Remembering Aretha Franklin : R – E – S – P – E – C – T!

 

Before night comes each of us must work, in our few days, the work we were uniquely created to accomplish.

Surely, that’s exactly what the late Aretha Franklin did in singing with such splendour and grace from earliest childhood until the last year of her life.

Enormous gifts were bestowed on Aretha.

The triumph of her life was in her acceptance, nurture and stewardship of those gifts.

In so doing she became the greatest female singer in popular music since the Second World War.

Her profound legacy can be found in scores of breathtaking performances and in the inspiration she gave to fellow musicians and singers as well all of us privileged to hear her in our lifetimes.

When Aretha sang she summoned up her whole humanity to insist upon, to imperiously demand our attention!

 

 

R – E – S – P – E – C – T!

R for Roots :

Aretha’s roots lay in Church.

Her Father, the Reverend C. L. Franklin was a celebrated Baptist preacher – immensely influential in the community through his recordings, radio and touring appearances. New Bethel Church in Detroit was visited by all the great and good of the Gospel world.

Chuch and Choirs and Quartets.

In Church wide eyed young Aretha took into her deepest being the rhythms and dynamics of her Father’s Sermons, the soaring exultation of the choirs.

Aretha conquered far flung worlds in her career but she never strayed in her heart far from that Church in Detroit.

From her Father and the Gospel tradition she knew that singing was Important.

An important aspect of sacred drama.

Important to her, important to a whole community – the heart of Life.

Throughout her life when Aretha sat down at her beloved piano or took centre stage her very presence and every note she sang, every breath she took had the force of a sworn Vocation.

She knew from the Bible and increasingly from her own personal life that this world could be a vale of tears, a place of sore trial and torment.

But, she knew there was a further shore.

She knew that in turmoil she could turn to song to guide her there.

She believed that though you might be abandoned by all who you relied on there was yet a hand that would reach out for yours and gently lead you Home.

 

E for Ecstacy :

Rapture. Euphoria. Exultation!

Listening to Aretha on record or in person gave you the opportunity to stand outside yourself transcending the cares of your everyday shackles.

Filled with the spirit Aretha pierced the veil.

Filled with the spirit Aretha gave us glimpses of no time, glimpses of Eternity.

Filled with the spirit Aretha lifted herself and her audience into other worlds.

Filled with the spirit Aretha called out to us to respond with all our hearts.

FIlled with the spirit Aretha made us reciprocate her urgency to be understood, to be respected, to be heard.

Filled with the spirit when she sang Aretha was always reaching, reaching, reaching.

S for Soul :

If you gotta ask you don’t know what it is.

Aretha not only had Soul in her recordings and performances she came to define its essence.

She sang as a woman in full.

A woman who was unaffaid to expose her vulnerability.

A Woman Of Heart and Soul.

A Woman of blood and bone and guts and unabashed carnality.

A Woman who could shout and scald, scream or tenderly whisper.

A Woman who could thrillingly fuse the sacred and the secular to examine and embody our deepest emotions.

 

P for : Politics

Like Bob Dylan says we live in a Political World.

Aretha grew up knowing Martin Luther King.

Her Father ordained Jesse Jackson.

Aretha was an inspiration to all the struggles for Civil Rights.

Civil Rights and Respect for African Americans.

Civil Rights and Respect for Women.

Civil Rights and Respect for The Poor.

With Aretha’s Voice At your back and in your heart no barrier could seem insurmountable.

E for : Eternity

The greatest artists stop time when they sing.

Most music, most art is ephemeral.

It is given to very few to add to the cairn Human Beings have added to the treasures of Eternity.

Aretha has beyond all question added significantly to that cairn.

C for : Choir and Community

When Aretha sang she was always singing to a surrounding community.

A community including fellow singers and musicians and fellow pilgrims.

Even alone at the piano there was a senses that she was singing to Another.

In her singing offering up gifts.

In her singing offering pleas for redemption.

In her singing offering cries of supplication.

In her singing offering heartfelt sorrow.

In her singing shouting to be heard – to be heard and answered.

T for : Thankfulness

Aretha was fully aware of the plenitude of her gifts and was properly grateful for them.

Looking back at her wondrous career we should be properly grateful too.

Now that she has crossed over we are all immensely in her debt.

Take her hand Precious Lord.

Take her hand Precious Lord gently in your own.

Lead her Home.

Lead her Home.

 

 

The Go Betweens : Cattle and Cane

What are we made of?

Well, you could say we are mainly Oxygen, Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Calcium and Phosphorous.

Add some pinches of Potassium, Sodium, Sulphour, Chlorine and Magnesium.

Just the tiniest amounts of Boron, Chromium, Cobalt and Copper.

Traces of Flouridine, Iron, Iodine, Manganese, Silicon, Selenium, Vanadium, Molybdenum, Tin and Zinc.

Scientifically that’s absolutely the case.

Still, I prefer to think we are, each of us,  a whirling constellation of dreams and memories.

