Monday, July 30, 2007

The Best Thing You Ever Had: Candi Staton In Hammersmith

This photograph reenacts me rushing to the concert...I've finally gotten around to dragging out my notebook and writing up a little report about Al Green and Candi Staton at Hammersmith Apollo. I've split it up into two posts, to give each artist their credit.

I almost thought I wasn't going to make it up to London in time, after a last minute planning meeting at work meant I left an hour later than planned. But as the time hit 7:30, I was rushing out of the underground, trying to pick the correct subway exit to come out in front of the Apollo. No time to waste, as the sound of Candi Staton in full swing was roaring out into the foyer! I stumbled my way upstairs to the gallery, and found my seat, with a wonderful clear view down onto the stage below, where Candi was in the midst of singing the song Elvis Presley admitted she could do better, In The Ghetto.
Candi was looking glorious, and dominated the stage, moving about so much that sometimes the lighting crew had difficulty keeping the spot up with her. "Who loves the blues?", she called out, "I love the blues!"

Candi can sing blues but equally can soar into gospel heights. Candi's life story is filled with many trials and difficulties, but also relates how they can be overcome, emerging triumphantly. So that now Candi is able to get every woman in the auditorium standing up and building a mood of confidence as she sings another track from her 1973 album, The Best Thing You Ever Had. Candi boosts the women while slyly ribbing us men for our biological flaws:

"Girls, sing it with me - I'm The Best Thing You Ever Had! ... Sometimes, our men just don't appreciate us, do they? When we're out with our men, they keep looking around, like this (she does a mean impression of one of those corner of the eye looks we do when something aesthetic catches our attention). They just can't see what they already got! Boys, I don't need no internet to see what I'm looking for!"

Time to make up, guys and girls, and everybody gets to sing along with Candi's uplifting disco hit Young Hearts Run Free. For her final number Candi sings her dance classic You Got The Love.

As the band play on, Candi introduces us to them - Ernie on bass, Suzy and Xavier on vocals, Tom and Ritch on horns, and Terry Williams on congas: "He's from Atlanta Georgia. I should know, 'coz I was there when he was born. He's my third son!"

And then its her second son, Marcus Williams, who completes the set with a storming drum solo.

And that was the end of Candi's set.

Short but sweet!

Sadly, I don't have Candi Staton's United Artist album, or even a CD with Best Thing You Ever Had or In The Ghetto on it. So perhaps you will enjoy instead another track from her FAME debut:

Candi Staton - Sweet Feeling (from LP I'm Just a Prisoner - Fame LP 4201) 1970

NEXT: Al Green!

As usual, the concept of taking my own photos in the dark has baffled me! So, the photograph of Candi is from a recent concert in Holland, taken by Eric Van Nieuwland. A nice interview and biographical details about Candi Staton can be found at divastation. Go and buy Candi Staton's new album, His Hands.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

My Birthday Choice: Jumpin' Jack Flash!

Today is the first day of my holidays, and it's also my birthday (hooray!).

I happen to share my birthday with one Michael Jagger, who is considerably older than me today. Other things I don't share in common with Mick Jagger are being born in London, attending the London School of Economics, and getting a first-class honours degree. And writing hundreds of classic r&b numbers. But I can dance like a chicken impersonating James Brown (or Joe Tex, or Rufus Thomas, according to preference) just as badly! It is slowly dawning on me why my younger self never had much success with the ladies at discos...

Now, rather than pick a random Rolling Stones song from Aftermath or Let It Bleed, which I would enjoy but is not really the point of the blog (its been really hard not to let some of the Soul Britannia posts I've been writing grow into a history of mod bands, which I imagine would not really interest most of you out there!), I had a think about a song that would have a birthday theme and would highlight the r&b basis of the Stones music. There was only one choice to make, and it will get you up and leaping about, like I will be!

The singer today is Thelma Houston. This track is one of the covers featured on album Sunshower, produced by Jimmy Webb (of By The Time I Get To Phoenix fame), who wrote many of the other tracks. I think I may feature some more over the summer!

I have heard a number of unusual comments about this song in the past - that it refers to voodoo; that it refers to Sympathy For The Devil; that it 'isn't' r&b at all. Of these, let's tackle the last first. The argument, amongst mostly white 'rock' fans, is that the chords utilised in the song presage 'rock' music. Keith Richards has commented on the song and agreed that the structure of the song was more ambitious than their earlier r&b covers and compositions, but equally he found it a relief to 'return' to r&b feeling and iconography after their brief psychedelic experiments, and felt it showed growing maturity in their writing and playing. I get the feeling that the Stones themselves would be embarrassed by these 'birth of rock' advocates, who clearly quite misunderstand the r&b group the Stones were always trying to be.

