October sees another fabulous triple-header bombardment from Fantastic Voyage, this time celebrating Jazz Noire excess anthems, the immortal allure of the automobile and blues giant Memphis Slim, all in the label’s inimitably thorough and evocative style.
Drink Up-Light Up! Jazz Noire Tales Of Dope, Booze & Sleaze sees compiler Dave Penny delving beyond the Central Avenue dives and bars first explored on 2011’s sublime Jazz Noire(FVDD121), conjuring up a vivid picture of highs-seeking low life between the 1930s and 1950s by further homing in on the dope, drink and characters like the Reefer Man and Snuff Dippin’ Mama. Springing out of the Depression, this sparkling collection also provides a fascinating glimpse of street life from that period through to the Korean War, from domestic scenarios to dope slang, gutter howls to slinky escapism.
Bars were smoky back then with music geared to either raising the temperature at the party or reflecting the mood when things had gone wrong; whether drowning sorrows or exploring the euphoric blanket of marijuana or the heroin making its presence felt around that time. There’s something about an orchestra swelling and ebbing in perfect syncopation, the rudest, cool saxophone uncurling from the blare or ejaculating out of a soft, brassy bed; a kind of lowdown sleaze perfectly suited to the nefarious goings on in the back-rooms and on the corner outside.
Subject matter aside, the set catches the rapid evolution of jazz between the 1930s and 1950s, from big band swing to smaller ensembles and early R&B at its most primal, garnished with stellar vocalists. Dave Penny also repeats Jazz Noire’s scene-setting movie themes and finales with ‘Wild Weed’, ‘Reefer Madness’, ‘D.O.A.’ and ‘The Man With The Golden Arm’. Names enjoying a lock-in include Sarah Vaughan, Cab Calloway, Stuff Smith, Dinah Washington, Cee Pee Johnson, Billy Valentine, Hot Lips Page, Jay McShann, Cootie Williams, Wardell Gray, Bull Moose Jackson, Pee Wee Crayton, Doc Pomus, Eddie Cleanhead Vinson, Jimmy McCracklin, Joe Liggins, Earl Bostic and Wynonie Harris, plus many more taking their shots from all angles.
From drinking to driving. Candy Apple Cuties & Hot Rod Heroes dips into rock ’n’ roll’s hotwired legacy of automobile anthems and highway love serenades for a tarmac-scorching compilation of that rare kind whose theme is simple but elevated by being beautifully executed.
Since the birth of rock ’n’ roll, the car has occupied a special place in teenage rampage and backseat romance, rock ’n’ roll music essential as both soundtrack pumping out of the radio or celebration of heaven on wheels. Over two discs, revving-up engines and screeching brakes introduce 50 road-worthy classics, including lesser-heard gems rarely encountered on CD (if at all) by names such as the Story Sisters, Don Pearly, Burt Keyes, Eddie Ringo, Dave ‘Diddle’ Day, Rocky Davis plus a fleet of over-the-limit roadrunners such as Slick Slavin’s ‘Speed Crazy’, Chuck Higgins’ ‘Motor Head Baby’ and Mike Fern’s ‘Brake Jake’ (not forgetting Johnny Tyler’s immortal ‘Devil’s Hot Rod’).
This tyre-shredding set also shows how automobile association brought out the beast in well-known protagonists such as Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Carl Perkins, Roy Brown, Eddie Cochran, Howlin’ Wolf, Merrill Moore, the Del-Vikings, Vince Taylor (in his ‘Brand New Cadillac’), plus a brace of revved-up instrumentals like the Duals’ ‘Stick Shift’, while Gene Vincent warns about the perils of ‘people driving like crazy’ on ‘Why Don’t People Learn How To Drive’, after starting this top gear cruising soundtrack in his ‘Pink Thunderbird’.
Thirdly this month, dazzling R&B piano pioneer Memphis Slim is the subject of the latest release in Fantastic Voyage’s highly-popular Definitive Collection series of blues sets. Compiled and annotated by blues authority Neil Slaven, the two discs of Rockin’ The House: The Best of The R&B Years straddle Slim’s post-war years up until he became one of the foremost figures in the early ’60s folk-blues revival, spotlighting his top-notch R&B band. The 50 tracks comprise recordings he made for labels like Hy-Tone, Miracle, Premium, Mercury, Peacock, United, Vee-Jay, United Artists and Strand, and include all seven of his R&B hits.
Born John L. Chatman in Memphis in 1915, Slim cut his musical teeth playing anywhere from levee camps to Arkansas roadhouses then Beale Street bars, mentored by Roosevelt Sykes. He arrived in Chicago in 1937, initially bootlegging whiskey, said to have been a pimp, playing piano to pay for his gambling until cutting several singles and hooking up with Big Bill Broonzy in 1940. After World War Two, Slim started leading his R&B band, which, at times, boasted the great bassist-songwriter Willie Dixon and future Blues Brother Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy.
The compilation starts in 1946 with ‘Mistake In Life’, Slim’s first release on the local Hy-Tone label, followed by further tracks for the label including the rollicking ‘Slim’s Boogie’ and trademark melancholic blues template ‘Cheatin’ Around’. He first encountered Willie Dixon recording for the Miracle label, the pair sparking their relationship on the blistering ‘Rockin’ The House’ and sublime ‘Lend Me Your Love’.
The highlights come thick and fast: hits for Miracle, including chart-topping ‘Messin’ Around’, ‘Blue And Lonesome’, ‘Help Me Some’, ‘Angel Child’‘, sonorous Premium release ‘Mother Earth‘, ‘The Come Back’ predating ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’’s stop-start groove, ‘Harlem Bound’’s autobiographical boogie, sax-enhanced outings such as ‘Train Is Comin’’, ‘Worried Life Blues’, lascivious Nick Cave fave ‘Grinder Man Blues’, the steaming vamp of ‘Steppin’ Out’ (later Eric Clapton’s showstopping showcase with John Mayall) and aching ‘Nobody Loves Me’ (original title by which he first recorded the classic ‘Every Day I Have The Blues’, as made famous by B.B. King). The early 1950s tracks with Murphy’s riveting guitar to the fore are also represented, through to later sessions for Vee-Jay and three tracks from the 1959 Carnegie Hall concert with Muddy Waters which marked the start of the blues’ burgeoning acceptance by white audiences.
Slim relocated to Paris in 1962 until his death in 1988, leaving a voluminous and captivating recorded legacy, one of the most fertile and fascinating stretches of which is explored on this sublime set.