Saturday 30 January 2010

Observer Videos

Following the Observer story I posted the other day, the papers website now has a pile of videos of some of the artists featured. Click on the link below to see Nick Tosches talk about Jerry Lee and see the links at the side of the page.

Monday 25 January 2010

Rockers Reunion 2010

The 27th Annual Rockers Reunion at Reading was a cracker. I missed the Lonesome Valley Boys but was lucky enough to witness Porky's Hot Rockin'. Porky is a tidy singer with good stage presence but you do get the feeling that having the legendary guitarist Mark Harman in your band is a bit like cheating. It's like doing a two man relay against your mates and having Usain Bolt as your partner. They do a few Johnny Burnette covers and the wonderful version of the King's Angel. Highlights of the set for me were Eddie Cochran's My Way, Dale Hawkins' Little Pig (ideal for a guy called Porky!) and Restless' neo-classic, Ice Cold. I've waited about thirty years to see Mark Harman so to watch him burn up the guitar on Ice Cold was a magic moment.

Johnny Fox and the Hunters were next up and they did a really fine set with a couple of Cavan covers and a well worked out version of Deano's Little Ole Wine Drinker Me. I've seen the Jets loads of times and I love them to bits but I was slightly disappointed this time with their set list. I like things like Razor Alley but because I was with doo-wop lover Steve Walker I was hoping they would do a load of the doo-wop strollers they're so good at.

The headliner was Gene Summers and he's been a regular over here for over thirty years. He still looks good for his age and has a friendly, confident stage presence which helped him win the crowd over straight away. With a set list that included Alabama Shake (twice), School Of Rock 'n' Roll and the opener , Twixteen, he couldn't go wrong. I was surprised not to hear Nervous but he made amends with fine covers of Wine Wine Wine and The Rebel Johnny Yuma. Rockin' Daddy was a meaty slab of rockabilly and his reappearance for the encore decked in a Confederate flag was iconic.

The show closed with Crazy Cavan and the Rhythm Rockers. They are simply amazing. How some fans give them the cold shoulder I can't understand. They rock like crazy and have all the menace and boy bad antics that rockabilly was supposed to be about. Drinking whiskey from the bottle to bopping with dozens of fans on-stage, these boys are what I imagine olds school 1970's Ted shows were all about. A brilliant performance to round of a great night. It was great to see the Shakin' All Over crowd there, including regulars Kevin Carey, John Howard and Tony Wilkinson, newcomers Steve Walker and Colin Kilgour, plus non-shakers Bunter and my mate Tony Fry. I look forward to next year - only 363 days to go.

Sunday 24 January 2010

Jerry Lee Lewis, 74, photographed at the London hotel, New York, 30
October 2009. Photograph: Jamie-James Medina

Jerry Lee Lewis: the hellfire pianist
Ray Davies of the Kinks on the original punk

The Uk newspaper, the Sunday Observer today issued their final instalment in the 76 issue OMM (Observer Music Monthly), which ran from 2003 to 2010. This was Jerry Lee's second time on the cover, no mean feat for a mag that focussed mostly on modern music.

the text that ran with the photo came courtesy of Ray Davies and read, ""Before Jerry Lee came along the piano was all Winifred Atwell and Russ
Conway. A bit polite. I remember him playing on the Six-Five Special and
I'd literally never seen anything like it. He had that long curly hair
and he was playing with one leg up on the piano. He looked like a complete
punk, but really cool at the same time. White shirt, black suit. The
coolest. Obviously a man with demons, but the fact he didn't seem quite
safe to be around added to the attraction and the power of the

"That was it. It affected me more than Elvis Presley. I bought High
School Confidential from the movie of the same name.

"The first concert I went to was Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and
Duane Eddy. Both Jerry Lee and Little Richard were doing their
extravaganza, but somehow Jerry Lee had the edge with the hair and the
body language.Again, it was something I'd never seen before. Since then,
I've seen him play lots of times. The last time was at the Festival Hall
about six years ago, when he was on with Chuck Berry. I think he'd just
had a stroke or something and he wasn't quite his normal self, but he
was still playing great piano.

"It's not obvious, but there is an influence there. There's piano onYou
Really Got Me and All Day and All of the Night, and most of the time
they're doing chops with the right hand like Jerry Lee would have
done.I've never met him, though. I stay away from my heroes, because I
want them to stay heroes. After all these years, High School
Confidential is still my favourite and still seems to sum him up: 'You
better open up, honey, it's your lover boy, me, that's a knockin' - bam,
ba-bam!' Genius."

