Saturday, June 18, 2016

Sir Rod Stewart

Roderick David Stewart was born in Highgate, North London in 1945, the youngest of five children of Robert Stewart and Elsie Gilbart. His father, a master builder was from Edinburgh and moved the family to London. The youngest of the family, Roderick had a happy childhood if unremarkable scholastic career at Hornsey’s William Grimshaw Secondary Modern School. His two loves were football and music and Roderick played centre half for Middlesex Schoolboys. The family loved Al Jolson and young Roderick watched his movies and played his records. As a young teenager he went to see Bill Haley and his Comets, listened to Little Richard before he bought his first record, Eddie Cochran's "C'mon Everybody".

Roderick got his first guitar in 1959 and quickly learned to play "It Takes a Worried Man to Sing a Worried Song" within a year he was in a school skiffle group called the Kool Kats. He left school aged 15 started working as an apprentice silk screen printer, but harboured the idea he would become a professional footballer. Supported his father he had a trial for Brentford F.C. but failed to make the grade. Plan B swung into action and Roderick decided to become a professional musician. Working in a series of menial jobs including delivering papers from his father’s paper shop, casual labourer for Highgate Cemetery, aid at a funeral parlour, fence erector and sign writer, he joined several different bands including The Raiders. When the group went for an audition with Joe Meek, the famous produced took an instant dislike to Roderick and stooped the session before asking him to leave. Stewart became attracted to bohemian attitudes and left-wing politics and for a short time lived as a beatnik on a houseboat at Shoreham-by-Sea. He started to listen to folk music and became influence by American folkies like Woody Guthrie, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Derroll Adams and the young Bob Dylan.

Keen to blend in with the music Roderick learned to play harmonica (harp) and started busking with Wizz Jones. Together they travelled to Brighton, Paris, and finally to Barcelona. Sleeping rough wherever they Roderick was deported from Spain for vagrancy in 1963. Back in London, Roderick moved back home and worked for his brother in his painting and picture frame shop. His musical tastes changed after seeing Otis Redding perform in concert and listening to Sam Cooke Rod (the Mod) became fascinated by rhythm and blues and American soul music.

He joined the Dimensions as a harmonica player and part-time vocalist. Jimmy Powell hired the group as his backing band and Rod Stewart was relegated to harmonica player. The group became residents at the Studio 51 club on Great Newport Street in London but Rod and Jimmy Powell were soon at loggerheads. Rod left the band to join Long John Baldry and the All Stars in 1964 after Baldry heard him playing "Smokestack Lightnin'" on his harmonica. Long John Baldry and the All Stars became the Hoochie Coochie Men and Rod became a singer. His stage presence with spiked hair and mod attire got him a loyal following and soon he was billed with the band as "Rod the Mod" Stewart. The Hoochie Coochie Men became the resident band at the Marquee Club and released a version of Willie Dixon’s “You'll Be Mine” with Rod’s vocals featured in duet with Baldy on the B-side with "Up Above My Head." While still with the group and somewhat unusually Rod Stewart embarked on a simultaneous solo career and signed with Decca in 1964. He released "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl," but it failed to enter the charts. Not long after Rod left the band after a fall out with Long John Baldy.

In 1965, Giorgio Gomelsky impresario and manager put together Steampacket as a white soul review live act. Long John Baldry and Rod Stewart had patched up their differences and at Baldry’s insistence Rod was included in the line-up , which was completed with , Brian Auger (organ) , Julie Driscoll (vocals) , Micky Waller (drums), Vic Briggs (guitar) and on bass Ricky Fenson (Richard Brown), Due to contractual difficulties, they did not release any recordings during their lifetime but some demos and bootlegs do exists. Steampacket played at various clubs, theatres and student unions around the country, including supporting the Rolling Stones on their 1965 British tour. Rod Stewart left in 1966, and the group disbanded soon after.

In 1965, Rod Stewart was featured in a 30-minute television documentary called "An Easter with Rod" (London Rediffusion). He also released "The Day Will Come" (1965) but it failed to chart. In 1966, Rod Stewart joined Shotgun Express as co-lead vocalist with Beryl Marsden. The line-up included Mick Fleetwood (drums) and Peter Green (guitar), Dave Ambrose (bass) and Peter Bardens (keyboards) . The band released one single "I Could Feel The Whole World Turn Round", and Rod had another attempt at solo success with "Shake", with the Brian Auger Trinity Both failed commercially. Rod Stewart then left to join the Jeff Beck Group at the start of 1967.

