Fantastic Voyage’s fabulous September double-header continues the roll, which has seen the label raise the benchmark for knowledgeable, expertly annotated compilations, with Roots Of British Beat: 50 American Records That Shaped The British Invasion and Wail Man Wail!, chronicling the incendiary work of the tenor sax titan King Curtis.
It’s well-documented that a seminal array of epoch-making American R&B, blues and rock ’n’ roll songs provided the inspirational well-spring for the UK’s major 1960s musical movements; from the Mersey Beat boom led by the Beatles to West London’s blues revolution as spearheaded by the Rolling Stones. Roots Of British Beat ropes together 50 hugely-influential tunes reaped from the gold-mine of nuggets on which these artists built their early sets, also drawing inspiration as springboard to later triumphs and milestones.
With an introduction by BBC Radio Merseyside’s Spencer Leigh, the set uncorks a gamut of songs covered by British and Irish bands during the 1962-1966 Beat Boom years, most hits at the time, many going on to become staples of a wide variety of artists’ repertoires over the ensuing decades. The repercussions of these tracks were seismic. To encounter them under the same roof is both euphoric and fascinating. Here, well-known outings such as Little Richard’s ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’, John D. Louder milk’s ‘Tobacco Road’, Barrett Strong’s ‘Money (That What I Want)’ and Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘The Red Rooster’ can rub shoulders with much-loved tracks which may raise an eyebrow in their original form; for example, the Drifters’ ‘Sweets For My Sweets’ as swept to chart-topping glory by the Searchers in 1963. Memories may also be reawakened with unashamed nostalgic joy, as the Crickets’ yearning ‘Someone, Someone’ looms as a former b-side along with the same year’s future Stones hit ‘Not Fade Away’. The set also boasts crucial blues boom missiles by the likes of Bo Diddley and Slim Harpo.
Other names looming large on this inestimably-enjoyable collection include Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Larry Williams, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, Gary U.S. Bonds, Ben E. King, Arthur Alexander, Sam Cooke, Lee Dorsey, Mary Wells, Gene Vincent, Bobby Darin, Ray Charles, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, the Coasters, the Shirelles, the Drifters, the Clovers and the Isley Brothers, true to form joined by lesser-known figures including Chan Romero, Johnny Love and Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs.
Meanwhile, saxophone titan King Curtis gets the stellar showcase he deserves on Dave Penny’s latest career-defining Fantastic Voyage set in his Architects of Rock ’n’ Roll series. Over three discs and nearly 100 tracks, Wail Man Wail! The Best Of King Curtis 1952-1961 traverses the unmistakable tones of the late Curtis Ousley after he arrived from Texas in New York City in 1952, winning amateur night at Harlem’s Apollo before embarking on a recording career which took him to seminal independent labels and bands with the likes of Lester Young and Lionel Hampton. After settling in New York for 17 years, he declared himself King Curtis, quickly making a name for roaring instrumentals and enhancing countless sessions.
With the assistance of K.C. expert Roy Simmonds, Dave Penny has excelled himself in providing both beginner’s guide and record collector’s magnet, starting with Curtis’ rip-roaring role in the earliest days of rock ’n’ roll, collating outings under his own name for labels such as RPM, Gem, Apollo, DeLuxe, Atlantic/Atco, ABC-Paramount, Everest and Sue, also encompassing his time with Alan Freed’s rock ’n’ roll orchestra. Discs 2 and 3 chart some of his memorable recording sessions from between 1952 to 1957, then 1958 to 1961, respectively, names including Solomon Burke, the Willows, Roy Gaines, Neil Sedaka, Wilbert Harrison, the Ruth Brown, Coasters, Waylon Jennings, Lionel Hampton, Bobby Darin, Chuck Willis, the Avons, the Willows, Mickey & Sylvia, the Nitecaps and obscurities such as Washboard Bill.
King Curtis was yet another name to fall victim to an early demise, in his case stabbed to death in 1971 after challenging two junkies using drugs outside his Manhattan apartment. The groin-rasping solo on ‘Jest Smoochin’’ alone is enough to convince anyone with a heart and soul that they’re in the presence of greatness, but there are scores of similar moments on this exemplary tribute to one of the musical giants of the last century.
As nostalgia and seminal musicianship becomes increasingly more recycled in the 21st century, Fantastic Voyage continues its sublime mission to add quality, knowledge and passion to the presentation of these magical sounds from yesteryear.