Cult Classic: Gene Russell-New Direction.

In 1969, pianist Gene Russell and percussionist Dick Schory founded Black Jazz Records in Oakland, California. The nascent label’s raison d’être was “to promote the talents of young African American jazz musicians and singers.” This was only part of their vision for their new label.

They were determined that Black Jazz Records would released an alternative to what they saw as the old school jazz that was popular at the time. They wanted to release an alternative to traditional jazz, and this included albums that featured political and spiritual influenced music. However, spiritual jazz was just part of the Black Jazz Records’ story.

Between 1971 and 1975 Black Jazz Records released twenty albums that included everything from free jazz and funk to soul-jazz and spiritual jazz. 

Although the Oakland-based released twenty albums during the five years it was in existence, this was a lot more albums than similar sized labels. That was no surprise.

Before Dick Schory cofounded Black Jazz Records he had founded the Chicago-based Ovation Records, which was a successful country and western label. Not only was it providing the funding for Black Jazz Records, it was also distributing its releases. This gave the label a helping hand and meant it had an edge on its competitors. 

Other labels looked on enviously as the Black Jazz Records began. The new kid in town had a bigger budget that its competitors and had a distribution deal in place from day one. Label owners watched on wondering what Black Jazz Records’ first release would be?

Fittingly, Black Jazz Records’ first release was Gene Russell’s sophomore album New Direction which was released in 1971. It was the first of five albums the label released during its first year in existence.

After cofounding Black Jazz Records much of Gene Russell’s time was spent running the nascent label. Despite this, he still found the time to write, record and release New Direction which was the followup to his 1969 debut album Up and Away. The pianist led a trio on an album of instrumental easy listening which was released by Decca Records. His sophomore album found Gene Russell’s music moving in a New Direction.

Just like his debut album New Direction was an album of cover versions. Gene Russell covered Neal Hefti’s Black Orchid, Richard Carpenter’s Hitting The Jug, Ann Ronell’s Willow Weep For Me and Eddy Harris’ Listen Here. They were joined by Bronislaw Kaper and Ned Washington’s On Green Dolphin Street, Horace Silver’s Silver’s Serenade, Henry Crosby, Stevie Wonder and Sylvia Moy’s My Cherie Amour plus Gene Harris’ Making Bread. These tracks became New Direction.

Joining Gene Russell who recorded, arranged, produced and played piano on New Direction were drummer Steve Clover, bassists Henry Franklin and Henry Glover plus Tony William on congas. The recorded the eight tracks that became the first album released on Black Jazz Records, New Direction.

When New Direction was released the album was well released by critics who were excited about Gene Russell and Dick Schory’s groundbreaking new label. Here was a label was promising to release the latest jazz releases. It was a case of out with the old and in with the new at Black Jazz Records. This began with Gene Russell’s sophomore album New Direction which launched the new label.

Sadly, when New Direction was released it wasn’t the commercial success that Gene Russell had hoped. That was despite being promoted properly and the label having a distribution deal in place. It was disappointing start for Gene Russell and Dick Schory’s new label. 

When New Direction is best described as mostly a straight-ahead piano album. It features a trio that’s led by pianist Gene Russell. However, on some tracks the trio are augmented by conga player Tony William. Sometimes, the music heads in the direction of modal jazz and soul-jazz, while other times the music is sweet, funky and soulful. Gene Russell plays the piano with an enviable fluidity but for much of the album ensures the music swings. The rest of the band follows his lead throughout New Direction.  

It’s an album of familiar songs, old favourites and standards. Gene Russell sets the bar high with his cover of Black Orchid which opens the album is one of the highlights. So is Hitting The Jug which follows hard on its heels. Other highlights include Listen Here, a stunning remake of Silver’s Serenade and Making Bread which closes the album on a high. Even the standard Willow Weep For Me takes on a new meaning and heads in a New Direction thanks to Gene Russell and his multitalented band who had the honour of playing on the first album released by Black Jazz Records.   

New Direction was a vast improvement on Gene Russell’s debut album Up and Away, which had been released two years earlier in 1969. This was the start of a new chapter for Gene Russell and he followed New Direction up with Talk To My Lady in 1973. Sadly, both albums failed to find the audience they deserved and were underrated by jazz aficionados.

It was only in the early nineties that a new generation of DJs and record collectors rediscovered the twenty albums that Black Jazz Records released between 1971 and 1975. This included the first album that the label released Gene Russell’s New Direction. It was the one that got away for Black Jazz Records.

Nowadays, New Direction is the most sought after album of the twenty albums that Black Jazz Records released between 1971 and 1975. Very few copies of the album come up for sale and when they do, copies of New Direction change hands for large sums of money. No wonder, Gene Russell’s sophomore finds the pianist leading a talented and versatile band as his music moved in a New Direction on what’s one of his finest albums.

Cult Classic: Gene Russell-New Direction.


Cult Classic: Hank Mobley-Soul Station.

It was Leonard Feather, the British-born jazz pianist, composer, producer and music writer who described Hank Mobley as the: “middleweight champion of the tenor saxophone.” This metaphor made sense to critics and connoisseurs of jazz. 

His tone was neither as aggressive as John Coltrane nor as melodic as Stan Getz. Instead, it had a laidback, languid sound that was subtle and melodic. Especially when compared to the likes of Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. Despite his undeniable talent, Hank Mobley never seemed to get the credit he deserved. 

Sadly, Hank Mobley is still one of the most the underrated jazz musicians. Especially those who came prominence during the bop era. 

Hank Mobley signed was still twenty-four when he recorded his first session for Blue Note Records on the ‘27th’ of March 1955. That day he recorded the album that became Hank Mobley Quartet which was released in October 1955. He had come a long way in a short space of time. 

Musically, Hank Mobley was a late starter, and first  picked up a saxophone was when he was sixteen, and suffering from an illness that meant he had to stay at home for several months. By then, he was living in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and was finding that the days were long and  he needed something to pass the time. That was why his grandmother decided to buy her grandson a saxophone. It passed the time as Hank Mobley recuperated, and also transformed his life. 

Eight years later, Hank Mobley had signed to Blue Note Records where he would spend the majority of his career. He eventually recorded and released twenty-six albums for jazz’s premier label between 1955 and 1972. This includes one of his classic albums Soul Station which were released by Blue Note Records in October 1960. It was the tenth album that Hank Mobley had recorded for Blue Note Records.

The Soul Station session took place at the Van Gelder Studio, in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. It was a quartet recording with drummer Art Blakey, bassist Paul Chambers and pianist Wynton Kelly joining the twenty-nine year old bandleader, composer and tenor saxophonist. As usual, Alfred Lion who took charge of production which were recorded by Rudy Van Gelder.

That day, six tracks were recorded. This included covers  two standards, Irving Berlin’s Remember and If I Should Lose You which written by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin. They were joined by This I Dig Of You, Dig Dis, Split Feelin’s and Soul Station which were Hank Mobley compositions. The six tracks were recorded during the one-day session and the release was scheduled for later in 1960.

When Soul Station was released in early October 1960, critics heaped praise on the future hard bop classic calling it Hank Mobley’s finest album. Some critics went further and said it was one of the finest albums released by Blue Note Records during the hard bop era. This was high praise indeed.

Soul Station opens with the standard Remember, which was a favourite of American dance bands during the classic jazz age. Hank Mobley pays homage to this era. His sultry tenor saxophone is to the fore and carries the simple melody above the finger clicking groove before enjoying opportunity to improvise. By then the arrangement is swinging. However, Wynton Kelly’s piano playing is subtle, understated and he resists the urge to innovate. Instead, the band to the script during this quite beautiful and captivating cover of this much-loved standard that sashays along before reaching a crescendo. In doing so, this sets the bar high for the rest of the album.

Very different This I Dig of You which epitomises everything that’s good about hard bop. Each member of the band plays their part in the sound and success of the track. Especially pianist Wynton Kelly who opens the track and is joined by Hank Mobley as the rest of rhythm section drive and power the arrangement along. Meanwhile, slinky sounding piano plays and later, Art Blakey unleashes a thunderous solo before hissing hi-hats signalling the return of the sultry sounding saxophone which soars above the arrangement to impressive hard driving track.

The tempo drops on Dig Dis where Wynton Kelly’s piano takes centrestage as the rhythm section accompany him. Their playing is understated even when Hank Mobley’s tenor saxophone enters and soars above the piano. It’s everpresent and gets another chance to shine when the saxophone drops out. Soon, though the  baton passes to the smooth souding tenor saxophone which continues to play a starring role. However, just like the previous tracks Wynton Kelly’s contribution is crucial and it would be a poorer track without it.

From the opening bars of Split Feelin’s there’ no stopping the band as they move through the gears on this uptempo track with a Latin-tinged groove. Soon, they’re sitting in the fast lane and are being driven along by rhythm section. Paul Chambers plucks his bass firmly and deliberately while Art Blakey powers the arrangement along and later unleashes a thunderous solo that’s one of his best on the album. Not to be outdone, Wynton Kelly’s hands dance across and sometimes  jab and stab the keyboard. Meanwhile, Hank Mobley plays with speed, fluidity, power, passion and fluidity on what’s one of the album’s highlights.

Another highlight of Soul Station is the title-track. Here, the band is at their tightest as they play a lowdown bluesy groove. At its heart is Wynton Kelly’s piano playing and somehow he reaches new heights. Meanwhile Paul Chambers unleashes a peerless solo while Art Blakey’s playing is much more understated. Hank Mobley’s playing is smooth, melodic and he plays within himself always in control on a track that features this all-star band at their very best.

Bookending Soul Station is the other standard, If I Should Lose You. Just like the opening track Remember, Hank Mobley looks back to the jazz’s glory days when this was a staple of American dance bands. Here, the band stay true to the original and their toe-tapping cover is uptempo, joyous and is a a reminder of another musical era.

Soul Station is the album that transformed Hank Mobley’s career. By the time the album was released in 1960 he was a prolific recording artist. Although his albums were well received by critics Soul Station was called the finest of his career. 

Nowadays Soul Station is regarded as a classic album and one of the finest albums released by Blue Note Records. Although it’s an album that’s rooted in the hard bop style elements of blues, Latin and classic jazz can heard during this almost flawless six track set which should’ve transformed Hank Mobley’s career. 

Despite releasing over thirty albums during his carer, Hank Mobley didn’t get the recognition his music deserved His finest hour was Soul Station which features Hank Mobley the man they called the: “middleweight champion of the tenor saxophone” at the peak of his powers.

Cult Classic: Hank Mobley-Soul Station.


Cult Classic: Pierre Moerlen’s Gong-Downwind.

In January 1973, Daevid Allen invited drummer and percussionist Pierre Moerlen to join Gong following the departure of Laurie Allan. He agreed and became the group’s new drummer. 

However, in June 1973 he was asked by Virgin Records’ founder Richard Branson to play percussion at the premier of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. When he agreed Pierre Moerlen never knew that he would spend twelve years working with the Mike Oldfield and become his percussionist of choice between 1975 and 1987.

Pierre Moerlen travelled to France in August 1973 Pierre Moerlen where Gong were recording their fourth studio album Angel’s Egg using the Manor Mobile. The album was released in to critical acclaim in December 1973 and nowadays is a regarded as a classic.

During the summer of 1974, Gong recorded You, which was the followup to Angel’s Egg at the Manor, in Oxfordshire. The album was a mixture of fusion, progressive rock, psychedelic rock and space rock and was well received upon its release. However, it was the last album by Daevid Allen’s iteration of Gong.

Having recorded You, Pierre Moerlen left Gong for the first time and joined Les Percussions de Strasbourg. They premiere Karlheinz Stockhausen composition Musik im Bauch on the ’28th’ of March 1975 as part of the Royan Festival. This was very different to music he had recorded with Gong and would go on to record in the future.


In the summer of 1975, Pierre Moerlen was asked to rejoin Gong and co-lead the band with Didier Malherbe and Steve Hillage. Having agreed to rejoin and co-lead the band, Gong began recording their next album.

 Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason was drafted in to produce the album which was recorded during December 1975. However, Steve Hillage left having only played on a couple of tracks on the album. Losing one of its co-leaders and such a talented guitarist was a huge blow for Gong. Despite that, Shamal was released in February 1976 and hailed as an ambitious, experimental and sometimes beautiful album where the group flitted between and fused disparate musical genres. However, like previous albums Shamal wasn’t a particular successful album.


Despite that, Gong began work on their seventh studio album Gazeuse! It was recorded at the Manor Studio, in Oxfordshire, with Dennis MacKay producing what was a jazz-driven instrumental album where Pierre Moerlen’s vibes play a prominent part in the album’s sound. The album was released in late 1976 with the title changed to Expresso for its release in America. Just like previous albums, Gazeuse! was well received by critics but didn’t sell in vast quantities. Despite that, the group had a loyal following and were a popular draw when they played live. 

Expresso II.

Gong returns to the studio in July 1977 to begin recording their eighth studio album Expresso II. This time, the sessions took place at the Pye and Matrix Studios, in London with the group coproducing the album with John Wood. The album was completed by August 1978 and was another jazz-driven instrumental album where Pierre Moerlen’s vibes play an important part in the album’s sound. Stylistically and sonically Expresso II was similar to Gazeuse!.

When Expresso II was released in March 1978 it was the second Gong album to showcase their new sound. It was well received by many music critics despite being very different from the group’s earlier space rock sound. When critics were reviving the album they didn’t realise that it marked the end of an era.

Because of contractual reasons Virgin Records had to release Expresso II  as a Gong album. However, a few months later the band became known as Pierre Moerlen’s Gong. 


The newly named band entered the studio in June 1978 and began working on what was the third since Pierre Moerlen became the group’s co-leader. However, further changes weer afoot and the first album the group released as Pierre Moerlen’s Gong would be different from previous albums.

Pierre Moerlen wrote Crosscurrents, Downwind, Emotions and Xtasea. He also cowrote Aeroplane and What You Know with  . The other track was a cover of Jin-go-lo-ba which was written by Nigerian percussionist Babatunde Olatunji. These seven tacks would eventually become Downwind.

When recording began, Pierre Moerlen was producing Downwind and played drums, percussion, concert toms, timpani, vibes, marimba, Fender Rhodes, organ, synths and took charge of the lead vocals. He was joined in the rhythm section by bassist Hansford Rowe and guitarist and vocalist Ross Record. They were augmented by vibraphonist Benoît Moerlen, percussionist François Causse and former Gong saxophonist Didier Malherbe who on the title-track. He was one of several musicians guesting on the album.

Making guest appearances were guitarist Mick Taylor, Steve Winwood who played synths, violinist Didier Lockwood, flautist Terry Oldfield and his brother Mike Oldfield who played bass, guitar, Irish drum and Solina strings. The guest artists and members of Pierre Moerlen’s Gong started recording Downwind in June 1978 and finished the album in September 1978. 

When Pierre Moerlen’s Gong released Downwind on February the ‘9th’ 1979, it was the start of a new chapter in the Gong story. Although he had been co-leader of the band for three albums, Downwind was the first where the group was billed as Pierre Moerlen’s Gong. Downwind also saw the group change direction musically on several tracks.

This includes on Aeroplane which opens Downwind. Just like What You Know it’s a short-form pop song which feature vocals Pierre Moerlen. This was the only time the group tried this. While it’s effective on both tracks it was a short-lived experiment that they didn’t repeat.

Crosscurrents was a driving fusion track where the vibes are to the fore. As the track builds, it becomes dramatic, mesmeric, progressive and at times, funky and jazz-tinged. It’s six genre-melting minutes on what’s one of the album’s highlights. 

The title-track is a twelve minute progressive rock epic where Pierre Moerlen’s Gong are joined by some familiar faces.  Steve Winwood plays keyboards, Mike Oldfield guitar and Didier Malherbe saxophone as the group continue to reinvent their music.

Thunderous drums and percussion open the cover of Jin-Go-Lo-Ba before the vibes enter and are played at breakneck speed. Then there’s the chanted vocals, a myriad of percussion and a blistering, searing rocky guitar which gives way to frantic percussion, joyous harmonies and sweeping, rolling synth. It’s a stunning reinvention of the track and shows another side to the group.

Pierre Moerlen’s shimmering vibes open Emotions which is a slow, wistful and ruminative sounding track. The understated genre-melting arrangement meanders along with group combining classical, folk, jazz and rock to create a quite beautiful, sometimes haunting and filmic track that encourages the listener to reflect and ruminate. 

Closing Downwind is Xtasea where drums, subtle percussion and hypnotic vibes combine as the bass prowls and a gypsy violin tugs at the heartstrings. Again, it’s a beautiful combination. Later, a blistering guitar is unleashed and the track is transformed becoming rocky and dramatic. What follows is some of the best guitar playing on the album from bandleader Pierre Moerlen as he ensures that the album closes on a high.