Dreams beget memories and memories beget dreams.

We are star shine, dreams and memories.

Just before you go to sleep – a shimmer in the mind.

Just before you wake up – slow spools of overexposed film.

A Life lived in a landscape of dreams and memories.

Sometimes pin sharp with hallucinatory detail.

The grain of the kitchen table, the fragrance of your mother’s perfume, the bark of a long dead dog, the leathery feel of your father’s hands.

Sometimes drifting in and out of focus – colours merging and fading.

The faces of the children you played with, snatches of skipping rhymes, the clang of trolley buses passing by.

Tracking shots, jump cuts, slow motion.

And, the landscape of dreams and scudding memories is so often the landscape of childhood.

A landscape that will never leave you.

When we are very old and our powers are failing we will forget today’s appointment and the name of the current political leaders.

But, until our last gasped breath we will remember the intensity of the light in our youth.

We will remember the sounds of our childhood home and street.

We will remember the breeze blowing our hair awry and the sound of the wind outside our window in the deep dark of night.

However old you become you will always in some sense remain the child you were all those years ago.

The child who will be your secret companion and your deepest mystery.

And, if you are a songwriter – an individual given to times of silent thought – you will find yourself returning over and over and over again to that landscape in search of that companion and that mystery.

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If you are Grant McLennan you will recall a schoolboy coming home.

Home.

Through fields of cane.

Fields of Cane.

To a house of tin and timber.

Tin and Timber.

And in the sky a rain of falling cinders.

A rain of falling cinders.

Falling cinders that will fall, fall, fall all around you all your life.

If you are Grant McLennan you will dream up a hypnotic guitar riff in the key and time signature of memory and write a classic song of recalled childhood and the greatest song ever to come out of Australia.

If you are Grant McLennan living in a world of books and music and silent times in thought you will write, ‘Cattle and Cane’ and you will be certain of immortality as a songwriter.

I recall ….

Grant recalled his childhood when he was far from Home, Queensland and Australia when he wrote Cattle and Cane.

In 1982 he was staying with fellow expatriate Nick Cave on whose guitar he conjured the unforgettable guitar figures threaded all through Cattle and Cane.

With Robert Forster (his song writing partner) and Lindy Morrison on drums as The Go Betweens the song was recorded in Eastbourne in 1983.

Forster added the enigmatic last verse identifying the heart of the song as both the consolations of Home and the sense of aloneness you feel when Home is far away.

Home first became far away for Grant when he went away to Boarding School leaving the fields of cattle and cane far behind.

Boarding school where he would never forget losing his father’s watch.

In silent times of thought he will have returned to the rain of falling cinders and the sky above his Home.

Dreaming in the night he will have returned on the virtual train to the fields of cattle and cane and been blessed by the rain of falling cinders.

Those dreams of home will have flashed brighter when he left Australia in search of his chance.

Recalling the genesis if the song Grant McLennan said in 1983:

‘I wrote (the song) to please my mother. She hasn’t heard it yet because my mother and stepfather live (on a cattle station) and they can’t get 240 volts electricity there, so I have to sing it over the phone to her.’

The beauty of the lyrical imagery is fully matched by the melody and rhythm.

Opening with a riff that seems to signal a dive into the subconscious the song builds and builds through the verse until there is a feeling of breathless elation.

This a song which has the space and time stretching quality of dream.

Further, longer, higher, older.

Further, longer, higher, older.

The adult and the child co-exist and find peace with each other.

For the duration of the dream and the song they live together surrounded by fields of cattle and cane.

Fields of Cattle and Cane.

For the duration of the dream and the song they live again in a house of tin and timber.

A House of Tin and Timber.

A House that will always shine bright in the memory.

And, Boy and Man, dreaming their dreams, they stand under the sky and a rain of falling cinders.

A Rain of falling Cinders. that will never stop falling,falling, falling.

There is the quality of an anthem about Cattle and Cane.

An anthem to an Australia that is both real and mythic.

The anthemic ‘Australiana’ nature of the song is very well captured in the version by Jimmy Little.

 

A Song that can be deeply personal and an anthem for us all is some Song.

So, ‘Cattle and Cane’ tales up an honoured place on The Immortal Jukebox as A45.

I’ll leave you with a glorious live version with Grant and Robert diving deep ….

‘I recall a schoolboy coming home

Through fields of cane

to a house of tin and timber

And in the sky

A rain of falling Cinders ….

 

 

In memory of Grant McLennan 12 February 1958 – 6 May 2006.

For Malcolm McCulloch.

 

 

Little Walter : 50 Years Dead but he will never be gone! The King of the Blues Harmonica

Little Walter died 50 years ago in tragic circumstances.

The term irreplaceable is too often used – in the case of Little Walter no other term will do.

Since his untimely death many fine musicians have been inspired by the majesty of his Sound and in consequence produced superb records.

None have matched Walter’s. No one ever will.

In his honour I present again The Immortal Jukebox tribute to the greatest Blues Harmonica Player of all time.

