Bear Family's truly fabulous "Blowing The Fuse" series of CD compilations chronicles the transition of minority ghettoized Blues into national Rhythm 'n' Blues and stretches across 16 individual single-disc volumes that cover the years 1945 to 1960. Released across 2004 and 2005 –"Blowing The Fuse" was then followed in 2008 and 2009 by Bear’s equally magnificent "Sweet Soul Music" series of 15 sets from 1961 to 1975 - complimented in turn by their spiritual and musical partners - 15 volumes of Vocal Group sets called "Street Corner Symphonies" covering 1939 to 1963 (released 2012 and 2013). I suppose you could argue that I just say, "Buy the lot man!" in a very loud voice - but bluntly they're so good - each deserves a thorough review (and that’s what I’ve done). So here goes with Volume 4 of 16...
"Blowing The Fuse - 28 R&B Classics That Rocked The Jukebox In 1948" is on Bear Family BCD 16703 AS (Barcode 4000127167033) and was released November 2004 in Germany. Each US-based yearly compilation comes in a 3-way foldout card digipak sleeve. The left flap pictures an original record relevant to the year (1948 has "A Little Bird Told Me" by PAULA WATSON on Supreme 1507), the centre flap holds a 70 to 90 page oversized booklet that slips out so you can read it separately and the right flap a colour-themed CD that matches the outer packaging. As with the 15 volumes of "Sweet Soul Music" and "Street Corner Symphonies" - each of the "Blowing The Fuse" spines makes up a whole photo when placed alongside each other (a fantastic black & white shot of a crowd of hip dudes and their gals dancing at some Saturday night bar). As you can see from the cover photos of these compilations too, the theme of people dancing and artists enjoying themselves is repeated right across all of these wonderfully restored photographs (they're from The Showtime Music Archive in Toronto). Siding the text and black/white publicity photos are uber rare trade adverts and of course those equally scarce 78’s in their lovely label bags. This 1948 issue has 72-pages in its booklet and the CD runs to a jam-packed 79:54 minutes.
THE SOUND and TRACK CHOICES:
Sourcing the best disc available (or occasional tape) Bear’s Audio Engineer genius JURGEN CRASSER has mastered each cut with care. Depending on the condition of the disc – the audio varies wildly - and as you can imagine it’s a case of astonishingly clean transfer one moment and hiss & cackle-laden version the next. While 1945, 1946 and 1947 had their fair share of rough-transfer moments – 1948 sees master tapes on a lot more entries and the resulting audio difference is consequentionally better – spectacular in places - and of course all of it imbibed with huge musical and lyrical talent and the sense of an entire nation saying to "hell-with-it-all!" after the misery of WW II...let's party...
The booklet in each of these reissues is to die for. There's an intro on Page 4 with the text for the songs beginning on Page 5 and ending on Page 70, so there's almost no wasted space. Each artist is pictured using quality publicity shots, and every now and then, a beautiful page plate of lesser-seen trade adverts, or a rare 78” in its label bag (long ago American Record labels like King, Columbia, Specialty, RCA Victor and Exclusive). What’s noticeable about the 1947 and 1948 Volumes (over 1945 and 1946) is that there’s more advert repros which are massively evocative of the time period (a Billboard 3rd Annual Poll proves that "Miracle Records set the pace" for Sonny Thompson on Page 37). Each song then has an essay on its history by noted writer COLIN ESCOTT and because the booklet allows him to spread out on each song, the details come thick and fast - it's a fabulously entertaining and informative read.
Volume 4 of 16 opens with Rock 'n' Roll history – "Write Me A Letter" by The Ravens - sung by the fabulous deep-as-the-Pacific bass vocals of the legendary Jimmy Ricks. It was the theme song of Memphis DJ Dewey Philips who began his radio show in 1949. By 1954 he was the first to pioneer Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and anyone else that pumped out Blues, Jump, R 'n' B and the new fangled sensaation of the age Rock 'n' Roll music (coloured or no). Like that other airwaves pioneer Alan Freed, Tennessee-born Philips adored Black musicians and what they played – broadcasting with wild on-the-air abandon to a segregated audience who longed for something better than the old ways. Smut isn't far from the menu with Julia Lee's wonderful "King Size Papa" where she assures us that her man has "...four foot shoulders...and that ain't all..." Furthermost she says he’ll "...last until 1992..." (I'll have a bowl of whatever he's eating says you). The Blues slow things down with the classic "Call It Stormy Monday" from the guitar of T-Bone Walker resplendent here with great Audio (the pictured 78" on Page 12 shows its full title which I've used in the track list below). The shuffling honky-tonk instrumental "Thirty-Five Thirty" by Paul Williams was an unlikely hit in 1949 - while the piano boogie-woogie of "Move Your Hand, Baby" features the hysterical vocals of Crown Prince Waterford (but what you really notice is Big Joe Turner's sideman Pete Johnson ripping up and down the piano like playing boogie-woogie was literally hotwired into his very DNA).
The Audio drops a serious notch with the rough transfer of "I Love You, Yes I Do" by Lucky Millinder's Saxophonist Bull Moose Jackson where he croons with great results (King Records took this song into litigation about songwriting credits and lost). Fun returns in the shapely audio guise of one of my fave lady singers – Nellie Lutcher – who sings the praise of her man's physique "...I wanna scream...because I've never seen...such a fine brown frame..." (steady girl). Gatemouth Moore boasts "...got a great big car and a pocketful of dough..." but still he's miserable because when he goes home Mary has left him for an even fancier suitor. I love the Clovers-smooch of "You Sure Look Good To Me" – a very cool shuffler from the Big Three Trio featuring the wit of Leonard Caston and future Chess superstar Willie Dixon.
