Friday, April 20, 2012

Jazz Guitar Masters Play Rockabilly: The 1950s

Most of those that follow the blog will have noticed I have been working on guitar players from the 1950's who work in blues, rockabilly or R&B formats. Of particular interest lately is the use of session guitarists from the period and their inclusion on certain recordings. As the popularity of rockabilly exploded in the mid 50's, premier session guitarists and their talents acquired new appreciation among producers whose quest for a breakthrough single might be enhanced by a nifty, clean and catchy guitar solo. My last post on Grady Martin demonstrated the wide range of material a consummate session guitarist like Martin could work in and how his fretboard skills could lift and shape a recording. Eventually, my research on session guitarists from the period led me to something I knew would eventually lead to this post: the use of avowed and dedicated jazz guitarists on rockabilly recordings during the mid to late 1950's. Although not overly common, the practice was fairly widespread and seemed to be driven by the guitarists affiliation with certain record labels and/or dedication to certain producers. Since session player information is so scant on many of these recordings, it is really difficult to know just how many jazz players might have been drafted to perform on 50's rockabilly recordings. Also. although Jimmy Bryant's work with Sammy Masters might well have been included, (Pink Cadillac) I have limited the post to the use of three well known jazz guitarists; Howard Roberts, Barney Kessel and George Barnes.

I. George Barnes: Has been a favorite of mine for almost forty years. Back in the 1970's my friend Robert Haynes and I re-issued his LP "Guitars Anyone" which he recorded with the legendary Carl Kress. His very early use of an electric guitar and recordings in the 1930's with Big Bill Broonzy afford him indisputable iconic status. Barnes was such a phenomenal jazz player it's almost hard to conceive of him playing rockabilly. Nonetheless, he apparently loved the music and was featured on several recordings by Janis Martin and a couple by Eddie Fontaine. His infectiously tasteful sound and flawless execution really stands out on these recordings and add to their historical importance.

Eddie Fontaine: Barnes has a searing, innovative solo on Nothin Shakin that begins at 1:38. This is a cut that was covered by the Billy Fury here and later by the Beatles, here. Barnes also has an outstanding solo on his Decca recording Cool It Baby in which his chops are jazzy and perfectly measured. His solo begins at 1:23.

Janis Martin's RCA recordings usually featured either Chet Atkins or George Barnes, depending on the recording site. All have a bit of a Texas Swing feel to them and are of exceptional quality. Barnes is in top form on most of the RCA numbers, his work on "Little Bit" is particularly good, his first solo begins at 0.56 and a second at 1.15. Also check out his remarkable solo beginning at 0.30 on Ooby Dooby. Finally, Barnes has a very nice solo on Barefoot Baby beginnig at 0.47.

II. Barney Kessell: An accomplished jazz musician, Kessell was also a truly versatile session player who worked with a wide range of musicians, from Mel Torme and Dean Martin to Sam Cooke. He could lay down some very tough sounding rockabilly guitar when called upon. . Although best known for his work on the Imperial recordings by Lew Williams, he has a fascinating role on obscure rockabilly artist Dodie Randle's "I Fell in Love Again from 1956." Solo begins at 1:37.

Kessell's most memorable rockabilly sessions are with the Texas rockabilly musician Lew Williams, also recorded in 1956. Most notable are Centipede, with classic rockabilly tone and phrasing. His solo begins at 1:17. Kessel also smokes on the classic Bop Bop Ba Doo Bop , a tune Bill Millar claims the Straycats plagiarized on their very similar Fishnet Stockings. Listen and be the judge.

III. Howard Roberts: Roberts was a session player extraordinaire who played on a very wide range of recordings. According to Bill Millar, Roberts was apparently used on the four Imperial recordings Roy Brown did in 1958, all of very high quality and fascinating in that they are some of the few examples of "black rockabilly," i.e., an African American musician working in the genre. Although all four are worthy, Roberts is in top form with two outstanding solos on Hip Shakin Baby. Roberts is also featured on Eddie Cochran's Sittin on the Balcony from 1957 in which he provides a fascinating solo that begins at 0.55.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Grady Martin: Decca Rockabilly Session Ace

His chops still resonate, even when we don't know it's him, from the opening guitar line in Roy Orbison's Oh Pretty Woman and the precise R&B comping on Brenda Lee's 1958 classic Rocking Around the Christmas Tree to the unique acoustic Tex Mex guitar sound he achieves in Marty Robbins' classic El Paso from 1960. To find a session guitar player with the range of experience possessed by Grady Martin is difficult, throughout the 1950's and 60's Martin was continually called on to provide the his innate sense of rhythm, precise playing and production experience to the widest range of material within the parameters of Nashville country music. In the post I would like to foreground a few of Martin's lesser know efforts as a consummate session guitarist in the rockabilly style for Decca Records during the 1950's.

The recordings I have selected here are all session pieces in which Martin provides superb rhythm backup and at least one solo. A few are actually not Decca recordings, a testament not only to the respect Martin carried within the genre but also among musicians in general. The majority feature his rockabilly style that most are familiar with in the songs he is featured on for the Johnny Burnette Trio recordings for in 1956. Grady's guitar work is easily identifiable on many of the songs recorded during these sessions, and Paul Burlison's role was minimal, well documented here. Martin's work with The Johnny Burnette Trio is so definitive that in many ways it might be said he creates a whole rockabilly guitar style that he also showcases on many of the recordings here. While not trying to diminish the contributions of James Burton, Scotty Moore, Cliff Gallup and Hal Harris, Grady is the most prolific force in the creation of a rockabilly guitar style.

1)Red Foley - Midnight - This is one of Martin's earlier recordings, well before his rockabilly style emerged some four years later. Nonetheless, a nice guitar break in a blues vein at 1:22.

2) Red Sovine - Juke Joint Johnny - This is the best example of Sovine's experimentation with a rockabilly style with a Texas swing flavor. Martin is flawless in his backup role.

3) Mimi Roman - Little Lovin is a completely forgotten rockabilly gem from 1956. Grady's style here is unmistakable and his break at 1:05 reminiscent of some of his work with with Johnny Burnette Trio.

4) Brenda Lee - Bigelow 6200 - Even though Grady isn't given much space on the break his intro licks are vintage on this excellent cut by Lee.

5)Buddy Holly - Modern Don Juan - superb solo here by Martin at 1:35 his sound is perfect on this, one of the few cuts he backed Holly on.

6) Ronnie Self - Big Fool - Another excellent break by Grady at 1:08 on the classic by one of my all time favorites, Missouri's own, Ronnie Self.

7) Johnny Carroll -Carroll's incredible Hot Rock is one a definitive rockabilly cut, inspiring many subsequent covers. Martin has two solos here but his intro shines. Crazy Crazy Lovin - is another rockabilly classic, as all the Decca recording Carrol recorded. Grady's solo begins at 1:00.