Equally, the 'voodoo' statements seem laboured. Mick and Keith were writing lyrics with the much more common theme of the hard life in mind. What is interesting is how they transform a hard life blues into a story where the obstacles are overcome. More likely is that it simply speaks about the traumas and trials of any troubled childhood, from men who were all fortunate to grow up in caring homes in post-war Britain. The song was written around the time that the tv documentary Cathy Come Home was shown in Britain, showing the appalling treatment that unmarried mothers and their children were forced to put up with at that time, and the scandals of childrens' homes. It caused a prolonged national debate about such matters and child welfare.

Whereas the Stones had played it lacksadaisically and Jagger had sung it with a front of bravado, mimicing the attitude of people who internalise such events, when Thelma sings the song, she brings added power to the song that almost knocks you over, and a heart-rending sense of pain into her voice, making you almost believe that this is personal. Thelma, born Thelma Jackson, would have been able to draw on her memories of her early life in Leland, Mississippi, loved but poor, when her mother supported them by picking cotton, before they made a new life for themselves in Long Beach, California.

To make it clear, I was probably not born in a crossfire hurricane...

Thelma Houston - Jumpin' Jack Flash (from Dunhill/Motown album 'Sunshower' 1969)

Information about Thelma Houston found in All Music Guide by Ed Hogan. Information about Mick Jagger from White Heat by Dominic Sandbrook.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Tricolore Soul: Monsieur Eddy!

Well, after a little sleep, I'm feeling more awake, and I caught the end of le Tour as they raced through le Col de la Colombiére. And my dad arrived with soup and supplies!
Normally, I'd be off to the local pub for their Bastille Day party and some bouillabaisse, and then down to a club that dedicates itself to glorious Radio FIP, which Brightonians are lucky enough to be able to tune into halfway underneath Radio 1. Ah, europop and yéyé girls!

Instead, while I eat my soup, I thought I'd serve you up some early French soul. I didn't know what to call this mini-series. Originally it was just French Soul, then Bastille Day Soul, then Funk The Bastille!

The modern indigenous French soul scene is thriving and has a much firmer place in French sub-cultures than its British equivalents. However, I thought I'd go further back, to the 60s, to see how one of the original French rock and rollers became intrigued by the soul sound, to such an extent that he went on to spend much of his career recording in Nashville, Memphis and Louisiana. Claude Moine, who in honour of his rock and roll heroes, changed his stage name to Eddy Mitchell, and is venerated by all French people as simply Monsieur Eddy.

Eddy and his band Les Chaussettes Noires got a residency playing at le Golf Drouot, a Parisian club which originally had its own 9-hole miniature golf course inside. It was also one of the first clubs with a jukebox, filled with American tunes. Soon, they were signed to Barclay Records, and had several rock and roll hits. After Eddy went to do military service, he embarked on a solo career, continuing the rock and roll.

He recorded several times in London, and while there in 1965, it seems he came into contact with some of the modern soul music being imported from the USA. From this point on, the sound of Eddy Mitchell was distinctively different from that of other French pop artists - he turned up the horns, the guitars played blues, and he chose to interpret or write soulful tunes, all the while singing in French with the passion of a soul balladeer but also with the nuances of French chanson. The albums Du rock ‘n’ roll au rhythm ‘n’ blues (Barclay 1965) and Seul (Barclay 1966) were recorded in London, while De Londres à Memphis (1967) saw Eddy finally travel to America. They comprise the heart of Eddy's soulful output.

Here are a few of those tracks for you to consider. First up is a bluesy number:

Eddy Mitchell - J'avais deux amis (I had two friends)

Eddy moves into Deep Soul country, with an opening sliding guitar string that just makes me think of Hot Buttered Soul!:

Eddy Mitchell - Je ne me retourerai pas (I will not be turned over)

And another Eddy original from his 1966 album:
Eddy Mitchell - Seul (Alone)
And I haven't yet shared Eddy's fabulous Creedence impression, or his version of Hard To Handle! I am going to have to do another Eddy post quite soon!

