Ian Johnston brings us his latest round-up of vital releases from Ace Records, probably the best re-issue label in the world.
Various Artists – Ace 40
Now, this will be make a fantastic Christmas present – a celebration of forty glorious years in the reissue business for Ace, denoted by this luxurious book package containing seven 7-inch vinyl 45-rpm singles. Ending with Joe Strummer’s first recording for Ace’s forerunner the Chiswick label, the pre-punk 101’ers’ boisterous ‘Keys To Your Heart’, and beginning with a great alternative take of the late, great B.B. King’s ‘Confessin’ The Blues’, this beautiful, this fantastic, 14 track single box-set covers the wide range of musical genres that Ace has famously restored and reissued.
From R&B (an alternate version of Etta James’ driving ‘Tough Lover’) to rockabilly (Glen Glenn’s eternally cool ‘One Cup Of Coffee And A Cigarette’), girl groups (The Shirelles’ jubilant ‘You’re Under Arrest’), soul (an alternative take of ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ by Otis Redding) mod jazz (Eddie Jefferson’s groovy vocal cover of Horace Silver’s 1968 jazz composition ‘Psychedelic Sally’), fervent funk (Johnny King & The Fatback Band’s storming ‘Keep On Brother Keep On’), folk rock (The Charlatans’ assertive ‘I Got Mine’) and 60s garage rock (an undubbed version of The Zombies’ ‘Don’t Cry For Me’) – Ace 40 has it all within its stylish covers.
If you want this elegant jewel you better move quickly; it’s limited to 1000 copies around the globe. Here’s to another 40 enduring years of glory for Ace Records
Various Artists – Bobby Gillespie Presents Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down
Presented as a double album on clear vinyl in a gatefold sleeve, or as a CD package, the wonderfully atmospheric and unpredictable tracks that comprise this compilation are all chosen by the former Jesus & Mary Chain drummer and Primal Scream prime mover, Bobby Gillespie. Also noted by the charismatic singer, this fabulous collection of tracks perfectly evokes the emotionally fragile mood of a Sunday morning after a particularly heavy Saturday night.
Both autobiographically revealing and perceptive in his assessments of the artists he has chosen for his compilation within the liner notes, and unafraid to run three sombre Beach Boys tracks in a row (‘Til I Die (Alternate Mix)’, ‘Forever (A Cappella Mix)’ and ‘You’re Welcome’), Gillespie’s Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down is essentially the perfect ambience mix tape. Highlights include a rare remix version of groundbreaking keyboard duo Suicide’s love song ‘Cheree’ (only available on the album version of this set), John Barry’s haunting harmonica led theme for the 1969 picture ‘Midnight Cowboy’, Dion’s wild mid-70s collaboration with Phil Spector ‘Born To Be With You’ (the LP of the same name has accurately been described as ‘the day’ to ‘the night’ evinced in Spector’s 1977 production for Leonard Cohen’s Death Of A Ladies Man), Gene Clark’s poignant acoustic ballad for the 1972 Dennis Hopper documentary ‘American Dreamer’, Link Wray’s committed 1971 put down of The Establishment ‘Ice People’ and, of course, Kris Kristofferson’s masterful rendition of his song, ‘Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down’.
Fittingly, Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down comes to an elegant close with Jerry ‘The Killer’ Lee Lewis’ totally assured 1980 reading of the Judy Garland standard, ‘Over The Rainbow’. “His version is kinda heartbreaking but at the same time it’s tough,” is Gillespie’s precise assessment of this prime slice of Killer country.
You can be sure, as night follows day, there will be times when Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down is the only compilation album you’ll ever need. Good work Mr. Gillespie.
Link Wray – Early Recordings/Good Rockin’ Tonight
Frederick Lincoln ‘Link’ Wray Junior, a half-Shawnee Native American who died on 5th November, 2005, aged seventy-six, shaped the course of Rock ‘N’ Roll. It was Link Wray’s grinding and utterly malevolent 1958 instrumental ‘Rumble’ that ignited his career and sent shock waves throughout popular music: a slow, tense, over-driven fuzz riff, which had the apt working title of ‘Oddball’; ‘Rumble’ defines the very essence of Rock ‘n’ Roll music; sex and violence.
