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.