Friday, September 25, 2009

American Roots Music in Europe: A Surprise Finding

Most jazz fans are well aware of the expatriation factor, the movement of American jazz musicians from the United States to Europe during the 1950's and 60's. Following the lead of the Lost Generation whose obligatory jaunts to Paris have fueled many a Ph.D dissertation, jazz musicians also found life in Europe more accommodating and a public considerably more appreciative of their talents. Literally dozens: Kenny Drew, Dexter Gordon, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter just to name a few of the greats, made the move locales such as Paris, Copenhagen and Stockholm, and never regretted it. The many sociological factors that motivated this movement are amply documented in Bill Moody's well researched study; "The Jazz Exiles: American Musicians Abroad," reviewed here.

Europe's fascination with American Roots Music runs deep and as I mentioned in a previous post, Spain has most recently become smitten with rockabilly. I recently discovered a function on youtube that confirmed some of what I had always heard anecdotally about the love for rockabilly musicians in Europe. The youtube fuction is "statistics and data" which appears above the listeners comments. A simple click on this function provides a most illuminating map, indicating in which particular countries the recording is most often accessed and listened to. Upon discovery of this fascinating function I immediately proceeded to check some rockabilly musicians from the 1950's whose music has essentially been lost in obscurity here in the United States. What I was able to glean without too much difficulty is a rather astonishing fact: Sweden is probably the world's most fanatical rockabilly nation. For example, and there are many more to corroborate this observation, the case of Carl Mann, a Sun and Jaxon recording artist who enjoyed a fairly strong following in his heyday here in the states back in the 1950's. Check out Carl's "Pretend" recorded for Sun in the fifties and check out the map. Do the same for his "Gonna Rock and Roll" Just to confirm this is not an isolated case, take a look at a more canonical artist like Carl Perkins and his well known "Matchbox." More interest in the U.S yes, probably as much related to the Beatles cover of the song than Carl's talent - yet the interest in Scandinavia, particularly Sweden is exceptionally strong. Also look at Ronnie Self, largely forgotten in the U.S. Ronnie's great tune "Flame of Love" is another example of the same interest in Sweden. Joe Clay, Gene Summers, Billy Lee Riley and Ronnie Dawson provide more evidence, and there is much more.

While researching the small, unknown and long since defunct Vaden label from Trumann, Arkansas I ran across this fascinating article that also speaks to Sweden's love affair with American rockabilly from the 1950's. Perhaps the question that remains is: why Sweden?
While I don't have a definitive answer, I do believe it is related to Sweden's use of its national budget to support the arts and radio programs tha feature American Roots Music and the Swede's tradition of embracing American Jazz musicians that dates to the 1950's.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Rockabilly Guitar Solo Gems: The 1950's

The unique sound forged by rockabilly musicians became so contagious by 1957 that most country and western musicians were drawn at least temporarily into the rave that had become nothing short of a full blown cultural phenomenon. Country swing musician who had already dabbled in jazzier boogie woogie rhythms were also drawn into the vortex, and their jazz influenced guitar work left a distinctive imprint of several rockabilly recordings. In fact, the electric guitar solo itself, usually spaced after the second vocal verse, becomes a distinctive feature of rockabilly's two to three minute bursts of R&B inspired energy. Aside from the select few rockabilly guitarists whose fame is already assured: Cliff Gallup, Grady Martin, Scotty Moore, James Burton, Al Casey, Ralph Roe, Hank Garland and Larry Adair, many of the guitarists that are showcased on the recordings here are unknown and have remained in total obscurity today. Whenever possible, I have included the featured guitarists, but in several cases information about particular musicians is simply unavailable. I assembled this collection of classic rockabilly guitar solos after spending considerable time listening to solos attentively for sound quality, fluidity, and overall fit or contribution to the song's integrity. Enjoy these gems of 50's rockabilly, They constitute a truly unique and pivotal slice in the evolution of the electric guitar. Once again, many thanks again to the collectors on youtube who make this possible.

1) Harvey Hurt: "Big Dog Little Dog," is a completely obscure gem by Harvey who was probably from northern Kentucky or southern Ohio. The sound seems to indicate late rockabilly, probably 1960 or 61. The guitar work is simply extraordinary, the jazz influenced playing is obvious. Unknown player.

