Sunday, 12 July 2015

"Dynamite! The Unsung King Of The Blues" by TAMPA RED (2015 Ace Records 2CD Reissue - Duncan Cowell 0Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...



"...I’ve Been Your Dog...But I Sure Won’t Be Your Clown..."

The phrase 'unsung hero' gets bandied about with alarming regularity in this malarkey we call reviewing – but in the case of Georgia's Blues Pioneer TAMPA RED (real name Hudson Whittaker, 1904-1981) - it is unfortunate to say that 'hero' and 'unsung' are both criminally accurate. As John Broven's lead-in pages rightly point out – Tampa Red put out mountains of US 78"s (and 7" singles) in the Forties and Fifties and was HUGE in his time - but history has forgotten him - and hipper periods of the genre seem to have largely marginalised his early contributions. More importantly Broven argues that he knocked down the Urban Blues door - a shoe-in for all the goodies to come – Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Elmore James, Jimmy Reed, Sonny Boy Williamson - and in fact much of what came out of Chicago owe him a debt – and it seems that those terribly (and clearly well educated) nice English boys at Ace Records of the UK are determined to see that debt repaid and acknowledged.

Musically "Dynamite!" feels like a double dose of Amos Milburn or Smiley Lewis but with a Bluesier more gutbucket edge. The 50-tracks across 2CDs cover Tampa Red's years at Bluebird and RCA Victor between 1941 and 1954 and are licensed from Sony Legacy (four cuts are Previously Unreleased). Disc One concentrates on his superb guitar playing and vocals (only a few cuts feature the Kazoo, they’re mostly on Disc Two) - sided by his long-term playing buddies - Lonnie Johnnie Jones on Piano, Big Maceo on Saxophone and the occasional warbling harmonica genius of Walter “Shakey” Horton and Sonny Boy Williamson II. And even as I replay this magnificent 2CD retrospective – there's a feeling of 'major release' seeping out of its every pore. Here are the sail-on lowdown blues...

UK released June 2015 (July 2015 in the USA) – "Dynamite! The Unsung King Of Blues" by TAMPA RED is a 50-track 2CD retrospective on Ace Records CDTOP2 1440 (Barcode 029667071727) and breaks down as follows...

Disc 1 (73:29 minutes):
1. Evalena (2015 Previously Unreleased 'Take A' Recorded 4 December 1953)
2. Big Stars Falling Blues (1954 USA 78" and 45 on RCA Victor 20-5594 and 47-5594, A)
3. Rambling Blues (1965 UK 4-Track EP "Rhythm & Blues Volume 3" on RCA Victor RCX-7160)
4. If I Don’t Find Another True Love (2015, Previously Unreleased)
5. So Crazy About My Baby (1953 USA 78" and 45 on RCA Victor 20-5523 and 47-5523, A)
6. If She Don’t Come Back (1954 USA 78" and 45 on RCA Victor 20-5594 and 47-5594, B-side of "Big Stars Falling Blues")
7. So Much Trouble (1953 USA 78” and 45 on RCA Victor 20-5523 and 47-5523, B-side of "So Crazy About My Baby")
8. I’ll Never Let You Go (1953 USA 78” and 45 on RCA Victor 20-5273 and 47-5273, B-side of "Got A Mind To Leave This Town")
9. Too Late Too Long (1953 USA 78” and 45 on RCA Victor 20-5134 and 47-5134, A)
10. Got A Mind To Leave This Town (2015, Previously Unreleased 'Alternate Take' of a 1953 USA 78” and 45 on RCA Victor 20-5273 and 47-5273, A)
11. I’m Gonna Put You Down (1952 USA 78” and 45 on RCA Victor 20-4722 and 47-4722, B-side of "But I Forgive You")
12. But I Forgive You (1952 USA 78” and 45 on RCA Victor 20-4722 and 47-4722, A)
13. Look A There Look A There (1952 USA 78” and 45 on RCA Victor 20-4898 and 47-4898, A)
14. She’s A Cool Operator (1951 USA 78” and 45 on RCA Victor 20-4399 and 47-4399, A)
15. I Won’t Let Her Do It (1951 USA 78” and 45 on RCA Victor 20-4275 and 47-4275, B-side of "Boogie Woogie Woman")
16. Green And Lucky Blues (1951 USA 78” and 45 on RCA Victor 20-4399 and 47-4399, B-side of "She's A Cool Operator")
17. Early In The Morning [Vocals on the B-side only by LITTLE JOHNNIE JONES] (1951 USA 78” and 45 on RCA Victor 22-0123 and 50-0123, B-side of "She's Dynamite")
18. She's Dynamite (1951 USA 78” and 45 on RCA Victor 22-0123 and 50-0123, A)
19. Pretty Baby Blues (1951 USA 78” and 45 on RCA Victor 22-0136 and 50-0136, B-side to "Since My Baby's Been Gone")
20. Sweet Little Angel (1950 USA 78” and 45 on RCA Victor 22-0107 and 50-0107, A)
21. Midnight Boogie (1951 USA 78” and 45 on RCA Victor 22-0112 and 50-0112, A)
22. I Miss My Lovin' Blues (1951 USA 78" and 45 on RCA Victor 22-0112 and 50-0112, B-side of "Midnight Boogie")
23. 1950 Blues (1950 USA 78" and 45 on RCA Victor 22-0084 and 50-0084, A)
24. Love Her With A Feelin' (1950 USA 78" and 45 on RCA Victor 22-0084 and 50-0084, B-side of "1950 Blues")
25. It's Good Like That (1950 USA 78" and 45 on RCA Victor 22-0094 and 50-0094, A)

