2 Shades of Grey

Songs from the soundtrack of your life


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Musicians we lost in 2015 – part 2

The sound of New Orleans, Allen Toussaint died in November 2015 aged 77.

His songs were recorded by the Stones, The Pointer Sisters, Boz Scaggs, Glen Campbell and Robert Plant and he played on recordings for Paul McCartney & Wings, Elvis Costello and Eric Clapton. He allegedly once said “I’m glad the Stones recorded my song – I knew it would roll all the way to the bank“.

His songs like “Ride your pony” and “Working in a coal mine“, recorded by Lee Dorsey, were loved by soul fans and were staples for cover bands (like ours) in the 60s.

The New Orleans sound was distinctive and recognisable anywhere. “It’s everything. It’s who we are, the food we eat, the history, Mardi Gras, the second-line brass bands who strut that stuff, the syncopation, the humour, and the slightly slower pace than the rest of America, the war we mosey along rather than running the race” Toussaint once said. “We’ve held on to our old world charm longer than others”

He grew up in this cultural melting pot amid veteran jazz and R&B musicians. He learned to play the piano at the age of seven inspired by Professor Longhair, a legendary boogie-woogie (more strictly rumba-boogie) pianist and blues singer who also inspired Dr John, Fats Domino and Huey “Piano” Smith”.

He said he tried to play anything he heard – blues, gospel, R&B, even classical. “Music babysat me through my childhood“. He started playing with a band called the Flamingos featuring guitarist Snooks Eaglin in the 1950s progressing to playing piano on Fats Domino sessions.

He later became A & R man at Minit Records where he managed the recording sessions and shaped the sound in a more soulful direction. He also began working with Irma Thomas, the Soul Queen of New Orleans, who is one of my favourites with “Time is on my side” a classic (covered by the Stones).

That part of his career was interrupted by the draft in 1963. He resumed his career working with the aforementioned Lee Dorsey and his band which became Toussaint’s house band. In the 70s he worked with a lot of rock singers, as already mentioned above, but also Elkie Brooks, Paul Simon and Little Feat.

His last UK chart entry was “Here come the girls” a song he’d written 40 years earlier and which you may remember from a Boots (high street chemist) advert in 2007.

He was recognised in his later life with a life-size statue of him erected in New Orleans, his city of birth, and a National Medal of the Arts awarded to him by President Obama, both in 2013.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed his house and recording studio, he temporarily relocated to New York and took to the road. And that’s where he died, in Spain during a tour of Europe.

Here’s a YouTube video of him performing “Southern Nights” , a song he wrote and which topped the charts for Glen Campbell. It also earned him the title of Southern Knight.

 

 


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Nathaniel Rateliff…………echoes of the Stax soul sound

Kindadukish's Blog - I am not a number, I am a free man (The Prisoner)

Every Christmas my daughter usually buys me a CD (along with other presents I may add) and in recent years has bought me albums by Charlie Haden and Keith Jarrett much to my utter delight and subsequent hours of musical enjoyment.

Sort of expecting something similar this year I was a little taken aback when one of her choices was by Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats. Now I must confess that I had never heard of this band but my daughter assured me I would like them, and who am I to question my daughter’s musical taste.

Well I put the CD into the player in the car and sat back to listen, and what came out brought a huge smile to my face. The obvious influences on the band are the Stax stable of soul artists along with a “soupçon” of Motown thrown in for good measure.

As…

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Jimmy Ruffin passed away last year. Another soul legend gone

I almost missed this one. I saw the obituary and put it to one side where it got mis-filed.

So better late than never. One of Motown‘s finest voices who will be remembered for his 1966 hit;  “What becomes of the brokenhearted”.

After that hit he never really followed up and blamed Motown for lack of promotion (it was 3 years before they released a follow-up and in the meantime he was still working on the car production lines). Mary Wells had secured him the audition but he had to fight to get the song released by him as it was originally written for the Detroit Spinners,

He left the label in 1970 after struggling to get first choice to record songs given to other artists in the Motown stable.

