ROCKIN' FIFTIES FEST III
THE MAGIC KINGDOM
OF ROCK 'N' ROLL
Oneida Casino (and Riverside Ballroom), Green Bay, Wisconsin.
15th to 20th May 2007
The third Rockin’ Fifties Fest., held at the Oneida Casino which is located on land belonging to the Oneida tribe in Wisconsin (otherwise justifiably known as the cheese capital of the world) has simply to be the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll festival ever held to date. With attendances in excess of 5,000 people, and over 150 acts with the associated 700 musicians performing, this was the Magic Kingdom of rock ‘n’ roll. Indeed, it was like discovering the equivalent of the Holy Grail.
At the peak times on each day, there were four band stages operating virtually simultaneously and so it proved impossible to catch all the acts – much as the spirit and my little legs wanted to. In addition, there were numerous record stalls to check out, clothes stalls to gaze at and wonder if one was to ever get back down to those sizes again and the vintage car rally. Apart from one hitch after the Little Richard show, it all appeared seamless, the acoustics were wonderful and the sight lines generally very good. I take my hat off to the organisers, Marc Mencher and Phil Doran for making this ol’ man oh so happy. No wonder it takes two years to organise but to the attendees from all over the world, it was the equivalent of a rock ‘n’ roll paradise.
Accordingly, the following is a brief summary of the acts that I managed to catch and I extend my apologies to those I missed. Maybe next time…..
Riverside Ballroom Show (no better way to warm up) – Tuesday, 15th May 2007.
The festival at the Casino took place over a five day period from 16th May 2007 but on the night prior to commencement, there was a warm up show held at the Riverside Ballroom in downtown Green Bay. This venue was just like going back to the dance halls of the fifties and sixties complete with a barrel shaped ceiling and hanging chandeliers, it was literally steeped in atmosphere. Indeed, the ill fated Winter Dance Party tour of 1959 starring Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, The Big Bopper and Dion & The Belmonts played this venue the night prior to Clear Lake.
- Chan Romero: maybe the voice was a little hoarse, but he is still rockin’ away nicely. Spirited performance that opened up with ‘My Little Ruby’ and went on with ‘Bony Moronie’, That’s My Little Susie’ and of course ‘Hippy Hippy Shake’, a song whose royalties has enabled Chan to raise a family of eleven children. We were also treated, amongst others, to ‘I Want Some More’ which he segued back into the aforementioned ‘Shake’.
- Jim Sunquist: one of the two original Fendermen, (and a local musician) backed up by the excellent Vibro Champs, gave a crowd pleasing show and performed extensive selections from Fendermen repertoire. Kicking off with the classic ‘Torture’, this was followed by ‘Don’t You Just Know It’ and ‘Beatnik Party’ before dropping onto a Little Richard medley but it was soon back to Fendermen territory with ‘Bertha Lou’ and some later Fendermen associated tunes in the form of ‘Wolf Man’, ‘The Everglades’ and High Noon’. The last mentioned worked especially well. Sunquist is not the strongest of vocalists but is more than capable of carrying a show. He is however a very competent guitarist and he demonstrated his skills on ‘Seep Walk’, ‘Whiplash’ and ‘Caravan’. The set closed out with the classic ‘Mule Skinner Blues’, wonderful memory evoking material.
- Art Adams: I have caught Art quite a few times since his resurrection but on this occasion, he was using his own Indianapolis based band The Zero Boys that provided the show with a Stray Cats edge, I have never seen Art perform better, it was pure energy and action from beginning to end. The set commenced with a wild ‘Rocky Road Blues’ that was instantly followed by ‘Dancing Doll’, ‘Let It Rock’, ‘My Canadian Lady’, ‘Juke Joint Johnny’ and ‘You Don’t Live There No More. Art was mixing up the songs nicely with varied tempos and originals with covers. Special mention must be made of the lead guitarist Danny Thompson who was simply great and was a top notch vocalist in his won right, especially on ‘Is A Blue Bird Blue’. We got two versions of ‘Rock Crazy Baby’ along with ‘Indian Joe’, ‘Memphis Green’ and ‘|Down In Tennessee’. All in all, wonderful stuff.
- Jerry Williams & The Rockets: this was the local band that introduced rock ‘n’ roll to the Green Bay area and who had reformed with the original line-up for the occasion. Competent musicians on a set of covers that got the dancers strutting their stuff.
Oneida Casino – and the entry into the Magic Kingdom
The rockin’ commences in earnest – Wednesday, 16th May 2007.
The stage set up at the casino and hotel complex is that there was the main Three Clans Ballroom, the smaller Iroquois Ballroom and two lounges, one in the hotel and one in the casino. The main headliners were featured in the Three Clans whilst the Iroquois had a selection of established acts and new bands and the Purcell Lounge was devoted to almost exclusively to up and coming groups.
The Main Casino Lounge had a varied selection of performers. Various record companies such as Spindrift, Rhythm Bomb, Goofin’ and El Toro each had a showcase featuring many of their current acts. This was invariably followed by a nightly jam session lead by (Stray Cats) Slim Jim Phantom that featured many musicians getting up and playing together in various aggregations, although most of shows appeared to include the powerful picking of the UK’s Darrel Higham. For many, this was a regular highlight. This venue also had a presentation put together by Bob Timmers of the Rockabilly Hall Of Fame web site. Phew, there was hardly time to eat but what a marvellous scene.
However, the main focus has to be the rockin’ music and performances and, in all honesty, there was hardly a duff one in those that I managed to catch – which was about a third of the possible total.
- Big Sandy & his Fly-Rite Boys: This was a totally professional rockabilly come rock ‘n’ roll from a band that simply gets better. Sandy rocked, rolled and cajoled the audience. Clearly at ease, he rocked away on a selection of mainly originals such as ‘People Are Talking All Over Town’, ‘Spanish Dagger’, ‘Five Minutes On The Hour’ and ‘Talking Up The Blues’. The latest line-up of the Fly-Rite Boys is probably the best yet. We were certainly off to a flying start.
