2 Shades of Grey

Songs from the soundtrack of your life

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Lucy’s back in town

Lucy Zirins made the 26th Great British R & B Festival in Colne the venue for her northern homecoming.

Since I last saw her at the Mechanics Institute at the 25th Burnley International R & B Festival in 2013 she has moved to London and picked up a backing band The Southern Company comprising: Pete Billington on keyboard and fiddle, Andy Crowdy on double bass, and Simon Price on drums.

So there she was on Friday on the British Stage. She sounded as good as ever although to my ears a bit more country than blues – but who cares as longs the music is good, which it was.

She sang a mix of songs from her first album “Chasing Clocks” and some from an upcoming EP “What’s in front of me“. She even included that gospel classic “Wade in the Water” referencing Eva Cassidy. I remember  the Ramsey Lewis version from 1966 but that’s showing my age.

DSC00688DSC00692DSC00693DSC00695DSC00705Her voice was stronger and the band were tight and she can only go on to better things. One small thing though. What happened to her resonator guitar?

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Another great soul single from my attic

SCAN0072This classic soul song from Percy Sledge – “When a man loves a woman” – recorded by him in 1966,  made number one on both the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B singles charts.

It was later covered by Michael Bolton in 1991, whose version also reached number one on the U.S. pop and adult contemporary singles charts .

The song has also been recorded by Jerry Butler, Art Garfunkel, Luba, and the Spencer Davis Group.

Sledge’s version was also a top ten hit in the UK peaking at number four on its initial release and peaking at number two in 1987 after it was featured in a Levi’s Jeans advert.

I have two copies both of which are clearly re-issues judging by the 501 Levi logo on the sleeve. On the original release the B side was “Love me like you mean it” but on my two copies the B side or side 2 is “Warm and Tender Love” which was the follow-up single. So two A sides for the price of one.

The two copies I have have identical data on the them but have different coloured labels as you can see below.SCAN0074 SCAN0073

If you need a reminder of how good it was here it is on Youtube.

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Another double value soul single

SCAN0052Another vinyl nugget from my attic and another single with two different artists. This looks like a promotion for the film Dirty Dancing although a similar combination was recorded as part of the Tamla Motown 50th Anniversary series.

SCAN0047On one side The Contours sing their classic “Do You Love Me” from 1962. This was much copied and Brian Poole and the Tremeloes had a tepid cover version which went to No 1 in the UK. The song lyrics reflect all the dance fads of the day and I wonder how many you remember?

The story goes that Berry Gordy wrote the song for the Temptations but for some reason they didn’t show up at the studio. He found the Contours hanging about desperate for a hit record after a couple of flops. They recorded it and the rest is history (although they never had a big hit again).

SCAN0048On the other side is another R&B/soul classic “Money” by Barrett Strong. It was Tamla Motown’s first hit record in 1960.




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Nina Simone, soul sister

Amongst my records from the attic was this much played EP from 1965 by Nina Simone. It only has three tracks, Work Song and Gin House Blues on side one and the title song Just say I love him on side two.SCAN0041

Also from the same year, what must be the best double-sided single ever, she’s singing “I put a spell on you” on the A side and “Please con’t let me be misunderstood” on the B side.SCAN0042SCAN0043

These must be two of the songs most covered  by British R ‘n’ B  and soul groups.

Nina Simone was a great artist who devoted a lot of her energy to the civil rights movement.

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The Best R & B records ever?

old_instruments_pc_1600_wht_1310I was browsing through the magazine section in my local supermarket and spotted a magazine called “Vintage Rock“. Can’t say I’ve noticed it before but one of the articles caught my eye. Jeremy Isaacs listing the 40 Best R ‘n B records.

I’m always suspicious when I see anything labelled R & B as most of the modern stuff is urban music with no connection to the Blues. The article quotes Fats Domino from an interview in the 1950s when he said “What you call Rock ‘N’ Roll now is Rhythm & Blues. I’ve been playing it for 15 years in New Orleans“. I enjoyed the magazine and decided to subscribe to it.

As for they article on the best R & B records, I didn’t agree with all the author’s choices but there were enough to make me think, “those were the days!”  If you want to read the full list of 40 buy the magazine!

