Rhythm & Blues Scene

Rob has written a new article for us about his experiences of the Rhythm & Blues scene in London. I'm sure you'll be as blown away as I was by the great bands Rob got to see up close and personal in small venues before any of them were famous - the guys who he shared drinks with as well as a dance-floor! I remain immensely grateful to Robert for sharing his experiences with us and bringing the world of the original mods to life.

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  • Chris: Kim Carnes was British was she?
    David: I haven’t heard Little Richard’s later (1967) soul numbers that you and the others keep referring to. I will have to listen out for them.
    Alvaro: You’re a smart Mod DJ, make sure you get “What is Soul?” by Ben E. King on your play list as well as “I Need Your Loving Everyday" by Don Gardner and Dee Dee Ford.
    John: Yes, it’s Open University, you betcha! And you are holding court with your council of Matt Monroe, The Bachelors, The Kinks, Chris Farlowe, Donovan, Marmalade, Rod Stewart, Johnnie Hall, Patsy Calvy, and Eddie Grant! I don’t remember Eddie Grant’s early Ska stuff, it would be interesting to hear it. But, like I said, people should applaud his “Walking on Sunshine” era. The Go Go scene was big in British clubs for a while, huh? I remember on one of my visits home in the 1980s or 90s hearing some white teenagers playing it on cassette on the tube train. I wanted to ask them about it, but didn’t know how to approach them. Incidentally, I bought an album by Eva Cassidy with “Over the Rainbow” on it around the time my father died. It was a sweet version.

    Hey John, did you ever catch the milk train down to Brighton early on Sunday mornings after an all-nighter in Soho. I didn’t, but some of my friends and lots of other sleepless mods did. Apparently, to help confirm his mod cred., even Peter Townshend caught the milk train at one time.

    Fans of soul are becoming musical dinosaurs? No, I won’t accept that. I had a discussion with Stephen Hughes about this point, and countered the argument that says Mods must always be moving forward exploring new styles, by commenting on research I did among the Igede people of Nigeria that influenced my outlook (back to the Open University!). The Igede traditionally had a circular view of time, for e.g., ancestors are reborn as children and as a result elders look to children for clues about ancestral values. They see the forefathers as being in the past, but also conceive that they, having trodden the earthly path before contemporary society, can additionally be seen as being ahead of us, leading us forward as we follow in their footsteps. It’s a bit deep and difficult to grasp. But, according to the Igede, the role of young people is to inspire us, and let’s face it most of the music revolutionaries we know were very young when they made their first impact. Elvis Presley was just eighteen or nineteen when he cut those early Sun tracks, and the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, were about the same age. According to Heather and Mark, Arthur Conley was only seventeen when he toured Britain! Others like Smokey Robinson and Booker T., must have been very young too, because here we are fifty years later and they are still going strong. And what about Little Stevie Wonder and the pre-teen Michael Jackson!

    As a result of viewing time as circular I have no problem seeing Soul, or Ska for that matter, as both in the past and in the future (i.e., what goes around comes around). After all, great art is great art, and is essentially timeless. “Green Onions,” “Smokestack Lightning,” “Mocking Bird,” “Twine Time,” or “Oh Carolina” by the Folk Brothers (you add your own top tunes) are all classics in their own way. And any modern group that can match their simplicity and intensity is welcome to the mod club, if they can hack it, but they’ve got to get back to basics.

    “Simple” is probably the wrong word, “elemental” maybe better, and it is not just a matter of having a beautiful voice. Those early tracks that I remember, “Stay” by Maurice Williams, “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen, “Some Other Guy” by Richie Barrett, “Money” by Barrett Strong, and “New Orleans” by Gary U.S. Bonds were marked by something other than beautiful voices (as Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and Ben E. King had), something more to do with feeling, arrangements, and great songs. Howling Wolf and Inez Fox had remarkable, rather than beautiful, voices. And in any case, many of the tracks were purely instrumental, for e.g., “Green Onions” Booker T, “So Far Away” Hank Jacobs, “Can't Sit Down” Philip Upchurch, “Hideaway” Freddie King, even “Night Train” by James Brown and “Twine Time” by Alvin Cash and the Crawlers, as well as all those great numbers on the Hammond Organ by Jimmy McGriff and Jimmy Smith.