Key recording: Sun Essentials (Charly, 2006)

Monday 18 January 2010


Foot Tapping Records - FT083


The latest addition to the Foot Tapping roster is Johnny Gunner and the Raiders. The band are Johnny Gunner on lead vocals, lead and rhythm guitar, Mark Hewitt on drums and Steve Mynott on double bass. Their website lists their influences as “many of the great acts of the '50's, including: Big Joe Turner, Roy Brown, Bob Luman, Benny Joy, Ronnie Self, Little Richard, Howlin' Wolf, Lightnin' Hopkins, Bo Diddley, Big John Taylor, James Burton, Micky Baker, Ike Turner, Link Wray and many others”. The music contained on this release lays testament to those claims and gives you some idea what to expect.

The band was formed in 2001 with a view to “fuse together the authentic sounds of that era with all its many different elements, with the attitudes, aspirations, recording techniques and recording technology of the 21st Century.” I haven’t heard their previous CD, Stack 'a' Records but it’s supposed to have been pretty good, at least that’s what their website says.

For me they have a handful of numbers that stand them out from the crowd, particularly the dance floor favourite The Grim Reaper, a menacing stroller that kicks ass. The title track is very similar and packs a punch. Another that really appealed was the slower Empty Room with his Sun ballad sound. Rockin’ Blues Boogie does what it says on the tin and Return of the Reaper is another belter. The album closer, Making Ends Meet is a story of a whore set to a hot rockin’ blues beat and is a great way to go out.

Sunday 17 January 2010

Carl Smith - RIP

Country Music Hall of Fame Member Carl Smith Dies at Age 82

A Superstar of the '50s, He Was Singer-Songwriter Carlene Carter's Father
January 17, 2010; Written by Ronnie Pugh (

Country Music Hall of Fame member Carl Smith, one of the genre's most successful singers and entertainers during the 1950's, died Saturday (Jan. 16) at his home in Franklin, Tenn. He was 82.

Smith was so long out of the spotlight -- enjoying what was for most stars of his generation an early, atypical and genteel retirement -- many began to wonder if younger CMA electors would ever induct him into the Country Music Hall of Fame. When they finally did in 2003, Smith's few seconds back on national TV consisted of a silent smile and wave to his well-deserved standing ovation.

In 1977, the year he turned 50, Smith retired from the grind of recording sessions and personal appearances and thereafter enjoyed life as a gentleman farmer and horse breeder on his ranch. After this, he resolutely avoided contact with the music industry he'd helped to build, in spite of the fact that both his wives and his first child were also well-known entertainers.

He was married to June Carter from 1952 until 1957, and their daughter, Carlene Carter, gained prominence as a singer-songwriter during the late '70s. His subsequent marriage to country singer Goldie Hill began in September 1957 and lasted until her death in February 2005. Hill was the mother of his last three children, Lorri Lynn, Carl Jr. and Larry Dean, none of whom sought a career as a performer.

Carl M. Smith was born in East Tennessee at Maynardville (also Roy Acuff's hometown) on March 15, 1927. He loved music from his earliest days, especially the country music broadcast out of nearby Knoxville, Tenn. While in high school, he began his professional career in 1944 as a performer on radio personality Cas Walker's programs on WROL in Knoxville. After joining the military, Smith served in the Pacific on the USS Admiral Sims at the end of World War II and returned to Knoxville in 1946 to work as a guitarist with the Brewster Brothers, one of Cas Walker's radio bands.

His musical quest took him to other cities -- Asheville, N.C., and Augusta, Ga., in 1947-48 as a singer alongside banjoist Hoke Jenkins -- but Smith came back to Knoxville as bassist and part-time singer with Skeets Williamson and his famous singing sister, Molly O'Day. Afterwards, he worked with "Grandpappy" Archie Campbell, who years later achieved national fame as a comic on Hee Haw. While Smith worked for Campbell, the prolific Knoxville Dobro player and songwriter George "Speedy" Krise used him as a vocalist to demo some new songs he sent to Peer-Southern talent scout Troy Martin, who was most impressed with Smith's singing.

