Friday, January 18, 2008

In the Pocket with Mr. Solid

By John Lee

"The B.B. King Treasures - Photos, Mementos & Music from B.B. King’s Collection" by B.B. King with Dick Waterman

To celebrate his 80th birthday, B.B. King recruited the famed blues photographer and former manager, Dick Waterman, to help him put together a book that spans the complete life and career of the man most people know as “King of the Blues." Dick Waterman managed the likes of Muddy Waters, Son House, Paul Butterfield, and Bonnie Raitt. This truly unique and delightful book is a great work that gives the blues fan a great understanding of Riley B. King’s long and soulful rise to the top of the blues world.

"Treasures" has an introduction and a epilogue, but the bulk of the book is four parts: Part One - "Indianola Mississippi Seeds," Part Two - "Beale Street Blues Boy," Part Three - "Paying the Cost To Be the Boss," and Part Four - "Blues Is King." The story of B.B.’s life and career takes him from the cotton fields of Mississippi , to his education on Memphis’ Beale Street, his arrival at America ’s mainstream, and then blues ambassador to the world.

This outstanding book also includes 12 removable artifacts and a 60 minute CD. The artifacts are recreations of posters, backstage passes, and tickets, etc. from different times in B.B.’s life and musical career. The CD is comprised of some unreleased musical selections and audio interviews spanning the years. One of the interviews is conducted by Seattle ’s own world class blues photographer, Jef Jaisun, in January of 1970 when Jef worked for the “underground” newspaper The Berkeley Barb. Good stuff!

I highly recommend "B.B King- Treasures" and, along with “Blues All Around Me,” the autobiography of B.B. King, co-written with David Ritz, you will be in the know about all things B.B. I’m sure you’ll dig it!

More Record Labels of Blues, R&B, and Soul

As I thought more about the history of recorded music in America and the important record labels of blues, R&B, and Soul, I figured a list of the top ten wasn’t enough. Here are a few more I think need to be mentioned, starting with the two record labels I had mentioned at the end of the last “In the Pocket” piece, Mercury and Okeh.
Here goes:

11. Mercury Records in Chicago Illinois . This label began as a pop recording company featuring the likes of Frankie Laine, Vic Damone, and Patti Page. This fine label had a large catalogue of superb jazz sides, and some top flight blues and R&B also! Two of their top artists on the R&B and blues side of things were Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson and Dinah Washington. They also recorded excellent sides for Johnny Otis and his Orchestra, Big Bill Broonzy, “St. Louis” Jimmy Oden, “ Memphis” Slim, and Sunnyland Slim to name a few. Seattle ’s own Ernestine Anderson also made some fine tunes for Mercury. For a good overview check out the 8 CD boxed set “The Mercury Blues and Rhythm Story." This stuff swings with the best!

12. Okeh Records founded in 1916 by a German named Otto Heinemann, recorded what many say is the first recorded blues tune, “Crazy Blues” by Mamie Smith in 1920. Okeh pressed early sides in the 40’s with the likes of Louis Armstrong, King Oliver and Duke Ellington to name a few. For many years the label recorded numerous sides featuring America's multiple nationalities like Greek, Polish, German, Italian, etc. The label began in New York City , then opened shop in Chicago also.

The label's talent scouts did a lot of traveling to record different artists in cities like Baltimore and New Orleans . From the R&B side of things, Okeh recorded some of the toughest honkin’ rhythm and blues around. Joe Williams (who later would become well known singing big band blues with Count Basie), Big Maybelle, Paul Gayten, Chuck Willis, Annie Laurie, Titus Turner, The Treniers, and “Screamin’ Jay Hawkins were some of the artists to make records for Okeh. Screamin’ Jay had the monster hit “I Put a Spell on You” for Okeh. I really dig a very obscure group that recorded for Okeh, Chris Powell and The Five Blue Flames. Check out the three disc set, "The Okeh Rhythm & Blues Story 1949-1957." This stuff is very, very cool. It’s a stone groove!

13. Cobra Records in Chicago , Illinois . Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, and Magic Sam made their first recordings for Cobra. I believe these sides helped define the modern blues guitar style. Led by the songwriting, arranging, and the playing of Willie Dixon, Cobra made some truly great recordings of blues and R&B from 1956 to 1958. Walter “Shakey” Horton, Sunnyland Slim, and Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm were some of the artists that made some very hip sides for Cobra. Check out the two CD boxed set: "The Cobra Records Story- Chicago Rock and Blues: 1956-1958." Short lived, but oh so nice!