For anyone yet to discover Pierre Moerlen’s Gong, then Downwind is the album to begin with. It’s their most accessible album and features everything from funk, fusion, jazz, pop and progressive rock to rock. During the seven tracks the group and their friends seamlessly switch between and fuse disparate musical genres on what’s a vastly underrated album.

Sadly, Downwind didn’t chart and wasn’t a hugely successful album. The group had a loyal fanbase but some weren’t won over by the new sound. They preferred the space rock sound of Gong. With Pierre Moerlen at the helm the group initially moved in the direction of fusion and then their music continued to evolve  on Downwind. The new sound should’ve introduced the band to a much wider audience but sadly, that wasn’t the case.

Downwind is an oft-overlooked album that slipped under the radar when it was released in March 1978.

Forty-three years later and this hidden gem of an album is regarded as the perfect introduction to Pierre Moerlen’s Gong. It’s the album that got away for this groundbreaking group. Sadly, Downwind was a case of what might have been for Pierre Moerlen’s Gong. This underrated genre-melting album could’ve transformed the group’s career.

Alas, commercial success eluded Downwind which nowadays is regarded as a cult classic that offers a tantalising taste of Pierre Moerlen’s Gong’s new sound when they dared to be different as their music evolved and moved in a new direction.

Cult Classic: Pierre Moerlen’s Gong-Downwind.


Cult Classic: Porcupine Tree-Lightbulb Sun.

Between 1987 and 2010 progressive rockers Porcupine Tree released ten studio and twelve live albums. Their sixth studio album was Lightbulb Sun which was released  on May the ‘22nd’ 2000 and was the much-anticipated followup to Stupid Dream, which was released in March 1999. It marked the start of a new chapter in the Porcupine Tree story.

Stupid Dream was the first Porcupine Tree album to feature a much poppier sound. This was very different to their abstract instrumental sound of their prior albums, Signify and Stupid Dream which was their most successful album.

Stupid Dream.

The three singles Porcupine Tree released from Stupid Dream were Piano Lessons, Stranger By The Minute and Pure Narcotic and they all enjoyed mainstream exposure. Especially in the US and Europe where the group toured extensively. They knew it was a case of putting in the hard yards like so many other bands before them.

Porcupine Tree also toured the UK in support of Stupid Dream and watched the three singles charted in the independent charts during 1999. Piano Lesson reached thirty-four, Stranger By The Minute thirteen and Pure Narcotic forty-six. Each of the singles found their way onto radio station playlists and it looked like Porcupine Tree were about to make a commercial breakthrough after five albums and twelve years of trying.

Sadly, it wasn’t to be and Stupid Dream failed to trouble the UK albums charts. This was hugely disappointing given the success of the singles. The members of Porcupine Tree hoped that their next album would see them make a commercial breakthrough.

Lightbulb Sun.

When Steven Wilson and the rest of Porcupine Tree began to write Lightbulb Sun, little did the group know that the album found them still at a crossroads. 

 Just like Stupid Dream, the album that Porcupine Tree were about to write and record would also have a much more commercial, poppier sound. Once again, the group turned their back on the abstract instrumental sound of their first four albums on Lightbulb Sun. However, after their sixth album the group changed direction and their music took on a heavy metal for the rest of the noughties. In a way, Lightbulb Sun was the end of an era for Porcupine Tree.

Of the ten songs on Lightbulb Sun, Steven Wilson penned eight of them and cowrote the other two. He wrote Hatesong with Colin Edwin. Then the pair joined forces with Chris Maitland and Richard Barbieri to write Russia on Ice Chris Maitland. These tracks would eventually become Lightbulb Sun.

Recording of Lightbulb Sun took place at Foel Studio-No Man’s Land between November  1999  and January 2000. The rhythm section featured drummer Chris Maitland and bassist Colin Edwin who Gimbri and was experimenting with a drum machine. Keyboardist Richard Barbieri played Hammond organ, Fender Rhodes, clavinet, mellotron and synth. Meanwhile bandleader, producer and vocalist Steven Wilson played guitars, piano, hammered dulcimer, mellotron, banjo, harp and used samples during the recording of Lightbulb Sun. 

Augmenting Porcupine Tree were rhythm guitarist Eli Hibit, cellist Nick Parry and Stuart Gordon who played viola and violin. During the recording session, The Minerva String Quartet were brought. Violinists Katy Latham and Lisa Betteridge plus cellist Emmeline Brewer and Sarah Heines on viola added the all-important strings to Lightbulb SunIt was completed after just three months recording and was the quickest album that Porcupine Tree had recorded.

Having completed Lightbulb Sun in January 2000, the album was scheduled for release on the ‘22nd’ May 2000. Before this, Porcupine Tree planned to release a single and nervously awaited the verdict of the critics. 

Four Chords That Made a Million was released as the lead single in April 2000 and reached eighty-four in the UK charts and sixteen in the UK Independent Charts. This built upon the success of the triumvirate of singles released from Stupid Dream.

When Lightbulb Sun was released on the ‘22nd’ May 2000 it feature a much commercial, poppier sound that should’ve appealed to wider audience than the he abstract instrumental sound of their first four albums. However, Lightbulb Sun was also an album of two parts.

Lightbulb Sun is divided into two parts between Rest Will Flow and Hatesong. However, the first part focuses on a more melodic, poppy style. Then the part allows Porcupine Tree to showcase the experimental side of their music. The group was hoping there was something for fans old and new. 

The majority or critics were won over by Lightbulb Sun which was released to mostly critical acclaim. They praised the standard of songwriting and musicianship with some critics calling the album Porcupine Tree’s finest hour. 

No wonder as Porcupine Tree mixed unique brand of progressive rock with melodic pop, metal and experimental music. After six albums and thirteen years Porcupine Tree had come of age with a career-defining album. It featured dense harmonies, captivating arrangements, melancholy melodies that tugged at the heartstrings and sometimes the tracks referenced Pink Floyd. Two of the highlights of Lightbulb Sun were the Steven Wilson compositions Feel So Low and The Rest Will Flow. They were part of what was the most consistent and complete album of Porcupine Tree’s tree.

Unlike many progressive rock albums Lightbulb Sun wasn’t a concept album. However, Steven Wilson explains that some of the songs relate to different subjects: “There are at least four or five songs on that record which I call the divorce songs, the relationship songs, which are all about various stages of the splitting up a relationship, of dissolving a relationship. Russia on Ice, How Is Your Life Today, Shesmovedon, Feel So Low, I mean, the last track of the album. The period in a relationship, where the relationship is kind of… still exists, but it’s in that period where, really, there is nothing left but hatred and despise-Hatesong is the other one.”

He goes on to say: “But then on the other hand, there are groups of songs on the album which are all about various childhood… nostalgic childhood reminisces, Lightbulb Sun and the first part of Last Chance To Evacuate Planet Earth, Where We Would Be. So there are kind of groups of songs.” 

Later he explains: “And then there’s a couple of songs that don’t have any relation to anything else. Four Chords That Made A Million doesn’t have any relation to anything else on the album, or anything else I’ve ever written. It’s just that.”

Lightbulb Sun was regarded as the best and strongest album that Porcupine Tree had recorded and released. Surely their sixth album would be the first to chart and see the group make a commercial breakthrough after thirteen years of touring, recording and doing the rounds of press, radio and television?

The members of Porcupine Tree watched as Lightbulb Sun reaches 161 in the UK album chart where it stalled. Although this was disappointing, it was still  the most successful album of the group’s six album career. 

Then in July 2000 was released as the second single from Lightbulb Sun and reached eighty-five in the UK charts and twenty-four in the UK Independent Charts. This was a small crumb of comfort for Porcupine Tree as Steven Wilson believed that it was: “our best work to date.”

Nowadays, Lightbulb Sun is regarded by critics as one of the finest albums of Porcupine Tree’s long career. It’s also the album that got away and should’ve transformed Porcupine Tree’s.  

When they released Lightbulb Sun it was also a much more accessible album than their previous albums. Steven Wilson made a conscious decision not to write lyrics about abstract concepts like war and religion. Instead, he drew on his own person experiences and wrote songs with much more personal and emotive lyrics. However, some of the songs he wrote especially Hatesong and Feel So Low featured negative lyrics. Despite this, many record buyers would be able to relate to the subjects that the lyrics dealt with on what was without doubt the most accessible album of Porcupine Tree’s six album career.

Lightbulb Sun should’ve been a much bigger success and introduced the group to the wider audience that their music deserved. Sadly, as is so often is the case Lightbulb Sun was an album that passed record buyers by when it was released by Snapper. 

Maybe Snapper was the wrong label for Porcupine Tree and their music would’ve found a wider audience if signed to another indie or major label? They left Snapper after Lightbulb Sun and signed to Lava who released their seventh studio album In Absentia on the ’24th’ September 2002. That was the start of Porcupine Tree’s progressive metal years. Lightbulb Sun was the end of an era for the group.

Although Lightbulb Sun wasn’t a commercial success when it was originally released in May 2000, it had started to find a wider audience by the time it was reissued in 2008. Lightbulb Sun is without doubt one of Porcupine Tree’s most accessible albums, and was a career-defining album when it was released to widespread critical acclaim twenty-one years ago in May 2000.

Cult Classic: Porcupine Tree-Lightbulb Sun.


Jazz Classic: Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers-Moanin’.

Although Philly-born tenor saxophonist Benny Golson’s tenure with The Jazz Messengers was short-lived, he still played an important part in the development and history of the group. He joined in 1958, and during the summer, helped Art Blakey recruit three new Messengers.

They were all from Philly, and included bassist Jymie Merritt, pianist Bobby Timmons and trumpeter Lee Morgan who joined Benny Golson in the front line. This latest lineup of The Messengers made their recording debut on what would become a classic album, Moanin’.

It was also Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers debut album for Blue Note Records. The group had led a nomadic existence for the past few years recording for a number of different labels including  Columbia, Pacific Jazz, Cadet, Vic Records, Jubilee, Atlantic and Bethlehem. Now Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers had signed to jazz’s premiere label and were about to record one of the most important albums of their career.

On the ‘30th’ of October 1958, Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers journeyed to the original Van Gelder Studio, at 25 Prospect Avenue in Hackensack, New Jersey. By then, Benny Golson was The Jazz Messengers’ musical director and chief composer. He wrote Are You Real, Along Came Betty, The Drum Thunder Suite and Blues March. These compositions plus Bobby Timmons’ Moanin’ and a cover of Come Rain or Come Shine were recorded by Rudy Van Gelder and produced Alfred Lion and eventually became Moanin’.

After the recording of Moanin, Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers embarked upon a European tour. During November and December 1958, they wowed and won over audiences across Europe with a series of spellbinding performances. However, all wasn’t well behind the scenes and there were personality clashes during the tour. When Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers retuned home, Benny Golson left the group. 

Although he had only been a Messenger for a few months, he had played on a future jazz classic and ensured the band stayed relevant in spite of the growing popularity of the soul-jazz movement. However, Benny Golson wanted to be part of a more structured band, and in 1959 formed The Jazztet with Art Farmer. By then, Moanin’ had been released, and Hank Mobley who was former Messenger had rejoined the group. 

Meanwhile, Moanin’ was released to widespread critical acclaim in January 1959. Critics were won over by what a captivating combination of old-fashioned gospel and blues which Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers combined with what was their innovative and sophisticated take on modern jazz.  The result was a potent and powerful combination and Moanin’ featured some of the finest music that Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers would ever record. 

Side One.

Moanin’ opens with the title-track is mellifluous and melodic bluesy shuffle that’s also an early example of soul-jazz. Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers are at the top of their game and set the bar high for the rest of this future classic album. 

Straight away, there’s an almost wistful sound to Are You Real? Especially the horns who pose the question and play a starring role while the rhythm section drive the arrangement along. Then when the solos arrive, the rest of the band enjoy the opportunity to  shine. Bobby Timmons fingers dance across the keyboard, Art Blakey powers his way round his drum kit enjoying the opportunity to showboat before the baton passes to bassist Jymie Merritt who plays a fleet-fingered solo. The result is a propulsive tracks that’s a mixture of beauty and melancholy. 

Closing side one of Moanin’ is Along Came Betty where the tempo drops on this lyrical track that’s much more melodic and expressive. It’s the nearest thing to a ballad on the album and is without doubt one of the highlights.

Side Two.

The Drum Thunder Suite was written by Benny Golson especially for Art Blakey. This three part suite features Drum Thunder, Cry A Blue Tear and Harlem’s Disciples and was a showcase for the legendary drummer and bandleader. Just like the rest of the album there’ an intensity to his playing as he unleashes on of his finest performance on the album. Later, the suite would become a staple of his live sets.

Blues March is another of the Benny Golson composition on the albums. From the get-go it sounds as if he had been influenced by the music of New Orleans’ marching bands. Art Blakey’s drums plays a leading role in the sound and success of this truly memorable track.

Closing Moanin’ is the standard Come Rain Or Come Shine. It’s been reinvented and features a brisk, lilting arrangement. Initially the horns play a leading role while the piano plays a supporting role. Soon, it’s all change and Bobby Timmons jabs and stabs at the keyboard picking out the melody before the drums signal the arrival of the saxophone. It’s played with power and freedom revealing a joyous sound that soars above the arrangement before Jymie Merritt plays a solo and then the band are reunited and continue to reinvent this standard which closes this classic album. 

Sadly, this lineup of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers was short-lived and the only album they recorded was Moanin’.  Benny Golson left before the release of Moanin’ and was replaced by Hank Mobley. However, he was just a short-term replacement. 

By the time The Big Beat was recorded on March the ‘6th’ 1960 Wayne Shorter was the latest tenor saxophonist to join The Messengers. The group’s lineup was fluid and that would always be the case.

Who knows what would’ve happened if Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers had continued to record with the same lineup that features on Moanin’? With Benny Golson as musical director, chief composer and tenor saxophonist the group may have gone on to release a string of groundbreaking classic albums. Sadly, personality clashes meant that Benny Golson left after Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers toured Europe in December 1958 and it’s a case of what might have been. 

Surely even Art Blakey must have wondered what would’ve happened to the group he cofounded if Benny Golson had continued to play a leading role? However, the tenor saxophonist played a huge part in the sound and success of Moanin’ which nowadays is  regarded as  a jazz classic and one of the greatest hard bop albums ever released. 

For newcomers to both jazz and hard bop Moanin’ is an album that’s a vital part of any collection and features the finest lineup of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers at the peak of their considerable powers. It’s an album the legendary bandleader and drummer never surpassed during what was a long and illustrious career leading a band that featured many of the future giants of jazz.

Jazz Classic: Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers-Moanin’.


Lost Cult Classic: Mike Westbrook-Love and Understanding: Citadel/Room 315 Sweden 74.

By 1974, composer and pianist Mike Westbrook was thirty-eight and one of the leading lights of the British jazz scene. He had come a long way since he formed his first band in 1958 when he was an art student studying painting. That was how he came to meet Lou Gare, Keith Rowe and John Surman.

Four years later, in 1962, Mike Westbrook moved to London, and was soon leading bands big and small. He played numbers venues including Ronnie Scott’s original jazz club The Old Place as well as  the Little Theatre Club at Garrick Yard, St Martin’s Lane. Along with Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath, Mike Westbrook shared the role of the house band at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. All this was part of Mike Westbrook’s apprenticeship and stood him in good stead.

Throughout the sixties, he  played an important part in the development of jazz in Britain, and led The Mike Westbrook Concert Band between 1967 and 1969. It featured anywhere between ten and twenty-six musicians and included some of the top British jazz musicians, including his friend John Surman. 

In 1967, The Mike Westbrook Concert Band was signed to the Deram label and released the first of five albums they released between 1967 and 1970. This included 1967s Celebration and in 1968, which was the year they appeared at the Montreux Jazz Festival, The Mike Westbrook Concert Band released their much-anticipated sophomore album Release. The following year 1969, two albums  Marching Song Volumes 1 and 2 were released and featured one of the best British jazz bands at the peak of their powers. Sadly, their swan-song was 1970s Mike Westbrook’s Love Songs and by then, Mike Westbrook was embracing fusion which was growing in popularity. 

As the seventies dawned, Mike Westbrook embarked upon several  new projects. Adrian Mitchell asked him to work on his musical Tyger, which was a celebration of William Blake which was staged by the Royal National Theatre in 1971.The same year Tyger was released by RCA in 1971.

Another project that was released in 1971 was Metropolis, which was based on Mike Westbrook’s initial impressions of visiting London. This was a project that Mike Westbrook had been working on for a couple of years and at last it bore fruit.

The BBC broadcasted The Mike Westbrook Concert Band playing Metropolis live from Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club on Tuesday the ’25th’ November 1969. Just a couple of months later, on the ‘9th’ of January 1970, an enlarged lineup of The Mike Westbrook Concert Band recorded Metropolis for BBC Radio 3. When Metropolis as released in 1971, this was just the latest ambitious release from Mike Westbrook.

