Friday, August 30, 2013



A hard-rockin' band from Scotland that boasts a lead singer that sounds like an unholy combination of AC/DC's Bon Scott and Brian Johnson smashed together, Nazareth were heavy rock trailblazers  that occupy a well deserved place in All Things Rockin'.  Formed in 1968 in Dunfermline, Scotland, they were the remaining members of a local semi-pro group called The Shadettes. It's my guess that the band broke up due to the sheer embarassment of having a name that sounded like a 60s-era girl group.
Fortunately, vocalist Dan McCafferty, guitarist Manny Charlton, bassist Pete Agnew and drummer Darrell Sweet chose the much more appropriate name of Nazareth for themselves from the opening line of the classic song by The Band, entitled "The Weight". By 1970 the band had relocated to London, England where they released their eponymous debut album in 1971 and a second album, Exercise in 1972. Neither LP moved any significant numbers, but after securing an opening spot on a tour by metal giants Deep Purple, they were introduced to Purple bassist and producer Roger Glover, who wound up producing the band's third album, 1973's  Razamanaz. In another example of the third time being the charm, this collection contained two top ten UK hits,   "Broken Down Angel" and "Bad, Bad Boy"   

The band's relationship with Glover as a producer continued for two more albums, 1973's Loud 'N Proud and Rampant, released in 1974. These slightly less successful LPs followed the same formula started on Razamanaz, guitar-driven, bare-bones heavy rock led by McCafferty's beyond-raspy growl of a voice and fine guitar work by the underrated Charlton. They also exhibited a fearless attitude toward cover songs, unafraid to apply their heavy hands to material seemingly out of their comfort zone and getting memorable results. This was evidenced most markedly on the Loud 'N Proud album where they thoroughly manhandled Joni Mitchell's classic "This Flight Tonight", which became one of the band's signature tunes.

The band's stature grew steadily, gaining them numerous supporting slots on major tours and significant critical praise.They were still however, at this point a really, really good second-tier act. This state of affairs changed with the release of  Hair Of The Dog. This album marked the end of Roger Glover's collaboration with the band, the production chores handled this time by their own Manny Charlton. This collection contained  quite a few gems, but the song that raised the band to headliner status was yet another unlikely cover tune, The Everly Brothers' melodic ballad which was also covered by Roy Orbison, "Love Hurts"

"Love Hurts", released in 1975, was a precursor to the power ballads that became so popular by the hair metal bands of the 80s. Slowly paced, and punctuated with a tasteful Charlton guitar solo, McCafferty sings this song with every bit of power and grit he deploys for the band's hard-edged rockers. It definitely worked, for the song became the band's only U.S. top ten hit, going platinum. It was also top ten in the U.K. and eight other countries, hitting number one in six of them and spending a record-breaking 60 weeks on the Norwegian charts. The title track to Hair Of The Dog is a classic rock radio staple to this day and has been covered by several hard rock acts, most notably Guns And Roses.

On two occasions there were efforts by other bands to recruit vocalist Dan McCafferty from Nazareth into their ranks. One was by Ritchie Blackmore seeking a replacement for Deep Purple to replace the departed Ian Gillan. The second was by the band AC/DC to replace the late Bon Scott. Both of these attempts were met by violent threats by the band to lay off of their singer.

In 1979,the band added fellow Scotsman Zal Cleminson, formerly of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band as a second guitarist. He remained with the band for two albums, No Mean City and Malice In Wonderland , released in 1979 and 1980 respectively. The latter album contained the single "Holiday", which while not a huge seller, still became another classic rock radio favorite. Cleminson's subsequent departure was the start of a series of personnel changes which included keyboardists. In 1991 guitarist Manny Charlton left to pursue a solo career.

In 1999, drummer Darrell Sweet died of a heart attack while on tour at the age of 51. he was replaced by bassist Pete Agnew's son Lee.
The album The Newz was released in February of 2008 on the Hamburg, Germany based Edel Entertainment label to coincide with the band's 40th anniversary tour. A follow-up LP, Big Dogz was released in April of 2011.
McCafferty announced his retirement from the band due to ill health on August 28, 2013. This left Pete Agnew as the sole remaining founding member of the band.
Loud 'N Proud is the best way to describe this Scottish band's contribution to All Things Rockin'

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Let us for a moment consider... disco music. Does it deserve to be included in All Things Rockin'? It is certainly a much-maligned genre of popular music, and understandably so. The sins of disco are many: repetitive...overly formulaic...promoting decadence, trendiness, status worship and materialism...good for dancing and not much else...the wanton destruction of classic RnB songs like Eddie Floyd's "Knock On Wood" and Robert Knight's "Everlasting Love" perpetrated by Amii Stewart and Carl Carlton drum beat for the most part...I could go on but like damn near everything in this world there is another side to the story. Disco served as an expression of empowerment for gay people at a time the gay community really needed it. The genre brought lush orchestration to prominence in pop music. It was just plain fun for the most part. Finally, the genre was elevated by the participation of truly brilliant artists such as Barry White, The Spinners, Teddy Pendergrass, Donna Summer, and our subject for today, Chic.
Chic was put together in 1977 by guitarist Nile Rodgers and bassist Bernard Edwards, two session musicians who met in 1970. After recruiting former Labelle drummer Tony Thompson, they set out as a trio keeping themselves busy performing cover songs at various gigs. Calling themselves The Big Apple Band, they first dabbled in jazz/rock fusion. later on turning their attentions to new wave music, they re-named themselves Allah And The Knife Wielding Punks (a name they should have kept due to its extreme coolness). Eventually realizing their need for a vocalist to become a fully functional unit, they drew up an agreement with one Norma Jean Wright which permitted her to have a solo career while working with the band. At this point they made yet another stylistic change to dance music, shifting to original material and re-christening themselves Chic.

With the help of a young recording engineer named Bob Clearmountain, who was at the beginning of an illustrious career as a producer, the band recorded what would be their first hits, "Everybody Dance" and "Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)". Chic shopped these demo recordings around with little success until Buddah Records agreed to release "Dance, Dance, Dance" as a 12 inch in late 1977. It gained popularity due to club play and word-of-mouth resulting in a contract with Atlantic Records and the band's self-titled debut album. When Rodgers and Edwards decided to add a second female vocalist Norma Jean Wright suggested her friend, Luci Martin, joining their ranks in 1978.

"Dance, Dance, Dance", which was their first single recording, got Chic to the Top 10 on the band's first shot, peaking at  #6 on both the pop and RnB charts. The follow-up, "Everybody Dance" sold more modestly though still going to  a quite respectable  #38 on the pop charts and  #12 RnB. The band's first trip to the top of the charts came courtesy of their sophomore LP release C'est Chic. This album contained the single "Le Freak" which hit  #1 on the pop, RnB and club charts. "Le Freak" was a high-energy affair that oozed funk with a mid-song vamp that not only forced the listener to move, but also was sophisticated enough to force the listener to listen. It clearly illustrated why Chic stood out among the many disco acts of the time. Although Rodgers and Edwards would become quite prolific producers, the music was not blatantly producer-driven as most disco music tended to be. Chic was a band  and they approached their music as such. And, much like their contemporaries K.C. And The Sunshine Band, and unlike most other disco artists they realized that funk and soul is quite conducive to dancing and therefore kept those very qualities at the core of their music.
This served them well as another single from the album, "I Want Your Love" brought them back to the Top 10 at  #7 pop and  #5 RnB. This, plus the fact that "Le Freak sold six million copies in the U.S. alone, making it the highest selling single in the history of Warner Brothers (Atlantic's parent company) until Madonna's "Vogue" in 1990. Chic's status as superstars was solidified as one of the few platinum-level acts in the genre of disco.