14. Fire/Fury Records
, New York City operated out of a Harlem record store by Bobby Robinson. Fire/Fury recorded some mighty fine sides with the likes Lightnin’ Hopkins, Elmore James (probably Elmore’s finest efforts), King Curtis, Bobby Marchan and Lee Dorsey from New Orleans, also Buster Brown and Titus Turner are some of the cool artists that made fine sides for this powerhouse small label. Wilbert Harrison recorded the R&B classic, “ Kansas City ” for Fire. Gladys Knight cut “Every Beat of My Heart”, written by Johnny Otis for Fire/Fury records before her super stardom with Motown Records. Check out the two CD boxed set: "The Fire/Fury Records Story." Great sounds!

15. Jewel/Paula Records grew out of Stan’s Record Shop in Shreveport , Louisiana , run by Stan Lewis and his wife Paula. Stan Lewis began recording southern artists for Chess, Imperial, and Specialty as a producer and A&R man.A very young Dale Hawkins was recorded by Mr. Lewis when he worked at Stan’s Record Shop. "Susie-Q" was a big hit on Chess in 1957.

In 1963 Stan Lewis started Jewel/Paula with such artists as the soul/blues of Ted Taylor and Little Johnny Taylor, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Toussaint McCall, and Memphis Slim recorded great sides for the label. Charles Brown, Sunnyland Slim, Lowell Fulsom, John Lee Hooker (is there any label Hooker didn’t record for?), Joe Turner, Peppermint Harris, and Roosevelt Sykes also made cool records for Stan Lewis’s dynamite southern independent! Check out the two CD boxed set: "The Jewel/Paula Records Story-The Blues, Rhythm and Blues and Soul Recordings." It’s a slice of obscure American music history.

16. Duke Records. The record label was formed in Memphis Tennessee in the year of our Lord 1952 by David J. Mathis and Bill Fitzgerald. In August 1952 nightclub owner, record store operator, talent manager, and Peacock Record label owner Don Robey bought Duke and by 1953 he moved the full operation to Houston ,Texas and the label became known as Duke/Peacock Records.

Don Robey’s Peacock label had a roster of Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Memphis Slim, Floyd Dixon and Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton (whose song on Peacock, "Hound Dog," would soon be covered by Elvis). Peacock also had a top-notch roster of gospel artists including The Dixie Hummingbirds and The Mighty Clouds of Joy. Duke’s top acts at the time of the merger were Johnny Ace and Roscoe Gordon. In the 1960’s Duke made excellent recordings by Bobby “Blue” Bland and Junior Parker. May 23rd, 1973 Don Robey sold Duke/Peacock records to ABC-Dunhill. Mr. Robey stayed on as a consultant with ABC until his death June 16, 1975.

17. Excello Records in Nashville, Tennessee. Even though Excello was in country music’s capitol of Nashville , Excello was the home of the swamp blues of 1950’s and 1960’s Louisiana . Slim Harpo, Lightnin’ Slim, Lazy Lester, Lonesome Sundown, Silas Hogan, and Arthur Gunter all recorded for Excello. The Rolling Stones covered Slim Harpo’s “I’am a King Bee”. A very cool label for sure.

18. Ace Records out of Jackson , Mississippi . Run by the former Specialty Records producer, Johnny Vincent. From 1953 to 1963 Ace had a great blues and R&B roster that included Huey “Piano” Smith, Earl King, Joe Tex, Jimmy Clanton, Frankie Ford, Frankie Lee Sims and Dr. John(the stage name of Mac Rebennack). Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller) made his early sides for Ace. Elmore James also recorded for Ace. A very small label, but so much to give!

19. Malaco Records - Jackson, Mississippi . Started in the 1970’s to help promote true soul music, Malaco over the last three and half decades has had a roster of recording artists that reads like a who’s who of black American music in the last part of the twentieth century! Bobby Bland, Latimore, Z.Z. Hill, Dorothy Moore, Tyrone Davis, King Floyd, Little Milton, Denise LaSalle, Shirley Brown and the great Johnny Taylor are some of the cool artists to have come thru Malaco. This label has single handedly kept soul and soul-blues alive to this day. Hats off to southern soul! Check out the Malaco Records six disc boxed set: "The Last Soul Company-A 30 Year Retrospective." Shake it on down!

