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.