You gotta say Little Walter invented the blues harmonica .. No one had that sound before him. No one could make the thing cry like a baby and moan like a woman.

No one could put pain into the harp and have it come out so pretty. No one understood that the harmonica – just as much as a trumpet, a trombone or a saxophone – could have have a sound that would drop you in your tracks!’. (Buddy Guy)

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Some people have just got it.

And, by it, I mean IT – the mojo that definitively separates the great from the very good and the merely good.

From the sidelines or from the stalls we can often recognise, without expert knowledge ourselves, some invisible aura that marks out the special one, the summiteer, from those still scrambling up Mount Parnuss’ lesser slopes.

It’s not necessary to have been a Major League Baseball player to have recognised, on first sight, that Ted Williams was a great hitter or that Sandy Koufax was the pitcher you’d want pitching for you if your life was at stake.

Intensive years of conservatoire schooling are not needed to know, for certain, that Maria Callas had a gift for dramatic singing that is beyond compare or that Glenn Gould as he hunched over the keyboard and played Bach’s divine music was some kind of angel himself.

Anyone, after watching even one round of Muhammad Ali boxing in his peerless prime would in head shaking wonder have had to exclaim, ‘There’s never been anyone like him!’.

Little Walter (Jacobs) a bluesman and instrumentalist of undoubted genius and the subject of today’s Immortal Jukebox post is assuredly one of that elect company.

With the certainty that advancing age brings, I confidently declare that there never will be a harmonica player to equal, let alone out do, Little Walter for drive, flair, command, show-stopping technical skill and outrageously imaginative musical daring.

Listen to the brilliance of his playing on, ‘Juke’ his first solo 45 from 1952, recorded with his colleagues in Chicago blues finest ever outfit – The Muddy Waters band.

I believe the proper expression after bearing that is, ‘Lord, Have Mercy!’.

This is Little Walter stepping up the stage, front and centre, to announce to his fellow musicians and the wider world that he was the new royal ruler of the blues harmonica.

Sure, on his way up he had been influenced by the two blues harpists named Sonny Boy Williamson and Big Walter Horton. He had arrived in Chicago as WW2 ended by way of his birthplace, Marksville Louisiana, New Orleans, Helena Arkansas, Memphis and St Louis – all the while soaking up music and developing his awesome technique.

It is clear that he had also been listening intently to thrusting saxophonists like Big Jay McNeely in addition to harp masters. But, then Walter took everything he had learned and at the warp speed of his imagination, moved into interstellar overdrive, taking the humble harmonica into uncharted territory. The territory all subsequent blues harmonica players live in.

Juke, recorded at the end of a Muddy Waters session for Chess subsidiary, Checker Records, became an enormous hit. It was biggest seller the label had up to that point and the first (and still only) harmonica led instrumental to top the R&B charts.

Walter and the commercially savvy Chess Brothers realised that while Walter should remain an essential part of the Muddy Waters sound he now needed to have his own band, The Jukes, for recording and touring purposes.

Walter was obviously the star of the show but he was fortunate to have such alert and sympathetic sidemen as guitarists, Louis and David Myers and drummer Fred Below.

Together in the period 1952 to 1958 they had 14 top ten R&B chart successes – records that are rightly regarded as blues classics. The general pattern was for each 45 to feature an instrumental allowing Walter to swoop and soar wherever his seemingly unlimited imagination took him coupled with a tough, street wise vocal side.

Walter was not a great singer but he could give a lyric a dramatic authority that lodged a song deep into your memory. It’s hard to believe that any set of sides were ever more perfectly engineered to blast out of South Side Chicago Jukeboxes!

On, ‘the threatening ‘You Better Watch Yourself’ below his harmonica doubles as a switchblade slicing the air powered by intoxicant fouled male bravado.

Or perhaps that should be doubles as a, ‘Saturday Night Special’ handgun waved to all and sundry in the joint as a signal – a declaration, that, ‘look out brothers and sisters! I’m a mean, mean dude and you had best not get in my way or mess with MY woman’.

More evidence here of Walter’s ability not simply to plug in to use the power of electricity to add volume to his harmonica but his understanding that testing the limits of the amplifiers could produce feedback and other distorting effects which he could harness to produce ever more individual and wondrous sounds.

There was something of the sorcerer about Walter – casting mysterious musical spells from a book unreadable to all but him.

Walter was a genius. He was also mean, moody and unreliable though he could be charming when he wanted to. Easily slighted, especially when drunk (and he was rarely without a bottle to hand) he was always one step, one sideways look, away from a fight.

His hungry indulgence in booze and drugs inevitably wore down his body and though his talent was immense it could not survive in its true glory beyond the late 1950s given the sustained onslaught of self abuse he visited upon it.

But when he was in his prime there was no one in Chicago or the whole wide world to touch him!

Walter, certain in his mastery of his instrument could play at the fastest tempos to whip an audience into a frenzy. But, like all the great musicians, he could exercise a mesmeric hold on his listeners playing at very slow tempo.

