Interviews

THE RISE OF STAX RECORDS - A CELEBRATION OF SOULSVILLE 60 YEARS ON

Friday, 08 September 2017 06:27 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Back in the 1960s and '70s, Memphis was the undisputed Mecca of southern soul. The so-called 'Bluff City,' which overlooked the snaking Mississippi river, was a thriving metropolis for African-American music and though there were several notable record labels based there - including Willie Mitchell's Hi stable, which gave the world Al Green and Ann Peebles, and Quinton Claunch's smaller Goldwax company -  there was one that was considerably mightier and more influential than the rest. Its name? Stax Records.

Stax was a curious paradox among record labels. It was set up by two white Southerners in the heart of Jim Crow country  and yet came to represent the sound of black America during the Civil Rights era. Also, it offered a progressive  vision of equality and diversity - white and black, young and old, men and women, rural and urban - in an area of America where any kind of integration was anathema.

The seeds for what became Stax were sown in 1957, when Jim Stewart, a former bank clerk who also an aspiring musician (he played with a band called The Canyon Cowboys) , decided to set up his own independent record label in Memphis. He called it Satellite, and based out of his garage, its first releases were country and rockabilly singles. "Jim came from Middleton, Tennessee, to the Memphis area to get going in the music business," remembers Booker T. Jones, a multi-instrumentalist who became indispensable to Stax in the 1960s. "He was a fiddle player and the younger brother of Estelle Axton, who was a teacher. She mortgaged her house to get the money to build a studio."

Last Updated on Monday, 11 September 2017 16:14

 

COMING GO ROUND AGAIN - The 360band's Hamish Stewart talks to SJF

Friday, 04 August 2017 15:44 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

          altHamish Stuart's name is a familiar one to seasoned connoisseurs of funk and soul. He rose to fame, of course, as a singer, guitarist and occasional bass player with arguably Scotland's finest musical export, the Average White Band. That was during the 1970s when they became one of the world's biggest R&B acts on the back of numerous hit singles (including the perennially popular and much-sampled 'Pick Up The Pieces') and several notable LPs. He stayed with the band until 1983 and then embarked on a solo career. He was also in demand as a sideman and in 1989 began a four-year period touring and recording with Paul McCartney (he appeared on five of the ex-Beatles' albums, including the acclaimed studio opus, 'Flowers In The Dirt') and later, in 2006, he found himself working with the other surviving member of the 'Fab Four,' when he toured with Ringo Starr.

Today, at the age of 67, this affable Glaswegian could comfortably rest on his laurels and take it easy like The Eagles but playing in a band is a bug that he finds hard to shake off. As a result, Stuart is back in the groove with the 360band, whose nucleus comprises himself along with fellow former AWB members Molly Duncan (saxophone), and Steve Ferrone (drums). The trio's debut album, 'Three Sixty,' is due for release later this month and is distinguished by the same kind of classy, soulful R&B vibe that infused the Average White Band's best recordings back in the day. 

"The idea of coming full circle was the initial thought," says softly-spoken Stuart referring to the significance of the band's name. "Or it could be just three guys over 60," he quips, which he follows with a hearty, self-deprecating chuckle. He reveals that the 360band came about principally because of Steve Ferrone, who became a sought-after session drummer after he left the AWB. "He was being honoured in the drummer's Hall of Fame in LA a couple of years ago," explains Stuart, "and asked everybody who was in the Average White Band to play with him but only Molly and I could make it because the other guys had other commitments. We had such a good time that we said we've got to do this again."

 

Last Updated on Saturday, 05 August 2017 09:46

 

ICE COOL ALEX - soul legend ALEXANDER O'NEAL talks ahead of his UK show at Quaglino's

Thursday, 27 July 2017 11:59 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                altEver since Alexander O'Neal scored his first UK chart entry back in December 1985 - with 'Saturday Love,' his anthemic duet with Cherrelle Norton - he's enjoyed what can only be described as a special relationship with the British public, whose devotion remains steadfast even though 30 years have now passed since the singer's biggest UK smash, 'Criticize,' crashed into the nation's Top 5.

Now back in England to perform at Mayfair's trendy but intimate nightspot, Quaglino's, on Thursday 27th July, 64-year-old O'Neil professes that he feels a lot of  affection for the country where its people took him to their hearts. "It's so wonderful to be back here," he enthuses. "England is my favourite place in the world. I have a lot of great fans here. They're people who grew up with me but also want to grow old with me, which is different from America. I just enjoy coming here and performing for my fans. They've given me so much love over the last 30 years, and if they continue to do that then I'll be very happy."

