Tuesday, 8 May 2012

YouTube Generation

Manifesto April, 2012

Computers eh?  Wonderful and horrible at one and the same time.  As a businessman, I would be foolish to dismiss any aspect of them but at the same time I find them slightly irritating, if not invasive.  I refuse to do emails from home because I don’t want the pressure of having to switch the damned machine on …. And as for Facebook, well I just don’t have the time.  They have changed the world however, (as we all know I’m sure) and introduced some very interesting, rather mind-bending concepts.  Let us look a little further…

Around a year ago a colleague informed me that ‘virtually all soul records are on YouTube’.  Turns out that the statement is something of an exaggeration, but basically correct.  I can often view the label on a screen and do other things that seem to me to infringe copyright given that YouTube has a worldwide audience of millions.  That said, the message in the music is being spread far and wide, jetting over the heads of the likes of Cliff Richards and Feargal Sharkey who seek to imprison the music for eternity (to their gain).  After all if a plumber installs a toilet you wouldn’t expect to pay him 10 pence a flush for 75 years would you?  The music industry is one heck of a cartel, and one which very quickly holds out its hand – mechanical copyright, copyright, performers rights, etc, etc.  It isn’t fair and it isn’t right.  By all means protect new music but extending copyright back beyond say 10 years, is ridiculous as if show business is somehow sacred.  To return to my point however, the internet seems to skate over much of the above, the latest caveat being that reproduction is fair and proper for review purposes – it should be, but does that include the dealer who puts his auction up there for commercial benefit?  I know of one who does and hides behind ‘fair use for review’!

In terms of breaking new records YouTube could be invaluable of course, no more ‘one man and his dog spins’ at some small all-nighter, because some YouTube records have many thousands of views. Or would the scene turn into the ultimate armchair experience?  And it goes on.  Recently in the USA a company by the name of Hephaestus books printed no less than 160,000(!) titles culled gratis from Wikipedia – their argument being that the internet virtually makes copyright redundant because in appearing free on a screen it is available anyway (and Wikipedia has no cited authors).  Could Manifesto give away a free CD of all records reviewed in every issue claiming ‘fair use for review’?  Personally I don’t actually see why not – if the magazine were a website then no-one would argue.  Get my point?  Clearly a very big genie is out of a very big bottle and the music business had better wake up to it fast – long term royalty protection is intervention and manipulation at a now-unhealthy level.  Get over it – or should the music industry adopt the motto of  ‘this thing of ours’ which has long belonged to an even cosier setup?

In the last issue of Manifesto I made comment on Ace/Kent’s recent acquisition of Pied Piper material and was kindly sent some review material by collector Andy Killick that is/was a little older but is nonetheless new to these pages.  Of the trio of tracks sent up to me the CAVALIERS is possibly not a Pied Piper jobbie but probably the best one in the shape of ‘Without Someone To Tell Me’.  One Cavaliers disc on RCA is partly a GWP Production so possibly the above is from the same source, even so no Cavaliers tracks have so far emerged from that source.  Only Adey knows.  I can’t say that ‘Without Someone To Tell Me’ crunches past ‘Hold To My Baby’ but it has many of the same ingredients and as such would rate as exceptional in this day and age.  Next up is NANCY WILCOX and the quite well-known ‘Gamblers Blues’.  Wilcox had the one issued side on RCA and this was a joint GWP/Pied Piper production which saw action over both sides (‘Coming On Strong’ and ‘My Baby’).  Like most RCA sixties soul releases, the black stock issue is much the rarer.  ‘Gamblers Blues’ takes up a typical tambourine-driven crisp Pied Piper stance with siren wails from the girl chorus making for a perfect Northern Soul production.  I’ve taken Adey to task too many times for an inability to spread the faith; I’m not driven by petulance but it is a fact that a forty-odd year old scene really does need records of this calibre.  Finally we have WILLIE KENDRICK and his version of the Metros ‘Time Changes Things’ which takes the tempo up a notch or two and the song is better for it – certainly the dancers will think so.  Unlike much Pied Piper material tambourines are eschewed, their addition would have made this one even better.  As it is, to put one over on the Metros is quite an achievement and this track does exactly that. 