Sensing an opportunity to help himself and Smith, Martin passed the best demos along to Jack Stapp of Nashville's WSM radio and Don Law, peripatetic producer for Columbia Records. Smith moved to Nashville at Stapp's invitation in March 1950 as a part-time singer on WSM's early morning show, but he was not made a regular guest on the station's great Saturday night showcase, the Grand Ole Opry, until Don Law signed Smith to his first Columbia Records contract in May.

Success as a recording artist came slowly for Smith but was built with sure momentum after "Let's Live a Little," a song from his second Columbia session, cracked the Top 10 in 1951. It was followed later that year by "Mr. Moon" and a great song from old Knoxville buddy Carl Butler, "If Teardrops Were Pennies."

Befriended by such helpful WSM legends as Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams (who brought him songs to record and shared tour dates with the young hopeful), Smith gathered a talented band for recording and touring. Eventually dubbed the Tunesmiths, the group featured fiddler-manager Hal Smith, Hal's wife Velma on rhythm guitar, bassist Junior Huskey, steel guitarist Johnny Sibert and former Hank Williams electric guitarist Sammy Pruett.

Smith's first No. 1 record, the near-million-selling "Let Old Mother Nature Have Her Way," came in 1951. The next year brought Smith big hits with "(When You Feel Like You're in Love) Don't Just Stand There" and a double-sided smash with the Louvin Brothers' "Are You Teasing Me" and Boudleaux Bryant's "It's a Lovely, Lovely World." Bryant also wrote the two biggest hits of Smith's many in 1953, "Just Wait Till I Get You Alone" and the immortal "Hey Joe."

The handsome and full-throated Smith was obviously at his best with such happy love songs, and his combination of good looks, good singing, good songs and flashy attire (his white suits giving way by the mid-1950s to trim Western cut suits for himself and his band) made him a favorite with country's female fans. As a pre-Elvis heartthrob, he was a natural choice to help country music break into television.

In 1952, he was one host of Kate Smith's NBC-TV show, Main Street Music Hall, her segment plugging the Opry's brief New York City engagement at the Hotel Astor. In 1955-56, Smith often hosted half-hour shows in Albert Gannaway's syndicated color TV series, Stars of Country Music. Gannaway cast Smith as one star of his 1956 motion picture, Buffalo Guns (alongside Marty Robbins and Webb Pierce), and there were other low-budget film appearances in the 1960s, although major screen stardom never came his way.

In the late '50s, Smith often traveled to Springfield, Mo., to host or guest on ABC-TV's Jubilee USA, formerly the Ozark Jubilee. By then, Smith had left the Opry after it fired his business partner, Jim Denny. (Smith, Denny and country star Webb Pierce had co-founded the lucrative Cedarwood Music publishing company in 1953. The Opry fired Denny was fired in 1956 for alleged conflict of interest.)

It was at Denny's behest that Smith toured the nation for 18 months in 1957-58 as a headliner of the Philip Morris Country Show tour, which also featured Smith's new wife, Goldie Hill. Smith's land, business interests and recording career kept his home base in Nashville, though, and that career weathered the onslaught of rock 'n' roll in reasonably good shape. To augment his sound, he had added drummer Buddy Harman to his Tunesmiths as early as 1954. He also enjoyed a steady supply of good songs from the growing stable of Cedarwood songwriters, including Danny Dill, Marijohn Wilkin and Mel Tillis.

Smith's appeal as a TV performer lasted through the '60s with an alternating hosting role in 1961 for Five-Star Jubilee, ABC's follow-up to Jubilee USA. In 1964, he filmed the first of some 190 episodes as host of his own popular Canadian series, Carl Smith's Country Music Hall.

Although he claimed only one Top 10 hit in the '60s ("Deep Water" in 1967), there was not a single year between 1951 and 1973 that Smith's Columbia Records did not reach the country charts somewhere, a consistency only surpassed in those years by Marty Robbins (1952-83). He took a break from recording for about a year, and resurfaced on Hickory Records from 1975-78, though none of his seven chart singles for Hickory got any higher than No. 67 on the Billboard country chart.

He stopped touring in 1977, and his long and placid life thereafter as breeder of quarter horses won him a whole new set of friends and peers who often didn't even know he had once been a major country music star. Smith, however, fondly remembered his singing days and was always helpful to writers and researchers on various record reissue projects. He occasionally sat for remarkably frank broadcast interviews about his career -- on TNN: The Nashville Network with his old boss Archie Campbell for Yesteryear in Nashville, with Ralph Emery live on TNN's Nashville Now and then back at WSM with Eddie Stubbs for a salute and career retrospective on his 70th birthday in 1997.

