’s a fast, funky and soulful dancer that leaves a lasting impression on the listener.

Mickey Stevenson produced I Can’t Turn You Down for Melanie Burke in 1981. The vocal on this ballad is best described as an cathartic outpouring of emotion and hurt that’s complimented by an arrangement where the strings play leading role.

Closing Masterpieces Of Modern Soul Volume 6 is Bedroom Eyes by Betty Everett. It was written and produced by Billy and Gene Page who was also the arranger.  The track was a highlight of the album Happy Endings, which was released on Fantasy in 1975. This beautiful ballad features a tender, heartfelt vocal from the Chicago-born singer and is the perfect way to close the compilation.

Let’s hope that it won’t be another three years before Kent Dance releases the next instalment in the Masterpieces Of Modern Soul series. Even if it is, if it’s anywhere near as good as Masterpieces Of Modern Soul Volume 6 then it’ll be well worth the wait. After all, this is no ordinary soul compilation.

The twenty-two tracks on Masterpieces Of Modern Soul Volume 6 are from a mixture of familiar faces and what will be new names to many people. There’s everything from minor classics, B-Sides, album cuts and hidden gems on this lovingly curated compilation. Then there’s the unreleased tracks which ooze quality. Just like the other tracks, they’re variously uber soulful, sometimes funky and dancefloor friendly. What more can fans of modern soul ask for on a compilation that oozes quality?

Masterpieces Of Modern Soul Volume 6.

ATLANTA SOUL ARTISTRY 1965-1975.

Atlanta Soul Artistry 1965-1975.

Label: Kent Soul.

Format: LP.

Atlanta’s black music scene started to thrive during the fifties and sixties. However, one of the most important figures during the sixtes was Bill Haney. 

He was a producer, songwriter and owner of Down South Productions who was responsible for some of the finest Southern Soul to come out of Atlanta. While his career continued into the early seventies, Bill Haney, like so many others involved in Atlanta’s music scene were overshadowed by the arrival of Michael Thevis.

The story began in the early seventies, when Michael Thevis was looking for a legitimate way to get his substantial fortune into the financial system. By then, he was heavily involved in pornography. So much so, that he would later admit to a Louisville jury that he was: “the General Motors of pornography.” That was still to come.

In the early seventies, Michael Thevis had a problem. He discovered that he was under investigation from the FBI. Not wanting to follow in the footsteps of Al Capone and Dutch Schultz who were brought down by federal investigations, he began looking for legitimate enterprises.

Casting around looking for a legitimate business, Michael Thevis hit upon the idea of forming not one, but three record labels. This included GRC (General Recording Corporation), Aware and Hotlanta Records. These labels would become part of his nascent musical empire.

Soon, there was a new addition to Michael Thevis’ musical empire, the Sound Pit Studio in Atlanta. It boasted some of the best equipment money could buy. Building the studio made financial sense. It saved hiring other studios, and meant artists signed to GRC, Aware and Hotlanta Records could record at the impressive new studio. And when the studio wast in use, it could be hired out, and bring in much needed income. However, as all this empire building continued, tongues began wagging, including Michael Thevis.

Veterans of the Atlanta music scene watched, as the state-of-the-art studio took shape. This was the most advanced studio in Atlanta. It was a similar case with the rest of Michael Thevis’ musical empire.

No expense was spared as he expanded his musical empire. He added to his record labels the Act One publishing company, the Jason Management booking agency and a film company. They became part of Michael Thevis’ musical empire which he was proud of and wasn’t shy about telling people about it.

Rather than keep a low profile, Michael Thevis ran his musical empire from a lavish suite of offices in Atlanta. They were featured in Billboard in May 1974, when the magazine ran a feature on the Atlanta music industry. He told Billboard of his latest takeover, and his expansion plans.

Michael Thevis’ most recently acquisition was the Moonsong publishing company, which he had purchased from Bill Brandon. This became part of the GRC’s publishing division, alongside Act One. 

To run the newly expanded publishing division, Bill Brandon joined GRC, and became the publishing manager of GRC’s R&B division. However, the acquisition of Moonsong was just part of Michael Thevis’ grand plan.

He told Billboard of his plans to build a brand new twenty-eight story skyscraper in Atlanta. This would be where he ran his musical empire. It would have outposts in Nashville, Houston, Los Angles, New York and London. What made this  seem all the more convincing was when he booked eight pages of advertising in Billboard’s Atlanta special.

To most people, Michael Thevis came across as a legitimate businessman with big plans for the future and for Atlanta. By then, everyone seemed to buy into his grand plan. He was the local boy who had made good. It was a case of hail the conquering hero.

Incredibly, though, nobody seemed to be paying close attention to the numbers. None of Michael Thevis’ record companies were particularly successful. They were neither consistently releasing hit singles, nor successful albums. So where was all the income coming from? Was it the publishing company, recording studio, booking company or film company? Nobody knew nor seemed, in a hurry to find out. Given the musical entrepreneur’s past and his reputation for violence maybe that wasn’t surprising?

Originally, Michael Thevis’ film company financed legitimate films. This included the Zhui Ming Qiang in 1973, and Seizure which was one of Oliver Stone’s earliest films. It was released in 1974. 

A year later, Michael Thevis had gone up in the world, and released Poor Pretty Eddy 1975. Every film was more successful than the last. However, although he  was trying to build a legitimate business empire, he had reverted to type.

The film company he had acquired began producing pornographic films. If any journalist had even looked into activities of Michael Thevis’ empire, it could’ve come tumbling down. This looked unlikely in early 1975.

Country singer Sammy Johns had been signed to GRC for a couple of years. In early 1973, Sammy Johns released Chevvy Van as a single. It was reported to have sold over three million copies. Given that a GRC artist had just enjoyed such a successful single, surely the label’s finances would be on a sound footing as 1975 progressed?

While most people would’ve thought so, the truth was that many of GRC, Aware and Hotlanta Records’ releases weren’t particularly successful and hadn’t sold in vast quantities. 

That was despite the labels having such an impressive roster of artists. This included Dorothy Norwood, Joe Hinton, Ripple, John Edwards, Loleatta Holloway, Jimmy Lewis, Deep Velvet and Joe Graham. They all feature on Atlanta Soul Artistry 1965-1975, a new fourteen track compilation which was recently released by Kent Soul, an imprint of Ace Records. There’s also two Bill Haney productions Arthur Alexander and Bobby Burn. They’re welcome additions on a compilation that also features singles, album cuts and unreleased tracks from GRC, Aware and Hotlanta.  Sadly, Michael Thevis musical empire was about to collapse leaving artists high and dry. That was still to come. 

During 1975, GRC, Aware and Hotlanta were still operating and releasing some of the finest Southern Soul of the seventies. Proof of that can be found on Atlanta Soul Artistry 1965-1975.  So much so, that it’s not easy choosing the highlights.

Side One.

Opening side one of Atlanta Soul Artistry 1965-1975 is Big Boat Ride by Atlanta-born Dorothy Norwood. She was originally a gospel singer who found fame after moving to the Windy City of Chicago. By the time she signed to GRC in the early seventies, she was singing gospel tinged soul. Backed by strings and a dancefloor friendly arrangement this irresistible hidden gem in a reminder of a truly talented singer who released over forty albums.

LA-born Joe Hinton recorded I’m Tired Of Dreaming  for Hotlanta, but it’s lain unreleased until now. This beautiful soulful paean features a polished Southern Soul arrangement and needy, pleading, heartfelt vocal. This track is a real find and welcome addition to the compilation.

Originally, Ripple’s main influences were jazz and funk. However, by the time they released their eponymous debut album in 1973 their music had evolved. Their new sound was  dancefloor friendly harmony soul. One of the finest examples was the album cut You Were Right On Time.

John Edwards was one of Aware’s most successful artists. He enjoyed four hit singles and his eponymous debut album is now regarded as a Southern Soul classic. However, he recorded many songs that were never released after the demise of Michael Thevis’ musical empire. This includes the Sam Dees penned It’s Got To Be The Real Thing. It’s a memorable mid-tempo track which had the potential to be a hit.

Closing side one of Atlanta Soul Artistry 1965-1975 is Love Woke Me Up by Loleatta Holloway. It’s taken from her 1973 debut album which was released on Aware. Its features a soul-baring vocal where she lives the lyrics on what’s one of the highlights of the compilation.  

Side Two.

Jimmy Lewis’ Is That Any Way To Treat A Lady opens side two. The track was from his 1974 debut album Totally Involved which was released on Hotlanta. It’s a tale of devotion that’s written by a man to the woman he loves. He’s besotted and goes above and beyond the call of duty as the song examines love from a quite different perspective.

From the sixties, Bill Haney managed and produced Arthur Alexander. One of the tracks he produced for the legendary Souther Soul man was You Ain’t For Real. Sadly, this hidden gem was never released until 1999 when it featured on the Kent soul compilation Bill Haney’s Atlanta Southern Soul Brotherhood Volume 2. This mid-tempo track features a vocal full of frustration and sadness.

By the time Joe Graham signed to GRC in in 1975, all wasn’t well behind the scenes. He recorded four tracks for the label including I’m Leaving which features a rueful vocal full of hurt on what’s a poignant but beautiful unreleased track.

Closing Atlanta Soul Artistry 1965-1975 is Since We Said Goodbye by The Counts, who usually were a funk band. This William Bell and William McDuffie is very different to the other tracks on their 1974 album Funk Pump, which was their second they released on the label. This poignant and moving ballad is a beautiful and fitting way to close the compilation. Especially given what happened next.

Running a regional record companies offered Michael Thevis an opportunity and facility to launder dirty money. He may have used dirty money to buy his own label’s releases. These phantom record sales would only exist on paper, and would have the effect of laundering the dirty money through the company’s accounts. 

Once the money was in the record label’s company’s accounts, tax could be paid on the profit that had been made. This would further legitimise any dirty money the company was making. Especially, as the FBI were still watching Michael Thevis.

His musical empire all came crashing down in late 1975. Michael Thevis’ attempt to build a legitimate business empire had failed. Soon, it emerged that his musical empire was always doomed to failure. It had been for three years, ever since the FBI starting investigating his business activities.

That was when Roger Dean Underhill was involved in a routine traffic stop. An eagle-eyed traffic officer noticed a small cache of stolen guns under the passenger seat. This resulted in him being arrested. Rather than face the consequences, he decided to inform upon his business partner, Michael Thevis.

This lead to the start of a three year investigation that resulted, in the arrest and subsequent conviction of Michael Thevis. For all the artists signed to GRC, Aware and Hotlanta Records, this was the beginning of the end.

All the artists signed to GRC, Aware and Hotlanta Records were left high and dry. It was disaster for all the artists affected by the collapse. They were left without a label and some of the artists were also owed royalties, which in some cases, was a significant sum of money. The artists had no idea what the future held for them.

It was a similar case for Michael Thevis whose grand plans were left in tatters. It looked like the beginning of the end for GRC, the company he had spent three years building.

It wasn’t. His wife Veld and son Michael Jr, took over the running of GRC. For a while, it was business as usual for GRC. However, for Michael Thevis things were about to get much worse.

He was convicted of conspiracy to commit arson and distribution of obscene materials. The man who sparked the three year investigation into Michael Thevis, even testified in court. Roger Dean Underhill  took to the stand, and the FBI’s informant testified against his former business partner. He thought this was the right thing to do.

It was a decision Roger Dean Underhill would later live to regret. In 1978, Michael Thevis managed to escape from prison. Straight away, he was placed on the FBI’s top ten most wanted list. By then, he and some of his associates had placed an open contract on Roger Dean Underhill.