During 1972 and 1973, Mike Westbrook was busy with his jazz-rock band Solid Gold Cadillac. It featured vocalist and trumpeter Phil Minton, who would lend his voice to many of Mike Westbrook’s later projects. However, the following year 1974, Mike Westbrook was reunited with another of his friends for a new project.

In 1974, Mike Westbrook was commissioned by Sveriges (Swedish) Radio to write what became Citadel/Room 315, which was a one hour-long, eleven track suite, which featured John Surman as the lead soloist.

Having completed Citadel/Room 315, Mike Westbrook travelled to Sweden perform and conduct it for the first time, live in concert. Joining his was John Surman who would play baritone and soprano saxophone, as well as bass clarinet. They would be accompanied by an all-star band that featured some of Sweden’s finest and most experienced musicians.

This was The Swedish Radio Jazz Group, a sixteen piece group that was led by saxophonist and clarinetist Arne Domnérus and Argentinian trumpeter Americo Bellotto. Members of this multi-talented group had accompanied everyone from Stan Getz and George Russell to Monica Zetterlund and Jan Johansson. 

Their number included drummer Egil Johansen, drummer, percussionist and vibraphonist Jan Bandel, bassist Stefan Brolun, guitarist Rune Gustafsson and pianist Bengt Hallberg. The horn section included trombonist Lars Olofsson, bass trombonist and tubaist Sven Larsson, trumpeter and alto horn player Jan Allan, tenor saxophone and flautist Claes Rosendahl and trumpeter Bertil Lövgren who also played flugelhorn. Many musicians were multi-instrumentalists flautist Lennart Åberg who played tenor and soprano saxophone, while Lennart Åberg could play tenor and soprano saxophone as well as flute. Erik Nilsson would switch between  baritone saxophone, bass clarinet and flute, and trumpeter Håkan Nyquist played flugelhorn and French horn. 

While Mike Westbrook was going to conduct The Swedish Radio Jazz Group, he would play electric piano on Citadel/Room 315. His friend John Surman would switch between baritone and soprano saxophone and bass clarinet during the eleven track suite that lasted one hour. 

During Citadel/Room 315, Michael Westbrook his star soloist John Surman and The Swedish Radio Jazz Group flit between disparate musical genres during this eclectic suite. There’s everything from fusion and funk to avant-garde, ballads, big band and orchestral themes. 

Michael Westbrook understands the importance of making an impression and the opening track Overture certainly does that. A lone piano is joined by blazing horns and soon, the arrangement is swinging as this multitalented band kick loose and set the bar high for the rest of Citadel/Room 315. Then on Construction, elements of fusion, funk and library music can be heard before the track threatens to head in the direction of free jazz during this eight minute epic jam. 

Pistache is something of an emotional roller coaster and initially is dark and dramatic before becoming understated and thoughtful sounding and later becomes takes on a melancholy sound. As Love and Understanding gradually unfolds and the tension builds during a truly beautiful and ruminative sounding cinematic track. 

Quite different is Love and Understanding which is best described as funky big band music with John Surman playing a starring role. One of the most beautiful sounding tracks is the ballad Tender Love, where the band play within themselves on one of the album’s highlights. It’s all change on Bebop de Rigueur where the band go up through the gears and then kick loose and swing during this all action workout.

The piano led Pastarole lasts 14:40 and initially, is pensive sounding and invites reflection but eventually, Bertil Lövegren‘s trumpet solo takes centre-stage. Soon, the tempo increases as horns intertwine and are played with speed and power during what’s one of the most ambitious pieces on Citadel/Room 315. So is Sleepwalker Awaking In Sunlight where John Surman’s solo takes centrestage before guitarist Rune Gustafsson enjoys his moment in the sun during this truly memorable freewheeling track.

Initially, there’s a  sense of melancholia as Outgoing Song unfolds and it’s always there even when the horns soar high above the arrangement before it dissipates. Then  Finale sees Mike Westbrook, John Surman and The Swedish Radio Jazz Group close the album on a high. It’s no wonder that they receive a standing ovation from an appreciative audience. That is no surprise.

When Mike Westbrook travelled to record Citadel/Room 315 for Sveriges (Swedish) Radio he was one of the leading lights of British jazz. He composed, conducted and played electric piano during the performance of Citadel/Room 315 and was joined by lead soloist John Surman a multitalented band. They played with a freedom, energy and sometimes there was a rawness in their playing. The result  was a very different album to the polished studio album, Citadel/Room 315 that was released in 1975.

Sadly, the recording of Citadel/Room 315 from 1974 lay in the vaults of Sveriges (Swedish) Radio  for forty-six year. It looked as if this hugely important concert would never be heard by jazz fans. That was until 2020

A year later and this lost album is now regarded as  a cult classic. That’s no surprise as the concert features Mike Westbrook and John Surman,  two titans of British jazz at the peak of their considerable creative powers. They both play starring roles in the sound and success of Love and Understanding: Citadel/Room 315 Sweden 74, which is a must-have for anyone who is interested in jazz, and especially British jazz. Quite simply, Love and Understanding: Citadel/Room 315 Sweden 74 is an album that belongs in their collection.

Lost Cult Classic: Mike Westbrook-Love and Understanding: Citadel/Room 315 Sweden 74.


Cult Classic: The Radiators-Ghostown.

When The Ramones played at the Roundhouse in London on the ‘4th’ of July 1976, this was a catalyst for punk movement. Many of the future leading lights of the punk movement have since claimed to have been present that night. In the audience were apparently future members of Generation X, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Adverts, The Slits and X-Ray Spex. They watched the as the support act The Stranglers worked their way through their set. Little did they know how important a band The Stranglers, would be or the longevity they would go on to enjoy. 

As The Stranglers left the stage, there was a sense of anticipation in the air about The Ramones. Very few people had seen them live but some had read about them in the music press. Others had only heard third hand about The Ramones and speculated about what was about to unfold. The speculation was nothing compared to the reality of The Ramones live at the Roundhouse on the ‘4th’ of July 1976. This was a seminal moment for the nascent British punk scene. After seeing The Ramones legendary concert, many of the future leading lights of the punk scene went on to form bands.

They weren’t alone. Up and down Britain, new bands were formed on an almost daily basis and the punk rock movement exploded. It was the musical movement British youths had been waiting for, as it allowed them to vent their frustration at life in battered Britain in 1976. Soon, it was a similar situation elsewhere.

This included across the Irish Sea in Dublin, where the punk movement was also born in July 1976. Just like Britain, the Republic of Ireland’s economy was far from healthy. Less that fifty percent of school leavers were fortunate enough to find a job. The rest was known as the “unemployed generation.” Adding to their woes, and that of the rest of the Irish youth was the lack of recreational facilities. They had been overlooked and failed by their government. 

Some fell into a life of crime, while others made the journey “across the water,” to British cities where many Irish people had settled. This they hoped would lead to a better life. However, the prospects were no better there, and often, the natives were far from friendly. As a result, many young Dubliners decided to stay were they were. It was a case of “better the devil you know.”

Some of the young Dubliners that stayed in the city of their birth would become involved in the city’s nascent punk scene after July 1976. This was ground zero for Irish punk and many young Dubliners would form bands, found independent record labels and publish or write for fanzines.  A thriving and vibrant scene was about to take shape over the next year or so.  All this was partly due to Ireland’s first punk band The Radiators From Space. They issued a call to arms and asked the Irish youth to unleash their creativity.

That is what the Irish youth proceeded to do over the next few months and years. They discovered hidden talents that had passed unnoticed at schools across the country. This wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for the band who are credited as Ireland’s very first punk band, The Radiators From Space, whose debut album TV Tube Heart is the perfect entrée for newcomers to the ban d who were formed in 1976, and were unlike most punk bands.

It’s safe to say that The Radiators From Space were a much more cerebral and literate band that the majority of punk bands. They were intelligent and didn’t indulge in the clichéd, vacuous posturing of many of the British punk groups who used controversy as a means of self promotion. That wasn’t the way that The Radiators From Space operated.

The Radiators From Space were formed in Dublin in 1976, and their early lineup included Philip Chevron, Pete Holidai, Steve Rapid (Steve Averill), Jimmy Crashe and Mark Megaray. From their early days, it was obvious that were different from other Irish and indeed, British punk bands.

Not only were The Radiators From Space cerebral and literate, they also had an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of music and musical history. Partly, this was because Steve Rapid’s father brought back music and American music magazines from his regular trips to New York. These magazines Steve Rapid and the rest of the band poured over, developing and honing their knowledge of music. Meanwhile, The Radiators From Space listened to groups like Hawkwind, MC5, The Deviants and The Stooges, right through to pop, rock, subversive German cabaret and traditional Irish music. This The Radiators From Space regarded as their musical education, and unlike many other punk bands, they didn’t reject this music when punk arrived. Instead, it was part of The Radiators From Space’s musical DNA as they moved forward.

Having formed The Radiators From Space, the band announced that they had developed their own manifesto. This had all been thought out and carefully considered as The Radiators From Space announced that they wanted to transform the Irish youth from consumers to producers. The Radiators From Space knew that  the Irish youth were capable of forming bands and record labels, founding fanzines and putting on club nights. They would issue a rallying call, and this encouraged the Irish youth to become producers not just of  music, but create a fledgling music and entertainment industry. Part of this inspirational rallying call was also about enjoyment and pleasure.

This wasn’t easy in Ireland in 1976, where poverty and unemployment were rife. Many youths were from broken homes and there was a massive problem with illiteracy. There was also ‘The Troubles’, which blighted both sides of the Irish border. Many Irish youths didn’t want to get involved in the conflict, as they had watched as friends and acquaintances got caught up in it. Some ended up in prison, while others were injured or even killed. That was a road they weren’t going down, and the only rallying call they listened to was The Radiators From Space.

They were at the heart of the nascent punk movement, with The Radiators From Space playing live and ran and published their own fanzine Raw Power. This was an outlet for the band’s manifesto and allowed them to discuss their plans for an Alternative Ireland. This wasn’t a political movement. Instead, it was about making a better life for young Irish people. The Radiators From Space,  wasted to inspire and foster a feeling of solidarity. Readers were encouraged to try to find pleasure during each day. Sometimes, readers found love, and a few even found love across the religious divide. This was controversial and indeed dangerous in Ireland in 1976. 

Before long, The Radiators From Space and their fanzine was coming in for criticism from the Catholic Church. When Father Brian D’Arcy, a spokesperson for the Catholic church wrote about  out The Radiators From Space and their fanzine Raw Power, he didn’t encourage their endeavours or creativity. Instead, Father Brian D’Arcy sneered contemptuously of The Radiators From Space and their fanzine Raw Power. It seemed that The Radiators From Space had the Catholic church rattled with their call to arms as a largely secular generation look for an alternative to organised religion. However, The Radiators From Space had another means of reaching an even wider audience…their music.

Although The Radiators From Space were activists and creatives, they were also musicians. That was what they hoped would offer them an escape from the grinding poverty and unemployment that besmirched Ireland, and indeed Britain. Music just like football and boxing was still an escape for working class youths in 1976.

It was a similar case in Britain, where punk bands were being formed almost daily. Many of them lacked talent and charisma and were ill-suited to what was still the entertainment industry. By comparison, those that encountered The Radiators From Space found them engaging and intelligent. They were also talented, and a cut above the average punk band. 

After a while, The Radiators From Space wanted to embark upon a recording career. They were no different from punk bands in Britain, America and Australia. For punk bands releasing a single was a rite of passage and for others would be a reminder of their brief brush with the music industry. Most didn’t get any further than that and disappeared without trace. However, releasing a record in Britain was much easier than in Ireland.

Unlike many capital cities, Dublin didn’t have a music industry by 1976. There were neither major labels nor recording studios. Some bands travelled across the border to Belfast to record singles prior to the punk era. That was the past; and given the DIY spirit of punk, bands in Britain had recorded singles without going near a recording studio. They used basic equipment and transformed garages or basements into makeshift studios.

One option for all Irish bands had been to pack their bags and travel to London, where they would try to forge a career. The lucky ones like Rory Gallagher and Thin Lizzy went on to sign recording contracts, and became Ireland’s most successful musical exports. However, not all bands wanted to move to London, and that included The Radiators From Space during the early part of their career.

They were at the centre of Dublin’s scene and realised that something special was starting to take shape. Across Ireland, a new wave of bands, writers, fanzine publishers, promoters, record label owners and DJs were becoming part of the country’s burgeoning music scene. This included Eamon Carr and Jackie Hayden, who had founded the independent label Midnite Records.

The pair was also friendly with a trio of Irish expats living in London, where they were part of the music industry. Ted Caroll was from the Republic of Ireland, while his friend and colleague Roger Armstrong was from Northern Ireland. Both lived and breathed music and were cut from the same cloth as Eamon Carr and Jackie Hayden. Both Ted Caroll and Roger Armstrong were musical entrepreneurs who had embraced the DIY principal and owned Chiswick Records. They kept in touch with booking agent Paul Charles, another Irish expat who still kept his finger on the pulse in the Irish music scene. He booked many of the top Irish bands and was part of The Radiators From Space inner circle.

Of all the Irish bands, Paul Charles was especially taken with The Radiators From Space. They were the only punk band who managed their own affairs. This was just a continuation of the DIY spirit The Radiators From Space had tried so hard to foster. It’s also likely given The Radiators From Space encyclopaedic knowledge of music that they were wary of music managers and would rather manage their own affairs. This was about to work in their favour.

In 1977, The Radiators From Space signed to Chiswick Records. Unlike many labels, Chiswick Records didn’t require the band to move to London. Instead, The Radiators From Space could continue to live in Dublin.

Television Screen.

With the deal signed and sealed, The Radiators From Space began work on their debut album TV Tube Heart. Before the album was recorded, The Radiators From Space their debut single in May 1977. The song they chose was Television Screen with Love Detective on the B-Side of their debut single. It was Sounds magazine record of the week, and was a memorable way for The Radiators From Space to announce their arrival.

TV Tube Heart.

It was a mixture of original songs and Party Line’s version of the traditional song The Radiators From Space. TV Tube Heart was very much a group effort with the five members of the band having penned the twelve original songs. 

When recording began of TV Tube Heart began on ‘22nd’ June 1977, with Roger Armstrong took charge of production. The Radiators From Space’s rhythm section featured drummer Jimmy Crashe, bassist Mark Megaray and guitarists Phil Chevron and Pete Holidai. Adding the lead vocal was Steve Rapid. Eventually, TV Tube Heart was completed by August 1977.

On the ‘9th’ of September 1977, The Radiators From Space played a showcase gig at The Vortex. During a blistering set, they played Prison Bars, Contact, Party Line, Press Gang and Enemies, which feature on the newly released 40th Anniversary Version of TV Tube Heart. These tracks feature The Radiators From Space at the peak of their powers.

A month later, TV Tube Heart was released by Chiswick Records on October the ‘7th’ 1977. Critics were won over by The Radiators From Space’s debut album TV Tube Heart. Critics spoke as one, praising TV Tube Heart. That came as no surprise given the reception their debut single had received.

The Radiators From Space had followed this up with an accomplished album of pop punk that wasn’t short of anthems and social comment. From the howling feedback that opens Television Screen, it’s a case of sit back and enjoy the ride. It’s a memorable way to open the album, as The Radiators From Space combined elements of garage rock, pop, punk, rock and even rock ’n’ roll. Unlike many punk bands, The Radiators From Space prove dto be talented songwriters and musicians.

Nowadays, TV Tube Heart is punk classic, and a cut above many of the third-rate albums that were being released. The Radiators From Space had made their mark on the punk scene  on both sides of the Irish Sea. Surely, it was only a matter of time before one of the majors came calling?

Two months later, and The Radiators From Space released their sophomore single Enemies in on Chiswick Records in December 1977. Just like its predecessor Television Screen, it won the approval of critics. Things were looking good for The Radiators From Space, who critics said had a bright future in front of them.


Nearly two years later, and The Radiators as  they were now known  were still signed to Chiswick Records. They had moved to London earlier in 1979. This was a big step for the band, leaving their home city behind.

By then, The Radiators had written  the ten tracks that became Ghostown. It was recorded during 1978, with  The Radiators now a quartet featured a rhythm section of drummer Jimmy Crashe, bassist Mark Megaray and guitarist Pete Holidai. Phil Chevron switched between guitar and synths and took charge of the lead vocal at Good Earth Soundhouse. London. Taking charge of production was American producer Tony Visconti.

Once Ghostown was recorded, its release was delayed for the best part of a year. By then,  Million Dollar Hero (In a Five and Ten Cents Store) has been released as single in April 1978, with Let’s Talk About The Weather following in June 1979. The singles were a tantalising taste of Ghostown, which was released in the summer of 1979.

When the album was released on August ’10th’ 1979, it was to overwhelming critical acclaim. Critics called the music on Ghostown ambitious and literate, with tracks like Million Dollar Hero (In a Five and Ten Cents Store), Let’s Talk About The Weather and Kitty Ricketts which was released as a single on the ‘31st August 1979. Along with  Song of the Faithful Departed and Walking Home Alone Again these were the highlights of Ghostown, which some critics were calling The Radiators’ finest hour.

