Various Artists - The FAME Studios Story 1961-1973 Home of the Muscle Shoals
Various Artists - The FAME Studios Story 1961-1973 Home of the Muscle Shoals

Recent ACE Records releases

Here are some more vital recent releases from Ace Records, arguably one of the best reissue labels in the world. Surf instrumentals, 1960’s garage punk, classic soul, early 60’s swamp pop, post war LA Rhythm & Blues, traditional Cajun music, The Osmonds ”“ it’s all here. By Ian Johnston.


1. Jimmy Donley ”“ The Complete Tear Drop Singles And More

Jimmy Donley ”“ The Complete Tear Drop Singles And More
Jimmy Donley ”“ The Complete Tear Drop Singles And More

The dissolute, violent, deranged and ultimately tragic story of the doomed singer/ songwriter Jimmy Donley seems to have leap from the pages of the novels of Flannery O’Connor or William Faulkner. This is a grim, alcohol soaked, amphetamine fuelled American Southern Gothic tale writ large, related in Johnnie Allen and Bernice Webb’s 1992 without fear or favour Donley biography, Born To Be A Loser, and now again in Tony Rounce’s astonishing compilation of the singer’s early 1960’s Tear Drop singles.

What Jake La Motta was to boxing, Jimmy Donley was to swamp pop music. As a man, Donley was a pretty wretched human being. Yet Donley’s music, as is profusely evinced by this plush 56 track, 2CD overview of his later career, as one of South Texas record maverick Huey Meaux’s stable of stars, was devastatingly beautiful and haunting.

Born in 1929,Gulfport, Mississippi, to a poor, segregationist, labourer father and an adoring, nurturing mother, Donley began playing and singing in bands, aged 11. In 1948, he joined the US army, but was quickly an Undesirable Discharge, for badly beating a black non-commissioned officer. He was married five times in twelve years, and each wife received a beating at his hands. Men, who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, would also find themselves hospitalised by the jealousy crazed Donley.

In 1956, Nashville country legend Owen Bradley recognised Donley’s song writing talent, and he signed to Decca Records until 1960. His significant number ”˜Born To Be A Loser’, helped define the swamp pop music genre.

Yet Donley keep screwing up. Dropped by Decca, at his request, and Ace (US), Donley started performing in local clubs. Occasionally he would mug the punters and drinkers for extra cash.

Aided by local Gulfport musician/songwriter Murphy ”˜Pee Wee’ Maddux, Donley auditioned his ”˜What A Price’ song for the great Fats Domino. Fats loved the song and it became his 44th hit in early 1961. Domino would record a further six Donley copyrights, and adapt ”˜The Domino Twist’ as ”˜Dance With Mr. Domino’. Surprisingly, Domino also personally liked Donley and the pair became unlikely friends (The Complete Tear Drop Singles And More features an incredible photograph of the two musicians at Domino’s home).

Yet Donley would rather sell his songs for a couple of hundred bucks to his now manager Maddux and others, rather than register his own compositions or set up his own publishing company. Donley had become involved with the notorious Reverend J. Charles Jessup, a bent TV and radio evangelist. Jessup was eventually busted for mail fraud, but not before he had persuaded Donley to sign over all his copyrights, past and future, for $1,000. An astonishingly prolific writer, continuously short of cash, Donley sold most of his songs as soon as he wrote them believing that he could always write another one the next day. This he invariably did.

When Donley’s fifth wife, Lillie Mae, had finally been driven out of his home, the tortured singer took his own life by asphyxiating himself with exhaust fumes inside his 1958 Chrysler on 20th January 1963. The handwritten lyrics to arguably his greatest song, the achingly sad ”˜I’m To Blame’, were found with his few possessions in the car.

Donley had wanted the R&B band Cozy Corley and the Blue Gardenias to play at his funeral, but this could never happen in the strictly segregated Mississippi of the early 60’s. Even Fats Domino, who had personally offered the song writer financial compensation for hit Donley songs he recorded, had to suffer the indignity of just being able to send a floral tribute.