- Little Richard: complete with his own ten piece band (including three saxes), grand piano and P.A. system, came on next. Overall, this was a powerhouse performance when he rocked but there was an awful lot of waffle between songs. After a series of heavy handed announcements by the band leader that anyone caught taking photographs or recording the show would be thrown out of the hall (even the side of the stage big screens were switched off) Richard came onto the stage aided by crutches. After a series of aahs, oohs, bless my souls and are you feeing all right, some ten minutes into the set, he finally launched into ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ which rocked like no tomorrow and had a tremendous routine from the backing band. This was followed by ‘Blueberry Hill’ that degenerated into an audience sing along before we had a powerhouse treatment of ‘Miss Ann’. Ray Charles ‘I Got A Woman’ was fine but ‘Bony Moronie’ segued into a rap. Next came a snatch of ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’ which slid nicely into a tasty treatment of ‘Directly From My Heart’ and then we were really rockin’ with ‘Bama Lama, Bama Lou’ and the classic ‘Lucille’. The last mentioned featured Little Richard bathed in a blue spotlight. After a dance routine work out by the backing band on ‘Jambalaya’ and a superfluous ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll’, we had a tremendous untitled boogie woogie piano lead instrumental from Richard. This was outstanding. But why was ‘Tutti Frutti’ then sung by the band leader who demonstrated the Little Richard dance. The set finally closed out with a great ‘Long Tall Sally’.
- Jack Scott came on next and had to set up his own equipment whilst the Little Richard stage crew were experiencing difficulties in clearing the stage. After the resulting somewhat fraught start, his set quickly developed into an effortless and wonderful rock ‘n’ roll tour de force. This was a performance right up there with previous shows from Scott the Magnificent. He has a new young but first rate lead guitarist who nailed the solos magnificently. ‘Baby She’s Gone’, ‘Two Timing Woman’ and a mixture of ‘Greasball/Leroy were the commencing songs before we had the ever so wonderful ‘My True Love’. It was then straight in ‘Mountain Dew’ followed by the momentous ‘Burning Bridges with Jack really getting under the mournful intent of the song. Oh boy, this was enjoyable and the audience was ecstatic. ‘Go Wild Little Sadie came next which was followed by marvellous readings of ‘They’ll Never Take Your Love From Me’, and ‘Save My Soul’. Two numbers not a regular feature of a Scott show in ‘Just Because’ and ‘She’s Not You’ came next before we were back in more well known territory with ‘Geraldine’, ‘Cry Cry Cry’, ‘The Way I Walk’, the very underrated ‘Patsy’ and ‘I Never felt Like This’. Jack finished off with ‘Trouble’, complete with the additional verse. Mean moody and full of class, the vocals were spot on and Jack’s band was superb. All in all, this performance was a festival highlight.
- The Five Keys was the first vocal group to be featured this festival. Although reduced to four members due to medical reasons for this night only, this was a seamless performance. Great harmonies and stage presence from the outset with a mixture of ballads such as the timeless ‘Glory Of Love’, ‘Dream On’ and ‘Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind’ and very pleasing up-tempo songs in the form of ‘Long Ting Tong’, ‘Papa Made Love To Mama’ and ‘She’s The Most’. These were all sung with well coordinated stage movements and effectively told the musical history of the act. Class songs from a class act.
- Narvel Felts needed no real introduction and he performed a great set, mixing his own rockabilly with a selection of his seventies country hits. He was in top form and, darn it, shows no signs of the advancing years. Opening up with ‘Release me’, it was quickly into top rockin’ with ‘Foolish Thoughts and ‘Pink and Black Days’ before reverting to his country hit treatment of ‘Funny How Time Slips Away’ and then upping the rockin’ stakes with ‘My Babe’. I am not sure whether I have seen Narvel bending his golden tonsils around Roy Orbison’s ‘Crying’ previously but, in any event, this was superb. A good treatment of ‘Great Balls of Fire’ was followed by his own ‘Kiss A Me Baby’ before singing the emotional tribute to his late son with ‘Since I Don’t Have You’. It was then time for the song that he is known in Europe for, namely ‘Did You Tell Me’ which was served up in blistering fashion. Narvel finished off with two of his big country hits, ‘Lonely Teardrops’ and ‘My Prayer’. This had been a top performance from a master showman and vocalist.
I managed to catch snatches of the shows by The Go-Getters who reinforced their reputation as one of the leading exponents of Thrashabilly and earned a standing ovation. Much in the same bag was Al & The Blackcats whilst Larry Lee Phillipson who gave us a unique country blues edged rockabilly show.
Just look back at that lot and then realise that this was only the first of five days. No wonder I thought that I was in paradise.
The Rockin’ Is Relentless – Thursday, 17th May 2007.
- Sonny Burgess & Rosie Flores was the first performance of the day and this proved to be an inspired coupling with bags of rockabilly laced with good humour. Sonny had a throat infection and his vocals suffered slightly as a consequence but Rosie was very bright ‘n’ bubbly and in great voice. Sonny started with a medley of ‘That’s Alright Mama’ and ‘C C Rider’ which was instantly followed by Rosie singing ‘Country Boy’. The stage craft from both artists was evident by the bucketful , especially on ‘My Bucket’s Got A hole In it’ (Sonny) and ‘Hot Dog’ (Rosie). Each artist then featured three consecutive numbers, Sonny with ‘Find My Baby For Me’, ‘The Prisoners Song’ and ‘Ain’t Got A Thing’ whilst Rosie came across with ‘Rockin’ Little Angle’ (not the Ray Smith song), ‘Bring It On ‘Cause I’m Ready To Fall In Love’ and ‘Tear Me Up’, all performed in an exemplary style. During ‘Red Headed Woman’ coupled with ‘Tear it Up’, Sonny came up behind Rosie, put his arms around her and played her guitar whilst still holding on to the lady. Rosie was full of google eyes. Sonny wanted to close out the performance with ‘Shake Rattle and Roll’ but at the audience’s insistence, we fortunately got ‘We Wanna Boogie’ instead. What an opener to the day’s proceedings.
