Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Seekers

The Seekers came to England in 1963, Judith Durham fronted the four piece folk group with Keith Potger, Athol Guy and Bruce Woodley. Their debut UK single was released in 1964 and reached the number one position in February of the following year. Selling over 1.75 million copies, this was the first time an Australian group had a number one hit outside Australia. Meantime Judith Durham joined an elite group of four female singers to top the UK charts. I never find another you sold well in the states and was of course number one in Australia.

Keen to follow up with another success the group released and other Tom Springfield song. If you listen carefully to this song you may hear Judith on autoharp and the distinctive sound of Keith's 12 string guitar hook.

After the demise of the Springfields, Tom Springfield took on the Seekers and produced and wrote most of their hits songs. They say things come in three so it was no surprise when the Seekers released their third single written by Tom Springfield it would give the group a hat trick of number ones in the UK and Australia. Inexplicably the song did nothing in the States. “We shall not be moved,” was the B side to the Carnival is Over and vied with, You'll never walk alone as the UK soccer supporters anthem. A true folk song embraced by the populous.

Their next single was a Paul Simon composition but proved less commercially successful. Paul Simon and Bruce became close friends and wrote several songs together including Red Rubber Ball which was a smash hit for Cyrkle.

A folk group competing with beat music at the time was very difficult and the Seekers dipped in popularity. Still capable of reaching the charts with respectable sales Walk with me made the top ten.

Morning town ride was the group's Christmas single in 1966 and when released it firmly reestablished them in the number one position, yet again. The song had previously been included in an earlier album but was rerecorded and then released as a single. It sold over one million copies.

Their next success was a song written for a movie based on a Margaret Forster novel. It was never intended to be released as a single but when their record company did so, it proved to be their most popular works. The comedy, Georgy Girl was an important film at the time with a strong moral message. It starred James Mason and Lynn Redgrave, subject and stars determined an international success. The Seekers went to number one in the US displacing The Monkee's "I'm a believer".

Their next release was a Kenny Young song entitled When will the good apples fall and was the last Seekers song to make the top forty. This was at a time when the Beatles and Stones were in their heyday and the folk boom was well and truly over.

Judith's voice was every bit as crystal clear as Joan Baez but female singers were becoming passé. Tom Springfield produced their last chart success with Emerald City. Despite the hype surrounding their new producer, Mickie Most. The Seeker's next single failed to chart but was an excellent recording.

By 1968 the record buying public could be divided into two groups, those who slavishly bought single releases, and those who purchased albums. Whilst the Seekers had little success with their singles, the sales of their albums told a different story. The Bruce Woodley song, Love is kind, love is wine was a live recording and was taken from the highly successful album entitled "Live at the Talk of the Town."

Judith and the boys continued to release singles in Australia and in the States in 1968, although On the other side failed to chart, it does illustrate how the group had developed musically.

Their fans were out there and when "The Best of the Seekers" was released in the same year, it went straight to number one in the UK charts, and stayed there for 125 weeks! As a tribute to the Springfields, they released Island of dreams which had been produced by Tom Springfield and appeared on an earlier album "Come the day". The B side to Island of dreams was Red Rubber Ball, which perhaps in hindsight may have been a more successful A side.

The group changed record companies in 1969 and their first release was a Judith Durham and David Reilly composition. The song was released in Australia in 1993 where it raced up the charts peaking at Number 3 position and eventually going platinum with sales in excess of 140,000 copies. The Seekers were alive and well albeit the group had broken up several years before but would get together occasionally to perform and record.

Judith Durham continues to record and probably is better now as a singer than she was when playing with the Seekers. Far shore is a superior recording and displays the true voice of a diva. Despite extensive airplay in the UK, the single was only released in Australia.

Worth a listen:
I’ll never find another you (1964)
A world of our own (1965)
The Carnival is over (1965)
We shall not be moved (1965)
Someday, one day (1966)
Walk with me (1966)
Morning town ride (1966)
Georgy Girl (1967)
When will the good apples fall (1967)
Emerald City (1967)
Days of my life (1968)
Love is kind, love is wine (1968)
On the other side (1968)
Island of dreams (1968)
Colours of my life (1969)
Waltzing Matilda (1987)
Keep a dream in your pocket (1993)
Far shore
Bush girl

