2 Shades of Grey

Songs from the soundtrack of your life

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Songs that I liked when I was discovering music

03-mescooterI’ve mentioned before my early influences but I recently found a list I made ages ago of my early favourites when I was a young teenager. These are all tunes that meant something to me as I was growing up in an industrial town in East Lancashire and that I played all the time on local juke boxes or with friends.

Some were tunes I learned to play on the guitar, others just appealed to me. Looking back some of them remind me of times when things were changing after the post-war austerity. Some of the artists I’ve already posted about (just follow the links).

Duane Eddy

That amazing Gretsch guitar sound – apparently achieved by utilising an empty 2,000 gallon water tank with his amp at one end and a mic at the other. I met him when my band were a support band on one of his tour gigs back in the day and he was a really nice guy.

Recently my friend (and former vocalist with The Avalons) David and I decided to invest in a new Gretsch guitar each. I got a black one and he got an orange one (as he was a big Eddie Cochran fan).

  • 40 miles of bad road
  • Shazam

Everly Brothers

Saw them in Preston on their comeback tour. What voices and great backing band including guitar virtuoso Albert Lee. This track was so dramatic and the harmonies spine-tingling.

  • Cathy’s Clown

Buddy Holly

Never saw him but saw the Crickets, and Bobby Vee, in Burnley of all places. His 4-piece band was the template for so many others and I loved that sunburst fender Stratocaster. I had to get one (a 1957 Vintage Squier version made in Japan which cost me just over £200)

  • Raining in my heart
  • Well all right

Johnny Kidd & The Pirates

Never saw him but played these on the jukebox all the time.

  • Shaking all over
  • Growl
  • Please don’t touch

Ray Charles

On the same jukebox as Johnny Kidd & the Pirates.

  • What’d I say
  • Hit the road Jack

Eddie Cochran

Never saw him sadly but played this and “Hallelujah I love her so” in all my bands.

  • Summertime Blues

Johnny & The Hurricanes

A visiting guitarist showed me the riff for Sandstorm on my acoustic guitar when we were hanging out at a river crossing called Heasandford in Burnley, Lancashire. A river crossing anywhere else would sound so Bruce Springsteen!

  • Red River Rock
  • Sandstorm

The Shadows

Everyone’s favourite. I used to play their tunes on an acoustic guitar with a pickup. Hard work above the 12th fret. I liked their singing too.

  • Apache
  • Wonderful Land

Elvis Presley

Played all these at different times. “Rose” accompanying a girl singer for a church concert, arpeggiated all the way through. Others were standards in various bands I played with.

  • A rose grows wild in the country
  • A mess of blues
  • Heartbreak hotel

Roy Orbison

Going down the local ballroom and hearing these songs blasting out. Sounded out of this world. Del Shannon’s Runaway had similar impact on me.

  • Only the Lonely
  • My Blue Angel

The Ventures

Country cousins to the Shadows but without the tape echo. Learned loads of their tunes but these two especially were band staples.

  • Walk don’t run
  • Perfidia

Chuck Berry

And to think his only UK No 1 was “My Ding-a-ling”. I was never a Johnny B Goode afficionado although everybody learned the riffs. These two were a bit different however and we’re still playing “Memphis”.

  • Route 66
  • Memphis Tennessee

John Leyton

Saw him sing this on TV as a pop singer doing a PA based in a department store soap called Harpers W1. Within 2 weeks it was at No 1. Follow up “Wild Wind’ in similar mode. I bought his first LP “The two sides of John Leyton” – one labelled “beat” and the other “ballad”.  This song has just been covered by ex-Stranglers.

  • Johnny remember me

Chet Atkins

Bought my first Chet Atkins LP in London and still have it. Listened and learned from him in the early days especially hammer-ons and pull-offs. Liked this because it was recorded by Marty Wilde’s old band with Big Jim Sullivan on lead guitar.

  • Trambone

John Barry 7

What a great sound from this rock combo with jazz leanings. Loved guitarist Vic Flick (and what a name!) who played as session man on many film scores.

