The very first thing I’d recommend you do is immediately get hold of a book called Unsung Heroes Of Rock’N Roll, by Nick Tosches (who’s also written several other outstanding music books, among them Where Dead Voices Gather, about the extraordinary musician Emmet Miller, and Hellfire, a biblical biography of Jerry Lee Lewis).
Other excellent books about the early days/birth of rock are Making Tracks (a history of Atlantic Records), by Charlie Gillett, who also wrote The Sound Of The City. Two other books by Rich Cohen delineate the world of Chess Records: The Record Men, and Machers & Rockers.
I’d add a few more, but most of my books are still packed from the move last winter, so I’m working from memory as best I can. You might also want to scout up some information on Sun Records, as well.
If you’re interested in purchasing the compilation, details are available (in French) at the Vibrations shop.
1) Sonny Burgess & The Pacers
Sonny Burgess, one of the rockabilly wildmen on Sun Records, fielded a band with a trumpet (played by Jack/Richard Nance) in the front line. His fine work is available on several comps, and he still plays gigs like the Ponderosa Stomp.
These are home videos of some contemporary performances posted on YouTube, with ghastly sound quality. But it looks like a show you could enjoy, and Burgess looks like he’s still into it.
2) Big Maybelle
Mabel Louise Smith, an XXL woman with an XXXL voice. Starting in gospel and r&b, she had a respectable run in the charts throughout the 1950’s as a r&r artist.
3) Roy Brown
Roy Brown was a blues and r&b singer who served as a vocal model for Elvis Presley. One of his big hits was the original version of “Good Rockin’ Tonight.”
His music business career was extremely sporadic; he supplemented his income for many years working as an encyclopedia salesman.
4) Billy Lee Riley
Riley’s material definitely hits the vein of true madness (just look at those eyes). His band The Little Green Men eventually became the house band at Sun Studios. After running record companies and a construction concern, Riley returned to music and tours still:
5) Big Joe Turner
One of my favorite vocalists ever, Big Joe Turner’s career spanned the prohibition era in Kansas City, where he teamed up with pianist Pete Johnson, to the rock and roll era in New York City, where Atlantic Records had hits with him like “Shake, Rattle, and Roll.”
His poised performances showed up on film; check him out on YouTube, fronting the house band of Paul Williams:
6) Wanda Jackson
7) Chuck Berry
One of the many not-nearly-as-good-as-his-records video performances on the web:
There’s already a wealth of information available about Chuck Berry, and he’s been anthologised to death. He’s in the compilation to represent the lyrical facility that doesn’t get enough attention, for my money.
The economy, structure, and impact of this verse from “Too Much Monkey Business” is not as easy as it looks.
Workin’ in the fillin’ station,
too many tasks;
wipe the windows,
check the tires,
check the oil,
Likewise this from “It Wasn’t Me”:
I met a German girl in England
who was going to school in France
She said we met in Missisippi
at an Alpha Kappa dance.
It wasn’t me.
Keep in mind his backing band on the records is likely the house band at Chess, with musical direction by singer/bassist/arranger/songwriter/producer Willie Dixon.
8) Eddie Cochran
In the summer of 1970, after having immersed myself totally in the 19-year-old-friendly-proto-heavy-metal version without even thinking that Blue Cheer hadn’t written such a classic of teenage kvetch, I spent my vacation working in a 7″ record warehouse in downtown Philadelphia, pulling orders for one-stops and investigating the world of singles-oriented music by leaving work every few days with several sides stuffed into my pants.
One day I pulled an order which asked for several copies of Summertime Blues (yay!) by Eddie Cochran (who?). The Stein One-Way Lending-Library System swung into action, and when I got a copy of the record home, I anticipated dropping the needle on another piece of heaviness. Not.
My crude teen-age tastes didn’t appreciate the value and energy of an old, mainly acoustic version, driven by handclaps. Ah, youth. Oy gevalt.
I was also seduced by The Who’s version on Live At Leeds. It took me another 10 years before I scored a good double LP of Cochran’s stuff, by then I was enthusiastic about contemporary groups like Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, and Robert Gordon.
9) Clarence Palmer & The Jive Bombers
Not a very successful group, (Clarence Palmer and) The Jive Bombers had this one killer release on Savoy, based on “Brown Gal,” originally written by Lil Hardin Armstrong.
The ululating vocal puts this novelty number way over the top. I assume Mr. Palmer is the one wearing the derby in the photograph.
10) Bullmoose Jackson & His Buffalo Bearcats
When I started collecting records in New York in the late 1970’s, one of the main venues for record collecting was Carmine Street in the West Village. Times were flush in the world of vinyl; the CD had not yet reared its shiny head, and the street had several record shops conveniently located steps away from the West 4th Street subway stop.
