Album: The R&B Years 1956 Volume 2 (Boulevard Vintage 2007)

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The latest instalment of Secret Records’ excellent rhythm and blues history selects 50 tunes from the second half of 1956. The rock revolution was in full swing, and established R&B artists like Fats Domino, Little Richard, Ray Charles and Bo Diddley were becoming global stars. In truth, although the breakthrough into the mainstream for many black artists truly did represent a revolution, the changes in the music itself had been evolutionary.

In the recent obituaries for Ike Turner, a lot of lazy references were made to his ‘creating’ rock & roll with the Jackie Brenston record “Rocket 88”. This is errant nonsense – like trying to pinpoint who the first human was (what was her mother then?). “Rocket 88” was a fine song, but the basic rhythms and sound that characterise rock & roll had been around since at least the early forties – probably even earlier.

One thing that does stand out comparing the 1956 volumes with earlier ones is that the tempos had increased, and the dominant instrument was no longer the sax but the electric guitar. That’s not to say that the age of the stomping sax tune has passed – Junior Gordon’s “Blow Wind Blow” being a fine example – but there was a new generation of guitarists coming up who took the ringing tones of electric blues and jacked up the pace. Mickey Baker (represented here by two duets with Sylvia Vanderpool, including the fantastic “Love Is Strange”) was an early master of recognisable rock guitar, as were others like Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson and, of course, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. It was a form of playing that had its roots both in the blues of T-Bone Walker, BB King and John Lee Hooker, but also in the gizmo-heavy country picking of Les Paul who was a massive chart star in the early fifties with his wife Mary Ford.

Early rock is plentiful on this collection, but there’s a lot of other stuff besides, such as the electric blues of Muddy Waters, Hooker and Willie Dixon, the smoky balladry of Ivory Joe Hunter, doowop from the Five Satins and the Moonglows, and even novelty pop tunes like Lavern Baker’s “Jim Dandy”. As with the previous collections, familiar tunes like “Blueberry Hill”, “I Put A Spell On You”, “You Can’t Catch Me” and “Blue Monday” sit among lesser known, but by no means lesser quality, tracks from figures like Wynona Carr, Roy Gaines and Hurricane Harry who may not exactly have household name status.

As always with this series, the mastering quality is spot-on. And as ever, the CDs would have been further enhanced with more detailed sleeve notes, although the accompanying essay does what it can in the permitted space. One thing to note is that these sort of all-encompassing collections are only possible because of the European Union’s 50 year copyright rule on recordings which renders these as public domain. Without this, it would be difficult to get all the licensing together and would probably be economically infeasible to produce a collection that, by its very nature, has a fairly limited audience. It’s all very well making things available as downloads, but how many people have heard of “Cops And Robbers” by Boogaloo, and so would want to download it? Very few – but many more will hear it now. That’s the problem with download culture – you really have to know what you’re looking for. That’s one reason why collections like this are invaluable – they will always turn up surprises that are worthy of further investigation. There is currently a concerted campaign to revise the EU law (with strong support from Bono and Cliff Richard – could you want any more reason to oppose it?) that many people (me included) believe will have a seriously detrimental effect to the visibility and availability of catalogue music, and will ultimately be self-defeating.

Tracks
1.: Reddy Teddy – Little Richard
2.: Who Do You Love – Bo Diddley
3.: Bad Luck – BB King
4.: You’ve Got Bad Intentions – Bobby Bland
5.: Honky Tonk Pt. 1 – Bill Doggett
6.: The Chicken – Rosco Gordon
7.: Worried About You Baby – Roy Gaines
8.: Don’t Go No Farther – Muddy Waters
9.: No Good Lover – Mickey & Sylvia
10.: Too Much Monkey Business – Chuck Berry
11.: Tough Lover – Etta James
12.: You’re the One – Jimmy McCracklin
13.: In the Still of the Night – Five Satins
14.: Mother – in – Law Blues – Junior Parker
15.: She Moves Me – Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson
16.: Chicken Shack – Amos Milburn
17.: Little Liza Jane – Huey Smith
18.: Blueberry Hill – Fats Domino
19.: Dimples – John Lee Hooker
20.: Don’t Happen No More – Young Jessie
21.: Lonely Avenue – Ray Charles
22.: Since I Met You Baby – Ivory Joe Hunter
23.: Cops and Robbers – Boogaloo
24.: Ain’t Got No Home – Clarence Henry
25.: Blow Wind Blow – Junior Gordon

1.: Goodnight My Love – Jesse Belvin
2.: I Put a Spell on You – Screaming Jay Hawkins
3.: I Can’t Quit You Baby – Otis Rush
4.: Jim Dandy – Lavern Baker
5.: Chickee – Wah – Wah – Bobby Marchen
6.: Should I Ever Love Again – Wynona Carr
7.: See Saw – The Moonglows
8.: You Got Me Dizzy – Jimmy Reed
9.: Rib Joint – Sam Price
10.: Shame Shame Shame – Smiley Lewis
11.: Oh What a Nite – The Dells
12.: Love is Strange – Mickey & Sylvia
13.: Condfidential – Sonny Knight
14.: The Telephone is Ringing – Pee Wee Crayton
15.: Ride Superman Ride – Stomp Gordon
16.: Someone to Love Me – Snooky Pryor
17.: Who – Little Walter
18.: Walkin’ by Myself – Jimmy Rogers
19.: You Can’t Catch Me – Chuck Berry
20.: 29 Ways – Willie Dixon
21.: Blue Monday – Fats Domino
22.: My Last Meal – Hurricane Harry
23.: Lost Child – Eddie Hope
24.: Bacon Fat – Andre Williams
25.: Destination Love – Wynonie Harris

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