Listen to him on, ‘Quarter To Twelve’ sounding like some orchestral nocturnal spectre briefly visiting this material world to pass on some vital message.

I hear many things in the harmonica sounds of Little Walter.

I hear the cry and moan Buddy Guy heard.

I hear air renting sobs of pain, sly seduction, bitter rage – sometimes suppressed sometimes inescapably aimed right between our eyes and ears.

I hear terror and exultation, anxiety and ambition, lust, longing, and oceans of loss. Oceans of loss.

I hear a proud and angry grown man and a bewildered, bereft child.

I hear all the swirling sea of human emotions we are heir to drawn from the very air and brought to shining dramatic life through Walter’s miraculous sound.

A last treat – here he is, courtesy of the pen of blues godfather WIllie Dixon, with what has become a blues standard, ‘My Babe’.

What a huge sound! No fooling, this is Chicago blues at its best – this is the stuff of life.

Goodnight Walter.

May your story be heard and your tears dried.

You gave us treasure from your magnificent gifts.

Your Sound will never die.

Notes

The Chess catalogue has zig zagged through many incarnations for reissue purposes with complications appearing and disappearing with frustrating frequency.

The compilation I listen to most is the Chess 50th Anniversary Collection. You could also investigate the sets from the Proper and Jasmine labels.

A record not to miss is, ‘The Blues World of Little Walter’ on blues specialist label Delmark. This is a quartet outing with Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers and Leroy Foster. Their 1950 version of ‘Rollin’ and Tumblin” will send shivers through your whole being.

Graham Parker & The Rumour – Fool’s Gold! Fool’s Gold!

I been doing my homework now for a long, long time’

One thing the world has never been short of.

Naysayers.

Naysayers.

Can’t be done.

Impossible.

Not for the likes of you!

A lanky, odd looking, uneducated nobody from backwoods Kentucky ain’t never getting anywhere near The Whitehouse!

Hey Wilbur! You don’t really think you and Orville will ever get that thing off the ground do you?

Albert, how many times do I have to tell you – you work in a Patent Office and you think you can show us all the things about the Universe Newton wasn’t smart enough to find out!

No way.

No way a working class boy, a child of immigrants, is going to win a scholarship to Cambridge.

Fool’s Gold. Fool’s Gold.

Well, I’m here to tell you some of us will never stop searching for that Gold.

And, you know what?

We’re going to hit paydirt and dazzle you with all that Gold’s glitter.

Graham Parker and The Rumour with, ‘Fool’s Gold’ from their 1976 sophomore Album, ‘Heat Treatment’.

The follow up to their magnificent debut disc, ‘Howling Wind’ also issued in 1976.

From the Summer of 1975 I’d been squeezing into pubs and clubs in Islington, Kensington and Camden to catch every GP & The Rumour show I could.

Simply, they were a Band on fire.

Burning with passion and commitment.

Graham Parker was no kid.

He was 25.

He had been a teenage Soul and Ska fan who had hit the Hippy Trails to Morocco and returned with an expanded mind and a deep desire to write and sing songs of his own.

The soul sway of Van Morrison’s ‘Tupelo Honey’ and the visceral venom of Bob Dylan’s ‘Blood on The Tracks’ offered inspiration and a bar to reach for.

Add in chippy blue collar English wit and sarcasm with a pinch of Jaggeresque swagger and you’ve got quite the front man!

A front man who can perform his own compositions with audience rousing dramatic intensity.

Especially when in partnership with a Band, The Rumour, that combined instrumental brilliance with eyeballs out attack and drive.

To see them live, setting stages on fire, in their 70s pomp was to share with them the times of our lives.

Everything that I look for I know I will one day find’

It’s said that Bruce Springsteen said GP & The Rumour were the only Band he ever thought could give the E Streeters a run for their money.

And, having seen GP and Co dozens of times in the 70s I can tell you Bruce was spot on.

Guitarists Brinsley Schwarz and Martin Belmont brought thunder and lightning and swapped the rapier and the bludgeon to turbo charge the songs.

Steve Goulding on drums and Andrew Bodnar on bass always seemed to have power in reserve as they drove the sound forward or laid back before engaging cruise control.

Bob Andrews on keyboards was the magic ingredient dispensing a dizzying anarchic energy that gave the songs a distinctive aura.

Out front Graham Parker sang his heart out.

Every night.

You really should have been there!

I’m a fool so I’m told .. I get left in the cold
‘Cause I will search the world for that fool’s gold’

Now, just because you’re a world class outfit and darlings of the critics and fellow musicians it sadly doesn’t follow that the greenbacks and the Grammys will inevitably follow!

As the 1980s dawned GP and The Rumour went their separate ways before a strange fate involving a Hollywood Film brought them back together again (for the detail of this unlikely tale see my previous Post celebrating their reunion http://wp.me/p4pE0N-1E).

