Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sam And Dave

One of the biggest live acts of the '60s, Sam and Dave are mostly identified with the Memphis rhythm and blues scene and Stax/Volt Records with whom they made their biggest hits. The duo consisted of  tenor Samuel David Moore and baritone David Prater. Moore (real surname Hicks) was from Winchester,Georgia and Prater was from Ocilla,Georgia. They performed together from 1961 to 1981.

Their biggest hit-making years were 1965 to 1968 with 10 consecutive top 10 singles and three consecutive top 10 albums. Hits included I Thank You, You Don't Know like I Know, Hold On I'm Coming and their signature tune,Soul Man. During that period no soul act had more consistent success outside of Aretha Franklin.

Sam And Dave had great crossover appealand "Soul Man" was one of the first top 10 songs to mention the word "soul"  helping to pave the way for wider acceptance by white audiences. Another huge hit was their only ballad single, When Something Is Wrong With My Baby. Their earlier songs were collaborations with Stax session guitarist Steve Cropper, then later the young writing duo Isaac Hayes and David Porter were hired and proceeded to write nearly all of their big hits.

The duo broke up in 1970, both to pursue solo careers. Neither was a success, and they reunited the following year. They split for good in 1981.

Sam And Dave are members of The Rock And Roll and Grammy Halls Of Fame, as well as multiple Grammy Award winners. The song , Hold On I'm Coming was used in Barack Obama's presidenial campaign until Sam Moore requested that they stop.  Eleven months later Moore performed the song at one of Obama's inaugural parties with Sting and Elvis Costello.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Beat Club

In terms of pop music television series, Beat Club deserves to be included in All Things Rockin' despite its relative obscurity compared to other 60s-era shows of the type. Broadcast from Bremen,Germany on Erstes Deutsches Fernsehen, the national public tv channel of ARD (Germany's version of The BBC), it ran from September of 1965 to December of 1972. It holds the distinction of being the first German tv show to feature pop music, and can be described as a mash-up of Top Of The Pops and The Old Grey Whistle Test. It had the cheesy, flashy production values of TOTP combined with the eclectic, charts-ignoring diversity of acts found on OGWT. Here's a promo trailer for the show.

The show was co-created by Gerhard Augustin and Mike Leckebusch. Augustin and Uschi Nerke were the initial hosts and after eight episodes Augustin stepped down and was replaced by British disc jockey Dave Lee Travis. Earlier episodes featured live performances with a plain brick wall as a backdrop. In 1967 a more professional look was adopted with large cards appearing in the background displaying the names of the performers. Also around this time a troupe of female dancers billed as "The Go-Go Girls" (no sense overthinking things, right?) who would dance to recordings on those occasions that the act was unable to appear in person.

In early 1969, Travis was replaced by Dave Dee of the band Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich. On New Year's Eve of that year the show went to from black and white to colour broadcasts and again featured exclusively live performances. In 1970 Dee left the show leaving Nerke as the sole host.
Tuning in to the show one could catch  the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Alice Cooper, Stevie Wonder, Rory Gallagher and pretty much anyone you could think of performing live for your pleasure. While not ground -breaking, as other shows in Europe and The United States got to it before them, Beat Club definitely delivered in terms of content.

The former television series is now a weekly radio programme on Radio Bremen 1 and on a web channel offered by the station. It is still hosted by Uschi Nerke. When the tv show's run ended it was replaced by another pop music series called Musikladen.
To follow for your consideration are several reasons Beat Club was such an important part of All Things Rockin'.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Zombies

This particular article is dedicated to my grandson Jai,who is a big fan of books, movies, television shows and any other media that relates to...zombies. Now my young "Walking Dead" fanatic can know that there was a rock band long, long ago who called themselves The Zombies.
Formed in 1961 in St. Albans, Hertfordshire, England, they were schoolmates Rod Argent on keyboards, lead vocalist Colin Blunstone, guitarist Paul Atkinson, bassist Chris White and drummer Hugh Grundy. As a result of winning a battle-of-the-bands type contest sponsored by The London Daily News, they were signed to Decca Records and recorded their first single, a minor keyed jazz-tinged song, that along with an electric piano solo and Blunstone's breathy vocals, sounded like no British rock song ever heard up to this point. It would prove to be their only U.K. top 40 hit, peaking at #12, and due to radio exposure started by New York station WINS disc jockey Stan Burns, climbed to #2 on the Billboard charts by December of 1964. The song was titled "She's Not There".

