Saturday, October 23, 2010

Looking Back at Some Classic Specialty Rhythm and Blues Reissues

Specialty Records was one of the great labels of the late forties through the fifties documenting the classic jump blues and gospel of the time and the emergence of rock’n’roll. These reviews appeared as a composite review back in the April 1994 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 190).I have updated the review to include the CD title in the body of the review and other info as apprpriate. The Wyonna Carr is currently available on amazon as a download or CD, the Camille Howard is available used or as a download while the Lloyd Price reissue may be difficult to find.

Three more reissues from the Specialty catalog make some classic 50’s rhythm and blues available. While none of these might be termed indispensable, the releases by the women, Camille Howard and Wyonna Carr, are particularly valuable in making available recordings by some of the women who have been unrepresented in such reissues.

Lloyd Price should be familiar from his highly successful recording career, starting with Lawdy Miss Clawdy that was recorded at his first Specialty session with Dave Bartholomew’s band which included Fats Domino, Ernest McLean, Herb Hardesty and Earl Palmer. This collection, Vol. 2 Heavy Dreams, is the second collection of Price’s Specialty recordings and includes a couple of songs from the March 1952 session that produced Lawdy Miss Clawdy (including an alternate take of Chee Koo Baby), and surveys his recording career for Specialty which ended in April 1956. Most of these sessions were recorded in New Orleans with many of the same musicians, except other pianists replaced Domino while Lee Allen’s booting sax is added to some of the later recordings. Much of this is stomping R&B, full of that Crescent City Bounce with Earl Palmer riding the cymbals while rocking out a second line rhythm, and some is Roy Brown influenced blues although by the time of his last session, some of the songs clearly are oriented to the rock and roll market, for which he would have many hits on for his own labels and ABC-Paramount. Most of the Specialty hits are on the earlier collection.Generally this is solid stuff, although there are a few lesser titles here.

Best remembered as Roy Milton’s pianist, and sometimes vocalist, Camille Howard was a formidable member of Milton’s Solid Senders, one of the more popular and influential rhythm and blues groups of the late forties. She sang on several of Milton’s hits, and made a number of recordings under her own name on Specialty, many with Milton and members of the Solid Senders. Many are included on Vol.1 Rock Me Daddy, the first album devoted to her music. She is still alive (actually when I wrote this, this was not true as she passed in March 1993 at the age of 79), although her current religious affiliation leads her to be reticent in talking about the rhythm and blues heyday. Camille Howard certainly was an excellent boogie woogie pianist, on a level with Sammy Price, Lloyd Glenn, and, dare I suggest, Jay MacShann. Her clean, deft touch helped her providing an easy rocking, solid foundation for her recordings, and those with Roy Milton. A relaxed singer, she handles the easy going blues and jump tunes along with ballads. Compared to Hadda Brooks, her vocals on ballads and torch songs strike me as less melodramatic, although I have only heard a smattering of Brooks’ recordings. The 25 recordings here are solid performances and makes this more than simply a fine supplement to the two Roy Milton collections on Specialty. (Specialty did issue a subsequent compilation of her recordings, X-Temporaneous Boogie, and of course she can be heard on those classic Roy Milton jump blues, also on Specialty. She was truly a wonderful pianist and singer).

Cleveland native, Wyonna Carr, originally recorded for Specialty as a gospel singer, enjoying some success with The Ball Game. In 1955 she convinced Specialty’s owner, Art Rupe, to record her on pop material. Jump Jack Jump! brings together 23 of her pop tunes along with one gospel song. The opening three songs, the title cut, the rocking ;Till the Well Runs Dry, and Boppity Bop (Boogity Boog), shows that Specialty at first envisioned her as their answer to Ruth Brown and LaVern Baker, while Hurt Me, sounds like an effort to capture the sound of the Platters, and It’s Rainin’ Outside, has a strong gospel flavor. Her rendition of Should I Ever Love Again is a nice version of a ballad some will associate with New Orleans’ singer Tommy Ridgely, and probably her biggest record. Carr was a strong songwriter as well as a fine singer, and certainly of her many songs these hold up as well as some of the better known hits of the times. Her Please Mr. Jailer where she entreats him to treat her man all right, is fairly memorable as is her clever lyrics on the perky Nursery Rhyme Rock. Most of these were produced by Art Rupe or Bumps Blackwell, although some later sides were produced by Sonny Bono. Some of Bono’s songs such as, I’m Mad at You, are forgettable. For a variety of reasons including lack of luck, her career never took off, and she did not have a rhythm and blues smash. After Specialty, she recorded an album for Reprise Records, and eventually moved back to Cleveland. Billy Vera mentions she suffered depressive periods, and ‘retreated into her shell and faded from sight.’ When she died in 1976, she generally had been forgotten, but this collection will certainly generate a reassessment of her music. (Specialty also reissued a fine album of her gospel sides that is well worth checking out.)

For FTC purposes, Fantasy Records sent me the review copies of these.

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