Fantastic Voyage unleash a fearsome triple-headed offensive this month with a clutch of monumental releases, sumptuously illustrating the label’s genre-straddling diversity; from Texan roots of rock ‘n‘ roll to the R&B-fed birth-strains of ska, while also paying tribute to a genuine musical pioneer.
Snazzy Sugar: The Pure Essence Of Rock & Roll From West Texas And Beyond sees legendary British rock ‘n’ roll dynamo Stuart Colman revisit the Lone Star State in another spectacular instalment of his Pure Essence series, following in the rocking shoes of It’s Saturday Night: Starday/Dixie Rockabilly and Texas Tornados.
With 75 incendiary tracks spread over three CDs, boosted by Stuart’s exhaustive annotation, Snazzy Sugar demonstrates how, when rock ’n’ roll was in its infancy across the US [with most attention focused on the explosive developments in Memphis, Cleveland and New York], West Texas was rearing up with the real call of the wild, beat kicking like a stable mule on heat, untamed singers howling with rebel yell energy, all shot with uniquely idiosyncratic personality and a dash of Southern romance. Names on show mix future stars with intriguing obscurities, including Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Trini Lopez, Waylon Jennings, Sonny Curtis, the Crickets, Lelan Rogers, the Fireballs, Five Bops, Click-Clacks, Leen Teens, Chuck Tharp, Sid King, Ray Campi, Link Davis, Mickey Gilley, Buddy Knox, the Tu-Tones, Champs, Jimmy Dee & the Offbeats, Joe Clay, Sleepy La Beef, Hal Goodson & the Raiders, Teen Kings, Alvis Wayne, Tooter Boatman & The Chaparalls, String-a-Lings, Fireballs, Earl Henry and Kenny Rogers.
If Snazzy Sugar takes a wild, eye-opening ride into the deepest roots of rock ‘n’ roll’s primal gestation, Jamaica Selects Jump Blues Strictly For You: Jamaican Sound System Classics 1944-1960 unveils the mother lode input which spawned ska [and thus rock steady, reggae, etc] on the island of Jamaica. A superlative selection which – and this applies to each of these sets – provides several hours of the most sublimely entertaining listening to be encountered in this autotuned, soul-diluted modern world. The set follows 2011’s highly-successful Jumping The Shuffle Blues, lashing together 85 sizzling biscuits from the formative 1940s-50s era of the Jamaican sound systems, when the US R&B bombarding the island’s radio waves after World War II was picked up by sound systems such as Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd and Prince Buster, germinating into ska after mating with the Caribbean’s own musical strains.
The tunes being produced in America’s Southern states and cities were loosely termed ‘shuffle blues‘; contagious, jumping and bulging with animated incitements to party, dance or get down and dirty, boasting some of the most volcanic saxophone solos known to man. Our set’s sizzling selection traverses its euphoric shuffle via something of a game plan; disc one‘s The Roots Of Shuffle Blues [1944-1951] is magnificent and seminal showing, quite spectacularly, how US R&B laid the template for both reggae while creating the blueprint for rock ’n’ roll, riproaring cast including post-war godfather Louis Jordan, Joe Liggins and his Honeydrippers, Roy Milton, Sherman Williams, Dave Bartholemew, Lowell Fulson, Jimmy Liggins, Amos Millburn, Roy Brown and T-Bone Walker.
CD2’s The Golden Years Of Shuffle Blues [1951-1954] is fired up by the likes of Oscar McLollie, Chuck Higgins, Rosco Gordon, Fats Domino, Ruth Brown, Jack Dupree, Chuck Willis, Guitar Slim, the Charms, Marvin & Johnny, Tommy Ridgley, Earl Curry and Floyd Dixon, while CD3’s The Big Three Take Over [1955-1960] arrives at the ska-igniting rhythm firing on the upbeat over walking bass, cast including Nappy Brown, Pias Johnson, the Penguins, Mello-Harps, Big Joe Turner, Shirley & Lee, Vince Monroe, Smiley Lewis, Lloyd Price, Ivory Joe Hunter, Professor Longhair, Clyde McPhatter, Johnny Otis, Earl Hooker, Ernie Freeman and Hal Paige & The Wailers; leaping skank blueprints running amok.
‘Godfather of Rhythm & Blues’Johnny Otis passed away at home in Altadena, California on January 17, aged 90, by which time Dave Penny had already compiled our three-CD extravaganza That’s Your Last Boogie!. It now stands as an ultimate tribute to the singer, songwriter, bandleader, impresario, disc jockey and crucial founding father of rock ’n’ roll.Growing up in Berkeley’s black community, Johnny played a major part in creating a new sound for the growing audience of young urban blacks, starting as a drummer in swing orchestras at 18, forming a 16-piece big band in 1945, when he scored his first hit with Harlem Nocturne. When swing started giving way to R&B based on raw blues and gospel elements, he whittled his band down and started laying early templates for rock ‘n’ roll, discovering and recruiting singers such as Little Esther Phillips, Hank Ballard and [future Coasters] the Robins. Dave’s latest set in his Architects Of Rock ‘N’ Roll series covers Johnny’s multi-faceted career between 1945-1960. CD1’s sublime smorgasbord of big band jazz and slinky blues. entitled Barrelhouse Stomp after the Watts club he opened in 1948, also features Otis orchestra titles such as ‘Court Room Blues‘, ‘Midnight In The Barrelhouse‘ and ‘The Turkey Hop‘, alongside outings with Wynonie Harris, Joe Turner, Lester Young, [future Coasters] the Robins and Little Esther Phillips. In 1949, Johnny started recording for the Newark, New Jersey-based Savoy label, scoring 15 Billboard R&B chart hits between 1950-52, including number ones with Little Esther & Mel Walker; ‘Double Crossing Blues‘, ‘Deceivin’ Blues’ and ‘Cupid Boogie‘ among the pair’s releases which dominate CD2‘s Rockin‘ Blues, while the Otis Orchestra are represented by gems including ‘Wedding Boogie‘ and ‘All Nite Long‘.
In 1952, Otis discovered Etta James and produced Big Mama Thornton’s original version of Leiber and Stoller’s ‘Hound Dog‘, while enjoying a growing career as a songwriter, already presenting the rock ‘n‘ roll form and attitude soon to sweep the world. While starting his lifelong vocation as a disc jockey in LA, he became a talent scout for King Records, discovering the likes of Jackie Wilson and Little Willie John, while scoring hits including 1958 US top tenner ‘Willie And The Hand Jive‘, included here on CD3’s Going Crazy [1952-1960] with ’Young Girl’, ’Crazy Country Hop’ and ’Mumblin’ Mosie’. Other names included on this most rocking of selections include Etta James, Little Richard, Pete ’Guitar’ Lewis, Johnny Ace, Sugar Pie, Faye Wilson and the great Mr Goggle Eyes August perfectly capturing the time with ‘Oh Ho Doodle Lu‘.
Johnny’s passion, warmth and uncanny musical clairvoyance shines through every track on this magnificent set, capturing many of his achievements at this most crucial time in musical history. Like its pair of bouncing catalogue bedfellows, it’s also one hell of a party album for the summer.