There’s an old saying that you never see the bullet that kids you. When the hit came, the shooter was none other than Michael Thevis. He shot and killed Roger Dean Underhill and one of his associates. Not long after the murders, Michael Thevis was arrested and taken to a high security facility. 

The Scarface of Porn was later convicted of the two murders. Over thirty years later, Michael Thevis died in prison in Bayport, Minnesota on November the ’20th’ 2013. The man who founded GRC, Aware and Hotlanta Records was eighty-one.

One day, documentary makers will chart the rise and demise of Michael Thevis and his musical empire. It’s a story of two kinds of hits, the musical ones, and the other type that cost two men their lives. 

The story of GRC, Aware and Hotlanta Records is truly compelling one, and is one that deserves to be told. These three labels releases some of the best Southern Soul of the seventies and  enjoyed a string of hit singles. That’s no surprise.

The labels had signed some truly talented artists from Chicago, Detroit and LA. They worked worth top musicians and producers during recording sessions at the Sound Pit Studio in Atlanta. Sadly, many of the singles and albums weren’t as successful as they should’ve been. This includes future Southern Soul classics from John Edwards and Loleatta Holloway. It was a case of what might have been and missed opportunities.

Thankfully, the music of GRC, Aware and Hotlanta Records is starting to find the wider audience it so richly deserves thanks to Kent Soul. Over the years, they’ve reissued album and released a string of compilations. 

The latest is Atlanta Soul Artistry 1965-1975 which feature twelve tracks from GRC, Aware and Hotlanta Records and two Bill Haney Productions from the sixties. For anyone yet to discover the music released by Michael Thevis’ musical empire, this new compilation is a tantalising taste of some of  the seventies’ finest Southern Soul. It’s sure to be the start of a musical voyage of discovery that includes the majestic music of Dorothy Norwood, Joe Hinton, John Edwards, Loleatta Holloway, Jimmy Lewis and all the other talented artists who were signed to GRC, Aware and Hotlanta Records.

Atlanta Soul Artistry 1965-1975.

FUNKADELIC’S GREATEST HITS.

Funkadelic’s Greatest Hits.

Label: Westbound.

Format: CD.

Nowadays, most albums released in 1975 have been reissued at least once. An exception is Funkadelic’s Greatest Hits compilation which was originally released in 1975. That’s about to change when Westbound, an imprint of Ace Records reissues this ten track CD. It’s been newly remastered and is a vast improvement on the thin, tinny sounding original album.  The compilation is known as s “the sheep album” because of Neil Terk’s unique and memorable cover.  It’s the perfect opportunity to discover ten tracks from George Clinton’s groundbreaking group taken from their first six albums which were released between 1970 and 1975. 

George Clinton was born in Kannapolis, North Carolina, in 1941, but grew up in New Jersey. That was where he formed the doo wop group The Parliaments in the late fifties. 

At the time he co-owned a barber salon in Plainfield and spent much of his day straightening hair. That was about to change when he formed his new group. It featured Ray Davis, Fuzzy Haskins, Calvin Simon, Grady Thomas and George Clinton who became the leader and manager of The Parliaments. 

Initially, the group  entertained customers in the barber shop. This was good practice as it allowed the group to hone their sound.

In June 1959, The Parliaments released their debut single Poor Willie. Although it failed to trouble the charts this was the start of career that that spanned twenty-one years.

As the fifties gave way to the sixties, the group had honed a sound that fused elements of soul and funk with increasingly bizarre and surreal lyrics. Initially, this didn’t find favour with record buyers. To complicate matters, The Parliaments were constantly switching between record labels. Still, though, a hit single continued to elude The Parliaments.

In 1964, George Clinton hired Frankie Boyce, Richard Boyce and Langston Booth to back The Parliaments. They were now a quintet which he hoped would result in a change in fortune for the group.

Sadly, it wasn’t to be and two years later, in 1966, Frankie Boyce, Richard Boyce and Langston decided to join the US Army. This left George Clinton looking for three new musicians.

He recruited bassist Billy Bass Nelson and guitarist Eddie Hazel in 1967. Later, he added guitarist Tawl Ross and drummer Tiki Fulwood. This was the lineup of The Parliaments that headed to Detroit.

By 1967, George Clinton was working as a staff songwriter at Motown. He had also arranged and produced numerous singles for other independent labels in Detroit. However, his own group The Parliaments had still to make a breakthrough.

This was about to change when The Parliaments released I Wanna Testify in May 1967, on the Detroit-based label Revilot Records. It reached number twenty on the US Billboard 100 and three on the US R&B charts. At last, The Parliaments had enjoyed a hit single, and it looked as if this was the breakthrough that they had been working towards.

It may well have been the case if Revilot Records had been forced to file for bankruptcy. This resulted in The Parliaments becoming embroiled in a contractual dispute which led to the band losing the rights to the name. For a band that had just enjoyed the biggest hit of their career, this was a disaster.

What The Parliaments needed a new name. That was when Billy Bass Nelson came up with the name Funkadelic. It stuck and the group adopted the new name.

This allowed the newly named Funkadelic to continue to record for other labels, and in 1968 they signed to Westbound Records.

Having signed to Westbound Records, Funkadelic’s music began to evolve. Doo-wop was yesterday’s sound. The newly named group needed a new and much more contemporary sound. Psychedelia, rock, soul and funk were the musical flavours of the month. So were Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone and it made sense for Funkadelic to fuse these musical genres and influences. 

This is what Funkadelic did. However, they were no ordinary band. This was, after all, the era of the civil rights movement. Just like many other bands, the civil rights movement inspired them and their lyrics were full of social and political comment. The group’s music would prove to be a heady brew.

By then, George Clinton had decided that Funkadelic would be a funk-rock band which featured five backing musicians and The Parliaments as uncredited guest artists. This would be the lineup of Funkadelic that featured on their eponymous debut album which was released on Westbound Records.

Funkadelic.

Funkadelic was released to plaudits and praise on ‘24th’ February 1970, and was a truly ambitious genre-melting debut album of P-Funk. The group fused blues-tinged acid rock,  lysergic space funk and conventional soul songs whose sound hinted at Stax and even Motown influences. This included I’ll Bet You and  Got a Thing, You Got a Thing, Everybody’s Got a Thing which are among the highlights of a truly innovative and imaginative debut album that showcased what George Clinton and the group were capable of.  It was no surprise that these two tracks featured on Funkadelic’s Great Hits’ album in 1975.

When Funkadelic reached 126 in the US Billboard 200 and eight in the US R&B Charts the future looked bright for the psychedelic, funkateers. They would release their sophomore album later in 1970. 

Free Your Mind… and Your Ass Will Follow.

George Clinton have a brainwave when recording of Funkadelic’s album was due to too place. He decided to record an album of P-Funk whilst they were tripping on acid. This was a first and the result was the future funk classic Free Your Mind… and Your Ass Will Follow. 

It was album was mired in controversy. This was down to the title-track. It was a ten minute epic where amidst a feedback drenched backdrop, Funkadelic managed to offend Christians everywhere. The result was mixed reviews. 

Despite that, the album reached number ninety-two in the US Billboard 200 and number eleven in the US R&B charts. This made Free Your Mind… and Your Ass Will Follow the most successful album of Funkadelic’s career. That’s no surprise.

Funk, psychedelic soul and acid rock were combined into a majestic musical potpourri on an album of P-Funk packed full of highlights. This included Funky Dollar Bill and I Wanna Know If It’s Good to You? Both tracks later featured on Funkadelic’s  Greatest Hits album in 1975. By then, they had released four more albums.

Maggot Brain.

This included Maggot Brain which was recorded during 1970 and 1971. By then, the group had a s voracious appetite for drugs, and specifically, acid. What would become a classic album, cost not just Funkadelic, but the individual members dearly.

On its release, on 12th July 1971, Maggot Brain was well received by critics. Most critics gave the album glowing reviews. The album featured genre-melting music where acid rock, funk rock, psychedelic soul funk and progressive soul melted into one on their third album of P-Funk  With tracks of the standard of Can You Get To That and Hit It and Quit It, it which also featured on Funkadelic’s Greatest Hits in 1975. That was still to come. 

Before that, most critics thought that Maggot Brain would  become a classic and a comically successful album. 

Sadly, that wasn’t the case. Music buyers weren’t convinced by Funkadelic’s dark, moody worldview. Maggot Brain stalled at 108 in the US Billboard 200 and number fourteen in the US R&B charts. For George Clinton this was a huge disappointment. Worse was to come.

After the release of Maggot Brain, Tawl Ross, Eddie Hazel, Billy Nelson, and Tiki Fulwood left Funkadelic. Maggot Brain became the last Funkadelic album to feature the original group. The original group’s swansong was their finest hour. 

America Eats Its Young.

Funkadelic returned on May 22nd 1972 with their fourth album America Eats Its Young. It was a double album and featured a new lineup of the group. 

With the new lineup came a new sound. It was radical mixture of funk, fusion, psychedelia, P-funk and rock that was combined with insightful powerful lyrics full of social comment on an  album that was hailed as George Clinton’s  “grand statement” on the ongoing Vietnam War. Elsewhere, some of the tracks were tinged with humour and playful as Funkadelic showed different sides to their music. 

However, some critics felt that some of the material on America Eats Its Young wasn’t strong enough and it would’ve been better as a single album. The same can be said of The Beatles’ White Album. Nowadays, though, America Eats Its Young is regarded as one Funkadelic’s finest and most eclectic albums. One of the standout tracks is Loose Booty which was released as a single and features o Funkadelic’s Greatest Hits album in 1975.

Despite the mixed reviews, America Eats Its Young still etched 123 in the US Billboard 200 and twenty-two in the US R&B charts. Meanwhile, the single Loose Booty reached thirty-eight in the US R&B charts. For the new lineup of Funkadelic it was a good start. Now to build on it.

Cosmic Sloop.

It was a case of expect the unexpected from George Clinton and his fellow musical shapeshifters. They released Cosmic Slop in May 1973, and it was an album very different to their previous releases.

Everything from funk and rock were combined with elements  of hard rock and what can only be described as proto-heavy metal. The finest track on their latest album of P-Funk was Cosmic Sloop,  a glorious genre-melting track that finds a band pushing boundaries to the limits. It’s no surprise the track  featured on Funkadelic’s 1975 Greatest Hits album.

It gave critics and music fans the opportunity the revaluate the track. When the album Cosmic Sloop was released it passed critics it reached 112 on the US Billboard 200 and t twenty-one on the US R&B charts and surpassed the success of America Eats Its Young. Could Funkadelic continue to make progress and introduce their music to a wider audience?

Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On.

For Funkadelic’s sixth album Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On, virtuoso guitarist Eddie Hazel made a welcome return to the P-Funk pioneers. He cowrote each of the seven tracks, shared lead vocal duties and added his distinctive guitar sound. The result was an album that saw the group’s fortunes improve. 

This time, critics were won over by an album where the music and jamming and music was the order of the day. Unlike previous albums, the lyrics although good, were overshadowed by Funkadelic and especially a guitar masterclass from Eddie Hazel. This includes on the track Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On which in 1975, reappeared on Funkadelic’s Greatest Hits compilation.

However, when Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On was released on July 14th 1974, it reached 163 in the US Billboard 200 and thirteen on the US R&B charts. This was a disappointment after the success of Cosmic Sloop. The big question was what next for Funkadelic? 

Let’s Take It To The Stage.

On ‘21st’ April 1975, Funkadelic returned with their seventh album Let’s Take It To The Stage. It was an album where funk rock, jazz, soul and what was called street rap. Although dark in parts and tough, it featured a tight group making dancefloor friendly music.  There was also an element of humour on an album that was well received by many critics and regarded by some as their most engaging an listenable. However, one criticism was that the subject matter of some of the lyrics weren’t particularly PC.