After Jeff Beck left the Yardbirds, he recruited Rod Stewart as vocalist and songwriter for his new band the Jeff Beck Group . The line-up included Ronnie Wood (rhythm guitar), Jet Harris (bass) and Dave Ambrose (bass), with Clem Cattini and Viv Prince trying out on drums. The band went through months of personnel changes, notably no fewer than four drummers before settling on Aynsley Dunbar and switching Ron Wood to bass. Beck signed a personal management contract with record producer and manager Mickie Most who had no interest in the group. During 1967 the band released three singles with only "Hi Ho Silver Lining" reaching the UK top twenty single charts. Frustrated that the band was not playing strict blues, drummer Dunbar left and was replaced by Roy Cook for one show, before Stewart recommended an old bandmate of his from Steampacket, Micky Waller went on to be their longest-lasting drummer. For the first year the grouped toured the UK and then went on to tour Western Europe in 1968. Almost broke the group recorded the album Truth before setting out on a make or break tour of the US which proved to be their breakthrough. Truth, which included three songs written by Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart (credited as reached Jeffrey Rod)went to No. 15 in the US charts and its success ignited new interest from Mickie Most. Beck-Ola was recorded at De Lane Lea Studios and engineered by Martin Birch and reached No. 15 on The Billboard Charts.

Meantime Rod’s solo career continued with another flop entitled, "Little Miss Understood" on Immediate Records. Rod Stewart recorded his first album An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down for Mercury Records and this met with critical acclaim. However, rising tension within the band and on their fifth US tour in July 1969 and appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival. Jeff Beck broke up the band on the eve of the Woodstock Music Festival, at which they had been scheduled to perform, a decision Beck later stated that he regretted.

In 1969, guitarist and lead singer Steve Marriott left The Small Faces. Ron Wood replaced him as guitarist and Rod Stewart joined them as their new singer. The band line-up was complete with original Small Faces, Ronnie Lane (guitar), Ian McLagan (keyboard), and Kenney Jones (drums). Their début album First Step came out in 1970 and was a modest success in the UK. The Faces became a popular live act and soon had a strong festival following. Their second album, Long Player, was released in early 1971 and enjoyed greater chart success. Towards the end of the year, their third album A Nod Is as Good as a Wink...To a Blind Horse contained a hit single with "Stay With Me," and the album reached the Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic.

Lou Reizner (A&R man Mercury records) signed Rod to a solo contract in 1968 but contractual complexities delayed Stewart's recording for him until 1969. He sang guest vocals for the Australian group Python Lee Jackson on "In a Broken Dream", recorded in 1969 but not released until 1970. When it was re-released in 1972 to become a worldwide hit. Rod’s second solo album Gasoline Alley was also released in 1970 and came out to critical acclaim. His third album, Every Picture Tells A Story, featured the hit single "Maggie May" in 1971 and together album and single hit number one in both the US and the UK simultaneously and made Rod Stewart a household name. He then launched a US tour with the Faces.

As the tour progressed growing tensions within the band followed over Stewart's solo career enjoying more success than Faces’. Rod Stewart released Never a Dull Moment in 1972 and it reached number two on the US album charts and number one in the UK. "You Wear It Well" was a runaway hit single. The Faces released their final album Ooh La La, which reached number one in the UK and number 21 in the US in 1973. By the time of the recording Stewart was in daily dispute with the rest of the band but did tour Australasia, Japan, Europe and the UK in 1974 to support the album and the single "Pool Hall Richard". The following year the Faces toured the US twice before Stewart announced the Faces' break-up at the end of the year.

Rod’s Smiler album (Mercury) was released in 1974 and topped the UK album charts. The singles "Farewell" and "Mine for Me" had mixed fortune in the US. He switched labels to Warner Bros and moved to Los Angeles in 1975. Tom Dowd produced the next album Atlantic Crossing with a different sound based on the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Atlantic Crossing with its fast and slow sides was a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic and the single "Sailing", was a UK number-one, and remains his biggest-selling single in the UK. His version of "This Old Heart of Mine" was also a Top 100 hit in 1976.

The next album, A Night on the Town album was Rod’s seventh and went to number two on the Billboard album charts as well as going platinum. "Tonight's the Night" was a chart topper internationally; and "The First Cut Is the Deepest", a cover of a Cat Stevens song, went number one in the UK in 1977, and top 30 in the US. "The Killing of Georgie (Part 1 and 2)", about the murder of a gay man, was also a Top 40 hit for Stewart during 1977

Foot Loose & Fancy Free (1977) was the eighth album and featured Rod’s own band: Carmine Appice, Phil Chen, Jim Cregan, Billy Peek, Gary Grainger and John Jarvis. It contained another hit with "You're in my Heart” which reached the US top five. Both "Hot Legs" and “I Was Only Joking" also got a lot of radio airplay ". In 1978, Blondes Have More Fun, gave him another successful album with the smash hit single "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" Now more disco orientated Stewart's look evolved to include a glam element, including make-up and spandex clothes. After a court case it was shown the song's refrain was identical to Brazilian Jorge Ben Jor's earlier "Taj Mahal" and a lawsuit ensued. Stewart donated his royalties to UNICEF, and he performed it with his band at the Music for UNICEF Concert at the United Nations General Assembly in 1979.