Several of the shops were extensions of Vinylmania (R.I.P), one of the truly great downtown stores. Business was so good that Vinylmania had a main store for dance and club records (also conveniently located about a block from the then-unknown-to-me Paradise Garage), a store for rock records, and a third store – a real hole in the wall – that was a catchall for jazz, blues, folk, and whatever.
Into the category of “whatever” fell reviewers copies of LP’s that weren’t club or rock; it was among these that I discovered almost the entire run of the Swedish reissue label Route 66, dumped for $5 and $6 apiece, thanks to some unknown reviewer to whom I will be ever grateful.
These collections of previously uncompiled R&B 78’s introduced me to Amos Milburn, Wynonie Harris, Joe Liggins,and, as the illustration shows, Bullmoose Jackson.
Jackson started out as a sax player with Lucky Millinder, and gained recognition after he went solo with a ballad:
Most of Mr. Jackson’s memorable records were of the double entendre variety that never got airplay when released: “Nosey Joe,” “Butcher Pete,” and the rocking original of the Aerosmith hit “Big 10-Inch Record.”
12) Johnny Burnette & The Rock and Roll Trio
The Rock ‘n Roll Trio (Johnny Burnette, Dorsey Burnette, Paul Burlison) was the stuff. As I mentioned previously, I was an eager buyer of material from rockabilly revivalists like Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe, and Robert Gordon. Gordon covered “Rockabilly Boogie,” and when I discovered the original by Burnette & Co., I was enthralled.
The slapback echo, Burlison’s marvelous guitar work, the energy of the performances – all combined to make the band national favorites as 3-time winners of the Ted Mack Amateur Hour, leading to a recording contract with Coral, a subsidiary of Decca.
Production credits for the early records are split between Bob Thiele and Owen Bradley (and if you’ve never heard the Owen Bradley sessions with K.D. Lang (Shadowland, you’re missing one of the best records ever. Ever.)
Here’s the trio on the Amateur Hour (sponsored by Geritol, yo) singing “Hound Dog”:
Lip-syncing “Lonesome Train” in an Alan Freed roxploitation vehicle:
13) Johnny Otis
Johnny Otis (born Yannis Veleotes) was a white Greek kid who grew up to be a leading black bandleader, drummer, pianist, and vibraphonist. He led a fine jazzband, established a famous LA club in Watts in 1947, made the transition to the rock ‘n roll era seamlessly (I featured Willie & The Hand Jive on the comp because I didn’t want anyone to think that Eric Clapton originated the tune), served as A&R man for King where he signed Jackie Wilson, Hank Ballard, and Little Willie John.
I have to stop here to take a breath.
In 1969 he recorded one of the most famous filthy-dirty underground albums of all time, Snatch & The Poontangs. He is the father of famous eccentric multi-instrumentalist Shuggie Otis, a minister (founder of a church), an author, and
an LA radio personality. There’s probably more.
Mr. Otis with Marie Adams and The Three Tons Of Joy:
14) The Coasters
Initially an LA group (The Robins), Bobby Nunn, Carl Gardner, Leon Hughes and Billy Guy moved to New York and became The Coasters – the vehicle for some of the best pop work (writing and production) by Leiber and Stoller.
Well known for hits like:
Riot In Cell Block #9 (adapted by The Beach Boys)
Down In Mexico (used by Quentin Tarantino)
Along Came Jones
That Is Rock & Roll
Shoppin’ For Clothes (adapted by the Jungle Brothers)
Bad Detective (covered by the NY Dolls)
Down Home Girl
Steve Allan introduces a slightly limp version of “Searchin'”:
15) Dave Bartholomew & His Orchestra
For those of you fortunate enough to have a lot of 1940’s-1950’s New Orleans r&b and r&r on hand, certain names are quite familiar.
Most everything was recorded by Cosimo Matassa at J&M.
Musicians on most sides included some combination of Clarence Hall, Herb Hardesty, Lee allen, Frank Fields, Salvador Doucette, Ernest McLean, Edward Frank, Earl Palmer, and Charles Williams.
And many of the bands were led by Dave Bartholomew. Songs were arranged by Dave Bartholomew. And written by Dave Bartholomew. A&R credits went to Dave Bartholomew. Who also had credits on every record by Fats Domino.
Trumpeter, bandleader, songwriter, arranger, A&R scout, and producer. One of the single most influential New Orleans musicians, spanning the traditional jazz era of the 30’s and 40’s, creating New Orleans r&b and rock in the late 40’s and 50’s, and handing off the baton to NOLA soul/funkmeister Alan Touissaint in the 60’s.
Bartholomew worked his writing and production magic for New Orleans artists like Earl King, Tommy Ridgley, Robert Parker, Frankie Ford, Chris Kenner, Smiley Lewis, Shirley & Lee… and that Domino fellow.
