Mike Vernon & The Mighty Combo
Starting with the uplifting old-style twisting Blues track ‘We’re Gonna Rock the Joint’ Michael William Hugh "Mike" Vernon (born in Middlesex, UK, on 20th November 1944) introduces his latest album, which has a release date of Friday 7th September 2018. This album is entitled ‘Beyond The Blue Horizon’ and will be supported by a UK and European Tour under the billing of “Mike Vernon & The Mighty Combo”. The title of this recording precisely reflects his advancement in direction within his own record label company Blue Horizon and features him on vocals, something which he has dallied with and enjoyed for many years. The Mighty Combo were handpicked by Mike who knew the exact artists needed to join him to make the album work and these are the reputed and Otis Grand mentored Kid Carlos Moreno on guitar, Paul Tasker on saxophone, Matt Little on keyboards, Ian Jennings on upright bass and Mike Hellier on drums.
This is feel-good music at its best and if you enjoy foot-tapping, hip swinging sounds by serious Blues professionals that put you in a comfortable, soul lifting and revitalised mood then this is just what you need! The music on this album is mostly a celebration of the classic 40’s and 50’s R&B greats with a fistful of Mike’s self-penned originals that complement the collection. ‘Beyond The Blue Horizon’ features rock solid rhythms enjoyed, Mike says, through the vein of Fats Domino, Little Richard and other energising artists. Mike has been in the Blues industry in many guises for over fifty years specialising as Music executive, top producer, studio owner, label boss, magazine editor, songwriter and occasional singer. He has worked with an extensive list of celebrated artists including Peter Green, David Bowie, Climax Blues Band and Christine McVie amongst many others and also collaborated for over thirty years and on a regular basis with Fleetwood Mac.
His life in Blues started after securing a job with Decca Records whilst still in his teens where he first integrated himself into the music scene as a goffer and earned respect from his colleagues through the input and suggestions that he made at the recording studio whilst making tea and running errands. Mike was always an opportunist and being obsessed with the Blues zealously visited many London clubs which is where he met and discovered Eric Clapton who was, in his opinion, turning the Blues scene completely upside down. On recognising this, he went to his boss, Hugh Mendl, and told him that he needed to give consideration to the potential of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with their new ex-Yardbirds guitarist Eric Clapton and grab and sign them while they could! Hugh, trusting Mike’s Blues instinct and knowledge, told him to go ahead and do it and so a deal was negotiated making Mike Vernon a producer of his first album, the classic 1966 ‘Bluesbreakers With Eric Clapton’ LP, whilst he was still in his mid-twenties.
Leaving Decca in 1968 just two years after the historical success of this “Beano album”, so called because the sleeve showed Eric Clapton reading a copy of the famed kids’ comic, Mike Vernon chose to go independent. His Blue Horizon record label, which he’d been releasing small-run Blues recordings on since the mid-‘60s, had gained a reputable following within the British Blues scene, and artists and bands wanted him to record for them. Peter Green was one of these and he was looking to form his own band after leaving John Mayall, and by getting Mick Fleetwood to join him they created the band that would then become Fleetwood Mac. This band had been offered to Decca who wouldn’t put it out on the Blue Horizon label so instead Mike offered it to CBS who took it, along with the label identity. It was contention over the ownership of this that lead to Mike Vernon resigning from Decca and shortly after becoming an independent producer for them.
‘Beyond The Blue Horizon’, his latest and soon to be released album features nine new originals written by Mike which are accompanied by three covers from the catalogues of Brook Benton, Mose Allison and Clarence Henry. Although the first single on the album, ‘We’re Gonna Rock The Joint’, is of a rather thigh-slapping Working Men’s Club genre, I thought that ‘Kiddio’, the Benton song from 1960 which follows, was well reproduced and modernised through Kid Carlos’ skill on the guitar. ‘Heart & Soul’ which follows, is a happy clappy and joyful love song, which celebrates how someone can hook you, bring you under their spell and get you “in a spin”.
The tempo and mood step up and swing out with the energising and optimistic next track ‘I Can Fix It’ which, as the title suggests, rejoices how anything is possible if you have the right attitude. A favourite and timeless song familiar to most is the classic (‘I Don’t Know Why I Love You) But I Do’, originally produced by Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry in 1961, which uses a great guitar and saxophone duet to respectfully take you back in time and raise your mood.
Keeping the energy flowing with ‘Be On That Train’, this song conjures up a picture of a 60’s filled dance floor with swirling skirts and crisp seamed suits which begins with a mesmerising guitar solo before leading you through with an archetypical but quirky rhythm. ‘Your Mind Is On Vacation’ from 1976 follows, which was originally written and recorded by composer and pianist Mose Allison who passed away in 2016. This track slows the tempo down and can carry you off even whilst singing of people talking nonsense about something which they know nothing about!
This is followed by the wistful track ‘Old Man’s Dreams’ which is a slow, smoochy Blues tune coupling up and featuring wholesome saxophone and Blues guitar reminiscent of Peter Green with the incredible depth that it reaches within you. ‘Jump Up’ does just that and picks the mood back up with impressive guitar solos which are celebrated again in ‘Red Letter Day’. Leaning towards more of a swing-based backing, ‘A Love Affair With The Blues’ proceeds the final track ‘Hate To Leave (Hate To Say Goodbye)’ which brings the album to an enjoyable and fulfilling close.
If you want to be taken back in time to recapture and embrace the joy of dance halls in the sixties then this is an album that will definitely do that or why don’t you go even better and see them live on their concert circuit? The skills shown throughout this production are very concise with an extremely well kept rhythm and as much as I enjoyed the album, I can also say that I also do now have a very happy Mother, about to turn 80 years of age, who tells me that she is delighted with my gift of it and that playing it makes her constant duty of household chores an absolute pleasure!