- Billy Lee Riley: was next and ‘though signs of his recent ill health were slightly visible, I thought that this was a great show from one of the Memphis originators. All the regular Riley mannerisms and that lovely rasping tinged voice were evident as he opened up with ‘Flying Saucers Rock ‘n’ Roll’, ‘Rock With Me Baby’, ‘Trouble Bound’ and ‘Flip Flop and Fly. He was receiving great support from the backing band lead by Deke Dickerson. A couple of songs not normally associated with Billy then followed, namely ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’ and ‘Roll Over Beethoven, the last mentioned faltered a bit when Billy appeared to forget some of the lyrics. This was quickly overcome with a searing ‘Pearly Lee’ that segued nicely into ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’. Billy closed out his show with ‘Got Your Water Boiling Baby’ and, of course, ‘Red Hot’. I, and most of the audience, was in paradise and this was evidenced by the length of the autograph queue afterwards – Billy was still signing some seventy five minutes later.
- The Crickets made it appear oh so easy and professional, I guess that they have nothing to prove. They were there at the birth of rock ‘n’ roll and the quality of their performance, playing and singing (this was despite Sonny having had a recent operation on his hand) was a joy to both the eyes and ears. There were no surprises in the song selection that ranged through the Holly/ Crickets and Sonny Curtis song books with the likes of ‘Oh Boy’, ‘’More Than I Can Say’, ‘Everyday’, ‘Walk Right Back’ and ‘It’s So Easy’. On ‘Words of Love’, they were joined by John Sheely who demonstrated that ‘Badlands’ by Bruce Springsteen originated from this song. After ‘Peggy Sue’ and ‘That’ll Be The Day’, the band received tumultuous applause and had to return for Rave On’ as an encore.
- Ferlin Huskey at 82 years young is a man who is pure genius on stage. Dressed head to foot in white, he possesses a commanding presence complete with a great singing voice. This was the first time that I have had the pleasure of seeing Ferlin perform and I was in no way disappointed. He commenced with ‘A Fallen Star’ followed by ‘Country Music Is Here To Stay (complete with his altar ego Simon Crum impersonations) and the classic ‘Gone’. Ferlin told a little of his history throughout the act which carried on with ‘The Way It Was Is Still The Way It Is’. His partner in real life, Leona Williams then took centre stage for three songs before Ferlin joined for duets on ‘A Dear John letter’ and ‘AS Long As I Live’. All too soon, this mesmerising performance drew to a close with Ferlin singing ‘I Feel Better All Over’ and ‘On The Wings Of A Dove’. His closing remark was ‘’I like to leave you with a little laugh’, guffawed into the microphone and left the stage – pure brilliance. I understand that Ferlin was hospitalised shortly after this show, it is to be hoped that he is now well on the mend.
- Glen Barber was another act that I had not previously had the opportunity to see ‘in the flesh’. He was the guy who had played the lead guitar on Big Bopper’s ‘Chantilly Lace’, the George Jones recording of ‘Why Baby Why’ and who had played on sessions by Ivory Joe Hunter (amongst many others). Apart from his session duties, he had recorded extensively over the years, especially for Starday and Hickory labels, albeit mainly as a country artist.. However, this was a rock ‘n’ roll festival and Glen, being the professional musician, knew what was required and delivered. We got the oh so wonderful ‘Ice Cold’, ‘Atom Bomb’ and the rockabilly classic ‘Shadow My Baby’. We were also treated to some wonderful honky tonk music such as ‘Poor Man’s Baby (And A Rich Man’s Dream)’ and ‘Yes Man (I Found Her In A Honky Tonk)’. Glen is another of those class acts who has been in the music business all his life – and it showed.
- Jason D. Williams was the wildest performer of the whole festival beyond doubt He possesses maniacal energy, he was all over the stage singing, standing on top of the piano, lying on the piano, kicking the piano and in the end demolishing the piano (although I suspect this was all part of a very clever and entertaining stage act). I am not even sure that he ever completed one number before going off into another song. Somewhere in this mayhem, my notes tell me that he sang (or started to sing) ‘I’ll Fly Away’, ‘Crazy Arms’, ‘Wine Wine Wine’, ‘Tore Up’, ‘Flip Flop And Fly’ and ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’ (albeit that this too was turned into a frantic rocker). This was a set that was breath-taking in its rockin’ abandonment. Truly an ace showman, good vocalist and carries three first rate sidemen. I came away exhausted but at the same time totally exhilarated.
- Mike Sanchez was, compared to his recent UK shows, somewhat subdued but still came across as the great performer that we know he is.
- In a new departure, there was a slot for Legends From the Fifties for three consecutive nights. Basically, what this meant was that four originators from the fifties were each on stage for fifteen minutes one after another serving up around six of their classic songs in a short, sharp but sweet set. Not so sure that this was a total success as each artist could have easily given more, certainly that is what the audiences wanted. Maybe a thirty minute slot may have been more appropriate. The quartet for this night were:
- Lew Williams who is one of the most unique rockers and came across with a truly animated performance. I love this guy’s music, especially when it includes ‘Bop Bop Ba Doo Bop’, Abracadabra’, Gone Ape Man’, Centipede’, Something I Said’ and Cat Talk’. Lew is a special one-off and, apart from being one of the nicest guys on this planet, is a great performer. He came rocked and he left the stage to great applause..
- Eddie Bond’s brilliant rockabilly voice is still there in abundance. His selection included ‘Rockin’ Daddy’, ‘Boppin’ Bonnie’, ‘Here Comes The Train’, ‘Flip Flop Mama’, ‘Juke Joint Johnnie’ and ‘Slip, Slip, Slippin’ In’. Classic music by any standard.
