Here comes the Wolf. Hope you enjoy it as much as Son House appears to.
Sunday, 27 November 2011
Thursday, 24 November 2011
The latest Crossfire allnighter down by Great Portland Street was a few weeks back but was so good it’s worth a belated mention. As soon as the R&B room opened at 11.30pm people hit the floor and stayed there, making it a pleasure and a breeze to DJ. I even managed to play close to what I’d planned; that seldom happens so was testament to the dancers who were up for a few less familiar 45s mixed in with classic gems. This is what they got from me.
The Pacesetters – The Monkey Whip (Correc-Tone)
The Downbeats – Request of a Fool (Tamla)
Little Bob – I Got Loaded (La Louisianne)
Jimmy Bell – What’cha Gonna Do About Me (Hickory)
King Coleman – Loo-Key Doo-Key (Dade)
Dyke & The Blazers – Shotgun Slim (Original Sound)
James Spencer – In-Law Trouble (Taurus)
Chicago Cubs Clark St. Band – Slide (Chess)
The Dippers – Goin’ Ape (Diplomacy)
Eddie Holland – Baby Shake (Motown)
Reuben Phillips – High-Low (Ascot)
Jimmy McCracklin – Susie and Pat (Ant-Tone)
Mr. Wiggles – Fat Back (Parkway)
Leon Austin – Turn Me Loose (King)
Ronnie Milsap – A Thousand Miles From Nowhere (Scepter)
Walkin’ Willie – If You Just Woulda Said Goodbye (RSVP)
Lonnie Hewitt – You Gotta Git (Fantasy)
Alder Ray – My Heart Is In Danger (Minit)
Jimmy Merchant – Skin The Cat (Bo-Mar)
Big Maybelle – Do Lord (Brunswick)
Ray Charles – Sticks and Stones (ABC-Paramount)
Grover Pruitt – Little Girl (Salem)
Lloyd Price – Who Coulda Told You (ABC-Paramount)
The Gardenias – What’s The Matter With Me (Fairline)
Bobby Peterson Quartet – Mama Get your Hammer (V-Tone)
Freddy King – Now I’ve Got A Woman (Federal)
Buddy Guy – I Dig Your Wig (Chess)
Dick Holler – Mooba Grooba (Comet)
Marion James – I’m The Woman For You (K&J)
Aretha Franklin – Tighten Up Your Tie (Columbia)
Sylvia Robbins – Don’t Let Your Eyes Get Bigger Than Your Heart (Sue)
Jesse Pearson – I Got A Feelin’ I’m Fallin’ (RCA Victor)
Dorie Williams – Tell Me Everything You Know (635)
Roy Roberts – Got To Have Your Love (Ninandy)
Rufus Thomas – Turn Your Damper Down (Stax)
Eddie Bo – Dinky Doo (Ric)
Monday, 21 November 2011
You can blame Adam Ant for Monkey Picks. He started me off. The first album I ever bought was Kings of The Wild Frontier, from Woolworth’s in Uxbridge, February 1981. I was twelve years old and hadn’t paid much attention to music until seeing him and his Ants on Top of The Tops, twirling around bare chested, drop kicking, and yodelling a cockney apache war cry. Soon after, coming back from a school trip to the Royal Tournament, I managed to instigate the back half of the coach into collectively drumming out the title track on their thighs.
From then, music and collecting records became an obsession and I got hold of his earlier album Dirk Wears White Sox and a couple of pre-Kings singles: “Young Parisians” and “Xerox”. It would suit my purpose here to say I preferred those punkier records but I’m not sure I did. I found them strange and disturbing but when the DJ at the school disco asked for requests it was their B-sides “Lady” (about a naked woman, “I had a good look at her crack”) and “Whip In My Valise” (“Who taught you to torture?”) that I asked for. “I don’t play B-sides” said the snooty DJ. “But they’re better”, I stated in the most petulant what-sort-of-idiot-are-you voice I could muster.
By October I’d bought my first Jam record and for a short time Adam stared out of one eye (he had a patch on the other) from one bedroom wall to The Jam on the other. But then Adam came down for another Jam poster-magazine purchase and was diddley qa qa-ed to the dustbin of childhood fads; untouched for thirty years until I gave Kings a spin six months ago, and Dirk last week. I didn’t appreciate how good an album Dirk Wears White Sox is as a kid. Now it sounds darker and more sordid than I remember it. It was one hell of a leap from playing those songs to a bunch of sexcases in gimp masks one year to having coach loads of kids beating out your rhythms and writing to Jim’ll Fix It the next.
