Tuesday, 29 August 2017
Listening to the first episode of Robert Webb's memoir How Not to Be a Boy, serialised this week on Radio 4, I was surprised to hear a reference to No Place Like Home. Of all the sitcoms in all the world this was the one which inspired him to become a performer - or at least set the seal on his decision.
Not that he offers an unqualified tribute to the writing ability of Jon Watkins. Watching an episode of the show in the afterglow of his own comic triumph in a school play, the young Webb is far from uncritical:
Monday, 21 August 2017
Have just heard, and strongly recommend, a fascinating interview with Tommy Hunt, one of the two last surviving members of the Flamingos from their glory days, on Spencer Leigh's ever-dependable On the Beat programme on BBC Radio Merseyside. It was broadcast yesterday and will be available on BBC iplayer for another 29 days; it's radio rather than television so I believe US readers can also access it; the iplayer page is here.
As ever, Spencer's wide-ranging musical knowledge helps him draw the best out of his subject, a man who is an important part of several strands of music history - and, remarkably, still performing at the age of 84. He will be appearing at London's 100 Club in October.
He was born, we learnt, in a carnival tent in Pittsburgh - his father was a jazz drummer - but he is now living in Pontefract in Yorkshire, of all places, having fallen in love with a woman at a theatre in Wakefield. The marriage has not survived but he is still there - a perfect location for a Northern Soul legend.
Thursday, 10 August 2017
One significant name was left out of the recent series of posts about the Flamingos' early work: Bill Putman, who ran Universal Recording. The technical quality of the Flamingos' Chance and Parrot sides reflects the fact that both companies used Putnam's studio at 111 East Ontario Street, situated off Michigan Avenue. He would have engineered their tracks, although presumably label bosses Art Sheridan and Al Benson would have been the respective producers. Johnny Keyes' memoir Du-Wop places Putnam in the studio when the Magnificents were recording Up On the Mountain early in 1956:
Sunday, 6 August 2017
The Flamingos had a larger backing band than usual for two numbers in their final session for Al Benson's Parrot Records. The website devoted to the Parrot and Blue Lake labels notes:
They had been recently performing with Paul Bascomb's group at Martin's Corner on the West Side, but Al Benson preferred to use a studio band led by Al Smith on the date. A four-horn front line (Sonny Cohn, trumpet; Booby Floyd, trombone; Eddie Chamblee, tenor saxophone; and Mac Easton, baritone sax) lent a big-band atmosphere to the two uptempo numbers: "I Found a New Baby," which was held back from release, and "Get with It."
Thursday, 3 August 2017
Some time ago in this very blog I dared to suggest that Robert Pruter's assessment of the remaining song from their first Parrot session was mistaken. Mr Pruter had claimed that the arrangement on the country song I Really Don't Want to Know "drags and sounds confused" - but now I'm inclined to think he may be right.
"Swoonsome" is the term which springs to mind for the opening of If I Could Love You, though not in the teen idol sense. Right from the start the combination of guitar (Lefty Bates) and sax make this little number too darned sensual ever to cross over: if there wasn't an "exotic dancer" present in the studio, those boys must have had awfully good imaginations.
On My Merry Way was also recorded at the Flamingos' first session for Parrot. Robert Pruter describes it as "a routine jump written by the ubiquitous Chicago nightclub entertainer Walter Spriggs." There is certainly no crossover potential here: it is as far removed, in subject matter and feel, from Dream of a Lifetime as you could get. After a token attempt at reasoned argument -
I want you by my side- the song lurches into another area entirely. Imagine Pat Boone trying to wrap his tonsils around lines such as these:
Hey-ey, can't we compromise?
Wednesday, 2 August 2017
There was no dramatic change to the Flamingos' sound when they switched their allegiance from Chance to nearby Parrot Records. Nate Nelson had not yet joined the group; that awkward jobshare which would ultimately force McElroy out was some months in the future.
Saturday, 29 July 2017
Listen to My Plea was one of the last sides the Flamingos recorded for Chance. An earlier attempt at the song during their Christmas Eve session in 1953 must have been deemed unsatisfactory as they remade it the following year. The website devoted to the label states:
Thursday, 27 July 2017
It's hard to single out a version which might have served as a particular inspiration for the group. The Ravens' 1948 attempt might seem a likely suspect, given that Robert Pruter has accused them of imitating the Ravens on another occasion, but Sollie McElroy brings more passion to the lyrics than Maithe Marshall's rather dreamy caressing of them, beautiful as that is.
Wednesday, 19 July 2017
The Flamingos' penultimate session for Chance took place on Christmas Eve 1953 and consisted of four sides: Blues in a Letter, September Song, Jump Children (aka Vooit Vooit) and Listen to My Plea.