Credited to Kenny James, Donley’s amusing ”˜A Woman’s Gotta Have Her Way’ and romantic ”˜Please Mr Sandman’ 1962 single kick off the first CD of this excellent testament to an extremely soulful singer. ”˜Let Me Told You’ simply rocks, ”˜I Really Got The Blues’ struts, while ”˜You’re Why I’m So Lonely’, ”˜My Forbidden Love’ and ”˜Think It Over’ (one of the few songs that actually bears his name, with a co-write credit to Lillie Mae) ache with fragility and heartbreak. ”˜Loving Cajun Style’, the last release during Donley’s lifetime, is a jubilant celebration of Cajun life, to rival Hank Williams’ ”˜Jambalaya (on The Bayou)’.

The second CD consists of mostly unissued Donley demos that Ace’s Alec Palao and Rounce discovered in the Meaux tape inventory in Houston, Texas, during March 2011. Featuring versions of ”˜What A Price’, ”˜The Domino Twist’ and ”˜Forever Lillie Mae’ the demos are presented as recorded, with only minor audio modifications, featuring The Vikings directed by a young Mac Rebennack (aka Dr. John) on many of the tunes. There are snatches of Jimmy Donley’s speaking voice introducing some tracks, which are particularly poignant.
This is simply a truly fantastic CD and all involved are to be heartily congratulated for bringing it to the light of day. Donley’s astounding musical legacy endures.”¨

2. Various Artists – The FAME Studios Story 1961-1973 Home of the Muscle Shoals Sound

Various Artists - The FAME Studios Story 1961-1973 Home of the Muscle Shoals
Various Artists - The FAME Studios Story 1961-1973 Home of the Muscle Shoals

It was half-century ago that the recording studio, record label and publishing venture originally called Florence Alabama Music Enterprises established itself and its trademark sound, with the 1961 hit recording of ”˜You Better Move On’ by Arthur Alexander. In the fifty years since, FAME Studios and its distinctive founder Rick Hall have been at the vanguard of the renowned Muscle Shoals Sound. FAME started the movement where a small region of Alabama in the back of beyond would grow into the very epicentre of southern soul, a sacred place where musicians, singers and devotees alike still make a very definite pilgrimage in the anticipation of capturing a small fragment of the enchantment behind so many hit records: James & Bobby Purify’s ”˜I’m Your Puppet’, Wilson Pickett’s ”˜Land Of 1,000 Dances’, Etta James’ ”˜Tell Mama’ and a myriad of others.”¨”¨Rick Hall is now a venerable music business figure, but in the 1960s he was a driven young man with an obsessive vision who make it against almost overwhelming odds. There are few self-sufficient producer/engineers in the history of popular music, and Hall is paramount amongst them. Atlantic, Chess and many other eminent labels congregated at FAME to profit from the sound, the musicians, the song material and the atmosphere that Rick Hall had fashioned. ”¨”¨The FAME Studios Story 1961-1973 is a lavish and exhaustive three CD set derived from two years’ worth of intrepid deep soul mining by Ace’s Alec Palao, Tony Rounce and Dean Rudland at the sanctified FAME vault. The result is an authoritative omnibus that focuses upon the glory days of the studio and the label. It is a flexible, triumphant overview that, across 75 tracks, underscores both performers and records that are recognized all time greats or superb lesser-known entries in the glossary of soul.