MUSICIANS on Disc 1:
TAMPA RED – Guitar, Vocals - all tracks (Kazoo on Tracks 17 and 18)
LITTLE JOHNNIE JONES plays Piano and sings Second Vocal on Tracks 5 to 25
BILL CASIMER plays Tenor Saxophone on Tracks 11 to 12
SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON II plays Harmonica on Tracks 5 to 7
WALTER HORTON plays Harmonica on Tracks 1 to 4
WILLIE LACEY plays Guitar on Tracks 5 to 7
RANSOM KNOWLING plays Bass on Tracks 5 to 25
ODIE PAYNE plays Drums on Tracks 5 to 25

Disc 2 (73:54 minutes):
1. New Deal Blues (1950 USA 78" and 45 on RCA Victor 22-0094 and 50-0094, B-side of "It's Good Like That")
2. That's Her Own Business (1949 USA 78" on RCA Victor 22-0057, B-side of "I'll Find My Way" – Issued 1950 on USA 45 on RCA Victor 50-0041, B)
3. It's Too Late Now (1950 USA 78" and 45 on RCA Victor 22-0071 and 55-0071, A)
4. It's A Brand New Boogey (1949 USA 78" and 45 on RCA Victor 22-0043, B-side to "Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is" and 1950 USA 45 on RCA Victor 55-0027, B)
5. When Things Go Wrong With You (1949 USA 78" on RCA Victor 22-0035, A and 1950 USA 45 on RCA Victor 50-0019, B)
6. Please Try To See It My Way (1950 USA 78" on RCA Victor 22-0071, B-side to "It's Too Late Now" and 1950 USA 45 on RCA Victor 50-0071, B)
7. Keep Jumping (1948 USA 78" on RCA Victor 22-0009, A)
8. I'll Dig You Sooner Or Later (1948 USA 78" on RCA Victor 20-3160, B-side of "Grieving Blues")
9. Roaming And Rambling (1948 USA 78" on RCA Victor 20-3008, B-side of "I Know My Baby Loves Me")
10. I Know My Baby Loves Me 1948 USA 78" on RCA Victor 20-3008, A)
11. You Better Woo Your Baby (1948 USA 78" on RCA Victor 20-2849, A)
12. Let's Try It Again (1946 USA 78" on RCA Victor 20-2597, A)
13. Crying Won't Help You (1946 USA 78" on RCA Victor 20-1988, A)
14. Play Proof Woman (1946 USA 78" on RCA Victor 20-2249, A)
15. Corrine Blues (1946 USA 78" on RCA Victor 20-2432, A)
16. Detroit Blues (1945 USA 78" on Bluebird 34-0731, A)
17. I Got My Habits On (2015, Previously Unreleased)
18. Mary Lou Blues (2015, Previously Unreleased)
19. Let Me Play With Your Poodle (1942 USA 78" on Bluebird 34-0700, A)
20. My First Love Blues (1942 USA 78" on Bluebird 34-0700, B-side of "Let Me Play With Your Poodle")
21. She Want To Sell My Monkey (1942 USA 78" on Bluebird B-9024, A)
22. Mean And Evil Woman (1942 USA 78" on Bluebird B-9024, B-side of "She Want To Sell My Monkey")
23. Don't Deal With The Devil (1941 USA 78" on Bluebird B-8991, B-side "I Got A Right To Be Blue")
24. You Better Be Ready To Go (1941 USA 78" on Bluebird B-8890, A)
25. Texas Stomp by BIG MACEO (1945 USA 78" on RCA Victor 20-2028, B-side of "Maceo's 32-20")