A year later in 1979 their next album Risqué was released, which featured  a single that would be one of the most influential songs of the era. This song, titled "Good Times" became the basis for The Sugarhill Gang's seminal breakthrough rap single "Rapper's Delight". It's direct influence could also be heard on the rock group Queen's "Another One Bites The Dust" and new wave group Blondie's "Rapture", Daft Punk's "Around The World" and Captain Sensible's "Wot?". As for Chic themselves, the song gave them their second chart-topper, hitting  #1 on both the pop and RnB charts.

The band's music, composed by Edwards and Rodgers, would find its way via sampling to many more subsequent hip-hop releases. As a result of their success, Edwards and Rodgers were tapped to write, produce, and arrange work by other major RnB and pop artists such as Sister Sledge's We Are Family, Diana Ross' album Diana which included the hits "Upside Down" and "I'm Coming Out" Carly Simon's "Why" from her album Soup For One, and Debbie Harry's solo LP Koo Koo. Chic also gave a break to a young session vocalist on their earlier albums. This fledgling singer's name was Luther Vandross. Separately, Nile Rodgers produced David Bowie's Let's Dance, Mick Jagger's  She's The Boss and Madonna's Like A Virgin among others. Bernard Edwards joined Robert Palmer's one-off supergroup Power Station with drummer Tony Thompson as well as producing Palmer's commercial breakthrough LP Riptide.

With the disco era coming to an end, Chic disbanded in the 1980s although Edwards and Rodgers kept busy writing, producing  and performing with other high-profile artists. Tragedy struck in April 18th of 1996 when Bernard Edwards died of pneumonia at the too-young age of 43. The band had recently re-formed with new female vocalists Silver Logan Sharpe and Jenn Thomas.
Chic was struck a second time with a band member's death when drummer Tony Thompson succumbed to kidney cancer on November 12, 2003. He was 48.
As performers, writers, producers and an influence on artists that crossed genres, Chic left a large footprint on an industry and indeed, on the world. Just a disco group? Hardly.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Annie Lennox

For your consideration, a blonde British female vocalist with a soulful singing style who is a musical innovator, composer and social activist. Only two women come to my mind when I hear that description. One is the legendary Dusty Springfield. The other  can only be the remarkable Annie Lennox.
The British part is, I must admit, not wholly accurate in that Ms. Lennox was born in  Aberdeen, Scotland on Christmas Day, 1954. It was in the U.K. that she began her musical training and professional life. In 1971 at the age of 17 she won a place at The Royal Academy Of Music In London, where she studied flute and classical music history. In 1976 Lennox spent a short time as the flautist for a local band called The Devil's Playground. She then got her first hint of fame when she began to collaborate with guitarist David Stewart in a moderately successful band called The Tourists between the years of 1977 and 1980. She was the lead vocalist for that band which was best known for, quite appropriately, a nicely rendered cover of Dusty Springfield's classic hit, "I Only Want To Be With You".

Lennox's profile was raised quite a bit higher with her second collaboration with Stewart as the 80s-era synth-pop duo The Eurythmics. Early on in the duo's career, a defining element of Lennox's stage persona was her androgyny, wearing men's suits and close-cropped hair. Another more enduring aspect was the emergence of her smoky, soulful alto voice. Their first album, 1981's In The Garden sold modestly. It was Their second LP, Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) that launched them into superstardom, going on to selling over 75 million albums with over 20 international hit singles, such as the aforementioned album's title track followed by others such as "Love Is A Stranger", "Here Comes The Rain Again", "Would I Lie To You" and
"Missionary Man". They ended up being one of the definitive acts in the 80s new wave movement.

Though The Eurythmics never officialy disbanded, Lennox made a clear break with Stewart in 1990, beginning a long and successful career as a solo artist. Lennox and Stewart did pair up again in the late 90s to record the album Peace with all new material. A subsequent concert tour was completed with profits going to Greenpeace and Amnesty International.
In 1990 Lennox released her debut solo album Diva, which entered the U.K. charts at #1 and sold close to six million copies worldwide with nearly half of those in the United States. It contained three top 10 singles, "Why", "Little Bird" and "Walking On Broken Glass"

A truly gifted performer, Annie Lennox brings to the table a big, arresting stage presence and a uniquely soulful approach to her own material and that of others. In 1992 she performed with David Bowie at The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in London's Wembley Stadium. Her bravura performance of "Under Pressure" with Bowie and the surviving members of Queen convinced me that she would have been a great choice to succeed the late great Mercury in that band. The idea of her taking on songs like "Bohemian Rapshody", "Somebody To Love" or even "Tie Your Mother Down"...well, one can dream...

Lennox followed Diva with two more solo albums, Medusa and Bare, both again received critical acclaim and sales in the millions. Medusa also debuted at #1 and contained the Grammy Award-winning single, "No More I Love Yous". Her fourth solo outing, 2007's much-anticipated Songs Of Mass Destruction featured a track called "SING" where she is joined by 23 of the industry's biggest female superstars who were invited to appear on the record to help bring attention to the HIV-AIDS pandemic, particularly in South Africa where women and children are most affected. Approaching it's fourth anniversary, the SING campaign continues to raise money to help stop the spread of the disease.

Annie Lennox's work with the SING campaign is only a part of her humanitarian work. Having achieved the status of worldwide superstar, it indeed seems that half the time she spends onstage is dedicated in some way to a worthy cause. In addition to her HIV-AIDS activism, she has been a supporter of Amnesty International and Greenpeace for many years. She led a rally against the Gaza War in London January 3, 2009. She is an ambassador for Oxfam, The British Red Cross and Nelson Mandela's 46664 campaign as well as numerous other organizations. Suffice it to say, the lady has become known for putting her time, influence and yes, her money where her mouth is.

As you can imagine, such wide-ranging philantropy does not go unnoticed or unacknowledged. Annie Lennox was awarded an Office of The Order Of The British Empire by Queen Elizabeth for her charitable works on June 28, 2011. Other recognition includes The Red Cross Humanitarian Award in 2008, The Nobel Lauterates' Woman Of Peace Awards in 2009, The Johnny Walker Charity Award in 2010, and too many more to list.
Music career-wise, she's received 8 Brit Awards (the most of any female artist), 4 Grammy Awards, an Academy Award, an American Music Award, a Golden Globe and a Billboard Century Award. All told, she is one of, if not the most decorated musical artists ever. Not to mention, the girl can sing.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Nick Lowe

Nicholas Drain "Nick" Lowe, a pivotal figure in new wave, punk rock and U.K. pub rock was born March 24, 1949 in Walton-On-Thames, Surrey, England. He is a singer-songwriter who plays guitar, bass guitar, keyboards and harmonica. Beginning his musical career in 1967, he joined a band called Kippington Lodge with his friend from school, Brinsley Schwarz. The band recorded a handful of singles on the Parlaphone label before renaming the band Brinsley Schwarz in 1969. It was while in this band that Lowe wrote some of his best-known songs, including "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace Love And Understanding" which was a hit by Elvis Costello in 1979 and "Cruel To Be Kind", a solo hit for Lowe himself, also in 1979.

Lowe left Brinsley Schwarz in 1975 and by 1976 he had begun playing in Rockpile with Dave Edmunds in addition to recording as a solo performer. He was also an in-house producer for Stiff Records. As a producer he was nicknamed "The Basher" due to his rough and raw production style. In addition to producing Elvis Costello's first five albums, he produced early works by The Pretenders, The Damned, Dr. Feelgood, Graham Parker and others. His first single, released in August of 1976 was "So It Goes". It was also the first single released on the Stiff Records label.

Despite the impact Lowe has had on punk rock, he was never really a punk rocker. Musically, his roots were in pub rock, a back-to-basics movement popularized in England as a three-chord good-time type of sound that found a niche in the late 70s and early 80s. Lowe's own music was a blend of hard rock and power pop, infused with hooks, melodic songcraft and a wicked sense of humour, As new wave began to fade in the late 80s, Lowe turned his attention to roots rock and eventually became a full-fledged country rocker in the 90s.