In recent years the only occasions his name has come up has been after his long-standing mental health problems have surfaced. A friend used to love telling me the one about his mate, the market stall, the gun, and a pub full of people singing “ridicule is nothing to be scared of” to tip an already antagonised Ant over the edge. But he is making something of a comeback, certainly as far as performing goes.
Without fanfare, his new band, The Good The Mad and The Lovely, hit the opening sustained chords of “Plastic Surgery”. Adam wanders on. It can only be him even though his head and face are hidden beneath a large admiral’s hat, some bandanas, what looks like false hair, a moustache, blue and brown war paint, and a big pair of black rimmed spectacles. The choice of song, dating back to 1977 and Jubilee, turns out to be a good indication of what follows. He may have rummaged in his dressing up box for a familiar yet now-too-small hussar jacket but it’s his pre-TOTP era he plunders the most, much to the delight of an audience of old and new punks, goths, people in rubber, flamboyant weirdos and fetish freaks. Oh, and at least three mods. It takes a few songs for his voice to warm up and understandably he's lost a little grace with his heavier movements. He carries the unmistakable vibe of someone whose switch is on the blink; it’s uncomfortable yet compelling. There’s a palpable sense that anything could happen; that he could snap at any time. I’m not convinced that should be served as entertainment but it added an extra layer of edginess and as time went on we both began to relax.
I’ve mixed feelings about the band (guitar, bass, two drummers) as they replaced the taut energy of the early songs (“Cartrouble”, “Cleopatra”, “Zerox”, “Physical”, “Kick”, “Never Trust A Man With Egg On His Face” etc) with a slight heavy-metal sludge, yet it helped beef up the songs I didn’t recognise but having since listened to the originals versions I must say they improved them. The disappointing lack of glamour in his choice of dull session men was abated by the introduction of a two young ladies for “Deutscher Girls”. They came and went through the evening, each time reappearing with fewer clothes until down to their smalls. And guess what? He even sang “Lady” (best song of the night) and “Whip In My Valise”. Wonder what that school disco DJ is doing now, huh?
Of course he does the hits too, but we can excuse him for that. I still think “Kings of The Wild Frontier” is an amazing, unique sounding record and “Puss In Boots” nothing short of utter bollocks but it was a very well chosen set that stretched to an hour and three quarters with rarely a wasted moment.
A new album is allegedly forthcoming early next year. It is entitled - wait for it - Adam Ant Is The Blueblack Hussar In Marrying The Gunner’s Daughter. It’ll be the first new Adam Ant record I’ll have bought for thirty years.
Sunday, 20 November 2011
“Can you take me to Stax please?” Best sentence I’ve ever said to a cab driver. “Sorry sir, I’m not a taxi.” He was driving a something called a medical transportation vehicle. So, if you were in a Memphis hospital last month waiting for a new kidney, I apologise for the delay.
It did mean I got to say it again before we travelled the couple of miles from the tourist drinking dens of Beale Street to across the tracks to the noticeably non-tourist area of East McLemore Avenue. Funky part of town is the white boy euphemism for a poor black neighbourhood where it wouldn’t be advised to wander around alone. I hate saying things like this as it casts aspersions on the folk there, who – like anywhere – will consist of the friendly and not-so-friendly. The vast majority of Memphis people we met couldn’t have been nicer. However, had Mrs Monkey and I walked this particularly residential route we wouldn’t have looked more out of place had we been wearing Beefeater uniforms and whistling God Save The Queen. And quite frankly, if I were looking for an easy target, I’d pick on us. For a start, nobody in Memphis walks anywhere. It is eerie to walk streets so deserted. On the occasions you do see somebody they are immediately conspicuous. Later we’d walk a few blocks from Beale Street to the Lorraine Motel, the scene of Dr Martin Luther King’s assassination and now home to the National Civil Rights Museum (an extremely uncomfortable and moving experience) and the only person we saw was a toothless dude on a bike harassing us for money. I never fathomed how people got around as there were never many cars either. Maybe the locals have exclusive use of a series of underground tunnels. When the cabby dropped us off at Stax he said not to wander from the front of the building. He needn’t have wasted his breath, we weren’t going anywhere.