If I were to do a Northern Soul top ten then the APOLLAS ‘Mr Creator’ would certainly be in it.  I’ve raved over it for 38 years and assiduously collected all the group’s other records in the following decades.  I knew the lead singer was Leola Jiles and I picked up her two solo 45s as well (on Warners and A&M).  Obviously I thought I knew quite a lot about the Apollas. WRONG.  The recent Kent CD on the group, ‘Absolutely Right!’, brought me right down to earth with a very pleasant bang.  We know by now that no-one can touch Ace/Kent when it comes to single artist compilation projects.  Recent releases on artists as diverse as Eddie Holland, Arthur Conley, Jackie Day and O.C. Tolbert amply prove this.  The Apollas release is particularly good, brought to life by Leola Jiles’ own album of colour photographs.  Their story involves other recorded artists such as Dorothy Ramsey (Melodynamic) and Blondell Breed (Acta) who were amongst a number of changes to the group – they were the Apollos on Galaxy, the Lovejoys on Tiger and Red Bird, The group toured with the Monkees and extensively in South East Asia, Japan, even New Zealand.  The girls sang back-up vocals on a number of Frankie Laine records and lead Leola Jiles came within a hair’s-breadth of replacing Jean Terrell in the Supremes.  The Love Salvation on Bell is also The Apollas. Amazing, simply amazing; all credit to Kent for this particular story and a number of others.  As for the impassioned ending to ‘Mr Creator’ – Help me, aw Help Me’ – well turns out Leola Jiles just followed her soul when the moment came along and improvised.  If I believed in a god, I would ask him to bless her.  Oh and I nearly forgot ‘See The Silver Moon; an almost-great previously unreleased stomper also to be found on the new CD.

Another very noteworthy compilation comes from the Hip-O-Select label in the shape of THE MARVELETTES ‘Forever More’ deemed by the label itself to be the ‘complete Motown albums’.  Well it certainly lives up to the description featuring, as it does, not only all their four albums but two of them in mono as well as stereo.  Not only do we get that but 24 tracks of previously unissued material and 13 tracks of various origin not included on album (previous compilations, singles etc).  If you were under the impression that the best previously-unreleased Motown had all been uncovered then this slew of Marvelettes material proves that quite a bit of the Berry Gordy iceberg is still submerged.  For Northern feet (and ears) then ‘There Is No Tomorrow (Only Tears and Sorrow)’ is the kind of tambourine-fuelled stormer that would have torn the Torch or Wigan apart.  Missing only a caustic saxophone break this could be filed in the same part of a deejay box as ‘Baby Hit And Run’ or ‘One Way Out’.  A more midtempo ‘Breakthru (I’ve Got My Freedom)’ will also find its fair share of admirers.  I’ve got to say tho’ that I find the early material from ’63 and ’64 a little too dated for my taste these days. 

In terms of previously unissued sixties material on vinyl, little today will equal the UNITED FOUR ‘Honey Please Stay’ on Outta Sight.  Presented in the format of the Harthon label this is a group harmony song over the same backing track as Eddie Holman’s ‘Where I’m Not Wanted’ which originally turned up via Rob Thomas in 2003.  Using a different approach to the Goldmine years (i.e. Johnny Styles rather than Weldon MacDougall) various new masters, or indeed original master, have been utilized and have breathed new life into the famed Harthon catalogue – a situation seen to even better effect on the ‘Groovin’ At The Go-Go’ compilation also newly-released by Outta Sight.