London, too has a special place in his heart. "Without doubt, it's my favourite city. When I'm here, I'm not homesick because I feel at home. I don't miss anything and I don't miss anybody because I have friends here and family too - my daughter moved here from Canada. So it definitely feels like a second home to me."

Last Updated on Friday, 28 July 2017 12:49

 

Doing his dance in the UK - saxophonist KENNY GARRETT speaks to SJF ahead of his headline performance at next weekend's Ealing Jazz Festival.

Monday, 24 July 2017 19:01 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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As a graduate cum laude of the legendary Jazz Messengers - drummer Art Blakey's famous long-running group dubbed the 'Hard Bop Academy' - KENNY GARRETT can attest to having had one of the best educations that jazz has to offer. But Blakey, whose group ran from 1954 to his death in 1990, wasn't the only master that the Detroit-born alto saxophonist received valuable experience and pearls of wisdom from. Although he spent two years with the drum meister, he enjoyed an even longer period - five years to be exact - with arguably the greatest band leader of them all in jazz: the mighty Miles Davis, during his late electric period. He joined the trumpeter's band in 1986, toured the world with him several times, and also played on several albums, including 1988's late masterpiece, 'Amandla.'

Garrett remembers those days fondly and is deeply appreciative of what he gleaned from that time. "I learned so much from him," he says with a tincture of solemnity and reverence in his voice. In his prime, Davis could be a hard, enigmatic taskmaster - he once punched John Coltrane for nodding off on the bandstand - but Garrett found the opposite was true. Perhaps the 'Dark Magus' had mellowed with age. "Anyone who gives you 10 or 15 minutes solos must have a lot of respect for you," opines the 56-year-old Detroit saxophonist recalling his time with Davis...

Last Updated on Tuesday, 25 July 2017 09:25

 

STOKLEY - MINT CONDITION'S FRONT MAN TAKES HIS FIRST SOLO FLIGHT

Monday, 17 July 2017 19:16 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Though his album is called 'Introducing,' the truth is that Stokley Williams needs no introduction to R&B fans that know their stuff. He's the voice of Mint Condition, of course, the brilliant, multi-faceted Minnesota band once championed by Prince, and who scored memorable Top 10 US R&B hits during the 1990s in the shape of 'Breakin' My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes),' 'U Send Me Swingin',' and 'What Kind Of Man Would I Be.' Now, though, 49-year-old Stokley is stepping away from the long-running band temporarily to embark on his first solo project during a career in music that stretches back almost 30 years.

He started out as a drummer, playing behind African dance troupes in his hometown, St. Paul, as a juvenile, and later, co-founded Mint Condition (with whom he played drums and sang) with some friends in high school. Influenced by soul, jazz, funk and both African and Latin music, he also fell under hip-hop's spell in the 1980s, forming a short-lived rap group, Royal City Crew. Though Mint Condition has always been his priority, Stokley has participated in a raft of extra-curricular activities as a drummer, vocalist and producer - which include studio and stage appearances alongside Janet Jackson, Karyn White, Johnny Gill, Toni Braxton, Prince, and more recently smooth jazz saxophonist Boney James, rapper Wale, and Robert Glasper Experiment. He also occasionally  plays with another group, the France-based Ursus Minor, when Mint Condition are in down-time mode and at the time of writing is touring the USA with Prince's legendary Purple Rain band, The Revolution.

"The whole project is me spreading my wings," says Stokley, talking from San Francisco, explaining the concept behind, 'Introducing,' his long-awaited debut platter. "I'm trying to say and do something different," he continues.  "It's very eclectic. I call it a blend of sonic art pieces. It reflects my upbringing and I just wanted to express that and try to make something that was cohesive as well as very genre-bending but still all one thread."

The album has a big cast of collaborators, which include noted Philly producers Carvin Haggins and Ivan Barias (known for their work with Jill Scott, Ledisi, and Musiq Soulchild) plus songwriters Sam Dew and the A Team. There are also guest spots for keyboardist supreme, Robert Glasper, British R&B singer Estelle, and two cameos from rappers Wale and Omi. The opening cut and first single, 'Level,' is an infectious mid-tempo song with an addictive hook that spotlights Stokley's soulfulness while the rest of the album ranges from impassioned R&B ballads to jazzy dance cuts and sun-drenched Caribbean grooves.

Via an in-depth interview with SJF's Charles Waring, Stokley - who considers himself "an analogue dude in a digital world" - talks about his first solo flight, sheds light on his rich musical background, and discusses the enduring influence of his late mentor, Prince...

Last Updated on Tuesday, 18 July 2017 18:33

 

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