Old man river (the old story)

When I was about 8 or 9 I got interested in music…after a got my first record by The Delta Rhythm Boys I was hooked on jazz, quartet singing and voices in general.

After the smooth and intricate harmonies of ‘The Delta’s’

I stumbled onto Bill Haley! Bill Haley and his Comets! I had that live album in Sweden…that had a version of “Love Letters in the Sand”….that was marvelous! For a boy raised in a very strict and legalistic home, this was ‘sin set to music’ to my father’s ear. My mom was more ‘worldy’ for a lack of a better word. She had the same ‘bug’ for music and singing as yours truly. She’d sing a lot around the house whatever she did. She loved singing, and she could harmonize….switch parts on a dime…and it came all natural, no training. She was awesome! Thank God for my mom, she’d allow me to my records on a audible volume. I had no headphones, just a recordplayer (mono) that was portable, it was like a small suitcase. I scratched a lot of records because my dad came through the door….he really hated it.

 

To make my father more accepting of the notion that I wasn’t gonna quit listening to music, I strategically bought a gospel album by Jim Reeves entitled “We Thank Thee”. I love Gentleman Jim…still do…his smooth, no frills, nothing fancy approach to singing has a soothing quality to it! My favorite song that he did was “The Nightwatch”. My mom loved it and played it even when I wasn’t home. And left it on regardless of my dad coming or going. From that point on I had more freedom to listen to music, still I respected him too much to take advantage of it. I lowered the volume of music, as soon as he walked in, even if he didn’t ask.

Anyway back to my musical babysteps. I bought a compilation album on a budget label that had all kind of different artists on it. People like Owen Bradley, The Kalin Twins, Johnny Burnette and Buddy Holly. The latter I loved…one of the few R&R poets! “It’s too late, she is gone” I loved that tune!

I’ve always been a ballad guy, don’t get me wrong, I love uptempo too…but I always sit up when a slow song comes on!

 

Gene Vincent is known for his harddriving rockabilly sound, fast stuff like ‘Catman’. But if you never heard the dragging blues song “Blues Stay Away From Me”  you haven’t been livin’. Gene also did a great rendition of ‘Unchained Melody’ haunting! Gene Vincent! That cat had it going…..love Gene!

My first Elvis record was “Elvis Golden Gospel Songs” a compilation album. The first time I heard “He Touched Me”, was also the first time I heard the Imperials. Or as Elvis used to introduce them on stage ‘the Mighty Imperials’.

Elvis got me into Southern Gospel….into the Quartets!

My first Imperials album….it was 1981 by then, and the group had some personnel changes since their Elvis days, info I didn’t have at the time.

Anyway I rushed to my room, got the record out, and slapped it onto the player…. I slammed it on that mother. Those few seconds of scratchy silence before the first song comes on…the anticipation…then suddenly Disco came pounding through the speakers! “Closer Than Ever” was the song…I was shocked! Didn’t like it one bit! Brother! Those guys are total sell outs I thought! Abandoning real quartet singing, why?! I was disappointed at first, but the slow songs I loved. “One More Song For You”, Jim Murray singing “All My Life” so my initial narrow-mindedness caved in quickly…and I liked it! I loved it! I own every record by the Imperials from 1964 to 1984!

One of the best things to ever come out of gospel music was and is Russ Taff! Loved Russ with the Imperials loved that tune “Whenever Is Speak His Name” 

I love Russ voice and spirit…a real good guy! Russ influenced me greatly…not that it helped much.

Another guy that influenced my approach to singing was a guy named Tony Hadley! He sang with Spandau Ballet…a british band from the eighties. 

Loved Tony’s tone and diction, and those long coats…man I dressed like that in the eighties. That song makes me long for the good old days….classic tune!

 

Another group I really digged in the eighties were The Housemartins…who did a raw, sloppy cappella stuff..and gospel tinged pop! It Their lead singer had a distinct voice…melancholic, weird slighty depressing music, but I loved them anyway. Listen how he sings “Lean On Me” pretty darn good if you ask me….memorable at the least!

