Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Few More Roots Favorites

As a monthly interlude between more focused posts I have been including "Roots Favorites" as a way to post and briefly discuss a few great roots tunes that to date have not fallen neatly into other posts. I generally choose two or three representative songs from the different genres and briefly comment on them. I spent a good deal of time pouring over youtube looking for cuts I consider to be of high quality and believe me, I listen to a whole lot of material that is quite good but the ones I include here are some of the finest I have heard. It's remarkable how much new material is being put up on a daily basis on youtube, but there continue to be gaps. While there is a noticeable scarcity of urban blues records (78's and 45's) from the fifties, rockabilly, early rock n' roll and country swing material seems to grow daily. There probably is a good reason for this. Quite a few of the selctions here are from artists I have yet to mention on this blog, others are more familiar names.

Country Blues: I have been a fan of Piedmont Blues guitarist Blind Boy Fuller for years, and his classic "Step it up and Go" from 1940 is a tune often covered by country musicians such as Big Jeff, here. Also, Elizabeth Cotton and her unique left-handed approach are a genuine national treasure. Her "Wilson Rag" is preceded by an interview with Pete Seeger.

Urban Blues: Magic Sam's well known "21 Days in Jail" on the Cobra label from 1958 is indicative of the new trends in Chicago blues during the late 1950's. Outstanding vocals and guitar. Texas born, Pee Wee Crayton makes a name for himself in California in the 1940's and 50's, following the lead of T- Bone Walker. This recording "Do Unto Others" from 1954 on Imperial is outstanding and showcases his talent as a guitarist and vocalist. Great backup band.

Rhythm And Blues: Junior Parker's recording with Sun date to the earliest years of Sam's empire. This 1957 Sun recording, "Next Time You See Me" is a fantastically conceived R&B tune with an outstanding supporting cast. Memphis Slim's "Got To Find My Baby " is a blues number with an R&B feel, outstanding vocals and sax solo. Finally, a jump blues classic by Jimmy Liggins and his band from 1954: "Boogie Woogie King." Superb.

Rockabilly: After listening to many hundreds of rockabilly recordings over the years this one just sticks in my mind as one of the very, very finest. Sid King's 1956 recording "Gonna Shake This Shack Tonight" is early rockabilly before the echo craze but man this one has a natural backbeat that won't quit and Sid's voice is unmatched. Another favorite is Bill Mack's 1956 "Cat Just Got in Town," which is full of the attitude, symbols and language so representative of a rockabilly musician in 1956. Finally this incredible cut by Louisiana cat Tommy Blake: "All Night Long" from 1958. This one has a distinctly Louisiana feel and some wonderful guitar work.

Western Swing: Some would classify these cuts as rockabilly but for me they are really more akin to Country Swing. "Whoa Boy" was recorded by Luke McDaniel before he signed on with Sun to record some great rockabilly. Red Smith does a very nice cover of the same song here. Also check out the incredible "Country Cattin" by Jimmy Swan. Finally, in a bit more of a boogie vein is Tommy Sosebee's "All Nite Boogie." Very nice guitar and pedal steel work here.

Jazz: Tenor sax ace Don Byas is one of those players who lived through the transition from swing to Bebop and on into modern jazz. It's often forgotten just how many great jazz musicians came out of Oklahoma. Don's "One O'clock Jump" from the late 1940's is classic bop and Erroll Garner's piano work is sublime, as is Byas. Superb. Also very impressive is Ahmad Jamal's ethereal rendition of "Darn Tha Dream" from 1959. Extra cool and smooth.

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