Back in 1959 Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton transformed a tired theatre on the corner of E. McLemore Avenue and College Street into the Satellite record shop, recording studio and label that would become Stax. The rest, you know. After Stax went bankrupt in 1975 the building went to ruin. Published in 1997 Rob Bowman’s Soulville USA, the definitive account of the label, ends on a sour note. The final page reading, “Tragically, in 1988 the Stax building was torn down. What should have been a national historic site remains in the late 1990s an empty field containing rubbish and junkie needles. It’s a disgrace, and speaks volumes regarding Memphis’s treatment of its African-American heritage.”
A disgrace indeed but Bowman can now have no complaints after a multi-million dollar investment as produced a tremendous turnaround. Stax – the name and the building - has been rebuilt on the same spot; the façade to the design of the original building, and houses the Museum of American Soul Music. Next door stands the Stax Music Academy, a non-profit organisation which uses “music education as a tool to enrich the lives of potentially at-risk children”. There's soul power, right there.
It’s difficult to fault the museum. Unlike other museum tours on our trip, this one was self-guided. It was huge; packed with over 2000 exhibits within a modern, well designed space. It starts with a short film about Stax beginnings, heyday and resurrection. Although not made too long ago it was noticeable how many artists have since passed away. The scale of the exhibition can be demonstrated by the first area which centres on an old wooden chapel that stood in the Mississippi Delta for over a hundred years. They didn’t just recreate Hoopers A.M.E. Chapel; they picked it up and dropped it here. With a gospel soundtrack playing and video archives around the outer walls, it firmly establishes the roots of soul in the church.
From there in, it’s a chronological story. It makes reference to non-Stax artists from James Brown and Aretha Franklin to the Motown stable and Memphis neighbours at Hi, but its focus is on its own acts, with the higher profile ones each afforded their own display of records, photos, instruments and personal items: Rufus Thomas’s funky boots, Mavis Staples’s dress, Otis Redding’s suede jacket, a suit belonging to Sam or Dave, but the most jaw dropping belongs to Isaac Hayes. Much is made of Stax being the perfect embodiment of racial harmony but after the death of Otis Redding, the assignation of King, and driven on by the new leadership of Al Bell, they became a potent symbol of Black Power. Nothing demonstrated power more than wealth and success and Hayes’s peacock blue 1972 Cadillac El Dorado pimp machine, trimmed with real gold and lined with white fur, with a television in the front and a bar in back, portrayed that in a most ostentatious manner. I’m not one for cars, but this was a sho’ nuff afro turner.
In keeping with the attention to detail spent on the exterior, Studio A has been rebuilt to the exact specifications of the original using previous blueprints, photos and surviving memories. I’d estimate the combined studios of Motown, Chess and Sun would fit within these four walls on this carpeted floor. Again true to the original it had been built on a slope (remember this started life as a theatre) with the raised control room where the stage had been. Set up ready to record another smash was the house band's equipment featuring Al Jackson’s drum kit, Steve Cropper’s guitar and amp, Duck Dunn’s bass combo, Wayne Jackson's trumpet, and the Hammond organ Booker T. used on – amongst other things - “Green Onions”.
There was also the “Hall of Records” which displayed hundreds of album sleeves (loads I’d never seen before) and walls filled with, possibly complete sets, of the blue “falling records” single releases and the yellow “fingersnap” ones. When all said and done, it’s the music that matters. It’s great to see where it was created, to see the stage outfits, to read the stories, to pay tribute, but you can’t put the sound, the feeling, the spirit, the emotion, the soul that comes out of those 7 inch pieces of vinyl into a museum. The subject matter alone makes the Stax Museum of American Soul Music the best museum I’ve been to; it’s as good as it gets, but nothing beats the music itself.
Next stop: Sun Records.
Monday, 14 November 2011
Those of an artistic persuasion and within reach of the Bethnal Green/South Hackney border may be interested in this forthcoming Risograph print exhibition, featuring 25 posters by collectors, artists, photographers and designers.
Here’s our good friend and curator, Kavel Rafferty, with some words of enticement.