By comparison the 80s were quiet for Rod Stewart with only a few hits. He did however, transcend musical changes and moved smoothly in to the hi-tech disco genre starting with "Passion," from Foolish Behaviour; and Tonight I'm Yours album (1981) had two hit singles, the title track "Tonight I'm Yours (Don't Hurt Me)" and "Young Turks." In 1983, "Baby Jane" (1983) was the lead single from his Body Wishes album and became number one in the UK and reached No. 14 in the US. Rod Stewart had four US Top 10 singles between 1984 and 1988, "Some Guys Have All the Luck" (1984), "Infatuation" (1984) and "Love Touch" (1986). In the UK, "Every Beat of My Heart" reached number two in 1986. In 1988, Out of Order, produced four top 15 hits on the Billboard Hot 100. These were "Lost in You", "Forever Young", "Crazy About Her", and "My Heart Can't Tell You No." He ended the decade on a positive note, when a remake of the Tom Waits song "Downtown Train" received a lot of radio play in 1989.

Whilst still instantly recognisable, Rod’s voice was changing and the 90s saw less aggressive singing. Vagabond Heart (1991) featured five singles, with the two most successful "Rhythm of My Heart “ and "The Motown Song" . "It Takes Two" with Tina Turner, was released in 1990 in advance of the full album's release, and reached number five on the UK charts, but did not chart in the US. A few years later, he released Unplugged and Seated (1993), which was recorded at MTV Unplugged concert and featured the hit "Have I Told You Lately." In 1995, Stewart released A Spanner in the Works containing a single written by Tom Petty, "Leave Virginia Alone", which charted but the latter half of the 1990s was not as commercially successful though the 1996 album If We Fall in Love Tonight managed to go gold and hit No. 19 on the Billboard album chart. When We Were the New Boys, his final album on the Warner Bros. label was released in 1998, it reached number two on the UK album charts.

It had been previously reported Rod was suffering from a benign vocal cord nodule, then in 2000 it was diagnosed he had thyroid cancer. Resulting surgery threatened his voice, and he had to re-learn how to sing. Meantime he left Warner Bros. and moved to Atlantic Records and in 2001 released Human with the single "I Can't Deny It. "

As a complete change in 2002, Rod embarked on a series four albums featuring great 1930s and 1940s pop standards written by great American song writers entitled The Great American Songbook. These were an outstanding success and spurned many chart entries. In late 2006, Rod Stewart made his return to rock music with the release of Still the Same... Great Rock Classics of Our Time, a featuring rock and southern rock milestones from the last four decades. The album reached the top of the pop charts. To complete his homage to classic pop Rod released the studio album Soulbook (2009) which was composed of covers of soul and Motown songs.

Rod Stewart signed on to a two-year residency at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas and released a Christmas album in 2012. In the next year he returned to rock and song-writing with Time, his twenty-eighth studio album, which he co-produced. The album entered the UK Albums Chart at No. 1, setting a new British record for the longest gap between chart-topping albums by an artist. The gravel voiced rocker come crooner continues to appear live and touring arenas and concert halls worldwide.

Rod has been a life-long Scottish fan and supports Celtic Football Club.

Further Reading
Stewart R (2012) Rod: The Autobiography Three Rivers Press

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Sir Harry Lauder (1870 - 1950)

Henry Lauder was born in 1870 in Portobello, Edinburgh, the eldest of seven children. His father John Lauder was a Master Potter, and his mother Isabella Urquhart Macleod (née McLennan) were quite well off. The family moved to Newbold, Derbyshire in 1882 but when his father died his mother took them to Arbroath, where she had relatives. Now living in diminished circumstance, young Harry (aged 11), worked part time at the local flax mill to fund the rest of his schooling. Eventually the family moved to live with Harry's maternal uncle, Alexander McLennan, in Hamilton, South Lanarkshire. There, his uncle found him employment in the mines. It was here that Harry began his singing career and would entertain his fellow miners. Soon he entered several local competitions and gradually he obtained a number of paid engagements. After appearing at a "go-as-you please" night held by Mrs. Christina Baylis at her Scotia Music Hall/Metropole Theatre in Glasgow she advised him to join a concert party and gain experience by touring music halls around the country. The tour allowed him to quit the coal mines and become a professional singer. Harry Lauder concentrated his repertoire on comedic and songs of Scotland and Ireland and soon after he formed his own touring company with the violinist Mackenzie-Murdoch.