8) Tex Williams - Let's Go Rockabilly - Yes, just about every country singer recorded at least one rockabilly song in 56 or 57. Very nice solo by Martin at 1:14 who also finishes with a flourish.

9) Jimmy Lloyd -Where the Rio de Rosa Flows: While Grady and Hank Garland team up on Lloyd's better know rockabilly recordings I Got a Rocket in My Pocket and Your'e Gone Baby, Martin handles the solo alone here beginning at 1:33.

10) Chuck Bowers - Till My Baby Comes Home is a unique and somewhat hybrid song that combines elements of straight ahead country, rockabilly and commercial pop. Martin has a nice solo at 1:15.

11) Roy Hall - Diggin That Boogie - While Hall's fame comes from having recorded this Dave William song, Whole Lotta Shakin Goin On, before Jerry Lee Lewis this is a fabulous rockabilly effort and Martin blazes at 1:30 with a solo with a perfect amount of echo. Hall's Three Alley Cats features both Martin and Hank Garland, Marin solos at 1:18.

12) Don Woody - Bird Dog - Martin is in classic form here from his signature rockabilly intro to this fantastic solo beginning at 0.48.

13) Wayne Walker - All I Can Do is Cry is a from 1956 features Martin in more of backup role, but the overall sound is perfect for the song.

14) Johnny Horton- I'm Comin Home - Great cut by Horton that highlights Martin's low string work with a tasteful solo at 0.49.

15) Grady Martin - When My Dreamboat Comes Homes - Recorded in 1956 By Grady and His Slew Foot Five, this unique instrumental has a superb solo by Martin in rockabilly style beginning at 0.45.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Bill Doggett, Billy Butler and Blue Velvet

David Lynch's decision to entrust the soundtrack of his film "Blue Velvet" to to the expertise of Angelo Badalamenti assured that its soundtrack would reflect the unsettling, indefinite timelessness the film projects. Lynch's subsequent collaborations with Badalamenti such as Twin Peaks, Wild at Heart and Mulholland Drive reveal a similar approach; eclectic soundtracks that largely foreground 1950's music in order to create a sense of the decade's atmospherics. In Blue Velvet, Their decision to include Bill Doggett's 1956 crossover instrumental hit "Honky Tonk" in the scene at Ben's apartment also resurrected from obscurity the instrumental prowess of R&B tenor ace Clifford Scott and the unique guitar work of Billy Butler, who composed the instrumental together in 1956. Both players are given extended solos on "Honky Tonk." The inclusion of Doggett's instrumental in the film is a perfect fit, it conveys the sordid nature of of the venue and transmits the uneasiness that Jeffrey is experiencing in Frank's seedy, underworld hangout. Moreover, the rough R&B edges of "Honky Tonk" contrast neatly with the surface innocence of other songs on the movie's soundtrack from the same period, most notably Ben's lip sych version of Roy Orbison's In Dreams and Isabella Rossellini's torch sung club performance, closest to Bobby Vinton's syrupy yet somewhat haunting 1963 recording of "Blue Velvet." If you have never heard the very different 1954 version recorded by The Clovers, take a listen here. Exceptional.

Butler's guitar work is featured on most of Bill Doggett's King Records recordings from the mid 1950's, almost exclusively in instrumental settings. With the exception of Wild Bill Jennings' outstanding work with Doggett on Big Boy from 1955, Butler was Doggett's guitarist of choice throughout the King years. Butler's got his start in swing jazz bands but was also very adept in R&B settings. Influenced by Tiny Grimes and Charlie Christian and on the jazz side and the blues stylings of T Bone Walker, Butler developed a style of his own that continued to evolve throughout his career. Butler's versatility is apparent in the diverse musical modes he explores throughout the 1960's and 1970's, he worked with facility in jazz, funk and soul formats, recording LPs in all three. His solo on Honky Tonk became standard piece for most aspiring combo guitarists in the late 1950's and early 1960's.

1) Honky Tonk I - Butler gets the first lead and his extension in a traditional 16 bar format is outstanding, great comping just before Scott's superb solo. The tune was such a sensation in 1956 that 1950's guitar icon Duane Eddy covered it a year later, here.

2) The languid pace of Blue Largo from 1957 has that after hours sound and features superb phrasing by Butler. Scott soars on tenor as well.

3) Ding Dong, recorded in 1957 has one of Butlers' finest solos which starts at 1:50.

4) Doggett's Rum Bunk Shush from 1957 was another of his more popular instrumentals featuring Butler with a chordal based solo beginning at 1:40. A very nice cover recorded by Danny Gatton's band here in the 1980's nods to the influence of Doggett. Gatton has also cited Butler as a major influence in his own work.

5) Hold It is another instrumental classic that was a favorite segue piece commonly performed by combos just before breaks.

6) The Twang from 1969 is a good example of the evolution of Butler's work and represents the jazz/funk approach he has adopted by this later date. Excellent work.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Blues Guitar Mastery of Jody Williams: The 1950's

Bo Diddley's classic 1956 recording "Who Do You Love" recently received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award for being a recording of transcendental historical significance. While Bo is more than deserving of the award and the recognition, I can't help but conclude that the song's resonance is owed in large measure to the phenomenal blues guitar work of Jody Williams. A quick scan the number of groups that have covered Bo's gem reveal guitar players like Jeff Beck, Rory Gallagher, Jimmy Vaughn, John Cipollina and Danny Kalb, all formidable blues players who were undoubtedly drawn to the unique guitar work by Jody Williams in the song. Below are a few recordings from the 1950's that feature the guitar work of Jody Williams, who served as a Chess/Checker session artists throughout the decade.

1) Bo Diddley "Who Do You Love" 1956: Unique guitar comping begins the song and the Williams solo at 1:20 reveals a prowess that perfectly compliments Bo's incredible vocals.

2) Billy Boy Arnold - "I Ain't Got You" 1956 Great guitar work that probably led to the 1965 Yardbirds cover with an inspired Clapton solo.

3) Howlin Wolf "Evil is Going On" 1954 - Williams handles the lead work on this early Wolf recording while Hubert Sumlin cover the rhythm work. In the above photo are, from left, Howlin Wolf, Jody and Hubert Sumlin.

4) Billy Stewart "Billy's Blues" 1956 - This wonderfully unique and influential arrangement for Chess Records showcases the mastery of Williams. The architecture of the guitar work here reappears in later arrangements by Mickey and Sylvia's "Love is Strange." and is said to have influenced Buddy Holly's 1956 recording "Words of Love." Judge for yourself.

5) Jimmy Rogers "I Can't Believe" 1956 - Excellent work here by Williams in a straight forward up tempo blues by Jimmy Rogers. It's Big Walter (not Little Walter) on this recording.