When Let’s Take It To The Stage was released the album reached 104 in  the US Billboard 200 and thirteen on the US R&B charts. This was an improvement on Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On. Funkadelic were making progress and a new compilation was released later in 1975.

Greatest Hits.

Westbound released Funkadelic’s Greatest Hits’ album later in 1975, amd it featured ten tracks. They were a mixture of singles, albums and an edit of the instrumental A Joyful Process. It’s a welcome addition, and is part fo what’s a perfect introduction to the groundbreaking and genre-defying music of George Clinton’s P-Funk pioneers. 

For anyone yet to discover the music of Funkadelic, then the newly remastered reissue of  Funkadelic’s Greatest Hits is the perfect place to start. Listen to their cosmic mix of musical genres and influences which often featured insightful lyrics full of social comment. Other times, humour was the order of the day. When things got lysergic, the lyrics can be surreal and spacey. However, when Funkadelic unleash a genre-melting jam it’s a case of sit back and enjoy the musical journey. That’s the case on their Greatest Hits album which is a heady and  musical brew to savour time and again. 

Funkadelic’s Greatest Hits.

WHATEVER YOU WANT-BOB CREWE’S 60s SOUL SOUNDS

Whatever You Want-Bob Crewe’s 60s Soul Sounds.

Label: Kent Soul.

Format: CD.

Mention Bob Crewe’s name and most music fans remember the pop-soul songs he wrote, and his recordings with Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons and Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels. Then there’s the New Voice and Dynavoice labels which he founded and ran. Sadly, many of the singles the labels released failed to find the wider audience they deserved and were only by unearthed by crate digging DJs and music fans at a later date. By then, Bob Crewe had worked with some of the biggest names in soul and R&B.

This included Jerry Butler, Ben E King, Chuck Jackson, Dee Dee Sharp, Barbara Mason, Walter Jackson and James Carr. They all feature on Whatever You Want-Bob Crewe’s 60s Soul Sounds, a new compilation which will be released by Kent Soul, an imprint of Ace Records on ‘1st’ July 2022. It features twenty-four tracks recorded during the sixties. However, by then, Bob Crewe had already enjoyed commercial success.

In 1957, Bob Crewe produced Silhouettes for Hal Miller and The Rays. It was a track that the producer had written with his original songwriting partner Frank Slay Jr. The pair were based in Philly, which was also home to the Cameo label who released the single nationwide. It gave the group a hit and increased the songwriting partnership’s profile.

Later in 1957, the pair penned La Dee Dah which gave Billy (Ford) and Lillie (Bryant) a hit on Swan. Then in 1958 the pair enjoyed a hit with Lucky Ladybug. The Bob Crewe and Frank Slay Jr songwriting partnership was on a roll. 

They penned two hits for Freddy Cannon who was also signed to Swan. Both 1958s Tallahassee Lassie and 1959s Way Down Yonder In New Orleans reached the top ten. However, it wasn’t  long before Bob Crewe and Frank Slay Jr decided to concentrate on different projects.

Frank Slay Jr continued as Swan’s head of A&R. Meanwhile, Bob Crewe returned home to the New Jersey-New York area where he embarked upon the next chapter in his career.

That was where he discovered the New Jersey vocal group The Four Lovers. They became The Four Seasons in 1962. The youngest member of the group Bob Gaudio became Bob Crewe’s new songwriting partner. 

Bob Gaudio wrote An Angel Cried for Hal Miller and The Rays in November 1961. It opens Whatever You Want-Bob Crewe’s 60s Soul Sounds. This Bob Crewe production was released on Topic in 1961. It’s a dramatic track with a complicated arrangement and an emotive lead vocal that’s accompanied by soaring harmonies. Two years later, in 1963, the backing track featured on Chuck Jackson’s King Of The Mountain.

In 1962, Jerry Butler released Whatever You Want which was written by Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe. It’s a string-drenched ballad featuring a soul-baring, heartfelt vocal.

Bob Crewe wrote The Beginning Of Time for Ben E King. It was the B-Side of I Who Have Nothing which was released on Atco in 1963. The single reached twenty-nine in the US Billboard 100 and sixteen in the US R&B charts. Record buyers who listened to the B-Side discovered a hidden gem where strings accompany a vocal that’s a mixture of power and passion.

When Chuck Jackson released his album Encore on Wand in 1963, it featured the Bob Gaudio composition Another Day. It’s an atmospheric Bob Crewe production, with a vocal masterclass from one of the great soul men of his generation. 

Philly born Dee Dee Sharp released Deep Dark Secret on Cameo in 1964. Bob Crewe who produced the track cowrote it with Eddie Rambeau and Bud Rehak. Sadly, the single failed to find an audience but later, became a favourite of DJs and dancers on the UK Northern Soul scene. 

Barbara Lewis released Pushing A Good Thing Too Far on Atlantic in 1964. Bob Crewe cowrote the track with Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell, while Ollie McLaughlin took charge of production. It’s another soulful hidden gem that was belatedly unearthed by DJs and soul aficionados.

(You’re Gonna) Hurt Yourself was released by Frankie Vali on Smash in 1966. It was produced by Bob Crewe and is a soulful dancer with horns, handclaps and harmonies from the Four Seasons accompany the vocal. It’s no surprise that the single reached thirty-nine in the US Billboard 100

Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels’ You Get Your Kicks driving dancer was released on New Voice in 1966. Gary Knight cowrote this irresistible single with Bob Crewe who was also the arranger and producer. 

Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons released their album New Gold Hits on Phillips in 1967. Although I’m Gonna Change which was never released as a single it featured on the album. It was produced and directed by Bob Crewe that became a favourite on the UK Northern Soul scene. The track is another welcome addition to the compilation.

Everything Under The Sun was written by Bob Crewe and Gary Knight and recorded by Walter Jackson. He released it as a single on Okeh in 1967. It showcases a truly talented singer at the peak of his powers.

James Carr originally recorded Sock It To Me Baby for the Memphis-based Goldwax label. However, the track lay unreleased for over thirty years when it made its belated debut on Kent compilation The Complete James Carr Volume II. It’s a reminder of legendary soul man whose music should’ve found a much wider audience.

Closing Whatever You Want-Bob Crewe’s 60s Soul Sounds is The Time Keepers’ 3 Minute Heavy. This uplifting choppy dancer was arranged, conducted and produced by Herb Bernstein for Bob Crewe Productions and is the perfect way to close the compilation.

The twenty-four tracks on Whatever You Want-Bob Crewe’s 60s Soul Sounds are a tantalising taste of a truly talented songwriter and producer. There’s contributions from familiar faces and what will be new names to some music fans. Some of the tracks may be favourites of soul and R&B fans. They’re joined by several hidden gems on this lovingly curated compilation that oozes quality and is the perfect introduction to the music Bob Crewe wrote and produced during the sixties. 

Whatever You Want-Bob Crewe’s 60s Soul Sounds.

BOB STANLEY AND PETE WIGGS PRESENT FELL FROM THE SKY: DOWNTEMPO AND AFTER HOURS 1990-91. 

Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs Present Fell From The Sky: Downtempo and After Hours 1990-91.

Label: Ace Records.

Format: CD. 

Release Date: ‘1st’ July 2022.  

House music arrived in Britain in 1987 and instantly transformed the musical landscape. Just like disco a decade earlier, it went on to provided the soundtrack for a generation in clubs across Britain. The genre that was born in the Windy City of Chicago was embraced by a new generation of clubbers. This was the case during the long hot summer of 1989 and right through to the start of the new decade.

Then two records were released during February 1990 that turned out to be gamechangers and  once again, transformed Britain’s musical landscape. They were The KLF’s Chill Out and Andrew Weatherall’s  remix of Primal Scream’s album track Loaded. Both tracks were much slower than house music and were just 98 beats per minute and turned out to be hugely influential.

Chill Out and the remix of Loaded slowed the tempo on the dancefloor way down. Both tracks also caught the imagination of DJs and dancers  who, it seemed, preferred the slower tempo tracks.  No wonder after three hedonistic years dancing to frantic 4/4 house tracks. The times they were a changing.

It was no surprise that within weeks, an array of similar mid-tempo, chilled out tracks were released. They were atmospheric, dreamy, lysergic, smokey, spacey, floaty, and fuzzy sounding. Many of these tracks charted in Britain. 

Some lacked originality and sounded as if they had been heavily inspired by Soul II Soul, who at the time, were at the peak of their popularity. However, other artists and groups released innovative, genre melting tracks that would quickly become favourites of DJs and dancers. This included another Primal Scream remix as well as tracks by Sheer Taft, Q-Tee, The Grid, Saint Etienne, One Dove, BBG, The Aloof and Moodswings. Tracks by these artists feature on the new compilation Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs Present Fell From The Sky: Downtempo and After Hours 1990-91, which will be released by Ace Records on the  ‘1st’ of July 2022. 

Opening the compilation is an Extended Remix of Primal Scream’s Higher Than The Sun (Higher Than The Orb). The original version featured on the group’s 1991 classic album Screamadelica where they fused acid house and rock. However, this spacey, lysergic remix marries dub with elements of neo-psych and the pastoral sound of the second side of Pink Floyd’s 1969 album Ummagumma. Listen carefully, and even the influence of Steve Hillage’s 1979 ambient album Rainbow Dome Musick  can be heard on this genre-melting remix. It was later hailed a genre classic and  has definitely stood the test of time.

Thirteen of the fourteen tracks on Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs Present Fell From The Sky: Downtempo and After Hours 1990-91 are by British artists and groups. The exception is the Essential Trance Hall Mix of It Could Not Happen by Critical Rhythm featuring Jango Thriller and Vandal. It was produced by New York-based production duo Brooklyn Funk Essentials and released in 1990. However, with its breathy, dreamy vocal and understated, spacey arrangement it sounds as if could’ve been made in London.

Thomas Taft, who originally, was from Greenock, not far from Glasgow. By 1990 he was living in London and recording using the moniker Sheer Taft. He recorded two singles with vocalist Ingrid Kudos and the album Cascades.  However, it’s the Hypnotone  Mix of Cascades which features on the compilation. The track was reworked by Manchester musician Tony Martin aka Hynotone with Thrash from The Orb helping with the final mix. The result is an ethereal, dreamy example of mid-tempo trance.

The Grid was a production duo of David Ball formerly of Soft Cell and Richard Norris. One of their finest productions was the original version of Floatation. Straight away, the influence of acid house with squelch synths to the fore can be heard. So can the new-age relaxation influence that was proving popular in 1990 when this track was released.  The tempo is slower with space left between the grinding beats which is joined by a breathy, sensual and suggestive vocal. It’s no surprise that the track found favour with DJs and clubbers across Britain.

The only unreleased track is a Radio Edit of Speedwell which was the third single Saint Etienne released during 1990. The group were still a duo as Sarah Cracknell wasn’t officially a member. For the single, gospel house samples were used and combined with the hook from a piano house tracks. For the backing track, parts of  Andrew Weatherall’s Mix Of Two Halves were reused.  When all this is combined the result is an uplifting and anthemic hands in the air track that brings back memories of 1990.

One Dove originally released Fallen in 1991. The version on the compilation featured on the album Morning Dove’s White which was released on Boy’s Own Productions in 1993. It’s a genre-melting track where elements dream pop, dub, techno-pop and trance melt into one. Play a leading role in the sound and success of the track is Dot Allison’s vocal.