    Well that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
    • Veeery interesting... fascinating theory on time propounded by the lgede.It is interesting that so many cultures support the theory of reincarnation in one form or another. I spent some months living in the Himalayas at one time and of course, Hindu followers are great supporters of this theory. I remember they would not even eat mushrooms believing they are living things and may be a reincarnation of ancestors.

      Plese do check out Eddie Grant's former Ska produced material. Youtube has a few tracks - Train tour to Rainbow City for one.
      Ah the milk train to Brighton - they all seemed like milk trains to me! It is rather odd you mentioned Pete Townshend as we were told that it was Keith Moon that was on the train!! - never did see him though!

      It is true that so many of Soul muisc' stars were very young - Booker T was seventeen when he fisrt hit the charts and it is true that it is difficult to quantify what actually constitutes a Soul record. As you say it is not always a beautiful voice. The contrast between Sam Cooke or Smokey Robinson as compared with a Wilson Pickett proves that point. And what of the great Soul instrumentals? People often say 'How can an instrumental be a Soul record?' and indeed there are those who would believe that such a thing is not possible.
      I always tell them to listen to Brother Jack McDuffs 'A Change is Gonna Come' If that is not 'Soul' then Jimmy Osmond was Soul brother number one!
      Personally, I believe that 'Soul' is determined by the delivery and interpretation of a song or tune. So a singer like the aforementioned Eva Cassidy can put out a record that has a claim to being Soulful just as The Stylistics can release a track that could be absolutely devoid of 'Soul'.
      I suppose it is all a matter of personal taste but skin colour does not entitle a person to qualify as a 'Soul' singer in my book.
  • Chris: You’ve reached new heights with your use of creative similes. You say Seventies music was “as exciting as a cup of Horlicks on a wet Saturday night” and Philly stuff was “like eating water biscuits after a slice of chocolate gateaux.” Where’s it going to end, I ask myself? (More of it; but I still don’t know which groups represent the Philly stuff).

    John: Right, I left Gospel off my list, so here it is: “Gospel born in slavery Ring Shouts that confounded immobile Negro Spirituals and rattled the walls of the storefront churches where it evolved.”

    Yes, Ben E. King is great, and my opinions are not absolute. I can be persuaded! “What is Soul,” huh? Wasn’t there a song “What is soul?” or was it “This is soul”? It has this stanza as its chorus, followed by a long descending brass line. Great number, but I don’t remember it very well. I don’t think it was the Temptations but it may have been. Although a bit sentimental, I quite liked the Stylistics falsetto versions of “Betcha by Golly Wow” and “That’s what makes the World Go Round,” and the same is true of “Gotta Get next To You,” by Rose Royce in Carwash, a pretty song.

    Apart from that, I’m pretty much out of my depth when it comes to the Seventies. I was trying to forget the name of those boot boys. I came up with “The Berks,” but then I remembered, “Slade,” Ugh! Shifting gear a bit, Eddie Grant of the Equals was one Londoner who made unique music at the end of the Seventies. His “Walking on Sunshine” and “Mystic Sister,” even “Nobody’s got Time,” had a funky groove, and were pretty good although probably underrated. Hot Chocolate’s “I believe in Miracles” was catchy too.