I have to say it really did bring tears to my eyes to see them perform with such fire and assurance on their comeback tour.

Class is, as they say, permanent!

People say heaven knows .. see what comes I suppose
But I will search the world for that fool’s gold’

From the first time I heard Fool’s Gold it became one of those songs you can never get enough of.

I always shout out for it every time I see GP in concert.

And, I always will.

Fool’s Gold in every version I’ve heard Solo, duo or full Band simply sweeps you away.

The dynamics of the arrangement build and build lifting the heart and thrilling the spirit.

Keep on searching.

Keep on searching.

For that Fool’s Gold.

In the mountains.

In the valleys.

In the deep blue sea.

And, don’t you dare let anyone tell you there’s no Gold out there.

Jukebox Jive

I am delighted to announce that The Immortal Jukebox has now had more than a Quarter of a Million Views!

Enormous thanks to all my readers, supporters and commenters.

On to the Half Million!

I was also surprised and gratified to find that my Fred Neil post from last May has had over 400 views in the last week!

If you haven’t read it yet here’s the link:

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-qo

Keep sharing!

Happy Birthday Helen Shapiro! Walking Back To Happiness!

Some songs stay with you all of your life.

Some conjunction of their innate merit and the circumstances of your life when first heard sears that song into your memory for evermore.

Helen Shapiro’s ‘Walking Back to Happiness’ is such a song for me.

Every time I hear the song I get the same euphoric rush of delight.

Few things have proved so reliable for more than half a Century!

So, in honour of Helen’s 71st Birthday this week I am reblogging my tribute to her and taking the opportunity to wish her health and happiness for many years ahead.

Sometimes cultural earthquakes and revolutions, like their political equivalents, can turn the world upside down with staggering rapidity.

Looking around after the initial shock new figures, previously hidden, become prominent and established seemingly impregnable careers and reputations may lie buried or broken in the settling dust.

The emergence of The Beatles, in 1963 in Britain and the following year in America, as joyous rock ‘n’ roll revolutionaries, signalled that the times really were a changin’ and that all our maps would need to be hastily and radically redrawn to reflect a new reality (if you want to be fancy a new paradigm).

Today’s tale on The Immortal Jukebox concerns a British early 1960s pop phenomenon, Helen Shapiro, now largely forgotten- except by faithful greybeards like me.

Yet, this is an artist with a thrilling and wholly distinctive voice who began recording at the age of 14 and whose first four records included two British number 1 smashes and two further top 3 hits (as well as once grazing the Billboard Hot 100 following two Ed Sullivan Show appearances).

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Additionally Helen’s first pre-teenage group included the future glam rock star Marc Bolan (T Rex) and she headlined The Beatles first British nationwide tour in January/February 1963 (they were fourth on the bill!).

Lennon and MacCartney were inspired to write, ‘Misery’ for her and she recorded, ‘It’s My Party’ in Nashville before Leslie Gore had ever heard the song.

Despite all this Helen Shapiro was overtaken by a cultural tsunami and was effectively spent as a pop star before she was old enough to drive a car or vote!

Perhaps, she was also a victim of, ‘Shirley Temple Syndrome’ whereby the public’s fickle support is withdrawn from a child star when they inevitably grow up and are no longer the incarnation of ‘cute’.

On a personal note I should add that her, never to be forgotten once heard, 1961 signature hit, ‘Walking Back To Happiness’ (below) is among the first songs I ever remember begging my parents to buy for me and probably the first pop song I could enthusiastically sing, word perfect, as the vinyl spun around at 45 revolutions per minute on our treasured Dansette record player (Helen Shapiro’s parents didn’t even own a record player when her first single was issued!)

If you can screen out the dated backup chipmunky ‘Yeh Yeh Yeh’ background singers you will hear an astonishingly confident and powerful singer singing her heart out and generating emotion at power station levels.

‘Walking Back To Happiness’ is pure pop champagne – bubbling over with fizzing life every time it is played.

Listening to it since invariably rekindles the ecstasy I felt as a 6 year old hearing it for the first time.

That’s quite a gift and one I will always be grateful to Helen Shapiro for.

The material and production on many of Helen’s records too often reflected the safety first, by the music business play book, of old school pre rock ‘n’ roll professional Norrie Paramor.

It was probably deemed not sensible for Helen to risk her moment(s) of fame by recording songs by, ‘unproven’ writers and in styles not yet fully appreciated (or heard) in Britain.

So this fine voice rarely flew unfettered.

Astonishingly, Helen’s management did not take up the offer to record The Beatles, ‘Misery’ and become the first artist to cover a Lennon/MacCartney original composition.

This was compounded by the later failure to issue her take on, ‘It’s My Party’ as soon as she had recorded it!

Still, as you can hear in her number 1 hit, ‘You Don’t Know’ there was always a quality of poignancy and direct emotional heft in Helen’s voice which still reaches out across the decades.

In all her records, from every era of her career, you can detect an artist who simply loves to sing, to make songs come alive for the audience as she becomes more alive singing them.

