Archives for category: Rock ‘n’ Roll Music

Who knows or has even heard of Lonnie Johnson? “I was old enough to have felt first-hand the old country blues … And I got to see how those blues were modified and modernized by artists like Lonnie Johnson.” Thus BB King.

Alonzo Johnson (1899 – 1970) played guitar and violin, and sang too. He’s known as a blues player, but his experience ranges wider, from touring blues shows with Victoria Spivey and Bessie Smith, through work with jazz greats Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, stride pianist James P Johnson –

Lonnie Johnson (left) Chicago, April 1941, with Andrew Harris bass, Dan Dixon rhythm (FSA photo Russell Lee -

Lonnie Johnson (left) Chicago, April 1941, with Andrew Harris bass, Dan Dixon rhythm (FSA photo Russell Lee –

– and UK skiffle artist Tony Donegan – who changed his name to Lonnie in 1952.

His influence on others extends to Elvis Presley (on 1954’s “Tomorrow Night” he imitates Lonnie’s 1948 hit vocals) and early Bob Dylan (listen to “Corrina Corrina”). You can hear why “in the 1920s and 1930s, Johnson was best known as a sophisticated and urbane singer rather than an instrumentalist.”

“Of the forty ads for his records that appeared in the ‘Chicago Defender’ between 1926 and 1931, not one even mentioned that he played guitar.” (Elijah Wald,  Escaping the Delta : Robert Johnson and the invention of the blues, 2004) So why a guitar hero? Johnson was responsible for bringing the instrument out of the rhythm section – where it had superseded the banjo in the jazz line-up – to the front as a solo instrument, with single-string picking, bending the notes and ‘voicing’ it like the violin he had played before. You can draw a straight line from there to rock ‘n’ roll and the modern guitar ‘hero’.

Coinciding with electrification of the instrument – around the same time as the violin – was of course influential, as was the style of other players like white guitarist Eddie Lang. But to hear how well he plays, and how fresh he still sounds, try this 1928 recording with Don Redman – Fletcher Henderson’s arranger – the Dorsey brothers and Jack Teagarden.

Paducah (Redman)  New York October 10th 1928. Johnson 1:28 – 2:15

This was the band which became the Chocolate Dandies.

Compare with guitarist Eddie Lang, alias Blind Willie Dunn and the Gin Bottle Four, Hoagy Carmichael scatting. An all-star group that also included King Oliver, the Gin Bottle Four was one of the first interracial jazz bands to record, cutting classic tunes “Blue Guitars,” “A Handful of Riffs,” “Midnight Call Blues,” and “Hot Fingers.” And this one, “Jet Black Blues”, which you may know from the game MAFIA …

Listening to early Duke Ellington on a long journey by car, I remind myself of how good his sides for OKeh are. You always hear something new.

This time I hear what sounds mighty like rock ‘n’ roll ‘avant la lettre’. Listen to this Ellington blues composition, Lazy Duke, from 1929, the opening reminiscent of Frankie and Johnnie. At about 1:18, the chorus is taken by Barney Bigard on clarinet – the piano figure underneath is almost where boogie and blues would go thirty years later.

The two wailing reeds take an effective combined solo, and the percussive acoustic bass drives at an insistently steady rhythm.

Here’s the original 78 “Fox Trot”, credited to The Harlem Footwarmers, one of Ellington’s many aliases on OKeh.

The vintage and antiques market at Praça Benedito Calixto in Sao Paulo on a Saturday is pretty lively. Under the tarpaulins, spread out on trestle tables or displayed in the traders’ booths, there’s a huge variety of goods for sale. It’s been a landmark destination for more than fifteen years.

Silver and shadows

Silver and shadows

The market is set up in the square among the trees and benches from 9:00 a.m. Praça Benedito Calixto is home to restaurants and shops, cafes and offices. It’s just off the busy Rua Henrique Schaumann, the continuation of Avenida Brasil in the Zona Oeste of Sao Paulo.

Market safeguards

Market safeguards

Parking is an issue, as in all Sao Paulo, though the locals are only too happy to help for a small fee. Around the stalls it’s a crush which doesn’t subside until after 4 p.m.