Among many killers that Bartholomew wrote and recorded under his own name, one of my favorites is “The Monkey,” covered by The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Bunny Wailer (separately) among others, and included in the comp.
If you have about 90 minutes to burn, here’s a movie about New Orleans music featuring Deacon John.
Youtube has an excerpt from one of the nicest documentaries about New Orleans ever; Les Blank’s Always For Pleasure (cut to “Sea Cruise” by Frankie Ford):
16) Wynonie Harris
Wynonie Harris (Mr. Blues) was the first blues shouter I ever heard – even before Jimmy Rushing and Joe Turner – and was one of the artists who peeked over the wall dividing black from white, and blues from rock. While he scaled that wall, his style came under close scrutiny by that Presley kid.
Harris sang with Lucky Millinder’s orchestra, replaced by Bullmoose Jackson when Harris and Millinder quarreled over money.
Harris went on to have a very successful career, mainly on the King label, which resulted in (I hear tell) his blowing a ton of money on things like whiskey, women, and a matched pair of chauffeured Cadillacs.
17) Paul Williams
Arguably the first of the honking sax players – the sax was the main rock instrument before the guitar gained ascendancy – Paul Williams had a large hit with “The Hucklebuck,” going on to become a leading New York studio musician for Atlantic Records, as well as handling musical direction at various times for Lloyd Price and James Brown.
11) Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats
Was Rocket 88 the first rock & roll record? It’s a good way to start an argument. On the other hand, who cares?
Ike Turner took his band into Sam Phillips’s Sun Studios in Memphis (not yet Sun Records) and recorded some sides, one with sax player Jackie Brenston singing a rather derivative little number named after a popular model Oldsmobile, Rocket 88.
Dewey Phillips (no relation to Sam), a local DJ in Memphis, played the hell out of it on his show. Other DJ’s picked it up, and after Phillips (Sam) licensed it to Chess Records, it hit #1 on the Billboard R&B charts.
Boss record. Big guitar sound.
18) The Bobbettes
Five wholesome young girls from an uptown glee club called the Harlem Queens write a derogatory song about their teacher Mr. Lee, containing the line “He’s the ugliest teacher I ever did see.”
After a few hopeful appearanes at Apollo amateur shows and some local TV exposure, they acquire a manager, a new name – The Bobbettes – and an audition at Atlantic Records. After changing “the ugliest” to “the handsomest,” they march into history with their one hit, “Mr. Lee.” And it is fine.
19) Carl Perkins
Carl Perkins was the Great Rockabilly Hope; Sam Phillips was thinking that when he sold Elvis to RCA, he’d take some of that money and build up some other stars, like ol’ Carl. And it looked like it would happen, too. Right after Elvis took off, Perkins cut “Blue Suede Shoes” and zoomed into songwriting heaven. It was a genuine #1 hit just about everywhere, followed by some others like Matchbox, Daddy Sang Bass, and Honey Don’t.
His work’s been covered by The Beatles, T-Rex, he’s co-written with Dylan and Johnny Cash, and his early work is tinged with that rockabilly lunacy.
Oh baby. Go cat, go.
Blue Suede Shoes on the Perry Como Show; only 1:26 long, probably all Perry could take without killing himself.
20) Smiley Lewis
While I was schooling myself in the wonderful world of New Orleans music, one of the real eye-openers was Overton Amos Lemons, p.k.a. Smiley Lewis.
What a strong, soulful voice. But even with national hits like “Bells Are Ringing” and “I hear You Knocking” (the original, yo, produced by Dave Bartholomew, piano by Huey Smith), he never really made it out of New Orleans. Fats Domino had a major hit covering Lewis’s “Blue Monday;” Elvis covered Lewis’s “One Night,” and Dave Edmunds covered “I Hear You Knocking.”
Luckily, the first time I visited New Orleans I copped 5 UK bootlegs containing just about everything Smiley ever cut. Now a lot of that’s available on CD. Check this guy out; most of his good recordings were cut with what was essentially Fats Domino’s band, with Fats Domino’s producer, in the studio Fats Domino used. I’m not knocking The Fat Man; I just feel Smiley’s soul a bit more.
21) The Sam Price Quintet
Can I hear it one time for the sidemen?
While some instrumentalists made it into the spotlight – notably Paul Williams, King Curtis, Mickey Baker – quite a few supremely talented jazzers and r&b players were relatively anonymous session fixtures at studios for NY labels during the day while killing it in clubs at night. When, say, Atlantic Records wanted to put together a hot combination for some arrangements by Jesse Stone, first call players included Curtis, Baker, Milt Hinton, Al Sears, Sam Taylor, Connie Kay, Panama Francis, Plas Johnson, Percy Heath, and Sam Price.