- Hayden Thompson came across with his splendid sharp, hard-edged vocalising on was basically classic Memphis rockabilly. He was really confident and took control of the stage as soon as he stepped on it. His songs included ‘Love My Baby’, ‘Fairlane Rock’, ‘Mama Rock’, ‘Blues Blues Blues’ and ‘Ring of Fire’. This was straight in your face no frills rockabilly of the highest order and certainly deserved more that the 15 minute spot allocated. Hayden hardly broke into a sweat, such was his total command
- Glen Glenn I suspect, either had left his watch off or it had stopped working as he certainly over-ran. By my time keeping, he was on stage for close to a half hour. In a high energy set that comprised ‘One Cup Of Coffee And A Cigarette’, ‘Blue Jeans And A Boys Shirt’, ‘I’m Glad My Baby’s Gone Away’, ‘Laurie Ann’, ‘Jack And Jill Boogie’ and ‘Everybody’s Moving’, he again proved to be a crowd pleaser.
- Big Jay McNeely: made his entrance from the back of the hall honking away on that saxophone on the part instrumental/part vocal politically correct ‘Big Fat Mama’. No longer wearing a hair piece, there was no doubt here at 80 years old was a guy who could really play and sing. Indeed, in a set that featured quite a few vocals, he demonstrated that he was/is a performer’s performer. Backed up by the seven piece Hollywood Combo, the first number upon reaching the stage was again part instrumental/part vocal ‘I can’t Stop Loving You’ which was followed by the track that set his career alight back in 1948, ‘Deacon’s Groove’. The set also comprised all time biggie ‘There Is Something On Your Mind’ and the unreleased (by Big Jay) ‘All Night Long’. Boy, he was the consummate showman, crowd pleaser and (above all) top notch musician. I was entranced.
- Robert Gordon with Chris Spedding came and rocked away quite brilliantly in a very fast moving and entertaining set. These are two guys who gel well together - and then some. Robert was clearly in a good humour and smiled his way through the whole show. Starting off with ‘Lover Boy’, it was then into ’The Wanderer’ and ‘Hello Walls’, all of which had that unmistakable Gordon take. He featured two numbers from the early days of British rock ‘n’ roll, namely Joe Brown’s ‘Picture Of You’ and Cliff Richard’s ‘Move It’, both of which have never sounded better. Gordon was even open to suggestions and sang both ‘Bertha Lou’ and ‘Fire’ following requests from the audience.. Other songs included ‘Little Sister’, ‘Lonely Weekends’, ‘There You Go’ and ‘Walk On By’ before climaxing out with ‘Rockabilly Boogie’ and ‘Red Hot’. Quality rock ‘in’ roll.
- Lee Rocker carries his own band with him that contains some superb musicians, especially the two lead guitarists, and performs his own brand of modern rockabilly. He is one of the best of the new wave and demonstrated this on a selection of numbers such as ‘Racetrack Blues’, ‘Bullet Proof’ and ‘Running From The Hounds’. There were a few acknowledgements to his Stray Cat days (the original line-up is reforming for a forthcoming American national tour) with the likes of ‘Rock This Town’ and ‘Stray Cat Strut’. But it is on his own brand of music with ‘From Texarkana To Panama City’ and ‘I’ll Cry Instead’ that Lee really scores. ‘Nuff said.
- Eddie Angel is one of the best rockin’ and original guitarists around and he lead the Spinout Records show case. Acts included The Hi-Risers, The Stumbleweeds, The Mezcal Brothers and the over the top but wonderfully entertaining The Neanderthals who came on stage complete in cavemen outfits carrying clubs. The lead singer proceeded to knock five bells out of the drums with his club, all in the best possible tastes of course. Great fun.
- The Lonesome Spurs is a duo comprising the lovely Lynda Kay Parker on lead vocals along with the talented Danny B. Harvey on lead guitar. Danny is part of The Head Cat and was a member of Levi Dexter & the Rockats (more about both of these later). Together, they play all instruments and the talent pool is awesome. In a set of mainly original numbers, they came across like a modern day Collins Kids and left many with smiling faces realising that they had just witnessed the start of a ground breaking band.
Please remember that thus far, we have covered two days out of the five of the festival. Impressive is an understatement.
There Just Ain’t No Stopping This Boppin’ – Friday, 18th May 2007.
After breakfasting at the Tiki Brunch, listening to Mike Sanchez playing a solo acoustic set on the piano and meeting up with old friends plus making new acquaintances, the batteries were recharged ready for the day’s rockin’:
- Linda Gail Lewis: at last the Americans are becoming aware, of what we know in Europe, that she is a top notch rocker. Hopefully, this was her break through show as she drew a large receptive audience and she rocked away like there was no tomorrow. Pounding the piano keys into submission, her act included a selection of songs made famous by her big brother Jerry Lee. When she started singing ‘Old Black Joe’, the atmosphere became supercharged and the set ignited. From here on in, Linda could do no wrong and she responded with even more fervour. From the selections she sang, her renditions of ‘Hungry Hill’, ‘Big Black Cadillac’, ‘Boogie Woogie Country Girl’, High School Confidential’ and ‘Lonely Heart were as about as good as it can get. Afterwards, she signed autographs for some ninety minutes.
- Rusty York sang with great crystal clear vocals but certainly could have been more animated on stage. In some ways, his performance was akin to that of Roy Orbison in that the wildest movement was the tapping of his foot. The songs that Rusty selected to perform were spot on and included ‘Trembling’, ‘Love Struck’, ‘ Sweet Talk’ (aka. ‘Sweet Love’) and ‘Rocket In My Pocket’. The backing band lead by Deke Dickerson included a sax player who seemingly spurred on Rusty’s singing. This was clearly evident on ‘Sadie Mae’ and, his ticket to stardom, ‘Sugaree’. This was a good set but not earth –shattering visually.
- Sid & Billy King clearly possess that Texas rockabilly spark - no make that flame which was burning oh so fiercely on this well balanced and entertaining set. The majority of numbers performed were from their days as the premier rockabilly act for (US) Columbia Records back in the fifties but they made them sound still fresh and vibrant. Starting out with ‘Booger Red’, Sid was in fine voice and Billy demonstrated some mean rockabilly guitar picking and this facets became more pronounced as they carried on with ‘When My Baby Left Me’, ‘Ooby Dooby’, ‘Put Something In The Pot Boy’ and ‘Good Rockin’ Baby’. One new, and good number, was (I believe) ‘Pass the Juice, Let’s get Loose’ and this was equal to any other in the act. The set built with intensity and excitement and climaxed out beautifully with ‘I’ve Got the Blues’, Gonna Shake This Shack Tonight’, ‘Let ‘Er Roll’ and the marvellous ‘Sad, Drag and Fall.