After leaving Manchester’s School Of Sound Engineering, Graham Massey embarked upon a career as an engineer, producer and remixer. His first project was the Massonix single Just A Little Bit More.  It was inspired by I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little Bit More by The Love Unlimited Orchestra, which was written by Barry White. Graham Massey had come across the track in a charity shop. For the recording session, Denise Johnson who worked with Primal Scream, A Certain Ration and Fifth Of Heaven takes charge of lead vocal duties. However, it’s the Electro Instrumental Mix that features on the compilation. This hypnotic and mesmeric slow jam from 1990 is a welcome  inclusion, and is a timeless reminder of a new musical era. 

By 1991, The Shamen’s star was in the ascendancy and they were about to release Pro-Gun (Move Any Mountain). However, Will Sinnott aka Sill Sin decided to work on a side project, using the Elsi Curry pseudonym and recorded and produced U Make Me Feel. Sadly, before the single was released, Will Sin drowned and the single was only released as a promo. The Running Water aka Workhouse Mix has a sensual, Balearic sound that’s truly timeless. 

In 1990, BBG produced and mixed Snappiness which was released on the Urban label.  However, it’s the 7” Edit that features on the compilation. The original version was an airy, atmospheric piano-led downtempo instrumental.  Then when Dina Taylor’s vocal was added the track became a top thirty hit. 

Closing  Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs Present Fell From The Sky: Downtempo and After Hours 1990-91 is The Moodfood Megamix of Moodswings’ Spiritual High. The track incorporates elements of Jon and Vangelis’ State Of Independence and Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech. The result is a track that’s hypnotic, mesmeric and lysergic, and the perfect way to close the compilation.

The fourteen tracks on Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs Present Fell From The Sky: Downtempo and After Hours 1990-91 all have a modernist sound. However, a number of the producers sought inspiration from music’s past. This is something many producers have done in the past.

There’s everything from the pastoral sound of Pink Floyd right through to Barry White, Jon and Vangelis, Soul II Soul and Steve Hillage. Add to this Neo-Psychedelia as well as acid house, ambient music, Chicago house, dream pop, electronica, gospel house, piano house, soul and trance.  These influences can all be heard on  Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs Present Fell From The Sky: Downtempo and After Hours 1990-91 which was the start of a new chapter in dance music.

After nearly three years dancing to house music, it was time to slow things down and enjoy some chilled out, laid-back and lysergic sounds. It was the perfect anecdote to the three hedonistic years.  Dancers found themselves dancing at 98 beats per minutes as a new breed of producers and remixers took dance music in a new and exciting direction that’s documented on  Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs Present Fell From The Sky: Downtempo and After Hours 1990-91. It’s another lovingly curated compilation which is sure to bring back memories of what was the start of a new musical era.

Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs Present Fell From The Sky: Downtempo and After Hours 1990-91.

NIMBUS SEXTET-FORWARD THINKER.

Nimbus Sextet-Forward Thinker.

Label: Acid Jazz Records.

Format: CD.

It was just over three years ago when Nimbus Sextet signed to Acid Jazz Records in the spring of 2019. A lot has happened since then. 

The group recently released their sophomore album Forward Thinker, and are now regarded as one of the leading lights of the UK jazz scene. However, the story begins in the city known as the Athens of the North, Edinburgh.

That was where the group was founded by bandleader, primary composer, keyboardist and harmonica player Joe Nichols while he was studying at Edinburgh University. That was where he met the rhythm section of drummer Alex Palmer and bassist Mischa Stevens. The nascent group’s lineup was starting to take shape.

With the addition of guitarist Honza Kourimsky, trumpeter Euan Allardice and saxophonist Michael Butcher, Nimbus Sextet’s lineup was complete.

The newly founded group began honing their sound, playing live in Scotland and further afield. However, the most important gig of the group’s career took place in Scotland’s musical capital, Glasgow.

Nimbus Sextet had been booked to support DJ Gilles Peterson at the city’s Sub Club. In the audience that night, was Wayne A. Dickson of Groove Line Records. He spotted the group’s potential and during the gig, was convinced that Acid Jazz Records would be interested in signing Nimbus Sextet. 

They were. Nimbus Sextet signed to Acid Jazz Records in the spring of 2019. Meanwhile, Wayne A. Dickson became the group’s manager. This was the start of a new chapter in the group’s story.

By then, the group had forged their own unique genre-melting sound. The starting point was jazz. To this, they added elements of funk, fusion, jazz-funk, Neo-Soul and world music. It was a potent and heady brew which continued to win over audiences.

This included a tour of the UK during  February and March of 2020 that culminated at a sellout gig at London’s Servant Jazz Quarters in London. By then, the group were going from strength-to-strength. Then the lockdown struck, and bands like Nimbus Sextet were unable to tour. It was the start of a difficult time for the music industry.

Seven months later, on October ‘23rd,’ 2020, Nimbus Sextet released their much-anticipated, critically acclaimed and commercially successful debut album, Dreams Fulfilled. By then, they were already well on their way to becoming one of the leading lights of the UK jazz scene. 

Since then, Nimbus Sextet’s star has been in the ascendancy. They released their Helix EP on September 3rd, 2021. Two tracks were unreleased recordings from the Dreams Fulfilled sessions. This included an imaginative and innovative rework of Yussef Kamaal’s Lowrider. When it was played on BBC6 Music and Jazz FM it found favour with the group’s existing fanbase and introduced them to a new and wider audience.

As 2022 dawned, Nimbus Sextet were being hailed as one of the most groundbreaking groups who were part of the recent new wave of the UK jazz scene. It was no surprised when they were booked to play on hallowed ground, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London.

Everyone from British jazz greats like Stan Tracey and Tubby Hayes through to American jazz legends Bill Evans, Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Roy Ayers, Sonny Rollins, Sonny Still and Wes Montgomery have played at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. It was also the venue for Jimi Hendrix’s final public performance. Nimbus Sextet were following in the following in the footsteps of musical giants.

Having just released the single To The Light earlier that day, they didn’t disappoint. The group played a stunning set which showcased their unique genre-melting sound. Nimbus Sextet had come a long way in a short space of time.

Less than three months later, and the ‘4th,’ April 2022 was a big day for Nimbus Sextet. The group released a new single, High Time. This delicious slice of Neo-Soul finds Charlotte de Graaf of Kid Creole and The Coconuts taking charge of the lead vocal, and also features Jackson Mathod, who has worked with Stormzy. The single was a truly tantalising taste of what was to come from Nimbus Sextet on their new album. 

The same day as High Time was released, Acid Jazz Records announced the release of Nimbus Sextet’s much-anticipated sophomore album Forward Thinker, on 27th, May 2022. It finds Nimbus Sextet joined by a number of guest artists as they add elements of dance and hip hop to their existing musical palette. 

This included legendary percussionist Steve Forman who previously has worked with Pink Floyd, Barbara Streisand and Herbie Hancock. There were also contributions from Nubiyan Twist’s Jonny Enser, Scottish saxophonist Harry Weir and Nathaniel Cross who has worked with Macy Gray, Solange and Emilie Sande. These guest artists and the production duo of Wayne A. Dickson and Luigi Pasquini play their part in the evolution of Nimbus Sextet’s music on Forward Thinker.

Setting the bar high on Forward Thinker is the album opener High Time which is the only track to feature a guest vocalist. Charlotte de Graaf delivers a Neo-Soul vocal masterclass, and is accompanied by horns and keyboards which  ensure the arrangement swings. The result is one of the album’s highlights.

An eight minute genre-melting journey describes the title-track. As Nimbus Sextet’s rhythm section drive the arrangement along, horns are to fore on a track whose roots are in jazz-funk, but also incorporates elements of fusion, electronics and benefits from twinkling keyboards and the lushest of synths.

Woodview is just a short interlude written by bandleader. Initially, there’s a pensive, thoughtful sound before it’s all change and flamboyant flourishes of keyboards take this enchanting track in a new direction. 

Very different is Another Place which sounds as if it’s been influenced by Miles Davis or John Coltrane. Initially, it reveals a ruminative sound that encourages reflection. Then when  Nimbus Sextet change direction it’s as if the sun starts to shine. Playing a leading role are the blazing horns while a brief burst of hissing hi-hats sound as if they belong a seventies funk album. Then driving keyboards play their part in the sound and success of a track that also incorporates everything from jazz-funk to fusion as the group continue to showcase their virtuosity and versatility.

Another Place is another chapter in this eclectic musical journey. Initially there’s a nod to Frank Zappa and even free jazz. Then it’s all change as the tempo drops and a much more traditional jazzy sound takes shape. Later, the arrangement takes on a dreamy, laid-back, summery sound before briefly heading in the direction of cocktail jazz. However, Nimbus Sextet bowl another curveball and seamlessly the arrangement to this captivating musical odyssey heads in the direction of progressive jazz. 

Cinematic, spacey, dark and dramatic are just some of the words that could be used to describe From The Shadows. There’s even a hint of library music on a track that sounds like it could easily be the theme to either a new sci-fi series or cop show. 

Closing Forward Thinker is the jazz-funk and fusion of To The Light. In places, it seems to reference and pay homage to Herbie Hancock’s classic album Head Hunters. Bandleader Joe Nichols switches between keyboards, synths and mellotron as he and the horns drive the arrangement along at breakneck speed. The result is one of the strongest tracks on the album, and ensures it closes on a high.

Musical shapeshifters Nimbus Sextet return with Forward Thinker, a  captivating album of genre-melting music. Seamlessly the group combine and switch between disparate genres as they showcases their virtuosity and versatility. They combine everything from jazz and jazz-funk to free jazz, funk, fusion, library music and even electronica, hip hop and Neo-Soul on this genre-melting musical journey.

It’s a case of expect the unexpected on Forward Thinker. Nimbus Sextet bowl a series of curveballs and spring surprises aplenty along the way on their much-anticipated sophomore album Forward Thinker which doesn’t disappoint and leaves a lasting impression.

Nimbus Sextet-Forward Thinker.

MOONSHINE AKA MONICA RYPMA AND FRIENDS-CLASSIFIEDS.

Moonshine aka Monica Rypma and Friends-Classifieds.

Label: BBE Music.

Format: CD.

Release Date: 17th June 2022.

When BBE Music recently released the compilation We Are The Children Of The Sun, one of the highlights was Monica Rypma’s Let Love Flow, a hook-laden Balearic groove hidden gem. The track was a tantalising taste of the album Classifieds, which was released as a private press in 1985. 

Sadly, the album is now a rarity, and is much prized amongst collectors and fans of the folk-funk scene. That’s why original copies of Classifieds are changing hands for ever increasing sums of money, and are now beyond the budget of most people. However, there will soon be a solution to this problem. 

On the ‘17th’ June 2022,  Classifieds will be reissued for the first time by BBE Music. It’ll allow music fans to discover and enjoy Moonshine aka Monica Rypma and Friends’ debut album. It’s an album with a fascinating backstory that showcases a truly talented singer-songwriter.

Monica Rypma’s musical career began in 1976, when she decided to make the move from her home in Holland to London, to follow her dream of making a career out of music. 

Upon her arrival in London, Monica Rypma wanted to find as a flat as close as possible to the West End where she began making her dream reality. Soon, she was taking classes, doing auditions, working as a backing vocalist and writing songs. To make ends meet, the aspiring singer worked in hotels and restaurants during the day. By night, she followed her dream. 

In the early eighties, Monica Rypma returned home to Holland, where she enrolled at Conservatorium van Amsterdam. It had followed the example of American universities including Berkeley and  The Juliard School and had opened a Jazz Department. This was the start of the next chapter in Monica Rypma’s career.

By then, had already started singing with bands and was singing professionally. This included with Moonshine and The Blaze which featured her brother Hans and friends. The band were soon making progress, embarking upon a tour and even playing in London. Things were looking good for Monica Rypma.