Price was a Texas piano player steeped in blues and booge woogie. He not only led the house band at Decca, he freelanced for other labels and had his own band called the Texas Bluesicians.
This session found him leading a quintet for Savoy consisting of Price, Curtis, Baker, Leonard Gaskin (b), and Bobby Donaldson (d). To make the point about everybody being involved in every kind of music, the session was in Rudy Van Gelder’s parents living room in Hackensack. Mr VanG didn’t spend every moment with Coltrane; everybody has to pay the rent.
The Sammy Price Septet:
22) The Drivers
I got nothin’ on this jukebox party record on the King label.
Smooth, slow, and easy? Double entendre? More like 1.5 entendre.
23) The Spiders
Was there ever a vocal group as tight, as smoooooov, and as dynamic as The Spiders? I don’t think so.
My selection indicates my bias for New Orleans, of course. The backing band was the usual suspects, led by Dave Bartholomew, recorded at J&M by Cosimo, appearing on the Imperial label. Just about everything these guys did was a smoker, either ballads or mid-tempo. I had a hard time choosing a fave. Damn, I wish there was a video.
Marvelous Marv has the full story.
24) Oscar Wills (TV Slim)
As near as I can remember it, here’s what happened:
In 1975, I was living in the still-seedy, not-yet-trendy Old City section of Philadelphia in a converted warehouse. My girlfriend was traveling in Europe, so I was alone at home. Sunday night, radio tuned to Harvey Holiday’s oldies show, digging the doo-wop and not expecting anything in particular, when Holiday announces “Flatfoot Sam” by TV Slim, and proceeds to play this firecracker not once, not twice, but three times in a row. By the end of the final play, I was running around the loft foaming at the mouth and chasing my own tail like one of the cats.
The next day, I cut out at lunch hour and hit the closest branch of The Record Museum, an oldies record chain with all the 45’s in little shelves behind the counter, babbling about “Flatfoot Sam, Flatfoot Sam, Flatfoot Sam…”, and walked out with an Argo 7″ credited to O. Wells. The clerk explains it’s the same guy, and plays a bit of it to convince me.
Several years later, the girlfriend and I are now married and living in an illegal loft near Wall Street in Manhattan. I come home one afternoon to find that she accidentally dropped a milk crate full of records on top of my copy of “Flatfoot Sam,” and split it in half.
The next day I placed a long-distance call to Record Museum headquarters in Philadelphia, and I still have the 7″ I had them send me special delivery.
It wasn’t until years later I found out that this Argo record was the definitive version (there is a weaker one running around), cut in (go figure) New Orleans in a session led by Paul Gayten (Dave Bartholomew’s only rival, I think), with the driving New Orleans r&r beat.
It doesn’t get better than this.
25) The Drifters
The Drifters, in my opinion, give the Coasters a run for the money. The problem, of course, is that the Drifters – originally formed by Atlantic Records management to give Clyde McPhatter a group to record with – have had more members pass through their various iterations than the Mickey Mouse Club.
The comp features their first hit, “Money Honey,” which was covered beautifully by Ry Cooder several years ago. The second major edition of the group featured Ben E. King, another wonderful vocalist. Leiber & Stoller also wrote material for these guys, as did Doc Pomus. And speaking of Doc Pomus, Josh Alan Friedman wrote a great article on him for WFMU.
I think this is lip sync, but still:
26) The Blue Dots
Nobody knows a damn thing about this wonderful, raucous single – except that it’s from New Orleans, on Ace.
No picture, no bio, no video. Just music.
27) Amos Milburn & His Chickenshackers
About the time I was absorbing every copy of the Rt. 66 R&B reissue series (see Wynonie Harris), one of the gems that turned up was a comp of 78’s by Amos Milburn And His Chickenshackers.
His major themes were drinking, partying, and drinking. He cut the original of “One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer,” later covered thoroughly by George Thorogood.
With a mellow voice, a smooov manner, a winning smile, and the ability to play the piano whilst seated sideways, Milburn became a West Coast club staple, playing a lot of the Central Avenue clubs in Los Angeles. (Johnny Otis has written a nice book about this scene, which he was a large part of, and RJ Smith also wrote a dandy book about it)
Bad, Bad, Whiskey (with the Paul Williams Band):
Down The Road Apiece:
28) Chuck Willis
How can you not love someone who performed in a turban?
Chuck Willis cut a mean figure and also invented The Stroll, a dance based on the beat of his kinda pop-jazzy version of “C. C. Rider.”
His style and arrangements were a little too homogenized for me generally, but I always loved his version of “(I Don’t Wanna) Hang Up My Rock And Roll Shoes,” later covered by The Band.