After a slight slowdown in his career, Eddy picked up again in the mid-70s, travelling annually to Nashville to record with Charlie McCoy and his band, and following a country rock vibe. And he's still going strong today, having recently recorded a new CD Jambalaya with a number of displaced New Orleans musicians in LA after Hurricane Katrina, and calling in the likes of Johnny Halliday (his fellow gallic rocker) and Little Richard.

RFI Music have a great biography in english of Eddy's career.
Shout Outs To Les Soul-blogs Francaises!: If you want to practice your french while also listening to some fine music, try out these sites. We have to mention le case de l'affreux thom, a blog of refinement and taste; also, I've just come across Mushroom Soul,which looks like it will become a favourite of mine. I've visited Loaded To The Gills on occasion, and found some interesting funk. For in depth resources on Otis Redding, check out The Otis Redding Site of Jean Paul Pécréaux. To discuss soul music in french, visit The Dark End Of The Street - don't worry, they will be kind if your words fail you, like me!

How Can You Mend This Broken Heart?

No, I haven't had a fight with ma cherie amour (well, not today, anyhow...)!

I've been visiting the doctor these past two weeks, checking out some chest pains, getting a cholesterol test, x-rays and ECG scans to see how the old ticker is doing. No news yet, which is good news. I took up cycling again recently, in anticipation of the Tour de France - I always said exercise would kill me. SO I've been taking it easy a bit, going for gentle walks on the promenade by the sea, looking out the window in my bathchair, grumbling about the good old days, and mentally totalling the number of tubs of Haagen-Daas ice-cream I have consumed wantonly in my lifetime.

And now, this weekend, would you believe it, I've caught a nasty flu-type thing called parvovirus from kids at school! Taking Friday off work is just no fun if your actually ill! And ma cherie amour is currently off on a camping trip with her class somewhere near Ardres in Pas-de-Calais. So there is nobody to pamper me and feed me soup. In fact, there is no soup! Pizza delivery guys, I have decided, should be considered the seventh emergency service (behind the coastguard, mountain rescue and the AA).

There were thus many candidates for today's post. We've got Pain In My Heart from Otis Redding, or we could have had his I've Been Sick Y'all. The Supremes nearly made it with Nothing But Heartaches. Then there were The Isley Brothers with This Old Heart Of Mine. Sadly, those would all have involved me rummaging around for vinyl and tranferring them, while shivering and with a splitting headache!

In that vein, here are some fantastic heart-stopping tunes! Guaranteed to get your pulse racing and your soul aching!

Otis Redding - Pain In My Heart (from Atco LP 'Saturday Night At The Apollo') 1964

(for more on this track, read my old post here)

Al Green - How Can You Mend A Broken Heart? (Hi Records) 1972

Ann Peebles - Troubles, Heartaches And Sadness (Hi 2205) 1972

James Brown - Your Cheatin' Heart (King Records) 1970

Well, I'd better get back to the couch and my blanket, and hopefully I'll be playing you Art Posey with No More Heartaches soon! Also, I've just realised its Bastille Day, so I'm going to try to phone ma cherie amour's relatives with my terrible linguistic skills! Meanwhile, as a sort of Saturday question: How many soul tunes with a heartache or flu/illness/plague theme can you think of?

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Original Drifters Come To Rest: Bill Pinkney 1925-2007

RIP Bill Pinkney, 15th August 1925 - July 4th 2007

Yesterday, Bill Pinkney, the last original member of The Drifters, passed away in Daytona, Florida. He had continued his career as a Drifter unbroken from 1953 to the present day, and had been due to perform for a 4th July event.

As well as contributing his distinctive bass to the early hits of the Drifters, Bill stood as a testament to musical integrity, defiantly fighting to use the name of Original Drifters after he and the other founder members were summarily sacked by their management in 1958, and campaigning for a law which requires a band to include at least one original member if it wishes to claim to be the genuine article.