  • Hit & Miss
  • James Bond theme

Joe Brown

Didn’t realise how influential Joe Brown was until many years later when I learned about his session work and supporting US artists on UK tours (they couldn’t bring their own bands over in those days because of work permit rules)

  • Picture of you

Marty Wilde

Still prefer him to St Cliff. Met him once in a club in Nelson where he was appearing as the Marty Wild Trio (sometimes referred to as the Wild Three) with his wife Joyce Baker (ex-Vernons girl) and future Moody Blues star Justin Hayward. A really friendly guy.

  • Johnny Rocco
  • Sea of Love
  • Endless sleep


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The people who helped make Elvis great – RIP

Two people who probably had as much to do with Elvis’s successful career as anyone else have died in recent weeks.

1811Chips Moman was the man who revived Elvis’s flagging recording career in the late 1960s.

He persuaded Elvis to record  In the Ghetto, Suspicious Minds, Don’t Cry Daddy and Kentucky Rain at his own Memphis studio.

For the Presley sessions in January 1969 he broke with the usual practice by introducing songs in which Elvis, his manager and his song publisher had no financial interest, and by actively supervising the sessions, persuading the singer to go over each song many times in search of the best result.

Presley’s positive response won the admiration of Moman’s elite corps of session musicians, who had turned up in expectation of a decent payday but little musical reward.

In the Ghetto took Presley into the US top three for the first time in four years. But it was Suspicious Minds, released in the autumn, that gave him his first No 1 hit since 1962, although Moman hated the false ending that had been added in a Las Vegas studio after it proved to be a success in Elvis’s stage show.

This is the recorded version, not the overblown Vegas one.

Moman’s refusal to cede a portion of the song’s copyright to Presley’s manager and publisher created such bad blood that the partnership between the singer and the producer was never repeated, despite its artistic and commercial success.

But Moman, who died in June aged 79, had a much more extensive string of achievements. As a guitarist, (seen above with his cherished Gibson Super 400) he decorated the closing bars of Aretha Franklin’s epochal I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You) with eloquent country-soul phrases.

As a producer, he instructed the 16-year-old Alex Chilton to sing “aeroplane” rather than “airplane” on the first line of the Box Tops’ The Letter.

As a composer, he co-wrote (with Dan Penn) The Dark End of the Street, a definitive and much-covered deep-soul ballad. The artists he worked with included Neil Diamond, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Tammy Wynette.

imagesWe’ve lost Scotty Moore, the guitarist who played on all Elvis’s early hits and whose rockabilly sound defined the early days of rock ‘n’ roll.

Hound Dog, Heartbreak Hotel, Jailhouse Rock – all backed by Scotty, bassist Bill Black and drummer DJ Fontana, aka the Blue Moon Boys.

In fact the first record Elvis cut at Sun studios, a cover of Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s That’s All Right, was released as Elvis Presley with Scotty and Bill.

Moore was an inspiration to Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Keith Richards and Bruce Springsteen as well as all the young wanna-be guitarist busy forming groups in the 1960s.

My personal favourite was the guitar work on Heartbreak Hotel – all that drama (and great bass and piano playing too). And there was a mystery about the inspiration for the song which gave Elvis his first number one.

Scotty Moore’s guitar may have changed the world but it didn’t make him rich. He and the rest of the Blue Moon Boys were paid a weekly salary of $100 (about $600 at today’s prices) with more when they toured.

He was Elvis’s managers in the early days but he stepped aside as Elvis’s popularity grew to be replaced by Colonel Parker who had been successfully promoting top country acts like Hank Snow.

When Sam Phillips sold Elvis’s contract to RCA records Scotty Moore and Bill Black were just seen as hired hands rather than as collaborators. And as Presley developed his movie career there was less need for the Blue Moon Boys as his songs became big studio productions.

However Moore backed Elvis in his 1968 come-back show on TV and was offered a residency with him in Las Vegas but the money was so poor he turned it down to be replaced with another guitar great James Burton. Moore reckoned he only earned about $30,000 during his fifteen year stint with Elvis.