- The Cleftones, lead by Herb Cox, presented vocal group slickness at its very best. One of the most entertaining professional groups of this genre around, they have perfected their act to the ultimate stage craft. From the outset, the stage was full of co-ordinated movement as they launched into ‘Heart And Soul’ and the vocals were spot on. The pattern of the set was a mixture of originals such as ‘This Little Girl Of Mine’ and ‘Can’t We Be Sweethearts’ along with covers like ‘Don’t Let Go’ and ‘Blue Velvet’. The wonderful voice of Jimmy Whiteside took the lead on the Jackie Wilson tunes ‘That’s Why I Love You So’ and ‘I’ll Be Satisfied’ along with an achingly beautiful rendition of ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’. Time literally flew by and it seemed like no time at all that the guys were closing out with ‘Little Girl Of Mine’ and ‘Can’t we Be Sweethearts.
- Frankie Ford was, for this extrovert, somewhat subdued. He came across with a typical Frankie show: this being a mixture of New Orleans rockin’ music and blue tinged jokes. All somewhat different to his European performances where he concentrates very much on his music.
The Four Legends of Rock ‘n’ Roll spot for this night was intended to include Pat Cupp who was unable to appear due to being in recovery from a recent operation. Gene Summers was also scheduled to appear but elected to stay back in Texas to look after his wife who was recovering from injuries sustained in a recent fall. We all sincerely hope that all make a good recovery. However, in every dark cloud there is a silver lining as will be seen from the comments on the next two acts.
- Alton Lott is half of the Sun recording act Alton & Jimmy and this guy has been in the music business all his life. It clearly showed with brilliant rockin’ music from a performer with a great voice, exceptional stage presence and who is a fine guitarist as well. It does my heart good to be able to finally catch a performance by an act who recorded for the label that is the cradle of rock ‘n’ roll and who exceed s expectations. Opening up with ‘Honky Tonk Man’, Alston quickly proceeded on with the original ‘Rockabilly Boogie’ from his new CD ‘Rock My Blues Away’ and which was recorded in Memphis with Roland Janes engineering. Alton is a friend of Andy Anderson and he rocked away on Andy’s ‘Tough, Tough Tough’ as a tribute. This was followed by ‘My Babe’ and then the one we were all waiting for, namely ‘No More Crying The Blues’. The backing band lead by Deke Dickerson nailed that inimitable Sun sound in no uncertain manner. The set closed out with ‘Linda Lou and then it was over, it had been a festival highlight, I and the rest of the audience clearly wanted more - hope he makes his European debut soon.
- Sleepy LaBeef: the human jukebox was in top form and blended one number into the next with effortless ease. Originally going to be on for fifteen minutes (some hope on that one I feel), , he was now able to play an extended set and made the most of the opportunity. Starting with ‘My Girl Josephine’, he segued songs like ‘Boogie Woogie Man From Tennessee’ into ‘Too Much Monkey Business’ into the instrumental ‘Rebel Rouser’ in a continuous loop like a Jive Bunny disc. He dropped into his country roots for ‘Columbus Stockade Blues’, ‘Why Baby Why’ and Glen Barber joined him on stage for a duet on ‘Waltz Across Texas’. That Sleepy magic was clearly evident throughout and he proved very popular with the audience.
- The Penguins for this night were a trio lead by Cleve Duncan who looked in amazing shape. I only wished I had his youth regenerating secret if this is the Cleve Duncan from the fifties. Whatever, we witnessed great vocal group performances with exceptional harmonies. They commenced with ‘Money Honey’ complete with the comedy bug routine that Sonny Burgess often uses in his stage act. This was followed by ‘Hey Senorita, ‘Be My Loving Baby’ and the great up-tempo ‘Ookey Ook’ before proceeding into the Frank Zappa composition ‘Memories Of El Monte’. The last mentioned song lead naturally into their meal ticket ‘Earth Angel’ and this was spell binding, worth making the trip across the Big Pond for in its own right.
- Vincent Black Shadows was a great new (to myself) band lead by Gabrielle, the wife of Jimmy Sutton backed up by another two girl singers and a full band including twin saxes and keyboard. This was blazing stuff with a selection of songs ranging from ‘Id rather Go Blind’ to Ronnie Dawson’s ‘Action Packed’. This is another band we have to get over to Europe as soon as possible.
- Ray Sharpe played another sparkling blues based rockin’ performance, this guy never fails to impress. Limited to a thirty minute slot, there was no messing as he blasted off with ‘My Baby’s Gone’ quickly followed by ‘Monkey’s Uncle’ and the classic ‘Linda Lu. This Texas based unassuming guy sure knows how to work the stage and demonstrated this in no uncertain fashion as he played a long rockin’ blues instrumental with the occasional vocal snatches. Ray closed out with ‘Mama Talk To Your Daughter For Me’, A very satisfying half hour.
- Barbara Lynn came on as soon as Ray had finished and simply knocked me out with her blindingly good stage presence. Playing her own guitar with her chunky form of picking, this lady is simply brilliant. What a voice, it was at its haunting best on ‘We Got A Good Thing Going’, Please Please, Please’ and ‘You Turn Me On’. When she played the opening chords to ‘You’ll Loose A Good Thing’, I was nearly beside myself, it was breathtakingly superb. She even managed to inject magic into the hackneyed ‘What’d I Say’. This lady deserves to be seen time and time again.
- The Head Cat is an occasional act featuring Lemmy of Motorhead, Slim Jim Phantom of The Stray Cats and that superb guitarist Danny B. Harvey. This was very heavy rock ‘n’ roll, somewhat like Link Wray on speed. Their act certainly proved a winner with the audience.
That was it for yours truly on the third day. In this session, we had covered the extent – and then more some - of a typical European weekender. This festival was living up to its advance publicity in every which way.