You can take the kids

You can take the kids

Markets like these are open-air museums of the material culture of Brazil, and a great place for buying gifts. You could say that they are a more successful version of the modern museum or gallery with its coffee and shop – you can handle and buy the exhibits.

Gift shopping

Gift shopping for …

Calixto has more of the vintage than the antique, and some stalls verge on the junk shop end of the market, but there are also high quality items, old and new. I once bought a rococo bronze torchère there which had come from a propserous fazenda in the interior.



It’s a cornucopia of vintage advertising, vintage cameras, ‘Persian’ carpets of all kinds, ceramics, crockery,

 ... sunglasses,

… sunglasses …

crystal chandeliers and their individual ‘drops’, all kinds of clothes for men, women and children, old and new,

 ... sticks,

… sticks …

silver cutlery, vintage film lighting, smaller items of furniture, old and new, old and new glass ware,

 ... stools ...

… stools …

graphic art, hats, vintage household goods of all kinds, incense, jewellery of all kinds, knives,

 ... silver ...

… silver …

leather ware, linen, masks, contemporary paintings and sculpture, picture books, puppets,

 ... CDs and vinyl ...

… CDs and vinyl …

vintage radios and record players, hand-made shoes, spectacle frames, old tools and machinery, vintage toys …

Colourful communication

Colourful communication

A food court in the centre of the Praça sells Brazilian food and drink, and in the middle of it, this expert group of musicians plays chorinho.

Chorinho band, every Saturday until 5 p.m.

Genuine chorinho, every Saturday until after 6 p.m.

The seven-string guitar, cavaquinho and pandeiro are the mainstays, but like the stall holders and their goods, it’s a changing line-up. Yesterday the guests were an accomplished second cava (bottom left) and an energetic young woodwind player (left, on clarinet). 

Espaço Cultural Alberico Rodrigues with literary busts

Espaço Cultural Alberico Rodrigues with literary busts

The Praça is also home to a pocket theatre, upstairs in the café / bookshop / gallery / publishing house run by the writer Alberico Rodrigues.

Literary café

Literary café

It’s a pleasant place to take a break from the crush, at the foot of a wall display of literary giants.


Banca Praça Benedito Calixto

The carefully constructed cultural eco-system in which market traders do business alongside writers, antique and repro rub shoulders cheerfully, excellent carpets hang alongside copies of copies of graphic art, and chorinho can be enjoyed within earshot of jump blues, is a delight.

Decorative market, and customers

Decorative market, and customers

As are the customers themselves – did I mention it’s a great place for people-watching? Not just at Christmas, but all year round.


Jump blues on the street

Richard Penniman has had his ups and downs, in his reputation and in his personal life. Some observers of the music scene find his fall from the charts a sad spectacle – “Richard’s wildness just seemed flaky” says Langdon Winner about his 1970s albums in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll. Others sing his praises as the uncrowned King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, for example blogger Red Kelly:

Little Richard and the Upsetters

Little Richard and the Upsetters

Or (with this snap) blogger Dan Phillips:

But some facts speak for themselves – the Upsetters went on to back James Brown after Richard left the tour for the ministry in 1957. Jimi Hendrix had an ambition – “to do with the guitar what Little Richard does with his voice.” The Beatles spent a lot of time with him on his come-back tour of the UK …

Most of all, the man’s voice speaks for itself. Others pretenders to the throne have their falls from grace and their flaky phases, but no-one sounds like Richard Penniman, even in obscure disguise. While he was contemplating his return to rock ‘n’ roll, he recorded with the Upsetters incognito, to avoid compromising his Christian image, but his stand-out voice is instantly recognisable. Here he is covering Fats Domino’ s 1956 hit I’m in Love Again, and demonstrating again how he transcends the R&B roots of the original to create quintessential rock ‘n’ roll.

From The Upsetters La Cienega LACGA 702.


You can tell you’re in Vila Madalena well before you get out of the car – the facades of the bars shout for attention, with mural art, enticingly lit windows, or clever architecture such as salvaged floor boards nailed any old how against the frontage. Too-loud live music advertises its wares from open doorways. Clients cluster around the popular venues, spilling out over the steep and broken footpaths onto the street, talking, laughing, embracing. The manobristas or parking attendants try to flag down the cars crawling by. The occasional residential houses left stranded in this sea of nightlife seem slightly shocked by all the activity.