It is important to remember that the Britain that Helen toured with The Beatles in 1963 during one of the coldest winters for many centuries was emphatically not the, ‘Swinging Sixties’ Britain that would bloom later in the decade.

Though the nation was finally, after more than a decade of post war austerity beginning to enjoy economic uplift it would be a country unrecognisable to my own children: as alien in many ways as a distant planet.

In common with many working class families of the time I lived in a monochrome world of Without! Without a telephone, without a car, without central heating, without a bathroom (I bathed in a tin bath), without a refrigerator.

Crucially we did have a radio and a tiny black and white TV with a 12 inch screen that seemed to work best when firmly disciplined by means of heavy slaps to the frame.

Through the TV and the radio I became dimly aware there was a wind of change stirring and that it was likely I was young enough to be a lucky recipient of its transformative power.

The TV and radio also introduced me to records that sketched out new vistas of emotion and identification for me. I then bought my records (more accurately had them bought for me) from a stall in the street market that literally stood outside our front door.

The riot of colour and glamour that would characterise the,’Swinging Sixties’ was still securely stoppered in the genie’s bottle as Helen, The Beatles and 9 other acts boarded the coach in early February 1963 to visit Bradford, Doncaster, Wakefield, Carlisle and Sunderland on the first leg of the fourteen date tour they shared.

The Beatles had just issued, ‘Please Please Me’ and they were yet to record first LP. That would happen on 11 February during a break on the tour.

The impact of that LP would change everything and turn a raw bunch of provincial rockers into world wreckers.

You can see something of the joshing elder brother/adoring kid sister relationship The Beatles and Helen Shapiro developed on the bus in a clip (sometimes available on Youtube) from the TV show, ‘Ready, Steady, Go’ from October 1963 when Beatlemania was an established reality.

By 1964 Helen Shapiro was effectively an ex pop star.

For many that would have been a devastating and embittering fate.

Not for Helen Shapiro.

Helen Shapiro’s truest ambition was never to be a pop star. She had a vocation as a singer so when the caravan of fame passed on she was not emotionally defeated. Rather, she carried on singing – carrying out what she came to regard as her god given vocation.

A careful comb through her record catalogue yields a number of, ‘how that did that one get away’ gems and displays her passion and versatility as a singer.

Among those the one that holds my heart is, ‘I Walked Right In’.

It makes you wonder what would have happened if Helen had been born in Brooklyn rather than Bethnal Green!

Helen Shapiro was always a lot more than the cute teenager with the Beehive hairdo, the gingham, the lace and the train-stopping voice.

In the half century since her 60s supernova moment Helen has continued to honour her gifts.

This has included playing the role of Nancy in the musical, ‘Oliver’ and a dozen years or so proving her jazz chops live and in recordings with the wonderfully swinging Humphrey Lyttleton Band (Humphrey, a true gentleman maintained no prejudices except one in favour of real talent for which he had an unerring eye and ear).

These days Helen’s gifts are directed through gospel outreach evenings in the service of her faith which became central to her life from 1987.

Even in this context she still sings, ‘Walking Back To Happiness’ though now as a mature reflection rather than youthful impulse.

She has certainly earned that right.

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Immortal Jukebox : The Story So Far (with some vintage Van Morrison as a bonus!)

When I launched The Immortal Jukebox in March 2014 I had, as they say, no expectations.

I just knew that it was time to find out if I could think on the page with the same fluency I could talk about the music I loved.

My readers are of course the judge and jury as to whether I have managed in my writing to convey the depth of my passion for the music and musicians from the golden age of recording – by which I mean the late 1920s to the late 1970s.

It seems I have now written some 200 Posts here on The Jukebox – each one a letter from the heart.

Starting out with just my family and a handful of loyal friends I now see, with some amazement, that my combined WordPress, Twitter and Email followers are now approaching the 10,000 mark!

I determined from the beginning of this adventure that all my posts would read as if no one else could possibly have written them and that no matter how well known the record or artist featured I would illuminate their particular merits from my own unique angle.

I also decided, as time went on, to risk inserting fictional elements and personal anecdotes and reflections into the mix.

It’s my Blog and I’ll rant, rave, laugh and cry if I want to!

Heartfelt thanks to my readers who have produced so many intelligent and inspiring comments and so much warm encouragement.

Remember a handful of Nickels and The Jukebox is a cure for all your ills.

In reflective mode, I’ve been reviewing my Stats and thought I would share some of my discoveries with you.

Top 5 Posts :

1. ‘Ordinary (Extraordinary Stories) featuring Mary Gauthier & Iris Dement

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-3M

2. Van Morrison ‘In The Days Before Rock ‘n’ Roll’

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-bi

3. ‘An Archangel, A Journey, A Sacred River, The Folk Process & A Spiritual’

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-6m

4. ‘Hear that Lonesome Whistle Blow!’ – Train songs featuring Bob Marley & The Wailers, Hank Williams, Curtis Mayfield and John Stewart.