Having earned a reputation as an eccentric but excellent songwriter by 1975, Lowe wanted to leave the label he was signed to at the time United Artists Records, but the label did not want to let him go. Lowe proceeded to record a string of deliberately unmarketable singles in an effort to get United Artists to drop him. The first of these was "Bay City Rollers We Love You", a satiric homage to the teen pop sensations. It unexpectedly became a hit in Japan. Finally, after releasing "Let's Go To The Disco" credited to The Disco Brothers, United Artists dropped him from the label.

"(I Love The Sound Of) Breaking Glass" was Lowe's first top 10 hit and was featured on his first solo LP, Jesus Of Cool (changed to Pure Pop For Now People on the U.S. release) in 1978. His second album, Labor Of Lust, was supported by Rockpile and contained his only major U.S. hit, "Cruel To Be Kind" which sounds quite a bit like something you would hear from The Grass Roots and incidently, one of my favorite Lowe songs along with a song from the only album officially by the group Rockpile, Labour Of Lust, a number titled "Teacher, Teacher".

During much of the 1980s, Lowe struggled with alcoholism. It was with the help of his long-time friends Elvis Costello and Stiff Records executive Jake Rivera that he recovered and remained sober ever since. After this he decided to stop looking for crossover pop hits and concentrated on country rock and roots rock. His last U.K. hit was 1984's "Half A Boy And Half A Man", and his final hit in the U.S. was 1985's "I Knew The Bride (When She Used To Rock And Roll)".

Lowe described his move from regular pop music as having "escaped the tyranny of the snare drum". On his recent album releases such as At My Age, The Convincer and The Impossible Bird, he has clearly and artfully recast himself as an earnest, world-traveling balladeer, respectfully digging deep into American roots music. To this day he renders vintage country, soul and RnB with a heartfelt, graceful dignity that he wears well at this stage of his long and influential career.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Four Seasons

Their first wave of success can be traced back as far as 1956. That and the fact that to date, they have sold over 100 million records (let's just pause while we try to envision one million of, envision that a hundred times...ok, enough, my head is beginning to hurt...) says that these guys are the most long-lived and successful male vocal group ever. They are The Four Seasons. Make no mistake people, they came, they saw, and they kicked ass.
The group was formed by Francis Castelluccio, or as we now know him, Frankie Valli, as The Variatones with brothers Nick and Tommy DeVito on guitars and Hank Majewski on bass guitar in 1954. Several name changes later, they became The Four Lovers in 1956. In 1958 the group started working with producer Bob Crewe doing mainly session work. In addition to this they worked the club circuit and pretty much any gigs they could find. They found themselves at a show in Baltimore supporting The Royal Teens who had a major hit at the time called "Short Shorts". The song was co-written by the Royal Teens' guitarist, the then 15-year old Bob Gaudio. A year later, Gaudio would join The Four Lovers replacing Nick DeVito.  

Around the same time bassist Majewski left to be replaced by Charles Calello, who hung around until 1960 when he left to be replaced by Nick Massi. The first turning point for the group came later that year when they failed an audition to work at a New Jersey bowling alley. To quote Bob Gaudio, "we figured we'll come out of this with something, so we took the name of the bowling alley. It was called The Four Seasons".
Under Crewe's direction the group recorded a Gaudio composition called "Sherry" and solicited different labels for its release. The song made an impression with the people at Vee-Jay Records, who signed the group and released their first album in 1962 with "Sherry " as the single. It turned out to be not only their first hit, but also their first #1 release.

The group by this time had comfortably settled into their unique style and sound. The major identifying factor of this sound was the one-of -a-kind voice of Frankie Valli. Valli posessed a tenor voice with a distinctive falsetto that was described as stratospheric by some, shrill by others. At any rate, his voice along with the group's doo-wop influenced harmonies and the well-crafted pop songs written by Crewe and Gaudio were embraced by record buyers as evidenced by the string of hits that followed "Sherry", including the two follow-up singles "Big Girls Don't Cry" and Walk Like A Man", both also going to #1.
During the period of 1962 to early 1964 the group was rivaled only by The Beach Boys in terms of record sales in the U.S. What set them apart was the fact that with their first three singles on the Vee-Jay label, they became the first rock group to have three consecutive #1 hits on the Billboard charts. Despite the Four Season's commercial success however, Vee-Jay underwent financial problems that caused royalty disputes with The Four Seasons that ended up with both parties in court in 1964. A settlement was reached in 1965, but after several big-selling albums and little money from Vee-Jay, the group left to sign with the Phillips label, distributed by Mercury Records. When Vee-Jay finally went bankrupt in 1966, the Four Seasons' Vee-Jay catalog reverted to the group and was reissued by Phillips. This made any Four Seasons record with a Vee-Jay label valuable collector's items.

Even while going through legal battles and a change of label, The Four Seasons kept making hits without missing a beat, their popularity undiminished. Nor did the onslaught of the British Invasion affect their star power. They were in fact the only rock group to have a #1 Hot 100 hit before, during and after The Beatles had their Top 100 #1 hits. In the March 21,1964 edition of the Billboard Top 100, it took no less than three Beatles songs on the charts at the same time to keep The Four Seasons' hit "Dawn (Go Away)" from the #1 spot.

The group consistently churned out many more top 20 singles all the way up until 1969 when their popularity faded due to rock fans' interests shifting to harder edged rock, deeper RnB, and socially conscious lyrics. The group struggled through leaving the Phillips label, a one-off single with Warner Brothers Records and a frustrating period with Motown Records with one tanking single after another. The group started to bill themselves as Frankie Valli And The Four Seasons, but even this did not improve their status, though Valli had begun recording as a solo artist in addition to working with the group. Finally, two things happened that broke the Four Seasons' losing with Warner Brothers...and the Disco Era.

"Who Loves You", a huge dance-floor hit, went to #3 on the U.S. charts and was a top 10 song in the U.K. At the same time in 1975, Valli had a #1 song with "My Eyes Adored You", a ballad that was certified double platinum. The group by this time had added two more lead singers, Don Ciccone and Gerry Polci. This eased the vocal load on Frankie Valli, who was suffering from a gradual hearing loss (this was later corrected with surgery). Valli followed up with another big hit, capitalizing on the disco craze with the dance number "Swearin' To God" peaking at #6 on the Top 100. The group itself opened 1976 with another disco-ready song, "December 1963(Oh What A Night)", which became the Four Seasons' fifth #1 release. This song had Polci singing the verses with Valli singing the bridge part and background vocals. The song was co-written by Gaudio and his future wife at the time, Judy Parker.

After 1978 and Valli's #1 single "Grease" from the soundtrack of the movie of the same name, The Four Seasons' top 40 hits were now behind them. They did however, remain a popular touring act with Valli remaining the only constant among changing personnel.
The group was inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1990 and The Vocal Group Hall Of Fame In 1999.
In 2005 Jersey Boys, the four-time Tony Award winning play chronicling the group's carreer opened on Broadway and is still hugely popular with productions in the U.S., Europe and Asia. Not bad for a bunch of guys from Newark.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Chi-Lites

 This smooth-as silk vocal group is responsible for some truly top shelf harmonic soul in the realm of All Things Rockin'. Originally a quintet formed in Chicago, Illinois in 1959, they were Marshall Thompson, Creadel "Red" Jones, Robert Lester, Clarence Johnson and group leader singer/songwriter extraordinaire, Eugene Record. At first calling themselves  The Hi-Lites, after releasing a handful of singles on local labels they changed their name in 1964 to Marshall And The Chi-Lites in homage to their hometown. By the end of that year The name was shortened to simply The Chi-Lites. It was during this period that Record emerged as the principal vocalist and composer for the group.
After signing with Brunswick Records in 1968, the group scored their first major hit the following year with "Give It Away" hitting #10 on the U.S. RnB charts. Their next top 10 hit was 1971's "Are You My Woman". It was the next single release that gave the group their first crossover hit going to #26 on Billboard's pop charts and to #4 on the RnB charts. The song was "(For God's Sake) Give More Power To The People".

