Jukebox Jive with Garland Jeffreys : Getting The Story Through

 

I’m delighted today to launch a new Feature, ‘Jukebox Jive with …’.

The aim is to provide an insight into the social and musical roots of artists close to the heart of The Jukebox.

It is a special pleasure that we begin with Garland Jeffreys for I have been an avid fan of his work for over 40 years!

Garland generously spared an hour of his time for a telephone interview with me to discuss his influences, his mentors and contemporaries and the records he most cherishes from his own catalogue.

Delightfully he also frequently broke into song down the line from New York to illustrate his answers.

 

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Garland is a singer, songwriter and performer of immense talent.

Someone who was best friends with Lou Reed and regularly called up on stage by Bruce Springsteen.

People, ‘In the Know’ know what a great artist Garland is!

He has written dozens of haunting songs which provide searching insights into what it is to live an engaged modern life.

Drawing on the traditions of Jazz, Blues, Rhythm and Blues, Doo-Wop, Reggae and Soul his work shines a forensic light onto the issues of The Working Life, Race and Class, Love and Sex in post World War 2 America as refelected in the Nation’s premier City – New York.

Garland was born in June 1943 and grew up in Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay. His heritage was a mixture of Black, White and Puerto Rican – not forgetting a trace of Cherokee!

It’s undoubtedly the case that such a complex heritage gave Garland an outsider status – too black to be white, too white to be black.

While this provided a series of challenging scenarios in his youth it had the artistic advantage of making him a sharp and subtle observer of the world around him.

His parents were hard working people who instilled in him a love of music and pride in doing a job well.

Perhaps it’s better at this point to allow Garland to tell you himself; through his wonderfully warm and affectionate memoir song, ‘14 Steps To Harlem’ what it was like growing up in the 50s and 60s in such a household.

 

 

IJ – Who was the Artist who called your own voice (as Bob Dylan’s was called by Woody Guthrie)?

GJ :

Well, I grew up in a house filled with music.

My Mother loved Duke Ellington, Dinah Washington and Frank Sinatra.

I loved those and discovered for myself someone as great as Nina Simone who I used to see perform at The Village Gate.

All this stood me in very good stead later when I shared a stage with Jazz Giants like Sonny Rollins and Carmen McRae – you should have heard our duet on, ‘Teach Me Tonight’ (Garland croons … should the teacher stand so near, my love)

There’s a depth in Jazz I’m mining to this day.

I always could sing so naturally I sang along to the radio – those fabulous R&B, Doo-Wop and Rock ‘n’ Roll songs saturated the New York air.

If I have to pick one I’ll go for Frankie Lymon – he was a hell of a singer and he was my size!

Frankie could really sing and not just the uptemp hits everyone remembers but also heart rending ballads like, ‘Share’.

Frankie sang songs filled with energy and sweetness and you knew he was talking about the real life lived out on the New York Streets.

A record I just couldn’t stop playing?,,,

Well I’d have to say Frankie Lymon (don’t forget The Teenagers) with, ‘I’m Not a Juvenile Delinquent’.

 

 

IJ – Was there a Radio Station/Radio Show that was important in introducing you to the Music you love?

GJ :

We all listened to WINS and especially to Alan Freed’s Moondog Show.

I loved the Sports coverage on WINS too.

I was a true Brooklyn Dodgers fan – proud to say I was there in 1947 when Jackie Robinson played his first Major League game at Ebbets Field!

Later on I used to go to see broadcasting legend Bob Fass at the WBAI Studios

I went there a few times with the great Bass Player, Richard Davis, who played on my own records as well as being the instrumental star of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks.

Richard was a great musician but a humble man.

He was something of a mentor for me as was Paul Griffin (who played Piano on Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone among many other classic recordings).

Of course, I was close with Lou Reed from our days at Syracuse University – boy were we the odd couple!

IJ : What was the first record made by one of your contemporaries that made you think – Wow they’ve really got it!

GJ :

Oh, Yeh … Bob Dylan’s ‘Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright’.

I’m a couple of years younger than Bob Dylan.

I used to go to and play at New York Folk Clubs like The Gaslight and Gerde’s.

I saw him then. He has always been a fascinating character.

Managing to be a fantastic self promoter without obviously being one.

He had a unique style and his songs just made sense of the times we were living in.

He wasn’t afraid to be challenging politically and in personal relationships.

 

 

IJ : Which of your own Records was the first to turn out exactly how you wanted it to?

GJ :

I’d have to say that would be, ‘Ghost Writer’ from 1977.

That was an inspired record – the whole album where everything came together. The songs, my singing and the musicians I played with all playing at a peak.

Songs like, ‘Cool Down Boy’, ‘Why – O’ and, ‘Spanish Town’ said something then and they still do.

Dr John’s on there and David Spinoza.

Hugh McCracken who played Guitar and Harmonica deserves a lot of credit.

Sadly he died 5 years ago now – that’s the way when you’ve been in the music world as long as I have.

Ghost Writer as an individual song tells my story.

A New York City Son trying to make my way while having fun.

Someone who knows about tradition in Literature – Shakespeare, Spencer and Sydney and who knows that there’s a poetry in the streets that demands to be expressed.

I agree with you that Ghost Writer is a, ‘Blue Hour’ song – a vision that comes from the ghosts whispering in that hour that’s the last of the night or the first of the morning.

I also love that Dub Reggae feel we got down.

 

 

IJ – What other albums make up your top 3?

GJ :

‘Escape Artist’ from 1981 and, ‘The King of In Between’ from 2011.

As to individual songs I would have to go for, ‘Wild in the Streets’ which was a breakthrough song for me and something of a New York City Anthem.

It’s a Song every audience expects me to play and I make sure not to disappoint them.

I still love it – I make sure to play it straight just like I recorded it.

From more recent times I’m proud of  ‘Coney Island Winter’ which says a lot about modern America and stands up for people who need to be stood up for.

Garland started that menacing whispered intro…

This is a classic.

A Song alive, vibrating, with the energy of the Streets.

An energy that can be exhilarating  but which can also be threatening and at times even fatal.

It’s a song that has the beat, beat, beat of the summer sun and of hot young blood.

A song to be sung on the stoops and the fire escapes and on the baking roofs.