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5. ‘John Lennon loved ‘Angel Baby’ by Rosie Hamlin (RIP) – Here’s Why!

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-Y3

Thom’s Top 5 (the Posts that gave me the most pleasure to write)

1. ‘Bob Dylan : The Nobel Prize, One Too Many Mornings, The Albert Hall & Me.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-AL

2. Van Morrison : Carrickfergus (Elegy for Vincent)

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-7J

3. ‘Walk Away Renee – The Lost Love That Haunts The Heart’

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-sQ

4. ‘Dolores Keane : Voice and Vision from Ireland’

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-Lb

5. ‘A Poem for All Ireland Sunday – Up Tipp!’

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-w9

If you’ve missed out on any of these – catch up now!

I would be fascinated to know which Posts make your own Top 5 – set the Comments section ablaze!

To conclude let me thank every one of my readers for supporting The Jukebox.

I’ll sign off now with a song from the Patron Saint of The Immortal Jukebox – Van Morrison.

Heart stopping. Spirit lifting.

Hey Girl! Hey Girl!

An eerily beautiful prefigurement of Astral Weeks dreamlike mood.

Van takes a walk and watches the boats go by in the early morning light.

A spectral flute welcomes the wind and sun as Van’s vocal caresses each word of the lyric in which once again he encounters the young girl, his Beatrice figure, who will almost make him lose his mind.

The track is only three minutes and ten seconds long yet seems to last much longer – indeed seems to have stopped the flow of Time itself.

Time itself.

Clifton Chenier : The King of Zydeco – Bon Ton Roulet!

People been playing Zydeco for a long time, old style like French music. I was the first to put the pep into it.’ (Clifton Chenier)

Clifton was the biggest thing in Zydeco. Nobody else has ever measured up to him. He was the King’ (Chris Strachwitz Founder of Arhoolie Records.)

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Like Elvis I like all kinds of music.

In the expanse of the subterranean chambers where my record collection lies there is music from many, many genres.

Deep racks of Jazz, Blues, Country, Bluegrass, Folk, Gospel, Rhythm & Blues, Rockabilly, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Soul and Doo-Wop shimmer in the half-light as I peruse the shelves searching for the perfect sound for Now.

Yesterday, I took a left turn at New Orleans Jazz and came, whooping delightedly, upon the section labelled, ‘Cajun and Zydeco’.

Now, I like to have a framed picture of my favourite artist from each genre displayed proudly above each of the appropriate racks.

So, for Jazz it’s Louis Armstrong. For Blues, Mississippi John Hurt. Bluegrass nestles under Bill Monroe (of course!).

Folk has Woody Guthrie atop the US section while Sandy Denny and Dolores Keane are the eminences of the British and Irish scenes.

Gospel has Mahalia Jackson face to face with Sam Cooke.

The High Priest, Ray Charles, looks out over the serried R&B racks while Wanda Jackson looks after all those wild Rockabilly Rebels.

Elvis himself takes pride of place in the Rock ‘n’ Roll section.

Aretha Franklin reigns over Soul. There’s a group portrait, from an Alan Freed Show of The Orioles, The Moonglows and The Five Satins, above the deep Doo-Wop collection.

Bob Dylan and Van Morrison stare moodily out above their special enclaves.

Above the Cajun Section I’ve hung Iry Lejeune.

There was never any question who would represent Zydeco.

The King of the Music. From Opelousas Louisiana, Clifton Chenier!

Being in a feisty mood I looked for a distinctive yellow Specialty 45 and laughed in anticipation as I pulled out, ‘Ay – Tete Fee’ (loosely, all my translations from Creole French are loose, ‘Hello Little Girl’).

This is a piquant gem, from 1955, indicative of the floor filling, floor shaking sound that echoed around Texas and Louisiana Dancehalls deep into the night when Clifton was in town.

Eh bien, mes Chers amis I think we can safely say that Clifton was right about the Pep!

With faithful brother, Cleveland, by his side on ‘Frottoir’ (a metal rubboard, of Clifton’s devising, played with bottle openers) and a successsion of brilliant guitarists like Philip Walker, Lonnie Brooks and Lonesome Sundown, Clifton burned up hall after hall with his indefatigable Band The Zydeco Ramblers.

A later Zydeco star, Rockin’Sydney recalls that in Louisiana in the mid 50s even Elvis wasn’t seen as being a big a star as Clifton!

He was born in 1931 in St Landry Parish and picked up the rudiments of accordion from his father, Joseph.

All around Opelousas there were house party dances, fais – do – dos, where sharp eared Clifton heard waltz time creole songs, Cajun two steps and fiddle work outs.

As he moved into his teenage years he heard, on the radio, Cajun, blues, R&B, Country weepers and hillbilly boogie.

He stored all these sounds away and thought about how he might integrate them all into his own music.

The roots of the name Zydeco for the music Clifton came to define are open to many explanations.