”¨”¨The line-up is an elemental anthology 1960s soul, including Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Etta James, Arthur Conley (the standard ”˜Sweet Soul Music’), Irma Thomas (the funky ”˜Cheater Man’), Joe Tex (”˜Hold What You’ve Got’), Clyde McPhatter (the ebullient ”˜A Shot Of Rhythm & Blues’), Lou Rawls (the staggering ”˜Bring It Home To Me’), Spencer Wiggins and Otis Clay (the famous ”˜Do Right Woman, Do Right Man’). Deep soul fans will have appreciation for The Blues Busters (”˜Don’t Lose Your Good Thing’), Billy Young, Maurice & Mac (”˜Why Don’t Try Me’), Willie Hightower (the definitive reading of ”˜Walk A Mile In My Shoes’, as covered by Elvis), Bettye Swann, Little Richard’s 1970 dazzling rockin’ soul workout ”˜Greenwood, Mississippi’ and numerous others. Particular deliberation is paid to those acts closely associated with the Fame label – Candi (”˜The Thanks I Get For Loving You’) Staton, Jimmy Hughes and Clarence Carter (the classic ”˜Patches’)- as well as its inestimable stable of writers, producers and players, including Dan Penn, Spooner Oldham, George Jackson (the amazing ”˜Find ”˜em, Fool ”˜em And Forget ”˜em’) and the Fame Gang (the catchy as hell instrumental ”˜Grits And Gravy’). The collection also includes several of the noteworthy pop hits recorded at the studio by The Osmonds (”˜One Bad Apple’), Tommy Roe and Bobbie Gentry (one of the few pop hits to sing the praises of a move into prostitution, ”˜Fancy’), as well as more obscure recordings by the Del Rays (the electrifying ”˜Fortune Teller’, covered by Iggy Pop), Mark V (the fine 1963 instrumental ”˜Night Rumble Pt1′) and Terry & The Chain Reaction (the grooving swamp pop rocker ”˜Keep Your Cool’). ”¨”¨With unparalleled entrée granted to its tape and photo archive, more than a third of the contents of The FAME Studio Story 1961-1973 are new to CD, with over a dozen tracks never issued ”“ including previously unheard rarities by Otis Redding (the incredible 1967 demo of ”˜You Left The Water Running’) and Arthur Alexander. The extravagantly presented parcel comes with an 84-page book laden with photographs, two edifying essays by Rounce and Palao and inclusive track notes, all of which are based upon new interviews with many of the fundamental characters involved. The FAME Studio Story 1961-1973 is an indispensable acquisition.

3. Various Artists ”“ Further Mellow Cat ‘n’ Kittens: Hot R&B and Cool Blues 1946-1951

3. Various Artists ”“ Further Mellow Cat 'n' Kittens: Hot R&B and Cool Blues 1946-1951
3. Various Artists ”“ Further Mellow Cat 'n' Kittens: Hot R&B and Cool Blues 1946-1951

”¨With the fifth volume in the Mellow Cats ‘n’ Kittens series, compiled and noted by Tony Rounce, Ace continue to keep alive the wonderful late 1940’s/early 1950’s R&B and blues productions of Los Angeles’ Modern Music Company’s founder, Jules Bihari. Ace have taken the opportunity to complete the digitisation of the Modern discographies of several artists who have appeared on previous volumes, such as the Three Bits Of Rhythm (the humorous, mock children’s song detailing marital infidelity, ”˜The Man That Comes To My House’) and Felix Gross (the divine ”˜Mary You Are Mine Pts1&2′). Further Mellow Cat ‘n’ Kittens features tracks by mainstays of the Modern catalogue that were previously thought lost (the great Jimmy Witherspoon’s first solo Modern track, the outstanding, lusty Latin rhythm propelled ”˜Motel’, worth the price of this CD alone) or were undiscovered until relatively recently (Hadda Brooks excellent, resigned heartbreaker ”˜Why Did You Say We’re Through’, concealed on the back of a Smokey Hogg acetate). ”¨”¨There are eminent cuts by previous featured Mellow Cats ‘n’ Kittens artists such as Sylvester ”˜Big Duke’ Henderson (a virtuoso rendering of the standard ”˜Trouble In Mind’ and the bluesy ”˜In The Evening When The Sun Goes Down’) ”˜Big’ bandleader Jim Wynn (the mean ”˜Cold Blooded Boogie’ with vocalist Snake Slims), Herb Fisher (the intoxicating ”˜Wine, Wine, Wine’, the strident ”˜Don’t Want Nobody Else’) and Johnny Alston’s Orchestra’s jumping, gospel influenced ”˜Everything Will Be Alright’ ”“ all fine hawkers of the blues and R&B, the roots of rock ”˜n’ roll, that ignited the vibrant nightlife scene on South Central LA’s Central Avenue during the years immediately following the end of World War II. From Houston, Texas, is Gory Carter’s solitary Modern session (the soulful ”˜Four O’Clock In The Morning’ and the blazing ”˜Seven Days’). Up from New Orleans is a swinging cut by the George Alexander band that was originally disguised as the work of Ramp Davis (”˜Baby Sue aka Mary Sue’). Back on the west coast the great boogie woogie pianist Pete ”˜P.K.’ Johnson rolls the ivory keys on ”˜Sunset Romp’ just as he did for years with the illustrious Big Joe Turner, and jazz guitar/vocal group icon Teddy Bunn jamming with a smokin’ trio led by Kansas City piano king Jay McShann on ”˜In The Oven’.