While some critics, Ghostown was The Radiators e finest hour, Others sill believed that TV Tube was their best album. What was clear was that The Radiators From Space had released two genre classics. However, their sophomore album  was ambitious and literate and features a band whose star was in the ascendancy in 1979.

Sadly, two years later in 1981, The Radiators  split-up. It was the end of an era for what many regard as Dublin and indeed Ireland’s first punk band.

The Radiators were reunited in 1987 and were together until they spilt for the second time in 1989. They were reunited in 2004, and are still together today  During that period, they’ve released two albums 2006s Trouble Pilgrim and Sound City Beat in 2012. It was another five years before The Radiators From Space returned to the studio and rerecorded some of their songs that featured on TV Tube Heart which were billed as Live In The Studio. 

Despite releasing two albums after reuniting Ghostown is regarded as a landmark album and a genre classic. It features The Radiators who  were punk pioneers and nowadays are regarded by many as Ireland’s first ever punk band. Their sophomore album Ghostown showcases one of the best and most accomplished punk bands who were a cut above the competition. By comparison, many of the British punk bands, who were a rag-bag of chancers, charlatans, publicity seekers and talentless no-hopers. Meanwhile, across the Irish Sea, The Radiators  were cerebral, literate, inspirational and had a social conscience. They were also one of the leading lights of the Irish punk scene and recorded two true genre classics TV Tube Heart and Ghostown.

Cult Classic: The Radiators-Ghostown.


Cult Classic: Jethro Tull-This Was.

The origins of Jethro Tull can be traced to Blackpool,  Lancashire,  in 1962, where Ian Anderson formed his first group Blades, which was originally a four piece, featuring Ian Anderson on vocals and harmonica. A year later in 1963, Blades was a quintet and in 1964 the group was a sextet who played blue-eyed soul. However, by 1967 blades decided to spread their wings and  head to London.

Having moved to London, the band split-up within a short time, and only Ian Anderson and bassist Glen McCornick were left. This proved a blessing in disguise as they were soon joined by blues guitarist Mick Abrahams and drummer Clive Bunker. This was the lineup that featured of Jethro Tull that featured on their debut album This Was. That was still to come.

Before that, the nascent band had to settle on a name, and various names were tried, only to be rejected. Then someone at a booking agent christened the band Jethro Tull, after the eighteenth century agriculturist. Little did anyone realise that the newly named Jethro Tull would become one of the biggest bands in the world over the next decade. 

Not long after becoming Jethro Tull, Ian Anderson acquired his first flute. Up until then, he had played harmonica and was trying to learn to play the guitar. Soon, , Ian Anderson realised that wasn’t a great guitarist, and having realised that the world had enough mediocre guitarists, decided to expand his musical horizons and bought a flute. Little did he realise this would be one of Jethro Tull’s trademarks.

After a couple of weeks, Ian Anderson had already picked up the basics of the flute. He was learning as he played. While this wasn’t ideal, it was the only way that possible. Especially with things happening so quickly for Jethro Tull who would soon release their debut single.

Sunshine Day was penned by Mick Abrahams, with Derek Lawrence taking charge of production. However, when their debut single was pressed, Jethro Tull realised that an error meant the  single was credited to Jethro Toe. To make matters worse, Sunshine Day wasn’t a commercial success and failed to trouble the charts. Despite this disappointment, thing got better when Jethro Tull released their debut album This Was.

This Was.

Recording of This Was took place at Sound Techniques in London, with the sessions beginning  on the ‘13th’ of June 1968, and finishing on  the ‘23rd’ of August 1968. By then,  Jethro Tull had only £1,200 was spent recording their  debut album This Was. This money would soon be recouped when This Was released. 

Prior to the release of  Jethro Tull’s  debut album This Was critics had their say on the album. The majority of the critics were impressed by This Was which was a fusion of blues rock, R&B and jazz. This pleased Jethro Tull and their management, who decided to launch This Was at the Marquee Club, in London.

Jethro Tull was only the third band to launch their debut album at the Marquee Club, and would follow in the footsteps of  the Rolling Stones and The Who. Both bands were  amongst the biggest bands in the world by 1968, and so would Jethro Tull.

On the ‘25th’ October 1968 Jethro Tull released This Was, which reached number ten in the UK. Three months later,  Jethro Tull released This Was in America on the ‘3rd’ of February 1969 and it reached sixty-two in the US Billboard 200. This was seen as a success by Island Records in Britain and Reprise in America. Jethro Tull had made inroads into the most lucrative music market in the world. It was a successful start to Jethro Tull’s career, which was about to enter a period where critical acclaim and commercial success were almost ever-present. However, there was a twist in the tale.

By then, Mick Abrahams left the band after he and Ian Anderson disagreed over the future direction of Jethro Tull. The sticking point was that Mick Abraham wanted Jethro Tull to stick with blues rock, while Ian Anderson realised there was no real future in blues rock. He wanted to take Jethro Tull to explore a variety of musical genres. As a result, Mick Abrahams left Jethro Tull and was replaced by Michael Barre. Little did either Mick Abraham nor Martin Barre realise that Stand Up marked the start of a period where Jethro Tull would sell over sixty-million albums.

This Was is a vastly underrated and oft-overlooked album of blues rock Jethro Tull, a  chameleon like band who went on to become one of the most successful and innovative British rock bands of their generation. Part of their success was their determination to constantly reinvent their music and innovate. This they succeeded in doing during a long and illustrious career. However, the album that launched their career is their cult classic This Was which shows another side of Jethro Tull.

Cult Classic: Jethro Tull-This Was.




Cult Classic: Keith Mansfield-Contempo.

Nowadays, Keith Mansfield is regarded as one the doyens of library music, and original copies of his 1976 album Contempo are now highly collectable. That’s the case with many other KPM Records’ releases.

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

The Rise and Rise Of KPM.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This included Keith Mansfield who recorded some of the best library music was ever recorded in the UK. Especially the music they recorded for KPM which has ‘inspired’ several generations of musicians. One of the albums of library music that Keith Mansfield recorded for KPM was Contempo, which is part of the legendary KPM 1000 series.

Contempto features Keith Mansfield at his best on a cohesive and truly timeless album of library music. The music is funky, soulful, string-drenched and sometimes jazz-tinged and rocky. 

Side One.

Side one of Contempo is uber funky from the get-go. The Fix is mid-tempo track with a tough cinematic sound where funk and rock combines with jazzy horns. They play their part on a track that wouldn’t sound out of place on a seventies cop show. What’s Cooking reveals a  dramatic, funky and sometimes has a lighthearted sound as it threatens to explode into life. The drama continues on the driving, funky and aggressive sounding Cut To Music. 

Man Alive is another mid-tempo funky track that sometimes heads in the direction of fusion. Sometimes it has aggressive sound and other times breezes along. Closing side one is the funk rock of Funky Footage a toe tapping track that sample hungry producers will appreciate and be inspired by.

Side Two.

String-drenched describes Breezin’ which sounds as it’s been inspired by mid-seventies disco and jazz-funk. Strings sweep and swirl and play a leading role before they’re joined by horns and keyboards. Together they coming to create a beautiful carefully crafted track that’s slick and dancefloor friendly. On Good Vibrations sweeping strings join forces with horns, pounding drums, a funky guitar and sci-fi synths.

They combine to create a mid-tempo track with a romantic sound that’s been influenced by the West Coast Sound and Blaxploitation strut.

Then Sun Goddess reveals a funky, exotic and sensual sound. Love Deluxe then teases the listener before it gradually reveals a quite beautiful dreamy sounding track where synths augment the keyboards and sultry horns. 

Closing Contempo is Snake Hips a rocky track where funky horns are deployed and augment the rhythm section on this mid-tempo slouch.

It’s all change on side two of Contempo with Keith Mansfield dropping the tempo. The music on this library record classic from 1976 veers between laidback, languid, dreamy and romantic. Later, it’s time to lie back, light a Dunhill and pour a glass of Bells as the music becomes post-coital on this cinematic library music opus.  

Keith Mansfield is one of the greatest purveyors of library music and Contempo which was released by KPM is a genre classic. The two sides show different side to his music. Side one features crime funk while the tempo drops on the second side and the music is much more eclectic. He’s been inspired by Blaxploitation, disco, jazz-funk, fusion and the West Coast Sound. Strings, horns and Fender Rhodes are deployed by one of the doyens of library music on Contempo.

Nowadays, original copies of Contempo are rarities and very few copies come up for sale. When they do, the prices are usually beyond the budget of most collectors of library music. That’s no surprise as Contempo is now regarded as a library music classic. It’s also a reminder of the golden age of library music, and one of its leading lights, Keith Mansfield, at the peak of his considerable powers.

Cult Classic: Keith Mansfield-Contempo.


Cult Classic: The Ohio Players-Ecstasy.

It wasn’t until The Ohio Players signed with Westbound, and released their sophomore album Pain in 1972, that commercial success their way. The group  was founded in 1959 and originally was known as The Ohio Untouchables and had a chequered history.

Initially, The Ohio Untouchables lineup featured drummer Cornelius Johnson, bassist Marshall “Rock” Jones, guitarist and vocalist Robert Ward, guitarist and saxophonist Clarence “Satch” Satchel plus trombonist and trumpeter Ralph “Pee Wee” Middlebrooks. In the early days, the Dayton-based quintet was best known as The Falcons’ backing band. This allowed the group to hone their sound before heading out on their own.

When The Ohio Untouchables started playing live, it soon became apparent that Robert Ward was an unreliable bandleader. He would suddenly walk off the stage during concerts forcing the band to stop playing. Eventually, the band decided to keep playing when their leader left the stage. However, things came to a head in 1964 when Robert Ward and bassist Marshall “Rock” Jones got into fight onstage. This resulted in the group splitting up for the first time.

Robert Ward decoded to draft in new musicians, while the rest of The Ohio Untouchables headed home to Drayton. That was where they discovered guitarist Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner who became the band’s lead singer. The other new recruit was drummer Gregory Webster. This wasn’t the end of the changes.

The group decided to change direction musically and starting playing R&B. This allowed them to play to new  Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner’s strengths, and meant they weren’t competing with Robert Ward’s group. With that, the new group began playing live.

In 1965, the group decided changed its name to The Ohio Players. The reason for this was because of how the group perceived themselves as musicians and “ladies men.”

The newly named group added two more singers to its lineup. Bobby Lee Fears and Dutch Robinson joined The Ohio Players who were ready to record their debut single.

By then, they were managed by Johnny Brantley a manager and producer. He recorded The Ohio Players’ debut single This Thing Called Love which was released on Ray Charles’ Tangerine Records in 1967. However, the single failed to find an audience and The Ohio Players moved on.

Johnny Brantley arranged for the group to become the house band at New York-based Compass Records. They played on various recordings and backed Helena Ferguson on her top thirty single Where Is The Party? 

The Ohio Players also released two singles on Compass Records during 1967. This included Trespassin’ and It’s A Crying Shame. Despite neither single making any impression on the charts, an expanded lineup began recording the group’s debut album. 

By then, vocalist Helena Ferguson Kilpatrick had joined the group. She was part of the expanded lineup who began recording what later became Observations In Time. It was nearly completed when their manager decided to license the album to Capitol Records. This seemed a strange decision.

It turned out that Compass Records wasn’t in the best financial health. That was why the incomplete version of Observations In Time was licensed to Capitol Records. However, the decision backfired when Observations In Time was released in 1968 and although it was a hit in Ohio, it failed to make any impression on the national charts. This was a huge disappointment for The Ohio Players.

So was the commercial failure of the single Here Today and Gone Tomorrow in the UK in 1970. Executives at Capitol Records thought that the single would sell well in the UK. However, this wasn’t the case and was another disappointment for the band.

Just two years after the release of their debut album The Ohio Players split-up in 1970. It looked like the end of the road for the band.

It wasn’t, and the group reformed with a new lineup. This included  drummer Gregory Webster, bassist Marshall “Rock” Jones, guitarist and guitarist and saxophonist Clarence “Satch” Satchel. They were joined by trombonist and trumpeter Ralph “Pee Wee” Middlebrooks, trumpeter Bruce Napier, trombonist Marvin Pierce, keyboardist Walter “Junie” Morrison plus vocalists Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner and Charles Dale Allen. The new line-up was the start of a new and exciting chapter for The Ohio Players.

Especially when a local label Top Hit sent the group to Sound Recorders in Nashville, to record a new eight-track album. By then, The Ohio Players had discovered that Walter “Junie” Morrison was the group’s secret weapon. Not only was he a talented, inventive and progressive keyboardist who also played guitar and drums. He was part of the group that recorded an album’s worth of funky and sometimes jazz-tinged cover versions. However, when the label listened to the tracks the highlight of the session was Pain, a funky instrumental.

By then, The Ohio Players had come to the attention of Armen Boladian who had founded Westbound Records in 1968. He had signed Funkadelic who were well on their way to becoming one of the most innovative and successful funk bands of the seventies. They were joined in 1971 by The Ohio Players.

Having signed to Westbound Records, Pain (Part 1) was rerecorded and released in 1971, and reached sixty-four in the US Billboard 100 and thirty-five in the US R&B charts. Across the border in Canada, the single reached ninety-one giving The Ohio Players a minor hit single. This was just a start for Armen Boladian’s latest signing. 

Buoyed by the success of Pain, Armen Boladian was keen that The Ohio Players release an album soon. They could’ve released the material recorded in Nashville as their sophomore album, but Armen Boladian decided to send the group into the studio to record a new album.

When they entered the studio The Ohio Players were joined by two new recruits. This included vocalist and saxophonist James Johnson and Dale Allen who was going to share the lead vocal. However, his time with the group was cut short after he had a heated argument with Clarence Satchell in the studio during the third day of the recording session. That was the end of his time with The Ohio Players.

They had written the six tracks that became Pain and coproduced the album with Herb James and Billy Pittman. Once the album was completed, it was scheduled for release in early 1972.

When Pain was released in February 1972, it still featured some of sound that appeared on their debut album Observations in Time. However, the album was funky and had a tough, slick, polished sound that was soulful and sometimes, jazz-tinged and even psychedelic. Walter “Junie” Morrison’s keyboards played an important part in the album  

 It was also an album of firsts. Pain was the first Ohio Players’ album to feature the group’s romantic, sensual sound and featured songs that were devoted to their love of women. It was also the first album to feature what many regarded as a suggestive photo on the album cover. The Ohio Players knowing that: “sex sells” used a Joel Brodsky photo of a woman in leather underwear dominating a prostrate man. This was a controversial photo and similar to the one on the cover of Funkadelic’s album Free Your Mind. 

The other first was the inclusion of Walter “Junie” Morrison’s character Granny on Pain. She featured on all their Westbound Records’ albums and he revisited the character on his solo albums. That was in the future.

Before that, The Ohio Players released Pain in February 1972, and it reached 177 in the US Billboard 200 and twenty-one in the US R&B charts. This was enough for Pain to be certified gold and was the start of the most successful period of the band’s career.


Ten months later, The Ohio Players released Pleasure in December 1972. The album was still soulful and funky, and sometimes moved in the direction of jazz. However, The Ohio Players revived the vocal harmonies that had been part of their original sound. They added to the radio friendly sound of some of the songs on Pleasure. Other songs were the result of late-night jam sessions. These would play their part in the sound and success of Pleasure.

Just like Pain, critics were won over by Pleasure, and the album received plaudits and praise. It reached sixty-three on the US Billboard 200 and four on the US R&B charts. When Funky Worm was released as a single, it reached number fifteen on the US Billboard 100 and topped the US R&B charts. This gave The Ohio Players biggest hit single of their career and they would become one of the most successful funk groups of the early seventies.


Buoyed by the success of Pleasure, The Ohio Players began work on their much-anticipated fourth album Ecstasy in early 1973. The group wrote eight new tracks and covered Louis Crane and Belda Baine’s Not So Sad and Lonely and Food Stamps Y’all. These ten tracks became Ecstasy which was arranged by Walter “Junie” Morrison’ and co-produced by The Ohio Players.

When Ecstasy was released in September 1973 their fourth album was well received by critics, who poured praise on what was another carefully crafted album of tough, sweaty funk and sweet soul. Sometimes, though the album headed in the direction of jazz as The Ohio Players showcase their versatility and ability to switch between and fuse disparate musical genres. That was apparent throughout the album.

Side One.

Ecstasy opens with the title-track which is soulful and sensual slice of funk. The Ohio Players then head in the direction of sweet soul on You and Me. Not So Sad and Lonely sounds as if its roots were in a jam session as the group combine  jazz and funk and add another soulful vocal to create  one of the highlights of Ecstasy. Slow, sultry, funky, jazz-tinged  and soulful describes (I Wanna Know) Do You Feel It? The tempo is still slow on Black Cat which closes side one and finds The Ohio Players at their funkiest and features a sassy, sensuous vocal. 