The top ten list turned into a list of nineteen! The more I thought about it and the more research I did, the list just kept growing. I think this final list is a pretty good summary. If anyone has any additions please let me know and I will give mention at a future date.

Atlas Jazz Explosion CD

For my birthday in 2007 my good friend Charlene Grant gave me a fabulous CD of honkin’ saxophone driven sides from the Atlas Record label, titled "Atlas Jazz Explosion." The liner notes begin by saying, "During the 1950’s the boundary between Jazz and Rhythm and Blues was sometimes a blurry one." A large portion of this compilation is two saxophonists, Jackie Kelso and Charlie Singleton. Jackie Kelso was a member of Roy Milton’s Solid Senders and The Johnny Otis Band does eleven tunes to start the CD. Charlie Singleton closes out the CD with nine numbers.
In between are three tunes by pianist Freddy Washington, featuring two with vocalist June Davis. Two numbers are from drummer Harold Austin and band, including "Jesse’s Idea Part 1" and "Jesse’s Idea Part 2." This is a very cool set of tunes by an obscure but a very proficient group of players. If you dig either swing jazz or honkin’ R&B, I thing you’ll dig "Atlas Jazz Explosion"!

Mavis Staples - "We’ll Never Turn Back" CD

Mavis Staples is legendary for her vocal work with her family group, The Staple Singers, crossing over from the gospel world to garner hits on the top 40 charts in the 1970’s on Stax Records. "We’ll Never Turn Back" is stone gospel music done in a roots style, very much like the recent recordings by The Blind Boys of Alabama. This very fine CD begins with bluesman J.B. Lenoir’s haunting “Down in Mississippi ." It also includes the traditional songs “We Shall Not Be Moved”, “This Little Light of Mine” and “Jesus Is on The Main Line.” There are twelve tunes in all.

Ry Cooder
leads an excellent group of musicians, including the fine drumming of Jim Keltner for this soulful recording. Mr. Cooder also was the producer for this spirit-filled venture. If you dig The Staple Singers or traditional gospel music, I’am sure you’ll dig Mavis Staples latest album. I won this cool CD in a random drawing from the very hip internet radio station

Ike Turner is Dead

The great Ike Turner passed away December 12, 2007. It is unfair that one of the only things that people remember is that Ike Turner had at one period in his life physically abused Tina Turner. Ike was a human, and, like us all, made mistakes.

Musically, his impact on the American sound can not be denied. He recorded what many consider the first rock and roll song, "Rocket 88" (as Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats) at the legendary Sun Studio. Around that time Ike also recorded with Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, and B.B. King. That’s Mr. Turner on piano for B.B.’s first hit “3 O’Clock Blues.” Throughout the '50s Ike led one of the toughest R&B bands in the land, Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm, mostly playing guitar. He also played piano on many of Otis Rush and Buddy Guy’s Cobra sides.

Then of course the legendary Ike and Tina Turner Revue brought world-wide super stardom for Ike and wife Tina. For many years Ike Turner used cocaine to deal with life on the road. It became a problem and he eventually was busted and he served time in the late 1980’s. After his release from prison Mr. Turner began playing and touring again. His last CD “Risen with the Blues” garnered him a Grammy in 2007 in the traditional blues category. Ike Turner was a major force in shaping R&B and soul music. He will be missed.

Ike Turner - 1931 to 2007. RIP

Quote of the Month

Scotty Moore, the great guitar player on the early Elvis Presley sides on Sun Records was being interviewed in front of a live audience in the late 90’s and was asked what it was like to play with the King. Mr. Moore said “I’ve always told people I played in a band directed by an ass.” The crowd broke out in laughter, but Scotty Moore was quick to reply, “You don’t understand. In those days we had no monitors on stage. So the only way I knew where we were in the song was to watch Elvis’ ass keepin’ time.”

I would like to wish everyone a very happy New Year, and all the best in 2008. I would especially like to wish the best and my heart-felt thanks to my long time friend Mike Lynch, who is also the Editor in Chief of this great blog, Jet City Blues. Thanks for everything big guy! Check ya all on the rebound!

Electric bassist John "Mr. Solid" Lee was born in Alaska and has been active in the Seattle blues scene for about 30 years. He currently plays with the Crossroads Band. Photo by Mike Coyote.