Thursday, February 01, 2007

Big John Hamilton non-cd tracks (1 of 4)

As yet unreleased on cd
Big John Hamilton - Angel (Deep Soul Classics Vol. 2, P-Vine LP 1987)

Big John Hamilton non-cd tracks (2 of 4)

As yet unreleased on cd
Big John Hamilton 'Temporary Love' (Deep Soul Classics Vol. 2, P-Vine LP 1987)

Big John Hamilton non-cd tracks (3 of 4)

As yet unreleased on cd. Big John Hamilton's
Big John Hamilton 'Free Me' (Minaret 7611)

Big John Hamilton non-cd tracks (4 of 4)

As yet unreleased on cd. Big John Hamilton's
' I Got To Get Myself Together' (Minaret 136)

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Big John Hamilton: How Much Can A Man Take (SunDazed CD 2006)

This is Big John's belated cd debut, a compilation of sides which appeared on 45s put out on labels like Minaret and SSS between 1967 and 1971.
I'm happy to declare up front that I have long regarded Big John's work in this period as some of the best southern soul ever recorded. As such a cd reissue is long overdue, so hats off to Sundazed. Here are 18 tracks of classic southern soul in pristine sound – most of them making their cd debut. Sound quality is excellent throughout - Sundazed seem to have sourced the original masters. Top notch backing was provided either by the Muscle Shoals A-Team or the excellent session guys producer Finley Duncan used at his own Playground Studios on Florida. The quality of the material is also uniformly extremely high, the lack of hits at the time proving yet again there was no link in this era between artistic quality & commercial success. However there is more. Added to the pleasure of the music itself is the delight of a set of liner notes which are based around a recent interview with the man himself. Such an interview is something of a coup in itself given that nothing appears to have been heard of Big John prior to this for decades. I'm not aware of any previous interviews with the man and so far as I am aware little was known about him before this interview. So I'm delighted to say that John Lee Hamilton is still very much with us and on the evidence of this interview is a intelligent and engaging character who is still actively singing within his church. Contributions are also included from Doris Allen, with whom John recorded some fine duets in this period (none of which feature on this cd unfortunately) . Quite simply, this cd is a must for fans of southern soul, if only to save the vinyl from overuse!
That said, this disc is by no means the complete Big John Hamilton Minaret sessions. Sundazed themselves describe it as an overview. Of the 18 tracks here, two are billed as previously unreleased: 'I'm Getting It From Her and ‘Go Ahead On’. However 'I'm Getting It From Her' actually first appeared on the 1987 Japanese LP Deep Soul Classics Vol. 2. That marvellous LP also featured another three other previously unreleased tracks 'Temporary Love','Angel' and ‘I’ll Keep Loving You’, none of which made this cd. Also missing are ‘Free Me’ (Minaret 7611) and ‘I Got To Get Myself Together’ (Minaret 136). This is a great pity as ‘Temporary Love’ and ‘Angel’ are both amongst my personal BJH favourites and none of these are of any less quality than the ones that made it onto the cd. In fact, whilst it is nice for completist anoraks like me to add another track to the BJH canon, I don’t think the uptempo Stax-esque 'Go Ahead On' is a patch on any of those omitted. Of course my preference is generally for the deep side of soul. The rapid tempo of 'Go Ahead On' may cause northern soulies to disagree with me.. In any case, the omission of these tracks and the absence from this disc at least of the duet material with Doris Allen means that I regard the cd as a complement to the P-Vine LP rather than a replacement. I've added links in previous posts so you can hear the missing tracks.
It also seems there is still more vintage Big John Hamilton which is yet to see the light of day. A couple of years back Jim Lancaster acquired Playground Studios from the estate of the late Finlay Duncan. In the course of renovating the facility a considerable number of master tapes have surfaced, many of which are unreleased. Some of these feature Big John, both solo and duetting with Doris Allen. At time of writing Jim is hoping to get a cd featuring some of this material out to market sometime in 2007. To say I'm looking forward to this is something of an understatement. Expect a review here!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Travis Haddix and Artie 'Bluesboy' White Longthorpe, Peterborough, UK 12th Jan 2007

On the 12th of January I made an epic 500 mile round trip to see these two fine artists in Longthorpe village hall nr Peterborough in England. The were backed by the Mike Carr Blues Band, which in fact was an excellent modern jazz outfit whose take on blues was very much from the perspective of the likes of Jimmy Smith & Brother Jack McDuff. (Purists note that there is precedent for this. Think Albert King doing Let's Have A Natural Ball and you'll get the idea.) There were three sets of over an hour each. Travis played guitar in a quite different style to his (excellent) cd's, eschewing effects for a lovely clean BB King style which perfectly complimented the band's style. Much the same crew had played the Stamford Arts Centre the night before and there had apparently been one or two teething troubles...I'm pleased to say that these had been ironed out by the following evening and I had a great night. Artie has recorded a number of Travis songs, allowing for plenty of synergy. First Thing Tuesday Morning for example is a real killer slow blues and they both did it here. A wry sense of humour permeates it, and many of Travis' songs, which I greatly enjoy. In addition to the original material there were also classics by the likes of Louis Jordan & BB King.
Travis did a top job as master of ceremonies and band leader. He did well to jump around on the crowded stage without demolishing it!