6) Jody Williams "Looking For My Baby" 1955 - Classic recording by Jody. Here the original is far superior.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Ten Rockabilly Classics: 1955-1959

One could spend literally countless hours pouring over the spate of obscure rockabilly recordings that were recorded from 1954 (after the initial Elvis Sun recordings) up through the early 1960's. The sheer number of recordings on youtube is simply overwhelming, and speaks to the viability of the small, regional record labels like Vaden, Master, Hollie, Ekko, Sims and Ozark that seemed to spring up all throughout the south and mid-west during the mid 1950's. What I find to be compelling about the recordings on this list is their originality within the genre and their independence, i.e., the way each artist has developed a voice and style independent of the Elvis like imitations heard on so many recordings from the same period. Rather than a list of favorites, this selection of recordings portrays the great diversity of arrangements that were being recorded by some of the better known musicians working in the genre. With the exception of Gene Vincent and Carl Perkins, significant commercial success did not come to most of these players until they were"rediscovered" and appreciated anew ( Joe Clay, Ray Smith, Sleepy La Beef and Jackie Lee Cochran) some twenty five years later by European rockabilly fans. Unfortunately, several passed away long before they could fully realize the significance of their contributions to contemporary music.

1) Carl's pioneering 1955 Sun recording Gone Gone Gone embodies all the attributes of authentic rockabilly. Great vocals and guitar work with a little of that classic Sun echo effect. A close second would be Carl's incredible 1959 recording "Put Your Cat Clothes On."

2) Ronnie Self: Ronnie's 1959 recording "Big Town" may be a reference to Springfield, Missouri or even Nashville, where his classic Decca and Columbia recordings were cut. At any rate, it's a long way from his native Tin Town.

3) Sid King's "When My Baby Left Me" features Sid's unique vocal inflection in consonance with a languid, somewhat peculiar tempo. Definite gospel music influence here. For a taste of all the recordings Sid King and the Five Strings cut in the 1950's, go here.

4) Link Davis: "Don't Bigshot Me." Sax ace Davis played virtually every style of music related to rockabilly. His recording "Grasshopper" recorded the same year is another example of his high energy style that blends early rock n' roll features with rockabilly.

5) Joe Clay really lays it down on "Don't Mess with My Ducktail" from 1956. Joe's cover of this Rudy Grayzell classic is one of his finest rockabilly recordings, great guitar work by Hal Harris. Interestingly, Grayzell cut this album with our friends The Skeletons back in 1998.

6) Eddie Bond: "Talkin Off the Wall" from 1955 is a classic example of early rockabilly with a very unique guitar solo by Hank Garland. Superb.

7) Gene Vincent: "Cruisin" from 1956. Guitar legend Cliff Gallup has three blistering solos on this cut which Robert Gordon covers some twenty five years later here, with Danny Gatton providing incredible guitar work in homage to Cliff.

8) Ray Smith Although Ray's 1958 rocker, "Right Behind You Baby never achieved the commercial success of the far tamer "Rockin Little Angel," (1960) it is an absolute classic of mid fifties rockabilly.

9) Jackie Lee Cochran "Mama Don't You Think I Know" Jack the Cat's 1957 recording is one of his finest.

10) Sleepy La Beef: "Little Bit More," which was recorded in 1956, is a perfect example of a great song that achieved little more than limited success even on a regional level. Sleepy continues to be the legend of Smackover, Arkansas and has recorded this roots album a couple of years back.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Three new roots albums

Roots music fans will be pleased to see the release of three new albums which stay very attuned to roots influences. Ry Cooder's new cd on Nonesuch Records,"Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down," is due out tomorrow but one can listen to the album's material here at Slate. The diverse range of musical styles Cooder draws from are on full display. Steve Cropper's new recording, a tribute to the fantastic Doo Wop/R&B 50's group The "5" Royales, is full of accomplished musicians. Check out some samples here. Finally, Billy Hancock, after excavating his repository of material from the early 1970's, has compiled a new set of previously unissued recordings based on his work with the eclectic, pioneering roots band "Danny Gatton and the Fat Boys," featuring Danny Gatton. This goes beyond their groundbreaking 1975 LP "American Music." This three box cd set is due out in December.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Rocket in My Pocket

I will be initiating a new cycle of posts soon. Sorry the blog has been dormant so long.

The roots of I Got a Rocket in My Pocket
Most commonly associated with Little Feat's unique version and a cover by NRBQ, this classic actually sends us back to 1958. The song was originally composed by Vic McAlpin and Jimmy Lloyd, whose initial 1957 recording, Rio de Rosa for Roulette featured excellent work by session guitarists Hank Garland and Grady Martin. Both are also featured on the original "Rocket in my Pocket," Martin handles the solo work. The song enjoyed immediate success as it was covered the same year by Johnny Devlin and later Jimmy Grubbs.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Keeping Tab and an update

I apologize for the extended hiatus but I plan to begin posting again soon. I look forward to renewing my exploration of the seemingly endless layers of American Roots Music in the 1940's and 50's. Hope to hear your comments.

Tab Smith, alto wizard who got his start with Count Basie, stayed true to the blues oriented jazz sound that dominated recordings throughout most of the 1940's. During the 1950's he eschews the bop trend and records a wide range of material that includes R&B and ballad based compositions. On his recording Crazy Walk from the late 1950's, Tab exhibits a velvety tone reminiscent of Johnny Hodges in a blues format.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Two classics by Little Walter

Almost forty years ago, during the summer of 1973, two friends and I made a trip to Florida and stopped in Memphis on the way home. Being blues fanatics, we quickly located a used record store that happened to have some unique treasures, original 78 blues recordings on the Chess and Checker labels. One of my friends was lucky enough to find some Little Walter 78's that at the time had not been reissued anywhere on LPs. I distinctly recall listening to some of these songs, "Who" "Break it Up" and "Up the Line" most of which only received scant attention in their time and very little airplay on local radio stations. By 1973 they had all but faded into memory, only the limited number of records still in circulation and the Chess vaults kept them alive.

Inevitably, a talent of Little Walter's caliber receives due recognition and all recorded material is eventually released. All of the songs we found in Memphis on 78 that summer have been reissued by Chess Records, in this complete Chess Masters Set. Even after the reissue, it took a while for some of these classics to find their way onto youtube. I had been looking for these songs for years, and finally Walter's deliberately paced originals "Who" and "Break it Up" were uploaded recently. Louis Myers' guitar work is magical on both and the harp solo on "Break it Up" is breathtaking. Two true classics of 1950's Chicago blues from the inimitable Little Walter Jacobs.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Goldband Classics from the 1950's

The success of genre related record labels throughout the 1950's preserve some of the finest American Roots music ever recorded. Well known labels like Sun, Chess, Checker and Decca flourished during the decade and to date not all the vaulted treasures have been released. Another superb regional label that preserved the diversity of roots music originating from the Louisiana and east Texas region was the Goldband label, founded by Eddie Shuler in Lake Charles, Louisiana in the early 1940's. Although Goldband's national recognition is owed primarily to the timeless Phil Phillips swamp pop classic "Sea of Love" from 1959, Goldband's eclectic approach included everything from the earliest Dolly Parton to the most obscure zydeco sounds of the 1950's. Shuler was prescient enough to preserve virtually the entire panoply of roots sounds from 1950's Louisiana: R&B, blues, rockabilly, cajun, zydeco, hillbilly boogie, the early swamp rock sound, country and more mainstream pop. In recent months a lot of this material has been uploaded on youtube. Several anthologies of Goldband classics are also available. What I would like to do here is offer a sampling of the diverse sounds from Goldband in the 1950's. Although some of these appear on different labels on youtube, the original recording were released on Goldband.