Many radio stations refused to play ‘Rumble’. The few DJ’s who did play the track, such as Dick Clark, refused to even mention the title – “Here is a slow instrumental from Link Wray…” Against all odds, the record broke through. ‘Rumble’ by Link Wray and his Ray Men (sometimes billed Wraymen or Raymen), a highly ‘uncommercial’ instrumental tune on the small independent Cadence records, receiving little airplay or support, was predictably a huge hit. A Capitol Records company rep had previously described a tape of ‘Rumble’ as a “death dirge” (accurate and a good alternative title, but he wasn’t being complimentary), while a Decca Records man offered the more esoteric assessment that the track sounded like “spaghetti strings.” ‘Rumble’ (two versions of the number are featured on this compilation) is so utterly simple that it manages to incorporate a descending Blues scale that would be included during the first lesson on the guitar and could be played by almost anyone. Yet consummate stylist Wray’s thrash execution and initial conception is everything.
Wray did produce some classic instrumentals on major label Epic, the ultra cool ‘Slinky’ (the title says it all), the stomping ‘Comanche’ and ‘Guitar Cha-Cha’. But the label unwisely tried to shape his ornery creative drive by forcing him to imitate Duane Eddy’s infinitely more conventional sound. After Link’s shot at his own label failed (Rumble Records – what else?), Swan Records of Philadelphia gave Link Wray And His Raymen their artistic freedom, resulting in his third big smash in 1963, the devastating ‘Jack The Ripper.’ A slew of incredible singles followed: ‘Turnpike U.S.A’, ‘Run Chicken Run’, ‘The Shadow Knows’ (Link’s tribute to Orson Welles’ radio show with it’s spoken intro: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows…”), ‘Branded’ and ‘Ace Of Spades’, to name but a few. All these incredible numbers, and many more, are featured on this 67 minute long Ace CD re-issue of their 1978 Chiswick LP compilation Early Recordings and it’s 1982 follow-up, Good Rockin’ Tonight.
Link Wray rarely sang. This was due to the fact that he had contracted TB while serving with the US Army during the Korean War in the early 50’s, leading to the removal of one of his lungs. Yet he did possess a fabulously ripped apart Rock ‘n’ Roll voice, which you can hear in full flight on his great version of his hero Elvis Presley’s rendition of Roy Brown’s ‘Good Rockin’ Tonight’ and Willie Dixon’s ‘Hidden Charms’.
Arguably, Wray’s recordings for Swan were the very greatest he ever produced. In 1978 these groundbreaking compilations introduced Wray’s’ 1963 through 1966 waxings for the Swan label to British audiences, as many had never been issued in the UK. They had a major impact upon the music scene in the late 70s that endures to this day. Bobby Gillespie correctly states on the back cover of this CD; “This Ace album has it all. If you only have to have one Link Wray album, this is it.”
B.B. King – “Here’s One You Didn’t Know About” From The RPM & Kent Vaults
B.B. King’s place as one of the founding fathers of modern blues, and therefore rock guitar playing, is set in stone. B.B. King, who died aged 89 on 14th May 2015, would also be the cornerstone of the Bihari brothers RPM and Kent Records labels, where he recorded some of his finest work.
Riley B. King was born on September 16, 1925, on a cotton plantation in Itta Bene, Mississippi. B.B.’s first big break came in 1948 when he performed on Sonny Boy Williamson’s radio program on KWEM broadcast from West Memphis. Riley B. King needed a catchy radio name. What started out as Beale Street Blues Boy was shortened to Blues Boy King, and eventually B.B. King.
Soon after his 1951 breakthrough number one RPM hit, ‘Three O’Clock Blues’ (Ike Turner featured on piano), B.B. began touring nationally, and he never stopped, performing an average of 275 concerts a year. Lovingly compiled by Roger Armstrong and Dick Shurman, who also wrote the highly informative notes, “Here’s One You Didn’t Know About” (the title taken from King’s remark as he goes off-piste in a 1961 session to play a remodeled ‘Catfish Blues aka Fishin’ After Me’) features 23 blistering alternative studio recordings and versions of songs that have never seen the light of day before. The remaining two tracks (the first version of the King blues ‘Sweet Little Angel’ and the magnificently rollicking, Latin rhythm flavoured 3rd take of ‘Don’t You Want A Man Like Me’) only appeared last year on the great Ace compilation Speak Easy: The RPM Records Story Vol 2.
