Wednesday 23 January 2013

1967 James Carr - You Got My Mind Messed Up

James Carr, 'Dark End of the Street', 1967

Info: Ranked at #23 in the best albums of 1967 on, You Got My Mind Messed Up was one of only two albums by the largely overlooked American rhythm and blues singer James Carr. As with many of his contemporaries, Carr was born into a religious family, (his father was a Baptist preacher), in 1942 in Coahoma, Mississippi. Learning his trade in the church's gospel choirs, Carr signed for Goldwax Records in Memphis in the mid-sixties following rejections by major Rn'B label Stax, home to Otis Redding and Sam & Dave. Carr struggled with depression throughout his career and the illness greatly restricted his output, when his record company folded in 1969 it more or less marked the end of his career, efforts to reignite same in the early 1990's were more or less unsuccessful before he succumbed to cancer, aged 58 in 2001. There is no doubt among soul and rhythm and blues aficionados that, had it not been for his debilitating depression, Carr would have made the crossover into the popular charts, his emotional, powerful voice rightly drawing comparisons with Redding, Aretha Franklin and perhaps, more closely from my view, Percy Sledge. 

1966 saw Carr's first entry into the Rn'B charts with the albums self-titled single, 'You Got My Mind Messed Up' which reached the Top Ten. The most successful and well-known single was, however, to be 'The Dark End of the Street' (above video), written by Dan Penn and Chips Moman and subsequently covered by Percy Sledge himself, Bruce Springsteen, Aretha Franklin and Elvis Costello among others, it is also performed in 1991's The Commitments, by the band themselves. Again the single reached the Top Ten in the Rn'B charts, but only made it to 77 in the Billboards. The lyrics themselves are of fond memories spent with a now long-lost love, and filled with regret that such moments are forever bound to the past. Other highlights include 'Pouring Water on a Drowning Man', the pained 'These Ain't Raindrops In My Eyes', and the barnstorming 'Forgetting You'. Overall, a great soul album without one bad song to be found within.

Track Listing:

1. Pouring Water on a Drowning Man
2. Love Attack
3. Come Back To Me, Baby
4. Don't Want To Be Hurt Anyone
5. That's What I Want To Know
6. These Ain't Raindrops In My Eyes
7. The Dark End of the Street
8. I'm Going For Myself Now
9. Lovable Girl
10. Forgetting You
11. She's Better Than You
12. You Got My Mind Messed Up

1966 John Mayall - Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton

John Mayall & Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton - 'Steppin' Out', 1966.

Info: The one thing that always struck me when discovering great guitar bands from the 1960's and 1970's was how Eric Clapton seemed to keep cropping up in so many different places, and not only that, but the other great musicians who he would be playing with or would replace him in the same group. From the early days when he was in The Yardbirds from 1963-1965 (he would successively be replaced by Jeff Beck and his friend from the age of 15, Jimmy Page) at the tender age of 18, to his most successful group Cream (1966-1968), and on to Blind Faith (1969 with Steve Winwood), followed by Derek & The Dominos (when he wrote the hit epic 'Layla' made even more famous by Goodfellas) as well as playing with Keith Richards (Rolling Stones), John Lennon (The Beatles) and Mitch Mitchell (The Jimi Hendrix Exeprience) in super group The Dirty Mac in 1968. Clapton also recorded with famous blues guitarists Sonny Boy Williamson, B.B. King and contemporaries such as George Harrison, Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) and Roger Waters (Pink Floyd)., not to mention appearing on The Band's famous album, The Last Waltz, in 1978.

