Friday, April 28, 2017

Bobby Darin (1936 - 1973 )

Walden Robert Cassotto was born in 1936 in The Bronx, New York. He was brought up by his grandmother and was unaware his real mother was his sister. A fact he did not find out until 1968, when he was poised to take up a career in politics. The identity of his real father was never publicly or privately disclosed. Walden was a frail child and suffered multiple bouts of rheumatic fever leaving him with a diseased heart. Driven by his poverty and illness, and the knowledge he was not long for this Earth, Bobby (a childhood pet name) had an innate talent for music. As a teenager he could play piano, drums and guitar and later added harmonica and xylophone. Bobby loved Al Jolson and admired his golden throat and perfect pitch. After college he wanted a career in theatre and played small nightclubs around New York with a musical combo. During the day he worked as a demo writer then as a demo singer at the Brill Building in New York City, and there he met Connie Francis and Don Kirshner. Walden Robert Cassotto was too much of a mouthful for a stage name and Darin came from seeing a malfunctioning sign which should have read "MANDARIN DUCK" but lit up "DARIN DUCK", instead. It is not clear whether this is historically correct or whether the name was taken at random from the telephone book. He signed for Decca Record in 1957 but found fame at Atco Records in 1958, with his self penned "Splish Splash" and "Dream Lover."

He recorded the album That's All, in the same year.

The single Mack the Knife was the outstanding track from the LP and won the 1959 "Record of the Year" and Bobby Darin the "Best New Artist" Grammy. "Mack the Knife" was number one on the Billboard charts for nine weeks in 1959 and is one of the biggest selling records in history.

Bobby Darin was the first young singer to bridge the single record and album gap between the teenage and adult buying public. In the same year he started on the big club circuit and appeared in Las Vegas with his close friend George Burns. By the mid-1960s Bobby Darin was the youngest headliner at the major casinos in Las Vegas, Nevada, and when he appeared at New York's famed Copacabana he broke all attendance records. Bobby not only sang, but did impeccable impressions, including:

James Cagney, Clark Gable, Jerry Lewis, Tony Bennett, Ray Charles, Rex Harrison, Walter Brennan, Jimmy Stewart, Robert Mitchum, Burt Lancaster, Marlon Brando and Cary Grant.

He had magnetism, danced and choreographed with gusto, and played musical instruments well, including piano, guitar, vibes, harmonica and drums. He was truly an exciting entertainer with sparkling personality which proved popular with adults and teenagers alike. In his private life Bobby was a member of Mensa and had an IQ of 137 (top 2%). Bobby Darin was also a talented actor and appeared in fifteen motion pictures between 1960 and 1973. In 1963 the singer actor was nominated for an Oscar in the film Captain Newman M.D.

To the envy of every young man he married Sandra Dee in 1960 but was divorced six years later. The union produced one son, Dodd Mitchell Darin, who was born in 1961. Bobby was also married to legal secretary Andrea Joy Yaeger in 1973. They divorced shortly before his death. Bobby Darin was a gracious man and encouraged many of his fellow performers including Richard Pryor and Flip Wilson. At the Copacabana he insisted a black comic by the name Nipsey Russell would open the show. Despite managerial resistance Bobby got his way. Bobby gave “Danke Schoen” to Wayne Newton, a gift from his heart, which in 1963 became Newton’s first hit and launched his worldwide career.

In the late 60s Bobby became more aware of events and became a successful protest song singer determined to end the War in Vietnam. His recording of the Tim Hardin classic "If I Were a Carpenter" in 1966 opened up a whole new phase of his career.

Bobby became interested in American politics and was a political activist, working on the 1968 Presidential election campaign of Robert Kennedy. Bobby Darin was deeply moved after the assassination of the Presidential candidate. At the beginning of the 1970s he continued to act and to record, including at Motown Records. Bobby’s pain, shortness of breath worsened in 1971 and he agreed to open-heart surgery. Back performing as soon as he could he would created clever reasons to dash backstage for quick oxygen fix, without the audience knowing. In 1972, he was well enough to star in his own television variety show, on NBC (The Bobby Darin Amusement Company) which ran for two years.

Bobby Darin died in 1973 following surgery to repair a faulty heart valve. Kevin Spacey, acted, directed and produced the film, Beyond the Sea, which was based on Bobby Darin life. Spacey remains a life long fan.