Bottles of Johnnie Walker Red Label and Black Label kept for individual customers

Bar Piratininga on Rua Wisard is an amiable venue behind an unassuming glass canopied front. Once a house, it’s the usual long shed of a building, divided over two open floors with a mezzanine at the rear, and a decent small sound system piping live piano music throughout. We go up to the first floor alongside the piano and order drinks.

Tonight Olmair Raposo is at the keys, playing a broad range of popular rock from the 1960s, 70s and 80s. He’s a friendly bear of a man, his repertoire and his English showing the influence of his ten years abroad in North America. Elton John is a particular favourite, as are the Beatles, who occupy a special place in the hearts of Brasilians. Raposo plays with lilting, sometimes hard-driving rhythm, and sings with clear diction.

Olmair Raposo, pianista e vocalista with guest John Berman on clarinet

When he is joined by clarinettist John Berman the pace picks up as they dip into jazz standards, batting inventive solos back and forth with gusto.

We order a portion of mandioca, sweet deep-fried manioc root which comes to the table golden yellow, hot and crisp, and is rather good with tomato ketchup. The waiter executes a few dance steps as he reaches the top of the stairs – everyone enjoys the music here. The youngish clientele listen attentively and applaud with enthusiasm. Raposo repays their attention by playing their requests, scribbled on a napkin and brought to him by the staff. They cheer and sing along.

1920s house and car, up-to-date venue

It’s hard to believe that some years ago this venue was on its last legs and about to close. It reached back into its history – once a cafe, it was one of the first bars in Sao Paulo to serve draught beer or chope, also pioneering music trios at a time when most bars offered a guitarist on a stool, “banquinho e violão“. Becoming one of the first ‘theme’ bars, it dressed its staff in 30s and 40s style, displayed period photographs of Sao Paulo and used a restored 1929 Ford for its business.

Business picked up so much that it is now one of Madalena’s best-loved venues. And the name? The Campos de Piratininga is the flat plain atop the coastal wall of the Serra do Mar where Sao Paolo begins. With its happy upbeat feel, this venue can indeed claim to represent something of the spirit of the city first known as São Paulo dos Campos de Piratininga.

I’ve been listening to early rock and roll, and marvelling at how some of those artists still sound fresh now, and how influential they have been. The best example: Richard Wayne Penniman, who can’t have been in any sense little, beyond childhood.

He acknowledges jump blues man Billy Wright as an influence, and you can see and hear the resemblance – upswept quiff, sharp suits, heavy driving beat – but Penniman turbocharges the music and the look. Above all, he makes a show of his performance. He also borrowed heavily – the look and the piano style – from another artist of the era, the forgotten Steven Quincy (SQ) Reeder, known as Esquerita.

Tracing acknowledged musical influence is relatively straight-forward – for example from Little Richard back to singer Brother Joe May, who only ever sang gospel, but was heavily influenced by Bessie Smith, as well as by gospel singer Willie Mae Ford Smith. You can do the same going forward in time – it’s hard to find a rocker not influenced by Little Richard’s example. Penniman’s look and showmanship was a big part of his act, so tracing those influences can also be illuminating.

Other influences, just visually … Bob Dylan’s make-up on the Rolling Thunder Revue …

Liberace’s piano playing style, and dress sense …

… Elvis Presley …

… also Jerry Lee Lewis …

… or is it Ray Charles?

… as well as Elton John …

… Janis Joplin …

… James Brown …

Iggy Pop

Michael Jackson


… Boy George’s hairdo …

His influence is enormous …

And then there’s the people who have actually worked with him, like the young Jimi Hendrix …

… or his peer Chuck Berry.

The King of rock and roll. Here’s a reminder of how good he sounded, back in 1955 Lucille

Mark Knopfler 1979

“Inspired by his uncle Kingsley’s harmonica and boogie-woogie piano playing, he wanted to buy an expensive Fiesta Red Fender Stratocaster just like Hank Marvin’s, but had to settle for a £50 twin-pickup Höfner Super Solid. … One night while spending some time with friends, the only guitar available was an old acoustic with a badly warped neck that had been strung with extra-light strings to make it playable. Even so, he found it impossible to play unless he finger-picked it. He said in a later interview, “That was where I found my ‘voice’ on guitar.” …. Knopfler has estimated that he now owns “around 70 guitars”.”