1) Hop Wilson's Rockin in the Coconut Top is an absolute classic of early R&B that uses allusions to "jungle sounds" as a backdrop, a common trope of early R&B. Great steel guitar from Hop.

2) Guitar Junior recorded several sessions for Goldband in the 50's. Roll Roll Roll is a great example of 50's Louisiana R&B. Nice accompaniment and sax solo.

3) Big Chenier's "Let Me Hold Your Hand" from 1957 is another gem from the Goldband vaults whose title seems to anticipate later pop hits.


1) Al Ferrier's 1956 "Let's Go Boppin Tonight" is classic rockabilly with a Louisiana flavor. Outstanding cut with nice piano and guitar solos.

2) Along with Ferrier and Joe Clay, Johnny Jano epitomizes Louisiana rockabilly. "Havin a Whole Lot of Fun" captures the energy.

3) Gene Terry: Like so many rockabilly recordings of the 1950's Terry's Cindy Lou enjoyed regional success for Goldband in 1958. Nice arrangement.

4) Jay Chavalier: This is a very unique sound by rocker Chavalier, who also recorded Castro Rock about 1960's Cuba. Rock n' Roll Angel moves, very unique.


1) Juke Boy Bonner's Runnin' Shoes recorded for many small label but he also recorded extensively for Goldband. This cut is from 1960. Classic one man blues show.

2) Ashton Savoy: Really more of a R&B and early rock n' roll sound, Savoy's 1950's recording "I Want's You" is a mid 1050's gem from Goldband. Ashton passed away in Houston last May.


1) Cleveland Crochet's Sugar Bee combines the zydeco styled accordion with a distinctly Louisiana R&B sound. Outstanding cut.

2) Boozo Chavis' Paper in my Shoe is more representative of traditional zydeco. While I'm not sure what label this recording comes from, Chavis did record for Goldband in the 1050's.

Rock n Roll

1) Ivory Lee Jackson: A wild ride here, Jackson's "I'm a Country Boy" this is unadulterated early Goldband Rock n' Roll from 1956.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Few More Roots Gems

Seeing so much incredible new material find its way to youtube makes me regret not having the time to research and post at the same pace as last year. Unfortunately, my schedule won't allow it but perhaps in the coming months I can renew the posting pace of old. I have some interesting ideas for future posts yet they require research time i simply do not have at this juncture. For now, a few more hidden roots gems that contribute to the rich tapestry of American Roots Music.

Country Blues: Buddy Moss has never received the recognition that Blind Blake has yet technically he is right there. Among Piedmont Blues players form the 1920'2 and 30's Moss is at the very top. Check out his skills here on "Trick Ain't Walkin No More." Very nice thumb work and vocals.

Urban Blues: My glaring omission on last year's "Little Walter's Legions" post was to leave William Clark off the list. Clarke is a genuine talent who passed away to soon. Check out this live version of "Trying to stretch My Money."

R&B or Jump Blues: Tiny Bradshaw's work has appeared on the blog previously as a jump blues pioneer and as a link to rockabilly with his famous "The Train Kept a Rollin." Here, on Heavy Juice, R&B tenor sax ace Red Prysock really cuts loose on this R&B based shuffle.

Jazz: Cootie Williams is primarily known for his association with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Interestingly, he also had a hand in the emergence of Bebop, as evidenced here on "Epistrophy" this very unique recording from 1942, a Bebop forerunner. This is a true gem and marks the emergence of the post war sound to follow.

Rockabilly: This unique rockabilly "I'm Out" recording by the obscure aggregate The Surf Riders from 1958 captures the essence of the genre. Later covered by Johnny Preston.

Hillbilly Boogie: Glen Barber worked in rockabilly and swing genres. This classic "Ice Water" from 1954 is a fascinating example of the rockabilly swing style popular in the early to mid 1950's.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Roots Guitar Capital: Washington D.C. 1977-80

In the summer of 1977, a good friend and I trekked to Washington D.C. so that he could accompany the legendary St. Louis bluesman Henry Townsend at the Wolf Trap Folk Festival. My friend Lenny did a superb job of backing up Henry and we enjoyed many of the wide ranging styles of roots music that were on display that weekend. One unforgettable player that we particularly enjoyed was the relatively unknown blues recording artist Jerry "Boogie" McCain, whose unique harp style and flamboyance really caught on at Wolf Trap that year. Check Jerry out doing "Courtin in a Cadillac" from the 1950's. I distinctly remember him tearing it up with his famous "She's Tough," a tune later covered successfully by the Fabulous Thunderbirds.

One facet of the 1977-1979 D.C. music scene that totally escaped our attention was the incredible constellation of roots based electric guitarists who were working in the greater capital city area at that time. Having done a bit of research on these players, it seems clear that no other city in the U.S. or anywhere else could boast of such an astonishing array of guitar talent, most of which was roots based and very active in the club scene at the time. Venues such as the Cellar Door, Crazy Horse, Blues Alley, Child Harolde and the Psyche Delly provided the outlet for the flourishing blues/jazz and roots scene, which the music critic Mark Winter dubbed "the Blue Wave" in 1978. Also contributing to the D.C. roots music phenomena was the original WHFS, which gave local musicians plenty of airtime which in turn aided local record sales. In this post I would like to pay homage to some of the outstanding guitar players that contributed to the richness of the roots scene in the Washington/Baltimore area during those years. It truly was the "Roots Guitar Capital" of the world at that time. More recently, new players like Melanie Mason and Sammy Blair are carrying on this rich guitar tradition in the capital city.

1) Danny Gatton: Roots musician Billy Hancock resurrects the Aladdin label by helping to put together the 1975 recording Danny and the Fat Boys. This recording energized the roots movement in the D.C. area while showcasing the prodigious talents of telecaster wizard Gatton. His artistry is on full display on the Horace Silver tune Opus de Funk. A few years later, in 1978, Gatton records the very highly regarded "Redneck Jazz" which sold well in the D.C. area but remained relatively unknown elsewhere. From this period comes this medley with steel guitarist Buddy Emmons.