Here are the ones I agree with (by year of release)

  • Ain’t that a shame – Fats Domino (1955)
  • Youngblood – The Coasters (1957)
  • Memphis Tennessee – Chuck Berry (1959
  • Chain Gang – Sam Cooke (1960)
  • I just want to make love to you – Etta James (1961)
  • Stand by Me – Ben E King (1961)
  • Green Onions – Booker T & the MGs (1962)
  • Dancing in the Street – Martha & The Vandellas (1964)
  • Time is on my Side – Irma Thomas (1964)

From the rest of the list I like these performers but not the song Isaac has chosen.

  • Ray Charles- Mess Around (1953)
  • Little Richard – Tutti Frutti (1955)
  • Bo Diddley – Who do you Love? (1957)
  • James Brown – Try Me, I need you (1958)
  • The Drifters – There goes my Baby (1959)
  • Lee Dorsey – Ya Ya (1961)
  • Marvin Gaye – Hitch Hike (1962)

And Arthur Alexander doesn’t even get a mention!

You probably have your own list; it’s all down to personal choice in the end.

sc00058e25As a footnote on the question of what is R & B I have an album released on Stateside in 1963 called “the ‘sound’ of the R & B hits”. It’s actually a Tamla Motown production with the following tracks, some of which like “Do You Love Me” and “Money” were staples of R & B groups:

Side 1

  • Shop Around – Mary Wells
  • Way over there – The Marvelettes
  • Everybody’s gotta pay some dues – The Miracles
  • Mockingbird – Martha & The Vandellas
  • Bye Bye baby – Mary Wells
  • I’ll try something new – The Miracles
  • Dream baby (how long must I dream) – The Marvelettes

Side 2

  • Money – Barrett Strong
  • What’s so good about goodbye -The Miracles
  • Let me go the right way – The Supremes
  • Don’t want to take a chance – Mary Wells
  • Broken Hearted – The Miracles
  • The one who really loves you – The Marvelettes
  • Do you love me – The Miracles

The sleeve notes said “This very special package from Tamla Motown records showcases the particular style of rhythm and blues that the company has successfully produced and it is sure to appeal to its ever-growing legion of supporters

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Robert Cray – modern blues legend

sc00002d5dWe saw Robert Cray in Manchester in on his World Tour  “Don’t be afraid of the dark”  (a song we’ve just added to our repertoire).

He and his band were incredible. His mix of soul and blues was wonderful. He played and sang superbly and his band were so tight.

It made us realise how much work we needed to do with our band on the endings of songs (with so many musicians in the band sometimes it seemed like everyone wanted to have the last word).

IN-MY-SOUL-ALBUM-COVER-HI-RES-300x300His latest album “In my Soul” is very good and it’s packaging is cool too; it’s square like an old LP and has the CD inside a sleeve and printed with grooves just like the old vinyl.P1020194

It looks as good as it is to listen to.

Found out more about Robert Cray here

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Steve Cropper – guitar legend

As a young guitarist I was in awe of Steve Cropper, guitarist with Booker T and the MGs (Memphis Group). Listening to him play guitar licks such as those on Green Onions or  Soul Man which were simple but his technique made them sound special.

P1000442We’d seen the Stax revue when it came to Manchester in the mid-60s and three years ago I had the chance to see Steve Cropper play at the Ramsbottom Music Festival supported by The Animals.

The Animals were good but I went to see Steve. It was a rain-sodden day but worth waiting for.

P1000454Steve played, and sang, a number of the songs he’d written for Stax artists. He wasn’t playing the Fender Telecaster that I remembered but what might have been a Schecter tele-style guitar – but it sounded good.












He also told stories about how some songs came to be written, for example “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay”.

Otis Redding couldn’t really play guitar that well so he had his guitar tuned to an open E major chord.

All he had to do to change different chords was to slide his fingers up the neck. So there are no minor chords in that song.

Steve said he also wondered about which ships Otis was referring to until he went down to ‘Frisco Bay and saw the roll-on-roll-off container ships.P1000468

It was a great evening. I was cold and wet but it was worth it!