The first time Eric Clapton fully got to express his unique brand of blues guitar was with John Mayall's Blues Breakers on the above album in 1966. During this period graffiti began appearing around London, most infamously at the Underground station at Islington proclaiming "Clapton is God", something he was always uneasy with, but may be reflected on this record. The fact that Clapton was only 21 at this stage of his career is astounding, and a testament to his abilities that organist John Mayall asked him to join the Blues Breakers at such a young age. The stand-out tracks, with regard to the young virtuoso's guitar playing, are a long solo on 'Have You Heard', 'Steppin' Out' (above video), 'Ramblin' On My Mind', my personal favourite 'Little Girl' and finally, opener, 'All Your Love'. The album itself is short coming in at only 37 minutes, but there is no fat on it whatsoever, and it is a joy to listen to unbroken from start to finish. Although Clapton released some wonderful solo albums, in particular 1974's, 461 Ocean Boulevard, there is consensus that he never reached the same level of blues playing since this album was recorded. On a side note, if you enjoy the above album, I would also highly recommend John Mayall's other two albums, A Hard Road (1967) and The Turning Point (1969) - special thanks goes to old friend Bryan for introducing me to this album 12 years ago. 

Track Listing:

1. All Your Love
2. Hideaway
3. Little Girl
4. Another Man
5. Double Crossing Time
6. What'd I Say
7. Key To Love
8. Parchman Farm
9. Have You Heard
10. Ramblin' On My Mind
11. Steppin' Out
12. It Ain't Right

Monday 7 January 2013

1965 Son House - Father of Folk Blues

Death Letter, Son House, 1967

Info: Eddie James "Son" House Jr. was born in Lyon, Mississippi in March, 1902, in the heart of the famous rivers Delta. A fervent Baptist preacher from the tender age of 15, and at one time pastor, in the early 20's he married an older woman, Carrie Martin, when he was only 19 years of age. The marriage was short-lived, however, as he felt he was just being used as a farm-hand on her fathers land, and so, he hit the road in search of alternative employment. Unusually, Son House did not pick up the guitar until he was 25, after seeing local bluesman Willie Wilson perform slide-guitar blues. Having worked hard jobs on plantations, steel factories and on a horse farm, he saw the blues as a way to escape that unrewarding life after making modest money at successive impromptu performances. Son House's new love of the Blues was a far cry from his early days as a devout Baptist, he once stated that he had considered even laying hands on a guitar a 'sinful act'. Inspired by Wilson and another local blues player, James McCoy, he bought himself a guitar, quickly mastered it and began playing juke joints with both men, on one such occasion a gunman entered the venue and shot House in the leg, House returned fire killing the man and ended up in prison for 2 years in 1928-9 for his troubles, his initial 15-year sentence reduced to two on grounds of self-defence upon appeal. This period of his life and the following years remain sketchy, with various music biographers unable to agree on the different stories, not helped by the fact that, due to illness in his later life, Son House's versions of events often contradicted each other. He did do some recording in the early 1930's for Paramount Records, but these were to be commercially unsuccessful, causing House to not record again until the mid-1960's. 

Folklorist Alan Lomax, who urged House to record for the Library of Congress in 1941, described his performances as follows in 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die; "With him the sorrow of the blues was not tentative, or retiring, or ironic. Son's whole body wept, as with his eyes closed, the tendons in his powerful neck standing out with the violence of his feeling...". Father of the Folk Blues certainly contains enough pain and anguish to reflect Lomax's description, from the opening track (in the above video) 'Death Letter', which recalls a man receiving a letter to say his wife has died, and at the funeral cries; "I didn't know I loved her, 'til they laid her in the ground" to 'Downhearted Blues', a song of regret and rejection where House ponders; "Got up this mornin', feeling sick and bad, thinkin' bout the good time, that I once have had..did you ever love, when they didn't love you? You know there wasn't satisfaction, didn't care what in the world you do". Outside of those two tracks, the purely vocal 'John The Revelator' and 'Empire State Express', where Son House plays guitar with the rhythm of a train, would be my personal favourites. This album is a nice introduction to good quality recorded blues and if you enjoy slide-guitar in particular, this is for you. 