The first, "a stone solid blues", is primarily a vehicle for Johnny Carter, as the rest of the group don't have much to do beyond the requisite early 50s R&B vocal group moaning; unlike the similar Plan For Love there is no attempt by Sollie McElroy - or, indeed, Carter himself - to embellish the song with falsetto.
Sunday, 16 July 2017
Hurry Home Baby is the only song from the Flamingos' first session yet to be discussed in this series, although Robert Pruter's succinct dismissal has already been quoted:
... an imitation Ravens number that made nobody forget about the Ravens.
Guitarist Lefty Bates can be heard to good effect on You Ain't Ready, another side from the same August 1953 session as Plan For Love. He may not get a solo, but after the whole band have set up the song he can be heard momentarily on his own before Sollie McElroy's vocal, and later his playing under Red Holloway's exuberant saxophone solo gives it even more bounce and interest; small wonder, according to his own testimony, that everyone wanted him on their sessions.
Saturday, 15 July 2017
Plan For Love is an interesting performance in the context of the Flamingos' other work at this time, although it's not hard to see why this bluesy number wasn't a success when released.
Recorded around August 1953 it is, unusually, a Johnny Carter lead. It's also distinctive because two falsettos are heard during much of the song. Sollie McElroy's is the main one, I believe, with Carter joining him as other duties permit. It's an interesting and unusual effect, although the combination of the two voices is less pleasing, to my ears, than Carter's solo decoration on so many other sides.
Friday, 14 July 2017
Tuesday, 11 July 2017
If I Can't Have You was recorded by the Flamingos in 1953 and reworked three years later, during their stint at Chess Records. The arrangements on the two versions provide compelling evidence of that musical sea change mentioned earlier:
Wednesday, 5 July 2017
Saturday, 1 July 2017
Following on from the previous post about the Flamingos' Golden Teardrops, here are two accounts of the process of recording a doo wop group in the 50s.
One comes from Du-Wop, the 1987 memoir by Johnny Keyes of the Magnificents briefly mentioned in that post, the other from an interview given by Red Holloway - who backed the Magnificents as well as the Flamingos - to the UK-based Blues Unlimited magazine in 1975. It is included in a recent collection of interviews published by University of Illinois Press - see details at the end.
Monday, 26 June 2017
Golden Teardrops, the undoubted masterpiece of the Flamingos' Chicago recording years, was recorded during their second session for Chance Records, in August 1953.
That's My Desire, from their January date, was "racking up strong regional sales" but King Kolax and his Orchestra were not chosen to back the group again. Instead, Red Holloway and his band turn in a self-effacing performance with some instruments more felt than heard, and no solos; the saxophone is a distant sympathetic murmur. Lead singer Sollie McElroy would later describe the record as "almost acapella," which may be overstating it, but the band is definitely subordinate.
Wednesday, 17 May 2017
The Kinks classic Waterloo Sunset is fifty years old this year - ample excuse to repost a piece about the song. I don't know what other celebrations may be planned by the Beeb or others, but today it was the first subject of the new series of Radio 4's Soul Music (above). This programme blends personal associations with musical analysis and, as ever, made for a compelling half hour. On first listen, I had the feeling that one story featured perhaps a little too prominently, but on reflection the balance was right - and that particular tale had something important to say about the power of the song.
Sunday, 19 February 2017
Have just finished The Life of Sam, a 2010 stage play by Robert L. Douglas. An easy and enjoyable read, it was written, we're told in the playwright's introduction, "as an effort to address the dearth of modern day media about the life of Sam Cooke and to elevate his name to its rightful place among America's greatest entertainers."
Friday, 27 January 2017
For readers in London, I have just seen a preview performance of Michael McLean's new play Years of Sunlight at Theatre 503 and can recommend it highly. Previews continue until Saturday night and the play starts on Tuesday. You can book at the theatre's website here.
I first became aware of McLean's work with The Ducks, a two-hander which was, for me, a highlight of the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe. That mantra invoked in the previous post, "Complexity not complication", also applies to that piece, which explores the strange relationship which develops between two young men on community service.
Sunday, 22 January 2017
I rarely review films on this blog, but I'd like to say a few words about writer/director Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester By the Sea. I've admired Lonergan's work for a long time, and have had occasion to analyse his stage plays Lobby Hero and This Is Our Youth. He exemplifies the mantra of writing guru Tim Fountain: "complexity, not complication." Which is to say that rather than adding extraneous plot material, the focus in Lonergan's work is on the gradual revealing of character.
Sunday, 1 January 2017
I'm delighted to report that Talking Pictures TV, available on Freeview and elsewhere, will be showing What a Crazy World (1963) on Saturday January 7th at 8.05pm and Sunday January 8th at 8.00pm. Its website is here. And for anyone new to this blog, here's an introduction to the film.