Ian Johnston brings us his latest round-up of recent vital releases from Ace Records, probably the best re-issue label in the world.
On sumptuous pink vinyl, here is the irrefutable evidence that the late, great Etta James was an unassailable past master of rockin’ rhythm & blues before she became the Queen of Soul. Comprised of 14 upbeat tracks recorded for Modern Records, Kent and Crown in the mid 1950s, Good Rockin’ Mama is the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll dance party compilation.
It kicks off with her own composition, Tough Lover (alternate take), a lacerating rocker channelling Little Richard, powered by James’s thunderbolt vocals. Her retort to Bo Diddley’s I’m A Man – W-O-M-A-N – and the sultry The Pick-Up (a major influence on early 60s Jamaican pop) featuring wonderful flirtatious conversational interplay between James and the tenor sax player Harold Battiste, are also unforgettable.
Richard Berry, unsung hero of rock ‘n’ roll and singer/ writer of Louie Louie, is present throughout Good Rockin’ Mama. James’s superlative, anthemic Good Rockin’ Daddy (even though it’s now featured on an objectionable bank advert, nothing can diminish its lustrous power) is a Berry composition and his unique vocals also feature on her first hit Wallflower (1954, unedited version) and the 1957 answer record Dance With Me, Henry.
Worth every penny Ace is charging for it, Good Rockin’ Mama is an obligatory purchase.
The late 50s/ early 60s was the Golden Age of the rock ‘n’ roll instrumental. The wailing saxophone and twanging guitar where the instruments that conveyed the liberating sounds of primal rock ‘n’ roll action. David Burke and Alan Taylor of the venerable Pipeline Magazine have compiled 26 hot rock ‘n’ roll instrumentals, all rarities and some previously unissued on this fabulous limited edition CD.
Beginning with the original demo version of the celebrated anthem Walk Don’t Run by the then kings of the instrumental music, The Ventures (four other hot obscure tracks by them also feature on the compilation – including the cool Latin influenced The Spur and Sabrosa), Long- Lost Honkers & Twangers delivers plenty of thrills and spills.
Highlights are numerous and varied. There’s a raunchy 1967 version of Johnny & The Hurricanes late 50’s instrumental hit Red River Rock plus their wigged out The Psychedelic Worm; the unstoppable roller-coasting 1965 number Ghost Train by The Swanks (worth the price of the CD alone); note perfect Duane Eddy imitators The Gigolos with Night Creature; The Champs’ (of Tequila fame) version of South Of The Border; the 1961 jungle rock of Richie Allen’s Goochy Bamba and The Exports’ sleazy, Car Hop (1964).
Long-Lost Honkers & Twangers provides ample proof, if any were needed, that the twang is still the thang.
Accumulated and noted by Ian Saddler, Boppin’ Bayou: More Dynamite is the third dynamic Ace compilation of late 50s/early 60s frenzied South Louisiana rock ‘n’ roll, most of which is unbelievably previously unreleased (two other excellent volumes featuring Bayou Rhythm ‘n’ Blues and Raw Blues are also available). Taken from the vaults of Louisianan label bosses JD Miller, Eddie Shuler, Carol Rachou and Charles ‘Dago’ Redlich, Boppin’ Bayou: More Dynamite could well be the best release in the series to date.
From Peto Marlow & The Rhythm Kings’ celebratory Rock And Roll Beat yields a bumper crop of rock ‘n’ roll: the prime rockabilly of Wiley Jeffers’ My Love is True aka My Love Is Just For Love, the slow, spooked Crazy Dreams of Ken Lindsey (if The Cramps had ever heard this previously unissued track they would have undoubtedly covered it), the rollicking Clababel by Vince Anthony & The Blue Notes, Jim Oertling fraught tale of the lucky at cards but unlucky in love Louisiana Gambler, the aptly named Tommy Strange channelling Jerry Lee Lewis for Nervous And Shakin’ All Over and the out of this world I’m In Orbit by an unknown rocker. There is also some prime Cajun rock ‘n’ roll from Burnell Martin (Burnell’s Boogie) and Merton Thibodeaux (Big Basile) and Joe Bonsall and his French Accordion (Linda Lee (What You Mean To Me)).