Things could have turned out quite differently for the group if they had their way. It turned out that the band wanted to release another song as their first single rather than "She's Not There". Indicative of The Zombies' deep jazz influences, they wanted to release their version of George Gershwin's "Summertime". It was only at the insistence of producer Ken Jones that "She's Not There" became their recorded debut. This goes to show that an extra pair of ears can come in handy, and in this case, saved the life of this band. "Summertime", while of course one of the greatest songs ever written, this performance unlike say, the bombastic version done by RnB singer Billy Stewart, had none of the qualities of a hit pop song. You be the judge.

The band's second single, "Leave Me Be", was a nice enough tune but had little impact on the charts. The band's label, Decca Records, known to be rather tight-fisted even with their bigger acts, rushed The Zombies through the recording of their third single, "Tell Her No" with the intention of letting them go shortly after its release. Though the single was only a minor hit in the U.K., the all-important American market drove the song into the Top 10. Decca was forced to not only keep the boys on, but to send them on a tour of the United States A.S.A.P.
Decca had a large roster of British Beat acts to package the Zombies with, and as a result the band got to experience huge halls and stadiums, screaming audiences, radio promotions and all that British Invasion-y type hysteria all due to the surprise success of "Tell Her No".

In 1967, the band signed to Columbia Records where they recorded the album Odessey And Oracle (the misspelling of the word "odyssey" was a mistake made by the album cover designers). By the time it was released the band had actually broken up. The album sold poorly in the U.K. and it was due to the advocacy of respected American musician Al Kooper, himself a Columbia artist who recognized the album's merits and convinced the company to release it in the U.S. One track, the Rod Argent composition "Time Of The Season" was released and became a nationwide hit, peaking at #3 on Billboard's Top 100. Columbia wanted the band to re-unite for a tour, but the band declined as by this time Chris White was into a career as a free-lance song writer, Colin Blunstone was working as a solo artist and Rod Argent had commitments with his own band Argent.
Blunstone and Argent ( the man, not the band ) re-formed The Zombies at various times after 1997 and still tour sporadically under that name.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The O'Jays

Hailing from Canton,Ohio and formed in 1958, The O'Jays were originally a quintet consisting of Eddie Levert, Walter Williams, William Powell, Bobby Massey and Bill Isles. The five high school friends at first called themselves The Triumphs and later The Mascots. Their recording debut was a minor regional hit entitled "Miracles" in 1961. They took on the name The O'Jays as a tribute to popular Cleveland disc jockey Eddie O'Jay in 1963 and released their first chart song, "Lonely Drifter" which peaked at #93 on the Billboard Top 100. The group continued to chart with minor hits throughout the 60s with songs such as "I'll Be Sweeter Tomorrow", "One Night Affair" and "Look Over Your Shoulder"

In spite of ( or due to ) their middling success as a touring act and on the RnB charts, the group considered leaving the music business. In 1972 Bobby Massey and Bill Isles did just that, leaving the O'Jays as a trio. The remaining members' perserverence was rewarded when Kenny Gamble  and Leon Huff signed them to Philadelphia International Records from which they released their first million-seller "Back Stabbers" from an album of the same name.

This same album also produced a huge crossover hit that went to #1 . This was much-covered RnB staple "Love Train".

During the remainder of the 70s, The O'Jays were consistently scoring high on the charts with songs like "I Love Music", "Darlin' Darlin' Baby" and "For The Love Of Money" which featured one of pop music's most memorable bass lines. Tragedy struck, however when original member William Powell died of cancer in 1977 at the age of 35.

A former member of Little Anthony And The Imperials, Sammy Strain joined the group and the O'Jays continued to record, but with considerably less success. They did however, do well in the U.K. market with nine hit singles all told. While they continued placing songs in the charts through the 80s into the 90s, 1978's "She Used To Be My Girl" would be the group's last Top 5 hit.

Sammy Strain left the group in 1992 to return to The Imperials. In his place came Nathaniel Best, who was later replaced by Eric Grant. The group did little in the way of recording since, although they remained a popular live act.
The O'Jays were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2005. Original members Levert, Williams, Bobby Massey and William Powell were inducted along with Sammy Strain, who became one of The Hall's few double-inductees, having been inducted with The Imperials in 2009. Curiously, original member Bill Isles was not inducted. The group were recipients of BET's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.