Sadly there is much to report concerning the soul scythe of the Grim Reaper recently.  Etta James, Dobbie Gray, Jimmy Castor, Walter Gaines of the Originals, Howard Tate, Lee ‘Shot’ Williams have all passed away recently and all added much to what is termed ‘Northern Soul’, in their time (‘Seven Day Fool’, ‘Out On The Floor’, ‘Suspicion’ just for starters).  Tellingly all of them were in their seventies.  One other was JIMMY NORMAN who died of lung disease in New York on November 8th of last year, and if we have a slightly softer spot for those soul artists who never really made it big in the charts then perhaps that is a fair reflection on a nation which virtually invented the concept of rare soul.  Although James Norman Scott was born in Nashville (August 12th 1937), he cut his musical teeth in Los Angeles and made his recording debut on Mun-Rab Records.  Actually his story is a quite amazing one with rather sobering final chapters.  The early sixties saw Jimmy Norman hop around a variety of labels from whence came Stafford-era interest in records such as ‘Talkin’ Bout The Times’ and ‘You Crack Me Up’ (both on Polo).  Norman even had a minor US hit in 1962 on Little Star with ‘I Don’t Love You No More’.  But Jimmy Norman was also a songwriter and in 1964 he moved to New York to better pursue his writing career.  This brings us neatly onto a point in time where Norman was commissioned to write lyrics to a Kai Winding instrumental ‘Time Is On My Side’.  Irma Thomas was to take the song on brilliantly and famously the Rolling Stones were to plunder it to greater effect.  Although Jimmy Norman received co-writing royalties for many years in the nineties, his name was removed from the credits with the publishing company citing ‘clerical error’ in the first place.  I’m sure Mick and friends put that one right (like, yeah).  The next name to crop up in the Jimmy Norman story is Jimi Hendrix by virtue of Norman’s release on Samar records in 1966, courtesy of Johnny Brantley’s Vidalia Productions.  Both of Norman’s Samar releases saw Hendrix play on them (an oft-stated ‘recollection’ of the New York soul scene of the middle sixties).  To this writer the claim to Hendrix’s session work is rather too ubiquitous but would seem to be very correct in this situation due to a failed b-side ‘That Little Old Groovemaker’ on the first of the two releases, which Hendrix himself re-hashed as ‘Groovemaker’.  This first Samar release is much harder to find than the follow-up ‘Can You Blame Me’ (No. 35 on the Billboard R&B chart) although the flip of ‘Can You’ in the shape of ‘This I Beg Of You’ is one of Jimmy Norman’s finest – an emotional beat ballad of real quality.  Samar Records folded shortly after this leaving Norman to move on to the major Mercury label.  Two fantastic sides for the UK crowd here in the shape of the storming ‘Family Tree’, co-written with Otis Blackwell, and the less-torrid but equally excellent ‘I’m Leaving (This Old Town)’ which saw some Stafford action.

By 1968, Norman was brushing shoulders with another famous name, Bob Marley, when the Jamaican came to New York looking for fame and fortune and was signed to Johnny Nash’s Jad label resulting in Marley recording some Norman/Pyfrom songs (Al Pyfrom was Jimmy’s co-writing partner at the time).  Norman even spent six months in Kingston, Jamaica working with Marley before a move to Lloyd Price’s Turntable imprint, for whom he produced the Coasters eventually becoming a regular replacement for various group members whilst pursuing a solo career (also as Joe Norman on Rosco) through the seventies.  He was lead vocalist for Harlem River Drive and his two Buddah 45s from 74/75 are well worth picking up.  Like many artists Jimmy Norman made little provision for old age and ill health with the result that the singer faced eviction around the turn of the last century.  Ultimately this circumstance forced a performing and recording revival, not only that but one housekeeping session revealed ancient Bob Marley jam session tapes which subsequently raised over $26,000 for Norman, together with old notebooks containing lost compositions.  He was to use some of these compositions in a 2004 comeback album ‘Little Pieces’ (Wallflower).  Norman himself summed up his career thus – ‘periodically I get chump change, nothing big.  A lotta people having been making money off it.  Not me’.  Whether Jimmy Norman was the architect of his own demise or a victim of the ‘dog eat dog’ music game is for others to decide but, whatever the truth, his life was, yet again, much more convoluted and varied than those dancers to ‘Family Tree’ would ever suppose.

Finally a farewell to ‘In The Basement’ magazine in its paper format after 65 issues.  A very good innings and another nail in the coffin of properly researched, orderly, concise information – particularly in the arena of soul music which is fast becoming a very poor cousin to the blues in terms of the written word.

‘Til next time

Tim Brown

Go to www.raresoulvinyl.co.uk for the world’s finest selection of online Northern Soul, Motown, Modern, Deep and Blues on original 45 plus reissues and CDs.