By 1894, Harry had turned professional and performed local characterisations at small, Scottish and northern English music halls. His career took a big step forward with his first appearance at the Argyle Theatre Birkenhead in 1898. The fashion at that time was for Irish comedians and it was in this role that Lauder first made his name. His first "hit song" was 'Calligan-Call again'. In 1900, he decided to take his chance in London but dropped his heavy dialect in his act to appeal more to the London audiences. It worked and when he filled in for a sick artist at Gatti’s Music Hall in Westminster Bridge Road, he was a resounding success. Five years later he appeared in the Howard & Wyndham's Aladdin pantomime at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, as Roderick McSwankey. Pantomime was the dominant feature of the winter season and success in a pantomime could make a career. Harry wrote and performed I Love a Lassie which met with rapturious applause and swept to national fame. In 1907, he appeared in a short film singing "I Love a Lassie" for British Gaumont.

By 1907, Harry Lauder had made the switch from music hall to variety theatre and undertook a tour of America. The American audiences loved him and the William Morris, the Vaudeville Agent. became his American manager.

Harry Lauder usually performed in full 'Highland' regalia of kilt, sporran, tam o' shanter, and twisted walking stick. His sticks became his trade mark and one was brought from Japan by Edward Prince of Wales and presented to him. He entertained his audience between songs with stories and jokes usually involving the alleged parsimony of the Scots established an enduring but completely false image of his fellow countrymen. One of his character parts which held the audience spell bound was the youngster examining the toys pulled from his pocket in the sketch The saftest o' the family.

In 1910, Harry Lauder premiered the song 'Roamin in the gloamin'. in Red Riding Hood pantomime which again was a phenomenal success. By the time he returned to the US in 1911, he was able to command $1,000 a night. In 1913, he was paid £1125 to appear at the Glasgow Pavilion Theatre. At the peak of his career Lauder could command £12,700 a night plus expenses and was considered to earn one of the highest weekly salaries by a theatrical performer during the pre-war period. Harry Lauder was the first Scottish artist to sell a million records. In total Harry Lauder went to the USA twenty-two times in his career and traveled in his own railroad train called the Harry Lauder Special. He also toured Canada, Australia and New Zealand, South Africa and the far east.

The entertainer was in Melbourne, Australia when the First World War broke out in 1914, and while in the United States he did what he could to encourage America to enter the war on Britain’s side. He also led successful fundraising efforts for war charities, organised a tour of music halls in 1915 for recruitment purposes and entertained the troops at home and in the trenches of France . There he came under enemy fire.

He was a robust patriot and raised huge sums of money for war charities during the Great War (1914-1918). He established the charity, the Harry Lauder Million Pound Fund (1917), for maimed Scottish soldiers and sailors to help servicemen return to health and civilian life.

One scheme planned to raise money for this fund was a short film starring Charlie Chaplin and Harry Lauder which was begun on a visit Lauder made to Chaplin’s studio on 22 January 1917 but unfortunately the film was never finished.

In 1916, he opened in the review Three Cheers at the Shaftesbury Theatre. The finale was ‘The laddies who fought' and won’ which was complete when a company of Scots Guards marched on to the stage.

During the run of the show, he received the devastating news his son, Captain John Lauder, serving with the 8th Argyll and Sutherland Highland Regiment had been killed at Poiziers, France. In the wake of John's death, Harry wrote the song "The End of the Road." He was knighted in January 1919 by King George V.

After The Great War the British variety theatre circuits were in marked decline but Sir Harry Lauder continued to tour and in 1926 he had a new song to warm the hearts of his audience.

The entertainer was no stranger to the big screen and had appeared in several experimental movies before starring in the silent version of Huntingtower (1927), the silent movie Auld Lang Syne (1929) although sound was later added. Then finally The End of the Road (1936). His final tour to North America was in 1932 and he announced his retirement in 1935. Despite his age, at the outbreak of World War II, he made wireless broadcasts with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Yet again, he entertained troops throughout Britain and appeared immediately after the war to thank the crews of American food relief ships docking at Glasgow. By the late-1940s he was suffering from long periods of ill-health and his last stage appearance was at a concert in the Gorbals to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the local Rover Scout Group in 1947. Sir Harry Lauder died in Lauder Ha (or Hall), in Strathaven in 1950.