 

Garland was nearly 70 when he made one of his very best albums, ‘The King of In Between’.

What’s almost miraculous about this record is that it has the energy and rage of youth combined with the craft and wisdom of maturity.

‘Coney Island WInter’ has the unstoppable power of a Locomotive yet has a profound tenderness towards those left behind by a cruel and heedless system.

It’s a story that happens every day that only a rare storyteller could make come so thrilling alive.

 

IJ – What was your greatest ever Live Show?

GJ :

A show that really stands out for me was one from The Ritz in NYC with The Rumour backing me up.

Those English guys can really play! (the partnership is brilliantly captured on the Rock ‘n ‘Roll Adult CD)

IJ – What Song by another Artist do you wish you had written?

GJ :

For it’s simplicity, its power and its endless playability I would have to say, ‘Gloria’ by Van Morrison in his days with Them.

A Million Garage Bands can’t be wrong!

IJ – Who’s an under rated Artist we ought to look out for?

GJ :

Garland Jeffreys ! (Seconded! The Immortal Jukebox)

IJ – Nominate a Song – one of your own or by someone else to take up the A100 slot on The Immortal Jukebox.

GJ :

Garland Jeffreys – ‘Ghost Writer’.

IJ – Anything you’d like to add?

GJ :

Sure – I’d like to say that I’m forever grateful to all my fans and supoorters. I’ve spent my life trying to make the very best music I can and that’s what I’m always going to do.

Oh ..and if you’re starting out as a musician I’d advise you to protect your copyrights!

Start  your own record company. Of course the main thing you’ve got to do is love the music, the writing and the performing.

Wise words. Wise words.

New York has had many great chroniclers.

For my money Garland deserves his place among them.

His songs have an urban strength and urgency tempered by empathy for the outsiders and also-rans so often unblinkingly passed by.

Songs can be so many things.

For me Garland’s songs have been lifeboats when the tempest raged, lamps to light the way to a safer shore and ladders to climb up to the Stars.

What moves me most is the sense that I am witnessing a unique voice and vision telling me hard won truths.

Jackie Robinson said that the most luxurious possession, the richest treasure anyone can have is their dignity.

Garland has assuredly joined Jackie in that All Star Dugout.

Today, June 29, is Garland’s Birthday.

Happy Birthday Garland – may your Songs always be sung.

 

Notes :

Many thanks to Claire Jeffreys for setting up the Interview.

Thanks too to Mick Tarrant for the introduction.

A Garland Jeffrey’s Playlist :

In addition to the tracks above I regularly play

‘I May Not Be Your Kind’

‘One-Eyed Jack’

‘Matador’

‘Jump Jump’

‘Miami Beach’

‘Don’t Call Me Buckwheat’

‘Hail Hail Rock ‘n’ Roll’

‘I Was Afraid of Malcolm’

”Til John Lee Hooker Calls Me’

‘Roller Coaster Town’

That would make a hell of a mix CD!

 

Willy Deville : Rebirth in New Orleans – Beating Like a Tom Tom

If you can’t find your way follow The River.

The River.

The Mississippi River.

More than two thousand miles all the way.

Well it winds through Bemidji, St Cloud and Anoka.

St Paul, Redwing and Pepin.

On through Minneiska, La Crosse and Potosi.

Lansing, Prarie Du Chien and Galena (hats off to U S Grant)

Sabula, Moline and Oquawka.

Right by Keokuk, Kaskaskia and Hannibal (hats off to Sam Clemens)

Thebes, Cairo and Osceola.

Memphis, Greenville and Helena (hats off to Levon)

Vicksburg, Natchez and Baton Rouge.

That’s how you find your way to the Crescent City.

As it flows The River is always picking up freight.

Flotsam and Jetsom.

Ramblers, Rebels and Gamblers.

No account Losers and Aces up the sleeve sure fire Winners.

As it flows it gathers up and gathers in tall tales and stories, myths and legends, bawdy jokes, rhymes and half rhymes, drunken vows and whispered poems.

As  it flows it gathers up and gathers in melodies and rhythms and lyrics and binds them into Songs.

In a small studio in the Crescent City musicians meet and greet each other.

No ones a stranger.

They all been breathing the same air for years and years.

They know who’s good and just how good they are.

Everyone knows Fats and Dave and ‘Fess.

Mac and Earl and Plas.

Alan and Cyril and Zigaboo

The Studio don’t give them a whole lot of time but they don’t need it.

Count off … let’s roll!

We respect a real song.

More we revere them.

Let the years decide which ones get remembered.

Somewhere out there – maybe thousands of miles Up River someone will respect and revere these songs like we do.

The music gets caught on tape and they press up the vinyl.

The guys on the radio play it when they alloŵed.

In the Roadhouses and Honky Tonks the button is pressed on The Jukebox and the song blooms in the night air.

We got another one to cut now.

A true message always gets through.

Decades later a Singer sweats through another night with the monkey on his back.

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The Dreams take him back to sweet days of youth but they don’t linger there.

No, there’s jeering Demons in the hours before the Dawn and they don’t always fade away in the light.

Always. Always The Songs.

He’s made a lot of mistakes in his life.

A lot.

But, he’s always respected and revered the true songs.

The ones with heart and soul.

The ones that keep turning up in your dreams.

The ones heard on the radio and played on the Jukebox when he was starting out.

The ones you know it ain’t so easy to sing unless you can really sing.

Songs that play in your head sometimes at 33rpm, sometimes at 45, sometimes at 78- depending on what and how much medicine has been taken.

In the roaring traffics boom.

In the silence of a lonely room.

Beating. Beating. Beating.

Big blue diamonds instead of a band of gold.

Oh, I’ve been a fool my dear – a fool by heart.

Beating. Beating. Beating.

I’m loaded out of my mind.

Loaded out of my mind.

Beating. Beating. Beating.

I’ve played the game of love and lost.

Lost.

All through the night all I do is weep.

Tossing and Turning.

Tossing and Turning.

You on my mind.

You hold me and won’t let go.

Hold me and won’t let go.

The beating of my heart.

Beating. Beating. Beating.

Beating like a Tom Tom.

Beating like a Tom Tom.

Now, I know, I know, I’m so defiled in this world I’ve made.

Maybe my own Mother and Father would abandon me.

Maybe they’d be right.

