Weekender 2017


The following feature is based on a trip to Las Vegas by myself, fellow Hitsviller stalwart Dave Ferguson and our long suffering wives Bev and Janet. Although the event was last year, it's taken me this long to get all the pieces together in order to present it as I wanted to. Big thanks to Dean and Gaynell for all their hospitality. As I've said before, I'm always amazed and somewhat humbled by the artists we love and cherish as their warmth and willingness to share their lives with fans is something rather special. So...on with the story!


With the cancellation of The Vegas Shuffle Event the diary for that particular weekend could have been left somewhat empty. Flights and hotels were already booked when the Event was cancelled, and it looked like we were just going to have accept the disappointment. However after a quick chat with Styrene 45, (My wife), and Dave Ferguson of Burnley, (a close friend, and avid collector of original rare soul vinyl), we decided to go ahead with our original plans and make our way to Vegas for a belated birthday celebration with Dave and his wife Janet as we missed Dave's 50th Birthday party last May. It proved a great decision.

Although there was no soul event we were hoping to maybe find some artists, shows, etc that would allow us to have a soulful weekend anyway. Boy, did we come up trumps. The Friday night found us in the Boardwalk Hotel on the Strip to see a group we had all seen before - Spectrum. Unfortunately, they were on a night off, and we settled in to watch the resident band - Soulfood. A five piece combo, they sailed through a set of classic 60s fare from Aretha, through Wilson Picket, via a Motown montage and ended with a medley of early 70s classic soul tracks. Great hard working group that if you ever see advertised in your area, book a ticket. Real skillful musicians who have the energy and love of the material to do it justice. Great night out.

After a few email messages and a number of phone calls, we were eventually contacted by Dean Courtney, who has recently moved to Vegas from LA. Arrangements were made to meet up for dinner at The Stratosphere's Top Of The World Restaurant (No Stafford sounds but one hell of a view!). A quick drink at the bar and in rocked the man himself with his lovely lady Gaynell. Looking sharp as a razor, with a smile to match, we introduced ourselves to one of the guys who had kept us elbowing for dance floor space for the last 30 years.

Today Is My Day
(Unreleased RCA Master)

Love Is So Wonderful
(Unreleased RCA Master)

From my conversations with Dean, I formed the opinion that he's a fan of real vocalists, the guys from that era that really could carry a tune, the kind of singers that when you hear them it never ceases to amaze how effortlessly they seem to flow through the songs. As far as Northern Soul is concerned I think Marvin Gaye's early Tamla recordings are probably the epitome of that type of vocalist.

Dean spoke of his time in New York recording at the RCA Victor Studios, of his association with Jimmy Wisner, and how he'd sent demo tapes to Raymona Gordy when Motown opened the Jobete Offices in NY.

His introduction to the Northern Soul phenomena came when, in 1999, Swamp Dog (Jerry Williams of Calla Records fame, and who is a close friend), told Dean of the allniter scene in UK where hundreds, sometimes thousands of fans pay homage to the sixties soul sounds and stars of the era. Andy Rix had then got in touch with him and eventually He appeared at a number of UK venues and has special memories of Lowton and the 100 Club.

So, what did we learn from Dean that could add to the tapestry of Northern Soul's artists lives. It never ceases to amaze me that many of the artists we soul fans love seem to weave in and out of each other's lives. Maybe it's that the migrating black population of the era were drawn to the major cities from their existence out in the boondocks so to speak, and so it was a natural progression that they would "bump into each other".

The musical haunts of New York, Detroit, Chicago, Philly etc must have attracted singers in their droves, in an attempt to try and stimulate some interest in their careers. A sort of "birds of a feather flock together" may be an accurate way of looking at this phenomena. Either way as Dean explained his link to The Charades and his friendship with Cuba Gooding. (Lead singer with the group at various times), names like Ray Pollard, Tommy Hunt, Roy Hamilton peppered the conversation. We discussed the singer songwriters of the era and the late Teddy Randazzo's name evoked a special respect. During dinner Dean was kind enough to answer questions and relate stories from his career and the people who he met and interacted with during that era. I asked him who inspired him to take up singing and was not at all surprised at his reply that Johnny Ace, Nat King Cole and Billy Eckstine were amongst his musical heroes.

After dinner, Dean and Gaynell invited us along to see Sonny Charles and Sweet Louie of The Checkmates who were appearing at Arizona Jacks East, on the outskirts of town. We all piled into Deans SUV and I found myself in the trunk trying not to squash the family's weekly groceries. as we trundled out of the car park and on to then highway!

I convinced Dean to put on a CD of his stuff on the stereo and we all sang along as Dean gave an impromptu performance of "I'll Always Need You" and "Love, You Just Can't Walk Away" whilst driving to the venue. A real surreal moment as I, cramped in the trunk, opened the session with "Castles in the sand, are built by hand..." to be joined by Dean and then everyone else! The loudest voice was Bev, my wife, who was really struck by Dean, and thought he was wonderful. A real gent, as she said.

The meeting with Sonny Charles and Sweet Louie took place as they were taking a break before their final set. Dean did the introductions and I immediately tried to find out the details of their relationship with Herb Alpert and Phil Spector the producer of their hit "Black Pearl". The show they performed was supported by an outstanding four piece band and both Dave and I summed up the whole performance as "effortless". The ease with which they performed their medley of sixties soul standards was a joy to behold. Sonny can certainly still strut his stuff and if you ever get a chance to see their show, do it. You won't be disappointed.

At the end of the show, a quick chat, resulted in us buying the guys latest CDs, and having them autographed before goodnights were said and we climbed back into Deans car for the trip back to the hotel. A great night out with wonderful people and worth the trip on it's own.

Bev and I were leaving to return to Florida the next day whilst Dave F and Janet were staying one more day and were invited to a bar in the Stratosphere Hotel where musicians and artists from the city's numerous clubs and, bars and lounges congregate to chill out and take part in impromptu jam sessions. By all accounts they had a great time! So, if you're out and about and spot Dave and Janet, you might wanna get the lowdown on Aaron Neville and the rest of the gang there.

Visit Dean's Official Web Site!

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