Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

November 30, 2022

MARK WYNTER, Venus In Blue Jeans: The Pop Years, 1959-1974 (RPM, UK), 3-cd set

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MARK WYNTER, Venus In Blue Jeans: The Pop Years, 1959-1974 (RPM, UK), 3-cd set

     Mark Wynter is not that well-known in North America. Back in the 70’s, I was vaguely aware that he was one of those pre-Beatles British pop stars, but I never heard his music until seeing on late-night UHF TV the 1963 quickie Anglo-American rock’n’roll film Just For Fun, which I’d sought out because The Crickets and Freddy Cannon were in it. Wynter not only sang but acted in the film, and he was quite impressive, cool and natural on screen, and with great magnetism. Of course, he wasn’t really rocking, even by the standards of Cliff Richard or Terry Dene, but he had an excellent voice, which was used well on the material I heard, and his movie-star good looks would not have hurt him among the teenage girl segment of the audience. I was unaware then that Wynter had recorded prolifically during the entire 60’s and into the 70’s, and that he’d moved on to great success as a stage actor, both in dramas and musicals (including starring in both Cats and Phantom of the Opera).

     Thus, I was quite surprised by this new 3-cd set from RPM, assembling 95 tracks by Wynter, including pretty much everything he released from 1960-1974, plus a rockin’ demo of ‘I Go Ape’ that predates his first release, a variety of unreleased tracks, and even television performances.

     However, if you are looking for pure rock and roll, I should point out that “I Go Ape” is the only rockin’ track on the set. If you enjoy, say, Lou Christie’s Painter of Hits album or James Darren’s Brill Building-penned hits or Scott Walker’s more MOR-flavored late 60’s material or Steve Lawrence’s “Go Away Little Girl” (which is covered here) or Wayne Fontana’s “The Impossible Years,” you will find a lot to like in this collection.

     The listener can hear Wynter growing and becoming more subtle of a vocalist with each single, though still aiming for the charts and for the hearts of young ladies. His voice is always given room to breathe, the arrangements are rarely cluttered or bombastic, and for the most part the songs are well-suited to his persona. During the height of the beat era (say, 62-65), his records do have the hint of being beat-oriented, in the same way as Bobby Vee’s records with strings do, although the material here is much more imaginative, as is the singing.

     As the mid-to-late 60’s arrived, Wynter moved even more into the adult pop field, sometimes coming off as a younger, hipper Jack Jones, but there continued to be an attractive understated, unforced, supple  quality to his performances, which is probably why they’ve aged so well (like Chet Baker or Rick Nelson, Wynter understands that laying back a bit can pull the listeners in).

     This is an impressive body of work…if you are looking for frothy and sparkling string-laden 60’s British pop. Wynter is a far better singer than most of the American “teen idols,” and as usual for RPM, the set is complemented by detailed notes and documentation in a snappy and attractive package.

Bill Shute, originally published in 2017 in Ugly Things magazine

November 23, 2022

JOHN LEE HOOKER—Documenting The Sensation Recordings, 1948-1952 (Ace, UK), 3-cd box

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JOHN LEE HOOKER—Documenting The Sensation Recordings, 1948-1952 (Ace, UK), 3-cd box

In some ways, this mammoth 3-cd box of prime early Detroit Hooker is a companion volume to the four LP’s on Third Man entitled Early Recordings, Detroit and Beyond, reviewed by yours truly in 2019 in Ugly Things magazine. This new Ace box contains most (though not all) of what else remains from that period: the material Hooker’s producer (and Sensation Records owner) Besman licensed to Modern in L.A. (where Hooker had his first hit, “Boogie Chillen”), along with additional material which came out on Sensation, and more that came out later on Specialty…not to mention whatever scraps and alternates Modern or Besman retained and never got around to releasing. It’s ALL here, on three fully-packed discs, and it sounds amazingly full and vibrant and in-your-face.

As Besman explained the approach to recording Hooker, “First we put a mike onto his guitar and we put a speaker in a toilet bowl next door. Then we put a mike under that so the sound would echo off the water. Then I put a board under his feet to make his tapping louder, and put a mike down there.” There were also some primitive overdubs and the occasional additional musician, but most of this set is Hooker’s smoky, insinuating voice, his over-amplified electric guitar, and his stomping foot, pounding out his unique brand of angular, jagged, but aggressively rhythmic boogie.