Yet, maybe there’s still a power that could gather me up.

A power that would gather me up.

But, I gonna have to move to find it.

Kind of a pilgrimage.

The River – I’ll follow The River all the way.

All the way.

Got to find my way Down River.

Down River where the Songs come from.

All the way Down to the Crescent City.

Find me those guys who can really play.

They all know each other.

I need the place and their time.

The time and the place.

I need to believe again.

To believe.

Theyll know straight away if I can really Sing.

Gonna ask ‘em to play, ‘Beating Like A Tom Tom’

My heart been beating to that for a long time.

A long time.

Let’s see what kind of Mojo I can show them.

Count it off…

Freddie … make that guitar real pretty ….

‘ … Tossin’ and I’m turnin’ all in my sleep ….’

 

All Right!

Now do you believe?

Got some storefront gospel in there too by God.

I think we did right by old Ernie there guys!

Now Ernie K Doe is one thing but Little Willie John is sure another.

Ain’t a singer alive who heard Willie who didn’t get The Fever.

Willie lived inside the song.

Held it up to the light so it glowed in your mind.

Lodged deeper than a bullet in your heart.

Remember, ‘Big Blue Diamond’?

‘Blue diamonds, big blue diamonds on her finger
Instead of a little band of gold
Big diamonds, big blue diamonds tell the story
Of the love that no one man could hold’.

You got to feel that ache.

The ache for the love behind that band of gold.

The ache.

Count it off ….

 

Yeh … that’ll do it.

Lonesome in the moonlight.

Lonesome in the moonlight.

We all been there.

Looking up with a broken heart.

I was trying to sing it for Willie John in prison looking up at the moon.

Hey Mac what about that one of Alan’s about being a fool by heart?

Ah … Hello My Lover – that’s it.

‘I’ve been a fool, my dear, a fool by heart
But I’m done up in my mind

Oh … I’m gonna try my best to do what is right
I’m gonna be with you, yes I will, both day and night …’

Let’s see if we can get a second line feel here  – raise everybody up.

Gonna dance my way through this one Mac.

When this one comes on everybody gonna dance.

Count it off …

 

Ain’t no hiding why I come down here.

Don’t need to tell you guys what that Junk will do to you.

If I ain’t got as right to sing that Junker Blues – who has?

Here’s one for you Champion Jack!

We all craving for something to make the dawn easier to face.

No messing ..gonna sing this one straight … tell the story.

It’s all about the tempo.

Count it off …

‘Some people call me a Junker ….’

 

Well, ain’t that the best damn feeling!

Got to take these songs out on the road guys.

Take it to the people and show them a new side of me.

Get that Tom Tom Beating.

Get that Tom Tom Beating.

‘ … Tossin’ and I’m turnin’ all in my sleep ….’

 

 

Notes :

Willy Deville in search of musical and spiritual nourishment and respite from being, ‘Willy Deville’ in New York moved to New Orleans in 1989.

Hooking up with Carlo Ditta who owned Orleans Records they conceived the idea of a, ‘Little Record’ that would celebrate Crescent City classics whether they were hits outside New Orleans or not.

A stellar Band was assembled and the resulting record, ‘Victory Mixture’ shows a great singer mining depth after depth from these songs.

The success of the enterprise led to live shows captured on, ‘Big Easy Fantasy’.

Willy Deville could really sing and singing these songs brought out the very best in him.

Listening to him here it’s hard to imagine anyone ever singing these songs better.

P.S. Special thanks to Harvey G Cohen for reminding me of Willy’s New Orleans recordings.

I highly recommend Harvey’s book on Duke Ellington.

He can be found on Twitter @CultrHack.

P.P.S.

bienvenido a la máquina de discos a todos mis lectores en México

 

 

Rolling Stones : The Joint was Rocking – Going Around and Around (Memories of Eel Pie Island )

‘Eel Pie Island was a big hang-out for me, an ancient damp ballroom stuck in the middle of the River Thames reached by a rickety wooden footbridge. But you felt that you were heading somewhere truly exotic.

It was the place where I began to understand the power of Rhythm & Blues.’ (Rod Stewart)

Last week was a big week.

My daughter started at University.

I drove her there with a knotted stomach – hoping, praying, that these next years would be all that she hoped – the time of her life.

On the way I ceded control of the CD Player – she’s not exactly a fan of the usual fare I play – Howling Wolf, Jimmy Reed, Arthur Alexander.

First up was an Elton John compilation.

‘Crocodile Rock’ blasted out and suddenly these lines really hit home :

’I never had me a better time and I guess I never will’.

Proust had his Madeleine – I have Music.

As soon as I heard those lines I was beamed back there.

To The Island.

Eel Pie Island to give it its full cartographical title.

But, for us .. a raggle taggle band of would be anarchists and bohemians (in reality grammar school boys and girls, art school students and other assorted refugees from the ‘straight world’) it was always just The Island.

The Island.

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Spring and Summer of 1963.

The Time of My Life.

Crossing The River in the Moonlight by the Footbridge.

Crossing to a mysterious land where magic scenes and sounds were all around.

Arthur Chisnall’s Magic Kingdom where Music and Ideas and glorious youthful exuberance and madness reigned, unrestrained.

Blues, Ban The Bomb, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Pop Art …

Queueing up to get my hand stamped by Stan- usually with the name of an obscure African Country.

Clutching my Island Passport :

‘We request and require, in the name of His Excellency Prince Pan, all those whom it may concern to give the bearer of this passport any assistance he/she may require in his/her lawful business of jiving and generally cutting a rug.’

Drinking as much Newcastle Brown Ale as my belly could hold.

Escaping gravity as the sprung Ballroom floor of The Island Hotel see sawed up and down as we danced to Cyril Davies’ All Stars, The Tridents (with Jeff Beck), John Mayall’s Blues Breakers (with Eric Clapton) and Long John Baldry’s Hoochie Coochie Men (with Rod Stewart).

Trying, desperately, to impress the impossibly glamorous girls in their sixties finery.

Someone said later that on The Island you could feel sex rising from The Island like steam from a kettle.

I certainly got burned.

I loved all those Bands – and The Artwoods and The Yardbirds and Georgie Fame’s Blue Flames.