“I love the obsession inherent in collecting. The completist, whether finding that all-important last football sticker to finish their sticker book or one of those committed men (more often than not) standing on a rainy platform furtively scribbling down train numbers. The amateur hobbyist, complete with vast selection of frogs/bottle tops/records/paper fruit wrappers/tram tickets/ whatever; I always admired those kids at school who had a million different shaped and coloured erasers (they were called rubbers then, before Aids)... I loved their dedication and their neatness and I got dizzy just trying to imagine how much pocket money they got... It's all valid!
There something religious about this devotion. It´s repetitive, inspiring and, well, ultimately pointless. Long live the anoraks!”
In keeping with the theme, records will be played by “connoisseur record collectors” including yours truly playing a MonkeyPicks melting pot from 1-2pm plus Niamh Lynch, Alan Handscombe, Will Bourton and others such as Jeff Barrett of Heavenly Records, or as I like to think of him, The Man Who Signed Manic Street Preachers and Released The Greatest Record Of All Time Motown Junk.
Come join us for a Saturday afternoon drink.
Collectionistas takes place at The Mill Co. Project, Lime Wharf, Vyner Street, London, E2 from noon until 7pm. Nearest tube Bethnal Green. Admission free.
Wednesday, 9 November 2011
Sunday, 6 November 2011
Of all the places in the world I wanted to go, one stood out head and shoulders above the rest. Detroit. If you believe what some people say, Detroit is best avoided. It certainly has earned a reputation and it’s not now for its motor industry or Berry Gordy’s assembly line of hit records. But a pilgrimage to one clapperboard house that stands at 2468 Grand West Boulevard has been top of my wants list for as long as I can remember.
The train journey from Chicago to Detroit took longer than the scheduled five and a half hours as it crawled through the likes of New Buffalo and the wonderfully named Kalamazoo, which sits bang in the middle of the two cities. Most places looked small, suburban, with lots of little detached houses proudly waving Old Glory from a flag pole on the front lawn. That’s until you reach the outskirts of Detroit. The difference is as immediate as it is shocking. Fortunately I’ve never been in the remains of a war zone but that’s how these deserted streets with empty, vandalised, burnt out buildings appeared.
People are leaving the city in their droves. Twenty-five percent of the population have left over the last decade and almost a million since Gordy began his Motown Empire in 1959. According to The Economist, “Those who are left are likely to be the poorest, least-skilled and so least mobile. Only 11% of Detroiters aged between 25 and 34 has a college degree; in Seattle, the equivalent figure is 63%. Around 50% of the city’s adult black males are unemployed, and 38% of all Detroiters live below the poverty line.” The problems that create are obvious. Our waitress later in the day would, with a detectable hint of pride, claim Detroit was the second most dangerous city in America and not to go anywhere on foot.
If I was prepared for that bleak scenario I wasn’t prepared for Detroit train station. I was thinking it’d be a busy station yet it’s a tiny two platform affair. It could’ve been any stop tucked away at either end of the Central Line. I also thought there would be plenty of taxis not only one, hell bent on scooping up as many passengers as he could. Could he take me and Mrs Monkey to Motown? “Moo-tun?” he says. No, Mo-town. “Mar-tan?” No, Motown Records. The Motown Museum. Hitsville USA. Dancing In The Street. “You have address?” Incredibly, a cabby in Detroit had never heard of it. Even when supplied with the address he looked totally bemused but that didn’t stop him scooping up an Austrian couple and squashing them in with us. They wanted a completely different destination and direction and despite Mr. Cabby’s promise to drive there afterwards they looked terrified by the prospect. It wasn’t like they had much choice.
A few minutes later – out of the blue - we were there. Motown’s headquarters and home to Studio A, the building Gordy named Hitsville USA. It looked wonderfully familiar, the same as in every picture, frozen in time: white structure, blue signage, and small strips of green lawn out front where the Miracles, the Temptations, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, the Vandellas, the Marvelettes and all the other magnificent lesser known artists would take a breather from recording the Sound of Young America and hang out amongst friends. The building is pretty and picturesque but because of how it looks in photographs I’ve always imagined it on a quiet residential street, maybe it once was, but it’s in fact on a busy unattractive main road and now untypical of its neighbours.