Worth a listen:
Splish Splash(1958)
Queen of the Hop (1958)
Mack the Knife (1958)
Plain Jane (1959)
Dream Lover (1959)
Beyond The Sea (1960)
Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey? (1960)
You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby (1961)
What'd I Say? (1962)
Things (1962)
If I Were a Carpenter (1966)
A Simple Song of Freedom (1967)

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Petula Clark

Petula Sally Olwen Clark was born in 1932 in Epsom, Surrey. Her unusual name Petula was said to be a combination of two of her father’s old girl friends. A brave move. Petula was trained to sing by her mother and made her radio debut in 1942 during an air raid in the BBC studios. She proved an instant success and soon established herself as radio favourite then film star. Britain’s Shirley Temple became the mascot to the RAF and interestingly the United States Army. Her pictures adorned their tanks and were regarded as a good luck charm. During the War years Petula became friendly with another child star called Julie Andrews. By the late 1940s, Petula branched into recording and her first effort, a cover of Teresa Brewer’s “Music! Music! Music!” was released in Australia.

Her father took control of her singing career and she scored her first hit with “The Little Shoemaker” (1954).

In the same year she starred in a stage production of The Constant Nymph. She was keen to re-establish herself away from the child star image. She was invited to appear in Paris in 1958 and met he husband Claude Woolfe. They were married in 1961 and Petula relocated her home base to France. She became an international celebrity with hits across the continent. In 1961 she sold over a million copies of "Romeo," and "Sailor" became her first #1 hit in the UK in the same year.

When the twist craze broke in the US , Petula saw her chance and brought out "Ya-Ya Twist," (a cover of the Lee Dorsey rhythm and blues song) and it became a major hit in Europe.

By the mid sixties Petula Clark linked up with Tony Hatch to record 'Downtown' (a song originally written for the Drifters) which rocketed to number 1 in the USA. "Downtown" was a huge success in the UK, France (in both English and French versions), Netherlands, Germany, Australia, Italy, and even Rhodesia and India.

Petula now was popular in North America and her pop partnership with Tony Hatch give her another fourteen consecutive Top 40 hits in the US. The hits included "I Know a Place" (1965), "I Couldn't Live Without Your Love" (1966) and "This Is My Song," (1967).

As the decade drew to a close, Petula Clark's commercial stature slipped, although singles like "Don't Sleep on the Subway," "The Other Man's Grass Is Always Greener" and "Kiss Me Goodbye" still charted on both sides of the Atlantic.

An older and wiser Petula took every opportunity to diversify and starred in musicals as well as TV special . In 1968 she revived her film career and starred in Finian's Rainbow, followed a year later by Goodbye, Mr. Chips.

By the mid-1970s, she scaled back her career in order to devote more time to her family. In the 1980s she found fame as a country recording star, with her top ten hit, 'Natural Love', before reinventing herself as a highly successful stage star in London's West End.

In 1981 she starred in the London revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music, she played Maria von Trapp. In 1983, she took on the title role in George Bernard Shaw's Candida. Later stage work included Someone Like You in 1989 and 1990, for which she composed the score. In 2004, she toured Australia and New Zealand.

Further Reading
The Immortal Jukebox A10: Petula Clark – Downtown

Worth a listen:
The Little Shoemaker(1954)
Majorca (1955)
Sailor (1961)
Romeo (1961)
Ya Ya Twist (1962)
Downtown (1964)
I know a place (1965)
I Couldn't Live Without Your Love (1966)
This is my song (1967)
Don't Sleep in the Subway (1967)
Natural Love (1982)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Albert King (1923 – 1992)

Albert Nelson was born in 1923 on a cotton plantation in Indianola, Mississippi (although some sources cite Aberdeen, Mississippi). One of 13 children, his is father left the family when Albert was five. Three years later they moved to Forrest City, Arkansas and Albert grew up picking cotton on nearby plantations. He sang in a family gospel group at the local church and learned to play a diddley bow. His first guitar was made out of a cigar box, a piece of a bush, and a strand of broom wire. Eventually he bought an accoustic guitar and as a left hander, used the right-hand string set up and tuning but played the instrument upside down. Among his early blues influences were Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Lonnie Johnson. Albert worked in construction, and other jobs until he was finally wass able to support himself as a musician.