2) Roy Buchanan: Buchanan, originally from Arkansas, settled in the D.C. area and was very active during these years. Roy is remembered as a blues guitar icon for his innovative use of telecaster tone which is on display here on this remarkable version of Sweet Dreams from 1976.

3) Tom Principato: Tom's 1970's blues based band and record label Powerhouse achieved a considerable following and helped to define the roots music approach to the D.C. area 70's scene. Since that time he has recorded extensively with his blues based group Powerhouse. He has won numerous WAMMY awards and I sure wish I could see him live ! This rendition of "Red House" displays Tom's masterful guitar work from what looks to be the 1970's. Outstanding.

4) The Nighthawks: Led by Jimmy Thackery and Mark Wenner, this D.C based blues group had a steady gig at the Far End during the mid 1970's and went on to gain national attention during the 1980s and beyond. Thackery is a gifted blues guitarist who teamed up with Principato to form the Assassins. I'm not sure when this video was made, (probably 1980's) but it captures the feel of what the Nighthawks were up to in the D.C. area back in the 1970's. This 2008 video showcases Thackery's talents up close.

5) Pete Kennedy: Pete's association with the D.C. scene is rooted in the Falls Church, Virginia back in the early 1970's. Kennedy and Principato teamed up as the opening act for Danny Gatton's Redneck Jazz Explosion. From that live show in 1978 comes "Fingers on Fire," a remarkable recording which displays the versatility of both players. In this video Pete's speaks of his formative days in D.C., and the influence of Gatton and Buchanan, then offers up this very nice homage to the scene. Superb.

6) Evan Johns: Johns hooks up with Danny Gatton in the late 1970's in the D.C. area and contributes vocals on Gatton's 1978 Redneck Jazz L.P. Also plays with Gatton in the short lived group the "Benders" in the D.C. area. Johns is essentially a rockabilly based player who has had success in Austin, where he has played with the Leroi Brothers. This recording is more recent, with his group The H Bombs with another D.C. guitarist, Mark Korpi.

7) Dave Chappell - Dave was also directly connected to the 1970's D.C. guitar scene who credits Gatton as a major influence. He is currently active in the D.C. area. Great player.

8) Joe Kogok: Joe grew up listening and playing around many of the players already mentioned above. He performed with Danny Gatton on several recording during the period.

9) Mark Korpi: Played gigs with Gatton in the early 1980's. Mark is still active today, playing here in the D.C. area. Here is Mark showing off his chops live.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

RIP Ed Thigpen

The jazz world lost one of its preeminent percussionists a couple of weeks ago. With the passing of Ed Thigpen, another bridge to the golden era of 1950's jazz combos has vanished. Ed was a legendary player whose innovations and openness to explore new modes of percussion during the 1950s spearheaded the new approaches that burst onto the scene in avant garde jazz circles after 1960. Best known for anchoring the Oscar Peterson Trio, much of Thigpen's work was rooted in California, making an impact in Los Angeles jazz circles during the 1950's. He later recording with Billy Taylor and the Teddy Edwards Quintet before expatriating to the more appreciative city of Copenhagen. This recording of Titoro with the Billy Taylor Trio is unique in that Ed discusses some of the multiple influences he appropriated to forge his unique style and use of rhythm, brushes, cymbals and a panoply of bongo based techniques. Rest in peace Ed, and thanks for so much incredible work.

Friday, January 22, 2010

New Rockabilly Book

Rockabilly fanatics will surely applaud the recent publication of a groundbreaking new book devoted to many iconic players and some of the few original innovators still alive today. Rockabilly aficionado Shereee Homer's "Catch That Rockabilly Fever" is a meticulously documented study of rockbilly's storied players and their inimitable music. Making use of extensive interviews with such living legends as Big Al Downing, Wanda Jackson, Hayden Thompson, Joe Clay, Sonny Burgess and many more, Sheree's book brings long overdue recognition to many whose pioneering recordings helped define rockabilly as a genre. The reviews for Sheree's effort have been outstanding. Her effort is a very timely addition to recent investigations into this unique musical form whose infectious rhythms have again swept the planet with a force not felt since the 1950' s. I'm waiting for my copy to arrive as I write.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Few More Roots Gems

The last month and a half have been hectic and as a result, I have not been able to post as often as I did in previous months. In the coming months I plan to continue researching roots music and posting with a bit more frequency. As always, there is so much to work with and so little time to really do it justice.

This post offers a few real gems from different genres drawn from our vast repository of roots music. Some of these have been old favorites of mine for many years and others have come to my attention via youtube over the course of the last few months. As always, a couple of the artists here are likely to be projects for further research. Finally, thanks to all that have stopped by to check out what's happening. I appreciate all comments and hope this offering of roots classics elicits a few more.

Jazz: This early bop recording by Illinois Jacquet's band is a flawless example of the evolving bop style in 1947. Appropriately named "Embryo", it features a classic baritone solo by forgotten bari king Leo Parker. Also, Earl Hines offers the classic tune Rosseta by himself from 1939, showcasing his mastery of the stride style that actually goes a bit beyond. Superb. Finally, check out the magic of Lucky Thompson on Anthropology, a bop recording on video from 1959. Great piano work by Bud Powell and a very unique guitar solo by Jimmy Gourley.

R&B: Ivory Joe Hunter's classic 1950 recording of Old Man's Boogie is a hybrid piece, it combines elements of boogie, jump blues while setting oup the basis for rock n' roll. Also, Nappy Brown's very unique "There Come a Day" combines elements of Doo Wop, jump blues and early rock n' roll, on a 1955 recording. Great sax solo. Finally, the incomparable "Leave My Kitten Alone" by Little Willie John from 1959. Covered by the Beatles here in a 1964 recording that remained unreleased until 1995.

Rockabilly: Rusty York's 1957 cut Shake em Up Baby is my favorite York cut, probably influenced at some level by Roy Brown's Hip Shakin Baby.. Also, check out Tommy Blake's Flat Foot Sam shows Blake's talent as a rockabilly arranger, an overlooked talent for sure. His "Folding Money," recorded for Sun is also superb, wonderful guitar tone. Finally, blending nascent rock n' roll within a rockabilly framework is Jimmy Thomason's "Now Hear This," and his orchestra, simply a superb arrangement. Super guitar and sax solos from 1956. Finally, anytime I can find a way to work Grady Martin into the mix, well, check out Wayne Walkers' very unique "All I Can Do is Cry," with great work by Martin. Outstanding.

Western Swing: Hoyle Nix's Real Rockin Daddy is a classic Texas boogie arrangement. Excellent solos all the way around. Also, Curtis Gordon's Rock n' Roll Jump Jive demonstrates the fusion of boogie and western swing as they morph into rockabilly. Excellent cut.