"(For God's Sake) Give More Power To The People" was a bottom-heavy up-tempo funk romp featuring alternating lead vocals in a fashion similar to Sly And The Family Stone's "Dance To The Music". It would turn out however, that love ballads would be the type of song that would keep the group at the top of the charts subsequently. Their first trip to the top o the charts would be with one such ballad , 1971's "Have You Seen Her", a heart-tugging song written by Eugene Record and songstress Barbara Acklin. It went to #1 on the RnB charts and proved to be one of The Chi-Lites' signature songs.       

The following year brought more success to the group when the follow-up to "Have You Seen Her", a Eugene Record composition titled "Oh Girl" became not only another crossover hit but a #1 release on both the pop and RnB charts.
This period would prove to be the peak of the group's success. A combination of personnel changes that left them at different times a quartet and a trio along with financial problems undergone by Brunswick Records resulted in a lack of promotion and inconsistent recorded output. Consequently Record left the group to sign with Warner Brothers Records as a solo artist. The group left Brunswick and signed with Mercury Records but produced no hits with the label.
In 1980 the group signed to the Chi-Sound label and released their first hit in decades with "Hot On A Thing Called Love" reaching #15 RnB in 1982. The following year they left Chi-Sound and signed with Larc Records. This was the label that carried the group's final hit, the top 10 "Bottom's Up".
Of the original group's line-up, three are no longer with us. Creadel "Red" Jones passed away August 25, 1994. Eugene Record died on July 22, 2005 after a long battle with cancer. Robert Lester, also a victim of cancer, died January 21, 2010.
The Chi-lites with surviving original member Marshall Thompson are still active on the oldies package circuit. The group was inducted into The Rhythm And Blues Foundation Hall Of Fame in 2000 and into The Vocal Group Hall Of Fame in 2005.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Association

One of the premier what would most accurately called soft rock bands (as opposed to hard rock, no slight intended) was formed when one of the earliest folk-rock bands broke up and almost half of the band's members simply formed another band. That band, called The Men, (I'd like to think that a good bit of thought went into choosing that name) at 13 members strong had enough guys to easily make two, three or even four seperate bands as it was. Anyway, six members of The Men formed a band under the leadership of guitarist/vocalist Jules Gary Alexander and woodwind and brass player/vocalist Terry Kirkman. The group was rounded out by Brian Cole on bass guitar,woodwinds and vocals, Ted Bluechel on drums,guitar and vocals, guitarist/vocalist Russ Giguere and Bob Page on guitar,banjo and vocals. Before the band ever performed publicly however, Page was replaced by keyboardist/guitarist/vocalst Jim Yester. The name "The Association" was adopted at the suggestion of Kirkman's then fiancee' Judy.

After about five months of rehearsal they started playing the clubs in the Los Angeles area, and while it maybe easy to slap the label of "soft rock" on them, The Association did have an unique sound and style, and as in too many cases this caused them a bit of a problem getting signed to a record label. After several failed auditions, they were finally picked up by Valiant Records and after their first single, a cover of Bob Dylan's "One Too Many Mornings" pretty much tanked, they hit pay dirt with the following single going to #7 on the Billboard charts, 1966's "Along Comes Mary. This led to the release of the band's first album, And Then...Along Comes The Association which contained their first #1 hit single "Cherish".

While The Association are generally considered in terms such as "clean cut", "AM soft pop" or even "schmaltzy" or "mawkish", these terms tend to overlook qualities that a more careful listen might reveal. The songwriting is sophisticated, well-crafted and melodically strong. Their vocal arrangements at times are literally choir-like, yet catchy, at times reminiscent of the Beach Boys and at others calling to mind The Moody Blues. Multi-instrumentalists all, they are a pretty accomplished bunch. Say what you will, they have not approached this business of selling records the easy way.
But sell 'em they did...and lots of ' their second #1 single "Windy".

Late in 1966 Warner Brothers bought Valiant Records, and with it The Association's contract. As they were at that point established hit-makers, the transition for them was a smooth one. By 1967 Jules Alexander left the band and was replaced by Larry Ramos on guitar and vocals. On June 16th of that same year, they gained the distinction of being literally the first band to play a rock festival by being the opening act at what is credited as the first rock festival, The Monterey Pop Festival. They then rounded out a quite eventful year by barely missing a third #1 hit when "Never My Love" peaked at #2 on the Billboard charts.

Jules Alexander returned to the group in 1969, resulting in a seven-man band. Their next project would be writing and recording the soundtrack for the movie Goodbye Columbus. While their chart-topping days were behind them, they remained a popular concert draw. Warner Brothers declined to renew their contract and the band signed to Columbia Records but still failed to impact the charts. Tragedy struck the band when on August 2, 1972 Brian Cole was found dead at his Los Angeles home overdosed on heroin. He was 29 years old.
These days after many personnel changes The Association still does frequent package tours with other re-formed acts of the 60s era, firmly positioned in the history of All Things (Soft) Rockin'. Oh, and my favorite song by The Association? (of course I have one!) That's gotta be "Everthing That Touches You".

Sunday, April 21, 2013


This group has a song titled "She's Strange"...well, one could be forgiven for thinking that she can't be any stranger than these guys. They are indeed a good way. Hard funk with a fashion sense that captures the eye and keeps it. Maybe not as outlandish as Parliament-Funkadelic, I mean, who is? But while they may not have a guitarist who wears a diaper, they do have a singer who wears a codpiece, and if it's good enough for Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson then it's good enough for Cameo's Larry Blackmon.
Blackmon, a vocalist and drummer is the man who got Cameo together in 1974 as a band thirteen members strong originally called The New York City Players. Aside from the fact that the name made them sound not so much like a funk band as a theatre troupe, there was also a very successful band called The Ohio Players and rather than invite any legal trouble the decision was made to change the name to Cameo. The band's obvious mission was to keep everyone on the dance floor and with their deeply organic funk sound they were well equipped to do so. Their early albums contained solid material such as "Rigor Mortis", "I Just Want To Be" and "Shake Your Pants".

Signed to the Casablanca Records imprint Chocolate City label in 1976, the band maintained moderate chart success into the mid-80s, when the band stripped down to a nucleus of Blackmon, Tomi Jenkins, Nathan Leftenant and Charles Singleton. The band also at this time relocated to Atlanta, Georgia from the huge New York City market, effectively making them bigger fish in a smaller pond. After their final Chocolate City album Alligator Woman featuring the single "Just Be Yourself", Blackmon started his own label Atlanta Artist Records. The new label's first album release, 1983's Style, was marked by a subtle shift to a more synthesizer-prominent sound which added to rather than overshadowing their original heavy duty funk style. This was evidenced on what became their first hit to cross over into the pop charts, "Talkin' Out The Side Of Your Neck", from the follow-up album, She's Strange

"Talkin' Out The Side Of Your Neck" is a stand-out tune, a medium-tempo funk stomper where the heavily sequenced drum machine and edgy synthesizer compliments a tight horn arrangement. While the horns unfortunately became more and more scarce as time went on in favor of the electronics, the good news is that the funk remained intact. It was  the 1985 album release Single Life that significantly raised the band's profile, with the title track going to #2 on the RnB charts.

The peak of the band's success and their first trip to the top of the charts was brought to the band courtesy of their next album, 1986's Word Up. The first single release from this album was the title track, which went to #1 on the RnB charts and #6 on the pop charts. The next single from the LP, "Candy" also was a  #1 RnB chart hit, going to #21 on the pop charts. This chart impact coupled with heavy rotation of the accompanying videos on MTV officially bestowed upon them superstar status. Both hits were extremely well crafted Blackmon-Jenkins compositions.