    I was in the USA by the Eighties and there were a few haunting pop songs. Who sang “Betty Davis Eyes”? She sounded like a cross between Rod Stewart and Lou Reed. The Urban Verbs performed around Washington D.C. for a while. They probably used open-tuning, because their guitars had a clanging atonality that gave their music an Existentialist “wasteland” quality. Chuck Brown was popular in the D.C. area, and I really liked his “Feel like Bustin’ Loose.” Local black youth claimed “go go” as a DC sound. I wasn’t clubbing much in the Eighties but I did catch Angela Bofill at an open air show, her powerful uninhibited vocal style was quite moving. There was a radio programme “Quiet Storm” in DC that came on at night with Smokey Robinson’s song as its theme tune. It featured jazz-influenced soul such as Roberta Flack’s and Donny Hathaway’s, “The Closer I Get to You” and similar numbers, good quality music.
    • Similies? Whats going on here? Have I tuned in to the Open University? Is that an elongated version of a smilie?

      What is Soul was a great single and the title of a Ben E King Lp. the single was as you describe and the Lp featured some great tracks such as 'She's Gone Again' and 'Katherine' along with the title track.
      Eddie Grant ... The Equals were our 'local' group and the drummer - Johnnie Hall knocked about with us for a while. Patsy Calvey the lead guitarist used the same cafe as us. I can even remember joining them on stage at the recreation centre in Hazeville Estate in Hornsey Rise to 'assist' them in a few choruses of 'Sweet little Sixteen'!! I didn't get signed up!! Can't imagine why. Eddie did some great early Ska stuff e.g The Pyramids 'Train Tour to Rainbow City' and 'Peyton Place' as well as quite a few other Ska numbers.
      It is strange when I think back - the amount of 'Pop' stars one could see on the street. Rod Stewart lived about a half a mile up the road from me and we would see him often on the street (I am sorry to admit that we gave him plenty of stick!). Marmalade had a flat at the Archway for a couple of years. Donovan was also around there a lot and Chris Farlowe was just down the road at Highbury.The Kinks lived just up the road at Muswell Hill and let us not forget The Bachelors who lived in a rented room at the Archway!! (Matt Monro also drove the bus I caught to school!) Of course none of them were famous then (God,if only I had known....)

      I must agree about the Stylistics - I thought 'Betcha By Golly Wow' 'You make Me Feel Brand New' and 'People Make the World Go Round' were all excellent. It was their later stuff - especially the material produced by Hugo and Luigi that was pretty dire!
      I saw Russel Thompkins and the new Stylistics a couple of months ago on the David Gest extravaganza (what a show!) and had a word with him between shows - a very nice guy and to be fair they put on an excellent show - one of the nights highlights.
      Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers did some great stuff - he was a central figure in the Go Go scene which was pretty big in the clubs here for a while. Incidentally he did some excellent stuff a little later with the late Eva Cassidy !!
      We seem to be starved of Quality Soul music of late. I know many great artists have passed on but the once reliable spots that did feature such artists seem to have moved on to other things now. Surely there is still a market for quality acts especially in the big cities?
      Having said that, on recent visits to the US I struggled to find any clubs featuring Soul music even in cities such as Memphis and Chicago which were instrumental in so many ways for the birth of Soul music. I suppose it is a sign that things have moved on and perhaps fans of the genre have become muical dinosaurs?I
    • Rob, thanks for the compliments mate, but like a horse approaching the ribbon, I have not even started yet with the old creative similes. They were drummed into us from primary one onwards and I have used them liberally ever since ha ha.

      I have to say, that like an olympic swimmer you are pulling well away from me with your latest knowledge of 70s and 80s music (not that olympic swimmers necessarily know a lot about that music right enough) I can exclusively reveal that 'Betty Davis Ayes' was by Kim Carnes and I think it was from 1981. I personally think that it took until 1983 for the awful 80s to find its own niche in being even more awful for music and style than the mid 70s, and that takes some doing if you ask me.
  • So punk had some redeeming qualities then? You say, “it blew away the crap.” Although nothing about punk endeared it to me I can appreciate the sentiment. Although I know about early disco, I’m not sure what the “Philly stuff” is, but I'm aware that a lot of black American R ‘n’ B in the early seventies was becoming formulaic and very predictable. I was mulling over the live bands that used to appear at the Q Club, most of them sounded the same and nearly always the lead singer would harangue the audience with the same patter, for e.g. “Do you feel alright, does everybody feel alright?” To which you were supposed to respond with an enthusiastic “Yeah!” Then, “I wanna hear you, DO YOU FEEL ALRIGHT?" Or something to that affect. Boring!