Side Two.

Food Stamps Y’all which opens side one finds The Ohio Players combining funk, fusion and jazz-funk on a track that was released as the second single from Ecstasy. Another highlight of the album is Spinning which is another funky cut with a heartfelt, soulful vocal. Sleep Talk features another soulful vocal which is combined with a funky arrangement that packs a punch. The tempo is dropped on Silly Billy which features a tender and almost wistful vocal. Closing Ecstasy is Short Change which has a tougher, funkier sound than many of the tracks on the album. It shows another side to The Ohio Players 

When Ecstasy was released in September 1973 it reached seventy on the US Billboard 200 and nineteen on the US R&B charts. The lead single Ecstasy reached thirty on the US Billboard 100 and twelve in the US R&B charts. Then wen Food Stamps Y’All was released as a single it failed to trouble the carts. Although Ecstasy didn’t quite match the success of Pleasure, the rise and rise of The Ohio Players continued. 

Their next four albums they released on Mercury went on to sell over 3.5 millions copies, with three being certified platinum and one gold. The Ohio Players released eight albums between 1972 and 1976 that sold in excess of six million copies and were one of the most successful funk band in the world. 

This began with Pain which was released in February 1972 and was The Ohio Players’ first album for Westbound. It was also the album that launched and transformed their career. After thirteen years of struggling to make a breakthrough they were enjoying commercial success and critical acclaim.

The commercial success continued when Pleasure was released in December 1972. Just like Pain, it was released to plaudits and praise and The Ohio Players were well on their way to becoming one of the most successful funk bands of the seventies.

This continued when they returned in September 1973 with Pleasure. While it wasn’t as successful as Pain and Pleasure the music was was ambitious, innovative and progressive. Seamlessly, The Ohio Players switched between and fused  funk, fusion, jazz, jazz-funk and soul to create a truly timeless and heady musical brew on Ecstasy which was the group’s swansong for Westbound.  

Cult Classic: The Ohio Players-Ecstasy.


Cult Classic: Sniff ’n’ The Tears-Love/Action.

By 1981, Sniff ’n’ The Tears were about to record their third album Love/Action with Mike Howlett taking charge of production. However, the last few years had been eventful.  So much so, that the only original member of the band was lead singer and songwriter-in-chief Paul Roberts. 

He was part of the earliest lineup of Sniff ’n’ The Tears who toured the England in 1974. They got as far as recording a demo for a French record label in 1975 but when nothing came of this the group split-up later that year.

That looked like the end of Sniff ’n’ The Tears until 1977 when Luigi Salvoni, the drummer from Moon, heard the demos and thought the band had potential. He contacted Paul Roberts and suggested that he contact Chiswick Records to see if they would be interested in signing the band?

This latest lineup of Sniff ’n’ The Tears made their debut in 1977.  Joining vocalist Paul Roberts who also played acoustic guitar was a rhythm section of drummer and percussionist Luigi Salvoni, bassist , Chris Birkin who were joined by  the twin guitars of the Mick Dyche and Loz Netto plus keyboardist Alan Fealdman. This was the lineup of the group that began playing live and in 1978 recorded their debut album.

Sniff ’n’ The Tears began recording their debut album Fickle Heart in 1978 with drummer Luigi Salvoni taking charge of production. When the album was completed Chiswick Records were in the midst of changing their distributor and the album was released until 1979.

Driver’s Seat was released as the lead single n 1979 and gave the group a hit single on three continents. It reached forty-two in the UK, eight in Holland, thirteen in Australia, seventeen in Canada and fifteen in the US Billboard 10o chart. 

Meanwhile, critics were won over by an album that combined elements of pop and rock with classic rock. 

Buoyed by the success of Driver’s Seat, Fickle Heart which combined elements of classic rock with pop-rock was released in 1979 and reached number seventy-two in Australia, forty-three in Canada and thirty-five in the US Billboard 20o chart. This was a good start to Sniff ’n’ The Tears’ recording career.

Despite that, Luigi Salvoni, Chris Birkin and Alan Fealdman all left the band just a few months after the release of their debut album. This was a huge blow for the remaining members of the band.

Not long after this, bassist Nick South was recruited and joined the band on a full-time basis. When they played live Sniff ’n’ The Tears were joined by keyboardist Mike Taylor and drummer Paul Robinson. This was a new chapter in the band’s career.

When they entered the studio to record their sophomore album The Game’s Up there were further changes to the band’s lineup. Paul Robinson usually only played with band when they played live but played on four of the nine tracks on the album. To complete the album two sessions drummers were brought onboard. Richard Bailey played on two tracks and Richard Marcangelo the other three. 

Prior to the release of The Game’s Up the album was well received by critics. They were impressed by  an album of carefully crafted pop and rock. However, when The Game’s Up was released in 1980 by Chiswick Records it failed to chart. Neither did the singe  Poison Pen Mail nor Rodeo Drive. Only One Love charted and that was in Holland where it reached thirty-eight. This was a far cry from a year earlier when Sniff ’n’ The Tears enjoyed a hit single with Driver’s Seat and their debut album was charted in three continents.

Just when it looked like things couldn’t get any worse for Sniff ’n’ The Tears it did. They were demoing the songs for their third album when Pau Roberts headed off on holiday. He was in for a surprise when he returned.

During his absence, Loz Netto announced that he was leaving the band to embark upon a solo career. He asked the other band members to join him. The only one that agreed to join his new band was Mick Dyche. However, the two departures meant that the very future of the group was at stake.

By then, Paul Roberts was the only original member of the band. Despite losing the two guitarists he decided that the band should continue.

Paul Roberts began looking for new recruits and brought onboard guitarist Les Davidson and Jamie Lane who became the group’s permanent drummer. The new lineup would recorded Sniff ’n’ The Tears’ third album Love/Action.

The ten songs on Love/Action were written by the group’s songwriter-in-chief Paul Roberts. He led a band that featured new drummer Jamie Lane, bassist  Nick South, guitarist Les Davidson and keyboardist Mike Taylor.  Producing the album was Mike Howlett.

He was brought onboard after Sniff ’n’ The Tears’ manager Bud Prager said that he felt the album would only succeed if the group used a producer. Several names were considered and eventually they settled on Mike Howlett who had produced their debut album Fickle Heart.

Sniff ’n’ The Tears had just a month to record Love/Action. After a few days rehearsing, the band began recording the album and just two weeks later it was completed. This meant that Mike Howlett and Paul Roberts had a  week to mix the album at a studio in Hamburg used by Kraftwerk.

When Love/Action was released in 1981 it was very different to their debut album Fickle Heart which Mike Howlett had produced. That was just three years earlier, but music had changed and so had production values. He had produced a slick and polished album of pop-rock that featured an early eighties sound. This won over critics and Love/Action which was released to plaudits and praise. 

Sadly, when Love/Action was released by Chiswick Records in 1981 it failed to trouble the charts. Neither did the lead single That Final Love nor the followup The Driving Beat. It was hugely disappointing.

So was the lack of commercial success in North America where the album generated a lot of interest prior to its release. The first couple of weeks there was a lot radio play which then dried up. This left Sniff ’n’ The Tears and their manager wondering why?

It turned out that there had been changes in MCA in America and the new CEO sacked a lot of a staff. He also decided to cut the company’s roster in North America. This included Sniff ’n’ The Tears. However, they were still signed to Chiswick Records in the UK.

However, the group’s time at Chiswick Records came to an end after their fourth album Ride Blue Divid was released in 1982 and failed to chart. It was a similar case with the single Hungry Eyes. For Sniff ’n’ The Tears this spelt an end to their Chiswick Records’ years when they were dropped by the label in 1983.

Of the four albums that Sniff ’n’ The Tears released during  the Chiswick Records’ years, their oft-overlooked third album Love/Action was the one that got away. It was an album of slick and polished pop rock that was bang on trend and should’ve introduced the group to a wider audience. Sadly, that wasn’t to be. However,  nowadays, Love/Action is regarded as a hidden gem and is without doubt one of Sniff ’n’ The Tears finest albums that was the album that could’ve transformed their career.

Cult Classic: Sniff ’n’ The Tears-Love/Action.


Cult Classic: Lee Morgan-The Rajah.

In 1964, twenty-six year old hard bop trumpeter Lee Morgan’s career was transformed when he enjoyed a crossover hit with The Sidewinder. Instantly recognisable and incredibly catchy, it became a jazz standard and nowadays, is regarded as Lee Morgan’s best known composition.

Buoyed by the success of the single, Blue Note Records released The Sidewinder album in July 1964. It became the label’s biggest selling album and  reached number twenty-five in the US Billboard 200.  In doing so, it transformed the career of the prodigiously talented Lee Morgan.

It should’ve been a time for celebration for the trumpeter who had just celebrated his twenty-sixth birthday, and  had broken sales records at Blue Note Records. However, Lee Morgan wasn’t happy when He had discovered that Chrysler was using The Sidewinder as background music on a  commercial that was being shown during the Word Series. There was a problem though. 

The car giant hadn’t asked his permission, and it was only  after he threatened to sue the company that they agreed not to show the advert again. It was a moral victory for Lee Morgan.

Little did  he know that he had just enjoyed the biggest single and the most successful album of his career. Buoyed by the success of The Sidewinder, Lee Morgan and many other artists were encouraged to try to replicate the track’s boogaloo sound. They were essentially trying find a formula for a hit single, and took this further firstly with Lee Morgan’s  future albums.

Blue Note Records wanted Lee Morgan to follow a similar formula for future albums. They decided that his future albums would open with a lengthy, funky blues and he would follow this with a number of hard bop compositions. This was dubbed as: “the Sidewinder lineage.”

This included the Andrew Hill composition The Rumproller which lent its name a new album that Lee Morgan released in mid-January 1966. Later that year, the tittle-track was released as a single. However, neither the single nor album were the commercial success that Blue Note Records had hoped.

Despite this, Lee Morgan continued to make the journey to Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, where he continued to record new albums. This included The Gigolo June the ‘25th’ and July the ‘1st 1965. The recording of Cornbread followed on September the ’18th’ 1965 and Infinity on November the 16, 1965.  This brought to an end another busy year for Lee Morgan.

He recorded Delightfulee on April the ‘8th’ and May the ’27’ 1966. Five months later, he recorded Charisma on September the ‘29th’ 1966. Then just two months later, Lee Morgan recorded The Rajah on November  the ’29th’ 1966. It was the last album Lee Morgan recorded in 1966.

For The Rajah, Lee Morgan only contributed one track, The Rajah. The rest of the tracks on the album were cover versions. This included Cal Massey’s A Pilgrim’s Funny Farm;  Walter Davis Jr’s Davisamba and Duke Pearson’s Is That So?; They were joined by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s Once In A Lifetime  and Gilbert Bécaud’s What Now, My Love? These five tracks were recorded by a quintet led by Lee Morgan.

Recording of The Rajah took place at the Van Gelder Studio on November the ‘29th’ 1966. The session was produced by Alfred Lion and Rudy Van Gelder took charge of engineering duties. He recorded a band that featured a rhythm section of drummer Billy Higgins, bassist Paul Chambers and pianist Cedar Walton. They were joined by a front line that included tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley and trumpeter Lee Morgan. It took just a day to record the five tracks that became The Rajah.

Once the album was completed, normally albums would be released within a year. However, sometimes, for no apparent reason Blue Note Records would postpone the release of an album. This was the case with The Rajah  which was shelved and never released during his lifetime. 

Sadly, Lee Morgan’s carer was cut tragically short on February the ‘19th’ 1972. That night, he was booked to play two sets at Slug’s Saloon jazz club in New York’s East Village. Between the two sets there was an altercation between Lee Morgan’s common law wife Helen Moore and the legendary hard bop trumpeter. Initially, Lady Luck was smiling on him as it wasn’t a fatal shot. However, that night, it was snowing heavily and the driving conditions were treacherous and the ambulance took so long to arrive that one of jazz’s great trumpeters bled to death. Lee Morgan was just thirty-eight.

Lee Morgan was a prodigiously talented trumpeter whose star shines the brightest on his career-defining album and hard bop classic The Sidewinder, which is a reminder of one the greatest trumpeters in the history of jazz. However, it’s just part of the rich legacy that Lee Morgan left behind.

In 1984, twelve years after Lee Morgan’s death, Blue Note Records’ discographer, writer and record producer Michael Cuscuna discovered the master tapes for The Rajah. The long-lost session was rediscovered in the Blue Note Records’ vaults and was released for the first time a year later in 1985.

Opening The Rajah is A Pilgrim’s Funny Farm which features a masterclass from Lee Morgan. There’s a clarity to his playing which veers between powerful, loud, expressive, emotive and rhythmic. He’s a versatile,  inventive and innovative trumpeter whose playing compels and captivates. Especially when augmented by musicians of the standard of Hank Mobley and Cedar Walton this example of hard bop which sets the bar high for the rest of the album.

Very different is the Eastern funk of The Rajah where Lee Morgan’s trumpet soars above the rhythm section. It’s joined by Hank Mobley’s tenor saxophone and the pair bring out the best in each other. Then they trade the choruses while Cedar Walton’s fingers dance across the piano keyboard. In doin so, the three men play a starring role in the sound and success of the track.

During Is That So? Lee Morgan’s questioning, probing and ruminative trumpet is answered by Hank Mobley’s tenor saxophone. It proves the perfect foil before they both drop out and Cedar Walton’s bittersweet piano takes centrestage. Straight away, the mood changes until the horns return. Later,  Cedar Walton makes a welcome return  and is accompanied by Paul Chambers who plucks at his bass before  the band are reunited and play as one during what’s one of the poppier tracks on the album wit is also one of its highlights.

Light and airy describes Davisamba which bursts into life  with the rhythm section and piano adding a Latin backdrop before the horns enter. The track proves to be the  perfect vehicle for Lee Morgan’s trumpet and Hank Mobley’s tenor saxophone. However, again, Cedar Walton plays in important role and is playing is assured and confident. Later, he joins forces with the horns and together they combine to create a truly memorable example of Latin jazz. 

It’s all change on the ballad What Now My Love? Lee Morgan’s rasping piano takes centrestage while flourishes from Cedar Walton’s piano fill in the spaces. Hank Mobley drizzles his sultry  tenor saxophone across the arrangement, before the arrangement is stripped bare and just the understated rhythm section and piano remain. Cedar Walton enjoys his moment in the sun before Lee Morgan unleashes a soul-baring solo on this .beautiful wistful ballad.

Closing The Rajah is Once In A Lifetime. It as a dramatic driving introduction as the piano and rhythm section lock into a groove. Soon, the horns enter and this irresistible, upbeat and joyous track unfolds. It sounds as if it has been inspired by Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers and is one of the oft-overlooked hidden gems from Lee Morgan’s impressive back-catalogue.

It’s sad that The Rajah wasn’t released during Lee Morgan’s lifetime. This was one of a number of albums he recorded that were shelved and belatedly released in the eighties. He wasn’t alone.

Many artists made the journey to Van Gelder Studio to record albums with producer and Blue Note Records’ co-owner Alfred Lion. Not every album was released and often albums were postponed and projects were shelved. It was only much later when the master tapes for  these The long-lost sessions were rediscovered in the Blue Note Records’ vaults.

That was the case with The Rajah, Lee Morgan’s long-forgotten hard bop session from 1966. He was backed by a crack band on an album that was only rediscovered in the Blue Note Records’ vaults in 1984. The following year, 1985, The Rajah was belatedly released thirteen years after Lee Morgan’s tragic and untimely death. 

When Lee Morgan died on February the ‘19th’ 1972 jazz lost one of the pioneers of his hard bop. Jazz was in mourning at the loss of a talented composer, respected bandleader and one of greatest trumpeters of his generation. Tragically, his career had been cut short and he was never able to fulfil the potential that had been evident since he made his debut as a teenager. However, Lee Morgan left behind a rich musical legacy including his hard bop cult classic The Rajah, where features the Philly-born trumpeter at the peak of his considerable powers .

Cult Classic: Lee Morgan-The Rajah.


Cult Classic: Donald Byrd-Byrd In Flight.

When Donald Byrd signed to Blue Note Records in 1958, he was twenty-five and had already recorded five solo albums and had collaborated on albums with Art Farmer, Phil Woods and Gigi Gryce. 

The Detroit-born trumpeter was also in demand as a sideman and had already worked with some of the giants of jazz. This included Art Blakey, Hank Mobley, Horace Silver, Jackie McLean, jimmy Smith, John Coltrane and Kenny Burrell. Already Donald Byrd was regarded as one of jazz’s rising stars.

That was why Alfred Lion signed him to Blue Note Records. By then, Donald Byrd had already played on a number of sessions by artists signed to Blue Note Records and the label co-owner was able to witness the prodigiously talented trumpeter at close quarters. It didn’t take long before he decided to add him to the label’s impressive roster of artists.

Off To The Races.