In through the door marked Studio A, past the small gift shop on the left, and down a short narrow corridor leading to the tour kiosk. We missed the start and after getting the lift up one floor the door opened into the main museum area where a dozen people were listening to an excited guide. I’ll call him Eivets Rednow. He explained how Berry Gordy needed a family loan of $800 to start his label and how Marv Johnson’s “Come To Me” was the first release on Tamla, the first of his many labels under the Motown umbrella. We heard how Gordy swiftly worked his way onto his first national hit, courtesy of Barrett Strong. Eivets Rednow breaks into song. “The best things in life are free, you can give them to the birds and bees…” He starts clapping his hands, and saying he can’t hear us. “I want money, that’s, what I want.” This set the tone for the tour: all singing and clapping and audience participation. I could feel myself and Mrs Monkey mentally moonwalking back to the lift.
We worked our way, as a group, around the room filled with records, photographs, tour posters and other promotional material displayed in glass cases whilst Eivets gave a thumbnail account of the Motown Story. With such a wealth of talent, for all the hits and misses, it was interesting to see which artists were afforded more space in the exhibits and the tour narration. The Supremes, for all their stature, scored lower than I predicted; the Four Tops were lucky to have their photo in a shared collage; whilst Marvin Gaye would’ve felt vindicated to get top billing with three complete cabinets to himself and Eivets bursting into Pop Idol versions of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” and “Sexual Healing”.
When Berry Gordy bought the premises he had a clear idea how he envisaged his operation to work: he would live upstairs, have his offices downstairs, and would convert the garage into a recording studio. All of which we see. His living area was kitted out with a mix of his own items and period pieces but it’s when the tour moves downstairs that we are spookily transported back to the early 60s. The reception area and desk where Martha Reeves worked as a secretary is there; a leather sofa where artists would wait is positioned just inside the front door reserved for the elite few; Gordy’s office has a memo pinned to the noticeboard from 1965 warning employees that card games are forbidden until after 6pm; a room filled with master tapes overlooks a candy machine stocked with Stevie Wonder’s favourite bar - fifth button from the right - so he always knew where it was; and there’s the control room complete with the original three-track mixing desk. Visitors were forbidden from taking photographs so I can't show you the evidence.
Standing in the doorway of Studio A – the Snakepit as the Funk Brothers named it – and walking down the few steps into it was a once in a lifetime hairs-on-the-back-the-neck moment. Even Eivets shut up as we silently sucked in the moment. It felt like entering a church. It smelt old and musty and damp. It felt cramped squeezed in amongst the instruments and equipment but here it was. Here was the Motown Sound. Here was “This Old Heart of Mine”. Here was open for 24 hours a day between 1959-1972, recording the greatest collection of music ever to come from one studio. Earlier we’d seen the echo chamber where handclaps and backing vocals were recorded (echo chamber is a grand description of a hole and microphone in the ceiling to create a reverb effect) and presently we’d see the room where the horns where recorded, but this was it. Soul Mecca. There were no flat concrete walls; it was all warm timber angles, soaked with sweat and soul. Amazing.
Now, what would have taken this to another level would’ve been to have some big Motown hits pumped through the studio PA. To hear the snap of Benny Benjamin's snare, the rumble of James Jamerson's bass, to hear Levi soar, or Smokey sing. But no. Eivets lined up the girls and made them curtsey and throw some Supremes shapes. I couldn’t look at Mrs Monkey as felt her obvious discomfort and waited instead for the tables to turn. Us boys had to sing “My Girl” and do The Temptation Walk. In the privacy of my flat I happily dance around like David Ruffin – I could’ve been Motown’s great white hope - but this was embarrassing as I performed a half arsed left to right to left shuffle and mumbled something about the month of May. A couple of my fellow Tempts didn’t share my English reserve.
We can now claim to have sung and danced in Studio A. Berry Gordy might not have signed us but what he gave was more than enough. A dream come true.
Next stop: Stax.
Wednesday, 2 November 2011
I’ve not done charity fundraising before. You'll never find me running a marathon or climbing three mountains before teatime but I reckon I can grow a dashing moustache during the month of November. Sorry, Movember.
So please support my David Crosby growing efforts and the 10,000 men who will die of prostate cancer and the more than 2,000 men who will be diagnosed with testicular cancer this year.
This all I’m gonna say. You didn’t come on here for the sound of me rattling my tin. If you wanna know more and/or feel like chucking in a few quid, the full details are at http://mobro.co/markraison.
Thank you. Here’s Morrissey...