Boppin’ Bayou: More Dynamite illustrates just how much vintage rock ‘n’ roll, of remarkable quality, remains unreleased. Long may Ace continue to unearth these recordings, producing further editions of explosive Boppin’ Bayou compilations.
Compiled and noted by Ady Croasdell, Era Records Northern Soul relates the story of how by 1962 Herb Newman’s Los Angeles Era record label, which had preferred Tin Pan Alley ditties to rock ‘n’ roll, had begun to release records by black artists who would become venerated on the Northern Soul scene in England many years later. The magnificent 24 tracks featured on this CD, ranging from impassioned ballads, soul, and stomping popcorn, radiate the uplifting, brilliant spirit that would inspire such devotion on the UK Northern Soul scene.
Black vocalist Jewel Aken’s had produced a big pop hit with the number The Birds And The Bees, but that smash was the product of session with the masterful soul group The Turn Arounds. Two radiant 1964 tracks by The Turn Arounds are included here – the grooving Ain’t Nothin’ Shakin’ and the horn powered, gospel infused Run Away And Hide. A previously unreleased track, the driving, late 60’s Your Good Lovin’, shows that Jewel Aken was highly adept at dance floor soul as well as pop.
Jesse Davis’ anthemic 1967 Gonna Hang On In There Girl would become a worthy Northern Soul dancefloor favourite, future star Brenda Holloway shines on the Soul-Mates 1963 strident I Get A Feeling, The Lovemates’ Boomerang and in her right with the Carrolls on the bitter sweet I Ain’t Gonna Take You Back, while Steve Flanagan’s 1967 I’ve Arrived sounds like the best dance floor Bond theme that John Barry never wrote.
Together with a previously unreleased versions of Billy Watkins’ The Ice-Man and Dance With Me, Bruce Cloud’s Meet Me At Midnight and Vince Howard’s smouldering The Blue Shadow, Era Records Northern Soul is a vital release.
At last! A 24 track, double coloured vinyl issue of Ace’s acclaimed CD compilation of the mid 60’s Fame studio recordings of the exalted blue eyed soul songwriter/singer Dan Penn, who also happened to produce the 1967 Box Tops/Alex Chilton hit, The Letter.
Dan Penn is not nearly as famous as the soul songs that he wrote for others to perform – The Puppet aka I’m Your Puppet recorded by James & Bobby Purify, Keep On Talking by James Barnett, Aretha Franklin’s version of Do Right Woman, Do Right Man, Otis Redding’s interpretation of You Left The Water Running, Ted Taylor’s Feed The Flame, Percy Sledge’s reading of Dark End Of The Street, to name but a few. Yet in Peter Guralnick’s memorable 1986 volume concerning the celebrated Muscle Shoals music scene of the 1960s, Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom, the revered writer described Penn as the “secret hero” of Golden Age R&B.
These remarkable recordings by Penn singing his own renowned compositions, many co-written by Spooner Oldham, profoundly different in style from the hit versions and made between 1964 and 1966 at the legendary Rick Hall’s FAME Studios, totally justify Guralnick’s claims for the singer songwriter.
As sleeve note writer and co-compiler Alex Palao states, Penn was the real deal, a white Southerner who had an intuitive appreciation for the natural emotion of black music, who ended up producing the quintessence of southern soul writing. Furthermore, on The Fame Recordings Penn is revealed to be an incredible singer, drawing upon his own background in the Methodist Church and the influence of singers such as Ray Charles, who he heard on the radio. The result is a scratchy, raw vocal, brimming with unfettered passion.
If you’re looking for 24 carat soul, look no further than the treasure trove contained within the grooves of Dan Penn – The Fame Recordings.
All words by Ian Johnston. More work by Ian on Louder Than War can be found in his author’s archive.