Two years would go by before the band's follow-up LP, Machismo was released. While not a big seller ( although it did go gold), the album drew highly positive critical reviews. This was also the case with their final Atlanta Artists album Real Men...Wear Black and their one release on the Reprise label, Emotional Violence. Two more independent label releases, In The Face Of Funk and Sweet Sexy Thing marked the end of their recorded output. The band also released six live albums on various labels from the late 1990s through the early 2000s.
The band's music has been sampled extensively by hip-hop artists in the U.S. and abroad, as well as appearing on video games such as Grand Theft Auto:San Andreas. "Word Up" and "Candy" appear on the soundtracks of the feature films The 40 Year Old Virgin and The Best Man. "Word Up" was also used in an episode of The Simpsons. Blackmon, Jenkins and Singleton are still active in the industry.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Manfred Mann

Two friends with a shared love of jazz formed a band in 1962 called The Mann-Hugg Blues Band, named after themselves, South African-born keyboardist Manfred Mann and drummer/vibraphonist Mike Hugg. The band was completed with Mike Vickers on guitar and alto saxophone, bassist Dave Richmond and Paul Jones on lead vocals and harmonica. Before long they changed their name to Manfred Mann And The Manfreds and after making their way through London's club scene  became known for their distinctive jazz-influenced style. by 1963 the group signed on with the His Master's Voice record label and the label's producer, John Burgess apparently convinced Mann that his name only needed to appear in the band's name once, insisting that the name be shortened to simply Manfred Mann. The band's first single, the instrumental "Why Should We Not" failed to chart as did the vocal follow-up "Cock-A-Hoop".

In 1964 the band was asked to provide a theme song for the new ITV music program Ready, Steady, Go. What they came up with was "5-4-3-2-1" and with the help of weekly television exposure the song went to #5 on the U.K. singles chart. Shortly after the song's recording Richmond left the band to be replaced on bass guitar by Tom McGuinness, a friend of singer Jones. While Richmond would return to record with the group later, this would be the first of many personnel changes. The follow-up to "5-4-3-2-1", the self-penned"Hubble, Bubble (Toil And Trouble)" went nowhere, but the band scored big with the next single which went to #1 on the British, U.S. and Canadian charts. It was a cover of a song that earlier that year (1964) was a minor hit by The Exciters. The song was titled "Doo Wah Diddy".

With the success of "Doo Wah Diddy" the band's sound enevitably moved away from their jazz-influenced sound to more of a pop least on their singles. Their albums would continue to contain the experimental renditions of jazz standards they were known for earlier in their career. While the singles would be more towards a pop sound, on their LPs one would find the likes of Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man".

Manfred Mann would continue with a string of hit singles that for the most part were cover tunes transformed by the band's distinctive style,  such as The Shirelles' "Sha-La-La", and Bob Dylan compositions "Just Like A Woman", "Semi-Detached Suburban Mr. James" and "If Yo Gotta Go, Go Now", all top ten U.K. hits. This run hit a peak with the band's second #1 release, and certainly one of The British Invasion's greatest songs, "Pretty Flamingo".

While the band did a pretty good job at juggling the pop requirements of their singles output while satisfying their more progressive inclinations on the albums, they were unable to keep up with the orchestral and instrumental ambitions of Mike Vickers and the urge for a solo and acting career tugging at Paul Jones. Consquently, Jones served notice of his departure once a replacement was found which ended up with his sticking around for another year. Vickers, on the other hand gave no such notice, leaving within a few months. McGuinness moved over to guitar, which was his original instrument. He always acknowledged that on bass he always felt he was merely a guitarist doing someone else's job. The band then recruited Jack Bruce, fresh out of The Graham Bond Organization on bass guitar. Bruce's tenure was a brief one, playing on "Pretty Flamingo" and the band's all-instrumental EP Instrumental Asylum before leaving to join the supergroup Cream. He was replaced by bassist, artist and close associate of The Beatles, Klaus Voorman.
r /> Paul Jones was finally replaced in July of 1966 by Mike D'Abo, vocalist and composer of the popular song, "Handbags And Gladrags". The band then signed to Fontana Records and were produced by Shel Talmy who had produced The Who and The Kinks. While a perfectly fine singer, (his version of "Handbags And Gladrags" stands as one of the best) the fact that D'Abo lacked the depth and emotive power of his predecessor led the band to compensate by turning their singles output to a lighter pop direction as evidenced on songs like "My Name Is Jack" and "Ha Ha Said The Clown". Their chart power, at least in the U.K. remained undiminished with their string of D'Abo-sung singles consistently hitting the top 10. The most successful of these was yet another Bob Dylan cover, going #1 in the U.K., #3 in Canada and #10 in the U.S.
with "The Mighty Quinn".

At the time that their final hit, 1969's "Ragamuffin Man" was in the top 10, Manfred Mann disbanded. Mann and Hugg wrote advertising jingles for a time, then continued to work together in a group format with Manfred Mann's Chapter Three, an experimental jazz vehicle described by Mann as a reaction to the band's days as a hit-making machine. Mann later in the 70s formed Manfred Mann's Earth Band, a progressive rock unit that produced some of the finest music of the decade as well as classic rock staples such as "Joybringer" and their Bruce Springsteen cover of "Blinded By The Light". In the 1990s most of the line-up of the 60s group minus Mann himself toured as The Manfreds with both Paul Jones and Mike D'Abo singing, sometimes together. When remembering the British Invasion, one should never forget Manfred

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Jimmy Castor

Let us consider for a moment...funk. For our purposes let's narrow the focus to funk of the 1970s vintage. Ah, what probably comes to mind are bands such as The Ohio Players and Kool And The Gang. We can hardly forget Earth,Wind And Fire. And of course George Clinton, he's the guv'nor, yes? How about Jimmy Castor? You can be forgiven for not thinking of him right away because the man simply has not been given his due as a funk legend. So allow me, in my humble way to do so.
James Walter Castor, born June 23, 1940 started out as a doo-wop singer in New York. A doo-wop singer who at sixteen years of age wrote a million seller for Frankie Lymon And The Teenagers titled "I Promise To Remember". He then, about a year later replaced Lymon as lead singer of that group until 1960 when he made the professional switch to saxophone. He played on Dave "Baby Cortez' hit "Rinky Dink" and had a solo million seller with his composition "Hey Leroy, Your Mama's Callin' You" on Smash Records.

"Hey Leroy" was a straight-forward affair, a Latin jazz-influenced instrumental jam session punctuated by a bit of humorous commentary. It was the simplicity and driving beat that made this the popular dance number and top seller that served as Castor's introduction the music buying public. The comedic element would be a recurring aspect of his subsequent releases and would sometimes overshadow the fine musicianship that was at the foundation of his work.

In 1972 Castor formed The Jimmy Castor Bunch, signed with RCA Records and released the album It's Just Begun. This would turn out to be the peak of Castor's recording success with the album's title track going to #27 on the Billboard pop charts and #11 on the RnB charts. The other single from that LP, "Troglodyte (Cave Man)" soared quite a bit higher, peaking at #6 on the pop charts and #4 RnB. "Troglodyte" featured a humorous narrative by Castor over a straight-ahead funk instrumental backing. While he would repeat this formula with appreciable success, he would never achieve the same chart impact.

Castor's band included Gerry Thomas on keyboards and trumpet, bassist Doug Gibson, guitarist Harry Jensen, Lenny Fridle Jr. on congas and percussion, drummer Bobby Manigault and guitarist LeBurn Maddox. Thomas was simultaneously performing with Castor's band and The Fatback Band until the 80s when he left to play with the Fatback Band exclusively. Maddox later went on to establish a solo career as a highly respected
and prolific guitarist in his own right.

From 1976 to 1988 Jimmy Castor recorded as a solo performer. He continued to turn out a repectable string of hits after signing with Atlantic Records in 1974 including "The Bertha Butt Boogie", (a sequel to "Troglodyte"), "E-Man Boogie", "King Kong", and my personal favorite, "Potential". One of his bigger hits was released in 1988, a rendition of the Barbara Acklin classic "Love Makes The Woman" which was a duet with disco diva Joyce Sims.

