Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Nashville's Hidden Rhythm and Blues History

Nashville’s rich rhythm and blues history has been obscured by the emergence of the city as the country music capital. The following lengthy review appeared in the January 2008 Jazz & Blues Calendar (Issue 300) and all of these albums are available, although one may have to purchase mp3 versions of one of them. I was sent review copies of these from the publication.

SPV Blue is continuing its releases of recordings that document the rich rhythm and blues history of Nashville. The reissues of some classic and some rare recordings as well as some more contemporary recordings show that Music City produced more than simply country music.

Bullet Records Rhythm & Blues is the second reissue of the important Nashville label, this was focusing more on jump blues and blues shouters. In fact it opens with four selections by one of the greatest shouters, Wyonnie Harris and in addition to his vocals, these recordings include the first recordings of pianist Herman ‘Sonny’ Blount (better known as Sun Ra). Fred James speculates that its tenor saxophonist Buddy Tate’s band backing Max Bailey whose tune includes an exhortation to the troops on Drive Soldiers Drive. Alto saxophonist Sherman Williams’ selections feature pianist-shouter Skippy Brooks who would later be a mainstay in Nashville for Excello, and singing six strong tracks including Baby Don’t You Want to Go, a reworking of Kokomo Blues, a song that was the model for Sweet Home Chicago. Two tracks by The Bobby Plater Orchestra feature members of Lionel Hampton’s Orchestra backing a young Rufus Thomas, while Doc Wiley’s two tracks include a hot jump instrumental and the more philosophical Play Your Hand with Wiley’s strong piano and nice vocal. A few cuts are more in the vein of Mills Brothers styled harmony, and fill out what is a pretty exceptional reissue that will be of special interest to fans of blues shouters.

The Rogana Story: Hossman’s Blues compiles a number of blues tracks that legendary Nashville dee-jay and record producer, William ‘Hoss’ Allen produced, mostly which were licensed to other labels. The material here is very blues based and features both some Nashville recordings and Muscle Shoals sides. The Nashville sides often feature guitarist Johnny Jones who leads what are The Beat Boys (tied into the legendary TV show that Allen produced and emceed and who also included bassist Billy Cox). Vocalists Sam Baker and Dottie Clark (terrific on All Woman) benefit from Jones’ stinging playing. The tracks by The Beat Boys include not only Jones’ fiery fretwork but also the famed steel guitarist Pete Drake playing through a Leslie cabinet. Finger Lickin’ is particularly outstanding selection of deep in the alley blues guitar. Jimmy Stuart, trumpeter at the time with B.B. King, plays downhome blues harp on a couple selections (Sit and Beg My Baby has a nice soulful vocal) as well as on an instrumental duet with Elvis guitarist Scotty Moore. Gatemouth Brown was recorded by Allen (he was featured on Allen’s The Beat TV show) and is Have You Ever Been Mistreated is a fine blues. Also outstanding is Johnny Copeland’s Ain’t Nobody’s Business. Several other selections feature vocalist Art Grayson (singing in a deep soul vein) while the last selection is Hoss Allen’s tribute to Martin Luther King, He Went to the Mountain Top. A nice collection of blues and southern soul that is quite entertaining.

The Champion Records Story; Volume 2 Rockin’ R&B, perhaps brings together more pop and R&B flavored recordings than the other reissues here. Champion was one the labels associated with the legendary Ted Jarrett. Jimmy Beck opens things with three instrumentals with the opening Pipe Dreams suggesting perhaps a bit of a ska groove, while Nightmare. Johnny Jones was on guitar on these and other tracks. Little Ike comes across as a Little Richard copycat on She Can Rock, while Larry Birdsong’s somewhat forgettable Scooter Poopin’ predates his Vee-Jay days. Earl Gaines is still around and is heard on three rocking sides, while Chuck Harrod & the Anteaters have a rockabilly flavor to them especially on They Wanna Fight, and Crawdad Hole. Al ‘Murfreesboro’ Garner handles the lead on Oh My Love with doo wop backing. Don Q’s Band with Clenest Gant harken back to earlier jump blues with a rocking Hallelujah and Jump Jump Hi Ho. Joyce Paul’s two tracks are sorta of minor league Ruth Brown styled recordings, while Sandra Meade is a good singer with in a nice rendition of Fever. This closes with Baker Knight’s rocking Bring My Cadillac Back, as his baby ran off with his Cadillac. Nice booting sax solo on this and a simple rock groove. An interesting slice of music perhaps, but the least interesting of these reissues.

The last of these discs is an excellent collection of recent recordings that Fred James has produced, The Champions of R&B. James produced recordings and tours by these artists and the selections are ‘leftovers’ I guess, but that should not imply any musical shortcomings on any of the tracks issued here. The material is a nice mix of straight blues and southern soul ballads. Roscoe Gordon opens with a rocking She’s the One with some nice use of the whammy bar on the guitar while guitarist James Nixon’s One More Chance is strong deep soul as is Freddie Waters rendition of the Dan Penn/Spooner Oldham It Tears Me Up. Johnny Jones is likely the guitarist on Charles Walker’s terrific Monkey Blues with Jones’ playing complimenting Walker's gospel-tinged singing. I was unfamiliar with Larry LaDon, but the terrific Living on Borrowed Time is a great performance on a song that evokes some of Albert King’s recordings. LaDon has a vocal style closer to Junior Parker than B.B. King and more good guitar here. Johnny Jones’ Girlfriend’s Blues has Johnny in consternation after discovering his woman has another lover, “my girlfriend has a girlfriend too.” Earl Gaines’ A Fool’ Advice is a solid ballad with a philosophical tone while Al Garner’s marvelous Gonna Stop Drinkin’ also benefits from some wonderful T-Bone Walker styled guitar. Altogether there are 18 tracks here that are at least good and mostly exceptional. With about 76 minutes of music, this i also good value. While Roscoe Shelton and Freddie Waters are no longer with us, others still are and plans are in the works for organizing another touring revue by these acts. If they come to a town near you, I would suggest you catch these musical giants and in the meantime, do check this wonderful CD out.

Since I originally wrote this Johnny Jones also passed on and some others may have too.

Here is the great Earl Gaines from the legendary TV show The Beat!!! (available on DVD from Bear Family) doing 24 Hours a Day

Here is some Roscoe Shelton found on youtube.

Finally Johnny Jones with gatemouth Brown from The Beat!!!

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