Track Listing:

1. Death Letter
2. Pearline
3. Louise McGhee
4. John The Revelator
5. Empire State Express
6. Preachin' Blues
7. Grinnin' In Your Face
8. Sundown
9. Levee Camp Moan
10. Pony Blues
11. Downhearted Blues

1964 Jerry Lee Lewis - Live At The Star-Club, Hamburg

Jerry Lee Lewis, Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On, 1964

Info: Ranked at #4 in the album charts for 1964 on, Jerry Lee Lewis' live album at the Star-Club in Hamburg is an explosion of rock n' roll energy that is sure to have the hairs standing on the back of your neck the whole way through. Lewis, aka, 'The Killer', was born in September, 1935, the son of Elmo and Mamie Lewis, in Ferriday, Louisiana. Though his parents were very poor, they decided to mortgage their farm in order to buy a piano for their home which Jerry took to like a duck to water from the age of ten. Over the following years Lewis learned the boogie-woogie playing style from his older cousin, Carl McVoy, coupled with time spent in his uncle's black only juke-joint across the tracks in Ferriday (Haney's Big House), he was well on his way to developing his own style, a mix of blues, gospel, country and rock n' roll. Both of Lewis' parents were Pentecostalists and his mother enrolled him in the Southwest Bible Institute in Waxahachie, Texas, hoping he would concentrate on gospel singing, however, not long after joining, he was expelled for playing boogie-woogie (African-American style of piano-blues) during hymn recitals, opening up the alternative route his musical career would follow. 

It was at the age of 21 that Lewis arrived at Sun Records studio following unsuccessful attempts to get a record deal from any of the Nashville companies. Even at such a young age he had experienced difficulties in his personal life, including two failed marriages and a spell in jail, but nothing compared to the scandal that erupted when, at the age of 22, he married his 13-year-old first cousin once-removed, Myra Gale Brown. The scandal resulted in a cancelled UK tour and Lewis being shunned by record companies and radio stations back in his homeland. This followed the beginning of a very successful career and three huge hits in succession, 'Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On' (banned on some radio stations for Lewis' sexually suggestive moves on tv), 'Great Balls of Fire' and 'Breathless' between 1957-58. It would be a long time before he would rebuild his career and reputation, amid struggles with alcoholism and pill addiction. Live At The Star Club in Hamburg was recorded during this exile, and it wasn't until the late 60's, when attitudes had become more open and through the hard work of his agent, that he would be accepted back into the mainstream on the back of a foray into country-western music. 

To the album itself, described by David Hutcheon of Mojo magazine as 'rock as it was meant to be: faster, more breathless and more possessed than anything the world would pay money to hear'. This is reflected in the anarchic performance of Lewis, it seems as if the band are constantly playing catch-up and trying to second-guess him as he rips through his set which includes many rock classics such as Little Richard's 'Long Tall Sally', Ray Charles' 'What'd I Say' as you've never heard it before, 'Hound Dog', 'Great Balls of Fire', 'Good Golly Miss Molly' and for me, finishing on the best performance on the album, 'Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On' which I have posted above (although the performance is from 1964, I don't think it's from the Hamburg show). The performance is all the more remarkable considering that, as far as Jerry Lee was concerned, his career was dead back home, and although his live shows were always full of energy, maybe he was losing himself through the piano and histrionics. If you are in the mood for some good old fifties rockabilly all in one place, this is the perfect album, and in some ways gives me the same feeling I had when I was small and saw Marty McFly play 'Johnny B. Goode' at the Enchantment Under The Sea dance for the first time, but that's just me. One other notable track is 'Money (That's What I Want)' which only a couple of months earlier was covered by The Beatles on their second album, With the Beatles.

Track Listing:

1. Mean Woman Blues
2. High School Confidential
3. Money (That's What I Want)
4. Matchbox
5. What'd I Say, pt.1
6. What'd I Say, pt.2
7. Great Balls of Fire
8. Good Golly Miss Molly
9. Lewis' Boogie
10. Your Cheatin' Heart
11. Hound Dog
12. Long Tall Sally
13. Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On

Sunday 6 January 2013

Searching For Sugar Man (2012)

Rodriguez, Crucify Your Mind, 1971

Genre: Documentary
Starring: Rodriguez (archive), Steve Segerman, Dennis Coffey
Director: Malik Bendjelloul
IMDB Rating: 8.1/10
My Rating: 8.5/10
Runtime: 1hr 18mins

Synopsis: For me, Searching for Sugar Man has been the second excellent documentary I've seen from 2012, alongside The Imposter. Born in Detroit, Michigan, in July, 1942, to a European / Native-American mother and Mexican father, Jesus Rodriguez was the sixth child of the family which led to his nickname 'Sixto'. His music career was very short-lived releasing only two albums, 1970's Cold Fact and 1971's Coming From Reality. Both albums were recorded while he was still working various labourer jobs around Detroit's poor inner city and playing in dingy bars. Rodriguez's story is fascinating insofar that so little was known about him when he was at the height of his creativity, indeed, those interviewed who saw him perform in the late sixties and early seventies state that he was like a drifter, nobody knew where he lived but they would see him wandering around the city and playing at seemingly random venues. 