He is an engaging, friendly guy and a dynamic performer who works the crowd very well, on and off stage. Catch him live if you can! You can contact Travis via his website at Any of his cd's are well worth having esp his self produced ones and you can get 'em off the site. His excellent 'Company Is Coming' (and Willie Pooch's killer "Funk n' Blues") made the long, long drive back to Devon a whole lot more fun. Still waiting to hear from the traffic cops though..

This was Artie's first trip to the UK. I hope that it isn't the last and that he enjoyed it. I certainly did. There aren't many guys left who can sing a slow soul blues like he can. Artie also has a number of excellent cd's available via his website at

Finally a personal note of thanks to the Homans and all the crew at ShakeDown Blues for their efforts in bringing these guys over, at a time when hardly anyone else in the UK still bothers. They work damned hard to make these gigs happen and my personal thanks go to the Homans for their friendliness and hospitality. You can contact Shakedown and see what's coming up (and in my case wince at what you missed already) at

Monday, November 20, 2006

New Frankie Lee CD on Blues Express

Standing at the Crossroads (Blues Express 2006)

1. I Wish I Had a Dime
2. High Horse
3. I Need Lots of Love
4. Prayer for Peace
5. Where You Been All My Life
6. Better Than That
7. Let's Think Twice
8. Mary Don't You Weep
9. Standing at the Crossroads
10. How Far Can You Fall
11. Think What It's Doing to Me
12. I Really Got the Blues
13. I Ain't Ever Had the Blues (Like This Before)

Frankie Lee has been a stalwart on the West Coast blues & soul scene for many years with a reputation as a top notch live performer. Despite a lengthy career dating back to the early 60's recordings opportunities haven't been all that frequent. When you listen to this cd you will wonder why. Frankie, and the top notch band pull out all the stops on an excellent selection of material, mostly written by former Robert Cray cohort Dennis Walker. The Robert Cray connection doesn't end there though as Jim Pugh and Richard Cousins also feature in a very impressive band, also sporting a full horn section. The material draws as much from classic southern soul as the blues - the only secular cover on the disc I was familiar with was Johnnie Taylor's classic 'I Need Lot's Of Love' The cd is dedicated to the late Johnnie T and his influence is clearly apparent at times in Frankie's singing. The southern soul connection is reinforced by backing vocals from Myrna Smith, Estelle Brown and Portia Griffin - the current Sweet Inspirations - on 'Let's Think Twice'. New recordings heavy on 'deep soul' tend to be few and far between these days and it is deeply gratifying (sic) to these ears that there are in 'Better Than That' and 'Think What It's Doing to Me', two cracking ballads that induced some serious gooseflesh in this listener..ditto the closing number, a horn heavy 'I Ain't Ever Had the Blues (Like This Before). The two heartfelt gospel numbers rate a mention in this category too.
It's not all wrist slashers though! 'Where You Been All My Life' is an uplifting, uptempo number that ought to have some serious airplay coming it's way and the funky 'High Horse' will have plenty of feet moving at Frankie's gigs.
Overall it's the sheer quality of the musicians that carries the day throughout - even the rather cliched lyrics of the down tempo 'I Really Got The Blues' being transformed by Frankie's total vocal commitment and some tasty backing. I can't even find it in me to criticise Alan Mirkitani's occasionally rather rock-toned guitar, the merest hint of which is usually enough to have me reaching straight for the skip button.
In summary this is a very strong candidate for my best new release of 2006. File under All Killer, No Filler!

The Blues Express website hadn't been updated with details of the new release at the time of posting but there is still a pretty useful Frankie Lee discography here

Will someone please book Frankie for some UK appearances!!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Birmingham Sound: The Soul Of Neal Hemphill Vol. 1