Chicago Blues: Walkin by Myself by Jimmy Rogers from 1956 is an absolute classic of the crafted Chess sound, out of Chicago, mid fifties. Great vocals by Jimmy and an astonishing harp solo by Big Walter Horton. Also check out one of my all time favorites, Little Walter's "Last Night," an all time favorite that is unique among Walter's Chess recordings in that it lacks a harp solo. Louis Myers covers the space in perfect fashion.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Guitar Slim and the Origins of Electric Blues Guitar

Sorely missing from a post on New Orleans R&B artists that appeared last summer was the incredible work of Guitar Slim. Although originally from Mississippi, Eddie Jones or "Guitar Slim" made a name for himself in the thriving post WWII club scene in New Orleans in the late 1940's as a flashy onstage performer who used outlandish showmanship. Guitar Slim's early work is contemporaneous with T Bone Walker and Clarence Gatemouth Brown's, both of whom were establishing the groundwork for electric blues guitar in Houston at the Bronze Peacock Club and later recording for Don Robey's magnificent Peacock Records. Also, Johnny Guitar Watson and Lowell Fulson must be mentioned as early contributors to the nascent electric blues guitar sound, Fulson's early recordings on Chess and Watson's on the Keen label are seminal. Both, along with Guitar Slim, Walker and Gatemouth Brown, are the genuine pioneers of the electric blues guitar sound that was forged in the 1950's through these early recordings. I have been wanting to post on Guitar Slim for some time but only recently have his finest recordings, from the 1953-1954 period on the Specialty Label, been put up on youtube. His later recordings with the Atco label are yet to be shared. On these recordings one can appreciate Slim's hauntingly unique electric guitar style that would later inspire Earl Hooker, Buddy Guy, Albert Collins and and New Orleans guitarist Earl King, who also recorded for Specialty during the same time period. Finally, it's noteworthy that Stevie Ray Vaughn covered the Slim's best known recording, "The Things I used to Do," heard here.

Here is a nice sampling of of Guitar Slim's work from the early 1950's, almost all from the Specialty Label.

1) Twenty Five Lies- Wonderful full band New Orleans sound with hot tenor solo and great lyrics by Slim. Has a Jump Blues feel.

2) Quicksand - Great shuffle blues with fine sax solo followed by great guitar solo by Slim.

3) Somethin to Remember Me By - Classic slower blues with that distinct West Coast blues flaver. Outstanding vocals that anticipate soul that emerges in the early 1960s'. Very strong guitar solo.

4) Trouble Don't Last - Another slower blues with a tight orchestral accompaniment. UNique guitar solo with early use of amplified sound distortion, years before it became commonplace.

5) The Things I Used to Do - Wonderfully conceived recording with excellent horn section and a nice guitar lead. New Orleans style R&B with great vocals by Slim.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Echale Salsita: Cuba and the Roots of Salsa

While the 1920's saw the consolidation of jazz as a true American art form, the musical effervescence of Cuba gave rise to another lasting musical art form that endures today as an internationally recognized genre. Although the roots of "salsa" are difficult to pinpoint and speak to the complex interplay of African and Iberian musical forms, its initial recordings can be traced directly back to the decade of the twenties, a period characterized by active cultural interchange between the United States and Cuba. While Cuban music enriched the cultural landscape of the U. S., American influence allows for sugar monopolies and the dictatorship of Gerardo Machado in a climate of generalized corruption in Cuba, at the same time giving the island the sport of baseball, still venerated by most Cubans.

Most musicologists trace the origins of salsa to the Cuban Son, an African based music form that appears on the island in the nineteenth century. Perhaps the first exponent of salsa is the Afro Cuban bass player Ignacio Pineiro, who formed the famous Septeto Nacional in 1927 and performed with the group at the Apollo Theater and the Chicago World's Fair in 1933. It has been reported that he also recorded for Columbia Studios in the late 1920's, original recordings from the period are at a collector's premium. Noteworthy is that the origin of the name salsa - which now encompasses are rather wide range of styles from the Spanish speaking Caribbean - can be traced to the Pineiro composition "Echale Salsita, " roughly translated "spice it up." For a taste of the piquant sound, give a listen to this composition of the same song which appears to capture the spirit of the original sound. While the rhythms and percussion are identical to the more contemporary salsa sound, absent is the full orchestra sound that salsa incorporates as exchanges between American jazz musicians and Cuban musicians became more pronounced during the mambo craze of the 1950's. A more contemporary rendition of "Echale Salsita" can be heard here.

The explosion and popularity of salsa throughout the Caribbean and on the American music scene during the 1960's and 70's continues today and undoubtedly qualify it as form of American roots music of Cuban origins. Some have suggested that the term "salsa" actually speaks to the amalgam of Caribbean musical styles that coalesce in New York City after the great Puerto Rican, Cuban and Dominican immigration waves of the 1960's and seventies. Many great salsa artists have taken up residence in New York and performed in the flourishing dance scene in the city over the last few decades.

With the election of Obama, cultural exchanges between Cuba and the United States have been resumed to the levels they were enjoying during the Clinton years, a time that saw famous Cuban groups such as Los Van Van and Orquesta Aragon come to the U. S. to perform. This year, in memory of the legacy of Ignacio Pineiro and his marvelous Cuban roots music, the Septeto Nacional, which has not performed in the United States since the presidency of FDR, has been invited to return. The group is currently doing a tour of the U.S. and has performed in New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Chicago. Eugenio Rodriguez, the groups leader, is proud to be a part of the Pineiro legacy and bring it to U.S. audiences, a little "salsa" that has been lacking on the scene for too many years.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Forgotten Classics of Arkansas Rockabilly

As a result of some research on Arkansas rockabilly, a few months back I posted on some of the better known Arkansas rockabilly recording artists, a few of whom are have become veritable legends. Arkansas rockers Sleepy La Beef, Sonny Burgess, Ronnie Hawkins, Larry Donn and Pat Cupp are still with us and active and recently we lost the legendary Billy Lee Reilly. Yet some of the lesser known rockers from Arkansas who also made significant contributions to rockabilly have seen their work has fall into relative obscurity for any number of reasons.

What I have come to discover in my research on Arkansas rockabilly is that the state produced more than its share of of recording artists, well over fifty according to my research. Due to its geographical location and demographics, Arkansas was perfectly situated to produce to hybrid fusion of black rhythm and blues and country "honky tonk" sounds. Most of the musicians listed here are from the eastern, Delta region of the state, where the proximity to Memphis and the exposure to African American music, either through radio or direct contact would have been highest. Many would also have been influenced by Joe Manuel's Saturday Night Jamboree in Memphis, The Louisiana Hayride and Porter Wagner's Ozarks Jubilee in Springfield, Missouri. One interesting feature of Arkansas rockabilly seems to be the use of the piano, which is featured on the majority of the selections offered here. While many of these tracks have appeared in reissued rockabilly anthologies, no attempt to recognize their cohesion from a regional perspective has been offered.