He was also overshadowed by his younger brother David who was the lead singer of the Temptations, a job he turned down recommending his brother instead.

He moved to Britain and lived here for 30 years recording with Heaven 17 and Paul Weller (a song called Soul Deep released under the name The Council Collective to raise money for the striking miners. He later denied he understood the political message).

After his brother’s death from a cocaine overdose he became a staunch anti-drugs campaigner. He returned to America where he died in November 2014 aged 78.

 


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Ben E King – another soul legend dies

R&B and soul singer Ben E King, best known for the classic song Stand By Me, has died at the age of 76.

Born Benjamin Earl Nelson, he initially joined a doo-wop group called The Five Crowns, who became The Drifters. In the late 1950s their hits including There Goes My Baby, which he co-wrote and which reached No. 2 in the US charts in 1959, and Save The Last Dance For Me. That song became a staple of groups throughout the sixties and has been recorded by so many artists including Michael Bublé.

But the group members were paid just $100 per week by their manager and, after a request for a pay rise was turned down, the singer decided to go it alone. In the process, he adopted the surname King.

His first solo hit, in 1961, was Spanish Harlem, still one of my favourite songs, which was followed by Stand By Me which reached the US top five in 1961. Stand by Me was yet another staple of sixties groups with it’s simple 4 chord structure the sound of the guiro (scraper) and its repetitive bass line.

Interestingly he originally intended “Stand By Me” for The Drifters, but their manager said they didn’t need it (many people think it was a hit for the them so closely is Ben E King associated withe them).

In my vocal I think you can hear something of my earlier times when I’d sing in subway halls for the echo, and perform doo-wop on street corners,” he told The Guardian in 2013. “But I had a lot of influences, too – singers like Sam Cooke and Brook Benton. The song’s success lay in the way Leiber and Stoller took chances, though, borrowing from symphonic scores, and we had a brilliant string arranger.”

The song went on to chart nine times on the US Billboard 100 – King’s version twice and seven times with covers by artists like John Lennon. It was also the fourth most-played track of the 20th Century on US radio and TV.


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Percy Sledge……….another soul icon gone

Kindadukish's Blog - I am not a number, I am a free man (The Prisoner)

So one by one the great soul singers of the 60s and 70s leave us with the announcement of the death of Percy Sledge at the age of 73 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Percy Sledge

In a career that started in the 1960s, Sledge had a number of hits, including “Take Time to Know Her,” “Warm and Tender Love” and “It Tears Me Up” among them. But his first and biggest hit, “When a Man Loves a Woman,” towered over them all.

Over a mournful, slowly rising instrumental track provided by organist Spooner Oldham, drummer Roger Hawkins and guitarist Marlin Greene — key musicians of what became the Muscle Shoals sound, heard on countless soul records — Sledge crooned, pleaded and roared his way through the tune. It came directly from the heart: Originally called “Why Did You Leave Me Baby,” he’d written it about a former girlfriend, drawing from a tune that…

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Immortal Jukebox: Arthur Alexander

I make no excuses for featuring Arthur Alexander again. This is a beautifully written blog by Thom Hickey and the song says it all

The Immortal Jukebox

A3:  Arthur Alexander: In The Middle Of It All 

‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation’.

(Henry David Thoreau)

‘Now I ache, with heartbreak and pain and the hurt that I just can’t explain’

(Arthur Alexander)

Imagine you are the manager of a blue collar bar in a tough small town.  You work long hours making sure everybody has a good time and that nobody’s good time winds up leaving someone else on their way to hospital.  You know who not to serve, who to share a joke with, who to warn off and who to throw out for their own good. You keep a weighted pool cue just out of sight from the floor within your reach – just in case.

You stock the jukebox and make sure that there’s old and new favourites: something that counts as a home town anthem; several that are fast and…

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