But, But, from the first time I saw them, April 24th 1963, there was only one Band which commanded my total allegiance – The Rolling Stones.

Bear in mind they hadn’t yet made any records.

These Rolling Stones could be found, honing their chops, at The Station Hotel in Richmond or The Crawdaddy.

You might come across Keith or Mick or Brian shopping for Blues and R & B obscurities at Gerry Potter’s Record Shop on Richmond Hill.

These were The Rolling Stones before the legend.

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Before the national and international tours.

Before the Record Contract and the TV Shows.

These Rolling Stones were our secret.

Our Band.

And, Long before it became a slogan I was telling anyone who would listen (of course, there were precious few of those) that Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts (not forgetting Stu) were not only the greatest R&B and Rock ‘n’ Roll Band in The Thames Delta but very possibly, very probably, Hell … 100% for certain the finest in the entire world!

I knew that because I saw them play two dozen times on The Island between April and the end of September 1963.

Two dozen times I felt their growing power as a unit.

Their ability to play hot and cool at the same time.

Their ability to Roll and and Sway as well as Rock.

Their ability to lock into the Rhythm and ease into The Blues.

Their ability to get the joint absolutely rocking – Going Around and Around.

I knew because as soon as they hit the first note of Route 66 the floor became a trampoline!

 

 

Now, anyone could see that going on stage in front of an audience put 50,000 Watts of energy through Mick Jagger.

Energy he learned to control and channel – to light like a fuse to send that audience into blissful explosion.

Bill Wyman didn’t move much but his Bass held that energy in tension.

Brian Jones looked great and added the instrumental flourishes.

Charlie Watts and Keith Richards were the masters of Rhythm – born to play this Music.

Together they found gears unknown to their contemporaries.

And, they knew that you can’t exhaust your audience (and yourselves) by playing flat out all night long.

You have to be able to take the tempo down and cast a romantic spell.

You have to learn from the great Arthur Alexander about playing and pacing an R & B Ballad.

 

 

Through and with The Rolling Stones we became R&B and Blues afficianados.

We knew that there was a deep knowing in the seeming simplistic works of Jimmy Reed.

A deep knowing that most Bands either didn’t recognise or couldn’t find within themselves  when they took on a Jimmy Reed tune.

The Rolling Stones knew.

And, listening to them we could feel in our guts that they knew.

 

 

One night they played a song I didn’t recognise.

Turned out it was one that Mick and Keith wrote together.

I thought – if they get the hang of writing given how great they are as a live band they might be able to expand their reach far beyond the Bluesniks like me.

Who knows?

They might even end up being damn near enough as big as The Beatles!

 

Somethings you never forget.

Never.

24 nights on The Island.

The place was packed.

Reeling and Rocking.

Sounds that sent us divinely crazy.

Reeling and Rocking until the Moon went down.

Ah … ah … that Joint was Rocking.

And so were we.

Reeling and Rocking through the Time of Our Lives.

On The Island.

Going Around and Around.

 

 

When I got back Home from dropping my Daughter off I looked through my old files and found this.

The Rolling Stones Ad

I laughed and took down my vinyl copies of The Rolling Stones debut LP and their first two  EPs and played them as loud as my system would allow.

I tell you my Joint was really Rocking.

Notes :

There’s an excellent Book on Eel Pie Island by Dan Van der Vat and Michele Whitby.

I also recommend the Oral History edited by JC Wheatley – ‘British Beat Explosion – Rock ‘n’ Roll Island’

There are 2 worthwhile DVDs – ‘Clinging To A Mudflat’ and, ‘Eel Pie and Blues’

A search of YouTube will yield other fascinating clips.

Smiley Lewis, Dave Edmunds & The Strypes : I Hear You Knocking

A Commander of an intergalactic Starship looking at the map of our Solar System would probable observe that there was one major Planet – Jupiter – accompanied by 7 minor ones.

Jupiter is immense.

The Earth would fit into Jupiter some three hundred times.

And, while we delight in a single Moon to light our nights Jupiter holds over 60 Moons in thrall.

Now some of the Moons of Jupiter, though small in comparison to their parent Planet, are fascinating  worlds in their own right.

Galileo discovered the four major Moons of Jupiter in 1610 and ever since we have yearned to know more about Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

The satellites of a Planet as important as Jupiter merit close attention and analysis.

As in Astronomy so in Musicology!

In New Orleans in the 1950s there was one giant presence dominating the musical universe – Antoine Fats Domino!

Fats was universally loved.

While he was the Pharoah of his Hometown scene he was also musical royalty from Alaska to Albuquerque from Lima to Liverpool.

In his 1950s heyday he sold records not just in the millions but in the tens of millions.

While Fats’ sound conquered the known world back home in New Orleans a series of lesser lights, satellite talents, made their own distinctive and impressive contributions to the history of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Preeminent, to my mind, amongst these Moons to Fats’ Jupiter, was Overton Amos Lemons known to the wide world as Smiley Lewis.

Smiley, who got his monicker due to two missing front teeth, was born near Lake Charles Louisina in 1913.

As a teenager he hopped a freight train and made his way to the Crescent City where he knew all the action was for someone ambitious to make a career in Music.

Smiley knew he could really play the guitar and he just knew that put before a microphone he had  a voice that could seduce, serenade and stir an audience until they screamed for more!

Serving an apprenticeship with Tuts Washington he honed his performing skills in the clubs of the French Quarter.

With Tuts he played in the House Band at the Boogie Woogie Club for WW2 troops stationed at Fort Polk.

When the War ended Smiley, Tuts and drummer Herman Seals formed a trio that went down a storm in New Orleans.

Starting out with Deluxe records Smiley found his recording stride when he hooked up in 1950 with the multi talented Kingpin of New Orleans music – Dave Bartholomew at Imperial Records.

From then on throughout the decade Smiley Smiley produced a series of influential, superbly sung and played Rhythm and Blues and Rock ‘n Roll records.

While he never sold more than 100,00 copies on any any of these fine records he was listened to closely by Fats himself as well as Elvis Presley and the sharp eared Rock ‘n’ Roll fanatics in Britain like Paul McCartney and Dave Edmunds.

Smiley made a lot of records everyone should know.

At a minimum everyone should know his, ‘Tee-Nah-Nah’, ‘Bells Are Ringing’, ‘One Night (Of Sin)’ and ‘Shame, Shame, Shame’.

