TRAINS AND PLANES! PT. ONE - LONDON: JUNIOR, LEON WARE and more
Hopefully, Dionne Warwick, Burt Bacharach and Hal David will all excuse the modified version of the title of this blog using their classic song ("Trains And Boats And Planes")! Just back from a hectic two weeks in Europe, visiting family, friends and making the business rounds.
Even though it is my birthplace, London continues to amaze me in terms of its' energy and pulse. It is of course far more of an international city than it was when I was growing up there in the '60s and '70s, no doubt the result of the connection with the European Union. The diversity is something I appreciate and enjoy since L.A. continues to be like a backwater in terms of having a real international flavor or presence. I could write a whole blog on that subject!
Of course, as the 'Brit Ambassador Of Soul,' returning home is particularly enjoyable since I connect with my roots and once again become aware of the love, passion and enthusiasm that my fellow Brits show for traditional R&B and soul music. After a few days of adjusting, I spent most of Thursday (October 12) catching up with soul peeps. Started out with meeting "Soul Guru" (of MySpace fame), Paul whose father was the first guy in the UK to run a fan club for the late, great Otis Redding. For some reason, I hadn't made that connection when he and I had been exchanging e-mails but when presented with copies of '60s magazines for which I had done my first-ever writing (a piece on Nina Simone in the Tamla Motown Appreciation Society mag, "Hitsville USA"), I instantly remembered his Dad, Cliff Clifford and all the other R&B fan club heads who had been part of the inner circle of UK soul music lovers around 1965/66. Oh the memories...and seeing the magazines brought back lots of 'em, fond reminiscences of how us die-hard R&B-heads had thrilled at records by Gladys Knight & The Pips ("Giving Up"), Betty Lavette ("Let Me Down Easy") and Garnet Mimms ("Cry Baby") among others.
Paul and I spent time discussing those days as well as his own passion for '70s and '80s soul music before heading off to the wilds of Hayes, Middlesex for me to meet up with my good friend Ralph Tee (of Expansion Records). Expansion has done a stellar job in making available some amazing titles in the past few years - either in reissuing long-sought-after albums of the '70s and '80s (like the recent J.R. Bailey and James 'D-Train' Williams and also in conjunction with Soul Brother Records - such as titles by Jean Terrell and Leroy Hutson among others) or in releasing new product by respected names such as Billy Griffin, James Day and Leon Ware (about whom more to follow).
After lunch at a local pub, armed with some tasty promos of recent Expansion CDs, I was off into territories unknown - specifically a place called Birkbeck near East Croydon! The journey involved trains and trams... and I can't remember the last time I rode a tram! The purpose? To catch up with my old friend Junior Giscombe, he of "Mama Used To Say" and "Too Late" fame, now firmly ensonced as a radio d.j. at Solar Radio, a great station that plays everything from Miles Davis to Johnny Ace to Grover Washington Jr. to rare and deep soul. Junior has a fine new CD out ("Oceans") which I'll be adding to the website (www.soulmusic.com) very shortly.
We had agreed to go 'live' to chat about old times, when we first met back in the late '70s/early '80s through a mutual friend Paul Morgan and I had hooked up with Junior when he was in New York securing his first record deal, through going to a show that featured Larry Graham and a certain artist by the name of Luther Vandross, starting to make a name for himself back in '81! We also talked about my own musical ventures and Junior played a track from my CD "Reinvention," my version of the Donny Hathaway classic "Tryin' Times" which seems as relevant now as it was when Donny first did it in 1970. It was a wonderful hour after which we went out to dinner to continue our dialog on the current conditions of the music industry for soul music artists (not such a pretty picture unless you take the indie route which Junior has sensibly done) and the ongoing love affair that British soul fans still have with the music.
A few days later - Saturday night to be precise - at the invitation of Ralph Tee, I was at London's famed Jazz Cafe for the third time in the last year or so. In 2005, I saw Maysa at the venue, earlier this year, Incognito. On this occasion, I was to witness an amazing performance by the venerable and esteemed Leon Ware. Now, as an L.A. resident, I've seen Leon a few times at different venues like the Temple Bar. But...I had never seen Leon in such rare form! After the show, he and I and his wife Carol talked about the adoration that European music lovers express for his work and there's no doubt that the energy that Leon got from the crowded house only pushed him to further musical heights during the show.
With an excellent UK band on hand, Leon naturally covered all the songs he's written for others that have made him such a fixture on the music scene for three decades, songs like "If I Ever Lose This Heaven," "Inside My Love" and of course, the classics made famous by Marvin Gaye such as "I Want You," "After The Dance" and "Come Live With Me Angel." But equally, if not more impressive were the Ware recordings such as "Why I Came To California" and "Rockin' You Eternally" which the audience knew word for word!!! Hearing a London crowd sing along with Leon on "California" was mind-blowing! I confess that while I had some awarness of the song, I wasn't familiar with it the way my fellow Brits were and clearly it's a real anthem among UK soul peeps who appreciated Leon's undeniable soulfulness particularly evident on the touching ballad "Everlast," written with James Ingram. Unbelieveable the way the audience reacted to his entire show and naturally Leon was required to return for a much-deserved encore. As he pointed out afterwards, coming to Europe isn't about making big bucks, it's about letting the audiences know how much he appreciates their support for his music and there's no question that it is a real mutual love affair. Cool to learn also from Carol that Leon is on the verge of signing a new record deal that will make his music even more widely available...stay tuned!
The rest of my UK trip was spent with family and friends other than an excellent meeting with Rick Conrad of Warner Music which will result in some amazing reissues in the coming year, anthologies and discs that will make soul fans on both sides of the Atlantic truly happy! A busy busy guy, Rick is committed to giving R&B folks real gems from the Warner, Elektra and Atlantic catalogs - witness compilations like the "You Better Believe It" and "After Hours" projects. 2007 is going to be a great year for soul music reissues if folks like Rick have anything to do with it...
I headed off on Thursday morning (October 19) from my sister's lovely home in Erith, just outside London, for my first trip to Paris in three decades...and all will be revealed in Part Two of this blog tomorrow...