"What we're gonna do right here is go back...", the spoken line that introduces his hit song "Trogldyte" has been sampled numerous times on hip-hop recordings by various artists and in movies as has been much of Castor's other music. Castor also had his own record label, Long Distance Records but only had one album titled simply C released on it. For a time near the end of his carreer he had also worked as a motivational speaker with various such engagements in the U.S. and abroad.
Jimmy Castor passed away in a Las Vegas hospital due to apparent heart failure on the 16th of January, 2012. He was 71. He is a Funk Legend.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Tribute Bands

It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or something to that effect. This is no less true when it comes to All Things Rockin' which brings us to the tribute band. These are not to be confused with the cover band which specializes in performing the music of well-known acts, usually a variety of them in a particular genre and looking like themselves. Tribute bands choose one well-known act and make every effort to look and sound as close to the actual band as possible. This would often involve enlisting musicians who closely resemble the members of the original band physically or at least able to easily alter their looks with wigs, make up, clothing, etc. to achieve as close a likeness as possible. This of course is more difficult to pull off with a band that has a well-defined look such as Van Halen or Led Zeppelin (The exception to this is Kiss whose well-defined look is actually achieved with make up and clothing) Other original bands such as Steely Dan are a bit easier since the look is not so well-defined. Some tribute bands opt to simply re-create a main band member, such as Mick Jagger or Angus Young, with the rest of the band looking like whatever. Female tribute bands are not held to as high a standard for visual likeness because let's be honest, do we really want to see a female version of AC/DC's Brian Johnson? At the risk of sounding unpardonably sexist, I'll have to say At any rate, when done well tribute bands are quite entertaining and there is definitely a place for them in All Things Rockin' because these bands are not only great musicians, they are also obviously the ultimate rock fans, and without fans there is no rock. To follow are performances from some of the best tribute bands.

The Glimmer Twins (The Rolling Stones)
Their Mick and Keith are spot on and they have the added advantage of the spectacular
Valori Steele handling with ease all female vocal parts. I'd love to hear them play "Sway".

Live The Who (The Who)
While their Daltrey and Townshend fail on looks but score highly on sound, their Moon and Entwistle are virtual clones in terms of appearance and playing.

Stolen Dan (Steely Dan)
No effort to replicate appearance, and none needed. They simply put together a band that nicely gets the music across. Larry Carlton would probably approve of the guitar solo

ZOSO (Led Zeppelin)
Pretty close appearance-wise. The drummer almost flawlessly replicates Bonham's look, sound and style and the guitarist has definitely done his homework.

Yessongs Italy (Yes)
Not really looking like Yes outside of the clothing, but when dealing with Yes getting the music right is an accomplishment in and of itself, and these guys do just that quite nicely.

The Iron Maidens (Iron Maiden)
These ladies look nothing like the original band (thank goodness!) but they pull off the songs convincingly. Kudos in particular to the drummer and guitarists.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Long John Baldry

At a height of six feet,seven inches and the first name of John, the nickname and stage name of "Long" John Baldry was inevitable. He is best known as the voice of Dr. Robotnik on the cartoon series The Adventures Of Sonic The Hedgehog. What is not so widely known and should be, is his huge influence on and mentoring of quite a few artists who later became superstars, not to mention his own huge talent. He never really sought the spotlight, but it would often find him as he made his way through the early British blues scene.
John William Baldry was born January 12,1941 in East Haddon, Northamptonshire, England and was one of the first British vocalists to sing the blues in clubs. He appeared many times at the Station Hotel in Richmond, one of the Rolling Stones' earliest venues. In the early 1960s he sang with Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated and at stages his bandmates were Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts, Jack Bruce, Keith Richards and Brian Jones. On the 1966 Rolling Stones live album Got Live If You Want It, Baldry was the announcer introducing them. He was invited by friend Paul  McCartney to perform on The Beatles 1964 TV special, Around The Beatles, where he perfomed "I Got My Mojo Workin" as The Beatles sang along in the audience.

Gifted with a rich, deep, gravely baritone that brings to mind that of Tom Waits, Baldry joined Cyril Davies RnB All Stars in 1963 which included Nicky Hopkins on piano. After Davies' death in 1964, Baldry took over and the band became Long John Baldry And His Hoochie Coochie Men which featured a young Rod Stewart as a second vocalist. After seeing a street performance of Stewart singing a Muddy Waters song at Twickenham Station, Baldry immediately recruited him.

The Hoochie Coochie Men became Steampacket in 1965 with Baldry and Stewart and included Julie Driscoll as Female vocalist and Brian Auger on Hammond organ. When Steampacket broke up in 1966, Baldry formed Bluesology which featured saxophonist Elton Dean, later of The Soft Machine, Caleb Quaye on guitar and pianist Reginald Dwight. It was around this time when Dwight took Dean's and Baldry's first names and adopted the name Elton John.

Baldry was openly gay in the 60s when homosexuality was still criminalized and medicated, and had a brief relationship with The Kinks' lead guitarist Ray Davies. It has been acknowledged that Baldry helped Elton John come to terms with his sexuality. In 1968 after the breakup of Bluesology, the pianist tried to commit suicide in the wake of relationship problems with a woman. Baldry found John and talked him out of it, urging him to accept his sexuality. Elton John's song "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" was written about the experience.
Prior to Bluesology's disbanding, Baldry recorded a pop song, "Let The Heartaches Begin" which went to #1 in The U.K. and barely made the Billboard top100. He followed with a U.K. ,top 20 hit "Mexico". This marked a shift in Baldry's musical direction towards pop music from his earlier concentration on the blues.

His other pop outings would include a cover of The Walker Brothers' hit "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore" and a duet with British RnB songstress Kathi McDonald on a rendition of The Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Loving Feeling". He soon after returned to his blues and RnB roots continuing to work often with McDonald. He collaborated with Elton John and Rod Stewart on his 1971 LP It Ain't Easy which contained his biggest U.S. song "Don't Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie On The King Of Rock And Roll". The following album, Everything Stops For Tea, was co-produced by himself and Rod Stewart. It Ain't Easy contained one of my personal favorites, a moving, almost spiritual rendition of The Faces' "Flying".

Baldry suffered from mental health problems and was institutionalised for two years. After his release he continued to record and tour steadily until his last show at Barristers Hall in Columbus, Ohio on July 19, 2004. He also had an extensive career as a voice actor.
After living in New York City and Los Angeles, Baldry settled in Vancouver, British Columbia where he became a Canadian citizen in 1978.
His 1997 album A Right To Sing The Blues received a Juno Award that year for Best Blues Album.
After a four-month battle with a severe lung infection, Long John Baldry died on July 21, 2005 at The Vancouver General Hospital at the age of 64. He was a giant in more ways than one, a huge part of British blues history.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The T.A.M.I. Show

It was a landmark event in the history of All Things Rockin'. Don't just take my word for it, ask The United States Library Of Congress who deemed it "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" and selected it for preservation in The National Film Registry. It was a movie in which a whole bunch of rockers got together to do what they do. It was The T.A.M.I. Show, and what a show it was.
The T.A.M.I. Show itself was a mind-numbing Woodstockian array of the biggest rock, pop and soul talent of the time, with a diversity unthought of in these modern days. Just look at the poster at the top of this post. The show was held on October 28th and 29th, 1964 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. And how much did it cost for admission to see 12 of the biggest record sellers on earth live? How about nothing! Zero dollars! Free! Yes, free tickets were distributed to local high school students.  Those were indeed the days.

The film was shot by director Steve Binder and his crew from The Steve Allen Show. It utilized a new (at the time) technique called Electronovision, a precursor to today's High Definition TV invented by technician Bill Sargent. It is considered a seminal event in the pioneering of music videos. The best footage from each of the two shows was edited into the film and released on December 29, 1964. Jan And Dean emceed the event and also performed. The music director was Jack Nitzsche.