But, he made only one record that Everyone Knows.

From 1955 The Immortal, ‘I Hear You Knocking’.

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The terrific triplet piano comes courtesy of another Fats Domino satellite – Huey Smith.

Dave Bartholomew claimed the writing credit and supplied production smarts and the studio band.

Get ready to sing a long … ‘You went away and left me long time ago ..’

The one and only Smiley Lewis!

 

 

Confession – I’ve been known to pump fistfuls of coins into a Jukebox to ensure this plays 10 times in a row so everybody, everybody, knows how great Smiley Lewis was!

I love the stately tempo here and the supreme relaxed authority of Smiley’s vocal which seems to draw us after him like tugboats in the wake of a mighty steamer.

The Rhythm Section and the Horns mesh perfectly with Huey’s stellar piano and provide the perfect platform for Smiley to glide over.

This record sounded glorious in 1955 and it will always do so.

Fifteen years after Smiley recorded it another true Rocker, Dave Edmunds, was casting about for a classic from the 50s that he could turbo charge with his blistering guitar and scintillating production skills.

His first thought was Wilbert Harrison’s ‘Let’s Work Together but he found himself beaten to the shellac by Canned Heat.

Then a bell rang – surely, ‘I Hear You Knocking’ had the same rhythm and making guitar the featured instrument instead of piano might make for an incendiary sound!

Once the idea hit home it was ‘just’ a matter of Dave putting in the hours playing all the instruments, piping his vocal down a telephone line and compressing the sound at his home from home Welsh studio – Rockfield –  and Voila you have an unstoppable hit.

Let’s Do It!

 

Its very common for musicians to cover the classic works of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Forefathers like Smiley Lewis but the electric soul thrilling wonder of those records is very rarely captured decades later.

Dave Edmunds take on ‘I Hear You Knocking’ is the exception that proves the rule.

Having made such a record with evident love and devotion Dave had every right to namecheck Fats Domino, Huey Smith, Chuck Berry and Smiley Lewis and consider himself part of their lineage.

Don’t just take my word for it.

John Lennon was a Rocker to the tips of his Bootheels.

When he heard  Dave Edmunds version he said, ‘I always liked simple Rock. There’s a great one in England now, ‘I Hear You Knocking’.

John Knew.

And, Praise Be! such a great song still finds a ready audience in musicians who have had that epiphany experience of truly encountering the treasures laid down by the 50s Pioneers.

I’m closing out with Jukebox favourites, The Strypes, who seem to have a direct line to the spirit of those Pioneers.

I hear you knocking … I hear you knocking ….

 

 

Notes :

There are numerous compilations of Smiley Lewis’ hits.

As usual the best set for deep divers like myself is provided by Bear Family. Their superb, 4CD ‘Shame, Shame, Shame’ is pure treasure.

Jeff Hannusch is a deeply knowledgeable writer on Smiley and the New Orleans scene. His book, ‘I Hear You Knocking’ is highly recommended.

As is John Broven’s ‘Rhythm & Blues In New Orleans’.

Ry Cooder & The Drifters (with stellar supporting cast) : Mexican Divorce

In Dave Alvin’s wonderful song, ‘Border Radio’ (sure to feature here next year) there are some lines which have always intrigued me:

‘This song comes from 1962 dedicated to a man who’s gone
50,000 watts out of Mexico
This is the Border Radio
This is the Border Radio’

What was that song from 1962?

What was the old song they used to know?

A song able to summon the life that was.

The life that was lost.

The life that haunts the life lived now.

It whispers of broken promises up and down the Rio Grande.

One day married. Next day free.

Except you’re never really free.

How could you be?

An old adobe house where you leave the past behind.

Except (and everyone knows this in their heart of hearts) you can never truly leave the past behind.

The past shadows your every step.

Another set of footprints in the sand.

The song running through your head night after night from 1962?

Of course, The Drifters with ‘Mexican Divorce’

They say it takes a village to raise a child – to cherish, to nurture well being and growth.

Well, it took a creative village – a constellation of craft and talent to produce the hypnotic aching majesty of, ‘Mexican Divorce’.

Let’s begin with the songwriting team.

The Composer was Burt Bacharach – and for Mr Bacharach I think we can all agree that only the term Composer will do.

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What Bacharach brought to the popular song was immense slegance and sophistication in the conception and construction of melodies, instrumental colour and arrangements.

A Bacharach song has a jewelled Faberge radiance that seduces and dazzles the listener.

A spell is cast, especially when sung by a singer of taste and discretion, that lingers on and on in the imagination.

Bacharach’s genius was to cast and recast that spell adapted to the particular talents of the artist he was working with.

Of course, this wizardry would attain its apogee in the breathtaking series of sides he cut with Dionne Warwick.

For, ‘Mexican Divorce’ Burt’s conjured a melody that takes you gently by the hand as it unfolds its tale of longing, loss and painful regret.

The lyricist partner for Burt here was Bob Hilliard a music industry veteran who had already had notable successes on Broadway, in Hollywood, and on the Pop Charts.

We all know Bob Hilliard songs – think; ‘In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning’, ‘Our Day Will Come’ and, ‘Tower of Strength’ just for starters.

With, ‘Mexican Divorce’ there’s a lovely flow and economy of words which tells a heartbreaking tale that all of us can recognise the truth of.

We know that finding love can take so long. So long.

Alas, we also know that though walking away from love must be wrong and a Sin we do it over and over again.

Millions of footprints in the sand headed for the Broken Promise Land.

There’s no house so dark as one where the light has been turned off by a lover who doesn’t want to live there anymore.

And, sometimes, all you can do, though you know it’s fruitless, is to beg, beg in between tears:

‘..My love I beg – please, oh, please, don’t go!’

Carrying off the lead vocal duties with deep died melancholia was the tragic figure of Rudy Lewis (that’s Rudy on the right below)

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Rudy had the gift of bringing life and drama to a song so that it stays etched in the memory.

Supporting him with characteristic subtlety and sureness of tone were his colleagues in the 1962, post Ben E King, version of The Drifters.

Giving the song an extra layer of poignant theatricality were a quartet of extravagantly talented session singers.