Things then jump straight into the realms of music legend – twice. We get a cultural double-whammy - "I Can't Be Satisfied" by Muddy Waters and "Good Rockin' Tonight" by Wynonie Harris. Muddy's musical atomic bomb changed so much (and not just for Chess Records) while the Wynonie Harris cover of Roy Brown's song is said to be the one a 13-year old Elvis Presley heard – and nothing has ever been the same since. As if sensing its importance, the King Records 78" is pictured alongside an early shot of Harris on Pages 30 and 31.
Genius choices go to "Cadillac Boogie" by Jimmy Liggins with slick Chuck Berry type lyrics like "...air foam cushions and a modern design...that cat's purring...got eight kittens crying..." Another gem piano player is Camille Howard (was with Roy Milton’s band) who gives us the boogie-woogie instrumental of "X Temperaneous Blues" – a fantastic listen that will you tapping your fingers on the table top uncontrollably. Then there’s a pistol in the shape of Mabel Scott on "Elevator Baby". She's pictured on Page 45 and man what a firecracker she was - the kind of woman who would even excite her gay husband Charles Brown – she literally exuded sexy sophisticated Forties Rhythm 'n' Blues.
But my absolute favourite is the lonesome-pine guitar of "Tomorrow Night" by Laurie Johnson – it’s so good. "Tomorrow Night" would be a huge R 'n' B hit for LaVern Baker in 1955 on Atlantic Records and again for Joe Turner in 1959. Elvis also covered its quiet hurting vibe at Sun Records. 59-year old Laurie Johnson and his rare King 78" are pictured on Pages 26 and 27. "Pretty Mama Blues" by Ivory Joe Hunter is a rough transfer but doesn't stop it from being a pretty R 'n' B pleader that is so appealing (..."let me call you up some night...I'll make everything alright...") And 1948 ends with a great double shot – a Louis Jordan duet with Martha Davis on the shuffling "Daddy-O" while Amos Milburn brings down the house down with his famous "Chicken Shack Boogie". Brill...and then some...
To sum up - even though they were initially expensive as imports - as the years have gone by they've gone down in price (some online retailers via Amazon or eBay are selling them for about £8.50. But I can't help thinking that once long-time collectors actually get their hands on even one of these compilations (no matter what the date) - they'll be irresistibly hooked and need to own the lot.
For the casual buyer just looking for a great one-stop account of R&B Music for a given year - "1948" is 'the' place to start. I've collected and reviewed the whole set (16 titles)...and they're amongst my favourite reissues...
1. Write Me A Letter – THE RAVENS (National 9038, A)
2. King Size Papa – JULIA LEE and her Boyfriends (Capitol 40082, A)
3. Call It Stormy Monday But Tuesday Is Just As Bad – T-BONE WALKER and his Guitar (Black & White 122, A)
4. Thirty-Five Thirty – PAUL WILLIAMS SEXTET (Savoy 661, A)
5. Move You Hand, Baby – CROWN PRINCE WATERFORD (Capitol 40074, A)
6. I Love You, Yes I Do – BULL MOOSE JACKSON and his Buffalo Bearcats (King 4181, A)
7. Fine Brown Frame – NELLIE LUTCHER and her Rhythm (Capitol 15032, A)
8. Hey Mr. Gatemouth – GATEMOUTH MOORE (King 4211, A)
9. Tomorrow Night – LONNIE JOHNSON (King 4201, A)
10. X-Temperaneous Blues – CAMILLE HOWARD and her Trio (Specialty 307, A)
11. Good Rockin' Tonight – WYNONIE HARRIS (King 4210, A)
12. You Sure Look Good To Me – BIG THREE TRIO (Columbia 30110, A)
13. Long Gone – SONNY THOMPSON with The Sharps and The Flats (Miracle 126, A)
14. Cadillac Boogie – JIMMY LIGGINS and his Drops Of Joy (Specialty 521, A)
15. Pretty Mama Blues – IVORY JOE HUNTER and his Band (Pacific 637, A)
16. Run Joe – LOUIS JORDAN and his Tympany Five (Decca 24 448, A)
17. Elevator Baby – MABEL SCOTT (Exclusive 35, A)
18. We're Gonna Rock – BILL MOORE (featuring Paul Williams on Baritone Sax) (Savoy 666, A)
19. My Heart Belongs To You – ARBEE STIDHAM (RCA Victor 20-2572, A)
20. I Can't Be Satisfied – MUDDY WATERS with Rhythm Accompaniment (Aristocrat 1305, A)
21. Corn Bread – HAL SINGER SEXTETTE (Savoy 671, A)
22. It's Too Soon To Know – THE ORIOLES (Natural 5000, A)
23. Hop, Skip, And Jump – ROY MILTON And His Solid Senders (Specialty SP 314, B-side of “Everything I Do Is Wrong”)
24. That's Your Last Boogie – JOE SWIFT with Jonny Otis and his Orchestra (Exclusive 51, A)
25. A Little Bird Told Me – PAULA WATSON (Supreme 1507, A)
26. Long About Midnight – ROY BROWN and his Mighty, Mighty Men (DeLuxe 3154, A)
27. Daddy-O – LOUIS JORDAN and his Tympany Five (Decca 24 502. A)
28. Chicken-Shack Boogie – AMOS MILBURN (Aladdin 3014, A)