Then in 1985, when a relationship ended, Monica Rypma  walked out of her course at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam. She took refuge in music, and after being inspired by René Van Helsdingen, the composer, pianist and crowdfunding pioneer who was also based in Amsterdam, began work on the project that would eventually become her debut album Classifieds.

To raise the funds to produce the album, Monica Rypma decided to fund the album using sponsorship and crowdfunding which was in its infancy. She decided  to sell advertising space on the album sleeve, which would look like a newspaper. That was why the album was entitled Classifieds.

Fortunately for Monica Rypma it was relatively easy to sell advertising space on the cover of Classifieds. Businesses including shops, bars, restaurants and record shops bought space. This was just the start.

Having recorded a demo at a local studio Monica Rypma went to trade fairs and anywhere else she thought she would encounter potential advertisers. When they heard the demo and saw a mock-up of the album sleeve they bought advertising space. With this being an LP, there was plenty of space for dozens of advertisers. This was enough to fund the recording of the album.

Now that Monica Rypma enough money to record her debut album, there was just one problem. She didn’t have enough material for an album. Over the next few months, jam sessions took place but still there was a shortage of new material. That was when René Van Helsdingen mentioned the name of a musician he had worked with before, Brian Batie.

He was an arranger, composer, producer, synth virtuoso and multi-instrumentalist who at the time, was living in Los Angeles. Brian Batie returned home to work on the album and his contribution to Classifieds proved to be invaluable.

Initially, Monica Rypma, René Van Helsdingen and Brian Batie had what was akin to a few musical sketches. These they fleshed out, and soon, they had the lyrics to the songs on Classifieds. They were joined by the six Interludes on that featured on the album.

The thirteen tracks on Classifieds were recorded  in just three days during September 1985 at Farmsound Studios. Monica Rypma and Brian Batie produced the album, which was engineered by Wil Hesen. With the album completed, the release of Classifieds was scheduled for later in the year.

Before that, friends and family helped Monica Rypma to print, fold and assemble the copies of Classifieds. It was like a cottage industry.  By the time the process was complete, it looked like there were three different versions of the album. 

This caused wasn’t the case. With a tight budget, when one colour of ink ran out, another was used. This explained why there some of the Classifieds’ album covers were yellow while others were green or pink.

Now the album could be distributed to people who had supported the crowdfunding of Classifieds. The remaining copies were distributed to shops. However, before long the album had disappeared from view and nothing more was heard of Classifieds until recently.

That was when a new generation of DJs and music lovers discovered the delights of Classifieds with its mixture of DIY synch pop, eighties electronica, folk-funk, psychedelia and Balearic interludes. It’s a truly enchanting and oft-overlooked hidden gem.

Classifieds opens with Everybody Came To Rock. It’s hook-laden, melodic and memorable as synth pop meets elements of electronica and rock and sets the bar high for the rest of the album. The quality continues on Haunted, one of the album’s highlights. This heartachingly beautiful ballad is wistful, ruminative and and features a vocal full of hurt and heartache. It’s sure to tug at the heartstring.

Interlude “After War” is an ambient, understated, experimental and cinematic track that paints pictures. Then What’s The Sense Of War is a quintessential and thought-provoking slice of eighties synth pop that showcases Monica’s vocal prowess.  In an instant, the listener is transported back to 1985 on a track that’s the musical equivalent of time travel. 

Interlude “Senses” is an ethereal, spacious, dreamy and truly beautiful track that meanders magically along. On Sunrise  joyous, scatted vocal sits above a genre-melting arrangement where synth pop, eighties electronica and a hint of Eastern influences collide. Then it’s all change on Interlude “Record Change” which closed the first side of  Classifieds. It’s dark , dramatic and even gothic

Very different is Hey, Where You Goin.’ It features a driving arrangement where an eclectic selection of instruments melt into one and provide the perfect accompaniment to a  breathy, coquettish, needy and sensual vocal on a truly memorable track.

Interlude “Westertoren” is a cinematic scene setter that deserves to feature in a movie. 

Ik Hou Veel Van Jou features an emotive vocal that one minute seems wistful but later, delivered with a smile. Meanwhile, drums provide the heartbeat to the synth pop arrangement. Then synths play and transport the listener far from Amsterdam during this Interlude “Koto.” 

The centrepiece of the album is a beautiful synth pop ballad that features Monica’s finest vocal.  Harmonies accompany her providing the perfect accompaniment offering encouragement to “Let Love Flow.”

Then it’s all change on Interlude “Aqua + Uitro.” It’s best describes as otherworldly, experimental, filmic and latterly rhythmic as the album marches to a close leaving just magical memories of Classifieds the debut from Moonshine aka Monica Rypma and Friends.

For anyone who heard Monica Rypma’s Let Love Flow on BBE Music’s compilation We Are The Children Of The Sun and wanted to hear more from a truly talented singer-songwriter, the reissue of Celebrations is the perfect opportunity to do so. 

This oft-overlooked private press is being reissued for the first time by BBE Music. The album is a captivating mixture of musical genres where carefully crafted songs and ambient interludes sit side-by-side. Everything from  ambient, DIY synch pop, eighties electronica, folk-funk, psychedelia, rock and soul are joined by beautiful ballads and Balearic interludes on Celebrations which is Moonshine aka Monica Rypma and Friends’ oft-overlooked and enchanting hidden gem that belatedly, is starting to find the wider audience it deserves thanks to a new generation of DJs and music lovers.

Moonshine aka Monica Rypma and Friends-Celebrations.

THE COUNT BISHOPS-THE COUNT BISHOPS.

The Count Bishops-The Count Bishops.

Label: Chiswick.

Format: LP.

During 1977, a genre that has continued to divide opinion was at the peak of its popularity, punk. This anti music was championed by critics and cultural commentators who were willing to overlook that many of the musical charlatans within punk bands could barely play their instruments and were musically illiterate. Music had changed the critics said, and many thought not for the better.

Despite this, DJs championed the latest punk singles on their late-night radio shows and waxed lyrical about the new genre. This was, they said the future of music.

Punk, its champions explained, was about rejecting the supposed excesses of seventies mainstream music and embracing and adopting a DIY ethos. Many punk singles were released on newly founded independent labels that sprung up across the country. 

The singles were fast, edgy and featured arrangements that were pared back with lyrics were full of anger, angst and frustration. Thankfully, many of the singles were also short as these chippy class warriors ran out of things to say after a couple of minutes.

Many of these singles turned out to be one-offs and the bands sank without trace. Some punk bands enjoyed a degree of success and went on to enjoy a degree of longevity. 

Meanwhile, in 1977, an eclectic selection of talented bands were playing live and releasing albums that deserved to find a much wider audience. This included The Count Bishops, who released their eponymous album on the Chiswick label in 1977. However, the story began two years earlier.

It was London, in the spring of 1975, when The Count Bishops were formed when members of the group Chrome joined forces with American vocalist Mike Spenser. The group combined elements of blues, R&B and rock. They were also influenced by sixties garage rock and the seventies pub rock scene. These influences would feature when the group played live.

By July 1977, the line of The Count Bishops had changed. The group were in Paris when Mike Spenser place the first in a series of transatlantic calls to Johnny Guitar. After some persuading, the American guitarist packed two Les Pauls and flew to Britain.

That was where Johnny Guitar was reunited with Mike Spenser who introduced him to guitarist Zenon DeFleur. He had been given the name after being discovered passed out on the floor during the group’s first recording session. 

It took a few weeks for the three members of the band to recruit a new rhythm section. Drummer Paul Balbi and bassist  Steve Lewins joined The Count Bishops and the following month, the new lineup made entered the studio for the first time.

The group were joined at Pathway Studios by engineer Barry Farmer. They recorded a total of thirteen tracks and four were chosen to feature on the group’s debut EP.

Route 66, I Ain’t Got You, Beautiful Delilah and Teenage Letter featured on The Count Bishops’ Speedball EP. It was released by Chiswick Records in 1975, and featured elements of garage rock, pub rock, R&B and rock ’n’ roll. Sadly, the EP wasn’t a commercial success and it was another year before the group released a single.

This was Train, Train which was released in 1976 by Chiswick Records. However, just before the release of the single Mike Spenser left the band. It’s alleged that this was because of incident involving a glass door and the singer’s boot. 

Having lost their vocalist, Johnny Guitar and Zenon DeFleur  shared lead vocal duties during  part of 1977. This arrangement was only temporary.

Before the group recorded their eponymous album, The Count Bishops, they decided to recruit a new vocalist. This was Australian Dave Tice who previously, had been a member of Buffalo. He would feature on most of the songs on the album.

Twelve tracks were chosen, and were a mixture of covers and new songs. Zenon De Fleur penned Stay Free and Baby You’re Wrong while Steve Lewins contributed Talk To You, Someone’s Got My Number and You’re In My Way. Covers included the Ray Davies’ composition I Need You, Willie Dixon’s Down In The Bottom, Elmore James’ Shake Your Moneymaker, Don Raye’s Down The Road Apiece, Ed Cobb’s Good Guys Don’t Wear White and Taste and Try which was written by British blues rock singer Chris Youlden. The other track on the album was a cover of the blues Don’t Start Crying Now which was written by Slim Harpo with producer JD Miller.

The Count Bishops were once again a five piece band and headed to Jackson Studios to record their eponymous album. It featured a rhythm section of drummer Paul Balbi and bassist  Steve Lewins. Zenon DeFleur switched between guitar and slide guitar. Johnny Guitar was the group’s lead guitarist and took charge of the vocal on Don’t Start Crying Now. Meanwhile, new recruit David Tice made his debut as vocalist. Making a guest appearance on Down The Road Apiece was pianist Julian Holland. Just like the single Train, Train, the group produced the album which was engineered by Vic Maile.

The result was The Count Bishops which featured the London-based band at their tightest on an album that’s a mixture of original material as well as covers of blues and tracks from the sixties that also inspired the band. They were fans of sixties beat music so it was fitting that a cover of The Kinks’ I Need You opened the album. This set the bar high. 

Over the next eleven tracks, the group never miss a beat as they combine elements of blues, pub rock, R&B and rock ’n’ roll during a series of driving, energetic and sometime raucous, riotous and rollicking, fist pumping, good time music that was honed in the bars and clubs of London. The Count Bishops was an album that should’ve introduced the group’s music to a much wider audience.

Sadly, that wasn’t the case, and The Count Bishops wasn’t a commercial success when it was released in 1977. Nor was the single Baby You’re Wrong when it was released later that year. It was a huge disappointment for a truly talented group.

Despite the disappointment, The Count Bishops returned in 1978 with the album Live. It was a tantalising taste of the band when they played live.

During 1978, The Count Bishops also released two singles, I Take What I Want and I Want Candy. This led to an appearance on the British television show Top Of The Pops. It looked as if the London-based band were about to make a breakthrough.

Meanwhile, the group were recording their next studio album studio album Cross Cuts. By then, bassist Steve Lewins had been replaced by Pat McMullan and Ruan O’Lochlainn was drafted in to add horns. The album took eighteen months to complete and was meant to be band’s breakthrough album. It was eventually released in March 1979. Just a few days later tragedy struck for The Count Bishops.

On the ‘18th’ March 1979, Zenon DeFleur died when he crashed his Aston Martin which he had lovingly restored. It was a devastating blow for his family, friends and The Count Bishops.

Sadly, the anticipated breakthrough never happened Zenon DeFleur’s death. 

Despite that, The Count Bishops headed out on tour with Blitz Krieg of Blast Furnace deputising on guitar.

Not long after this, the group were looking for a new drummer when Paul Balbi was deported back to Spain. 