Leading these singers was Cissy Houston who brought tempered Gospel fervour and warmth to every record she ever sang on. She’s pictured below with The Sweet Inspirations.

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And, Boy Howdy, did Cissy sing on some great records!

With Elvis Presley, with Aretha Franklin, with Otis Redding – with Van Morrison among many, many, others.

Around Cissy circled her nieces Dee Dee and Dionne Warwick whose crystalline tones gave the song a shimmering aura.

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Dee Dee was a superb back up singer as fine lead singer as singles like, ‘We’re Doing Fine’, ‘I Want to Be with You’ and, ‘I’m Gonna Make You Love Me’ attest.

But it was the younger sister, Dionne, who caught the ear of Burt Bacharach. He recognised that her voice had an airy pellucid quality which would make her perfect for a new batch of songs incubating in his imagination.

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During the session for, ‘Mexican Divorce’ Burt asked Dionne if she would like to sing some demos for him.

And, the rest, as they say, is History!

Providing the arrangement ( no doubt head to head with Burt) and conducting the strings was Claus Ogerman.

Claus was a deeply schooled Jazzman who had found a niche for himself at Verve records working with major artists like Bill Evans, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Wes Montgomery.

On the Pop front he arranged, Leslie Gore’s ‘Its My Party’, ‘Cry To Me’ for Solomon Burke and ‘Don’t Play That Song’ for ex Drifter Ben E King.

Manning the Desk were the legendary duo of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller who always wanted to make sure a great song became a great Record.

Bacharach, Ogerman and Leiber & Stoller all loved the Cuban and Latin musical accents rife in New York City Dancehalls and on the airwaves.

Together they gave, ‘Mexican Divorce’ a flavour of the exotic.

Mexico is different and the song reflected that.

Scroll forward a decade or so and much nearer Mexico Ry Cooder brought his own unerring instinct for finding the heart of a song to, ‘Mexican Divorce’.

Ry and his superb Band take the song at a languorous tempo like a lonely sleepwalker on a hot night finding his way back to the house where he was once happy.

Plas Johnson plays the all hope is fading heart rending Sax.

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Jim Keltner, always the first call on the West Coast, plays the gorgeous sashaying drum part.
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Bobby King adds a sad sweetness with his harmony vocals.

And Ry Cooder?

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Ry plays the guitar and the mandolin with a riveting tenderness reminiscent of the great Mississippi John Hurt.

And sings like a man who is at the end of his rope.

The end of his rope.

For now, of course, there’s no welcoming light in any window.

Empty darkness all around.

Empty hangers twisting in the wardrobe.

Dust settling on the doors.

The road to Mexico unwinds.

Down below El Paso.

Across the borderline.

Where identities and statuses change.

One day married.

Next day free.

Broken hearts.

Broken hearts.

The Beatles & The Isley Brothers : Twist and Shout!

The War is over.

The Good War.

The Korean War.

That’s enough for any generation to cope with.

Time to settle down.

Go to College or back to the job that’s been waiting for you.

Get Married.

Have a bunch of kids.

Paint the fence.

Mow the lawn.

Wash and polish the car.

Watch Television.

Breathe easy and when the dreams come open the window and stare at the Moon.

It’s good to be alive when so many lie dead in foreign ground.

What more could you want?

Well it seems Junior wants something more.

Something more.

Now, he can’t really put a name to it.

Except it ain’t hearing stories about how grateful he should be.

Grateful he doesn’t have to fight in a war.

Grateful he lives in a land of the free.

Grateful for these fine, fine, times.

He wants a new story to tell.

He doesn’t want, won’t have, can’t have, the story that’s planned out for him.

The one he’s supposed to be so grateful for.

The one where he gets born. Learns to dance (properly).

Strives to be a success. Bows his head to get blessed.

Makes his Mother and Father proud.

Keeps his head down and his nose clean.

Gets a good girl and a good job.

No. No. No. No!

He wants a story. A technicolor story, where he’s at the centre.

He wants Excitement.

He wants Danger.

Then. Then.

One day he switches on the radio and Boom!

This is it!

Whether you call it Rock ‘n’ Roll or Rhythm & Blues …

THIS IS IT!

The world will never be the same again.

Elvis. Chuck Berry. Jerry Lee Lewis. Little Richard.

Your head’s just about ready to explode.

Explode.

You stand out in the yard under the moon.

Under the Moon.

And you shout as loud as you can.

And you dance. You dance. You dance.

You Twist and Shout.

Twist and Shout!

Well, shake it up, baby, now (Shake it up, baby)
Twist and shout (Twist and shout)
C’mon C’mon, C’mon, C’mon, baby, now (Come on baby)
Come on and work it on out (Work it on out)

Boom! Boom! Boom!

Well, like The Brothers Isley say – Work it on out! Work it on out!

Now, if that don’t get you going I’m gonna have to send out an SOS for a defibrillator to get your heart started again!

The song was written by Bert Berns and Phil Medley and was originally recorded in early 1961 by The Top Notes for Atlantic Records.

Production was by the 21 year old Phil Spector.

And, he made a right royal mess of it!

So much so that Bert Berns, a very savvy dude indeed, was near apoplectic when he heard what Spector had done to his song; which he knew was a sure fire hit.

With the bit between his teeth Bert got the Isley Brothers into the studio in 1962 and crafted a classic record that has Gospel fervour, Rhythm and Blues drive and Rock ‘n’ Roll shazam.

That’s how you do it Phil!

Of course, Bert brilliant songwriter, arranger and producer that he was, didn’t do this all by himslelf.

First he needed singers with explosive energy who could take his song and wring every last drop of excitement from it.

Singers who could put on a dramatic performance which would demand that the listener put the needle back on the groove the instant it faded out.

Enter Ronald, O’Kelly and Rudolph Isley who were originally from Cincinnati.

With voices blending Gospel, R&B and Doo-Wop and a dynamite stage act The Isleys were bound to attract the attention of someone like Bert Berns who wrote songs crying out for impassioned vocals (think ‘Piece of My Heart’, ‘Cry to Me’ and ‘Under the Boardwalk).

The Isleys already had a million selling single to their name with their own cataclysmic, ‘Shout’ which had set Richter Scale dials aquiver all all over the record buying world.