2) Sammy Masters: "Whop T Bop" from 1956. Sammy was from guitar rich Oklahoma and true to the region he conflated jazz with his own unique brand of rockabilly. His guitar player, Ralph Roe, is absolutely on fire on this gem, jazz and be bob like Charlie Christian runs are heard throughout.

3) Coldy Coldiron: "Rockin Spot" from 1956. This is a sizzling rock n' roll based number with a red hot guitar solo, but also listen to the guitar comping throughout. Exceptional. Totally obscure.

4) Wes Holly: This gem, "Shufflin Shoes," is a great example of the confluence of country swing and rockabilly that was in full swing by the mid 1950's. From Iowa, Wes was a successful country swing musician drawn to rockabilly's irresistible rhythms.

5) Gene Vincent: "Who Slapped John?" Gene gives Cliff Gallop plenty of space on this one, a two part lead in fact. Remarkable phrasing and tone by Cliff, one of the true greats of the decade.

6) Del Reeves: "My Baby Loves to Rock" is a classic, echo laden rockabilly cut with a horn section. The short guitar solo is classic in tone and economy. Very nice cut by Del, primarily known for success in country music.

7) Bash Hofner: "Rockin and a Bopin" has a unique chord structure for rockabilly and the guitar solo is in two parts and extended. Very fluid, jazz like playing here on this gem of Texas rockabilly. Altogether, a fascinating cut. Unknown guitar work.

8) Wolf Opper: "Stompin to the Beat." Another unique arrangement with a very sweet guitar solo by a totally obscure deejay. Unknown session guitarist.

9) Bob Temple: "Vim Vam Vamoose" is another peculiar rockabilly recording that incorporates elements of the jazz jive sound with a short but searing guitar solo with great tone. Not much known about Temple, unknown guitarist.

10) Jack Lewis and the Americans: "Tood A Lou " is another classic crazed and frenetic rockabilly cut with the echo turned up full throttle. Also a classic because of the guitar solo by legend Eddie Cochran is excellent in tone and style. Not much known about Lewis, other than his work with Cochran.

11) Don "Red" Roberts: "Only One. " Absolutely classic rockabilly from 1957 with a wonderfully conceived guitar break. Great energy on this obscure recording, unknown guiatrist.

12) Gene Maltais: Gene's first recording"Crazy Baby" for the famous Decca label is raw unbridled rockabilly energy at its best. Guitar solo by legendary Hank Garland is superb, it has has typical phrasing and fine tone and fits the feel of the song perfectly.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Few More Roots Favorites

This time of the month this feature appears on the blog and allows me a bit more latitude to include artists from different genres I am in the process of researching to be included in future posts. I also try to include material that has not been featured in previous posts but that probably will show up at some point in the future as part of a more focused post. Also, I wanted to thank the new folowers to the blog, I appreciate your following and it serves as an inspriration to continue to post material that is usually not found in other similar music blogs.

Jazz: Hard not to be a fan of the "Jug," Gene Ammons. Gene really did have one of the smoothest and blusiest tenor sounds among jazz tenor players in the 1950's and 60's. Here he showcases his skills on the popular ballad "It Might as Well be Spring" accompanied by John Coltrane on alto and Mal Waldron on piano, probably from the early 1960's. Another old favorite is the octave king of jazz guitar, Wes Montgomery, playing "Jingles" here in a trio setting. Very smooth.

R&B: The 1950's produced so much quality R&B that there is an almost endless supply of quality material to choose from. Chuck Willis, primarily known for penning his famous C. C. Rider, is superb in his "I Rule My House," delivered in a jump blues format from 1956. I'ts also hard to keep Hank Ballard's 1956 classic "Look at Little Sister" out of this mix, a marvelous number with an astonishingly crisp guitar break, popularized by Stevie Ray Vaughn's cover in the 1980s.

