I am fortunate enough to be able to state that the first live music concert I attended was the midnight double bill of Frank Sinatra and The Count Basie Orchestra at London’s Royal Festival Hall in May 1970.
//The headliners at the RFH, May 1970. Photo: Getty//
//At The RFH, May 1970. Photo: Getty//
I was 10 years old. My resourceful mother wangled tickets for the entire family, with one of my sisters selling programmes. That gained her access to the artists’ area; she gave me the backstage pass which I duly placed in the school project autobiography I wrote the following year.
//Front cover of the Rev-Ola reissue of I Am The Greatest. Scan courtesy Joe Foster//
I was commissioned to write these sleeve-notes by Joe Foster for his label Rev-Ola’s 1998 reissue of I Am The Greatest, the Cassius Clay album pulled from the shelves by Columbia Records amid his championing of civil rights and name change to Muhammad Ali.
To those of us who grew up with Ali, whatever our persuasion or interest in boxing, he was – as I wrote nearly 20 years ago – King Of The World.
//From Champion As Long As He Wants, Gilbert Rogin, Sports Illustrated, November 29, 1965//
In the mid-60s, the writer Gilbert Rogin, one of those hard-asses equally at home publishing fiction in The New Yorker as filing sports coverage in the dailies, expressed the perplexing prospect presented to the world by Cassius Marcellus Clay’s complex personality.
Insisting on using Ali’s despised “slave-name”, Rogin was attempting to assess this giant’s world-beating activities inside the ring, but his remarks refer equally to this collection of bragadoccio raps, bar-room poems and verbal whuppings delivered to the likes of vanquished rivals such as Sonny Liston.
Also present and correct is the rare version of Ben E. King’s Stand By Me, a finely delivered performance which rivals those of the greatest vocalists who have also covered the song.
At the time of recording Clay’s cachet was pretty damn high. His charisma, stunning physical abilities and spitfire mouth had combined to turn around the fortunes of the US boxing industry; annual receipts rose from $7.8m in 1963 to £26.5m two years later.
Prior to Jim French launching his homoerotic imprint Colt Studios, the venerable American illustrator and photographer made his bones on Madison Avenue in the 1950s and 60s producing work for such clients as Columbia Records and scarf and handkerchief designer Tammis Keefe.
Now a selection of French’s artworks from this period are going on display in an exhibition at Palm Springs gallery Nat Reed.
//Frank Sinatra for Columbia Record Club, Jim French//