There are multiple versions here of various motifs, like preliminary sketches an artist would make to test differing approaches, each one fascinating in itself. Since Hooker never performs a song the same way twice, “repetition” is not really an issue. Hooker’s Mississippi roots were steeped in the urban tangle of steel mills and auto assembly lines, electrified, and came out with the distorted, pounding, soul-rich hardcore blues found in the 71 tracks included here. If you are new to Hooker, this is a great place to start as he’s at his purest; if you are already a fan, you know you need all of the early Hook you can get.
The booklet essay by Dr. Wayne E. Goins explains in clear and precise language exactly what John Lee was doing with both left and right hands on the guitar, his tunings, his picking patterns, etc., and much of the rest of the booklet contains pictures of worn acetates and tape boxes, undoubtedly causing salivation among dedicated Hooker fans. An essential set that will never grow old!

Bill Shute, originally published in Ugly Things magazine in 2020

November 16, 2022

CORKY (1972), starring Robert Blake and Charlotte Rampling

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CORKY (1972)

Robert Blake in an intense performance and totally unsympathetic role

Wow! CORKY, which played the drive-in circuit briefly in 1972 (it was the only Blake starring role I missed back then), must be listed among Robert Blake’s greatest and most intense performances of the late 60s and early 70s. However, be warned that Corky Curtiss is a totally unsympathetic character who treats everyone horribly, is on an ego trip, and sets out to wound the people who care for him. The film begins in Texas, where Blake and his pal played by the under-rated Chris Connelly, are driving in minor car races on the weekend and working for shop owner Patrick O’Neal during the week. Blake is married to Charlotte Rampling, who looks the part but whose accent wavers and sounds like Duchess Sarah Ferguson auditioning for Hee-Haw. After alienating everyone in the town and abandoning his wife, Blake and Connelly take off to take on the southern racing circuit. Blake’s abusive behavior toward the easygoing Connelly finally makes CC split from Blake, and Blake’s a**hole behavior winds up digging himself a deeper hole and leaving him more alone and stranded. He fails to learn anything from this, and I’ll leave you the viewer to watch the final 20 minutes…everything from when Blake meets the two boys at the swimming hole on through the violent ending.

If you are a Blake fan, you will go crazy over this film. He’s over-the-top from beginning to end, struts around without his shirt on and with a beer in his hand, jives everyone he meets, and perfectly captures the loud, offensive, boorish, vain good-old-boys we all can’t stand in real life. The film’s title during its making was LOOKIN’ GOOD (and there is a song by that title played in the middle of the film), and that fits things well as about the only thing that Blake cares for is strutting’ and LOOKIN’ GOOD. Talk about an anti-hero, Corky Curtiss makes Kowalski from VANISHING POINT and the leads of TWO LANE BLACKTOP look like Mother Teresa. This is the kind of post-James Dean, out-of-control Method performance that only a few people, Mickey Rourke among them, can get away with. To the film’s credit, it gets small-town life down perfectly in every detail. When Charlotte Rampling is trying to get a GED, working two jobs, and pulling her life back together, I thought “I KNOW dozens of people just like her,” just like I know dozens of people like her a**hole husband Corky.

It’s no surprise this film wasn’t a hit, although that could also have been due to distribution, because who would want to see such a downer of a film? The Robert Blake fan, that’s who. And if you are one, track down a gray market copy of this film immediately (note: after this review was originally published, CORKY was released by the Warner Archive on DVD–it’s also played on TCM a few times). Mine was taken from an old 1980’s TNT TV broadcast, but the days when films like this were shown on TV are long gone. As this was an MGM release, perhaps you could write Turner Classic Movies–I’d LOVE to see Robert Osborne’s introductory comments about CORKY! This would be perfect on a double bill with THE DAREDEVIL, starring George Montgomery. Blake was untouchable in his prime, and films such as this one contain the proof. Director Leonard Horn, who passed away a few years after this, worked mostly in television, except for the strange 1970 release THE MAGIC GARDEN OF STANLEY SWEETHEART. With that and Corky as his two big-screen directorial efforts, one wonders what Mr. Horn would have done if he’d been given creative freedom to make low-budget feature films instead of TV episodes and TV movies. Someone should interview Blake or Rampling (Connelly, O’Neal, and Ben Johnson are gone) about this film and about Leonard Horn.