The Count Bishops recruited Charlie Morgan who had played with Elton John and the Tom Robinson Band on drums. This was only temporary arrangement but the group continued to tour and even toured Australia.

This meant that former drummer Paul Balbi was able to rejoin the group albeit only for their Australian tour. 

In 1980, The Count Bishops split-up having never reached the heights that they should’ve. It was a case of what might have been for the London-based band. 

The Count Bishops which was recently reissued on vinyl by Chiswick, an imprint of Ace Records. They’ve even faithfully reproduced the original album cover with its blurred photo which shows the group exuding an air of menace. Then the back cover reproduces the board that featured on the original and gives a gritty, rough cut look. This reissue is a fitting tribute to The Count Bishops at the peak of their powers on their 1977 eponymous album which is now considered to be their finest hour and is belatedly is now finding the wider audience it so richly deserves.

The Count Bishops-The Count Bishops.

THE PRISONERS-THE LAST FOURFATHERS.

The Prisoners-The Last Fourfathers.

Label: Big Beat Records.

Format: LP.

Musical history is littered with the story of groups who could’ve gone on to enjoy a long and successful career. This includes The Prisoners, who were one of the leading lights of the Medway Scene.

They were formed in Rochester, Kent in 1980, and released four albums. This included The Last Fourfathers which was released on the band’s Own Up label in 1985. Despite failing to attract the attention of critics it’s now regarded as one of their finest hours.

That’s why nowadays, the album is in such demand and original copies can cost upwards of £100.  This is beyond the budget of most of the group’s fans. Fortunately, The Last Fourfathers has just been reissued by Big Beat Records, an imprint of Ace Records. This welcome reissue is a reminder of a group who should’ve gone on to greater things but sadly, split-up a year later in 1966. It was a case of what might have been.

Things could’ve been very different for The Prisoners. However, The Prisoners were determined to do things their way and weren’t willing to listen to advice. Even from music industry veterans. It didn’t seem to matter that these people had spent a lifetime in the music industry, and could’ve helped them make a commercial breakthrough. Instead, The Prisoners continued to continue on their contrarian way.

This meant The Prisoners never graduated from playing in smaller venues, in London’s now thriving underground psychedelic and mod scenes. Nor would The Prisoners’ albums sell in vast quantities. However, things looked promising in the early days.

The Prisoners were formed in 1980, at Rochester High School. Initially, the band was a trio featuring vocalist and guitarist Graham Day, bassist Allan Crockford and drummer Johnny Symons.

By the time organist James Taylor joined, The Prisoners seemed to be spending more time rehearsing than playing live. However, after the addition of James Taylor, the nascent band took its tentative steps onto the competitive Medway scene.

The Prisoners were soon familiar faces on the local Medway scene. Their influences ranged from R&B, garage, rock, psychedelia, plus The Kinks and The Pretty Things. These influences resulted in a band whose roots may have been in the past, but were capable of creating catchy, melodic and memorable music. 

At the heart of The Prisoners’ sound, was Graham Day’s lyrics; James Taylor’s Vox Continental organ; and choppy, punk inspired guitar licks. This was what the audience heard when The Prisoners began to share bills with Billy Childish’s The Milkshakes.

By then, The Milkshakes were regarded as the top band in the Medway scene and Billy Childish its kingpin. Soon, though, it became apparent that they had a rival in The Prisoners. The Milkshakes it seemed, had competition. However, that was until James Taylor announced he was heading to Newcastle University.

Given the importance of James Taylor’s Vox Continental organ in The Prisoners’ sound, this the other band members thought would spell the end of road for the group. So they decided to record an album A Taste Of Pink to document their short musical journey.

A Taste Of Pink!

For A Taste Of Pink!, The Prisoners had written eleven tracks. They were recorded at Oakwood Studios on the 12th September 1982, and were produced The Prisoners. Not long after this, James Taylor headed to Newcastle University.   

When A Taste Of Pink! was self-released by The Prisoners, on their Own Up label, only 500 copies had been pressed. They quickly sold out, and another 500 were pressed. By then, James Taylor was having second thoughts about life in academia, and returned home.

As James Taylor returned home, another 500 copies of A Taste Of Pink! was pressed. Nobody, apart from The Prisoners know how many albums were sold. All that’s known, is that several times they returned for more stock. By then, The Prisoners were travelling further afield, leaving Billy Childish to remain the kingpin of the Medway scene.

By now, The Prisoners were playing all over London and Sometimes, they ventured as far as St. Albans. That’s where Ace Records’ Roger Armstrong and Ted Carroll first saw The Prisoners.

The next time they saw The Prisoners was in the Hope and Anchor, in Islington, London. That night, they were the support band. However, it was the headliner Roger Armstrong and Ted Carroll were there to see. By the end of the night though, it was The Prisoners that signed to Big Beat Records.

Originally, the plan was to get The Prisoners’ music heard by a much wider audience. To do this, Roger Armstrong and Ted Carrol decided to bring on Phillip Chevron to produce The Prisoners’ sophomore album The Wisermiserdemelza. 

With The Prisoners signed to Big Beat Records, the label began formulating a plan for their latest signing. From the start, this included Phillip Chevron producing The Prisoners’ sophomore album. He was a member of The Radiators, and later, would join The Pogues. However, in 1983, his main concern was getting  The Prisoners’ music heard by a much wider audience. This began with recording their sophomore album, Thewisermiserdemelza.

Thewisermiserdemelza.

For Thewisermiserdemelza, Graham Day penned eleven of the twelve tracks. He also cowrote Tonight with James Taylor. These tracks would be recorded at ICC Studios, in Eastbourne, Sussex.

Before the recording sessions began, producer Roger Chevron made his way to Chatham to hear The Prisoners rehearse. The Prisoners ran through the songs they planned to record. As he listened to The Prisoners, he realised that here was a group it would be best to record live. There should be no overdubbing. For this to be possible, he had to coax and cajole performances out of The Prisoners. This can’t have been easy.

By then, The Prisoners were regarded as talented, confident and assured group. However, The Prisoners achilles heel was that they didn’t like to take other people’s advice. This could make recording an album interesting.

Fortunately, choosing Roger Chevron to produce the album proved to be a mini masterstroke. He wasn’t a producer first and foremost. Instead, he was a musician who just happened to have produced a few albums. So The Prisoners could relate to him and he could see where the band were coming from. This meant when the record session began things would go relatively smoothly.

Producer Roger Chevron and The Prisoners headed to  ICC Studios, where they recorded twelve tracks in just six days. These twelve tracks would become the band’s sophomore album.

Now the hard work began for Big Beat Records. They had to get The Prisoners’ music heard by a wider audience. Usually, bands are willing to do whatever is needed to get their album into the hands of record buyers. However, The Prisoners were different. 

They were determined to do things on their terms. Whether it was their sound, image or advise about the music industry worked, The Prisoners dug their heels in. It was frustrating for those that were advising what was a young, inexperienced band that had never been been signed to a record label before. However, The Prisoners were also a talented band That’s apparent on their sophomore album.

This is apparent when from the opening bars of the album opener Go Go, right through to the closing notes of Go Go. The Prisoners are firing on all cylinders on Thewisermiserdemelza. In between, they reference groups like The Pretty Things and The Kinks, while fusing elements of garage rock, pop,  R&B and rock to their psychedelic sound. Among the album’s highlights were Hurricane, Love Me Lies and Tonight.

Then on Come The Misunderstood and The Dream Is Gone,the darkness descends and the band showcase their trademark psychedelic sound that had proved popular on the live circuit. However, would their sophomore album Thewisermiserdemelza prove as popular?

Sadly, the answer was no. When Thewisermiserdemelza was released, very few copies of the album sold. It didn’t even come close to replicating the success of their self-released debut album A Taste of Pink! For Big Beat Records who had place their faith in The Prisoners, it was a disappointing outcome. However, they weren’t giving up…yet.

Later in 1983, Hurricane was released as the lead single from Thewisermiserdemelza. However, lightning struck twice and Tomorrow She Said failed commercially. Still, Big Beat Records weren’t giving up on The Prisoners.

In 1984, The Prisoners returned to the studio. This time, there was no sign of Roger Chevron. Instead, Russell Wilkins produced what  became The Electric Fit E.P. which featured Melanie, What I Want, The Last Thing On Your Mind and Revenge Of The Cybermen. The E.P. was released layer in 1984.

Sadly, wasn’t third time lucky for The Prisoners when they released The Electric Fit E.P. When it failed commercially this was a huge blow for the band.  Despite this, Big Beat Records were going to have one more roll of the dice.

Later in 1984, The Prisoners recorded the Love Changes E.P. It was produced by Russell Wilkins and featured songs written by Graham Day. When the E.P. failed to find an audience this was the end of an era for The Prisoners and Big Beat Records.

After The Love Changes E.P. The Prisoners’ left Big Beat Records. No label could continue to release singles, E.P.s or albums which weren’t selling. It seemed that the plan to have The Prisoners’ music heard by a wider audience hadn’t worked. However, it wasn’t the end of the line for The Prisoners.

Following their departure from Big Beat Records, The Prisoners released another two albums. They self-released their third album The Last Fourfathers in 1985.

The Last Fourfathers.

Despite no longer having a recording deal, The Prisoners decided to begin work on their third album. It became The Last Fourfathers.

For their third album the band wrote twelve new tracks. Graham Day penned I Am The Fisherman, Mrs Fothergill, The Drowning, Whenever I’m Gone and Explosion On Uranus. He cowrote  Nobody Wants Your Your Love with Billy Childish, Take You For A Ride with Alan Crockford and Night Of The Nazgul with James Taylor. The pair also joined forces with producer Russell Wilkins to write Thinking Of You (Broken Pieces). This wasn’t the producer’s only contribution to   the album. He and the band cowrote F.O.P., Who’s Sorry Now and I Drink The Ocean. These tracks became The Last Fourfathers.

When recording began, it was the same line-up that featured on the group’s two previous albums. This meant drummer Johnny Symons, bassist Allan Crockford, pianist and organist James Taylor while vocalist Graham Day plays guitar, clarinet and bongos. Taking charge of production on The Last Fourfathers was Russell Wilkins.

The result was a truly captivating genre-melting album of British rock ‘n’ roll that features elements of freakbeat, funk  garage punk, mod soul and psychedelia. Add to that garage rock and  soul on an album that benefits from a rock steady rhythm section, soaring, searing trippy guitars, James Taylor’s masterful and sometimes frenzied Hammond organ workouts while Graham Day unleashes  powerful but soulful vocals as he delivers lyrics that veer between thoughtful to witty on The Last Fourfathers.

Throughout an album that opens with the uber funky Nobody Wants Your Love, the Rochester four piece take no prisoners. The music was  catchy, irresistible, melodic and often a call to dance as a myriad of disparate influences shine through. This includes everyone from Small Faces, early Pink Floyd, sixties soul and garage rock through to the Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Pretty Things, The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown  and even the first two albums by The Nice. These influences can be heard on The Last Fourfathers which was released in 1985.

With no recording contract, The Prisoners decided to release The Last Fourfathers on their Own Up label. This was how they had released their debut album A Taste Of Pink! It had sold well and the group had to have the album repressed several times.

Four years later, and The Prisoners were a much more experienced, accomplished and talented band who certainly weren’t lacking in confidence. As they prepared to self-release The Last Fourfathers they must have been hoping that the album would fare better commercially than their sophomore album Thewisermiserdemelza. 

Sadly, that wasn’t to be and when The Last Fourfathers was released it wasn’t to critical acclaim and commercial success. The album was overlooked by critics and very few copies were sold. It was a huge disappointment for The Prisoners.