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Tony Bennett

Christened, Anthony (Antonio) Dominick Benedetto was born in 1926 and grew up in the streets of Queens, New York City. His father was a grocer and his mother a seamstress. Music was always important to little Antonio who listened to Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, and jazz artists such as Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, and Joe Venuti. He attended New York's High School of Industrial Arts where he studied music and painting but dropped out at age 16 to help support his family. Later he took a job as a singing waiter in several Italian restaurants. In 1944 Antonio was drafted into the army and served as a replacement infantryman in the U.S. 63rd Infantry Division in France and Germany. He saw action and was involved in the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp near Landsberg. Immediately after he was assigned to an Army military band and sang under the stage name Joe Bari. Here he met many musicians who would have post-war careers. Once demobbed he continued to perform where ever he could and developed an unusual style of phrasing that involved imitating other musicians—such as Stan Getz's saxophone or Art Tatum's piano. In 1949 Pearl Bailey spotted his talent and asked him to open for her in Greenwich Village. Bob Hope was in the audience and asked Jo to come on tour but with a new name, an anglified version of his real name. Tony Bennett was signed to Columbia Records in 1950. Tony Bennett began his career as a crooner singing commercial pop tunes with “Because of You", his first hit.

The lush orchestral background was provided by Percy Faith. A second hit followed, this time a cover version of Hank Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart", when he sang “Blue Velvet" live his audience mainly young girls would scream.

When he married in 1952 a couple of thousand female fans clad in black gathered outside the ceremony at New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral in mock mourning. A year later Tony had his hat trick third with "Rags to Riches". This was up-tempo with a bold, brassy sound and a double tango in the instrumental break.

Tony Bennett began to diversify covering show tunes and his version of "Stranger in Paradise" (Kismet) was an instant hit, making the Queen’s crooner an international hit.

By the mid 50s the singer could see musical tastes were changing and encouraged by his musical director Ralph Sharon, Tony decided to explore jazz (his first love). He brought out a new album entitled Beat of My Heart (1957) which met with critical acclaim and started collaborating with the Count Basie Orchestra. A standout song from this period was Chicago.

By the early 60s he had established a reputation as a cabaret act and TV guest. Although his career was about to come to a temporary halt the singer was recording some of his best works including I Wanna Be Around and "The Good Life." (1963).

A year before Tony had a minor hit with a song written by George Cory and Douglass Cross, and taken from an album of the same name, both the single and album achieved gold record status. The song went on to win a Grammy Award for Record of the Year and Tiny won Best Male Solo Vocal Performance. In 2001 it was ranked 23rd on an RIAA/NEA list of the most historically significant Songs of the 20th Century, I left my heart in San Francisco become known as Bennett's signature song.

The British Invasion saw a marked commercial decline for Tony and by the middle of the decade his personal and professional life was in chaos. In the 70s he lost his recording contract and toyed with acting but to no avail. An ill fated record company called Improv did produce of couple memorable jazz orientated albums and the song “What is This Thing Called Love?", but Tony could not sustain the output, and Improv folded.

Further decline followed and Tony again out of contract became a drug addict. Then miraculously the golden tonsil crooner started to claw his way back. Son, Danny signed on as his father's manager and moved Tony back to New York, working the colleges and small theatres. A smart move and Tony now clean was entertaining a new younger audience with standard ballads form the penmanship of Cole Porter and George Gershwin. Ralph Sharon and Tony Bennett were reunited and Columbia Records re-signed the singer. By the 80s Tony could not put a foot wrong and had survived to become the last of the originals. Since then he continues to go from strength to strength and is equally at home as a guest on The Simpsons or in Austin Powers’s movie as he is in the studio or on stage. Unplugged was released in 1995 and confirmed the old fellow could match his rock contemporaries. At age 68, Tony Bennett was back.

Worth a listen:
Because of You Tony Bennett (1951)
Rags to Riches Tony Bennett (1953)
Chicago (Count Basie Orchestra) (1957)
I Left My Heart in San Francisco (1962).
Fly Me to the Moon (1965)
The Best Is Yet To Come

Friday, July 13, 2018

A brief history of Chanson Francaise

Chanson Francaise was a new development in popular music where lyrics started to mean something and singing was not there just to keep the music company. The movement started in France and came to prominence during the era of the music hall. In early Vaudeville (US) and Music Hall (UK) song lyrics contained vulgar expressions which eventually polite society took exception to and public singing split into two forms; simple bland lyrics which complemented the melody but had no real depth to their meaning; or clever use of double entendre preferred by comics. In France song lyrics had deeper meaning and the singer songwriter was very much part of Chanson Francaise. In Paris the oldest music hall opened its doors in 1888 and was owned by Joseph Oller, (the creator of the Moulin Rouge). At first it was called "Montagnes Russes" then in 1893 it was renamed the Olympia. The music hall played host to a variety of entertainment including circuses, ballets, and operettas but in the thirties as the singer song writer began to take hold the Olympia became a premier venue.