    So often what originates as a pure musical inspiration gets packaged and becomes homogenized, and after a while simply sounds contrived; especially when the music “industry” gets hold of it and promotes it as a consumer commodity. Let’s face it, all the great musical movements of the twentieth century originated at the grass roots level, not at the academe not at Julliard, nor even in Las Vegas, but in the streets, by people who were essentially oppressed. Jazz started in funeral parades in New Orleans but was nurtured in speakeasies and brothels; the Blues was developed by penniless bards who traveled the dusty highways of the Deep South’s underbelly; Rhythm ‘n’ Blues flourished in juke joints and seedy clubs; Rock ‘n’ Roll was brought into prominence by “poor whites,” Bill Haley, Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and their black counterparts (The establishment tried to sanitize Rock ‘n’ Roll by promoting clean-living artists such as Pat Boone, Bobby Vee and Fabian); Ska and Reggae from the gutters of Trenchtown; the Beatles and the Stones played inner city clubs and similarly had a grass roots appeal; while Rap developed from “playing the dozens” and the boasting and jive talk of New York’s mean streets. I don’t know about punk but it obviously is a low down music.

    The other thing I noticed, however, was that the mod idiom was bringing the races together, and even disco for all its phony gaudiness was essentially multi-racial. But this process was interrupted. Because when the white’s developed Rock ‘n’ Roll in the direction of Heavy Metal they sank back into their Saxon identity and there was little crossover. I think the same is probably true of punk. Rap started off doing the same for blacks, although whites have always shown a propensity to appropriate black music expressions, especially if there is money to be made.
    • Could not agree with you any more Rob, all popular music that I am aware of was rooted in working class origins. The same was the case to a large degree with punk, but many of the early London punks would have been middle class even if the movement itself was steeped in working class. By the mid 70s music really had all the excitement of a cup of horlicks on a wet Saturday night as prog Rock and bands long past their sell by date were at the fore. In the charts the pop music was dominated by bands such as the Bay City Rollers and left overs from the glam rock era. Even black music had become incredibly boring with bands such as the Stylistics and the Three Degrees being a bit of a joke in comparison with the black music of the 60s. Hell, prince Charles even classed the Three Degrees as his favourite band.

      That is why punk was so important, it was a youth rebellion again, and although I never took to the look I thought the dont give a f*** ideals were perfect for any yougster to aspire to. The Mod revival in 78/79 was undoubtedly a reaction against punk and married the class of the Mod style with the attitude of punk, which to me was just about perfect. And whereas punk had always been very white (but not as instinctively as heavy metal) the Mod revival soaked up all the mult racial aspects that had ear marked it in the 1960s. Despite the Mod revival bands being white working class youths the Mod movement still looked back to black American music of the 60s for its inspiration, and who could blame it.
    • Some interesting comments! I must say I fully agree with most of what your good self and Rob say. Incidentally I love Supernatural Thing by Ben E. King but must agree it falls way short of his earlier material. I still posses his 'What is Soul' Lp and every track is perfection. Incidentally the Lp he did with AWB is worth checking out - some good tracks.
      I like Rob's comments about 'the penniless bands travelling the dusty highways of the deep South'!! well said.
      We mustn't forget the gospel influence that went a long way towards defining Soul music.
      I can empathise to some extent with both yourself and Rob's comments with regard to seventies music. But let us not forget that for every Stylistics there were the O'Jays and there were a plethora of really good solid Funk bands around to counteract the slick sounds of Philly.
      Personally,I loved it all - be it Philly or Funk but I can understand how to a teenage audience the sounds of Barry White, Three Degrees etc would be a total turn off.
      Every generation embraces some form of music that makes a statement. In the fifties it was Rock and Roll, The sixties brought us into contact with R&B and the seventies spawned the Punk movement.
      Whilst I never really was a lover of Punk - I could relate to the statement the music made. It was the antithesis of much of the dross that was being churned out in the charts and as such was very relevant.
      I could sympathize with a lot of the sentiments made by bands like the Pistols and the Clash.