Such is the mystery that surrounded him and his death at the peak of his abilities that the documentary relies heavily on talking heads and photo montages along with animation sequences to accompany his music. The film itself begins in Detroit interviewing those who saw him perform, people he worked with in construction and the people who recorded his only two albums, following on from here we find ourselves whisked half-way around the world to Cape Town, South Africa and record-shop owner Steve Segerman. Segerman explains that Rodriguez's music was phenomenally popular in South Africa and inspired middle-class white university students to protest against apartheid and the strict establishment, drawing on the heavily loaded political messages in the lyrics of both albums, which sold in excess of 500,000 copies over a short period of time, meanwhile, as claimed by his distributor in the U.S., Clarence Avant, he probably only sold 6 copies of his records in America. It becomes clear as the documentary moves on that Rodriguez would have been completely unaware of his popularity in South Africa during his lifetime, which raises questions of where the royalties from the record sales went as he lived in relative poverty. 

The documentary has many completely unexpected twists and turns, so much so that I felt the trailer itself gives too much away and so decided to post one of his great songs above instead, I myself had read many reviews about Searching for Sugar Man but I was very glad by the end of the film that I hadn't seen the trailer, as I feel it would have taken from the whole experience. One thing that struck me personally watching this documentary was how such an incredible story will probably never happen again in the music world for a number of reasons. Firstly, Rodriguez's ignorance of his massive popularity and influence in South Africa couldn't be repeated in the 21st century with mass social media via the internet (having said that, there's always a chance that Ronan Keating is an iconic figure of the underground in North Korea and we'll never know) which just did not exist during his time. Secondly, and sadly, it seems that the days of iconic and politically motivated artists such as Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, etc. are over and have been substituted by commercially contrived artists or artists who have so much wealth (ahem, Bono) that promoting themselves as 'looking out for the interests of mankind' comes nice and easy when jet-setting around the world. 

Reminiscent of Donovan and Don McClean in his sound, Rodriguez wrote of his experiences growing up and living in destitute inner-city Detroit and how these people had been abandoned by their masters. Described by record producer Steve Rowland who produced his second album as, 'a wise man, a prophet, way beyond being just a musical artist' and also said 'forget about Bob Dylan!' when it came to Rodriguez's talent, Rowland had worked with Jerry Lee Lewis and Gloria Gaynor and also discovered Peter Frampton and The Cure. I don't want to give away too much as there is so much more to Searching For Sugar Man, it's an emotional and very rewarding documentary and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

I am on anti-depressants and suffer from severe anxiety, should I watch this film on a Sunday night? It will raise your spirits.

Thursday 3 January 2013

1963 Sam Cooke - Live At The Harlem Square Club

Bring It On Home To Me, 1962

Info: If Booker T. & The M.G.'s were unique in the fact that they had an even mix of black and white musicians, Sam Cooke could be viewed as the artist to take this transcendence to the next level, appealing to a vast audience from white teenagers and their parents while also managing to maintain his hardcore support in black communities. Born into a large family in 1931 in Clarksdale, Mississippi, his father, the Reverend Charles Cook (surname changed in later-life with added -e by Sam), moved the family to Chicago in the mid-thirties and it was here that Sam would develop his talent as a gospel singer from a very young age, eventually crossing paths with his first group, the Soul Stirrers. 