Bill's life up until 1953 was equally remarkable. Born in Dalzell, South Carolina, Bill Pinkney used to listen to his mother, a choirleader in a church in Woodrow, South Carolina, and started to perform gospel himself at the age of 12 with a group called the Wandering Four. Bill Pinkney joined the US Army to fight in France, and took part as one of 1,500 black troops in the initial assault to secure the Omaha and Utah beaches on D-Day, helping to set up and maintain barrage balloons over the beachhead, delivering ammunition and supplies constantly throughout the assault, dealing with the wounded, and in the following days liberating several villages. Pinkney was assigned as a technician in a combat support unit attached to the 3rd Armoured Division. For his part in outstanding acts of courage supporting the 101st Airborne and fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with them at Bastogne, Bill was the proud recipient of the Distinguished Unit Citation (now known as the Presidential Unit Citation) with Four Bronze Stars, denoting service in Normandy, The Battle of Saint Lo, Bastogne, and crossing the Rhine. That Saint Lo action tells you that Bill had a role as a technician in the transport route known as the Red Ball Express, which trucked supplies from Saint Lo to the front line, which is how Bill became trapped in Bastogne with the 101st Airborne whom he was bringing supplies to. After the war, Bill moved to New York and tried for sporting fame, as a pitcher from 1949 to 1951 in a Negro Baseball League with the New York Blue Sox. He also began singing with gospel groups the Jerusalem Stars and The Southern Knights. However, by 1953, Bill had decided he needed a more regular job, and he was running a car dealership.

Watch an interview with Bill Pinkney from 2005 about his career...

Watch an interview with Bill Pinkney recorded in 2005 by Vince Welsh...It was in 1953 that Bill Pinkney was contacted by his old Southern Knights colleague Gearhart Thrasher. Clyde McPhatter, another old aquaintance on the gospel circuit, had an r&b contract with Atlantic Records, but was in need of a new group to back him, after the first group, the Mount Lebanon Gospel Singers, were rejected by Ahmet Ertegun. Billy met up with Gearhart and his brother Andrew 'Bubba' Thrasher and local labourer Willie Ferbie. The group were among those strongly influenced by the harmonising gospel quartet style of The Orioles, and Bill's deep bass helped to complement Clyde McPatter's soaring melodic lead tenor. It was a sensation in r&b music. The group secured a contract, and Clyde revealed the name Drifters at the end of the sessions after a worried Gearhart Thrasher asked him what they were going to call themselves!

Bill, Willie, Clyde, Andrew & Gearhart in August 1953
Thus began a series of r&b hits, amongst which Bill sang lead parts on White Christmas, their biggest hit of all time, Steamboat, I Should Have Done Right, Bip Bam, and Soldier Of Fortune. Bill's presence in the group was soon resented by their manager George Treadwell, as Bill, acting as road manager, frequently argued that the group were not getting their fair share of the ticket receipts for their shows.

"I was a singing road manager, well there was a fellow name of Charlie Carpenter, he was the manager of a show for Mr Fell, every week he would pay everybody. With the Drifters money, I had to pay Gearhart, a man by the name of David, and a guitar player by the name of Jimmy Oliver... I had to take this money back to New York in a suitcase, cash, and I was making $200 for the week, and the others would get £180, $175, and I would get a few more dollars under the table. Anyhow, I'd dump that suitcase of money, .. then I'd go on back, and get another tour started .. til I finally got hip! I said, you know what, this man is sitting down in his office in New York, we've doing all the work! Atlantic Records paying Jesse Stone, we went in and did the recording, and [George] Treadwell was climbing fat as a manager! He should have only won a percentage of what the Drifters made, not all of the money. So we talked it over with the rest of the Drifters and they said, Yeah you talk to George, we want raise in pay..."

A pay rise was not forthcoming, and he was summarily fired. After that, Bill went off and recorded some rock and roll themed tracks with a band called The Turks (or The Perks according to itunes!) The rest of the Drifters, chastened by Mr Treadwell, carried on, but were all finally fired from their own band in 1958, after a dispute at the Apollo Theater, and George replaced the entire line-up!

Bill persuaded the original group to stick together, and kept them going on a lucrative touring schedule, gaining a solid following in the Southeast. At first they went under the name of The Harmony Grits, and recorded some singles in 1959 with David "Little David" Baughn, who had been one of the singers Clyde had originally picked for his group. Later, Johnny Moore, who had also left the Drifters to go solo, got Bill's group to back him on several songs he recorded under the name Johnny Darrow, thus renuniting the 1957 Drifters line-up. But it occured to Bill and the others that they had every right to stake a claim to the Drifters name themselves, and so The Original Drifters were born. In 1964, they recorded Don't Call Me and I'll Do The Jerk, on Fontana Records, with temporary lead singer Jimmy Lewis. In 1966, they recorded another, for Veep Records, I Found Some Lovin' backed with the slow classic The Masquerade Is Over. I love this song, especially Nancy Wilson's version, but I would love to hear this rendition by the Drifters some day.

