Disc 1, 1941 to 1948 recordings, 22 tracks, 67:50 minutes
Disc 2, 1947 to 1951 recordings, 26 tracks, 77:54 minutes
Disc 3, 1950 to 1953 recordings, 24 tracks, 70:53 minutes
Disc 4, 1952 to 1954 recordings, 28 tracks, 79:36 minutes
Disc 5, 1955 to 1962 recordings, 24 tracks, 64:38 minutes
Each CD is a different picture disc and that picture is replicated on the inlay beneath the see-through CD tray. A team of four have carried out the transfers - CHRISTIAN ZWARG, VICTOR PEARLIN and MATT CAVALUZZA (Disc and Metalpart Transfers), BILL DAHL (Tape Comparisons) and final Mastering done by CHRISTIAN ZWARG.
BILL DAHL does his usual storming job of chronicling the ups and downs of Crudup's recording career (all those missing Royalties from the Presley years) and there are quotes peppering the text. There's a section called 'Impressions From The South In The 1940s' where we get Pages 12 to 17 filled with colour plates of images from that time - then another section called 'The South Side Of Chicago, Illinois In The 1940s' on Pages 30 to 35 with full plate black and white photos. But bluntly little of it has to do with Crudup himself and feels like filler. There are only five or six 'actual' images of Crudup for the whole 22-year period - most of which get duplicated in varying forms. The Discography pictures three tape reels - one a page - without anyone telling you in an aside what they are! You have to go deep within the Discography to find out that EDVB 3430 is "She Ain't Nothing But Trouble". The lone reference in the Discography to one of only two LPs issued during the period - and they get it wrong. "I'm Gonna Dig Myself A Hole" is on LPV-573 and not LPV-57 - and how does the untrained eye know what 'LPV-57' is anyway? I'm always amazing in these supposed scholarly Discographies that no one seems to name the actual Record Label or title of the LP they're referencing. It's actually a reason why I do a Discography myself.
Having said that - these are minor niggles compared to the images that crop up everywhere and delight every time to look at them. There are beautiful US 45 label repros of "Rock Me Mamma" on Groove, "Mean Ole Frisco" on Fire and those period evocative 78s of "My Mama Don't Allow Me" and "Dirt Road Blues. Key players like Ransom J. Knowling who played String Bass on the 1946 RCA session that produced the legendary "That's All Right" is pictured with other musicians on Page 10. There’s a rare black and white of Joe McCoy who was on Crudup’s very first session for "Black Pony Blues" in September 1941 as World War II raged in Europe (also pictured on Page 10). There's a handy 'Alphabetical' track listing on Pages 60 and 61 and the ‘man with a guitar standing by the train tracks’ variant of the "Mean Ol' Frisco" Fire Records LP is pictured on Page 42.
The Music - Disc 1 is mostly the old Bluebird 78s and the Audio is accordingly crackly but hugely atmospheric. In fact there are moments on the 'three gold teeth' of "Black Pony Blues" and the identikit-sounding 'die before my time' of "Death Valley Blues" where he sounds like Robert Johnson with that Hellhound coming from the rear. There's incredibly clean Audio on Crudup's own "My Mama Don't Allow Me" where mummy doesn't want Arthur to stay out all night long - prey for those catfish who like a playboy on their line. "Mean Ole Frisco" and that '...low down Santa Fe...' has been taken by so many Blues Pioneers that it's almost turned into a standard (Muddy Waters, Little Walter and Eric Clapton all made it famous in their own way). Other highlights amidst the bare bones 78s are the 'what are you trying to do' of "Ethel Mae" and it 'cost me my baby' of "Cool Disposition". His guitar work on the 'my baby loves me right' of "So Glad Your Mine" is more gutbucket than virtuoso but there's a sameness to the melody of "No More Lover" that makes it less memorable.
The Audio on Disc 2 takes a giant leap forward as we reach September 1946 - "You Got To Reap" and "Chicago Blues" cooking - his Trio filled out by Ransom J Knowling on Double Bass and Judge Lawrence on Drums (the cymbals and Double Bass of "I Want My Lovin'" are startling). But then we're hit with the big daddy - a record that literally changed the fabric of the known Universe. Arthur Crudup's "That's All Right" was of course Elvis Presley's first Sun 45 in June 1954 - when the mighty Pelvis Rockabilly-fied that sucker into something extraordinary under the watchful eye of Sam Phillips. Even now it’s a thrill to hear this amazing slice of history – and sounding sweet too. A touch of that 'yeah man' Rockabilly/Rock 'n' Roll sound also surfaces on "Hey Mama-Everything's All Right". Clapton has done "Roberta Blues" and Arthur’s cover of Elmore James' "Dust My Broom" couldn't be more different than the hundreds of slasher guitar copycats that followed.
A hugely enjoyable Disc 3 opens with an Engineer naming the Take number (many track are like this) on a fantastic "Mean Old Santa Fe" - a 1950 Blues bopper 78" that had the slower "Oo Wee Darling (Love Me With A Thrill)" on the flipside of RCA Victor 22-0092. "Never No More (Take A)" starts the Previously Unreleased tracks rolling - a great shuffling Blues recorded April 1951 at RCA Victor Studios with his trusty duo of Knowling and Riley on Double Bass and Drums. "Why Did You Leave Me (Take A)" provides the second of the unreleased tracks and is similar to its predecessor. Take B of "My Baby Left Me" is the master used for the 1951 RCA Victor 78" (22-0109) and rare 45 (50-0109) - a track Jon Fogerty's Creedence Clearwater Revival covered on their 1970 LP "Cosmo's Factory" (Dave Edmunds even had a go on his 1977 Swan Song Records LP "Get It" too). Other slightly Rockabilly cuts (akin to Elvis' "That's All Right") include "Where Did You Stay Last Night" and "Goin' Back To Georgia". Uncle Sam wants words with the Big Boy on "Mr. So And So" and poor Arthur has had the Blues all night long on the mournful “Late In The Evening” (4 o’clock in the morning and still out in the street).
Disc 4 offers up a tasty 10 new Previously Unreleased cuts - best of which is the ivory roller "Help Me To Bear This Heavy Load" with Thomas Patten on Piano while Robert Fulton uses both Harmonica and Guitar and the sparse but wickedly good "She Ain't Nothing But Trouble" recorded March 1950 with his duo of Knowling and Lawrence. Take 8 is the unreleased version of "Nelvina" recorded January 1952 with Jimmy Sheffield on String Bass and N. Butler on Drums. The 1962 rare and original "Mean Ol' Frisco" LP on Fire Records and its incredibly productive sessions dominate Disc 5 - where Arthur cut new versions of his old songs with great effect and a rearranging nod to what Presley did at Sun. I swear but the "Mean Ol' Frisco" album and its superior audio/renditions is a bit of an unsung masterpiece - and I can see why its rarity value is clocked at a cool $900.00 or more in Price Guides (if you can locate one). The rest of the tracks turned up on varying CD compilations across the years and are largely outtakes from those early 1962 sessions (it's easy to hear why they were so popular with reissue labels - they were so damn good and well-recorded into the bargain).
A mammoth project and clearly not for the faint-hearted - nonetheless "A Music Man Like Nobody Ever Saw" is the kind of Box Set that only cements Bear Family’s name as the Box Set label. A hero of musical history finally given the treatment and document he's always deserved. Roll on Box No. 2...