To set the Earth shaking with Twist and Shout Bert called up King Curtis on Sax, Cornell Dupree and Eric Gale on Guitar, Chuck Rainey on Bass, Gary Chester on Drums and Paul Griffin on Piano.

Those guys knew what they were doing!

The public loved, ‘Twist and Shout’ and it became a substantial hit on both the R&B and Pop Charts.

The Isleys would go on to have a storied career featuring strings of hits and superb albums for the next four decades.

And, Bert, before his untimely death at the age of 38 in 1967, would prove himself one of the very greatest songwriter/producers of the 1960s.

The Jukebox will have much more to say about The Isleys and Bert Berns later!

Across the wide Atlantic Ocean in Liverpool a bunch of leery, leather clad Rock ‘n’ Rollers with ambition and swagger listened to ‘Twist and Shout’ and thought – we could really tear up the place if we can get this one right.

So it was for The Beatles.

‘Twist and Shout’ became a fixture of their live show and walls, drenched in sweat, in Liverpool and Hamburg shook as John, Paul, George and Ringo proved what a fantastic Rock ‘n’ Roll Band they were.

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But, driving themselves and a complicit crowd into a Dionysian frenzy at a concert is one thing.

To reproduce that order of feeling in a recording studio is quite another.

Cut to the 11th of February 1963, one of the most significant dates in the history of popular music, popular culture and indeed history.

For that was the date The Beatles recorded their debut LP, ‘Please, Please Me’.

In one day – One Day! Over some 13 hours they recorded 10 songs and launched a career the reverberations of which are still shaking the world to this day.

Twist and Shout was the very last song they cut on that historic Abbey Road session.

And, they knew that.

John’s voice was almost shot and Paul, George and Ringo – despite the rivers of adrenaline that must have coursed through their veins that day – must also have been close to exhaustion.

In such circumstances there is only one thing to do.

Attack! Attack! Attack!

And, that, gloriously is what they did.

Every last ounce of energy went into this performance which still stands as a Rock ‘n’ Roll moment to match anything laid down by their legendary predecessors and inspirations – Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard.

All those thousands of hours of performing in dingy dives were pressed into the service of making ‘Twist and Shout’ a record which came at you with the force of a tidal wave.

John Lennon’s vocal has a crazed commitment that is shocking in its elemental power and his fellow Beatles match him every step of the way.

Every step of the way.

As they packed away their instruments they must have looked around and thought – is this all true?

Did we really do that?

Where are we going now?

I like to think John, voice ravaged, turned to his friends and said:

“Well, well, where are we going now fellas?’

And Paul, George and Ringo would have replied:

‘To the top, Johnny to the very toppermost of the poppermost!’

And, I think we can all agree that’s exactly where they went and that they took us all along for the ride.

Fats Domino RIP 1928 – 2017

There are some sentences you know you will have to write one day.

Still you hope it wont be this year or next.

So, reluctantly and with regret, I write the following sentence.

Fats Domino, Rock ‘n’ Roll Forefather has died in his 90th year.

Thinking of all the immense pleasure his music has given me and millions of others I could not let such an event pass without a full salute from The Immortal Jukebox.

I also want to pay homage to the magnificent saxophonist Herb Hardesty who died just before Christmas last year.

That’s Herb you can hear soloing on, ‘Ain’t That A Shame’ and, ‘I’m Walking’ and that’s him too playing one of the most perfect parts in all Rock ‘n’ Roll on, ‘Blue Monday’.

I am also adding what may be my all time favourite Fats track – ‘Be My Guest’.

A record which beautifully illustrated the sheer joy woven into every bar of a Fats Domino record.

A record which demonstrated the glorious camaraderie of the Fats Domino Band.

A record which, especially in the wildly addictive horn breaks, virtually provides the corner stone sound for Ska to develop in Jamaica in the 1960s.

God bless you Fats!

 

Had I been born in Louisiana in the 1920s I know what I would have done with my life if I had survived World War Two intact and by fair means or foul accumulated a decently thick bankroll.

I would have bought a roadhouse on the outskirts of New Orleans.

Let’s call it, ‘The Blue Parrott’. And, all the dollars I spent and all the hands I hired would have had but one aim – to make the Parrott the jumpinist, jivinist, most joyful Joint for hundreds of miles around.

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On the door and looking out for trouble before it becomes TROUBLE is an ex Marine called Tiny who stands six foot six and weighs in at 250 pounds. Tiny stormed the beach at Guadalcanal and came home with a limp and a chest full of medals.

Tiny never gets mad but he does get mean. No matter how drunk the drunks get and no matter how tough they think they are when they’re drunk no one, no one, thinks they can take Tiny down. Tiny maintains good order.

Behind the bar is Pops. Pops has looked sixty years old since I was six. He always will. Pops has heard and nodded sympathetically at every hard luck story ever told as he pours another shot of alcoholic redemption. Everyone know Pops understands. Everybody loves Pops. Pops has never touched a drop.

Out of sight in the Kitchen is Ferdy our chef. Ferdy don’t talk much. In fact he rarely says a word. Nobody cares about that because Ferdy can cook. Really cook.

So people who don’t come for the booze or the company or the music come anyway because they can’t resist Ferdy’s food. He will have you licking your lips just inhaling the aromas from his Gumbo, Jambalaya, crawfish étouffée and shrimp creole.

In the corner there’s a Wurlitzer Jukebox primed to pump out Hank Williams, Joe Turner, Louis Jordan and Harry Choates until the wee small hours.

I must, of course, have live music. A Roadhouse needs a House Band. So, I want a Band that’s has rural roots and city smarts.

I want a Band that folks will want to dance to, to listen to, to cry into their drinks to, to fall in love to, to remember the good and bad times in their lives to, to stare out the door and dream of another life to.

A Band people come to see the first night they get home from the Service or the Slammer so they can believe they really are home.

I want a Band that can whip up a storm one minute and lull a baby to sleep the next. I want a Band that you can stand to listen to three nights a week for year after year.

I want the Band to have a front man who makes people feel good just looking at him.

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I want a drummer who lives in and for rhythm.

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I want saxophone players who can play pretty or down and dirty as the song demands.

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I want a guitar player who never shows off but is so good he makes other guitar players despair and consider taking up the banjo.

I want a Bass player who everybody feels but nobody notices.