But he never felt bitter towards Elvis blaming the rapacious Colonel Tom Parker – who had a lot to answer for. He ran his own studio for a while but went bust in the 1990s when he became a recluse.

He wrote a memoir “Scotty and Elvis aboard the Mystery Train”, which was re-published in 2013, and played his final concert in 2007 in Memphis as part of a commemoration to mark the 30th anniversary of Presley’s death before retiring quietly in Nashville. He died at the end of June aged 84.

Based on obituaries in The Guardian (Chips Moman) and the Times (Scotty Moore).

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Popular American Songwriters RIP

Two American songwriters have died this year. Very different in what they wrote but each influential in their own way.

First up is Ernie Maresca (1938 – 2015). He was a neighbour of Dion DiMucci in the Bronx and his two biggest hits were Runaround Sue and The Wanderer.

He did have a hit himself as a singer with Shout, Shout (Knock Yourself Out) which was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Earlier he sang with group called the Regents who recorded Barbara-Ann in 1958, eight years before it was revived by the Beach Boys.

He began song-writing full-time after a song he wrote called No one Knows was a hit for Dion and the Belmonts. Best known for his work with Dion, the aforementioned Runaround Sue was Dion’s only No. 1 although The Wanderer was a million-seller for Dion and for other artists as well such as Status Quo. These were doo-wop style songs with a feel good factor popular with many groups, including ours.

He also wrote hits for Dean & Jean and  Reperata and the Delrons before moving into management at Laurie records handling their publicity and  was a senior executive until the early 1990s when he brokered the deal to sell the label to Capitol Records.

Source: Vintage Rock magazine Sept/October 2015

Secondly we have Wayne Carson (1943 – 2015), probably best known for the song Elvis recorded – Always on my Mind.

He claimed to have written the song in 10 minutes in his kitchen explaining that he writes from the melody and the words follow. “Always on my mind happens to be one of those things that universally, everybody on the planet has been there. Everybody touched base with that one. It was just magic that it was so simple and so right on the button.”

Elvis’s producer Chip Moman asked him to writer a bridge for the song which Carson didn’t think was necessary but with some friends he quickly wrote the two lines needed. Carson admitted that was when he knew it would be a No 1.

Although from a country background, his parents performed as a country act Shorty and Sue, – one of his first songs was accepted by Chet Atkins who was producing a record for Eddy Arnold in Nashville. It was another occasion when he was asked to write more, in this case an extra verse which he called out over the phone in response to Eddy’s request. He obviously had an ability to think on his feet! And that song, Somebody Like Me went on to top the country charts and was Carson’s first hit.

He thought songs “ain’t nothing but a story waiting for somebody to tell it“.

Among performers who recorded his songs were: The Box Tops with The Letter (also a No 1 and a group for whom he wrote several hits), Joe Cocker, The Beach Boys, Al Green, Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, and Tina Turner.

His songs were recorded 8,500 times by over a thousand different performers. Quite a legacy.

Source: Times Obit August 24 2015

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Elvis’s first record re-released

Elvis Presley spent $4 to record a single 10″ acetate disc on July 18 1953. It had two songs on it: “My Happiness” and ” That’s when your heartaches begin“.

It was sold at auction in January 2015 for $300,000 by musician Jack White who reissued it as a limited edition 10” 78 rpm disc on April 18 to mark World Record Store Day cb46239f655b0a11740f6a7067000eb8_c0-104-3853-2349_s561x327

The story has it that the Presley family didn’t have a record player so Elvis took it to a friend’s house to listen to it. His friend Ed Leek looked after it for 60 years before giving it to his niece who put it up for auction.

Jack White is a champion of vinyl and also wants to safeguard the world’s independent music stores. These are causes worth championing as my colleague Kindadukish reminisced about recently.

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Vintage Rockers’ top Rock ‘n’ Roll songs

Vintage Rock magazine asked its readers to vote for the top 100 rock ‘n’ roll songs.