1) Skeets McDonald was born in Greenway, Arkansas and was a prototypical rockabilly figure. Most of his work is rooted in "honky tonk," yet his sound anticipates the Bakersfield sound and has a distinct rockabilly feel. Check out "Fort Worth Jail" from 1958. Outstanding cut with fantastic piano solo.

2) Doug Poindexter: From Vandale, Arkansas is an important precursor to rockabilly and one of the earliest white Sun recording artists whose association with Scotty Moore, Bill Black and the Starlight Wranglers and Elvis has been documented. "My Kind of Carrying On," a historical Sun recording from from 1954, predates the rockabilly wave and shows Hank Williams influence.

3) Mack Self from West Helena is now a living rockabilly legend. Mack also recorded for Sun, his "Easy to Love" and Vibrate have become classics in the genre. Self still lives in West Helena.

4) Jimmy Lee Fautheree, from Smackover, Arkansas, home of Sleepy Labeef. Jimmy is best known for his work with Johnny Mathis, with whom he performed on the Louisiana Hayride and made several early recordings that were to foreshadow the rockabilly sound. Here he teams up with Mathis to perform the classic "Sweet Love on my Mind" later recorded by Johnny Burnette. Nice guitar work here by Jimmy.

5) Jimmy Evans from Mariana in eastern Arkansas is known for his association with Conway Twitty, Billy Lee Reilly and Mack Self during their Sun years. Jimmy's classic, "The Joints Really Jumpin" is a great example of late rockabilly from 1962. Jerry Lee Lewis influence is obvious. Also check out "What am I Gonna Do?" from the same period. Very nice cut.

6) Glen Garrison from Searcy, Arkansas recorded "Lovin Lorene" in 1958 and, according to Rockabillyville, a very reliable source, is now considered a rockabilly classic. Not much is known about Glen, who died at age thirty.

7) Bill Carter from Eagleton, Arkansas. Not much known about Carter but he did move in and out of country and rockabilly throughout the late 1950's. What we do have is outstanding. Carters remarkable "Cool Tom Cat" from 1960 on the small Ozark label must be hard to come by these days. Nice guitar solo and vocals. Also check out his wonderfully conceived "I Wanna Feel Good" from 1957, great guitar.

8) Al Coker from Conway is a unique figure; he is the father of recording female recording artist Alvadean Coker . Al recorded a few classic rockabilly numbers for Decca in the late 1950's. "Don't Go Baby" is his best known recording. Very nice electric guitar lead.

9) Roy Moss, from Plainview, Arkansas, got a spot on the Louisiana Hayride with help from Elvis. He then joined the rockabilly rave, making several recordings in the late 1950's, beginning with "You Don't Know My Mind" and "Your My Big Baby" from 1956 and then the well produced "Wiggle Walkin Baby" from 1958. Great cut.

10) Sonny Deckelman, from Harrisburg, Arkansas made several rockabilly recordings during the the late 50's and early 1960's. Sonny's "I've Got Love" is from 1959 and contains a classic rockabilly guitar solo.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

News on Two American Legends: James P. Johnson and Thelonious Monk

The history of American Jazz piano begins in the late nineteenth century with the advent of ragtime pianists, whose initial recordings in the 1920's helped to define the style that would merge with others to eventually crystallize into the definitive jazz sound. One of the transitional figures who advanced the linkage between the ragtime and the emerging jazz sound is stride piano legend James P. Johnson. In remembrance of his artistry, a small group of contemporary jazz musicians and enthusiasts gathered at the small West Village New York club Smalls to raise funds to purchase a headstone for Johnson's grave. Wonderful gesture by musicians and jazz fans alike.

Johnson's talents were multifaceted: composer of short pieces as well orchestral arrangements, technical wizard who integrates classical music into his hybrid style and innovator of the "stride style" that laid the groundwork for jazzier improvisations and whose influence on jazz legends like Duke Ellington should not be understated. Johnson's famous composition "The Charleston" helped define the decade of the Roaring Twenties in American Roots music. His well known "Carolina Shout" showcases his prodigious technical mastery in the stride piano style. Johnson's influence is simply fundamental to the development of American piano, his imprint on later greats like Eubie Blake, Art Tatum, Erroll Garner and Oscar Peterson is unmistakable. Johnson's influence on other disciples was even more direct. The stride pianists such as Fats Waller, the incredible Missouri born Ralph Sutton and also his contemporary Jelly Roll Morton and the "professor school" of New Orleans boogie woogie rooted piano are all deeply indebted to Johnson's innovations. Johnson was a prototypical artist whose pioneering piano conmpositions help to define American Roots music.

Another hugely influential force in American Jazz is Thelonious Monk, an enigmatic figure who shunned the limelight and retreated into seclusion to produce some of the most strikingly innovative compositions of American post war jazz. The complexities of the artist and the "aura of cryptic genius" that have surrounded Monk and made him almost as inaccessible as the peculiar harmonic language he created on piano, transforming him into an almost mythical figure in American Jazz are all explored extensively in a new biography by Robin D.G. Kelley entitled "Thelonios Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original." This biography has just been released and promises to be a fascinating read for fans of Monk and of American Jazz in general. Based on extensive interviews with surviving members of Monk's family, including his wife Nellie Monk, this biography promises to lift the shroud of mystery that has surrounded Monk since his explosion onto the jazz scene in the early days of Bebop. Drawing on diverse sources such as Monk's own LP collection, access to the writings of Monk's producer Teo Macero, manuscripts from his British patron, lover and longtime associate Baroness Panonica known as "Nica," and extensive interviews with those close to Monk make this long awaited contribution to jazz scholarship a must read for jazz enthusiasts. I can't wait to get my hands on it.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Hillbilly Boogie and Western Swing - A Few Classics

One of the more interesting strains of American Roots Music that advances the genesis of rockabilly is "Hillbilly Boogie." Related in many ways to Western Swing, this style's origin is rooted in boogie - woogie piano styles that take us back to Meade Lux Lewis in the 1920's and the broader popularity in the 1930's, spearheaded by Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons. By the 1940's, the Delmore Brothers had begun to embrace the boogie woogie style and helped launch its popularity among musicians recording in the country western music scene. At the same time, Western Swing was evolving along similar lines in Texas in Louisiana, and polka and some jazz based rhythms to the style. Both Hillbilly Boogie and Western Swing were essentially dance music genres whose popularity coincided wit the rise of honky tonk dance clubs in the south and western states. Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa, Oklahoma and it's association with Bob Wills is a legendary venue from the late 1930's, as are the famous California Western Swing Ballrooms: Venice Pier Ballroom of Spade Cooley fame, the Riverside Rancho and the Santa Monica Ballroom, all very popular in the late thirties up to through the end of the WW II.