To Pooped To Pop – No Way! – Saturday, 19th May 2007
- Charlie Gracie is a particular favourite of mine. No matter how many times I have seen him (and it is many), I always come away form his performance contented and happy realising once again that I have seen a true professional at work. Backed up by The Mellowmen (who are also known as Ike & The Capers) who were in perfect sympathy with Charlie’s music, from the outset,, this was a killer show. The set consisted in the main of many originals such as ‘Just Looking’, ‘Butterfly’ and the fantastic ‘Cool Baby’ plus some covers done Gracie style such as ‘Kawliga’, ‘Let The Good Times Roll and ‘What’d I say’. Charlie has been in show business for 56 years and makes it all appear so effortless but on so entertaining. ‘Head Home Honey’ from his earliest recordings was included as was ‘Guitar Boogie’ in which he demonstrated his first rate guitar picking. This was a typical Gracie show which means first rate and closed out in blindingly good style with ’99 Ways’, ‘Tootsie’, the thumping ‘Heart Like A Rock’ and ‘Fabulous’.
- Roy Head again demonstrated that he is the master of the microphone technique, twirling it, throwing it, catching it in a superlative demonstration of first class stage techniques. Basically, he performed an R&B based set opening up with ‘Just A Little Bit’ and followed quickly with ‘Rock Me Baby’ and ‘Linda Lu’. The power of his voice was oh so evident as he launched into ‘One Night’ complete with slow bumps and grinds, this was a reading second only to that of Presley. Next came ‘Shake Rattle And Roll’, a song that personally I would not be bothered if I never heard again. However, on ‘Bo Diddley’, ‘I’m A Man and ‘Lucille’ Roy breathed new life into the songs. After announcing that he was going to record a new album with Sleepy LaBeef, Roy closed out with his signature tune, ‘Treat Her Right’. It had been a very, very professional complete with good humour blended in as well. Sadly none of his early TNT material was included but what we got was par excellance.
- The Clovers had a line-up that included one fifties Clover but that did not matter in what turned out to be a breath-taking raunchy R&B set. Kicking off with ‘Money Honey’ and followed by ‘Your Cash Ain’t Nothing But Trash’, this was classic fifties styled bluesy rock ‘n’ roll, some of the best that I have witnessed. The pace did slow down for beautiful harmonies on ‘Devil Or Angel’ cranked up a bit for ‘One Mint Julep’ and then came at you full blast for a searing ‘Down In The Alley’. Boy, this was the real deal and the backing band, lead by Deke Dickerson, were playing like demented demons. I have never ever heard this song performed better. There was a slight jar as they performed ‘Don’t Play That song’ but made up any lost ground with ‘Hey Miss Fanny’, ‘Love Potion No. 9’, ‘Peepin’ and Hidin’ before closing out with a blistering ‘Driving Home’. This had been another festival highlight and provided me with musical memories that I shall treasure. They are high on my list of must see again acts.
- Carl Mann & Rayburn Anthony: Rayburn rocked away very tastily but Carl was undoubtedly the star of the two serving up a great performance. Backed up by the previously mentioned Mellowmen, it was like being transported back to the late fifties come early sixties as Carl treated us to ‘Ubangi Stomp’, ‘Gonna Rock ‘n’ Roll Tonight’, the lovely ‘If I Could Change You’ before climaxing with a trio of his classics in the form of ‘Pretend’, ‘Ain’t Got No Home’ and ‘Mona Lisa’. It was like being back in Memphis for myself. The act concluded with Rayburn joining Carl on stage for ‘Big Boss Man’. Very tasty and left one wanting more.
- James Intveld is a unique country rockin’ guy and I guess that the nearest comparison would be Dwight Yoakam. He has a good stage act and carries a great band. Particular highlights were ‘Stop The World And Let Me Off’, ‘Good Loving’ and ‘One Sweet Letter’. He also sang a selection of songs from the movie ‘Cry Baby’ (it was his voice that Johnny Depp was miming to in the film). James is UK bound in October for the Hemsby weekender and I suspect will be a highlight – certainly based on this performance.
Roddy Jackson is seemingly unknown to American audiences whilst in Europe his performances are legendary. From the start, he gave out with this wild-man show that we have come to love. Here was a man giving 100% of himself as he treated us to ‘I’ve Got My Sights On Someone New’, ‘Moose On the Loose’ and’ Any old Town’. Roddy has a whole can of tracks recorded at Specialty Records that have not been released but he announced that they are finally going to see the light of day on Ace Records in July of this year. Wonderful news, and if the wild performances of ‘Jukebox Baby’ and ‘Would You Consider’ are anything to go by, then this will be one killer CD. One moment Roddy is thrashing the keyboards into submission and then he is honking away on the saxophone in wild rockin’ frenzy. His vocals are have a raucous edge which is perfectly in keeping with his music. Yet another master showman, and his treatment of ‘Hiccups’ and Gloria were totally sublime. He ended up gaining a great reception and closed out with ‘She Said Yeah’, ‘Forever Love You’ and Let’s Go Rock ‘n’ Roll’.
All the four acts were here for this evening’s segment of ‘The Four Legends of Rock ‘n’ Roll and thus we were treated to some high powered rockin’.
- Mac Curtis gave us fifteen minutes of top Texas rockabilly although he does look quite thin. Enjoyable but I have seen him better.
- Ray Campi gained tumultuous applause after his now typical rockabilly show. This guy gets better with age and in the short time allocated to him served up such delicacies as ‘Rockin’ at The Ritz’, ‘Caterpillar’, and of course ‘How Low Can You feel’. On the last mentioned, the whole audience stomped their feet in perfect unison at the appropriate moments –wonderful stuff. .
- Johnny Powers bought his own wonderful guitarist Chris Caselo along with him and drove this 15 minutes segment of powerhouse rockin’ at full throttle. I was disappointed when it ended. Pure excitement from beginning to end as Powers stood there with a true rock ‘n’ roll stance handling the vocals whilst Caselo was bounding all over the stage and gave out with blistering solos. The set did not pause as Johnny went from ‘Rock Bop’, ‘He’s A rocker’, ‘With Your Love’, ‘Me and My Rhythm Guitar’ and of course ‘Long Blond Hair’. Truly, this had been an exceptional quarter of an hour.