Rina Ketty had a big international hit with J’attendrai in 1938 but most probably the best know act to emerge around this time was a Belgian-French actor, singer and popular entertainer, called Maurice Chevalier and both he and Rina filled the auditorium many times. During the Occupation of Paris, Chevalier was accused of collaborating with the Germans. As a communist he always denied this and become one of the most affable and well respected character actors in Hollywood. He starred in many musicals, including Gigi. After the Liberation of Paris the theatre was open to all Allied troops, free and gratis and all the shows always ended with the Can Can.

Edith Piaf worked with the Resistance and despite leading a very full life it was also a sad one. She conquered the US after the war and became the vanguard for many other European singers including Viki Leandros and Juliette Greco that would follow. Édith Piaf was responsible for introducing Charles Aznavour to the public after he had served her as her chauffeur.

By the end of World War ll, French musicians became wildly experimental and diverse integrating jazz into chanson francaise. By the early 50s a natural beauty called Juliette Gréco became the archetype pin up girl of the Beat Generation. Her physical presence was stunning and she inspired many songwriters to write love songs about her. Her fabulous complexion, high cheek bones and hair, always worn unfashionably long and free, made her a photographer’s dream. She appeared at the Olympia many times both as a singer and later as companion to Miles Davis.

The theatre fell into dis-repair until it was revived in 1954 by Bruno Coquatrix. Over the next few years it became the premier venue for rock and roll artists with Johnny Hallyday, Richard Anthony, and Claude François all becoming French rock’n’rollers. Johnny Hallyday was the Johnny O’Keefe of the French speaking world and enjoyed a long career with many hits. Something specific to chanson francaise was the singer songwriter and the rise of Lennon and McCartney was in no short measure due to a wider acceptance of this phenomenon. Ironically Paul McCartney at parties would do a little turn for the guests lampooning the stereo typical singer songwriter of the time – a solitary guitarist in the corner of the room singing a deep and meaningful love song like, Michelle. Françoise Hardy was a singer song writer and became the 60s French icon setting the pathway for other women singer song writers to follow like Carol King, Joni Mitchell and Melanie.

Jacques Brel was another a master of the genre with romantic lyricisms that revealed levels of darkness and bitter irony so suited to the French language. His tender love songs had flashes of barely suppressed frustration and resentment and his insightful and compassionate portrayals of the unsavoury side of ordinary life makes his music compelling listening. Many of his songs were translated into English and recorded by well known artists, like Terry Jacks (Season of the Sun) (1974); and Scott Walker (Jackie) (1967).

In the 60s the Olympia became the premier venue for international stars with Judie Garland, Petula Clark, the Beatles (1964), and Nana Mouskouri (1967) all appearing among many more. One particularly popular French act was Stephane Grapelli and all the more so when he appeared with Django Reinhardt.

In the early 60s, chic French people also liked to listen to records played by disc jockeys in small darkly lit cocktail lounges. The fashion caught on with the fast set in the US and the concept of the discotheque was born. A frequent visitor to the Olympia and the disco was playboy, Sacha Distel, who established himself as an international star gaining a mention in Peter Sarsted’s, ‘Where do you go to (my lovely)’ (1969). Another French singer-songwriter to appear at the Olympia was Serge Gainsbourg who began as a jazz musician in the 1950s. His adept song writing contained double-meaning with strong sexual innuendo and in 1969 Serge released what would become his most famous song in the English-speaking world, "Je t'aime... moi non plus.” Originally it was recorded with Brigitte Bardot, but Bardot took cold feet because it was so sexy and backed out. The version with Jane Birkin was eventually released and went to Number 1 all round the world, despite getting no radio airplay.

In the late sixties a group of Greek musicians moved to Paris and formed Aphrodite's Child. They scored an immediate worldwide hit with their first release, Rain and Tears. After the band split, Demis Roussos and Vangelis took completely different musical directions both succeeding in their endeavours. The Paris Olympia has over the decades showcased a wide variety of international performers, from the Beatles to Nick Cave, with many like Luciano Pavarotti, and Jeff Buckley giving outstanding performances.