Further Reading
Lauder H (1926) Roamin' in the Gloamin' Kessinger Publishing

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Kenneth McKellar (1927 – 2010)

Kenneth McKellar was born in 1927 in Paisley, Renfrewshire, the son of a grocer. Although there were no musicians in the family, Kenneth's father and uncles sang in the High Kirk and his parents would often listen to opera on the gramophone. He grew up listening to the voices of singers such as Peter Dawson, Paul Robeson and Richard Tauber and recalled being taken to a concert at St Andrew's Hall in Glasgow to hear the great Italian tenor Beniamino Gigli. Kenneth was soon entertaining family friends by impersonating his favourite singers.

He attended the John Neilson school, Paisley and as a teenager enjoyed exploring the Scottish Highlands where he developed an intense interest in forestry. He later went to Aberdeen University and studied forestry. While a student he joined the university choir and as a budding tenor received individual coaching from the university's director of music. He went on to sing solo roles in, among other works, Mozart's Requiem, Bach's Mass in B Minor, and Handel Messiah. It was a student he made his first broadcast, from the BBC studios in Glasgow in 1947. He sang the main tenor role in the ballad opera The Gentle Shepherd. After university Kenneth worked for the Scottish Forestry Commission and spent the next two years travelling by horseback up and down the Scottish countryside, as part of a research and survey program on the woodlands of the British Isles and learned gaelic.

Keen to pursue a musical career he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London. Whilst there he was due to have his tonsils removed and fearing he might affect his singing voice was encouraged to make a private recording in a booth at the HMV record shop in Oxford Street. He recorded Roger Quilter's O Mistress Mine and the engineer was so impressed he contacted EMI's Parlophone label, which subsequently issued several 78 singles by McKellar.

McKellar’s early work with Parlophone helped him get a job with the Carl Rosa opera company. During his audition for the chorus he was asked to sing the opening aria from Rossini's Barber of Seville. Immediately, he was offered a principal tenor's contract at £15 a week and the singer was so pleased he got married and bought a car. Kenneth McKellar toured with the company for two years but felt confined singing opera and decided to leave and pursue a recording career. In 1954, he signed with the Decca record company. Over a period of 25 years he recorded some 45 LPs, ranging from oratorio to Burns songs, achieving massive sales all over the world.

Kenneth McKellar became well-known in the UK and had his own BBC series, A Song For Everyone. From 1957, he starred each year in pantomimes by Howard & Wyndham Ltd notably at their Alhambra Theatre Glasgow, later in 1960, he starred as Jamie in new pantomimes devised around him. A Wish For Jamie, was followed by A Love For Jamie and the popular shows ran at the Alhambra before moving to Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Newcastle. The Scottish tenor loved the haggis, heather and tartan side of Scottish culture and became a favourite guest on the BBC’s White Heather Club (1958-68) as well as BBC and ITV’s Hogmanay celebration programs. McKellar toured overseas with other Scottish entertainers such as Helen McArthur, often appearing in small local venues from North America to New Zealand.

In 1960, he released Songs of Robert Burns, which is considered by many Burns’ oficiandos to be the definitive interpretation of the Bard’s works. McKellar occasionally wrote songs too, including the comic piece The Midges and the patriotic The Tartan and The Royal Mile. In 1962, (Sir) Alexander Gibson asked him to join the new Scottish Opera but the singer politely refused.

The highlights of his classical recordings were two early 1960s albums of Handel conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. McKellar took the tenor soloist in a version of Messiah alongside Joan Sutherland and made a solo album of songs and arias. This became one of Decca's best-sellers, and his Decca recording of Handel Songs and Arias prompted Sir Adrian Boult, who had conducted the sessions, to describe McKellar as "the best Handel singer of the 20th century." In 1965, Benjamin Britten asked him to sing the part of McHeath in a production of The Beggar's Opera with the English Opera group at the Aldeburgh Festival and in Paris. The tenor accepted

In 1966, Kenneth McKellar was chosen to represent Britain in the Eurovision Song Contest, singing A Man Without Love. At the last moment he changed into a kilt, which drew gasps from the audience when he appeared on stage. Sadly, the song failed to make an impact and came ninth of the eighteen entries. However, it did make the Top 30 in the UK Singles Charts.

Outside music, Kenneth McKellar had a great sense of humour and wrote a sketch which was performed by the Monty Python team at the The Secret Policeman's Ball. This was the only time that a sketch written by a non-member was performed by them.

He left Decca to join Lismor Records, recording several albums before retiring in the late 1997. Kenneth McKellar died of pancreatic cancer, at the age of 82, in 2010.