James Brown was there...with The Famous Flames...and of course he blew everyone off the stage. This is merely a fact of life. It doesn't matter who you are, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, The Rolling Stones...if you share a bill with James you will be blown off the stage. No shame, it's just the way it is. Funny thing about the Stones is director Steve Binder persuaded the group to close the show, following Brown. Rolling Stone Keith Richards himself said it was a huge mistake, knowing that no matter how well they performed they could not top him.

The Supremes also appeared  and at the time they were the most successful female group in the world. Director Steve Binder would go on to work with Diana Ross on several of her TV specials. Numerous dancers appeared in the background and next to the acts. Among them were future stars Teri Garr and Toni Basil. The show was choreographed by David Winters who went on to do the same for the TV show Hullabaloo and the 1976 film version of A Star Is Born.
A lesser-known sequel to this film, The Big T.N.T. Show followed in 1966. Both were produced by executive producer Henry G. Saperstein.
The house band for the show was known as the Wrecking Crew and included the likes of  guitarists Glen Campbell and Tommy Tedesco, drummer Hal Blaine and pianist Leon Russell.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Barry White

Musician, composer, singer...conductor, producer, disco pioneer, cartoon character, master of the love song...if this were the game show Jeopardy the correct response would very likely be "Who is Barry White?" In his time on this earth he was all these things and much more.
"The Maestro", as he became known, was born Barry Eugene Carter in Galveston, Texas on September 4,1944. He learned to play piano at a young age...a very young age...young enough to have played piano on Jesse Belvin's 1956 hit single, "Goodnight My Love" at the age of 12!  He grew up, however in South Central, Los Angeles, a high-crime area. Consequently, he was exposed to and participated in gang and criminal activity. This led to his arrest at 17 for stealing $30,000 worth of Cadillac tires and being sentenced to four months in jail. He would later say that hearing Elvis Presley singing "It's Now Or Never" on the radio during his imprisonment was what changed the course of his life. After his release he left the gang life and began singing in local groups. 

It was with one of these groups, The Upfronts, that he made his recording debut singing bass background vocals on the moderate local hit "Too Far To Turn Around" in 1960. That bass voice would eventually end up front and center all over the world. In the meantime he would start out working for several independent labels while recording his own solo singles during the 60s. White was hired as an A&R (artists and repetoire) man by Bob Keane of Del-Fi Records (Keane was the man who discovered Ritchie Valens) and worked as producer, arranger and musician for label acts including The Bobby Fuller Four ("I Fought The Law') and Viola Wills. He discovered Felice Taylor and Bob And Earl and arranged their respective releases "I Feel Love Comin' On" and "Harlem Shuffle", both big hits in the U.K. He also (I kid you not) wrote "Doin' The Banana Split" for  the children's TV act The Banana Splits.

Now, when an artist reaches the stature of international superstar such as Barry White has, it stands to reason that a big break must have occured somewhere, and in this case it was in 1972 when White began producing Love Unlimited, a female vocal trio he discovered and had been grooming for two years up until their signing with Uni Records. White produced, arranged and mostly composed Love Unlimited's 1972 debut LP, From A Girl's Point Of View We Give To You...Love Unlimited, which became a million seller. The single from the album, a nicely rendered Barry White composition entitled "Walkin' In The Rain With The One I Love", went to #14 in the U.S. pop charts, #6 in the U.S. RnB charts and #12 in the U.K. The song features White's voice as the man who answers the phone call of the female lead voice.

White and Love Unlimited left Uni Records and signed with 20th Century Records from which they produced several other hits, including "I Belong To You" which spent over five months on the RnB charts (one week at #1), and "Under The Influence Of Love" which hit #3 on the U.S. pop charts. White married Love Unlimited's lead singer, Glodean James, on July 4, 1974.
With the intention of working with another act, this time a solo male vocalist, White recorded a handful of demo recordings with his voice hoping to find a singer for them. Record company executive Larry Nunes heard the tracks and insisted that White re-record them for himself. White was hesitant, but after weeks of urging, he finally finished his own debut album, I've Got So Much To Give. This album contained his first hit "I'm Gonna Love Just A Little Bit More, Baby" which went to #1 on the RnB charts and to #3 on the pop charts. The poor man was dragged kicking and screaming into stardom as the song spent several weeks in the Top 40.

Through the 70s, Barry White pretty much lived in the Top 10. He produced seven #1 albums and six #1 singles on the RnB charts. "Never, Never Gonna Give You Up", "Can't Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe", "It's Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next To Me" are but a few of his many classic soul hits. The word "classic" in this case is quite appropriate in that these songs and quite a bit more have become RnB radio staples. The name "Barry White" has in fact become the gold standard in the art of the love song. He also has built a strong following in the U.K., scoring five top 10 hits and a #1 for "You're The First, The Last, My Everything".

Another of White's accomplishments was the creation of  the 40-piece Love Unlimited Orchestra, originally formed as a backing ensemble for the group Love Unlimited, but in 1974 White released an all instrumental album featuring the orchestra titled Rapshody In White. The LP yielded the magnificent composition "Love's Theme" which went to #1 on the Billboard pop charts, one of only a handful of instrumental songs to do so. White made more albums with the orchestra but never achieving the level of success of the first. While ceasing to record in 1983, they still provide live support for White.

He left 20th Century Records in 1979 to start his own label, Unlimited Gold with CBS-Columbia Records. Disco's popularity was winding down  by then, and as a result White's subsequent album releases did not continue the success of before. He did however maintain a strong and loyal following internationally for his entire career. No singles managed to chart during this period except 1982's "Change" which went to #12 on the RnB charts. This along with the financial toll of running a label resulted in the label's shutdown in 1983.
He signed with A&M Records in 1987 and released The Right Night And Barry White, the single from which, "Sho' You Right" went to #17 RnB.
He gained more momentum with the 1989 LP The Man Is Back, which contained three top 40 singles.

His comeback began in earnest with his appearance on the 1990 Quincy Jones LP Back On The Block and his contribution, "Secret Garden" which went to #1 RnB. Each album he recorded after that was more successful than the last, returning to the #1 spot with the 1994 album The Icon Is Love with the single "Practice What You Preach". Both the album and single went to #1, the single being his first #1 in twenty years. The album was nominated for a Grammy Award. While he did not win that time, the title track from his final album Staying Power won him two in 1999 for Best RnB and Best Traditional RnB.

I mentioned that Barry White was also a cartoon character, and he certainly was on a couple of episodes of The Simpsons where he appeared  as an animated version of himself. He also guest starred on two episodes of Ally Mc Beal, again as himself, non animated. He also performed in a number of duets, most notably with Tina Turner on "In Your Wildest Dreams" and comedian Chris Rock on "Basketball Jones" from the soundtrack of the animated movie Space Jam. Also on his extensive resume' were numerous commercial voice-overs for Arby's Restaurants, Apple Computers, Oldsmobile and others.