On December ‘21st’ 1958, Donald Byrd journeyed to van Gelder Studio to record his Blue Note Records’ debut, Off To The Races. He led a sextet on an album of hard bop that was well received by critics when it was released in March 1959. 

Byrd In Hand.

Just two months later, on the ‘31st’ of May 1959 Donald Byrd returned to Van Gelder Studio and his latest sextet recorded Byrd In Hand. Five of the six compositions were new including three penned by the twenty-six year old bandleader and trumpeter. 

He was joined in the front line by tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse and Pepper Adams on baritone saxophone on what was a hard blowing album of hard bop. The talented sextet’s playing was alway creative and with their solos spirited and inventive and a fine example of hard bop. 

When Byrd In Hand was released later in 1959 to plaudits and praise. The album was regarded as one of the finest of Donald Byrd’s four year recording career. He had come a long way since making his debut with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messenger 1954 whilst studying for a master’s degree at Manhattan School of Music. 

At The Half Note Cafe.

On November the ‘11th’ 1960, Donald Byrd headed to the Half Note in Manhattan, where he was about to record a live album. He was joined by drummer Lex Humphries, bassist Laymon Jackson, pianist Duke Pearson and baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams. This was a new band, but very few people would realise this.

That night, the quintet were at the peak of their  powers and firing on all cylinders during a spellbinding thirteen track set. Not only was the quintet swinging hard, but they benefited from a lyricism and impeccable sense of timing that few groups possessed. Led by twenty-seven year old Donald Byrd the quintet’s playing was practiced and slick. It was lucky that the tapes were running that night and the performance was captured for posterity.

When Blue Note Records released at The Half Note Cafe in 1960, it was as two single LPs. The albums were released to critical acclaim and hailed as Donald Byrd’s finest release for Blue Note Records. His next album Byrd In Flight had a lot to live up to.

Byrd In Flight.

For Byrd In Flight, which was Donald Byrd’s fourth album for Blue Note Records he penned Ghana and Lex. Duke Pearson who nowadays is regarded as one of the architects of the Blue Note Records’ hard bop sound wrote Gate City, Bo and My Girl Shirl. The only cover on the album was Rogers and Hart’s Little Girl Blue. It was one of six albums 

Just like previous albums Donald Byrd recorded for Blue Note Records, Byrd In Flight was recorded at Van Gelder Studio. The engineer was Rudy Van Gelder and Alfred Lion took charge of the production. However, this wasn’t a one day session and the six tracks were recorded on three days between January and July 1960.

The sextet featured a rhythm section of drummer Lex Humphries, bassists Doug Watkins and Reggie Workman plus pianist Duke Pearson. They were joined by a front line of trumpeter Donald Byrd, alto saxophonist Jackie McLean and tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley. This multitalented and versatile band spent four days recording Byrd In Flight.

Gate City was recorded on January the ’17th’ 1960. Then Ghana and Lex were recorded on the ‘25th’ January 1960. Little Girl Blue, Bo and My Girl Shirl were recorded six months later on July the ‘10th’ 1960. 

With the recording of Byrd In Flight completed, the album was scheduled for release by Blue Note Records in December 196o. When critics heard Donald Byrd’s latest album of hard bop they remarked that he was maturing as a trumpeter and bandleader while his music continued to evolve. 

The journey that is Byrd In Flight opens with the celebratory sounding Ghana which conjures up images on a new nation determined to remain master of its own destiny. Donald Byrd’s flowing trumpet solo has an airy sound and is complimented by pianist Duke Pearson and Hank Mobley on tenor saxophone. His playing combines a degree of optimism with the celebratory sound that’s a feature of this opening track that was penned by bandleader Donald Byrd.

The standard Little Boy Blue is a fine example of ballideering from the twenty-eight year old trumpeter. His playing is thoughtful, considered but is also expansive, confident and strident. Meanwhile, Duke Pearson’s captures the romantic sound of this oft-covered ballad which was written by Rogers and Hammerstein.

The bluesy sounding Gate City finds Duke Pearson combining with Donald Byrd whose opening solo is unfussy but effective as he  effortlessly chooses the right notes. Then Hank Mobley takes a less is more approach to his solo while later it sounds as if pianist Duke Pearson really has the blues as he lives the music he’s playing.

Lex is a driving example of hard bop where there’s Donald Byrd plays with speed, power, passion and accuracy as he unleashes darting runs. In doing so, he displays an enviable agility. Meanwhile, Hank Mobley unleashes a breathtaking solo that careers along at breathtaking speed, while Duke Pearson playing is considered, sometimes economical yet uplifting as he joins forces with the rest of the rhythm section to ensure the track swings.

Bo is another bluesy sounding track where Jackie McLean’s playing is emotive and he compliments Donald Byrd. When his solo comes round he almost makes his trumpet talk while Duke Pearson’s playing graceful, ruminative and rootsy on this bluesy track.

Closing Byrd In Flight is the driving hard bop of My Girl Shine. It’s as Donald Byrd is determined to close the album on a high. He and Jackie McLean play with speed, power, ferocity although there’s always an expressiveness and emotiveness. Not to be outdone Duke Pearson joins the fun and more than plays his part in the sound and success of what’s one of the highlights of the album.

Just two years after signing to Blue Note Records Donald Byrd released Byrd In Flight in December 1960. By then, the trumpeter and bandleader had just turned twenty-eight and had been a professional musician since 1954. 

Byrd In Flight was his fourth album for Blue Note Records and the ninth since his career began in 1955. It’s also the finest of the seven studio albums that Donald Byrd had released. That’s no surprise as he had matured as a musician and his music had developed over the past six years. On Byrd In Flight he switched between hard bop, Afro-Cuban, blues and balladry with the help of a tight, talented and versatile all-star band. They played their part in the sound and success of Byrd In Flight which is without doubt one trumpeter and bandleader Donald Byrd’s greatest hard bop albums.

Cult Classic: Donald Byrd-Byrd In Flight.


Cult Classic: Gene Russell-Talk To My Lady.

As 1973 dawned, LA-based Black Jazz Records had already released nine albums since 1971. Its first release was Gene Russell’s critically acclaimed sophomore album New Direction. However, another two years passed before the LA-born pianist returned with the followup. 

Gene Russell spent the spent the rest of 1971 and all of 1972 running the label as well recording and producing albums for the artists who had signed to Black Jazz Records. This left little time for him to write and record a new solo album. He had to sacrifice his solo career for the good of the label he cofounded in 1969.

Pianist Gene Russell and percussionist Dick Schory cofounded Black Jazz Records in Oakland, California, in 1969, and the nascent label’s raison d’être was “to promote the talents of young African American jazz musicians and singers.” This, however, was only part of their vision for their new label.

The cofounders were determined that Black Jazz Records would released an alternative to what they saw as the old school jazz that was popular at the time. They wanted to release an alternative to traditional jazz, and this included albums that featured political and spiritual influenced music. However, spiritual jazz was just part of the Black Jazz Records’ story. The label released twenty albums that included everything from free jazz and funk to soul-jazz between 1971 and 1975.

After Gene Russell’s New Direction became Black Jazz Records first release in 1971, the nascent label released  Walter Bishop Jr’s Coral Keys, Doug Carn’s Infant Eye, Rudolph Johnson’s Spring Rain, Calvin Keys’ Shawn-Neeq and Chester Thompson’s Powerhouse. It was the final release of 1971. By then, word had spread about Black Jazz Records and its musical philosophy

The cofounders were determined that as wide an audience as possible hear the albums that the label was releasing. Gene Russell decided that one way to do this was to organise a promotional tour. 

In September 1971, Gene Russell and his Ray Lawrence who was his marketing consultant toured America giving interviews to newspaper journalists and featured on radio and newspaper where they showcased Black Jazz Records and its artists. This resulted in valuable publicity for the label.

By then, other labels looked on enviously at the new label and artists were keen to sign to Black Jazz Records. This was no surprise.

Cofounder Dick Schory had founded Chicago-based Ovation Records which was a successful country and western label. It was providing funding for Black Jazz Records and distributing its releases. This gave the label a much needed helping hand and meant it had an edge on its competitors.

Having released six albums during 1971, the first album that Black Jazz Records released during 1972 was Henry Franklin’s cult classic The Skipper. This was followed by Doug Carn’s second album for the label Spirit Of The New Land, which was the most successful album the label released during 1972. The final release of the year was The Awakening’s Hear, Sense and Feel. 

While 1972 wasn’t as a busy as the previous year, the three albums that Black Jazz Records released were well received by critics and cultural commentators. The releases were also starting to find a wider audience. This was another reason why artists were keen to sign to the label.

However, it wasn’t a new signing that released Black Jazz Records’ tenth release. Instead, it was cofounder Gene Russell who returned with his second album for the label, Talk To My Lady.

Despite his busy schedule, Gene Russell had written Talk To My Lady, Get Down and Blues Suite. The other five tracks were cover versions. This included a cover of the Billy Paul classic Me and Mrs Jones which Cary Gilbert wrote with Gamble and Huff. It was joined by Donald Meyer, Elise Bretton and Sherman Edwards’ For Heaven’s Sake; Stevie Wonders’ You Are The Sunshine Of My Life; Rodgers and Hammerstein’s My Favorite Things plus Carl Sigman and Tadd Dameron’s If You Could See Me Now. These eight tracks became Talk To My Lady which was Gene Russell’s much-anticipated followup to New Direction.

Recording of Talk To My Lady took place at Hollywood Spectrum Studios, Los Angeles, with Gene Russell producing the album and playing Fender Rhodes and a Steinway piano. He was joined in the rhythm section by drummer Leon “Ndugu” Chancler, bassist Henry Franklin and guitarist Calvin Keys. Eddie Gee played tambourine and Charles Weaver congas on an album that was a mixture of new material and familiar songs.

Talk To My Lady was released to critical acclaim in 1973. Critics were won over by an album that featured elements of blues,  funk, fusion, hard bop, jazz, jazz-funk and soul-jazz. Accompanied by a tight, talented and versatile band, Gene Russell switches between and fuses disparate musical genres. 

That’s apparent on the album opener and title-track Song For My Lady where elements of funk, fusion and hard bop are combined by Gene Russell and his band. Leon “Ndugu” Chancler’s drumming is complex but subtle and soon, the track swings. By then, he’s been joined by bassist Henry Franklin and the pair form a potent partnership in the rhythm section. Meanwhile, Gene Russell plays a starring role as his fly across the keyboard of Fender Rhodes which later takes on a slinky sound. He seems to have been inspired by Herbie Hancock as he adds a fusion influence to this genre-melting title-track that sets the bar high for the rest of the album.

Covering a classic like Me and Mrs Jones is never easy as the definitive version has already been recorded. Instead, it’s a case of reinventing the song and taking it in a new direction. It opens with Calvin Keys’ guitar combining with Henry Franklin’s bass. He goes on to play a starring role and combines with drummer Leon “Ndugu” Chancler’s who like Calvin Keys doesn’t overplay. It’s a case of less is more. Meanwhile, Gene Russell’s Fender Rhodes takes centrestage and combines power, emotion and degree of drama on this beautiful, impassioned cover of a Philly Soul classic which gets a jazzy makeover.

For Heaven’s Sake was originally recorded in 1948, and a decade later was made famous by Billie Holliday. This cover is slow and understated with drums played by brushes accompanying Henry Franklin’s bass. He plays slowly and choosing each note with care while Gene Russell plays Fender Rhodes. His playing is expressive, emotive and heartfelt on a truly beautiful cover of an oft-covered track.

Earlier in 1973, Stevie Wonder had a hit single with You Are The Sunshine Of My Life. Gene Russell’s cover starts off as a shuffle but become an upbeat and joyous  track that has a cinematic sound. It sounds as if it belongs on the soundtrack to seventies film. 

It’s all change on Blues Suite which is a ballad where Gene Russell switches to the Steinway piano. Behind him, the rhythm section provide an understated accompaniment. Drummer Leon “Ndugu” Chancler plays with brushes while Henry Franklin resists the temptation to overplay. This allows him to enjoy a musical masterclass from Gene Russell who jabs and stabs the keyboard playing with power and passion on this bluesy ballad.

Very different is the cover of My Favorite Things which was the title of John Coltrane’s seventh album, and the first where he played soprano saxophone. It’s as if Gene Russell wants to pay homage to one of the most innovative musicians in the history of jazz. This cover bursts into life and quickly reveals an avant-garde sound. A space bass accompanies a shimmering Fender Rhodes which heads in the direction of fusion as drums power the arrangement along. What follows is groundbreaking avant-garde cover of a Rogers and Hammerstein’s much-covered track.

If You Could See Me Now closes Talk To My Lady and is narrated by Gene Russell. The piano-led arrangement accompanies his needy, hurt-filled soliloquy. It’s a mixture of a music and theatre and shows another side to bandleader, pianist and label owner Gene Russell. 

Talk To My Lady was the much-anticipated and critically acclaimed followup to New Direction which was the first release on Black Jazz Records. Two years laters, Gene Russell made a welcome return. He was backed by a crack band of musicians  when they recorded an album where new songs sat side-by-side with cover versions of classics and familiar songs. Some of these songs were reinterpreted and were taken in a new direction. To do that, Gene Russell and his band switch between and combine elements of avant-garde, blues funk, fusion, hard bop, jazz, jazz-funk and soul-jazz on an album that he also produced. 

The result was Talk To My Lady, which is one of the greatest and most eclectic albums of Gene Russell’s long career and a reminder of a pioneering musician who in 1973 was at the peak of his powers.

Cult Classic: Gene Russell-Talk To My Lady.


Cult Classic: Herbie Hancock-My Point Of View.

By the time Herbie Hancock signed to Blue Note Records, the Chicago-born pianist was just twenty-two, and had already worked with Donald Byrd and Coleman Hawkins.

On May the ‘28th’ 1962, he recorded his debut solo album Takin’ Off which featured the jazz standard Watermelon Man. The album was released to widespread critical acclaim later in 1962. This was the start of productive period that saw Herbie Hancock release seven studio albums for Blue Note Records between 1962 and 1969.

This includes his sophomore album My Point Of View, which featured was the first recording by his classic hard bop small group. This landmark is a reminder of one of the greatest jazz pianists of his generation as he embarks upon a long and illustrious career.

Herbert Jeffrey Hancock was born in Chicago on April the ’12th’ 1940. His father Wayman Edward Hancock was a government meat inspector and his mother Winnie worked as a secretary. They named their son after the singer and actor Herb Jeffries. This was fitting as the new addition to their family turned out to be prodigiously talented musician.

Growing up,  Herbie Hancock like many other jazz pianists studied classical music. His talent was soon spotted and teachers realised that he was a child prodigy. 

Aged just eleven, Herbie Hancock played the first movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 26 in D Major at a young people’s concert on February the ‘5th’ 1952 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra which was led by assistant conductor George Schick. The young pianist was one of the stars of concert.

As a teenager, Herbie Hancock attended Hyde Park High School on the South Side of Chicago.  Despite eventually making a career as a jazz pianist, he never had a jazz teacher during his teenage years. However, he spent time developing his ear and a sense of harmony. One of his musical influences were The Hi-Lo’s a vocal quartet who sometimes supported Frank Sinatra. 

After graduating from Hyde Park High School, Herbie Hancock enrolled at Grinnell College and graduated in 1960 with degrees in electrical engineering and music. 

In 1960, Herbie Hancock heard Chicago-born jazz pianist Chris Anderson play and was so impressed that he asked him to accept him as a student. He agreed and was a huge influence on the young pianist who later, called him his “harmonic guru.” 

After graduating from Grinnell College, Herbie Hancock returned to the Windy City and began working with Donald Byrd and Coleman Hawkins. During this time, he enrolled in courses at the Roosevelt University, in Chicago. 

During 1960, Donald Byrd was studying at the Manhattan School of Music and he suggested that Herbie Hancock studied composition with Vittorio Giannini. This he did briefly, but by then, Herbie Hancock’s star was in the ascendancy and he was invited  to play on sessions Oliver Nelson and Phil Woods.

Just two years later, in 1962, Herbie Hancock signed to one of jazz’s premier labels, Blue Note Records. This would be his home for the next seven years.

Takin’ Off.

Having signed to Blue Note Records, Herbie Hancock began work on his debut album, Takin’ Off. He wrote six new compositions including Watermelon Man which were recorded at on May the ‘28th’ 1962, at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey and produced by Alfred Lion. 

Joining pianist Herbie Hancock in the rhythm section were drummer Billy Higgins and double bassist Butch Warren. The front line featured trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and tenor saxophonist. It was an all-star band that was accompanied Herbie Hancock on an album that was produced by Alfred Lion and engineered by Rudy Van Gelder.