Smith's earliest recordings and most of the reissues still circulate among collectors. Among them is Satisfaction Guaranteed, a five CD boxed set of entire Columbia recordings from the '50s. Compiled by the German label, Bear Family Records, the collection features extensive liner notes written by the late Dr. Charles Wolfe, a country music historian and scholar. Regrettably, there is no published Carl Smith biography or autobiography.

Courtesy of

Bobby Charles - RIP - See You Later Alligator

Bobby Charles, Louisiana songwriter, dies at 71
By Keith Spera, The Times-Picayune
January 15, 2010

Robert "Bobby" Charles Guidry, the reclusive south Louisiana songwriter of hits for Fats Domino, Frogman Henry and Bill Haley & the Comets, died early Thursday after collapsing at home in Abbeville, his manager said. He was 71.

Known professionally as Bobby Charles, he wrote "Walking to New Orleans," one of Domino's most beloved songs; "(I Don't Know Why I Love You) But I Do," an enduring classic by Henry; and "See You Later Alligator," a smash for Haley at the dawn of rock 'n' roll.

A reluctant performer, Mr. Charles largely disappeared after participating in the Band's 1976 farewell concert The Last Waltz. He preferred to release the occasional album while living quietly, an enigma whose songs were more famous than he was. Along the way he dealt with a litany of personal disasters ranging from fires to floods to cancer.

Mr. Charles agreed to stage a "comeback" at the 2007 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell, only to back out at the last minute, citing health issues. Mac "Dr. John" Rebennack, Marcia Ball, guitarist Sonny Landreth and other admirers performed his songs in his absence.

"He was the champion south Louisiana songwriter," Landreth said. "Everybody had a favorite Bobby Charles song. He had the gift."

Mr. Charles grew up poor in Abbeville, the son of a gas company truck driver. At 14, he joined a band that entertained at high school dances.

"Nobody in my family wanted me to get into the music business, but I always loved it," he said during a 2007 interview. "The first time I heard Hank Williams and Fats Domino, it just knocked me down. When I was a kid, I used to pray to be a songwriter like them. My prayers were answered, I guess."

Leaving a cafe one night, Mr. Charles bid farewell to friends with "see you later, alligator." As the cafe door closed behind him, a drunken stranger replied, "after 'while, crocodile." Not sure he heard correctly, he went back inside and asked the stranger to repeat it.

That couplet inspired him to write "See You Later Alligator." He sang it over the phone and landed a recording contract, sight unseen, from Chicago blues and R&B label Chess Records. The company's owners assumed he was black until he stepped off the plane in Chicago.

As a burgeoning teen idol, he hit the road with other Chess artists, the only white guy on the bus. Not all audiences appreciated such integration. The threats soured him on touring. So did the occasional bullet fired his way.

"I never wanted to be a star," he said. "I've got enough problems, I promise you. If I could make it just writing, I'd be happy. Thank God I've been lucky enough to have a lot of people do my songs."

In the 1970s, Mr. Charles wrote a song called "The Jealous Kind." Joe Cocker recorded it in 1976, followed by Ray Charles, Delbert McClinton, Etta James and Johnny Adams. Kris Kristofferson and Gatemouth Brown covered Mr. Charles' "Tennessee Blues," as did newcomer Shannon McNally. Muddy Waters recorded "Why Are People Like That"; so did Houma guitarist Tab Benoit on his Grammy-nominated 2006 album "Brother to the Blues."

He could not play an instrument or read music. Songs popped into his head, fully formed. To capture them, he'd sing into the nearest answering machine; sometimes he'd call home from a convenience store pay phone.

"I can hear all the chords up here," he said, pointing to his brain, "but I can't tell you what they are."

He counted Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Willie Nelson and James Taylor among his friends and fans. Mickey Raphael, the longtime harmonica player in Willie Nelson's band, appears on Mr. Charles' forthcoming CD. He once encountered Mr. Charles at Nelson's studio outside Austin, Tex.

"He said he wanted to record some music, and he was bringing some musicians," Raphael recalled. "He said, 'This is my guitar player, Neil.' And it was Neil Young.