MUSICIANS on Disc 2:
TAMPA RED – Guitar, Vocals and Kazoo – all tracks (Kazoo on many songs)
BIG MACEO (Merriweather) plays Piano on Tracks 12 to 15, 17 to 22 and 25
LITTLE JOHNNIE JONES plays Piano and sings Second Vocal on Tracks 1 and 4 to 6
BLIND JOHN DAVIS plays Piano on Tracks 10, 11 and 16
BOB CALL plays Piano on Tracks 7 to 9
JOHN GARDNER plays Alto Saxophone on Tracks 10 and 11
OETT "Sax" MALLARD plays Alto Saxophone on Tracks 7 to 9
BILL CASIMER plays Tenor Saxophone on Tracks 7 to 9
EDDIE "Sugarman" PENIGAR plays Tenor Saxophone on Tracks 2 and 3
WALTER WILLIAMS plays Trumpet on Tracks 10 and 11
RANSOM KNOWLING plays Bass on Tracks 1, 4 to 11, 16 and 23 to 24
ALFRED ELKINS plays Bass on Tracks 12 and 13
CLIFFORD "Snags" JONES plays Drums on Track 17 to 22
TYRELL "T" DIXON plays Drums on Track 25
CHARLES "Chick" SANDERS plays Drums on Tracks 14 and 15
JUDGE RILEY plays Drums on Tracks 7 to 11
ODIE PAYNE plays Drums on Tracks 1 and 4 to 6

The chunky fact-filled 28-page booklet is a feast of American 78" and 7” single labels – most of course being Bluebird and RCA Victor (there’s even Preview/Disc Jockey Copies). There’s a Discography by JOHN BROVEN on Pages 22 to 27, an extensive essay on Pages 4 to 21 by JIM O’NEAL that consulted major-name authorities like MIKE ROWE, ALAN BALFOUR and ROBERT PUTER (to name but a few) as well as RON SANTOS at Sony. Good guys like Roger Armstrong and Tony Rounce (there are many more) provided the illustrations and labels, trade adverts from 1951 Billboard newspapers, gig posters for Chicago's The Flame in 1945 and publicity photos of Tampa’s main players – Little Johnnie Jones (Piano), Ransom Knowland (Bass) and Odie Payne (Drums). There are also photos of famous contributors like the piano-player Big Maceo and Harmonica legends Big Walter Horton and Sonny Boy Williamson II. It impressive stuff and done with affection and fervour you can actually feel. Being the later material first (1950 to 1954) - Disc 1 fares best in the AUDIO department with the experienced DUNCAN COWELL handling the transfers and remasters (he did huge swathes of the superb Blue Horizon CDs to much acclaim - I've reviewed most of them). Disc 2 feels more laborious as it counts down from 1950 to 1941 and the dreaded washboard sound of the Kazoo starts to permeate almost every track – not that they aren’t wonderful Blues on here anyway.

Wanting to impress right from the off – Disc 1 opens with a sensation – a rollicking Previously Unreleased Blues romp on Piano with none other than Walter “Shakey” Horton on Harmonica. “Evalena” is the kind of track you’d expect on an early Chess Records compilation – all boogie and lyrics about “great big lies” – fab stuff. It’s followed by another hard-hitter and another genuine winner called “Big Stars Falling Blues” (Take 2) where Horton warbles in the background on the Harp - but you notice Willie Lacey’s guitar and Little Johnnie Jones doubled vocals more. A genuine rarity in the UK – his lone UK EP “Rhythm & Blues Vol.3” on RCA first came out in 1965 – and we get “Rambler Blues” – but this time Horton is very much the star with a fab Harp solo. The 2nd Previously Unreleased track from that 4 December 1953 session now surfaces as “If I Don’t Find Another True Love” (Take 2). Again you get a wicked double vocal with Jones and the Audio quality incredibly clear and in your face for all the right reasons. The Kazoo doesn’t appear until track 17 “Early In The Morning” where it kind of ruins a great Blues shuffler. The pace picks up with the wonderful R&B bopper "She's Dynamite" where the boys sing, "...she’s tight like that!" as Tampa sings the title refrain (even the Kazoo solo feels good). Another aspect to Disc 2 is the Guitar – Tampa's playing is effective and slick on "1950 Blues" (Take 2) as he moans about being his woman's dog since 1934 (and that's a mighty long time).

After the high of Disc 1 (1954 to 1950) - I’d have to admit that Disc 2 slows down a lot and with so many of the tracks featuring the dreaded Kazoo instrument (6 of the first 7 cuts for instance) – the CD feels like a lesser brother of Disc 1. That’s not to say there isn’t greatness on here. "Crying Won't Help You" and the much-covered "When Things Go Wrong With You" are great R&B tunes as is "Mary Lou Blues". The audio can be a bit rough on some of the 78’s but that 'feel' is still a wondrous thing on stuff like "Mean And Evil Woman".


Despite the slight dip in excitement on CD2 – for me this is a major reissue – and one that's been done with class by people who care. And shouldn't musical heroes be remembered that way – 'unsung' or not...

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