Later in 1962, Takin’ Off was released to widespread critical acclaim. It was an album of cerebral music that was light, tight,  bluesy, funky, imaginative and sometimes ruminative. Always the music was memorable on this album of hard bop and soul-jazz. The standout track was Watermelon Man with Three Bags Full, Empty Pockets and Alone and I receiving honourable mentions. Takin’ Off had launched Herbie Hancock’s career which was well underway, and has since been hailed as one of the most accomplished debut albums in the history of jazz.

My Point Of View.

Buoyed by the critical response to his debut album Takin’ Off, Herbie Hancock began work on his much-anticipated sophomore album My Point Of View. He wrote five new compositions Blind Man, Blind Man, A Tribute To Someone, King Cobra, The Pleasure Is Mine and the album closer And What If I Don’t. These tracks were recorded by Herbie Hancock’s classic hard bop small group.

The rhythm section included  seventeen year old drummer Tony Williams, bassist Chuck Israels, guitarist Grant Green who played on two tracks and pianist and bandleader Herbie Hancock. They were joined by a front line of trumpeter Donald Byrd, tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley and trombonist Graham Moncur III. This new band made the journey to Van Gelder Studio, on March the ’19th’ 1963, where they were joined by producer Alfred Lion and engineer Rudy Van Gelder .

My Point Of View was released in the autumn of 1963, to plaudits and praise. Herbie Hancock wasn’t content to stand still and began to push the boundaries of hard bop on his sophomore album. Especially on A Tribute To Someone which is a nine minute epic that sometimes can be challenging a listen but is ultimately rewarding. Very different is the beautiful ballad The Pleasure Is Mine which is one of the album’s highlights.

Then King Cobra heads in the direction of modal jazz. It has a silty edgy sound and there’s similarities to one of Herbie Hancock’s most famous compositions, Maiden Voyage. The seeds to that jazz classic were sown here.

Bookending My Point Of View are the two tracks with a much more pronounced soul-jazz sound. This came courtesy of guitarist Grant Green who plays a starring role on the both tracks. The album opener Blind Man, Blind Man was a track that Herbie Hancock later said reminded him of a  blind man who stood on the corner playing his guitar in the neighbourhood of Chicago he grew-up in. It’s also a track that owes a debt of gratitude to one of his classic tracks,Watermelon And What If I Don’t bookends the album and has a laidback, bluesy groove that’s the perfect way to close Herbie Hancock’s sophomore album My Point Of View.

Nowadays, Takin’ Off is regarded as one of the finest debut albums by a jazz artist. Herbie Hancock had set the bar high. However, the twenty-three year old pianist returned with a stunning sophomore album My Point Of View. The album’s  foundation is hard bop but there’s also soul-jazz and modal jazz as well as elements of blues and funk. Herbie Hancock was determined to reinvent hard bop and take it in a new direction. He was a musical pioneer who was determined never to stand still musically.

Not long after Herbie Hancock recorded My Point Of View, he was invited to join what became Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet which also featured drummer Tony Williams. Herbie Hancock had come a long way in a short space of time.

He had only released his debut album Takin’ Off in the autumn of 1962, with My Point Of View following a year later  in 1963 which nowadays is regarded as a jazz classic. This was just the start of a period when Herbie Hancock could do no wrong with 

This was something he continued to do throughout his time at Blue Note Records releasing Inventions and Dimensions in early 1964 with Empyrean Isles following in November 1964; Maiden Voyage in March 1965 and Speak Like A Child in the summer of 1968. Bringing the Blue Note Records Years to a close in 1969 was one of Herbie Hancock’s most ambitious and innovative albums, The Prisoner, which was produced by Duke Pearson and dedicated to the memory of the late Dr Martin Luther King. The seven studio albums that Herbie Hancock released on Blue Note Records are among his finest albums and are the perfect introduction to one of the greatest jazz pianists of his generation. 

Cult Classic: Herbie Hancock-My Point Of View.


Cult Classic: Patchwork-Mean and Dirty.

Nowadays, library music is highly collectable, especially the albums released by KPM, Amphonic, Conroy,  Sonoton and De Wolfe between the late-sixties and early eighties. That is regarded by many collectors as a golden age for library music. This is ironic as the albums of library music were never meant to fall into the hands of collectors.

Originally, library music was meant to be used by film studios or television and radio stations, and was never meant to be commercially available. The music was recorded on spec by music libraries who  often hired  young unknown composers, musicians and producers. This ranged from musicians who were known within publishing circles, to up-and-coming musicians who later, went onto greater things, and look back fondly at their time writing, recording and producing library music. This they now regard as part of their musical apprenticeship.

For the musicians hired to record library music, their remit was to music libraries with a steady stream of new music, which was originality referred to as production music. During some sessions, the musicians’ remit was write and record music to match scenes, themes or moods. This wasn’t easy, but after a while they were  able to this seamlessly. Soon, the musicians were able to enter the audio and write and record a piece of music that matched a theme or mood for a film or television show.

Once the library music was recorded, record libraries sent out demonstration copies of their music to advertising agencies, film studios, production companies, radio stations and television channels. If they liked what they heard, they would license a track or several tracks from the music libraries. That was how it was meant to work.

Sometimes, copies of these albums fell into the hands of record collectors, who realising the quality of music recorded by these unknown musicians, started collecting library music. That is still the case today, and nowadays, many original albums of library music are highly collectable.  This includes Patchwork’s Mean and Dirty.

The album was released in 1978, and the twenty tracks were written and performed by Patchwork which featured Chris Rae and Frank McDonald. Some of the tracks they cowrote while others they wrote themselves.The emphasis of the music is on “drama, activity, industry” and they’re also atmospheric and cinematic. Others are driving, exciting, moody and tense while others are ruminative and even comedic or light-hearted. All of the tracks paint pictures in the mind’s eye. 

Side One.

The album opener Moving Target was a dramatic track where  searing guitar riffs play their part in a track where Patchwork combine funk and fusion. Bank  Job is moody and there’s a degree of tension in a track that sounds as if it belongs in an episode of The Sweeney. 

Then the tempo drops on the atmospheric sounding Slow Fuse and on Blue Mood which has a laidback and almost sensual sound. 

Flying Squad is a funky rock track that wouldn’t sound out of place on The  Sweeney as Regan and Carter chase villain snd “spin drums.” Arrival Time is a mid-tempo slice of good time funky music. 

Quite different is the mid-tempo Prowler where a degree of tension is apparent during this mesmeric track. The funky Route 67 breezes along and so does the percussive sounding and Fast Mover where funk meets fusion and closes side one.

Side Two.

Side two of Mean and Dirty opens with Dragster which is fast, dramatic and features blistering guitars. Listen carefully, and there’s a nod to the legendary surf guitarist Dick Dale. 

The tempo drops on the moody sounding Night Moves while Easy Drive is an uptempo track that has an almost light-hearted sound. Smash and Grab is a cinematic sounding track that conjures up images of cops chasing the bad guys after a robbery has gone down. Then Mean and Dirty heads in the direction of fusion while Mind’sEye is ruminative and Zero Hour is a dramatic track that chugs along. Pulsating and dramatic describes The Boys In Blue whole Nightwatch is slow, moody, broody and dramatic. It’s one of the highlights of side two and the perfect way to close the album.

Nowadays, Mean and Dirty is a library music classic from Patchwork that’s  rarity. It’s Patchwork’s finest hour and a reminder of the golden age of library music which was between the late-sixties and early eighties. Much of the music recorded during this period was heard by millions but the viewers knew nothing of those that wrote and recorded such an eclectic selection of music.

Musicians like Chris Rae and Frank McDonald had to be versatile and be able to write music to suit moods, themes  and scenes. They were capable of writing music that was atmospheric, dramatic, exciting, moody, ruminative and even comedic or light-hearted. Other times, there was a degree of tension to the music which was always cinematic and was the perfect accompaniment to television shows in 1978 and beyond. 

The music was funky, jazz-tinged, rocky and sometimes even headed in the direction of jazz-funk and fusion. Chris Rae and Frank McDonald were versatile and formed a potent partnership as they recorded albums of library music including as Patchwork. Of all the albums they recorded Mean and Dirty which was Patchwork’s sophomore album is their finest.

Cult Classic: Patchwork-Mean and Dirty.


Cult Classic: Rudolph Johnson-Spring Rain.

When pianist Gene Russell and percussionist Dick Schory founded Black Jazz Records in Oakland, California, in 1969, the nascent label’s raison d’être was “to promote the talents of young African American jazz musicians and singers.” This was only part of their vision for their new label.

They were determined that Black Jazz Records would released an alternative to what they saw as the old school jazz that was popular at the time. They wanted to release an alternative to traditional jazz, and this included albums that featured political and spiritual influenced music. However, spiritual jazz was just part of the Black Jazz Records’ story and the label between 1971 and 1975 it released twenty albums that included everything from free jazz and funk to soul-jazz.

Black Jazz Records’ first release was Gene Russell’s sophomore album New Direction which was released in 1971. This was just the start of a prolific year for the label.

Later in 1971, Black Jazz Records released Walter Bishop Jr’s Coral Keys and then Doug Carn’s Infant Eyes. Other labels looked on enviously at the new label and artists were keen to sign to Black Jazz Records.

Cofounder Dick Schory had founded Chicago-based Ovation Records which was a successful country and western label. It was providing funding for Black Jazz Records and distributing its releases. This gave the label a much needed helping hand and meant it had an edge on its competitors.

The cofounders were determined that as wide an audience as possible hear the albums that the label was releasing so Gene Russell organised a promotional tour. In September 1971, Gene Russell and his Ray Lawrence who was his marketing consultant toured America giving interviews to newspaper journalists and featured on radio and newspaper where they showcased Black Jazz Records and its artists. This resulted in valuable publicity for the label.

By then, the label had released Rudolph Johnson’s Spring Rain which was the fourth of six albums that Black Jazz Records released during 1971 and would later he hailed as a genre classic. 

Rudolph Johnson was born in Columbus, Ohio, in the mid-forties and grew-up on the East Side and eventually made his name as a saxophonist. He also played flute and harmonica as well as tenor and soprano saxophone.  His introduction to music came in high school.

Growing up, Rudolph Johnson could hear organist Bobby Pierce who was a neighbour practising day in day out. However, it was saxophonist Gene Walker who taught Rudolph Johnson the scales when they were attending Champion Junior high school. Little did he realise this was how he was going to make a living.

Soon, Rudolph Johnson and Bobby Pierce were rehearsing together on the East Side. This wasn’t just a pastime for the pair. They wanted to make it their career and eventually decided to do that, they would have to head West. Their destination was California. 

By the sixties, Rudolph Johnson was living in San Francisco and could often be found playing in the clubs in the Filmore area of the city. He was a member of a trio that also featured organist Chester Thompson and Herschel Davis. However, when he wasn’t playing live Rudolph Johnson sometimes worked as a sideman.

He also toured in support of organist Jimmy McGriff and accompanied him on four albums released by Sue Records between 1963 and 1965. The most notable was Jimmy McGriff At The Apollo. However, during the sixties most of Rudolph Johnson’s time was spent playing live.

As the sixties gave way to the seventies there was no sign of Rudolph Johnson making the transition from sideman to solo artist. However, in 1971 he came to the attention of Black Jazz Records’ Gene Russell and Dick Schory. They signed Rudolph Johnson on a two album deal and later in 1971 he released his debut album Spring Rain and also played on Chester Thompson’s album Powerhouse. 

For Rudolph Johnson this was the break he was looking for and he began work on his debut album and the seven new compositions eventually became Spring Rain. 

It was a quartet recording that featured drummer Ray Pounds, bassist Reggie Johnson, pianist John Barns and tenor saxophonist Rudolph Johnson who also arranged the album. Spring Rain was produced by Gene Russell and became Black Jazz Records’ fourth release.

When Spring Rain was released it wasn’t a hugely successful album and didn’t sell in the same quantities as the label’s previous release which was Doug Carn’s Infant Eyes. However, the album was well received by critics who were starting to take notice of Black Jazz Records. Other labels didn’t have the same budget or access to the distribution network which  gave Black Jazz Records the edge. 

Spring Rain opened with Sylvia Ann and is a swinging slice of bebop that packs a punch. Ray Pounds literally pounds the kit as John Barns sonorous piano plays to Rudolph Johnson’s wailing, howling tenor saxophone. It’s reminiscent of John Coltrane in his prime and is a thing of beauty on a track that whets the listener’s appetite.  

The classic jazz sound continues on Fonda which has a  much more restrained sound. Here, the rhythm section is focusing much more on the groove. Their playing is tight while bandleader Rudolph Johnson’s playing is much more understated but also eloquent and emotive as he channels the spirit of ‘Trane.

It’s all change on Diswa where Rudolph Johnson and Co. head get funky on a track that’s been influenced by sixties soul-jazz. For just over six-and-a-half minutes Ray Pounds’ drums powers the arrangement along as he gives a musical masterclass.

Very different is the cinematic sounding Mr. TJ which wouldn’t sound out of place on an early sixties soundtrack.

Little Daphne is a laidback mid-tempo track where Ray Pounds’ drums and Reggie Johnson’s bass lock into a groove and provide the heartbeat. Rudolph Johnson’s playing is inventive especially later in the track where he twists the notes out of shape during a quite beautiful track.

On Devon Jean the rhythm section lock into a funky groove while pianist John Barns draws inspiration from Les McCann. There’s even a nod to Eddie Harris during an upbeat and memorable track that combines funk, jazz and pop. 

Spring Rain closes with the title-track which has a late-night, smokey, cinematic sound. It’s the type of track that those who have loved and lost will listen and appreciate. Especially when the bartender shouts last  call for alcohol and they wind their way along the boulevard of broken dreams to the place that they once called home.

After nearly a decade as a professional musician Rudolph Johnson released his debut album Spring Rain on Black Jazz Records in 1971. It was the label’s fourth release and although the album was well received upon its release it didn’t find the audience it deserved.  

Just like many albums, it wasn’t until much later when Spring Rain like the rest of the albums released by Black Jazz Records was rediscovered in the early nineties. This came after several of Doug Carn’s including Infant Eyes, Adam’s Apple and Spirit In A New Land found a new audience in the UK and Japan. By then, hip hop artists were sampling some of the tracks from the twenty albums Black Jazz Records released between 1971 and 1975. Suddenly, a new generation decided to dig deeper into the label’s back-catalogue. Since then, interest in Black Jazz Records has continued to grow and this includes the two albums that Rudolph Johnson released on the label.

This includes Spring Rain which was the long-awaited debut album from  multi-instrumentalist Rudolph Johnson. He leads a tight, talented and versatile quartet who seamlessly switch between genres and paint pictures with their music. They start off with bebop and classic jazz before getting funky and then drop the tempo as the music becomes laidback and filmic. It’s all change when funk, jazz and pop melt into one before saving the best on cinematic and smoky title-track which is moody and wistful. 

Spring Rain is a hidden gem of an album and one of the finest of the six albums that Black Jazz Records released in 1971. This was a decade after Rudolph Johnson decided to follow his dreams and headed west to pursue a career as a professional musician. He served his time playing in  clubs, touring and working as a session musician before signing for  Black Jazz Records and releasing Spring Rain. Sadly, Rudolph Johnson only recorded one more album for the label and that was The Second Coming which was released in 1973. Of the two albums, Spring Rain is regarded as his finest and is a reminder of a truly talented and versatile saxophonist who sadly passed away in 2007.

Cult Classic: Rudolph Johnson-Spring Rain.


Cult Classic: Bobby Hutcherson-The Kicker.

Less than three years after Bobby Hutcherson made his recording debut, the twenty-three year old vibraphonist recorded his debut album The Kicker for Blue Note Records in 1963. This was the start of the most prolific period of his long and illustrious career. 

Over the next fourteen years, Bobby Hutcherson released fifteen studio albums, one live album, two collaborations with Herbie Hancock and five with Harold Land. Bobby Hutcherson was also the go-to-guy for anyone looking for a vibes player and played on over forty albums during his time at Blue Note Records. These albums featured the great  and good of jazz, and most of them were released on  Blue Note Records. 

In 1977, Bobby Hutcherson released Knucklebean which was his fifteenth solo album and his swan-song for Blue Note Records. It was the end of era for Bobby Hutcherson whose recording career began seventeen years earlier.

On the ‘3rd’ of August 1960 nineteen year old Bobby Hutcherson made his debut with the Les McCann Trio when they recorded a single that was released on Pacific Jazz in 1961.

Just over four months after making his recording debut, Bobby Hutcherson joined the Curtis Amy-Frank Butler Sextet when they recorded Groovin’ Blue on December the ‘10th’ 1960. This was the first of many albums that featured Bobby Hutcherson’s vibes.

In 1962, Bobby Hutcherson moved to New York as he was determined to make a career as a full-time jazz musician. He found a place to live in the Bronx and soon, was spending part of the time working as a session musician. The rest of the time he drove a taxi to supplement his income.This he knew was only a temporary arrangement.

That was the case. Bobby Hutcherson met his childhood friend, the bassist Herbie Lewis who at the time, was working with The Jazztet and also hosted jam sessions at his apartment. 

