2 Shades of Grey

Songs from the soundtrack of your life


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Johnny Kidd & the Pirates – another British rock ‘n Roll legend

SCAN0111Johnny Kidd and the Pirates were an early British R ‘n B group who dressed theatrically as Pirates. They produced some great sounding records even though they only had one guitarist, a bass guitarist and drummer.

They had a very talented line-up over the years including guitarists Alan Caddy, Joe Moretti, and Mick Green and drummer Clem Cattini (who holds the UK record for playing on the most No 1 hits).

Kidd used an echo unit on stage to process his vocals and double-tracking on his records. The 3-man backing group set-up has been said to have influenced other groups like Led Zeppelin and the Who.

SCAN0108SCAN0107Their first single was “Please don’t touch”  and this reached no 25 in the UK charts in 1959. I always preferred the flip side “Growl” which I thought had a menacing sound.

My (soon-to-be group vocalist) friend Dave and I used to frequent a coffee bar in Brierfield, Lancashire which had this on the juke box.

The original Pirates; Clem Cattini, Alan Caddy and Brian Gregg on bass joined Joe Meek’s Tornados (famous for Telstar but who also worked as Meek’s  studio backing group and backing Billy Fury).

SCAN0109SCAN0110When Mick Green joined the new Pirates on lead guitar their first record was “A shot of rhythm and blues” with “I can tell” on the flip side which charted in late 1962.

By this time the Merseybeat sound had taken over the British music scene and Kidd responded by recording “I’ll never get over you” which got to No 4 in the UK charts in mid-1963 followed by “Hungry for Love” which achieved a top twenty placing.

They also recorded Richie Barrett’s “Some Other Guy” but it wasn’t released and allowed the Mersey group The Big Three to chart with their version. (When I saw the Beatles at the King George’s Hall in Blackburn this was the song they opened with).

Guitarist Mick Green left after this to join Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas. Another guitarist and a keyboard player then joined the Pirates but their long-awaited debut album was never mastered for release.

Kidd reverted to singing R ‘n B and covers of soul songs but never had another hit. He formed the New Pirates backing group comprising guitar, bass, organ and drums and was planning on a comeback when he was killed returning from a cancelled gig in a car accident in Bury, Lancashire.

Undoubtedly he hit his peak with “Shaking all Over” which featured a great guitar riff by Joe Moretti and made No 1 in the UK charts in 1960. This song was a favourite with groups everywhere and covered by the Who in their “Live at Leeds” album.

Here it is on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n327ncoU_ZU

SCAN0112He had a great rock voice and always a tight backing group sound, like the Beatles honed in Germany. He covered songs like “You got what it takes“, “Yes Sir that’s my baby“, “If you were the only girl”  and “Your Cheating Heart” as well as “Shot of Rhythm and Blues” and “Some other guy“. These songs are collected on this CD I have:”The very best of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates“.

His stage appearance probably influenced other theatrical looking acts like Adam Ant and Alice Cooper although there were other groups who wore costume such as Screaming Lord Sutch and Nero and the Gladiators.  The group Dr Feelgood (a reference to heroin) took their name from the song of that name by Piano Red covered by Johnny Kidd.

He was much copied by semi-pro groups in the 1960s and if he hadn’t died so tragically might have made the transition to a British soul singer. However the fact is that the Merseybeat sound swept all before it in the 1960s especially the Beatles who could not only play and sing harmonies but write their own original songs.

 


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Arthur Alexander – a big influence but little known

SCAN0103 Arthur Alexander, a country and soul singer/songwriter,  was born in Sheffield, Alabama and recorded his first single, “Sally Sue Brown“, under the name of June Alexander (short for Junior), which was released in 1960 on Jud Phillips’ Judd Records. (Phillips is the brother of music pioneer Sam Phillips). It wasn’t a hit.

Alexander then recorded “You Better Move On in 1961 at a former tobacco warehouse-turned-recording studio in Muscle Shoals and it became a soul/R&B chart hit.

It’s perhaps Alexander’s best-known song, covered by the Rolling Stones and the Hollies among others. It also kick-started the studio as the hit factory for soul music combining black singers ad white country musicians.

On the UK release the flip side was “A shot of rhythm and blues” which was covered in the UK by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates who reached no 48 in the charts with it (More on him here). It was also covered by Gerry and the Pacemakers ( a pretty good version) and played live by the Beatles on the BBC.

His next song “Where Have you been (all my life)” wasn’t a hit for him but was covered in the UK by Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders on their album. The song and its flip-side “Soldier of Love” were sung by the Beatles in their stage act and also on the BBC.

Anna (Go to Him), a U.S. R&B Top Ten Hit, was covered by the Beatles on their first album  “Please Please Me” with John Lennon taking the lead vocal part.

SCAN0101SCAN0104Although he made more records he never quite achieved the fame he probably deserved and gave up performing for a while driving a bus for a living.

Alexander died of a heart attack on 9 June 1993 aged just 53 just a few days after  and appearing in Nashville to promote his comeback album “Lonely just like me”.

He will be remembered as a singer/songwriter whose material was covered by such noteworthy artists as The Rolling Stones, The Who, Esther Phillips, Joe Tex, Marshall Crenshaw, Bob Dylan, Pearl Jam, Ry Cooder, Ike and Tina Turner, Dusty Springfield, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the Beatles.

His songs were also part of the staple diets of aspiring R ‘n’ B and rock groups in the 1960s.  “Where have you been” for example is a song we’ve both performed with different groups and together and its still popular today

I’ve put lots of links to Youtube on here so you can listen to and compare the different versions.