Robert Blake and Ben Johnson

Bill Shute, review originally published elsewhere online in 2006

November 9, 2022

TOMMY HUNT, The Complete Man—60’s NYC Soul Songs (Kent, UK)

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1 I Don’t Want To Lose You
2 Hold On
3 I’ll Make You Happy
4 The Clown
5 Lonely For You
6 The Pretty Part Of You
7 Never Love A Robin
8 The Work Song
9 What’s The Matter Baby
10 One Of These Days
11 Who You Gonna Thrill Tonight
12 And I Never Knew
13 Human
14 Searchin’ For Love
15 The Complete Man
16 Searchin’ For My Baby (Lookin’ Everywhere)
17 I Need A Woman Of My Own
18 You’re So Fine
19 I’m With You
20 The Door Is Open
21 How Young Is Young
22 Girls Are Sentimental
23 Son, My Son
24 Born Free
25 I Believe

TOMMY HUNT—The Complete Man—60’s NYC Soul Songs (Kent, UK), CD
In 1997, Kent issued a 29-track collection of New York-based soul singer Tommy Hunt’s 1961-67 Scepter/Dynamo output, The Biggest Man, which many felt was one of the best archival soul reissues of the late 90’s (my copy always accompanies me on road trips and gets played regularly at parties). This new 25-track album, The Complete Man, presents the rest of that output, along with Scepter material found deep in the vaults since 1997, and perhaps most importantly, both sides of his amazing one-off singles for Capitol and Atlantic in 1965-66, between his Scepter and Dynamo periods.
Originally from Pittsburgh, Hunt came to national fame in the 1950’s as part of the Flamingos vocal group. Upon leaving the group, he signed with Scepter as a solo artist and “Human,” the B-side of his first 45 (not the side being promoted), took off and became a significant hit, which was soon followed up by his interpretation (the original version) of the Bacharach-David classic, “I Don’t Know What To Do With Myself.” His 1961-1964 Scepter output would often present him in dramatic orchestral setting, where his soaring, pleading vocals flowed like honey, never “over-singing” a song or engaging in annoying mannerisms—“The Door Is Open” is a perfect example of everything great about the Scepter-Hunt duo. Like George Jones in country music, Hunt savors and caresses every line, wringing out the maximum meaning and sensitivity from the words while sounding natural. Even a cliched lyric sounds convincing in Hunt’s hands. Money was spent on these Scepter sessions, and there’s a wide variety of instrumentation from track to track. Hunt seems to combine the best qualities of a Chuck Jackson (his label-mate) and a Roy Hamilton, while being entirely his own man with an instantly recognizable style. “Uptown” 60’s NYC soul does not get better than these Scepter sides.
When Hunt’s mentor and champion at Scepter, Luther Dixon, left the label in 1964, Hunt felt a bit abandoned, and moved on, looking for greener and more appreciative pastures. Atlantic was quick to pick him up, and he definitely brought his “A”-game to the 1965 single “I Don’t Want To Lose You”/”Hold On”, majestic like his earlier sides, deep and soulful as one would expect from Atlantic. However, Atlantic was releasing many great records in 1965, and Hunt’s no doubt got lost in the shuffle. Hunt then moved on to Capitol for another one-off single, “I’ll Make You Happy”/”The Clown,” conducted by uptown soul master Bert De Coteaux. This single had all the fine qualities of the Atlantic sides, but also failed to become a hit. These two singles are both masterpieces and, for me, are worth the price of the album themselves.
Hunt next answered the call of his old friend and mentor Luther Dixon, to record for Dixon’s Dynamo label (he did five singles and an album there), and eight of the songs here are from that period, running the gamut from a cover of the easy listening standard “Born Free” (which turns magical in his hands) to a remake of his earlier hit “Human,” along with many new songs, sympathetically produced and/or arranged by respected professionals such as Jimmy Wizner and Jerry “Swamp Dogg” Williams. The quality was kept high at Dynamo.
Tommy Hunt relocated to the UK in the early 1970’s and eventually re-invented himself as a leading live performer in the burgeoning Northern Soul scene, captured on his high-energy 1975 Spark LP “Live At The Wigan Casino”. He’s been mostly European-based since then, and as of this writing, he’s still performing, with multiple shows in the UK and Spain in the last year. Based on the You Tube clips from those shows, he’s still sounding as supple and soulful as ever. We’re fortunate that another 25 tracks of prime 1960’s Tommy Hunt have been assembled, in crystal clear sound and with informative liner notes. Many of these tracks are like the NY Soul version of Hollywood production numbers, with sweeping, dynamic arrangements and breathtaking climaxes. It was a great period, and Tommy Hunt is one of the finest performers of the era, whose approach has not dated at all. An essential album for the fan of “uptown” NYC 60’s soul, worth the 22-year wait since the earlier collection!