With nine previously unissued recordings this fifth instalment of Mellow Cat ‘n’ Kittens, the contents are as strong as on any previous volume. Ample further quality vintage Modern repertoire records are slated for Ace reissue in the next couple of years, which is of course good news. In the words of Luke Jones & His Orchestra’s boisterous 1949 number, ”˜Jump Me Some Boogie.’”¨”¨

4. The Balfa Brothers ”“ Play Traditional Cajun Music

The Balfa Brothers ”“ Play Traditional Cajun Music
The Balfa Brothers ”“ Play Traditional Cajun Music

And now for something completely different: a totally updated issue an old Ace Balfa Brothers’ 2 LPs-on-1 CD, The Balfa Brothers Play Traditional Cajun Music (1965) and The Balfa Brothers Play Traditional Cajun Music (1974), originally released in the early days of CD manufacture in 1990.

Supervised by John Broven, author of South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous, with notes by Louisiana musician and author Ann Savoy, who has known and played with the Louisianan Balfas and written up their story in her highly praised book, Cajun Music: A Reflection of a People, this a first class introduction to this incredible, timeless music.
The Balfas’ fascinating story, as fully documented in the booklet (with super photos, label shots, LP reproductions and full Cajun French-English lyric translations), is told here. The fine mastering, of course, has also been totally updated and upgraded. ”¨Clearly what made these original LPs so important is that they marked a return in the 1960s and 1970s to traditional Cajun music, which had been left behind by the newer Cajun honky-tonk sound, which itself was dying on its feet. The leader and virtuoso fiddler Dewey Balfa convinced Swallow Records boss, Floyd Soileau, to record the brothers when Floyd was reminded that Dewey had recorded an in-demand but long unavailable Cajun song, ”˜La Valse De Bon Baurche’, for Khoury’s Records way back in 1951. It came out on Swallow in 1965 as ”˜Drunkard’s Sorrow Waltz’, The Balfas Brothers’ first epochal single. ”¨The 1965 and 1974 Swallow albums ensued and are presented here with two rare 45s from 1977 (”˜In My Old Wagon’/ ”˜Cowboy Waltz’) and 1980. The latter 1980 single, ”˜Texas Two Step’, features all-time-great accordion player Nathan Abshire, with whom Dewey recorded and played for many years.

The warm acoustic feeling of the Balfa Brothers music is revitalizing. In these amplification free recordings you can hear the natural resonance of the instruments, the incessant drones, the tight rhythms and the subtleties in the vocal delivery of these many poignant, sad songs, such as ”˜La Valse De Grand Bois/Big Woods Waltz’, ”˜My True Love’ and ”˜Parlez nous A Boire/ Talking About Drinking’.”¨

5. Various Artists ”“ The Downey Story ”“ Landlocked

Various Artists ”“ The Downey Story ”“ Landlocked
Various Artists ”“ The Downey Story ”“ Landlocked

Last, but by no means least, one of the best, possibly the premier reissue compilation CD’s of 2011. Loving compiled by musician/music archivist Brian Nevill, who also wrote the diligently researched liner notes, Landlocked features twenty four of the best tracks released by Downey records between 1959 to 1967, including some unissued material, that represents a schematic overall picture of this highly significant Californian independent label’s catalogue.”¨Nevill’s previous compilations in the five year-old Downey series (Intoxica! Strange & Sleazy Instrumental Sounds, It Came From The Suburbs, R&B On Lakewood Boulevard, It Came From The Beach, It Came From The Garage!, The Rumblers- It’s A Gas!) have concentrated on instrumentals, early 60s pop, R&B, garage rockers and surf music. On this occasion he has gathered tracks that are difficult to contain within any of these musical genres (Northern Soul collector’s items, New Orleans R&B by the cream of the Crescent City’s ex-patriot musicians living in Southern California in the mid-60s, some Sunshine Pop and doo wop) together with some previously unreleased gems and alternate takes, while revisiting a few important sides essential for a label overview.