Sadly the building fell into decline after Bruno Coquatrix’s death and plans were put in place to demolish it. Then in the 90s the government declared it a listed building. Consequently it has undergone extensive construction work and has been rebuilt as a perfect replica of the façade and grandeur of the famous red interior.

Worth a listen

Rina Ketty
J’ attebdrai (1938)

Charles Trénet
La Mer (1946)

Maurice Chevalier
Thank Heaven for Little Girls (1957)

Édith Piaf
Le vie en rose (1960)

Charles Aznavour
J’aime Paris au mois fe mai

Juliette Greco
Chanson pour l’auvergnal

The Overlanders

Scott Walker
Jacki (1967)

Aphrodite’s Child
Rain and tears (1968)

Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin
Je t'aime... moi non plus (1969)

Sacha Distel
Raindrops keep falling on my head (1970)

Joni Mitchell
Carrie (1971)

Stephane Grapelli and Django Reinhardt.
Lambeth Walk

Luciano Pavarotti
Nissan Dorma

Kingfish plays Jimi Hendrix's "Hey Joe" @ The Blue Canoe in Tupelo, MS

(Video Courtesy: Stef Jonathan Youtube Channel)

Sonny and Cher

Sonny and Cher were Salvatore "Sonny" Bono (1935- 1998), a songwriter and protégé of producer Phil Specter and his wife, Cherilyn Sarkisian a young Californian. Sonny introduced her to Spector and she worked for him as a backup singer. At first Sonny produced her solo efforts, some of which were minor hits, then they performed together (Caesar and Cleo) as a couple around San Francisco and built a popular following.

They recorded “I got you babe,” as Sonny and Cher, and it was an instant success, became was one of the biggest-selling and most beloved pop hits of the mid-'60s. West Coast Rock had arrived and for the first time the world saw San Francisco hippies with their wide colourful pants (loons), skimpy tops, and shaggy hair and fur vests. Sonny and Cher were the first hippies with mainstream appeal, although Bono's hippiedom was more for promotional purposes.

Despite their obvious success as a pop duo Cher continued to record solo with Sonny writing and producing her works. Cher’s solo career grew but the couple remained popular and hosted a number of television series and specials, including The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, which ran from 1971 to 1974, and The Sonny & Cher Show in 1976. Their on-stage wisecracking repartee provided counterpoint to a series of adoring hit duets added to their audience appeal, with Sonny's eagerness and Cher's putdowns in the same fashion as George Burns and Gracie Allan, albeit the roles were reversed, very much in keeping with the sexual revolution.

The television exposure brought them to the centre of American and international popular culture. The image of a new more confident and powerful Cher emerged as Cher’s solo success continued. By the end of the 1960s, Sonny & Cher were no longer selling records. Atlantic reassigned a new producer to Cher and promoted her as a solo artist.

Mounting tax bills meant the duo had to work the clubs and with dwindling sales and a change in popular music taste Sonny and Cher’s days were numbered. The marriage and the musical duo ended in 1974, when Bono and Cher were divorced. They had a bitter divorce and resented each other for years. However they did become friends again before he died. To Sonny’s credit he wrote a handful of successful songs with the most notably "Needles and Pins" in collaboration with Jack Nitzsche. In the US it became a success for Jackie DeShannon and a huge international hit for the Searchers.

Dusty Springfield may not have had many commercial successes in the States but she did leave an indelible impression with songwriters and female singers especially with "Son of a Preacher Man.” Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” was a tribute to her singing style and was produced by Snuff Garrett.

Cher was severely affected by the breakdown with Sonny and the failing ratings of their television show, family problems and a battle royal with the paparazzi all came to a head. By the 80s, she embarked somewhat sheepishly on an acting career and proved herself to be a consummate actor. Cher took lead roles in Mike Nichols' Silkwood (1983), Peter Bogdanovich's Mask (1985) and George Miller's The Witches of Eastwick (1987). In the same year she won the Award for Best Actress for her performance in Norman Jewison's 1987 romantic comedy Moonstruck.

Aged 41 and after twenty-five years in show biz, Cher was at last on top and with a little help from the surgeon's knife she remained one of the most beautiful stars in Hollywood. Throughout the 80s and 90s the singer continued to release stunning recordings and even more risqué videos which kept her very much in the public eye. The singer was clearly moved at the death of Sonny and credited him as being an influence on her musical career. Bono died after he skied into a tree.