Hillbilly Boogie is characterized by and upbeat tempo, steel guitar, traditional and electric guitar and, as in jazz, an allotted lead space for featured instruments. Many of the electric guitar solos here are outstanding examples of the convergence of jazz and country sounds. In contrast to later rockabilly, percussion is not present, heavy bass lines are. Collectors on youtube have been putting up a quite a bit of this fascinating style that predominated country music during the war years before the unique amalgamations of the 1950's emerged.

1) Tex Williams: A little humor and advice in Tex's style and the band is tight and top notch with a jazz based sound. Check out "Never Trust A Woman" from 1947. Great western swing guitar lead.

2) Jimmy Bryant and Speedy West: The famous duo is caught live here on a boogie number here. Jimmy has a searing guitar solo and Speedy follows suit. Nice piano too. Superb.

3) Johnny Lee Wills: Coyote Blues is a quintessential boogie woogie number by another of Bob's bothers.

4) Zeb Turner: No More Nothing is from the early 1950's and is a fantastic example of the hillbilly boogie sound featuring piano, steel guitar and electric guitar. Outstanding work here by one of the most important forerunners to rockabilly.

5) Moon Mullican: Cush Cush Ky Yay is a classic cajunesque boogie by the pianist Mullican, one of the kings of the genre who helped build the bridge to rockabilly and rock n' roll.

6) Red Smith/Luke McDaniel/Jeff Daniels: Whoa Boy is listed as a rockabilly number on youtube but I would classify it in the hillbilly boogie genre. Nonetheless, an outstanding number by Red, aka Luke McDaniel. Some very nice guitar work and vocals.

7) Eddie Hill: The Hot Guitar is an absolute gem of the genre with some outstanding guitar work in classic medley style imitation of some of the other greats in jazz and country. "Smilin Eddie" was a deejay who worked to advance the popularity of the style. Could be Hank Garland of guitar.

8) Luke Wills: Take Me Back live here with brother Bob.

9) Casey Simmons: Jukebox Boogie is an obscure cut in the genre with some great piano work.

10) Spade Cooley: Steel Guitar Rag is a classic instrumental by Spade, one of the founding fathers of Western Swing. Wonderful guitar break.

11) George Stogner: Hard Top Race, from the mid 1950's, is situated within the enormous "auto race" genre which is boogie with a real rockabilly feel. Very nice guitar and piano leads from this largely forgotten musician.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Top R&B Tenor Kings from the 1950's

The origins of the predominance of the guitar as the featured instrument in much of contemporary music is rooted in the birth of rock n' roll in the fifties, as rockabilly merged with R&B. As combos became smaller, the prevalence of wind instruments began to fade. Interestingly, before the emergence of the electric guitar in the combo setting, the saxophone was the considered the ax, and the original "cutting sessions" were actual bouts between both jazz and R&B tenor and alto players.
By the late 1940's, a fascinating diversification was taking place in African American music that coincided with the onset of be bop and hard bop in jazz circles. Two different tracks began to bifurcate: be bop or hard bop, which was seen as the experimental track was shadowed by the increasing popularization of R&B based groups also rooted in jazz, many of which formed the instrumental backing of the Jump Blues phenomenon discussed in a previous post. What is particularly interesting is that some musicians, and many very talented saxophone players, moved in and out of both R&B and Bop oriented combos with facility. Some of the great players of the late 1940's and early 1950's such as Johnny Griffin, Arnett Cobb, Illinois Jacquet, Gene Ammons, Teddy Edwards, Harold Land, Jack Mcvea, Jimmy Forrest, Benny Golson, Earl Bostic, Hank Mobley , Clifford Jordan and Pervis Hensen could all move in and out of bop and R&B formats with equal fluency, and could also work with equal ease on ballads. In a sense, these players were drawing from the blues/ballad tradition established by Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster and extending themselves into bop material that Charlie Parker and Dexter Gordon were popularizing in the late 1940s. Most of the aforementioned players moved into more bop related material as the fifties progressed, yet most still laid down some wonderful R&B arrangements on occasion.

In this post I would like to foreground some of the fantastic sax players who worked primarily in R&B during the same period. On some of these recordings one can hear some of the raunchiest, most raucous sax solos in the history of R&B from the heyday of the great R&B bands. Also, it could be said that these players lay the groundwork for the later work of King Curtis, Junior Walker and Eddie Harris. I do think this is a somewhat incomplete offering however, some of the best work from Sil Austin and Big Jay McNeely from this period are simply not available. That said, many thanks to the collectors on youtube.

1) Buddy Johnson with Pervis Henson on saxophone. This great tune, Down Yonder from 1949, in a big band setting, has an authentic R&B flavor with a great sax solo by Henson.

2) Joe Houston and his Orchestra: Houston recorded with greats Big Joe Turner and Amos Milburn. His Sand Storm from 1951 is another absolutely fabulous R&B based number with Houston laying down some unbelievable smooth and raucous blowing. A true gem of the genre that goes a little outside. Also, check ot Joe's All Night Long from 1955. Outstanding.

3) Red Prysock: Jump Red Jump is a classic from 1954 and really showcases Prysock's extraordinary talent in the R&B genre. A true headcutter, Prysock's playing is legendary.

4) Marvin Phillips: Mamo Mamo from 1955 is a unique tune that combines a Jump Blues feel with jive like vocals. Great tenor solo here by West Coast R&B legend Maxwell Davis.

5) Jimmy Forrest: Jimmy is best known for his 1952 hit Night Train. Here, on Blue Groove Jimmy lays down a slow R&B masterpiece. Unbelievably tight riffing and tone, sets up the King Curtis sound to come later. Absolutely top notch recording with only 68 views on youtube.

6) T. J. Fowler: Back Bite from 1951 is a very obscure recording but a real gem of the genre, great playing here in a more classic blues format.

7) Bill Doggett: Rum Bunk Shush is from a few years later, probably 1956 or 1957. Doggett is best known for his classic crossover hit Honky Tonk but here sax ace Percy France really tears loose and lays down some wonderfully tight R&B sax.

8) Willis "Gator"Jackson: Later Gator is a wonderfully tough 1957 R&B instrumental. Incredible playing here. Shuckin is later, from the early 1960's off the Prestige LP "Really Groovin." This is a jazzier arrangement with the great Tommy Flanagan on piano and the unbelievable Kenny Burrell on guitar. Jackson shows his mastery of the genre on the extended lead time.

9) Big Jay McNeely Jay made some premium recording for Savoy and King back in the late 1950's and this cut"Ice Water" probably comes from that period. Career spans over fifty years. Very nice sound, McNeely has made a comeback since the 1980s and is still playing today.

10) Jimmy Liggins: Cadillac Boogie from 1954. This is really more of a Jump Blues tune but the incredible Harold Land takes this R&B sound outside a little as he shows his versatility.