"He was so unpretentious and laid-back. On further investigation, you'd find out he wrote all these incredible songs."

In his younger years, Mr. Charles raised all kinds of hell. His rogue's resume included scrapes with the law, a busted marriage, and general excess. "To love and lose -- I know that pain," he said. "And cocaine killed so many of my friends."

For a time in the 1970s, he laid low in Woodstock, N.Y. But mostly Mr. Charles holed up in the bosom of south Louisiana, waiting for the next song to come along. Or the next calamity.

For years, he lived on the Vermilion River outside Maurice, La. In the mid-'90s, his house burned down. He moved into a trailer on the grounds of Dockside Studios in Maurice, a favorite haunt. Despondent, he hit the road with one of his four sons and washed up at Holly Beach, a hamlet with 300 permanent residents on the Gulf of Mexico southwest of Lake Charles.

"I'm a Pisces. I love water," he said. "There's nothing like a wave to wash away your problems and clean out your mind."

In Holly Beach, Mr. Charles disappeared for a decade. But in the summer of 2005, Hurricane Rita found him. He escaped just ahead of the storm, then later returned to find his house had washed away.

The reclusive songwriter preferred to live quietly, out of the limelight.He moved to a two-bedroom trailer amid the grand oaks of an eight acre property outside Abbeville. He kept his address and phone number secret, and cast a wary eye toward strangers and acquaintances alike.

"They all want to meet Bob Dylan or Willie Nelson. They say, 'Man, I got a song for Bob Dylan.' I think Bob Dylan writes most of his own. So does Willie. I don't even sing any of mine to them.

"Some people have to depend on somebody else to make a living. And that gets tiresome, man, carrying a load like that. It gets to the point where you're afraid to open your mouth in front of anybody."

Despite being swindled out of some publishing rights and songwriting credits along the way, his annual royalties afforded him a comfortable living. When, for instance, Frogman Henry's version of "But I Do" landed on the "Forrest Gump" soundtrack, Mr. Charles received a royalty check.

Mr. Charles was happiest in the studio. He often scheduled recording sessions to coincide with the full moon. "His approach was unorthodox," said Sonny Landreth, who often recorded with Mr. Charles at Dockside. "It wasn't like recording in Nashville, which is very organized, with musical charts."

Recent compositions occasionally contained ecological messages. The issue of clean water was especially important to him, Raphael said. "He'd call me up and say, 'I'm so mad about this, I had to write a song,'" Raphael said. "You'd listen to the song, and know he was mad as hell, but he always put a positive spin on it."

In 2003, Mr. Charles and Jim Bateman, his manager for the past three decades, gathered recordings spanning 20 years for the double-CD "Last Train to Memphis," released via Charles' own Rice 'n Gravy Records. Guest musicians included Neil Young, Fats Domino, Willie Nelson, Delbert McClinton and Maria Muldaur.

Mr. Charles' voice, graced with a slight, Randy Newman-esque drawl, remained strong in his later years, as did his gift for pairing lyrics and melody. He was due to release a new album, "Timeless," next month. Co-produced by Mr. Charles and Rebennack, it contains mostly new songs, and is dedicated to Domino. While recording, "he had lots of energy, and was very productive," Landreth said. Rebennack "had that affect on him."

Mr. Charles recently injured his back in a fall, but remained intensely focused on finishing "Timeless." "He kept saying, 'I've got to get this out. I want to hold it in my hands,'" Bateman said. "It's like he had a premonition."

Mr. Charles saw the final design for the album's artwork, but died weeks before its scheduled Feb. 23 release.

Had he lived, he was unlikely to hit the road to promote his new CD. In recent years, he tended to keep to himself. Most days, he ate alone at an Abbeville seafood joint where the waitress mixed his preferred cocktail -- a Grey Goose martini on the rocks -- as he parked his car.

"I don't really have anybody," Mr. Charles said in 2007. "I just don't have a whole lot in common with the people I went to school with. I still love them as my friends, but I don't have anything to say to 'em. They wouldn't believe half the (stuff) that happened to me anyway.

"But when I get around Mac Rebennack or Fats or somebody like that, then I'm in my world."

Friday 8 January 2010

Elvis 75th Anniversary

Happy birthday Elvis.

As John Lennon said, before you there was nothing. You changed it all, and now every self respecting fan has their own home-made Elvis mosaic hanging on the garden wall. Here's mine.