In 1950, Albert joined the In the Groove Boys, and played at the T-99 nightclub in Osceola, Arkansas. The band started to get wider recognition when they appeared on local radio. He moved to Gary, Indiana in 1953, and joined Jimmy Reed’s band with fellow guitarist, John Brim. During this time, Albert played drums on several early recordings as well as adopting the name, Albert King in deference to BB King. Willie Dixon then helped him set up an audition at Parrot Records in Chicago. "Be on Your Merry Way" / "Bad Luck Blues," was released but failed to attract much attention.

He returned to Osceola and re-joined the In the Groove Boys where he stayed in Arkansas for the next two years.

In 1958, he started playing a Gibson Flying V, which he named Lucy. The electric guitar became his signature instrument. At well over 6 ft (1.8m), and weighing 250 pounds (110 kg), Albert King on stage with his signature guitar made him an imposing figure. Sometimes between gigs he made ends meet by working as a mechanic and drove a bulldozer. This earned the smooth singer the nickname "The Velvet Bulldozer." In 1959, Albert had his first hit with "I'm a Lonely Man," written by Little Milton. It was recorded with a pianist and a small horn section, which made the music sound closer to jump blues than Delta or Chicago blues.

"Don't Throw Your Love on Me So Strong" (Bobbin) was released in 1961, and became a hit, reaching number 14 on the R&B charts. The album, Big Blues, was released in 1962.

When left Bobbin in 1962, he recorded one session for King Records. These were more pop-oriented than his previous work and the singles issued from the session failed to sell. He next signed with jazz artist Leo Gooden's Coun-Tree label and cut four songs. These too failed to attract much attention but did foreshadow what would come next. Gooden resented King's success and pushed him off the label. Albert King signed with Stax Records in 1966.

Albert King signed with Stax Records in 1966 and recorded with the label's house band, Booker T. & the MG's. The soul inspired hits started coming beginning with "Laundromat Blues" (1966) and "Cross Cut Saw" (1967) both went Top 40. In 1967, Stax released the Born Under a Bad Sign album, which became the most popular and influential blues albums of the late '60s.

Albert soon had mass appeal to a diverse audience and frequently appeared at live gigs, such as the Fillmore East. He recorded the studio based album, “Years Gone By”, in 1969, the same year, and also performed live with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. He joined The Doors on stage at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, Canada and recorded an Elvis Presley tribute album, “Blues for Elvis - King Does the King's Things” (1970). After touring America and Europe, he returned to the studio in 1971 to record the Lovejoy album.

“I'll Play the Blues for You” (1972), featured the Bar-Kays, the Memphis Horns, and Isaac Hayes's backing group , the Movement. The album was rooted in the blues, but featured distinctively modern soul and funk overtones. The follow up album, “I Wanna Get Funky” (1974) was also recorded with the Bar-Kays, and mixed standard blues licks with funk. Many believe this was his last strong album, in the same year it was released Albert started playing a Flying V built by Dan Erlewine

Stax filed for bankrupsy in 1975 and Albert King left to join Utopia, (a small subsidiary of RCA Records). He released three albums on the label: Albert and Truckload of Lovin' (1976), King Albert (1977), and Live Blues (1977) taken from Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.

In 1978, he signed with Tomato Records and by this time, King had abandoned contemporary soul crossovers for straight blues. He recorded the studio album, New Orleans Heat produced by Allen Toussaint. After the album failed to produce much interest Albert King took a four-year break from recording. Then 1983, he made a new live album with Fantasy Records, Crosscut Saw: Albert King In San Francisco.

In 1984, he recorded “I'm In A Phone Booth, Baby,” which would be his penultimate studio album. Albert announced his retirement due to helath problems but it would be short-lived. He continued to regularly play concerts and festivals throughout America and Europe for the rest of the decade. Red House was recorded in 1992, but the album was largely ignored because of bad production quality, and original copies of it are scarce.

He continued to perform until his sudden death in 1992, at his Memphis, Tennessee home.