Bobby Hutcherson soon became a regular at the jam sessions which was where Grachan Moncur III who was a member of Jazztet and Jackie McLean’s band saw him play. Straight away, he realised that he might be a useful addition to Jackie McLean’s band and recommended him. When Jackie McLean heard him play, he asked him to join his band and he made his debut on the recording of One Step Beyond on April the ’30th’ 1963. This was also Bobby Hutcherson’s first session for Blue Note Records.

Over the new few months he played on three more Blue Note Records sessions. The first was on the ‘30th’ September when Jackie McLean recorded Destination… Out!  Then on the ‘4th’  and ‘15th’ of November, Bobby Hutcherson played on Grant Green’s classic album Idle Moments. Less than a week later, on the ‘21st’ of November Bobby Hutcherson played on the sessions for Grachan Moncur III’s album Evolution. However, Bobby Hutcherson still had one more album to record and this time it was his debut solo album The Kicker which has just been reissued by Blue Note Records as part of their Tone Poet Series.

On the ‘29th’ of December 1963, Bobby Hutcherson and his band journeyed to Van Gelder Studio, in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey where they would record The Kicker. Joining Bobby Hutcherson were drummer Al Harewood, bassist Bob Cranshaw,  pianist Duke Pearson and tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson. Guitarist Grant Green played on two of the six tracks on the album which was produced by Alfred Lion and engineered by Rudy Van Gelder.

Bobby Hutcherson only wrote one track on The Kicker, For Duke P. It was joined by a cover of Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s If Ever I Would Leave You, Joe Chambers’ Mirrors, Duke Pearson’s Bedouin plus Joe Henderson’s The Kicker and Step Lightly. These tracks were recorded during a one day session and became The Kicker.

Side One.

The album opens with Bobby Hutcherson’s reinvention of the ballad If Ever I Would Leave You. It starts off slowly and soon the band are moving up through the gears and have transformed this familiar and much-love ballad into an energetic example of hard bop where the all-star band are firing on all cylinders and showcasing their skills collectively and individually. 

Quite different is Mirrors where the tempo drops and Joe Henderson’s tenor saxophone and Bobby Hutcherson’s vibes play leading roles in this ruminative sounding track that encourage the listener to reflect.

The tempo increases on For Duke P which is the only Bobby Hutcherson composition on the album. He flits in and out the track playing with speed and precision. Meanwhile, Duke Pearson’s fingers dance across the keyboard with Joe Joe Henderson’s saxophone matching him every step of the way as the drums add a degree of drama. The result is a breathtaking and scorching track that showcases a talented composer and his band.

Side Two.

Grant Green joins the band on The Kicker which epitomises everything that’s good about hard bop. This includes a dazzling performance from Joe Henderson. His blazing saxophone is played with power and speed while Duke Pearson’s hands dance across and pound the piano keyboard. Later, the saxophone drops out and is replaced by what’s one of dizzying vibes solo before Grant Green steps forward and shows why he was regarded as one of jazz’s leading guitarist. However, it’s Duke Pearson who steals the show on what’s without doubt the highlight of the album.

The tempo drops on Step Lightly which is just over fourteen minutes long. It starts off slowly with the rhythm section, slinky piano and tenor saxophone combining. The playing is understated with the band playing within themselves. However, it’s effective and Grant Green’s guitar solo is proof of this. Then when the solos come round they enjoy the opportunity to showcase their considerable skills. This includes bandleader and vibes virtuoso Bobby Hutcherson, pianist Duke Pearson and tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson who play their part in this beautiful blues based track where this talented band Step Lightly on another of The Kicker’s highlights. 

Joe Henderson wrote Bedouin which closes The Kicker and his tenor saxophone and Duke Pearson’s piano are to the fore as the rhythm section playing briskly and inject some swing. Spurts of rapid fire saxophone are sprayed across the arrangement. A motif is repeated on the piano before the saxophone starts to play a freedom and swings. Meanwhile, stabs of piano and the repeated motif combine with a chirping, crystalline guitar before the vibes enter and a lengthy solo unfolds. Later, a slinky piano and drum rolls are added to a track that sometimes is mesmeric and is always memorable, melodic and swings.

When Bobby Hutcherson left Van Gelder Studio on the ’29th’ of December 1963, he must have thought it was only a matter of time before Blue Note Records released his debut album. He and his all-star band had recorded an album of hard bop and blues based jazz that had the potential to launch his solo career. However, The Kicker wasn’t released in 1964.

That was despite him winning the Talent Deserving Of Wider Recognition award in the 1964 DownBeat readers’ poll. The Kicker had been shelved indefinitely and what should’ve been Bobby Hutcherson’s debut album lay unreleased in the Blue Note Records’ vaults.

Bobby Hutcherson wasn’t alone and many artists signed to Blue Note Records recorded albums that weren’t released until much later. Sometimes, thirty or forty years passed before the albums were released and occasionally the artist had died by the time the album was released. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case with Bobby Hutcherson.

Somewhat belatedly The Kicker was released by Blue Note Records in 1999, and at last, jazz aficionados were able to hear Bobby Hutcherson’s lost classic of blues based jazz and hard bop for the first time. 

Twenty-one years later and The Kicker is now regarded as a jazz classic, and is a welcome reissue of The Kicker which is a reminder of the prodigiously talented Bobby Hutcherson as he embarked on what was a long, illustrious and successful solo career.

Cult Classic: Bobby Hutcherson-The Kicker.


Cult Classic: Dr. Lonnie Smith-All In My Mind.

Forty-six years after he left Blue Note Records, Dr. Lonnie Smith returned in 2016 and released a new studio album Evolution. It was released to critical acclaim and marked the homecoming of the last of the great soul-jazz organists.

His career began in 1960, and in the Dr. Lonnie Smith was about to celebrate his seventy-fifth birthday by recording a live album at the Jazz Standard in New York City with his Trio. It was producer by Don Was, the Blue Note Records’ President. 

Joining the veteran Hammond organist were drummer Jonathan Blake and guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg. They had been playing together for many years and formed a formidable partnership. That would become apparent when they took to the stage that night and showcased their considerable skills. The set was recorded, and became the live album All In My Mind. It was originally released in 2018, and according to Dr. Lonnie Smith is much more representative of him as a musician.

“When I’m playing live, the people get exactly what I’m about. When you do studio work, they have a tendency to want you to record over and over again, but you can mess up the song and make it sound very mechanical.” Dr. Lonnie Smith would rather his band plays with freedom, feeling, honesty and sincerity.“ That’s what I want, I want exactly what you feel at that moment when you’re playing it. Of course, people say I could have done a better job or there’s a mistake here, but who cares? It’s all about the feeling, and I want to hear that feeling.” That was the case when All In My Mind was recorded.

The set opens with a smoking cover Wayne Shorter’s Juju. It’s Jonathan Kreisberg’s fluid freewheeling crystalline guitar that takes centrestage which he plays effortlessly. When Dr. Lonnie Smith’s Hammond organ enters he’s not to be outdone as his fingers fly up and down the keyboard as subtitles and nuances of the original melody. Later, drummer Jonathan Blake powers his way round then kit during a stunning solo as the guitar plays a supporting role before the maestro returns and stamps his soul-jazz sound on this modal classic.

The tempo drops on Devika which initially has an understated sound as a chirping, spacious guitar meanders as the distant Hammond swirls and wheezes. Meanwhile, drummer Jonathan Blake caresses his kit as the guitar and Hammond move centrestage and play starring roles. The tempo and volume briefly increase before returning to a much more understated sound, and is dreamy, beautiful and ruminative before it reaches a crescendo.

Paul Simon’s Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover might seem an unusual inclusion, but it’s been part of his sets for many years. As it unfolds, Jonathan Kreisberg’s chirping, crystalline guitar plays the melody. Joe Dyson replaces drummer Jonathan Blake and his drums have a ratty sound. However, his funky, syncopated breaks combines well with what’s one of Dr. Lonnie Smith’s best solos. Fleet-fingered and funky he puts fifty-seven years of experience to good use as the Trio reinvent this classic which veers between languid and laid-back to funny and soulful.

Very different is the rendition of Tadd Dameron’s On A Misty Night. It’s a slow, spacious and understated sounding track. Less is more and nobody overplays. Instead they play within themselves on what’s a beautiful, sensuous, expressive and emotive reading of this classic.

A jaunty rework of Up Jumped Spring closes All In My Mind. There’s a playfulness as the veteran organist’s fingers glide and dance up and down the keyboard. Other times he jabs and stabs the keyboard adding a degree of drama. As he works his way through the gears, Jonathan Blake and Jonathan Kreisberg match the maestro every step of the way. They prove the perfect foil on what’s a flawless cover of this Freddie Hubbard composition that closes the album on resounding high.

Dr. Lonnie Smith’s 2018 album All In My Mind was his second album since he returned home to Blue Note Records after a forty-six year absence. He was by then, the last great soul-jazz organist, and showcases his considerable talent and versatility on the album. 

Joining him in the Trio were Jonathan Blake and Jonathan Kreisberg who play their part in the sound and success of All In My Mind. Both are outstanding musicians, and without them, it wouldn’t be the same album. They were augmented by drummer Joe Dyson who plays on Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover. Good as he is, and he’s a talented and inventive drummer he won’t unseat Jonathan Blake anytime soon. The current trio gel perfectly and the chemistry between them resulted in what’s one of the best albums Dr. Lonnie Smith released in a number of years. 

All In My Mind  one of the best jazz albums released during 2018. In fact, All In My Mind is also one the best albums that Dr. Lonnie Smith has released in the past couple of decades. He rolls back the years on All In My Mind which is a reminder of why Dr. Lonnie Smith is regarded as one of the greatest Hammond organists of his generation.

Cult Classic: Dr. Lonnie Smith-All In My Mind.


Lord Shango Original 1975 Motion Picture Soundtrack By Howard Roberts.

Label: Tidal Waves Music.

Format: LP.

During first half of the seventies, Blaxploitation films started to grow in popularity and by soon, Hollywood producer saw the potential in what was a relatively new genre. However, there’s much debate about what was the first Blaxploitation film?

Some critics believe that it was They Call Me Mister Tibbs! which was released in 1970 and featured a soundtrack by Quincy Jones. However, other film critics believe the that the first Blaxploitation film was released a year later.

In 1971, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song and Shaft were released and nowadays many film critics believe that they invented the Blaxploitation genre. The two films also feature two of the finest Blaxploitation soundtracks. Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song featured soundtrack that was written by Melvin Van Peebles. Meanwhile Isaac Hayes had been asked to write the soundtrack to Shaft. Both are now regarded as classic Blaxploitation soundtrack and set the bar high for what followed.

Over the next few years some of the biggest names in soul and funk were asked to provide the soundtrack to Blaxploitation films. In 1972, Bobby Womack wrote the score to Across ‘110th ‘Street, Curtis Mayfield Superfly and Gene Page Blacula. Meanwhile, Marvin Gaye had been asked to write the soundtrack to Troubled Man which nowadays is regarded as a classic album. Soon, other big names were writing Blaxploitation soundtracks.

In 1973, James Brown contributed the soundtrack to Black Caesar. It was so popular a sequel was made and later that year, Hell Up In Harlem, which featured  a soundtrack by Edwin Star. Meanwhile, Roy Ayers wrote the score to Coffy while jazz trombonist, composer and arranger JJ Johnson was asked to write the soundtrack to Cleopatra Jones. As 1973 drew to a close, the popularity of Blaxploitation films continued to grow and Hollywood was taking interest in the new genre.

With many producers jumping on the Blaxploitation bandwagon the quality of the films being released suffered. Often, the best thing was the soundtrack which later would become rarities and nowadays are collectables. Some of these soundtracks featured stars of soul, funk and jazz.

In 1974, Willie Hutch contributed the soundtrack to Foxy Brown while Isaac Hayes wrote the score to Truck Turner. Meanwhile, Willie Dynamite featured another  soundtrack by JJ Johnson. The Impressions who were trying to kickstart their ailing career contributed the soundtrack to Three The Hard Way. However  one of the finest soundtracks released that year wasSun Ra and His Arkestra’s ambitious and innovative score to the psychedelically-themed Blaxploitation film Space Is The Place. Nowadays, the soundtrack is a cult classic and so is one that was released a year later.

That is Lord Shango Original 1975 Motion Picture Soundtrack By Howard Roberts which was reissued for Record Store Day 2021 by Tidal Waves Music. The film was very different to the majority of Blaxploitation films which seemed to be full of tough guys, hustlers and pimps. It wasn’t a horror film and certainly wasn’t a drama or romance. Instead, it was a thoughtful, ruminative and spiritual film that eschewed the exploitation, sex and violence that were part and parcel of so many of the films that gave Blaxploitation its name.

Lord Shango was written by playwright Paul Carter Harrison and when it was released in 1975 the promotional materials stated that it was a horror film. However, this was slightly misleading and maybe even off-putting as it was thoughtful, ruminative and spiritual film that was a mixture of disparate genres. It wasn’t a fast-moving, all-action release and featured a much more measured pace. Some critics compared the content and theme to the 1973 film Ganja and Hess which also starred Marlene Clark. Other critics drew comparisons to early ‘20th’ century films directed by Oscar Micheaux and Spencer Williams. deal with racial consciousness and without doubt illustrated the Afrocentrism and Black Power movement of the sixties and early seventies.

Lord Shango was released in 1975 by Bryanston Pictures and featured a score by composer, conductor, singer and trumpeter  Howard Roberts who had previously worked with the many of the biggest names in music including Nina Simone, Miles Davis and Aretha Franklin. He had already released two solo albums including 1968s Let My People Go; Black Spirituals/African Drums on Columbia, where he set ten traditional African-American spirituals to African percussion. This album is now regarded as the perfect precursor to Lord Shango and it’s no surprise that he was asked to wrote the score to the film.

Howard Roberts wrote twelve of the thirteen tracks that would eventually feature on the soundtrack to Lord Shango. The exception was Bankoko which was a traditional song. Maureen Meloy also wrote the lyrics to Some People. Everything else on the soundtrack came courtesy of Howard Roberts. It would  showcase a clash of different musical worlds and genres.

This meant that it was imperative that Howard Roberts brought the right personnel onboard when the soundtrack was being recorded. He decided to eschewed the great and good of music that he had previously worked with and instead, brought a case who were capable of recording the music on the soundtrack.

There were three different musical genre that feature during Lord Shango, and each and ever one sets the tone for one of the primary settings. This includes  gospel in and around the church, African drumming in the Yoruba village and jazz, funk and R&B in the day-to-day everyday “real world.” These disparate genres that feature in Lord Shango meant that the film had almost had its own character. It was certainly very different to other Blaxploitation albums released during 1975.

When the soundtrack was recorded, the multitalented Peter Roberts brought onboard his own Chorale who had worked with Ahmad Jamal and Little Richard. They were joined by Ella Mitchell who was a member of the Gospel All Stars’ member and sang backing vocals for Sylvester and Peter Tosh. Adding vocals were the well known Aaron Staples Community Choir. They were joined by Chief Bey who had worked with Art Blakey and Pharoah Sanders and pioneering free jazz percussionist Milford Graves who was tasked with supervising the African drumming, which was supposedly performed by a pair of “African priests.” The result was a Blaxploitation soundtrack like no other.

There’s mesmeric Yoruba drums, call-and-response chants, uplifting, rousing and spiritual contributions from the gospel choir who are just as comfortable adding  Doo-wop backings to the more contemporary sounding R&B jams. Sometimes, there’s a laidback easy-going soulful sound that’s reminiscent of early seventies Al Green. Other times, it’s all change and there’s blistering, blazing funk that’s much more similar to the music found on other  Blaxploitation soundtracks.

Elsewhere, the soundtrack head in the direction of jazz and there’s even relaxing piano ballads which are joined by cool mid-tempo horns. There’s even a mixture of lounge, Latin, fusion and jazz-funk during this musical potpourri where Howard Roberts and his cast of multitalented friends created a very different sounding Blaxploitation soundtrack.

His soundtrack to Lord Shango was ambitious and innovative as he combined disparate genres and takes the listener on a musical adventure where they wonder what’s going to happen next? He throws a series of curveballs and on what’s a refreshing alternative to the Blaxploitation soundtracks that were being released in 1975.

By then, many producers had jumped on the Blaxploitation bandwagon and films were being produced quickly and so were the soundtracks. Soon, the quality suffered. Many of the Blaxploitation films that were released were tired and formulaic and their soundtracks were the musical equivalent to paint-by-numbers. It wasn’t long before Blaxploitation was a dirty word in the film and music industries. 

It was only much later that critics revisited many Blaxploitation films and soundtrack and discovered many cult classics. This included Howard Roberts’ oft-overlooked but groundbreaking and genre-melting soundtrack to Lord Shango which stands head and shoulders above the majority of Blaxploitation soundtracks released during 1975. 

Lord Shango Original 1975 Motion Picture Soundtrack By Howard Roberts.