Epochal electric blues, transcendental vocal harmonies and one of R&B’s brightest but shortest-lived supernovas get the inimitable Fantastic Voyage treatment in this month‘s monumental trio of releases.
Screaming And Crying boasts three CDs which expertly capture the primal excitement of the electric blues guitar, put together by renowned British blues buff Neil Slaven in homage to the music which shaped both his life and a whole generation. The 75 tracks straddle the spectrum of electrified blues which fuelled the British R&B boom of the 1960s and beyond, mixing much-feted names such as Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley with deliciously obscure outings by the likes of Doctor Ross and Guitar Shorty.
Slaven’s liner notes crucially explain the story behind the roughshod classics which bust out of the set, whether screaming with the joy of musical release, or crying in a pool of despair, amplified through jacked-up guitar strings. Tracks are explained using a thread which shows how the trail-blazing T-Bone Walker influenced the likes of Pee Wee Crayton, Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown, Johnny Copeland and Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson, whose aptly-named ‘Space Guitar’ was obviously a big influence on Hendrix [as were many of the names here].
Noted guitar abusers are present and incorrect, including over-loading Pat Hare in James Cotton’s band, Johnny Otis’ Pete ‘Guitar’ Lewis, while the mighty John Lee Hooker and Elmore James display their inimitable axe attacks on several outings. The fearsome triumvirate of Kings – B.B., Albert and Freddie – get three tracks apiece, as do Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry, along with other axe behemoths from the fifties to the sixties, including Buddy Guy, Little Milton, Muddy Waters, Otis Rush, Tiny Grimes, Earl Hooker, Hop Wilson, Magic Sam, Lowell Fulson, Jimmy Reed’s Eddie Taylor, Mickey Baker, Guitar Slim, Goree Carter and Ike Turner. Slaven’s screaming dizzbuster of a collection exudes the kind of glow and continuity which can only come from a special brand of knowledge and passion.
Ace’s Wild! The Complete Solo Sides And Sessions celebrates the late Johnny Ace on two discs roping together all his solo singles along with sublime piano sessions for the likes of B.B. King and Bobby ’Blue’ Bland. Compiled and annotated in intricate detail by Dave Penny, the set is high on the lower elements of the battered soul, running the gamut from yearning to regret, highlights including his inimitable grasp of the ’heart-ballad’ on hits including ‘My Song‘, ‘The Clock‘ and ‘Please Forgive Me‘, along with jumping R&B outings such as ‘Never Let Me Go’.
Hailing from South Memphis, Ace carried all the credentials of a short-lived R&B legend, from lucky studio break leading to huge hit debut on the Duke label, ‘My Song’ spending nine weeks on top of the R&B charts in late 1952, followed by a string of hits, including Cross My Heart’, ‘The Clock’, ‘Saving My Love For You’, ‘Please Forgive Me’ and ‘Never Let Me Go’. But his success was accompanied by ruthless music business skulduggery at the hands of heavyweight music mogul Don Robey, who whisked him to L.A. to sing over the more sophisticated backdrops of the Johnny Otis and Johnny Board orchestras.
By 1954, the pressure was getting to him as recording sessions were fitted around gruelling touring [often supported by Big Mama Thornton, their rare duet on ’Yes, Baby’ also included on this compilation]. Increasingly cushioned by alcohol and prone to depression, Ace accidentally shot himself in the head while fooling with a gun in the dressing room at a Christmas day show in Houston. Robey swiftly cashed in with what became one of Ace’s biggest hits; the heavenly ‘Pledging My Love’, assuring posthumous immortality, further bolstered by tribute singles, featured here as bonus tracks, providing a poignant finale.
Johnny Ace was a monumental talent dealt the worst hand imaginable much too soon. At last, he‘s been given a worthy tribute and consolidation of his short but spectacular career.
The three CDs of Doo Wop: The Rock & Roll Vocal Groups 1957-1961 capture the innocent glory of the doo wop sound which swept the world in the late 1950s, combining with lavish annotation to form one of the most comprehensive documents of this music to date. Continuing the Fantastic Voyage ethos of encompassing well-known genre landmarks while looking deeper into the bottomless obscure independent label mines, compiler Laurence Cane-Honeysett has assembled 96 doo wop diamonds, from the groups which sprang up on the rooftops and street corners of America around 1956-57. Doo wop was initially derived from black vocal groups, their harmonies and style taken up by countless white teenage trios, quartets and quintets, some of which make up the bulk of this hefty compilation slanted towards the poppier end of the genre.
Disc one’s Oom Dooby Doom [1957 to 1959] includes Toronto heavy hitters the Diamonds, the Mello-Kings, Techniques, Danny & the Juniors, Original Casuals, the Slades, Phil Spector’s Teddy Bears, Aquatones, Crests, Skyliners, Fleetwoods, Mystics and New York’s Dion and the Belmonts. Disc two’s Gee Whiz [1959 to 1960] includes the Eternals, Dion, the Tassels, Fireflies, Passions, Jan and Dean, Knockouts, [non-Motown] Temptations, Safaris, Statues, Kathy Young and the Innocents, Chimes, even Kim Fowley’s Hollywood Argyles with ‘Alley-Oop’. Disc three’s Back To The Hop [1960-61] slides dreamily through already-introduced names plus the Capris, Cathy Jean and the Roomates, Echoes, Donnie and the Dreamers, Timetones, Regents, Castells, Rick and the Keens, Ly-Dells, Nino and the Ebb Tides, Dovells, Lee Curtis, the Tokens’ and Barry Mann and the Halos’ ‘Who Put The Bomp.
This sparkling set serves as both introduction to the untainted rock ’n’ roll innocence of this music, while containing enough fascinating obscurities and rarities to attract the more serious collectors, enhanced by Paul Heller’s extensive liner notes and Chris Buccola’s photos, sheet music and record label scans, gorgeously illustrating this vibrant snapshot of a lost time and genre.