Bill Shute, originally published in Ugly Things magazine in 2019

November 2, 2022

BOBBY WOOD, I’m A Fool For Loving You: The Complete 1960s Recordings (RPM UK, 2-cd set)

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1-1 Everybody’s Searching
1-2 Human Emotions
1-3 The Day After Forever
1-4 Everybody’s Searching
1-5 I Still Hurt Just The Same
1-6 You’re Gonna See
1-7 Do Darlin’ Do Remember Me
1-8 That’s All I Need
1-9 If I’m A Fool For Loving You
1-10 My Heart Went Boing! Boing! Boing!
1-11 This Time
1-12 That’s All I Need To Know
1-13 Miss You
1-14 Until You Go
1-15 I’m Your Used To Be
1-16 Lavender Blue (Dilly Dilly)
1-17 Human Emotions
1-18 Cry, Cry, Cry
1-19 Out In The Cold Again
1-20 So Cruel
1-21 (With All My Heart) I’d Do It Again
1-22 Bed Of Roses
1-23 Show Me
1-24 When A Lonely Boy Meets A Lonely Girl
1-25 Fool’s Paradise
1-26 What Am I Gonna Tell Myself?
2-1 My Special Angel
2-2 I’d Rather Forgive You
2-3 Who’s The Fool Now
2-4 What Am I Gonna Tell Myself
2-5 When A Lonely Boy Meets A Lonely Girl
2-6 Bed Of Roses
2-7 Show Me
2-8 What Am I Gonna Tell Myself
2-9 My Last Date With You
2-10 Everybody’s Baby
2-11 Break My Mind
2-12 This Thing Called Love
2-13 Say It’s Not You
2-14 Is That All There Is To It
2-15 Mary (Dont Read Between The Lines)
2-16 The Big Buildup
2-17 (Margie’s At) The Lincoln Park Inn
2-18 I’m The Name Of Her Game

BOBBY WOOD—If I’m A Fool For Loving You: The Complete 1960’s Recordings (RPM, UK), 2-CD

Bobby Wood may be best-known as pianist for Memphis’ legendary American Studios house band, but prior to that, he was a solo artist who released a number of singles and an album in the 1961-1969 period, starting at Sun (in its indecisive early 60’s period), then moving on to the Joy label, where most of his releases came from, and then his producer Stan Kesler, through his links with Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs and The Gentrys, got him on MGM for the final singles here, from 67-69.
It’s always exciting to find such a large body of work (44 songs) that’s been largely unreissued, particularly from a Memphis artist. Wood’s records do have a distinctive sound—after hearing three or four of them, you could easily recognize another one—but it’s a sound that night not appeal to all UT readers. The best comparison would be to the early 60’s post-rockabilly work at MGM by Conway Twitty (when he moved to MGM in 1967, Wood even worked with Twitty’s old producer, Jim Vienneau) or Narvel Felts’ 1964-1965 post-rock and roll singles for the Ara label, though Wood’s voice is lower than Felts’ and higher than Twitty’s.
The earliest tracks here would fit well into one of the Teenage Dreams compilations, a youthful (clearly Southern) voice hovering over too many backing vocalists and layered with strings on top of a beat that was somewhat danceable. As the mid-60’s arrived, Wood continued on in a similar vein, not really influenced at all by the British Invasion, producing records that could get airplay on country radio without really being country and on pop radio aiming at the same market that bought records by B. J. Thomas or Joe South or Gene Thomas. Fortunately, the Memphis rockabilly roots do emerge on a few songs (“I’d Rather Forgive You”), and overall, Wood is a singer/pianist who manages to remain rootsy whatever material he’s performing and whatever background he’s put into. If you can imagine a Memphis-born version of Bobby Vee being produced by Gene Pitney, some of the material here sounds like that. The later tracks at MGM move more into an organ-based sound and the horns often have a soul tinge to them—they also highlight Wood’s vocals much more than the Joy sessions. And the wonderful electric sitar one associates with Memphis late 60’s sessions emerges here and there.
Pre-Beatles musical styles held on in the South longer than they did in other parts of the US, so it was possible to have success in 1967 with a record that sounds like something Conway Twitty might have issued in 1962.
This 2-cd set collects a large body of work that can transport you to a 1966 burger joint in Tennessee where Elvis is still the style model for the males and records like Bobby Wood’s are popular on the jukebox. Wood later had incredible success as a key musician on million-selling records by Crystal Gayle and Garth Brooks and many others, so Wood went on to sustained commercial success as a sideman that he never saw as a solo artist. However, there is a lot to enjoy here for the listener who enjoys records by Southern pre-Beatles artists hanging on and trying to find a place in the post-Beatles world by going back to their roots and doing what they did best.
Also of interest is that four of the songs here were co-written by Tommy Kaye, presumably the same Thomas Jefferson Kaye famous later for his great work with Gene Clark.

Bill Shute, originally published in Ugly Things magazine in 2019

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