Sparing you the scholastic debate I’m going with it emerging, mysteriously, out of the old folk song, ‘Les Haricots Sont Pas Sale’ (the beans are not salted!)

Clifton’s debut recording, Clifton’s Stomp, had been cut in 1954 at a Lake Charles studio after the astute producer J R Fulbright correctly observed that he played, ‘Too much accordion for these woods!’

Clifton had created a wildly addictive music that merged R&B attack with romantic Creole sway. Excellent records, well regarded locally, unknown nationally, followed for Specialty, Chess and Zynn.

While Clifton could always fill halls in Louisiana and Texas he wasn’t able to sell records in big numbers. So by the early 60s he was playing without a band in Houston roadhouses and bars.

Enter, the extraordinary Chris Strachwitz, a true hero of American roots music.

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Almost the same age as Clifton their backgrounds could not have been more different!

Chris, from an aristocratic German family, arrived in America in 1947 and was knocked for six by the sounds of Jazz and R&B on the radio and in clubs, ‘I thought this was the most wonderful thing I had ever heard’.

Chris Strachwitz was not a man to be a bystander.

Soon he was recording artists like Jesse Fuller and in November 1960 issued the first record on his Arhoolie Records, Mance Lipscomb’s, ‘Songster and Sharecropper’ in an edition of 250 copies.

Chris was a big fan of Lightnin’ Hopkins so naturally accepted his invitation one night in 1964 to go and see a cousin, one Clifton Chenier, in a Houston bar.

And, the chance encounter turned out to be immeasurably enriching for both men, Zydeco Music and music fans of taste and discretion all over the world!

Chris was stunned by Clifton’s presence and the combination of low down blues and old time Zydeco emenating from the stage.

The music he heard and felt in his heart, soul and gut was life enhancing music.

Music filled with heart and history.

Music filled with toil and tears.

Music filled with longing and love.

Music filled with jumping joy!

The very next day they were in Goldstar Studio cutting ‘Ay Ai Ay’ and a crucial artistic and personal partnership was born.

For the next decade and more Clifton as an Arhoolie artist produced a series of superb records which established him as a major figure and essentially defined the sound and repertoire of Zydeco music.

Clifton was a natural showman who was also a questing musician always looking to develop his sound. He was a virtuoso on the piano accordion so that in his hands it seemed to have the power and variety of a full band in itself.

He could handle any tempo from funereal slow to tarmac melting speed while maintaining swing and sway.

The early Arhoolie albums were matched with singles which came out on the Bayou Label.

In addition to relentless touring on the Crawfish circuit he began to play Roots Music Festivals where his brilliance attracted approval from journalists like Ralph J Gleason who recognised what an extraordinary musician Clifton was.

Here’s a delightful clip of Clifton at a Festival in 1969 with a lovely relaxed performance of the anthem of Zydeco.

Ca c’est tres bon n’est ce pas?

Clifton now put together a truly great Band, ‘The Red Hot Louisiana Band’ which to these ears stands with Muddy Waters pluperfect 1950s Chicago blues band.

John Han on tenor sax, Joe Brouchet on bass, Robin St Julian on drums, Paul Senegal on guitar with the stellar Elmore Nixon on piano combined with Clifton and Cleveland were a wonderfully vibrant group which no audience could resist whether live or on record.

The next selection today may be my all time favourite bluesy Clifton track.

A mesmerising, ‘I’m On The Wonder’ is the work of a master musician who lives and breathes and prays through the music he plays.

Now ain’t that the playing of a King! Yes, Sir, nothing less than a King.

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And, a King has many moods. Many moods.

Here’s a dreamy waltz (and anyone who’s ever taken some turns around a hardwood floor always welcomes a waltz!) to bring some languorous Louisiana warmth to your day wherever you may be!

The 1970s saw Clifton in his glorious pomp. A truly regal musician exploding with life and creativity. He WAS Zydeco Music and the recipe he created was one tasty gumbo!

Clifton died in December 1987 having given his life to the music he loved and nurtured.

What I crave, above all in music is flavour and when it comes to flavour it really doesn’t get more appetising than the music of Clifton Chenier.

All hail The King!

To conclude here’s a very evocative clip showcasing Clifford appearing at the legendary Jay’s Lounge and Cockpit in Cankton.

I sure would like to have seen Clifton tear that place up!

Notes:

There’s a superb compilation of Clifton’s pre Arhoolie sides on the Hoodoo Label entitled, ‘Louisiana Stomp’

On Arhoolie I recommend – ‘Louisiana Blues and Zydeco’, ‘Bogalusa Boogie’ (generally rated his best single album), ‘Zydeco Legend’ and, ‘Live at Longbeach’.

Clifton is the star of an excellent 1973 documentary film directed by Les Blank, ‘Hot Pepper’.

There are two highly recommended photographic books, ‘Musiciens cadiens et creoles’ by Barry Jean Ancelet and Elmore Morgan & ‘Cajun Music and Zydeco’ by Philip Gould.