It was only later, that The Last Fourfathers started to find the audience it deserved. By then, copies of the album were hard to find and this cult classic was much prized among fans of the band. They knew that that had in their possession an album that in 1985 deserved to be heard by a much wider audience. Sadly, that wasn’t the case and it was nearly the end of the road for the leading lights of The Medway Scene.

By 1986, The Prisoners had signed to a Countdown, an imprint of Stiff Records. The group’s  one and only album for the label was In From The Cold which saw them try to crossover. However, after the release of the album  The Prisoners’ split-up. For some music industry insiders this came  was no surprise.

Throughout their recording career, many people remarked that The Prisoners weren’t the easiest group to work with. They were determined to do things their way. However, ploughing their own furrow proved costly for The Prisoners.

By not listening to the advice of others, especially those that had been around the musical block a few times, The Prisoners recording career lasted just three years. During that period, they released four albums. These albums showcase a talented and assured band; and one who should’ve reached greater heights.

The Prisoners genre-melting third album The Last Fourfathers was recently reissued by Big Beat Records and showcases a truly talented band who should’ve gone on enjoy a long and successful career. However, in some ways, they were their own enemy. Sadly, their determination to do things their way, cut short their career.

However, for six years, The Prisoners were one of the exciting bands on London’s live circuit. Their two finest albums are 1983s Thewisermiserdemelza and the cult classic The Last Fourfathers which is belatedly starting to find the wider audience it so richly deserves.

The Prisoners-The Last Fourfathers.

 

WILLIAM BELL-NEVER LIKE THIS BEFORE.

William Bell-Never Like This Before.

Label: Kent Soul.

Format: CD.

Veteran Southern Soul man William Bell was born William Yarbrough on July the ’16th’ 1939, in Memphis, Tennessee. Growing up, he sang in church and was inspired by the gospel group The Soul Stirrers, who at the time, were led by Sam Cooke.

By the age of ten, the future William Bell had written his first song Alone On A Rainy Nite. Even then, it was almost inevitable that he would embark on a musical career.

At Booker T Washington High School, Memphis William Yarbrough decided to form a vocal group with some friends. That was when he decide to change his name to William Bell, which was his grandmother’s surname. 

Aged fourteen, he won a talent contest and soon was singing in clubs in the Memphis area. Soon, the young singer was making waves in the local music scene.

William Bell joined The Del Rios which would launch the career of several future soul greats. This included Louis Williams of The Ovations and Norman West of The Soul Children. 

The nascent group began singing in clubs in the Memphis area, and decided to enter a talent contest which they won. That was how they came to the attention of Rufus Thomas who at the time was a local radio DJ.

Having won the talent contest, The Del Rios secured a one-off record deal with local label Meteor Records. It was an imprint of LA-based Modern Records which was owned by the Lester Bihari.

In the studio, Rufus Thomas’ band The Bearcats provided a bluesy backdrop on Alone On A Rainy Nite and the upbeat, and rocky track Lizzie.  William Bell who was just seventeen took charge of the lead vocal.

Sadly, when the single was released in November 1956 the sales were disappointing. This was disappointing for William Bell who wondered whether to pursue a different career?

That was how the young singer found himself studying to become a doctor. However, he didn’t turn his back on music and continued to work with Memphis bandleader Phineas Newborn until the early sixties. William Bell also continued to write songs, including one that would kickstart his recording career.

Towards the end of the summer of 1961, William Bell was performing in New York when he wrote You Don’t Miss Your Water. At the time, he was with a record deal. However, this would soon change.

On returning to Memphis, William Bell met Chips Moman who was the head of A&R at a new local label. He asked him if wanted to do a session Stax Records which would become the singer’s musical home for the next fourteen years.

At Stax Records, William Bell was reunited with Rufus Thomas, who was also signed to the label until its demise in 1975. However, a lot would happen before that.

Between 1961 and 1968, William Bell released fourteen singles on Stax Records. These singles featured the original design on the blue label with the Stack Of Records’ logo. This is why this period is often referred to as Stax’s blue period. 

The fourteen singles and their B-Sides feature on Never Like This Before, which is a new compilation from Kent Soul, an imprint of Ace Records. For fans of the veteran Southern Soul man and Stax Records this will be a welcome release.

The twenty-eight tracks on Never Like This Before are in chronological order, and show how William Bell’s music evolved between 1961 and 1968. His period begins with one of his best known songs.

Opening Never Like This Before is You Don’t Miss Your Water which was released in 1961 and was William Bell’s debut single for Stax Records. It was an innovative song with no middle eight and no instrumental break. Instead, there were just three verses where the label’s newest signing delivered a despairing vocal full of heartbreak and hurt. It’s no surprise that the song would later become a Southern Soul classic. Although it was a local hit the single reached just ninety-five in the US Billboard 100. Ironically, things might have been very different as the B-Side, Formula Of Love, a mid-tempo track, was originally meant to be the single. Luckily, there was a change of heart and the single was the start of William Bell’s long association with Stax Records which became his musical home.

It wasn’t until 1962 the William Bell returns with his second single for the label, Any Other Way which features a soul-baring vocal. On the B-Side was a cover of the Hal Blair and Don Robertson composition Please Help Me I’m Falling. It features a vocal that’s emotive vocal that’s akin to a confessional. However, despite the quality of both sides the single failed to chart.

In 1963, William Bell’s career was interrupted when he received his call up papers and like all young American men, had to spend time in the military. The singer was sent to Hawaii, but returned to Memphis whenever his leave permitted and returned to the studio.

During 1963, William Bell released four singles, but none of them charted. The problem was serving in the military meant he was able to promote the singles. This included I Told You So which showcased the early Stax sound that was starting to develop. On the flip-side was What’Cha Gonna Do which he wrote with guitarist Steve Cropper. They would go on to write a number of songs.

This included Just As I Thought where they joined forces with Willie Parker. Just like William Bell’s previous single it’s another example of the early Stax sound. On the B-Side wasI’m Waiting On You, an underrated and oft-overlooked song that was the perfect platform for the twenty-four year old who was maturing as a singer. 

William Bell’s third single from 1963 was What Can I Do (To Forget) where he lives the pain and hurt in the lyrics. Tucked away on the B-Side was Somebody Mentioned Your Name, a gospel-tinged slice of Southern Soul. It’s another underrated track that’s one of the hidden gems from the singer’s blue period.  

Despite commercial success continuing to elude William Bell, he released one more single in 1963. This was I’ll Show You, a  heartachingly beautiful ballad which he wrote with Booker T Jones. On the flip-side was Monkeying Around which was one of a number of songs with a similar theme. It would later become a favourite of Georgie Fame who covered the song on his sophomore album and included it in his live sets. 

During 1964, Stax Records released just one single by  William Bell. This was the Southern Soul ballad  Don’t Make Something Out Of Nothing which he wrote with Steve Cropper. On the B-Side was Who Will It Be Tomorrow which also features Stax Records’ future Queen of Soul Carla Thomas. Sadly, when the single was released it failed commercially. 

Things didn’t improve in 1965 when the ballad Crying All by Myself was released as a single and failed to trouble the charts. That’s despite featuring a vocal that’s akin to a cathartic outpouring of hurt and heartache. It was accompanied by a wistful sounding arrangement where the horns play a leading role. On the B-Side was the Motown influenced Don’t Stop Now.  

As 1965 drew to a close, William Bell had released eight singles on Stax Records and just one minor hit single. However, soon the singer would be able to return to civilian life and he hoped that his fortunes would improve.

William Bell, Steve Cropper and David Porter joined forces to pen Share What You Got (But Keep What You Need). It’s a beautiful ballad that was recorded in 6/8 time and features soaring, soulful harmonies. On the B-Side was Marching Off To War a powerful track that featured lyrics full of social comment. When William Bell’s first single of 1966 was released it reached number twenty-seven in the US R&B charts. At last, his fortunes had improved.

This continued when the soulful dancer Never Like This Before was released later in 1966, and reached number twenty-nine in the US R&B charts. On the B-Side was Soldier’s Goodbye, which another song about the Vietnam War penned by William Bell and Steve Cropper. Their songwriting partnership was going from strength-to-strength.

After two hit singles William Bell was in no hurry to release a new single. He wanted to find the right song and wrote the ballad Everybody Loves A Winner with Booker T Jones. Stax’s famous rhythm section plays little part in the arrangement where strings provide a wistful backdrop for the vocal. Hidden away on the B-Side was the dancer You’re Such A Sweet Thang. It provided a contrast to the single that reached ninety-five in the US Billboard 100 and eighteen in the US R&B charts. This made it William Bell’s most successful single to date.

Later in 1967, William Bell returned with the followup to his biggest single. This was the dancefloor friendly Eloise (Hang On In There). On the B-Side was One Plus One a vastly underrated Southern Soul ballad that could easily have been the single. Maybe it should’ve been as Eloise (Hang On In There) failed to trouble the charts?

Despite this, Stax Records released The Soul Of A Bell, which was the twenty-eight year old’s debut album. However, it also failed to chart which was another disappointment for the Memphis-born soul man.

Fortunately, this was just a temporary setback for William Bell. (Hang On In There) was the first single he released in 1968 reached thirty-three on the US R&B charts. It would go on to become a seasonal standard. On the flip-side was the bluesy sounding Ain’t Got No Girl. 

Disaster had struck on the ‘10th’ of December 1967 when the plane that was carrying Otis Redding and members The Barkays crashed in a lake in Madison, Wisconsin. William Bell was devastated at the loss of his friend and what was one of Stax’s up-and-coming groups.

William Bell and Booker T Jones penned a tribute to Otis Redding, A Tribute To A King. His voice was filled with emotion as he delivered the poignant lyrics. The song was destined for the B-Side with Every Man Ought To Have A Woman chosen as the single. However, when it was released in 1968 DJs discovered the B-Side and started playing the tribute to a giant of soul music. It entered the charts reaching eight-six in the US Billboard 100 and sixteen in the us R&B charts. This made it the most successful single of William Bell’s blue period.

During his blue period at William Bell released fourteen singles at Stax Records between 1961 and 1968. Along with the B-Sides they feature on a forthcoming compilation Never Like This Before, which will be released by Kent Soul on ‘27th’ of May 2022. 

This lovingly curated compilation will be of interest to fans of William Bell and anyone interested in Southern Soul’s greatest labels, Stax Records. For newcomers to the veteran soul man, whose now eighty-two, and still performing these songs live, it’s the perfect introduction to a legend of Southern Soul, who played his part in the sound and success of Stax Records. 

Later in 2022, a second compilation covering William Bell’s yellow period will be releasing completing the story of his Stax Records’ years. Never Like This Before is just the first part in his fourteen year spell at the label that was his musical and spiritual home.

 William Bell-Never Like This Before.

WE ARE THE CHILDREN OF THE SUN.

We Are The Children Of The Sun.

Label: BBE Music.

Format: CD.

Recently, BBE  released the compilation We Are The Children Of The Sun, which was compiled by DJ and renowned crate digger Paul Hillery, who is one of leading lights of folk-funk scene. This new compilation offers a tantalising taste of a genre that many music lovers will be unfamiliar with. That’s a great shame as there’s a veritable feast of hidden gems awaiting discovery.

Just like origins of many genres, much debate sounds when the term folk-funk was coined. Musical historians continue to debate this, but it may be as long ago as 1967.

That’s when an article written by Chuck Boller for The Democrat and Chronicle newspaper, in Rochester, New York, and he used the term folk-funk. He was writing about The Kingston Trio who were at the heart of the late-fifties folk revival that began in American colleges. After that, folk music began to evolve, and a new sound became prevalent. This the writer referred to as “folk-funk.” However, he didn’t define this new genre.

