As I’ve got older, the thought of another night spent listening to time warped oldies on New Year’s Eve drives me crazy, so imagine how my pulse jumped when I saw that Chicago Soulstress, Joshie Jo Armstead was going to perform in Brooklyn at the rather fine Dig Deeper. From then there was only one course of action – get the flights & hotel booked, check the credit card has a few $$$’s still left, promise Clare that New York at this time of year is very special & go . . . !
I had missed Joshie when she ‘joined the caravan’ & visited the UK back around 1990, performing to backing tapes at Southport & The Kilt in Scotland. It probably wasn’t her finest hour, but having the opportunity to sing in front of a real band, supported by a brass section & top drawer backing singers must have turned the lady, as it was her first live show in the US since 1981.
Dig Deeper has been keeping Brooklyn Soulful for the last 6 years constantly bringing wonderful acts to the stage at Littlefield. Run by Richard Lewis & Michael Robinson, this is a pretty up-front venue & when you factor in it was New Year’s Eve then it was only ever going to be electric.
In the meantime, I’d found out that Spanish promoter of the Soul4Real weekend in Bilbao & all round gentleman, Alex Subinas, along with Madrid’s finest, Jose Duran were also going . . . the party just got even better ! Early evening saw the crowd quickly build – a hot combination of hipsters, students, Soul boys & girls, all impatient for the lady to hit the stage, chatted & danced to the 45’s spun by Richard & Michael.
Along with Joshie, there was more than able support from 77 year old Lonnie Lester, better known for his 60’s tracks, the man loved ever second he was on stage & he still cuts the mustard, warming the large crowd as the clock gradually ticked towards midnight. After a short break, the musicians took to the stage & Michael soon joined them to wave 2014 goodbye & count 2015 in with the enthusiasm of a kid on Christmas morning . . . but I guess when you know what’s about to be unleashed, then why wouldn’t you ? In a flash it was 2015 & show time, as the band launched into ‘I feel an urge coming on’, Joshie walked on, resplendent in a shimmering gold dress & fetching red glasses . . . the lady looked stunning, it’s hard to believe how good a 70 year old can sound having not performed for over 30 years !
It was obvious from the beginning that Joshie was loving every second – forget the prompt sheets, when you’ve written as many great songs over the years as she has, it’s not surprising that they’re not all perfectly committed to memory. ‘A stone good lover’, from her Giant record days slowed the pace after the start, followed by, I’ve been turned on’. After a nod to the 60’s crowd she hit us right between the eyes with ‘In the right place’, a wonderful track from her Preacher Rose label. By now Joshie had the crowd in the palm of her hand & it was obvious she was having a ball . . .
she explained about her writing for others, Ray Charles particularly, which led us into a medley starting with his huge hit ‘Let’s get stoned’. Definitely not her most inspiring song, but it dovetailed perfectly into ‘Casanova’ which she composed for Ruby Andrews, but that was the hors d’oeuves to a quite stunning version of Garland Green’s ‘Jealous kinda fellow’ . . . sung together with high class backing singer Eli Husock, better known as ‘Paperboy’ Reed – this was special, very special. The medley was brought to an end with a storming take on ‘I don’t need no doctor’, & believe me, no prisoners were taken with this !
Had the lady peaked . . . not a chance, as we were transported back to the Mecca with an almost note perfect ‘I got the vibes’, more pumping of the chest & over enthusiastic cheers let Joshie know that she really hit the spot. Time to slow it down towards the finale & her final 45 for Giant, ‘I’m gonna show you’ which gave her the chance to loosen those vocal cords before an epic performance I’ll remember forever. Probably my favourite 45, I’d not expected to hear Joshie sing the ballad ‘Stumblin’ blocks & steppin’ stones’, & while I secretly hoped she would, I could never have prepared myself for such a gut wrenching & Soulful rendition. There is a line in the song . . . ‘but now I’m gonna stand & shout’ which leads to a note which peels paint off the wall – I sang it to her & she looked straight into my eyes & sang it back . . . as I turned to Clare, the tears rolled down my cheeks & I knew why I love this wonderful music we call Soul.
The lady was more than special, & as Michael urged her for an encore, I knew I’d been blessed to experience an exceptional performance. Once the show was over I was lucky enough to chat to Joshie & she said she loved every minute on stage. She’s still so enthusiastic about music & told me that she’s recorded some tracks recently with Fred Wesley . . . not sure what to make of that, but if it means the world gets to hear more of Joshie Jo Armstead then I’m all for it.
Paul Thrower (RIP)