1.Specify / Little Lois Barber 2.Believe in Me / David Sea 3.Even If You Got Love / Blue Notes 4.Here After I'm Hereafter / Frederick Knight 5.Funky Soul / Cold Grits 6.Groove Me Mamma / Eddie Steele 7.I Love the Way You Do Your Thing / Pat Peterman 8.I Got Married Too Soon / Chuck Strong 9.Set Me Free / Ralph ""Soul"" Jackson 10.Let Me be Myself / Roscoe Robinson 11.Love Keeps Hanging On / Bill ""Butterbean"" Flippo 12.Psychedelic Excursion / Broadneck 13.Thank You Baby / Little Lois Barber 14.High Time / Blue Notes 15.I Thought It Over / Chuck Strong 16.You've Never Really Lived / Frederick Knight 17.You Gonna Reap It / Pat Peterman 18.Train To Tampa / Sam Dees 19.Two Heart Accident / Roscoe Robinson 20.Let's Just Get Together / David Sea 21.Take Me Back / Ralph ""Soul"" Jackson 22.California Cool Ride / Broadneck 23.Self / Eddie Steele

This cd is the first of two planned volumes documenting both the soul music recorded at Neal Hemphill's Sound Of Birmingham studios in Birmingham, AL in the 1970's and the people who were involved. Let me say first that the music is superb. but of that, more later. Perhaps unusually I'd first like to spotlight the liner notes to the cd. Despite producing a number of well known records and some high profile soul folks like Sam Dees and Frederick Knight having worked there, the Birmingham scene has not been well documented. Until the production of this cd that is. The liner notes are a treasure trove of rare photographs and oral history from the people who were there. What I personally find especially gratifying is that as well as information on the often obscure artists, there are recollections from the musicians, writers & technicians and DJ's who were also a key part of the scene. These guys are the oft unsung heroes who were literally instrumental in giving this music its distinctiveness. yet so often they are uncredited. To anyone interested in the history of soul music, and southern soul in particular, the liners are worth the price of admission on their own. And the music is just as good! The set opens with 'Specify' a side from the terminally obscure Little Lois Barber which is the kind of deep southern soul that raises the hairs on the back of my neck. (does anyone out there know anything else about Lois?) In a similar vein are killer sides by Roscoe Robinson (Two Heart Accident) & Sam Dees (Train To Tampa) & Chuck Strong (I Thought It Over). As one might expect the focus is on southern soul, of a variety of tempos and consistently high quality. There are a few tracks which are more of a modern or sweet soul bent, David Sea (now of the Temptations) being particularly strong to these ears. The solitary psychedelic curio by Broadneck I personally can take or leave, although by the sounds of it the guys had a lot of fun cutting it..
Sound is generally pretty good, taken from the masters, but occasionally the ravages of 3 or 4 decades on magnetic tape do occasionally make themselves felt.
Of the material on this cd that was actually issued, and I'm not sure exactly how much of it was, the original 45's are serious wallet crunchers, assuming you could even find a copy. Ralph Jackson's Black Kat 45 alone would cost you a small fortune. As such approx $14 for a 23 track cd represents value for money. Assuming of course you're not the kind of person who'll then have to have the 45's... If you're looking for a copy of the cd, try DustyGroove or Amazon, Dave Porter in the UK.

If you want to hear more of the great Roscoe Robinson, just about anything of his is worth getting but check out his wonderful PVine cd Heavenly Soul Music which showcases his Paula & Wand soul sides and his gospel material (I might blog that one in future).

Finally a mention for John Ciba. This cd was his brainchild. Where people like me sit around and whinge about astronomically priced vinyl and the lack of cd-reissues, John has got out there and put together a thorough and painstaking effort. Hats off to you John. Here's looking forward to the next volume!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Ralph "Soul" Jackson: Feature and Interview

Ralph is perhaps most remembered by soul fans for the handful of tracks he cut with Rick Hall and the A Team at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, back in the glory days of southern soul. Deep fans talk about the killer ballad 'Let Your Sweet Love Surround Me' issued on Sounds Of Birmingham.
Following the recent release of The Birmingham Sound - The Soul Of Neal Hemphill Vol 1 (Rabbit Factory), on which some of his post-MS material features prominently, Ralph has been playing shows promoting the cd. At one, a sell out show in Chicago, he was joined by the great Roscoe Robinson, who also features on the Birmingham Sound cd. Rave reviews are emanating from the US of A.
Ralph is back and as you can see from this recent photo, in good shape!
I've been very fortunate to secure a Q&A session with Ralph.

Where & when where you born?
I was born and raised across the river from Columbus, GA, in Phenix City, Alabama. It has always been a tough town, they made a controversial documentary-style film in the 50s called the ‘Phenix City Story’ which brought light to all the organized crime, gambling, and other vices. They used to drag the river on a weekly basis looking for bodies…it was tough, man.

What was your musical background, both yourself as a child and your family? (What were your musical influences?)
I come from a musical family, my first cousins Jo Jo Benson and Fletcher Flowers had some success in soul music. Jo Jo, Fletcher, and I all grew up in the same house and we sang coming up in church and just at home, I would sing along with and bang spoons on the
table to Jo Jo’s singing. In grade school I would
stay in during recess and play the piano while other kids were outside playing and later I switched off between drums and trumpet in the high school marching band.