By then, a number of artists had already made their mark on what would later be called folk-funk. This included Chicago-born Terry Callier and David Crosby who were part of the folk scene and headed to New York where they became familiar faces on the Greenwich Village folk scene. Later, they would be hailed as influences on the folk-funk genre.

So would Bob Dylan, and especially when he plugged in at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. This landmark performance and the electric folk sound was a gamechanger and influenced everyone from The Byrds right through to CSNY.

Soon, other artists were playing their part in shaping the folk-funk sound. This included The Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron and LeRoi Jones who who combined elements of jazz, proto-rap, poetry and social comment. 

Other influences included sixties sunshine pop whose origins can be traced to California. The music was influenced by the past and its lysergic sound was shaped by the counter culture. However, towards the end of the sixties optimism gave way to pessimism as the music took on a darker sound.

Partly, this was because of the looming threat of nuclear war as the Cold War began. It was no surprise that other influences began to influence what later became known as folk-funk.

This included a variety of genres including early seventies Christian music which soon evolved into Xian in an attempt to interest a younger audience. Soon, a variety of genres that included elements of folk were being released and later, would become part of folk-funk scene.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic in Britain the folk scene had changed as groups like Pentangle, Fairport Convention and Sunshine Superman Donovan were transforming folk music. To do this, they plugged in and added a lysergic sound to their music. One artist pioneered this sound.

This was John Martyn who released his debut album London Conversation, in October 1967. His music began to evolve and on his 1971 album Bless The Weather he used an Echoplex tape delay on Glistening Glyndebourne. The followup Solid Air, was released in 1973 and was genre-melting classic that showcases the future folk-funk sound. So did his other classic album, 1977s One World. Especially the groundbreaking and timeless title-track which showcases a lysergic, dreamy sound by an artist who pioneered the folk-funk sound.  

In 1973, the same year that John Martyn released Solid Air, the San Francisco Examiner used the term folk-funk to describe concerts taking place in the city. 

Then a year later, in 1974, the duo Brewer and Shipley were being described as folk-funk by music critic Pete Bishop in The Pittsburgh Press. Suddenly, the term was being more widely used.

By then, Jon Lucien and Terry Callier had combined soul and folk and had helped to shape the new genre which grew in popularity in the late-eighties. 

That was when sample hungry crate diggers and DJs started to search for folk-funk hidden gems. They were played in clubs and the funkier cuts were sampled by producers for their drum breaks. Suddenly, these tracks were taking on a new lease of life.

With folk-funk’s popularity continuing to grow, it was no surprise that during the nineties and noughties that record labels started to release compilations of what was being referred to as a new genre. 

Meanwhile, there was a resurgence of interest in many artists that had influenced the folk-funk genre. This included Terry Callier, Jon Lucien and Susan Christie. 

Since then, folk-funk is still a popular genre with compiler, crate digger and DJ Paul Hillery one of the leading lights of the UK scene. He showcases his impeccable taste on We Are The Children Of The Sun. 

He’s hand picked eighteen eclectic tracks on We Are The Children Of The Sun. This includes a mixture of folk-funk, blissed out Balearic beats and soft fuzzy electronica.  

Opening this lovingly curated collection is Make Believe by Jim LaMarche with Theresa Moylan and Music Industry Art. This track features just flute and synths and an impassioned vocal full of sincerity on a track that fuses folk-funk and electronica.

Man Of Misery is a track from Mike Baumann and Tom Huntington’s 1981 album Get A Grip. It’s a quite beautiful song combines elements of sunshine pop and ambient music. Playing a starring role in this multilayered track is a ruminative vocal that’s tinged with sadness and emotion.

By 1983, Pixie Lauer entered the studio she was already a familiar face on the Maine and New England folk scene. The resulting album was the private press Pixie Lauer and Friends which was released later that year. It featured Sunday Morning a quite beautiful  example of laid-back femme-folk that’s a real hidden gem. 

Marla Fant was living in Florida when she recorded and released her debut album At Last in 1980. It features Land Of Wonder which was written by her brother Duane during a rainy afternoon. This song features a heartachingly beautiful vocal from a truly talented singer, while her brother and sister add backing vocals to a track with a Balearic vibe. It’s a welcome addition to We Are The Children Of The Sun, and is one of its highlights. 

Mistérios was the title-track to Brazilian singer Diana Pequeno’s 1989 album. It was released on her own Acquarius label. The song has a dreamy, lysergic sound as elements of jazz-folk, pop and sixties Brazilian music melt seamlessly into one resulting in a truly memorable track. 

Scott McGregor Moore’s So Good When It Comes originally featured on Share Chez a second compilation released by a Canadian radio station to showcase Canadian talent in 1981. The multi-instrumentalist is responsible for a radio friendly track that fuses electronica and synth pop with a Balearic sound. 

In West Germany in 1986, a compilation entitled Rock Aus Aachen, Wa, was released by Radio-Aktiv. One of the highlights was I Send You All My Love by Checkpoint which features a sweet, soulful and heartfelt vocal from Susy Wetter. 

When White Feather released Summer Days/Golden Haze on No No Records in 1983 it was a genre-melting track. Elements of folk and psychedelia combine to create a blissed out track. 

Monica Rypma released her one and only album Classifieds in 1985. This private press featured Let Love Flow where electronica, pop and soul on this hook-laden Balearic groove hidden gem.

Guy Maxwell’s You Never Sang This Song closes We Are The Children Of The Sun. It’s taken from his 1980 album Outside My Window and finds jazz, blues and rock being combined by this talented guitarist, songwriter and troubadour.

For newcomers to the folk-funk, We Are The Children Of The Sun is the perfect introduction to the genre. DJ and crate digger Paul Hillery’s taste is impeccable and features an array of hidden gems that showcase everything that’s good about folk-funk. Some are from genre-melting track and others are from private presses released in the seventies and eighties. They all have one thing in common, quality. There’s contributions from trippy troubadours and femme-folk singers. Along with the other artists on We Are The Children Of The Sun they’re responsible for a collection of folk-funk, blissed out Balearic beats and soft fuzzy electronica that’s the perfect post club soundtrack and also for early mornings on the beach spent watching the sun rise.

We Are The Children Of The Sun.

LADIES SING THE BOSS.

Ladies Sing The Boss.

Label: Ace Records.

Format: CD.

On the ‘5th’ January 1973, Bruce Springsteen released his debut album Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. Forty years later the album was ranked at No. 379 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. By then, the man known simply as The Boss was well on his way to becoming one of the biggest selling artists in the history of music.

Fast forward to 2022, and it’s estimated that The Boss has sold over 150 million records worldwide. There’s also a small matter of twenty Grammy Awards, two Golden Globes an Academy Award and a Special Tony Award    for the soundtrack album for Springsteen On Broadway. This is testimony to an artist who forty-nine years after releasing his debut album still remains relevant.

Bruce Springsteen was one of the pioneers of heartland rock genre of music which combines mainstream rock with cinematic songs about working class American life. Many of the songs feature socially conscious lyrics which music lovers all over the world can relate to and have embraced. 

So have the many singers and bands who have covered Bruce Springsteen’s songs. This includes the nineteen who feature on Ladies Sing The Boss which will be released by Ace Records. Among the artists and bands to feature are Patti Smith Group, Lucy Dacus, Darlene Love, Cowboy Junkies, Bettye LaVette, Lucinda Williams, Thea Gilmore, Anna Calvi and Emmylou Harris. They play their part in eclectic and lovingly curated compilation.

Opening Ladies Sing The Boss is Because The Night which Bruce Springsteen cowrote with Patti Smith. This anthemic song was released by The Patti Smith Group as a single in 1978 on Arista, and reached thirteen on the US Billboard 100 and five in the UK. This was the track that launched the singer’s career and forty-four years later is regarded as a classic.

Dancing In The Dark was the biggest selling single on The Boss’ classic album Born In The USA. Ironically, the song was only written when Bruce Springsteen’s manager and co-producer Jon Landau suggested the album needed a hit single. When the single was released in 1984 it was certified platinum in Britain and the UK. This comes as no surprise as this cinematic and introspective song paints pictures. That’s the case in the original and Lucy Dacus’ cover from her 2019 EP.  She reinvents the song replacing the synths in the original with blistering guitar licks which prove effective.

In the sixties, Darlene Love worked with producer Phil Spector, and was the voice of The Crystals and Bob B Soxx and The Blue Jeans. The Boss was a fan of the singer and was introduced to her by Lou Adler in the eighties. He wanted to record an album with her. While this never materialised he contributed two tracks to her 2015 album Introducing Darlene Love. One of the tracks is Night Closing In which features an impassioned and emotive vocal from a truly great vocalist. 

As a new millennia dawned, Sub Pop released Badlands: A Tribute To Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska. One of the artists who was asked to contribute a track was Nashville-born country singer Deana Carter whose captivating cover of State Trooper is akin to a confessional.

Kansas-born Piney Gir contributed a cover of Waiting On A Sunny Day to the 2009 compilation Play Some Pool, Skip Some School, Act Real Cool: A Global Pop Tribute To Bruce Springsteen. There’s a wistfulness to the track that features lyrics that are best described as bittersweet. They’re brought to life on this beautiful cover which is an oft-overlooked hidden gem. 

Bettye LaVette delivered  a soul-baring cover of Streets Of Philadelphia on the 2007 compilation Song of America. The cover benefits from a spartan arrangement that allows the vocal to take centerstage. It’s best described as an outpouring of emotion on what’s a hugely moving rendition of this track.

Factory featured on his 1978 album Darkness On The Edge Of Town, and was inspired by Bruce Springsteen’s father toiling on the assembly line.  The Boss seeing how the drudgery of the 9 to 5 life took its toll on him vowed that this life wasn’t for him, and that instead, he was destined for greatness. By 2016, when Lucinda Williams covered the song on her album The Ghosts Of Highway, he had achieved greatness and was a musical icon. However,  this powerful cover brings to life the poignant imagery the song conjures up and the back-breaking work on the assembly line.

Cover Me was a rousing anthem that featured on The Boss’ classic album Born In The USA. It was reinvented by Thea Gilmore on her for fourth album Songs From The Gutter wing was released in 2002. With a pared back arrangement and a haunting vocal it’s very different to the original, and a welcome addition to the compilation.

Kerry Hart recorded a heartachingly beautiful cover of Secret Garden on her debut album I Know A Gun. She transforms the song, but is almost scared to betray any hint of vulnerability as she sings of about a man loving a woman. However, she’s out of reach as if scared to be hurt again.

Closing Ladies Sing The Boss is Emmylou Harris’ cover of My Father’s House. It’s another track from Nebraska that featured on her 1986 album Thirteen. The song was inspired by Bruce Springsteen’s dysfunctional relationship with his father which he often thought about in later life. This reading of the song song is emotionally charged and brings to life a relationship which sadly had gone wrong and haunted its writer as an adult. 

Choosing just ten tracks from Ladies Sing The Boss wasn’t easy, as this lovingly compiled oozes quality. This latest instalment in Ace Records’ long-running and successful Songwriter Series finds famous faces rubing shoulders with what will be new names to some music fans. However, for fans of Bruce Springsteen they’ll know and love each and every one of the nineteen tracks, and will enjoy and embrace these cover versions. They’re part of what’s bound to be a must-have and eclectic compilation for fans of The Boss when it’s released on May ‘27th’ 2022.

Meanwhile, Bruce Springsteen has just announced that next year, aged seventy-three, he will embark upon a tour of the US and Europe. This marks the return to the stage of a musical icon fifty years after he released his debut album Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. Until then, Ladies Sing The Boss is a tantalising taste and reminder of what’s in store for Bruce Springsteen’s legion of loyal fans next year.

Ladies Sing The Boss.