Here are the top 10 results.

At number 10 was: Heartbreak Hotel by Elvis Presley.

A song written by Hoyt Axton’s mother and Elvis’s first chart topper in 1956. I remember playing this in a group competition at the Mecca in Burnley. The opening is quite dramatic and it was different from many other songs at the time. Which guitarist could resist those double stop notes in the intro?

Number 9 was another Elvis song Mystery Train

One of the rockabilly records he recorded for Sun with Scotty Moore and Bill Black.

Number 8 was Whole lotta shaking goin’ on by Jerry Lee Lewis

Jerry Lee’s breakthrough single in the US (it got to No 3 in 1957) was a cover of earlier recording but another success for Sam Phillips at Sun records.

Number 7 was Summertime Blues by Eddie Cochran

It reached No 8 in the US charts in 1958. This three-chord tune with sense of humour was (and still is) a favourite with all the guitar groups.

Number 6 was Move It by Cliff Richard and the Drifters.

This pre-Shadows recording was Cliff’s first hit reaching No 2 in the British charts and arguably the UK’s first home-grown rock ‘n’ roll hit. I thought for years that the cool twangy  guitar playing was Hank Marvin but it wasn’t.

Number 5 was Great Balls of Fire by Jerry Lee Lewis

This achieved No 2 in the US charts and No 1 in the UK and was his follow-up to Whole Lotta Shaking.

Number 4 was Gene Vincent with Be-bop-a-LulaSCAN0131

Vincent wrote this song which got to No 7 in the US charts.

I saw him in Lancashire appearing on the same bill as Jet Harris and Tony Meehan (ex-Shadows) and John Leyton (singer of Johnny Remember Me and an actor in the Great Escape). It was March 1963 and either at the Southport Odeon or King George’s Hall Blackburn. Another song every guitar group played (and some still do)

Number 3 was Jailhouse Rock by Elvis Presley

Jailhouse Rock was his third film and this song was a hit in 1957.Written by Leiber & Stoller it featured Scotty Moore on guitar and D J Fontana on Drums. It’s also his third appearance in this top ten listing.

Number 2 was Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley and his Comets

This song, originally recorded as a B side, briefly hit the US charts at No 23 in 1954. An unlikely rock legend despite the kiss curl. His style was based on country and swing but was the start of something big and when he released Shake, Rattle and Roll the following year it was the first rock ‘n’ roll record to enter the UK charts earning itself a gold record.

And at No 1 was Johnny B Goode by Chuck Berry

This, possibly autobiographical, song of a country boy who became a rock n roll star reached No 8 in the US pop charts and No 2 in the R & B charts. Go Johnny Go is reputed to refer to Berry’s pianist Johnnie Johnson (although ironically he didn’t actually play on this song). The guitar intro was something every aspiring guitarist had to learn to play and the song has been covered many, many times,

And if you’ve been living on the moon and never heard it (although it was included on the golden disc NASA sent out in Voyager) here it is on Youtube

If you want to see the full list of 100 you’ll have to buy the magazine.

Some of my favourites which were listed were Del Shannon’ Runaway, Johnny Kidd & the Pirates’ Shaking all over, Dale Hawkins’ Susie Q, Buddy Holly’s Brown-eyed Handsome Man, Carl Perkins’ Honey Don’t, Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman, and The Wanderer by Dion & The Belmonts.

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All shook up

sc0012032dAll Shook Up is a song recorded by Elvis Presley and composed by Otis Blackwell and Elvis Presley (apparently Elvis contributed the title).

It was a hit in the pop, R&B and country charts.

The single topped the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 on April 13, 1957, staying there for eight weeks. It also topped the Billboard R&B chart for four weeks, becoming Presley’s second single to do so, and peaked at No. 3 on the country chart.

This particular record is a 10″ sized 78 i.e. it played at 78 rpm (before 45s were introduced by competitors). It’s the only one I have left, it’s only worth about £5 but I keep it out for nostalgic reasons.