Concerned at the limitations of her plastic surgeon to “nip and tuck’ forever she started an international tour - entitled The Farewell Tour (Never Can Say Goodbye) to promote her twenty-fourth studio album, Living Proof and her 7th official compilation album, The Very Best of Cher. It began on June 14, 2002 in Toronto, Canada and was originally planned as a 59-date tour in North America. Due to the popularity of the tour, Cher decided to extend it by 100 more shows in North America then, after the tour concluded in 2004, she announced plans of playing in Europe, Oceania and Asia to play in territories she either had never been to or had not played for a long time. The final show took place at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles after a record-breaking 325 dates. When she came to Australia (last year), The Village People were the support act.

Worth a listen:
I got you babe (1965)
The Beat Goes On (1967)

Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)
Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves (1971)

THE BEATLES | You Can't Do That! | Making Of A HARD DAY'S NIGHT

(Video Courtesy: Music Documentaries Youtube Channel)

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Spencer Davis Group (Traffic and Blind Faith)

Spencer Davis Group was formed in 1963, front man Spencer Davis (vocal and guitar) was a scholar and his band became the thinking man’s pop group of the 60s. After leaving a good teaching job he began his music career in Birmingham with drummer, Pete York and brothers, Steve (aged 15 vocals guitar and keyboard) and Muff Winwood (base guitar). The Spencer Davis Group was signed to the Fontana label. In 1964 the band released a cover version of bluesman John Lee Hooker's "Dimples," which confirmed them as club favourites.

The group was dominated musically by the amazing keyboard player, Steve Winwood, who sang like Ray Charles. The bands preference for blues brought them little commercial success but when they recorded their next single in 1965, and then chart success was guaranteed. “Keep on running” featured gritty vocals with a distinctive fuzz guitar intro which was unmistakably Spender Davis Group.

Now the Mod band from Birmingham were based in London and taking on all others: including the Stones, The Who and The Yardbirds, and with the exception of the Who, they were writing their own material. Hits followed in 1966 and the beginning of 1967 with “Somebody help me” and Gimme some lovin.”

Stevie’s ferocious soul-drenched vocals belied his tender teenage years but without doubt provided the real momentum which spurred the group’s early success. Winwood would have a future long after the demise of the embryonic band. By the time "I'm A Man" had jumped into Britain's Top 10 (1967); Steve Winwood was already planning a new phase in his career, the creation of a new band called Traffic.

The band was a successful group that followed its own individual course through the rock music scene of the late '60s and early '70s. In the psychedelic year of 1967, the band was influenced by the Beatles but by the end of the same year had developed an individual pop-rock hybrid tied to unusual instrumentation. Traffic emphasized Winwood’s keyboard skills; and Chris Wood’s flute playing and Dave Mason’s writing and alternate folk-pop sound. The band was completed with Jim Capaldi. Traffic still played rock’n’roll with improvisation in a jazz-like style.

More hits followed with a Dave Mason composition “Hole in my shoe” and “Here we go round the mulberry bush,” which was the title track of a UK film about young people and their relationships.

Dave Mason left the band in 1968 (there were artistic differences) and Traffic started to perform in the US as a live act. The group had problems minus Dave Mason and eventually he rejoined them in time for their second album release. The breakup of Traffic came in 1969. Capaldi, Wood and Mason joined Wynder K. Frog in a band called Wooden Frog which was never heard of again and Stevie Winwood teamed with former Cream supremo Eric Clapton and his percussionist, Ginger Baker, along came former Family member Ric Grech and super group Blind Faith was formed.

The band made one album and played one American tour before breaking up. In 1970 Winwood was about to embark upon a much anticipated solo career when he brought his old mates into the studio and Capaldi and Wood and Winwood were back in business as Traffic. ”John Barleycorn Must Die” saw them back together again and they continued to tour and record with several lineup changes until 1977 when Winwood made his solo bow.

The outstanding singer, Steve Winwood has continued to record and had many hots in the 80s and 90s.

Jim Capaldi (1944 – 2005)also enjoyed a successful solo career with several chart hits in various countries including "That's Love", "Shoe Shine", and "Love Hurts".

Worth a listen:

Spencer Davis Group
Paper Sun Traffic (1967)
Dimples (1964)
Every Little Bit Hurts (1965)
Keep on running (1965)
I’m a man (1967)

Paper Sun (1967)

Stevie Winwood

Joe Cocker
Feelin' Alright (1968)