- Joe Clay: performed his best known numbers at a fast rockin’ pace, jumped into the audience and played the drums – again all in a 15 minute slot. Such a short duration of course means that we get the crème de crème of material and this was no exception. ‘Sixteen Chicks’ was the first up and was followed without pause by ‘Jelly Bean’, ‘Goodbye Goodbye’, ‘Don’t Mess with My Ducktail’ and ‘get on The Right Track Baby’. He received a great reception and the crowd clearly wanted more.
- Charlie Thompson was one of the hot acts from the UK appearing at this festival along with the likes of Big Joe Louie and Mike Sanchez. Charlie certainly had the audience talking in hushed reverential tones after his sparkling show of rockin’ honky tonk styled music.
- The Collins Kids then stepped onto the stage. Larry and Lorrie, along with Deke Dickerson, demonstrated why they are one of the top acts on the rockin’ circuit. Baby, this was rock ‘n’ roll at its best. Their stage presence is just great and they know how to build and act in its intensity and excitement. All the audience pleasers were performed such as ‘Hop Skip And Jump, ‘I’m In My Teens’, ‘Rock Boppin’ Baby’ and ‘Hot Rod’. Larry’s guitar playing just appears to keep getting better and he served up three great instrumentals in ‘Hurricane’, ‘Early American’ and ‘Rockin’ Gypsy’, with the backing band lead by Deke Dickerson being slightly stretched but admirably performing their part. On the show continued with the likes ‘Heartbeat’, ‘Whistle Bait’ and on ‘Hoy Hoy’, Larry got all the guitarists and bass player to rush to the front of the stage, retreat and then come back again whilst playing. When it came to ‘(Let’s Have A) Party’, Wanda Jackson joined the assembled musicians on stage and duetted with Lorrie, another magical musical moment. ‘Beetle-Bug-Bop’ was the close out number and boy did it cook.
- Levi Dexter & The Original Rockats were one of the leaders of the rockabilly revival and had reformed for a one off show at this festival. This act was fun from beginning to end with good musicianship from all concerned, especially from guitarist Danny B. Harvey making yet another appearance. I had not appreciated just how big this band had been in the USA at the same time as The Stray Cats but the audience reaction to their performance left one in no doubt. They mainly performed original material such as ‘Get So Excited’, ‘Gotta Have Room To Rock’ and ‘Treat Me Like A Dog Baby’. For good measure they also included Crazy Cavan’s ‘Teddy Boy Rock ‘n’ Roll, and one of the UK’s claims to rock ‘n’ roll greatness, namely Johnny Kidd’s ‘Shakin’ All Over’. The stage was full of enjoyable craziness which effectively built up and climaxed with ‘Motorhead Baby’, ‘Hurricane’ and ‘Tear It Up’. To say this band was well received would be an understatement.
- Vicky Tafoya admitted she could be difficult, and she was in the early stages of her show with the backing musicians – I felt sorry for them. However, this lady possess one of those wonderful R&B come rockin’ voices and it turned into a great show once it settled down. She mixed tempos nicely from the raucous ‘Do You Want To Jump Children’ and ‘Rock A Beating Boogie’ though a blindingly good ‘So Young’ to spell binding workouts on ‘Nature Boy’ and ‘Not Too Young To Sing the Blues’. Vicky also demonstrated her musical development by performing her own composition ‘Lover Blues’ before concluding with ‘My Vow To You’ and ‘Rock, Rock around The Clock’. For one acquaintance from the UK, this had been the show of the whole event.
- I managed to catch snatches of the show given by Jimmy Sutton’s Four Charms, this was the final show by this Chicago based appreciated group before they broke up – boy it was good. a scorcher. Also, I saw a little bit of the much improved Fabulous Harmonaires, if they keep up the potential they demonstrated on ‘That’s My Desire’, they will soon be on the main stage.
Boy did I retreat to my hotel room a fluffy bunny after that day’s rockin’. It had been staggering in its quality and excitement.
The Rockin’ Finale - Sunday, 20th May 2007
With such a tight schedule and fast moving shows, the various MC’s had to put in a lot of effort. All managed to build up the pleasure for the audience and all were well informed. They ranged from Big Sandy, Del Villarreal, Ken Mottett (a new name to myself but boy was he good), UK Stompertime CEO Dave Travis and Levi Dexter. Well done gentlemen.
- Sonny West opened up the final afternoon for this happening. It was great to see Sonny back on stage and all credit to him in that he featured some recent compositions. He rocked away nicely but there was a little too much chat between numbers. That said, a lot of what he mentioned was interesting as he talked about his career but this was probably not the right occasion. Among the new tunes that he sang was the excellent ‘Clovis Highway’, ‘West Texas Wind’ and ‘Golden Years’. These all had a tasty rockin tinge but it was when he got down to ‘Rock around With Ollie Vee’ ‘Oh Boy’ (sung as ‘Oh Buick’, a car commercial adaptation) and ‘Rave On’ that he really got the assembled mass going.
- The Bobbettes are yet another vocal group who have developed their stage craft and act to perfection. They featured fine vocals laced with good humour and, although I had seen this show before, it bought many smiles to my face and whoops of delight from my lips as they went through the well choreographed routines. They set off with ‘Ain’t That Good News’ and followed with ‘You Are My Sweetheart and their answer to Chris Kenner with ‘I Don’t Like It Like That’. The backing band, lead by the guitarist’s guitarist Eddie Angel., was just perfect for these ladies. The harmonies on ‘Look at The Stars’ were spell binding and their ‘Night Time (Is The Right Time’ was raucously burlesque in treatment. This segued into James Brown’s ‘Try Me’ before they finished off with a medley of ‘Mr. Lee’ and ‘I shot Mr. Lee’, the last mentioned certainly has politically incorrect lyrics but is is still wonderful.