Adulatory (compare with ) but informative BBC documentaries on You Tube. And doesn’t he look so 1979 in this picture?

Finally got around to solving the problem of the unplayable CDs … two Joni Mitchells and a Kate & Anna McGarrigle, all reissues and from the Warner Bros US stable.  A Google search revealed that they are ‘copyright protected’ i.e. unplayable on my computer’s CD drive, or indeed on a Sony player I tried. With a firmware update download from Samsung, I was able to play some familiar tunes from the 1970s, at long last. Protection from copying still works, but here’s Joni with an early version of one of the tracks from Blue. The instrument is an Applachian dulcimer, with its origins in Europe. Easier to build than guitars or violins, without any complex curves. Legend has it that Bobby D was listening to this album a lot when he wrote Tangled Up in Blue. Now she accuses him of plagiarism … is it serious? Who knows? Not even they do … but the reissue of Blue is worth a listen. I also like her nostalgia-for-the-1950s song on The Hissing of Summer Lawns, In France They Kiss on Main Street. Nothing quite as sweet as rebellion remembered.

What a long way we’ve come from Derek Jarman’s version! Remind me, how did it go? “God save the Queen. Fascist regime … ”

Apart from the outstanding production values – lights, sound, projection, sets, pyrotechnics – and excellent BBC coverage, within the spectacle itself the most striking performances were from Tom Jones and musically from Stevie Wonder. And of course the worldwide coverage always impresses. An audience of millions / billions … now tell me what the message is. The crowd cheered the monarch and support the institution, but the biggest roar was for ‘being British’.

One of the Three Kings of electric blues guitar – with BB and Albert – and also a great blues singer, Freddie King based his guitar style on Texas and Chicago influences.

Born in small-town Texas, he moved to Chicago with his family at 15, hearing Chicago blues played in the South Side clubs. One night he bet his friends that not only would he sneak into the club, he would sit in with the house band and play his box guitar. Freddie won the bet.

Realizing how young Freddie was, the club owner ordered the bouncers to escort him out. Howlin’ Wolf intervened, telling him “The kid is with me”. Howlin’ told Freddie “Young man, you pick that guitar like a old soul.” … “The Lord sure enough put you here to play the blues.” Howlin’ took Freddie under his wing, and taught him how to take care of himself on the streets of Chicago.

The instrumental Hideaway, recorded in 1960 with pianist Sonny Thompson, reached number 5 on the R&B Charts and number 29 on the Pop Singles Charts the following year, unprecedented for a blues instrumental. The title comes from Mel’s Hide Away Lounge, a popular West Side blues club. Freddie sold more albums during this period (1961-63) than any other blues artist, including B.B. King.

Freddie King was repeatedly rejected in auditions for South Side’s Chess Records, the premier blues label, because he ‘sang too much like B.B. King’. He would later say that the Chess rejection was a blessing in disguise, because it forced him to develop his own vocal style.

King and Thompson recorded some thirty instrumentals in the early and mid-60s. Vocal tracks were also recorded, but often the instrumentals were marketed on their own merits. King toured with the R&B acts of the day such as Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson and James Brown.

Signed by player-producers King Curtis and Leon Russell, and playing alongside Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton, King often created guitar parts with vocal nuances.The years after 1970 were marked by a shift to a harder, rock-like style. He also largely quit performing new material, simply covering songs from other blues musicians.

King was in the habit of consuming Bloody Marys in lieu of solid food so as not to waste time when setting up shows. Near-constant touring took its toll – he was on the road almost 300 days of the year. In 1976 he began suffering stomach ulcers. His health quickly deteriorated and he died of complications, and acute pancreatitis, at the age of 42.

Here’s a 1962 vocal track on the boundary between soul and blues, written by the guitarist and singer from UK blues band Chicken Shack, Stan Webb. Look Ma, I’m Cryin’

And this is an inventive instrumental by King and Thompson from 1961. ­­San-Ho-Zay

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