How did you come to record in Muscle Shoals?
My senior year of high school I wrote this song ‘Don’t Tear Yourself Down’ and sent it up to FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals and about four days later I got a call from Rick Hall himself inviting me up to record my song

What do you remember about your recording sessions in Muscle Shoals and Birmingham?
FAME was a trip, man, it was my first studio experience and I found myself teaching my song to these guys Jimmy, Roger, and David, who were telling me who else they played behind: Clarence Carter, Wilson Pickett, and Arthur Conley, and if you’ve ever been to FAME, the main studio’s control room is above the live room so I found myself alone in a room with guys that cut on some of my favorite sides while Rick Hall and Spooner Oldham hung out above me in the control room, it really freaked me out! I didn’t have another song so Rick had me do Hank Williams’ hit ‘Jambalaya’ and they leased the record to AMY/BELL and chose ‘Jambalaya’ to push to Black radio. I became friends with Spooner and we cut some more stuff together at FAME that was later leased to Atlantic Records and to Neal Hemphill and Ed Mendel for the Sound of Birmingham label. Hemphill’s studio, the second one where I recorded my sides for Black Kat Records, was modeled after FAME, with the control room above the live room but it was a much more laid back atmosphere. If you read the notes to ‘The Birmingham
Sound: The Soul of Neal Hemphill Vol. 1’ you’ll get the idea. Roscoe Robinson was the only guy with a hit record at the studio while I was there and I played bass behind him doing regional gigs for extra money.

What have you been doing since your period as a recording artist? Have you been performing?
I'm the music minister for my church and play every Sunday and occasionally at weekly revivals. I also opened a recording studio in my backyard to record young and aspiring talent who might not otherwise have a chance. I'm also one of the best known auto mechanics in town!

What songs are typically part of your show nowadays?
We do 'Set Me Free' and 'Take Me Back', a handfull of my newer songs, and I sang 'Don't Tear Yourself Down'
for the first time in over thirty years last weekend and had some fun so we might add it to the set. My musical director, Adam Fitz, has worked a couple of his songs into our set and 'I'm Your Puppet' is coming along well too.

Where are you living now? What are your plans for the future? John tells me there may be new recordings in the pipeline and possible UK visits?
I'm still living in Phenix City, it's my town and my family is all still here. We just did two SOLD OUT shows supporting the release of 'The Birmingham Sound:
The Soul of Neal Hemphill' and I know they're working on a New York show in Nov/Dec. It looks like our UK trip in Sept might get put off a month or so but I will be there before the end of the year to turn your country inside out. John and Adam are getting some recording time together and we're cutting some demos so my UK trip might be with a band (half of my band's other band the Dexateens will be in the UK in October) and hopefully with a record deal! We're talking with a few labels that would be a good fit for me and my sound.

What music do you listen to now?
I write and listen to love songs. You can sing about 'Funky Broadway' or the 'Tighten Up' but they become dated and sort of lose their relevance to a younger generation, love songs are timeless and everybody can relate to them. You may lose love or fall out of love with somebody but you'll alway have love in your heart.

What are your top 10 favourite records?
Elvis Presley - Love Me Tender
Marvin Gaye - Long Distance Lover
James Brown/Billy Eckstine - Just a Prisoner Foreigner - Hot Blooded Dan & Spooner - I'm Your Puppet any Smokey Robinson...soo many songs!

Andrew, thanks for considering me for your website!
I'm so excited to have my music heard again and to perform in front of audiences hungry for Southern-styled soul music. I hope to meet you and all my overseas fans soon!

I'm sure all soul fans join me in wishing Ralph the very best in his current and future endeavours.
Many thanks to John Ciba for facilitating the interview and for the photos.
I'll be posting on the 'The Birmingham Sound' when it turns up!

A Ralph Jackson Discography
‘Jambalaya’ b/w ‘Don’t Tear Yourself Down’ AMY/BELL Records (1965)
‘Sunshine of Your Love’ b/w ‘Cause I Love You’ Atlantic Records (1967)
‘Matchbox’ b/w ‘Let Your Sweet Love Surround Me’ SOB (1971)
‘Set Me Free’ b/w ‘Take Me Back’ Black Kat Records (1975)
‘I’ll Be a Real True Man’ b/w ‘This is My Prayer’ RAJAC/Black Stallion (1981)
“I Can’t Leave You Alone’ b/w ‘Instrumental’ RAJAC Records (1981)

Ralph's Sounds Of Birmingham material including some unreleased, features in the aformentioned The Birmingham Sound - The Soul Of Neal Hemphill Vol 1 (Rabbit Factory 2006)
'Jambalaya' also appears on the recent 'Barnyard Soul' (Deep Groove 2006) cd but this may be a bootleg.