As the years rolled on…I  like many ‘new’ artists/music…man I do…but mainly all current hip bands playing new music with that good old feeling! The feeling Ray Charles, Merle Haggard, Gram Parsons, Sam Cooke, Charlie Rich, Jerry Lee Lewis, Larry Norman and Kenny Drew give me!

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Review: Steve Ladd ‘A Christmas Hymn’

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Leonardo Da Vinci once said “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” that quote was the first thing that came to mind when I played this new album of collection of Christmas songs.  Pair a virtuoso pianist with an exceptional singer and you get sophistication. Steve Ladd is that exceptional singer, and the Gaither Vocal Band’s piano player Matthew Holt is that virtuoso! Holt arranged every song on this album. The recording produced by Ladd and Steve Allen.

 

The album starts out with ‘Angels We Have Heard On High’ and the piano introduction is so wonderful, tasteful and to the point. When Steve Ladd joins the already great music, it instantaneously becomes stellar! Just Steve with a piano….is heavenly! What a voice this wonderful brother has! Matthew Holt’s piano playing reminds me of John Pantry’s piano playing….very nice!

My favorite Christmas song is next ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’. Again just that voice and those ivory’s. Christmas songs are the ultimate opportunity for group singing, for harmonizing, the melodies lend themselves to all that, and of course the ‘together‘ oriented holiday attributes to that feeling. Not once throughout the album have I noticed the absence of background vocals…not once. Steve’s voice has such clarity and the semblance of innocence. Such a pristine tone….he don’t need no other singers.

‘El’ is the hebrew word for God and No means birth, NO-EL….birth God. ‘The First Noel’ what an awesome tune this is. In its current form, it is of Cornish origin, and it was first published in 1823. It is usually performed in a four-part hymn arrangement by the English composer John Stainer, first published in his Carols, New and Old in 1871. Steve totally nails this magnificent song.

An album with the title ‘A Christmas Hymn’ could not be considered complete without ‘Silent Night’. To me Gold City’s version of this evergreen was the best ever! And in a group setting they still are, but solo this position goes to Steve Ladd! Wonderful playing and singing, can’t say it enough, you will have to listen for yourself. Like Walt Whitman said; “simplicity is the glory of expression”….my writing is anything but simple,  and therefore can not accurately express the brilliance of this recording.

‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman’ opens with a ridiculously good piano intro…wow…this is the best I’ve heard Matthew Holt play! This song was never my favorite, I could stand The Cathedral Quartet singing it, but all other renditions I usually skipped. The credits for this rendition’s captivating quality goes to Holt!

Next is another personal favorite Christmas tune, again Gold City held the favorite spot for nearly twenty years (that’s when I first heard their rendition), and now there’s Steve Ladd knocking ‘Away in a Manger’ out of the park. It’s all about the respect for the original melody. And the lyrics are so easily understood due to Ladd’s great diction. Tasteful and accurate piano playing embraces the voice, this isn’t just great accompanying, this is the song, it’s not about the guys anymore..it’s inexpressible. And the inexpressible which  can only be expressed by two things……music, or silence!

‘What Child is This? Composer William Chatterton Dix was an insurance salesman. At age 29, he was bedridden for months due to a near fatal illness. During this trying time Dix began to write hymns. The most memorable of his songs is What Child is This? Beautiful song set to the melody of an old English folksong. This rendition is truly one of the best I ever heard!

‘It Came Upon a Midnight Clear’ again a treasure to my tiny Christmas music collection, I only enjoyed the following Christmas albums. Here’s that shortlist Gold City (Parker/Free era) Elvis (with Imperials) The Imperials (Taff era) Harry Connick Jr. And now Steve Ladd is added.  It is getting boring….I know…but I’m excited by this album!

What a joy this album is! Brought joy to my world, a world that can use some. ‘Joy to the World’ . Steve Ladd is a singer, his voice never is boring, he’s one of those tenors that you can listen to all day! There’s not many that I can stand listening to for the length of an entire album!

Knowing Steve personally I can sense the integrity and love this guy has for music, singing and his fellow-man. I know he is the real deal! That sincerity is reflected by his pure voice. He lives by a simple standard, he loves his Lord, and lives that to the fullest! If one quote is fitting for this album and it’s artist Leo Tolstoy said it best; ” There is no greatness where there is no simplicity, goodness and truth”.