2 Shades of Grey

Songs from the soundtrack of your life


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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.


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Stan the Man

No not Stan the Man of Burnley FC fame but Stan Wolarz.

He’s an Edinburgh-born blues guitarist who lives in the Czech Republic.

sc0002b990I was in Prague on a conference in May 2001, it was late and a group of us had done the obligatory Czech cultural experience ie sampling a range of local beers, and wanted something a bit more adventurous.

We were walking around the town centre and could hear music. It seemed to be coming from an underground public toilet with the white tiles in the entrance and down the curving stairs.

The women in the party weren’t too sure so they sent a couple of the men down to check it out. We went down to the kiosk at the bottom, checked out the entry price and the price of beer and conformed it was a club.

So we all piled into this darkened basement room with a spotlight in one corner, just in time to catch the end of Stan the Man and his Bohemian Blues Duo’s set  on stage.

The duo comprised Stan playing a Fender telecaster (a Thinline from memory) and his band colleague Anton Duratny playing an upright double bass. It was a great sound, played in a smokey cellar drinking czech lager. What could be better (apart from the smoke)? Classic songs like “Bright Lights, Big City” and “Rock me Baby“.

We asked him to play some more but the licensing laws were strict and the management just pulled the plug and put  on all the lights!

sc0000ab46I chatted with him about guitars and blues and bought one of his CDs, “Two Sides to Every Story” while one of my colleagues made a bee-line for the double-bass player and shared a smoke.

sc0000ab46 - Version 2He told me he’d been touring round Eastern Europe for years including during soviet times.

He was an interesting person and a great blues player and is still going strong over there.

He’s about 63 now so if he can still do it so can I!


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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