In his professional like, Albert King influenced many young guitarists like Mick Taylor, Stevie Ray Vaughan , Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes, Mike Bloomfield, Robert Cray and Joe Walsh. He also influenced contemporaries Albert Collins and Otis Rush. Eric Clapton attributed the inspiration for "Strange Brew" and much of the album, Disraeli Gears to, Albert King.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Freddie King (1934 – 1976)

Fred King was born in Gilmer, Texas in 1934 to Ella Mae King and J. T. Christian. Influenced by his mother and uncle, both profcient guitar players, Fred learned to play rural country blues when he was six. His early influences were Sam Lightnin Hopkins and jump blues saxophonist, Louis Jordan.

In 1949, the family moved to South Side of Chicago and the young teenager loved to sneak into the South Side nightclubs. There he heard blues performed by Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, T-Bone Walker, Elmore James, and Sonny Boy Williamson. Fred formed his first band the Every Hour Blues Boys, with the guitarist Jimmie Lee Robinson and the drummer Frank "Sonny" Scott.

When he was 18, he started working in a steel mill and in the same year married Jessie Burnett. They had seven children together. Freddy worked in the steel mill during the day and sat in as a sideman in recording sessions. with local bands including the Little Sonny Cooper Band and Earl Payton's Blues Cats. Freddy King's first record was a duet with Margaret Whitfield and was entitled "Country Boy" (1956) on El-Bee Records. The A-side was a duet with Margaret Whitfield, "Country Boy". Robert Lockwood, Jr., played guitar licks on the backing tracks.

He tried several times to audition for Chess Records but was rejected because he sounded too much like B.B. King. Freddy started to make his name in the clubs and played with Magic Sam.

Freddy continued to gig with Memphis Slim and Magic Sam Maghett as well as sit in on some recordings which were mainly ucredited. In 1959, he auditioned several times for Chess Records but was rejected because he sounded too like, BB King. Then in 1960, he was signed to Syd Nathan's King /Federal Records and recorded "Have You Ever Loved a Woman" backed with "You've Got to Love Her with a Feeling." But it would be the instrumental "Hide Away," the B-side of "I Love the Woman", his next single, which broke into the charts and become a blues standard.

Freddie's time with the King label was bitter sweet. Syd Nathan was manipulative and Nathan and Freddie could never agree on which tune to record. All artists recorded at one location in Cincinnati Ohio, at the Brewster locations. Records were mastered, pressed, stored, and distributed from this location. The album covers were designed and printed from the same location. Many of Freddie's songwriting credits under the King label contract were shared with Sonny Thompson. After the success of “Hid Away” Syd Nathan insisted Freddie and Sonny concentrate on instrumentals. In 1961 alone, they scored a run of hits with “Hide Away” (Number Five), “Lonesome Whistle Blues” (Number Eight), “San-Ho-Zay” (Number Four), “See See Baby” (Number 21), “I’m Tore Down” (Number Five) and the seasonal single “Christmas Tears” (Number 26)." Freddie recorded more than 30 instrumentals for King Records, many of them issued on a couple albums. They also recorded vocal tracks throughout this period and toured with Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, and James Brown. In 1963, he left Chicago to re-join his wife and children in Dallas. She was keen to take Freddie away from his wayward ways in Chicago and his move back to Texas had the added advantage with a more contemporary soulful sound which widened his appeal. His contract with Federal expired in 1966.

In 1967. Freddy completed his first oversees tour. Already an icon with UK guitarists like Eric Clapton his performances were electric. The tour was originally booked for a month and it was extended to three. On return to the US, King Curtis, signed the guitarist to Atlantic in 1968. There, he produced two albums, Freddie King Is a Blues Master (1969) and My Feeling for the Blues (1970), both were produced by Curtis for the Atlantic subsidiary Cotillion Records. In 1969, Freddy (the Texas Cannonball) King appeared at the Texas Pop Festival, alongside Led Zeppelin and others. He then signed with Leon Russell’s Shelter Records. He recorded Getting Ready at Chess studio in Chicago accompanied with top session musicians, including Russell. Two other albums followed.

By the mid-70s the Texas Cannonball was hot property and constantly touring the States and overseas. He signed with label RSO and recorded three albums.

Freddy the life of a rocker and partied hard surviving on a poor diet the endless touring meant Freddy King’s healthy deteriorated. He developed a perforated ulcer and pancreatitis and was admitted to hospital where sadly he succumbed to a fatal heart attack in 1976, at the age of 42.

Freddy King was a major influence on and inspiration to many up and coming musicians, including Eric Clapton, Rory Gallagher, Peter Green and Mick Taylor.