Throughout his career spanning the early 1950's to 1964 Cooke would amass an impressive 29 singles in the Top 40, and while many of his hits had great pop appeal, on Live At The Harlem Square Club, his title as the 'Father of Soul' is confirmed, a passionate and heart-wrenching performance of arguably eight of his best songs. Described by Jaime Gonzalez, of Spanish rock monthly Ruta 66 as 'an exorcism drawing a definitive line between the sacred and the profane', I think this totally sums up Cooke's intentions with this album, moving his pop, gospel originated catalogue into a smokey, sexy environment that was this live performance. Rather surprisingly, this album, while recorded in 1963 at the working-class Harlem Club in the Miami ghetto, and considered to date to be the best live album ever, wasn't released until 1985. For me the albums best song by far is 'Bring It On Home For Me', from an astounding intro with a slow build-up, to the swinging chorus, you can hear the crowd completely immersed in Cooke's performance at this stage of the recording. Other highlights are his old favourite 'Twistin' The Night Away' and the feel-good finale 'Having a Party'.

Outside of his music Sam Cooke was an intriguing, multi-talented person. He was the first black artist to take control of the business side of his music, setting up his own record label, SAR Records, in 1961, was influential in the civil-rights movement, (indeed one of his other, and my favourite, hits which he penned, 'A Change Is Gonna Come' became the anthem for those looking to end discrimination against blacks in 1960's America) as well as having mass appeal with music fans of every background. Cooke's last days were tragic, in 1963 his 18 month-old son, Vincent, drowned in their front-yard pool when he wandered off from his mother, Cooke was away at the time and blamed his wife, Barbara, for the death, their marriage broke up partially as a result of this incident. A year later, on the 11th of December, 1964, Cooke was shot dead at the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles by the motel manager, under what were suspicious circumstances. The manager, Bertha Franklin, claimed Cooke broke into her apartment demanding to know where the woman he had arrived with had gone to, fearing for her safety she shot Cooke and proceeded to beat him with a broom-handle, another theory is that the woman in question, Elisa Boyer, had conspired to kill Cooke with Franklin as a large sum of cash Cooke had on him at the time was never recovered. Cooke's last words, according to Franklin were; 'Lady, you shot me!'. Thankfully Cooke's legacy lives on, and in 2008, Rolling Stone magazine honoured him as the 4th Greatest Singer of All-Time, and in 2011, the City of Chicago named part of East 36th Street, Sam Cooke Way in his memory.

Track Listing:

1. Feel It
2. Chain Gang
3. Cupid
4. Medley - It's Alright - For Sentimental Reasons
5. Twistin' The Night Away
6. Somebody Have Mercy
7. Bring It On Home
8. Nothing Can Change This Love
9. Having a Party

Tuesday 1 January 2013

1962 Booker T. & The M.G.'s - Green Onions

Info: Booker T. & The M.G.'s were the house band for Stax records, the Southern states answer to soul label Motown, providing backing for artists such as Bill Withers, Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding before striking out on their own. Unique to the M.G.'s (Memphis Group) was their 50-50 mix of black and white musicians on a predominantly black artists label. Green Onions is an entirely instrumental album with a mix of originals and cover versions such as 'I Got A Woman' by Ray Charles, and Smokey Robinson's 'One Who Really Loves You'. The albums popularity arose from it's chilled-out and cool vibe which appealed to young people of the era, but mostly from it's title-track, a must for any jukebox collection. The song 'Green Onions' almost never came to pass and was recorded while the band were waiting for a recording session and began a spontaneous, improvised jam, thankfully the technician had left the recording machine on. It was originally a B-side on track 6, 'Behave Yourself', however, most radio DJ's seemed to opt for the sister track ensuring it got widespread airplay, reaching no.3 in the Billboard Top 40 in September, 1962. The M.G.'s were made up of bassist Donald 'Duck' Dunn, drummer Al Jackson, Steve Cropper on guitar and Booker T. Jones on the organ/piano. Favourite tracks are 'Green Onions', the mellow 'Behave Yourself' and 'You Can Sit Down' which showcases Jackson's drumming nicely 

Track Listing:

1. Green Onions
2. Rinky Dink
3. I Got A Woman
4. Mo' Onions
5. Twist and Shout
6. Behave Yourself
7. Stranger On The Shore
8. Lonely Avenue
9. One Who Really Loves You
10. You Can't Sit Down
11. A Woman, A Lover, A Friend
12. Comin' Home Baby