As the line-up of the Atlantic Records' Drifters continued to change, it seemed more and more Drifters were competing and claiming the same authenticity! Both Johnny Moore and Charlie Thomas would continue their own Drifters on the groups departure from Atlantic. This Bill's Original Drifters could accept, seeing as there was some connection to the classic group. Indeed, in 1976 Johnny Moore's Drifters paid the complement of covering (More Than A Number) In My Little Red Book, which the Originals had written and recorded back in 1967.

As the 70s arrived, however, the Drifters name became further clouded by bands that had little claim to the name. One group that Bill had hired and rehearsed to go on a tour after the other Originals had decided to retire, The Tears, dumped him and toured for many years as The Drifters. In the 80s and 90s, other groups, like the Nu Drifters, worked almost like Drifters 'franchises'. Bill Pinkney became involved in campaigning for the rights of artists who were being denied control over the identity that was their livelihood. And right up to the present, Bill had kept faith with authenticy by including the son of the founder of the Drifters, Ron McPhatter, Clyde's son, in the Originals, alongside Richard Knight Dunbar, of duo The Knight Brothers fame. The group also ventured into gospel in recent times, recording as The Gospel Drifters.

Bill was awarded the key to the state of South Carolina, which proclaimed May 14 as Bill Pinkney Day. Not least amongst his other honours must stand his 2001 honorary doctorate for services to South Carolina's state dance, the Shag!

The Drifters - Bip Bam (B side of Atlantic 1043) 1954
The Drifters - Steamboat (B Side of Atlantic 1078) 1955
The Drifters - I Should Have Done Right 1956

Information found at BBC News, , Soulfulkindamusic, wikipedia (!), the South Carolina African American History Calendar, and most especially from the amazing research of Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebooks, (also his Original Drifters Notebook ). Vince Welsh has recorded an interview with Bill Pinkney which you can watch. Also of interest is the regimental history page of the 761st Tank Battalion. Info concerning black soldiers on D-Day can be found in an article by Marian Douglas at Afrigeneas. Gregory Kane writes an interesting article about the contribution of black soldiers fighting at Bastogne in the Battle of The Bulge.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Get It If You Want It: Win A Free Al Green & Candi Staton Ticket!

Time to get excited. On Friday, I am going up to see the Reverend Al Green at the Hammersmith Apollo! Yaaayyy!!!!

That is exciting enough, but in support is a jewel of gospel and queen of southern soul, in the form of Candi Staton!

There's more! Other soul alumni likely to be present behind-the-scenes include Al Green's musical director, Norman West, formerly of The Soul Children. I wonder if he is ever tempted out on stage? What would a rendition of Hearsay featuring Norman, Al, and Candi be like?

Hang on, did the title of this post say I could win a ticket?
Yep! I bought a ticket for my good friend Will, but unfortunately he will have to travel for work. I've asked around, and nobody else I know seemed excited about the idea! So... that means I may have a spare ticket available! I will try to give it away to some deserving reader of this blog!

How To Win The Ticket!
I am going to set some simple questions about Al Green, Candi Staton and Norman West. You can probably google the answers! Email the answers to me at, and then i will randomly pick a name out of the hat on thursday at 7 o'clock GMT. Include you name and a contact phone number, so I can contact the lucky recipient on Thursday evening!

Here are my questions three...

1. What is the name of Al Green's church in Memphis, Tennessee?
2. What was the name of Candi Staton's famous soul-singing second husband, who took her to FAME Studio?
3. Which two Stax songwriters put Norman West's group The Soul Children together to replace Sam & Dave?

Don't worry if you get stuck on a question! Google it, and if you still can't work it out, just tell me why you really, really want to go see Al Green! Tell me you favourite Al Green song, or your favourite soul artists. I'll put you in the hat!

Today, I'm going to serve up some Alabama funky soul from Candi Staton's FAME albums, and some Al Green, each with a good luck message to help you get that ticket:

Al Green - Wish You Were Here (from LP 'Al Green Is Love') 1975

Candi Staton - Get It When I Want It (on 'I'm Just A Prisoner' FAME LP 4201) 1970

P.S. I have now fixed the Al Green link - sorry!

So much has been written about Candi Staton's life and music. Visit Candi Staton's website and bio here, or this short bio from divastation. Heiki Suosolo of Soul Express magazine did a good interview with Candi here. Candi's autobiography is called This Is My Story. Equally, what can I add to the story of Al Green? Visit his website here.