Rockabilly: Also a wealth of material to choose from and more emerging all the time. Ersel Hickey cut some very strong material in the mid to late 1950's, as evidenced here by his "Going Down that Road" from 1958. Also, Red Sovine, principally renowned for his success in country music, lays down some tough rockabilly here on "Juke Joint Johnny" on the Decca label from 1956. Wonderful guitar. Also, listen to the incredible Billy Barrix on "Cool Off Baby" from 1957 and think again about all those rockin' cats who Alvin Lee was paying homage to in his searing Woodstock piece "I'm Going Home" with Ten Years After.

Country Blues: It doesn't get much better than live video of the almost legendary Big Bill Broonzy, doing an amazing version of "Hey Hey," probably from the early 1960's. What a right thumb! Also live is Texas National Steel guitar king the Black Ace, here.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Black Rockabilly?

In several previous post last spring considerable attention was given to the forays rockabilly musicians made into the the world of black R&B musicians, borrowing both musical techniques and extensively covering R&B material as they went about forging the rockabilly sound. One outgrowth of the surge in popularity of rockabilly recordings after 1955 that has not been received attention is how black R&B musicians responded to the ascendant popularity of rockabilly. With the exception of the Chuck Berry, whose material draws from country and R&B traditions and exemplifies the hybridness that was to become "rock 'n roll, not much at all has been written about black musicians in the 1950's who dabbled in rockabillysque recordings. Perhaps the best example of this is Berry's iconic 1955 hot rod hit Maybelline , which seems to be derivative of the of fiddler Russ Fratto's "Ida Red," popularized by Bob Wills in 1938. While not exactly rockabilly in a pure sense, Chuck seems to be nodding to that dimension of American Roots music in this classic hit.

While the term "black rockabilly" may seem oxymoronic on the surface, there are some great examples of 1950's recordings that demonstrate a conscious attempt to at least incorporate certain elements of the essence of the rockabilly style. And although it might be said that these recordings are not typical nor pure rockabilly, and that they are really more akin to R&B material, a close listening will reveal that they do possess some fascinating features, some of which are very close to rockabilly. Whether these musicians were motivated by the potential for success in the style or by the style itself remains unknown. Some of the recordings, like Roy Brown's "Hip Shakin Baby" have become collectors items owing to their uniqueness, and the sheer scarcity of black musicians who recorded in the rockabilly style. This list is probably not complete, and the unavailability of G. L. Crockett's "Look Out Mabel" and Roscoe Gordon's "Sally Jo" on youtube leaves a somewhat incomplete picture. That said, enjoy these unique recordings I have been to locate and comment on.

Roy Brown: Brown is best known for his R&B and Jump Blues recordings but his Imperial recording of "Hip Shakin Baby" from 1956 is included in rockabilly anthologies and really does exude the style in the echo vocals and piercing guitar. Excellent.

Ray Sharpe: Roy's incredible recordings from the late 1950's are influenced by country music and have the feel of rockabilly and are brilliantly conceived. Check out his incredible "Linda Lu" from 1959. Very nice guitar work. Also check out his "Monkey's Uncle." Superb.

The Cues: Generally classified as a pure R&B group,this forgotten group from the 1950's recorded some great R&B, some of which has the feel of rockabilly. The echo like sound and twangy guitar lend to this feel on "Killer Diller" and "Cracker Jack." Very nice sound.

Young Jessie: Generally classified as rock n' roll, Jessie recorded some Doo Wop material as well as a few songs that have the feel of rockabilly. Check out "Hit Git n Split" from 1956 and the incredible "I Smell a Rat." Guitar has a distinctly rockabilly feel.

Mickey and Sylvia: This fascinating R&B duo is generally not associated with anything close to rockabilly. That said, their recording "No Good Lover" has the energy and style of many of the rockabilly recordings from the same period. Great guitar solo.

Junior Parker: Love My Baby is a R&B Sun recording from 1953 that I had to include because it was so influential on subsequent rockabilly recordings. Also, the guitar, in sound and style, sets up the rockabilly style to follow.

Big Al Downing: Big Al is typically known as a black musicians who was successful in the country idiom during the 1960s. Al's 1958 recording "Down on the Farm" combines the raucous style of rock n' roll in a rockabilly format. Excellent recording. Some of Al's later recordings are pure rockabilly.