I want a piano player who has the left hand of a deity and the right hand of a angel on a spree. I want the piano player to sing with such relaxation that it seems like he is making up every song on the spot.

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I want the Band to have a secret weapon in a songwriter and arranger who knows all the music of the past and has worked out a way to make the music of the future from it.

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I want Fats Domino, Earl Palmer, Herb Hardesty, Red Tyler, Lee Allen, Ernest McLean, Frank Fields and Dave Bartholomew.

I want, and will have, the best damn Band that ever came out of New Orleans – The Fats Domino Band!

Well, well, well …. Wah, Wah, Wah, Wah, Wah, Wah.

Baby that is Rhythm and Blues and Baby though you didn’t realise it at the time – Baby that is Rock ‘n’ Roll.

By my reckoning Fats Domino’s, ‘The Fat Man’ recorded in December 1949 in New Orleans and co-written with Dave Bartholomew and blues history is the first great record of the 1950s.

Some things are immediately apparent. Fats Domino sings with overflowing charm while his piano combines surging boogie-woogie with irresistible triplet flourishes. Right about here the great Earl Palmer invents Rock ‘n’ Roll drumming with his driving backbeat which lifts the Band and our spirits until his final fill decisively says, ‘That’s All Folks’ and you rush to cue it up again.

For the musically sophisticated there’s an excellent analysis of the crucial role of Fats Domino’s Band in the development of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ned Sublette’s book, ‘The Year Before The Flood: A Story of New Orleans’.

For the rest of us all we need to understand is that Earl Palmer’s bass and snare drum attack owed a lot to the style of New Orleans Parade Bands and that the way the whole Band locked into its rhythmic parts drew on Cuban, ‘Latin’ traditions to create something new under the sun in the Crescent City.

Listening here it’s abundantly clear that this is a Band that really does know its way around and that we should sign up now for a glorious cruise into the future. Of course, New Orleans picked up on Fats first with some 10,000 citizens putting their money down to buy, ‘The Fat Man’ in the first fortnight after its issue. A million or so sales followed as the entire United States fell under Fats’ spell.

We scroll forward half a decade now to a record which still sounds dew fresh 60 years after it was recorded in 1955. ‘Ain’t That A Shame’ was an instant classic and the passage of time has only added to its charms.

Fats grew up speaking Creole French and that must be a factor in his immensely winning vocal style. The Lower Ninth Ward where Fat’s family settled after moving Vacherie still retained a country feel despite its proximity to the city. So there always remained something of the relaxed rural about Fats nature.

Maybe that explains why I can’t think of anyone in the entire history of Rock ‘n’ Roll who exudes such bonhomie as Fats. As soon as he starts to sing the clouds part and the sun lights up clear blue skies. It’s an amazing gift he shares with his great New Orleans forebear Louis Armstrong. His piano adds further shimmer and dazzle.

Herb Hardesty has a lovely sax part here which always has me sets me gleefully swaying along with him and the Band. It seems the recording was compressed and speeded up to ensure favour with the mainstream (white) audience. Well, that sure worked!

‘Ain’t That A Shame’ is regularly used in movies to evoke the1950s most notably in George Lucas’ best film, ‘American Graffiti’.

Not too long after it was issued at 251 Menlove Avenue Liverpool the first song full time teenage rebel and would be rocker John Lennon learned to play was none other than, ‘Ain’t That A Shame’. John would formally tip his hat to Fats in his essential covers record, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’.

Following the major success of ‘Shame’ both through Fats version and Pat Boone’s cover the doors to the pop world swing widely open and Fats, always guided by Dave Bartholomew, took full advantage with a series of huge hits that had global impact.

Blue Monday tells a tale we all know all too well. Oh, I’ve had many, many, of those Sunday mornings when my head was bad yet I still grinned at the apparition in the mirror and concluded as the Seltzer fizzed that it was all worth it for the time that I had.

Naturally while reflecting that the awful ordeal of Monday would have to be faced I consoled myself that Fats knew and understand my feelings and somewhere in the grooves of his song lay the promise of the next, sure to be even better, weekend to come. This is one of the great vamping grooves that engages you from the get go to the thumping valedictory chord.

Blueberry Hill had been recorded many times before Fats took permanent ownership of the song in 1956. Fats and the Band invoke a bitter sweet recollection of the trajectory of love; part rural reverie, part lazy post love making langour. Their collective vocal and instrumental sound glides you through the song like an expertly piloted pirogue.

One last song. From the pen of superb singer and songwriter Bobby Charles the hypnotic marvel that is, ‘Walking to New Orleans’. String arrangement courtesy of Milton Bush. The relaxation maintained throughout with the sure groove could only be Fats Domino. This is one of those songs that the entire family sings along to when we are on long car journeys!

Fats Domino was and remains the King of New Orleans. The unique rhythmic signature of the city resounds joyfully through every bar of every Fats Domino recording.

They ought to put a statue up in the Lower Ninth and name a Square and a Bridge or two after him. He deserves nothing less.

Some personal memories to conclude.

In the late 1970s I went to see Fats Domino in concert at London’s Hammersmith Odeon. I only decided to go at the last minute and despite my silver tongue couldn’t persuade any of my hipper than hip friends to accompany me.

I was marooned up in Row YY at the very back of the Upper Circle. Friendless and far from the Bar. None of that mattered once Fats opened up with, ‘I’m Ready’. For the next hour or so as Fats played standard after standard with wit, playful power and affectionate authority I transcended to a state of near nirvanic bliss.

It was a rain soaked night but I waited for an hour after the show outside the Stage Door just to call out, ‘Thanks and God Bless You Fats!’ as he got into his bus.

That night remains one of my benchmark nights for musical excellence and personal happiness. Thanks and God Bless you Fats.

Now that there is more than a distinguished tinge of grey in my beard I lean more and more on the sovereign, reliable pleasures of life.

A good night’s sleep next to the woman I love; a mug of fresh brewed coffee in the morning, a walk on the common, the poetry of Herbert, Heaney and Hopkins. A glass of Malt Whiskey as the sun sets. The films of John Ford and Buster Keaton and the good humoured, life affirming, music of Antoine Fats Domino.

And, echoing Fats I’m ready, willing and able to follow this regime until someone puts out the big light.