Convulsing with ideas, these tracks capture all the changes that happened in 1950s blues – the intense vocals, severe guitar lines, horn-laden band sounds with wailing saxophone and trumpet sorties, the improvisatory ideas borrowed from jazz. From the lusty and swinging ‘Whole Lotta Meat aka Hey Little Girl (Take 10)’ to the wild rockin’ ‘Whole Lotta Love (Take 1 1963 Re-Record)’, the remorseful ‘Be Careful With A Fool (Take 11)’ and the impassioned reading of St. Louis Jimmy’s desperate, epic plea for salvation ‘Going Down Slow (Take 2 1959 Version)’, “Here’s One You Didn’t Know About” amply displays the enduring brilliance of B.B. King.
Various Artists – Back To The River – More Southern Soul Stories 1961-1978
Nearly ten years on from their acclaimed compilation Take Me To The River: A Southern Soul Story 1961-1977, Tony Rounce and Dean Rudland have compiled its sequel – Back To The River – More Southern Soul Stories 1961-1978. Containing another 75 examples of some the very best Southern soul produced from the early 1960s until the end of the 1970s, Rounce and Rudland, who also provide the extensive 64 page booklet notes, might well have fashioned the anthology box set of 2015.
Disc One of the set, entitled Muscle Shoals-Memphis Redux, focuses principally upon the many performers who did not originally come from that area of the south but who made an impact there. These include Philadelphia-born Solomon Burke (singing a rousing 1968 version of the civil rights anthem ‘I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel To Be Free)’, Michigan raised Betty LaVette (represented with the emotional version of the late, great Allen Toussaint’s ‘Nearer To You’) and Motown’s Mary Wells (the uplifting ‘I Found What I Wanted’, co-produced by FAME Studios head honcho Rick Hall). This disc closes with an epic and previously unreleased 1974 Stax version of The Beatles’ ‘Yesterday’, performed by The Soul Children. A soul super group gathered together by David Porter and his former song-writing partner Isaac Hayes, The Soul Children deliver a riveting 8-minute gospel testimonial rendition of The Beatles number; which openly sums up the group’s career and evokes the end of an era for soul produced in the south. Stax record company would go broke a year after The Soul Children recorded ‘Yesterday’. This box set is worth the price for this track alone.
Disc Two, Southern Routes, encompasses a much bigger swathe of the area, including Texas, New Orleans and Miami, illustrating how soul music was connected in the various locales yet also distinctive. Included on this disc are Joe Tex (whose 1961 song ‘The Only Girl (I’ve Ever Loved)’ is considered by many to be the first Southern soul record, though it was recorded in New York or Nashville), pop singer Brook Benton (who delivers a masterful 1970 cover of Tony Joe White’s ‘Rainy Night In Georgia’, taped in Miami), one-hit wonder Toussaint McCall (McCall, singing his haunting reading of ‘Nothing Takes The Place Of You’, was featured in John Waters’ 1988 picture Hairspray), Stanley Winston (singing DJ John Peel’s socially concerned favourite, ‘No More Ghettos In America’) and New Orleans musical royalty Aaron Neville (the enduring 1967 hit ‘Tell It Like It Is’).
The third disc, Going Back Home, investigates the influence southern soul had on American cities in the north. Not just confined to charting relocated southern singers who recreated the sound of their home in a new setting, Going Back Home relates how the music business chased down the then profitable sound of the south. Little Richard (the rock ‘n’ roller’s 1965 R&B astonishing comeback hit ‘I Don’t Know What You’ve Got But It’s Got Me Parts 1&2’), the mighty Don Covay who died this year (the jubilant ‘You’re Good For Me’), Aretha Franklin (the lush ‘Ain’t No Way’, recorded in New York, after a violent altercation at FAME ended her recording career in Muscle Shoals), and Bobby Rush (the bluesy marijuana number ’Mary Jane’) are a few of the artists featured here.
This is just a thumbnail sketch of the wealth of outstanding soulful material that is included on these three CDs. You will want to return Back To The River over and over again.
All words by Ian Johnston. More writing by Ian on Louder Than War can be found in his author’s archive.