- Marvin Rainwater seemingly gets better with the advancing years. He set off with the powerful ‘My Brand Of Blues’ and followed it with ‘Mr. Blues’ and his UK number one 1958 hit record ‘Whole Lotta Woman’ (which apparently did nothing on the American charts). He then served up ‘Roll Over Custer (They’re Doing It To Us Again)’, a witty dig at all the casinos on Red Indian reservations that there are in the USA. I loved this number as idid the next song ‘Rockabilly Music Coming Down’ which will be on his forthcoming new CD. Like sonny west, all credit to Marvin as he featured yet more new numbers in the form of ‘You’re Out Of My Mind’ and ‘Gotta Have A Bottle Of Beer’. I think that his ‘Me And Ol’ Newkie Brown’ (a tribute to the strong brown ale from North East England) might have been somewhat lost on the American audience but the British contingent at the show lapped it up. It was back to more familiar top notch rockabilly with ‘Rock Me Daddy’, ‘Rockin’ Down The Walls’, ‘Boo Hoo’ and the show stopper ‘Hot and Cold’. A great set.
- Wanda Jackson as the first lady of rock ‘n’ roll at this festival was breathtakingly good. She rocked, she rolled and she knocked ‘em dead. She tore into ‘Mean Mean Man’, ‘Rock Your Baby’ and ‘I Gotta Know’ with that lovely harsh edged voice that she possess for rock ‘n’ roll songs. She was then joined on stage by Danny B. Harvey (this is the last mentioned he gets this review I promise) for three songs from her latest CD ‘I Remember Elvis’, that Danny produced. Not surprisingly these were Elvis tunes (Good Rockin’ Tonight’, ‘Baby Let’s Play House’ and ‘Heartbreak Hotel’) but done in true inimitable Wanda style. This lady was hot and she served up ‘Fujiyama Mama’ and the atmospheric ‘Funnel Of Love’ before going into her real big country goodie ‘Right Or Wrong’. Upping the stakes, we had ‘Riot In Cell Block No. 9’ before we were treated to her ‘I Saw The Light’, a very good emotion charged reading of the gospel song. Wanda rocked away to her show’s conclusion with Let’s Have A Party’, ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’ and ‘Rip It Up’. What can one say but top rockin’ excellence.
- Dale Hawkins the rockin’ man from Louisiana was in good form, albeit at times a trifle ragged. Still, what that guy has one through in his battle with cancer, it was a marvel that he as standing there, little alone serving up great rock ‘n’ roll music. He is a true legend and this was demonstrated by a first rate selection of songs such as ‘Wildcat Tamer’, ‘Little Pig’, ‘My Babe’ and La Do Da Dah’ the last mentioned really built with a couple of blistering guitar breaks. Along the way, he built in some nice ballads in the form of ‘A House, A Car And A Wedding Ring’, ‘A Fool’s Paradise’ and ‘the exceptional ‘This Love Of Mine’. Dale with his long experience knows how to work the stage and get the best out of his backing musicians and this was evident for all to see on ‘No. 9 Train’ and his ticket to immortality ‘Susie Q’. Long may he continue to rock away like this.
- Lee Rocker & Slim Jim Phantom and assorted musicians deputised for the ailing Bo Diddley in a Stray Cats tribute. This proved to be another audience pleaser.
- Speedo & The Cadillacs strangely did not appeal. Maybe I was getting jaded, but this was a Vegas style cabaret performance that did not sit right with myself and I saw members of the audience drifting away. For sure, there were plenty of well rehearsed routines and numbers like ‘Peek-A-Boo’, ‘No Chance’ and ‘Zoom’ were effective. But why oh why, considering the depth of their catalogue, did they have to include two Coasters numbers and turn the lovely ballad ‘Gloria’ into a comedy number, the last mentioned being little short of a monumental sin for myself. ‘Speedo’ commenced very well but then evaporated into a long and somewhat meaningless dance routine.
- Rocky Burnette accompanied by Darrel Higham on guitar and Slim Jim Phantom on drums, however turned in a real tight and essential rockabilly set. This was a top notch rock ‘n’ roll show based in the main on the music and style of Johnny (Rocky’s dad) and Dorsey Burnette. Clearly all on the stage were enjoying themselves and these good vibes transmitted themselves to the audience as they turned in exhilarating performances on ‘Come Back Baby’, ‘Rockabilly Boogie’, ‘Lonesome Train’ and ‘Hip Shaking Baby’. There were more raids on the song book of The Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio with ‘Lonesome Tears In My Eyes’, ‘Please Don’t Leave Me’, ‘Sweet Love On My Mind’ and ‘The Train Kept A Rollin’. It is important to state that the sound and spirit of the music of the Burnettes was more than effectively captured in this show and was a real joy to witness. Rock on Rocky!
- Dig Wayne & The Chisslers performed their debut show and, from what I saw, can be loosely compared with the much missed Buzz and The Flyers. Certainly a promising start and I look forward to seeing them again.
Another act that I managed to sample was the Dave & Deke Combo and observed that their cornball styled rock ‘n’ roll is in tact. .I also managed to catch a smattering of the set from The Vibro Champs, a group used by Fendermen Jim Sunquist as his backing group, and came away wishing that I had been able to see their whole show. This outfit has to be one of the best of the new bands around and their potential is awesome.
With that little lot under my belt, I retired for the night and it slowly sank in that the festival had concluded. On reflection, it has to rank as one of the all time greatest rock ‘n’ roll events that has been staged. For sure, I was rocked out at the end but what a way to so become. The quality of the music and performances was generally of the highest standard. Once again, I take my hat off to Marc Mencher and Phil Doran for even contemplating staging such as festival, little alone pulling it off. Gentlemen, I am forever in your gratitude.
Finally, the great news is that Rockin’ Fifties Fest. IV is in the planning stage for two years time and should be held in Green bay again. Will I be there, to quote Conwy Twitty (and the previously mentioned Danny Thompson) ‘Is A Blue Bird Blue’….. I cannot wait.
© Tony Wilkinson – May 2007.