      But hey - it would be a boring old world if we all had exactly the same tastes and opinions?
    • It does come across as a bit dismissive of everything John, and I had not really intended that. After the Mod thing had elapsed I listened to a lot of different music including Philly stuff from the early 70s. It was not the worst I had ever heard, but it was like eating a water biscuit after a slice of chocolate gateaux. Some of the artists undoubtedly had great voices and the arrangements were mostly top notch, but to me there was little or no excitement. But as you correctly say that is just an opinion, and there will be plenty of people out there who are well informed who would strongly disagree with my assessment. I often wonder how things would have turned out for our generation if it were not for punk. I personally think that music was exciting and rebellious for a few years between 1977 and 1982 when those ideals were to the fore. After that it went all crap again with bands such as Wham, Duran Duran, and Spandau reflecting the onslought of the 80s music that I still despise. The mid 90s saw a rise again of bands that were a bit fresh and had a good attitude before that ceased and all we were left with was Robbie Williams and boy bands.
  • You cracked me up with your comments on my dancing. I thought I was just being matter of fact, providing instructions even, but reading it over I suppose it did reach a bit of a crescendo, “Hold your baby close,” etc. (laugh). “Bring it on home” right, the Animals. I was running it through my mind but it wasn’t quite Sam Cooke's voice I was hearing. I saw Smokey Robinson and the whole Tamla Motown package perform a couple of times during their UK Tour, and as a member of TMAS I was privileged to get most of their autographs. A report on this will be featured on themodgeneration site sometime after my current Ready Steady Go article is over.

    You mentioned Jon Hendricks, you know I dated his daughter, Michele, for a while and had dinner with them one evening meeting Jon and the whole family in their Bayswater apartment. It was a bit unexpected but, enter stage left, and there they all were and very pleasant and friendly as well. Apparently after my time Michele became an influential jazz singer in her own right. I know she performed at Blues Alley in Washington D.C.

    But I’m envious of your experience of Ray Charles back in the mid-seventies with the Raelets et al. Young people who have only seen Ray in his declining years, wheeled out to sing “God Bless America” every fourth of July don’t realize what a force he was in his time, bringing so many strands of black music together, jazz, blues, gospel, soul, and wrapping it all up in his original, classy brand of R&B. “What’d I Say” came out in 1960 hip, clean and cool, and way ahead of its time. A couple of correspondences ago I relayed how friends who had good records made a big impression. I cited Duke and listening to John Lee Hooker in his room one summer afternoon. It was Pat B who turned me on to the “Ray Charles in Person” album. Pat was a pretty brunette mod, buxom by any accounts and I remember sitting in the kitchen of her mother’s flat on St. Georges Avenue, Nags Head, Holloway, while she played this live album to me. It opens with the honking sax of David ''Fathead'' Newman as he launches into the opening bars of the classic “The Night Time is The Right Time.” The experience of that live performance even tho’ captured on a record on a little Dansette (could have been), lives as a moment of clarity among all these misty memories.

    Ben E. King made so many great records, but out of them all I’d choose “Supernatural” (Your love your love is a supernatural thing) as my desert island disc, though it’s a bit out of the mod era. John congratulations! You sure packed in a lot of performances “back in the day when so many of these singers were at their peak.” So Otis ruined “Satisfaction” and “Day Tripper” huh? Well, when you’re right, you’re right.
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