Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Legendary Maxwell Davis Was A Wailin' Daddy.

One of the unjustly forgotten giants of post-war rhythm and blues was the late Maxwell Davis. Its been about four decades since the tenor saxophonist, composer and arranger passed away and his legacy is quite substantial and those that remember him speak at times in awe of his musical genius. The late Jerry Leiber was quoted, “… Maxwell Davis … I doubt if you’ve ever heard that name — but Maxwell Davis made records, he was the quiet producer / arranger for the Mesner Brothers at Aladdin; the BIhari Brothers at Modern and Art Rupe at Specialty. Maxwell Davis must have made a hundred hits, not 12 or 17. And nobody knows who Maxwell Davis is.” The quote os from Dave Penny’s liner essay to a new three CD compilation devoted to Maxwell Davis, Wailin’ Daddy: The Best of Maxwell Davis 1945-1959. This reissue is part of The Architects of Rock’N’Roll series on Fantastic Voyage. One CD is devoted to recordings under Davis’ own name, and the other two to recordings he played on during the forties and the fifties. On the latter two there are ,mostly obscure collaborations by Davis. There is a follow-up volume planned that hopefully will include many of the greatest of the hundred hits, although with impending changes to European copyright law that may not happen.

As indicated, Disc One is devoted to recordings made under Maxwell Davis’ name and display the same authority on tenor that those familiar with his solos behind T-Bone Walker, Amos Milburn, Percy Mayfield and others know. Davis had a fat tone and could have a slight bit of honk in his sound but also play with a warmth on a ballad. If he had toured and not been a hired gun for countless sessions, one suspects he could have been as big as some of the best known rhythm and blues tenor saxophonists of his time. And of course on the blues, his solos still sound timeless. Under his name he had a coupling of Lonesome Road Blues and Honey Dripper that featured vocalist Marion Nichols. Then there is the driving honk of the swinging Hung Out, or a session co-led with alto saxophonist September in the Rain, where his playing exhibits elements of the approaches of both Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins. There is the 2AM mode of Belmont Special, a lively instrumental cover of Hank Williams’ Hey, Good Lookin’, and Blue Shuffle, an instrumental reconstruction of Lloyd Price’s Lawdy Miss Clawdy.

The second CD includes 28 selections of him in a sideman role, opening with an instrumental from a Helen Humes date and ending with Amos Milburn’s Pot Luck Boogie. There is shouter Jo Jo Adams singing Hard Headed Woman Blues, while Helen Humes delivers the swing-jive It’s Better To Give Than Receive. There is Davis as part of Charles Mingus Sextet, wailing behind Gene Phillips on Big Legs, and less familiar recordings from Crown Prince Waterford, Lloyd Glenn and Gatemouth Brown. Then his tenor enlivens Joe Turner (with Pete Johnson on piano) on Don’t Talk Me To Death, a reworking of the classic boogie woogie Roll ‘Em Pete, as well as Pete Johnson’s Half Tight Boogie that has the great boogie woogie and blues pianist more to the front before Davis takes a terrific solo. On on this second disc are a Jimmy Witherspoon jump blues, early Lowell Fulson, and Davis on a date led by drummer Lee Young, Lester’s brother.

The third disc opens with Calvin Boze’s bouncy jump blues Waiting and Drinking, and closes with Little Willie Littlefield’s K.C. Loving (titled here Kansas City after the later Wilbert Harrison hit). Others on this include Floyd Dixon in his Amos Milburn vein in a duet with Mari Jones, Real Lovin’ Mama; Helen Humes handling He May Be Yours with Davis and a hot big band; and Joe Liggins with Going Back To New Orleans. Davis had played on Ellis Walsh’s original. He could fit in on such different sessions as an atmospheric instrumental by Red Callendar, the relatively unsophisticated blues of Peppermint Harris and the suave, modern jazzy blues of T-Bone Walker. A session with Mabel Scott produced the blues that gives this compilation its title and then he can be heard soloing behind June Christy and Ray Anthony. Less surprising is his work behind Jimmy Nelson on Cry Hard Luck, and Percy Mayfield for Loose Lips. Dave Penny notes his close association with Davis, noting that he set Mayfield’s poetic lyrics to music. While only one B.B. King recording is included, Davis was responsible for most of King’s recordings until the late sixties. There is also Cordella De Milo’s I Ain’t Gonna Hush, an answer to Joe Turner’s Honey Hush, with slashing Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson guitar, a track from Louis Jordan, and also Young Jessie and George ‘Harmonica’ Smith.

Even though most of these selections are ‘obscure,’ there is a consistency of quality and throughout Davis leaves a strong imprint from his strong saxophone and his arrangements where heard. Certainly anyone who loves jump blues and where the blues and jazz idioms intersect will enjoy this. The only possible quibble is the lack of session personnel. Dave Penny’s perceptive liner essay adds to the value provided by the music. This is an important reissue and hopefully there will be a follow-up of his better known recordings.

This was a purchase. Here from You Tube is one of the recordings that can be found on Wailin' Daddy.


Phil Wight said...

looks like a good one Ron

Dave Penny said...

Wonderful review, Ron; thank you very much for your kind words. I hope that this set will sell well enough to enable me to persuade the record company to expand the series with further overviews of obscure and not-so-obscure "architects of rock 'n' roll" - if it does, the next one up will be King Curtis...

Phil Wight said...

looks like a good un - I tried already to post a comment - doesn't seem to have worked