Overweight for most of his life, Barry White suffered from various health problems in his later years, mostly stemming from high blood pressure and diabetes. This eventually caused him to retire from public life due to kidney failure in 2002. While undergoing dialysis while awaiting a kidney transplant, he suffered a stroke in May of 2003. On the morning of July 4, 2003, Barry White passed away due to total renal failure at The Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was cremated, his ashes scattered along the California coast by his family.
He was many things in his fifty-nine years, but for most of us he was a legendary craftsman of love songs.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

One Hit Wonders # 9 - The Rossington-Collins Band

This edition of One Hit Wonders comes to us from a band born of tragedy. On October 20, 1977, just five shows into what was their mot successful headlining tour to date, a private jet carrying the band Lynyrd Skynyrd and members of their road crew ran out of fuel near the end of their flight from Greenville, South Carolina. Despite the pilots' brave attempts to execute an emergency landing, the plane crashed killing band members Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines, their assistant road manager and both pilots in addition to seriously injuring the remaining passengers. Guitarists Allen Collins and Gary Rossington managed to recover from their almost career-ending injuries and rather than attempt to re-form Lynyrd Skynyrd at that time opted instead  in 1979 to form a new band, enlisting ex-38 Special backup vocalist Dale Krantz as lead vocalist, guitarist Barry Lee Harwood and ex- Lynyrd Synyrd bassist Leon Wilkerson. Another Skynyrd alumnus, Artimus Pyle, was set to fill the drummer position but broke his leg in a car crash. Pyle insisted that the band not wait for him to recuperate, so the spot was filled by band aquaintance Derek Hess. The band was christened The Rossington-Collins Band and recorded two albums before disbanding in 1982. Their One Hit, 1980's "Don't Misunderstand Me" appeared on their debut LP, Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere and opens with a quite un-Skynyrd-like riff that grooves nicely and drives hard. The verses are traded off between Harwood and Krantz, the latter displaying formidable pipes that bring to mind the likes of Maggie Bell and Genya Ravan. Add Gary Rossington's strong lead work, the guitars de-tuned from E to D, giving the riff added weight, and you have a fine example of southern rock leaning slightly to the commercial side. It peaked at #9 and went platinum.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Herman's Hermits

The first thing that needs to be said about this band is that despite their squeaky-clean, cuddly extremely pop image, These boys could play. A group of quite capable musicians, they cut their teeth playing RnB covers in clubs while all in their teens. Hailing from Manchester, England, they got together in 1963 with original members Keith Hopwood and Karl Green both on guitar and vocals, bassist Alan Wrigley, drummer Steve Titterington and 15-year-old lead vocalist Peter Noone. Later on guitarist Derek "Lek Leckenby and drummer Barry Whitwam, both formerly of a band called The Wailers (obviously not THE Wailers) replaced Wrigley and Titterington. Green switched to bass guitar and Leckenby took over as lead guitarist. Shortly after, the group secured a contract with producer Mickie Most signing with EMI's Columbia Records in Europe and MGM Records in the United States. Bassist Green noted a resemblance between Noone and the Sherman character in the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. As the story goes, they shortened "Sherman " to "Herman" and called themselves Herman And The Hermits, shortened later to simply "Herman's Hermits". As good a story as any, I suppose. The band played on most of it's singles, including their first, 1964's "I'm Into Something Good" 

Despite the group's collective youth, they were seasoned practicioners of their craft. Noone himself was also an experienced actor at 15 having been on the hugely popular British soap opera Coronation Street. Under Mickie Most's guidance however, the emphasis was placed on their cute looks and non-threatening presence resulting in an exremely easy-listening sort of pop, much of which were confectionized cover tunes such as Ray Davies' "Dandy", Sam Cooke's "Wonderful World", Goldie And The Gingerbreads' "Can't You Hear My Heartbeat" and The Ray's' "Silhouettes". The group (particularly Noone) was even urged to exaggerate their Mancunian accents to further emphasize their cuteness.

Despite the fact that they were competent musicians, producer Mickie Most used session players on all of the band's releases utilizing Jimmy Page, Big Jim Sullivan, John Paul Jones, Vic Flick and other such mercenaries with contributions from the Hermits, particularly Derek Leckenby. The use of session musicians was a common practice at the time as it is today. Even highly respected "serious" bands such as the Yardbirds with their amazing guitarists and The Rolling Stones with multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones made extensive use of outside players. The fact is, Herman's Hermits  did much more of their own playing than they have gotten credit for.The following video illustrates the band's competence as they sail through the number flawlessly missing nary a beat despite the constant throwing of debris onto the stage.

In 1965 and 1966 the group rivalled The Beatles in chart success in the United States, but were not nearly as big in their native England. The band's management admitted deliberately aiming the group at the American fan base, and it showed. In 1965 Herman's Hermits were the top-selling pop group in America. The group was nominated for two Grammy Awards that year for the single "Mrs. Brown You've Got A Lovely Daughter", a song the band recorded as an afterthought in two takes, never intending to release it at all, let alone as a single.
In addition to recording music on the MGM label, the band also appeared in several MGM feature films including 1965's When The Boys Meet The Girls, 1966's Hold On, and the anthology Pop Gear. After releasing three more albums in 1967 through 1968 including There's A Kind Of A Hush, Peter Noone left the band.

After Noone's departure the band carried on for a while as The Hermits with Peter Cowap as lead vocalist. They recorded a few singles  with minor success in the U.K., as well as an unreleased LP. Eventually Hopwood and Leckenby started a music company, Pluto Music which was still in business as of 2011 specializing in commercial and animation soundtracks. Hopwood has since become a composer of television and movie scores. Green became a sound systems manager for concert venues in London. Whitwam continues to tour as "Herman's Hermits Starring Barry Whitwam". Peter Noone returned to touring as well billed as Herman's Hermits Starring Peter Noone", and is still seen hosting public television pledge drives.
Derek Leckenby died of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 1994.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Delfonics

Throughout the history of All Things Rockin', and specifically in this case soul and/or RnB music, different styles of the genre were identified by the regions in the United States from which the particular artists came from or at least produced their best work. We had The Motown Sound, The Stax/Volt sound from Memphis, Chicago Soul and The Philadelphia or "Philly" Sound which gave us this pioneering vocal group, The Delfonics. Brothers William and Wilbert Hart, Randy Cain and Ritchie Daniels got together while attending Overbrook High School in Philadelphia, Pa. They called themselves The Four Gents in the beginning, then changed into The Orphonics before finally settling on The Delfonics. Their first recording was "He Don't Really Love You" on the local Moon Shot label in 1966, shortly after which Daniels was drafted into military service. In 1968 the remaining trio was introduced to Cameo-Parkway Records producer Stan Watson who in turn got them together with fellow producer Thom Bell resulting in the group's first album release on Watson's own Philly Groove label. The title track from this LP, "La La Means I Love You" was released as a single in 1968, sold over a million copies and was awarded a gold record.

This was the beginning of a string of successful Bell-produced releases. Working with a basic budget in those early days, there was not enough money to pay string sections and the like so in addition to a small group of musicians Bell played many of the instruments himself. Even then you could hear the beginnings of what would become the trademark fully orchestrated arrangements of the Philadelphia International sound carried on by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff in later years. Other hits followed, including 1969's Grammy-winning "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time).

Randy Cain left the group in 1971 to be replaced by Major Harris. By this time, Thom Bell had moved on to produce The Stylistics,who were cast in the same falsetto-lead -voiced mold as The Delfonics, and ex-Motown group The Spinners. With Bell's attentions focused elsewhere, Stan Watson assumed the producer's role for the group but was not able to match the Delfonics' past successes. After a few minor hits and one or two outright misses, the group split in 1975.

Saying that the group "split" is actually a gross simplification. More accurately, the group began a series of reshuffling that at times was downright confusing because the only constant was the name "The Delfonics". Wilbert and William Hart each had a trio of the same name. Randy Cain returns to Wilbert's group, then leaves to join William's group. There finally was basically two groups. The main recording line-up was William Hart, Major Harris and Frank Washington. Two separate trios would then tour with additional members as needed. One sure thing was, amid all this running about, Major Harris managed to record a major hit (pun intended) with a masterfully executed ballad titled "Love Won't Let Me Wait"

In addition to being proven hitmakers, The Delfonics had quite the impact on the industry at large. Their songs, written and co-writen mostly by lead singer William Hart, have been sampled extensively by artists such as The Wu-Tang Clan, Notorious B.I.G., Missy Elliott, Jazzy Jeff And The Fresh Prince and Boyz II Men. T heir music has found its way into movie soundtracks, most notably Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown. Aretha Franklin, Patti Labelle, Swing Out Sister, Prince and The Manhattan Transfer are only a partial list of those who have covered The Delfonics' songs.
Groups led by both William and Wilbert Hart still tour sporadically to this day.
Randy Cain passed away at his home in Maple Shade, New Jersey April 9, 2009
Major Harris died of congestive heart and lung failure on November 9, 2012
Cain was 63, Harris was 65.