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.