Downey’s first huge guitar surf hit was the immortal ”˜Pipeline’ by the Chantays, released in 1962. The late, great Johnny Thunders delivered a brilliant punk rockin’ cover of this classic tune on his first 1979 solo LP, So Alone. But even Thunder’s could not come close to capturing the otherworldly, spectral beauty of this timeless surf number, produced by then high school students, that had previously been entitled ”˜44 Magnum’.

Appropriately, after ”˜Pipeline’ comes the great 1962 garage rocker ”˜I Don’t Need You No More’, the flipside of the smash hit ”˜Boss’ (a chugging, menacing instrumental so potent that it in part inspired The Cramps’ number ”˜Garbage Man’ on their 1980 masterpiece debut LP, Songs The Lord Taught Us), the first Downey single by The Rumblers. The rabid vocal driven ”˜I Don’t Need You No More’ anticipates by many years the more extreme garage punk style of the late 1960’s and even mid 1970’s punk. The Rumblers: you cannot really argue with a band that took their name as an act of devotion for the mighty Link Wray’s 1958 anthem, ”˜Rumble’.

Other, later, garage tracks include Bud & Kathy’s ”˜Hang It Out To Dry’, ”˜Edge Of Nowhere’ by the Sunday Group and our old friends the Last Word, of ”˜Sleepy Hollow’ fame, with ”˜Freeway’, an unreleased 1966 recording. ”¨”¨A smidgen of doo wop comes in the form of the Invictas’ swinging ”˜Nellie’ and the Debonaires’ beautiful ”˜Dorothy’, while the Invictas’ original lead singer, Sonny Patterson, delivers a swaggering and bluesy ”˜Troubles’ in an alternate take from his single. Little Johnny Taylor proffers some superb R&B with ”˜I Got News For You’, as does New Orleans old hand Jessie Hill with an alternate version of his jaunty warning about the perilous influence of the cathode tube, ”˜TV Guide’. The Sunshine Pop component is in attendance with Craig & Michael’s 1967(another Chantays-related side), Stones influenced, ”˜That Kind Of Girl’, the Slipped Discs 1966 illicit affair drama ”˜Smokey Places’ and the inscrutable E.S.P Limited’s ”˜In My Heart’, featuring a groovy flute solo. ”¨”¨The mid 60’s Northern Soul sides are the kinetic 1966 ”˜Do It’ by Pat Powdrill and the dazzling horn powered ”˜Jerk Baby Jerk’ by Carl Burnett & The Hustlers. A contender as a future Northern Soul classic is Margaret Williams’ slinky 1965 ”˜My Love’, which makes its Ace CD debut here. The song was arranged by the future Walrus of Love, Mr. Barry White, who also appears as Lee Barry with ”˜I Don’t Need It’, a fantastic solo 45,one of his first, issued on Downey in 1966. Barry White worked as a producer with a number of the Downey white rock ”˜n’ roll groups, including The Rumblers, in the process turning them into the R&B band they always considered themselves to be. During this period, The Bobby Fuller Four and the totally wacked out children’s television group, The Banana Splits, were also recording Barry White’s compositions.”¨”¨Rockin’ instrumentals are represented by the Rivaires doing the infectious, organ driven 1964 dance number ”˜The Bug’, a previously unissued version of the compelling, reverb drenched surf hit ”˜Penetration’ by Ed Burkey and the magnificent Revels’ 1962 tune ”˜Comanche’. Revels fans should out the BFI’s issue on DVD of The Exiles, the incredible 1961 black and white Los Angeles cult documentary/drama film by Kent Mackenzie (1930-1980), about disenfranchised Native Americans living in Bunker Hill, LA, for which the driving ”˜Comanche’ was specially written – though remarkably not used on the rest of The Revels’ excellent soundtrack for the picture. Of course, the stone cold classic tune would enjoy worldwide popularity in 1994, when Quentin Tarantino placed the track in his film, Pulp Fiction. Finally, The Revels were accorded the attention that had always been their due.”¨

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