Sunday, 17 October 2010

“Blowing The Fuse – 27 R&B Classics That Rocked The Jukebox In 1949” by VARIOUS ARTISTS (2004 Bear Family CD Compilation, Volume 5 of 16, Jurgen Crasser Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"…Boogie Woogie…It's In Him…And It's Got To Come Out…"

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 1 of the R&B Series "Blowing The Fuse"…

"Blowing The Fuse - 27 R&B Classics That Rocked The Jukebox In 1949" is on Bear Family BCD 16704 AS (Barcode 4000127167040and 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 (1949 has "Rockin At Midnight" by Roy Brown on DeLuxe), 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 "Sweet Soul Music" and "Street Corner Symphony" setes of compilations, each of the 16 R&B 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). This 1949 issue has 72-pages in its booklet and the CD runs to a fulsome 79:10 minutes.

Bear Family have gotten all the ORIGINAL master tapes from each record company (or the best disc available) and their resident expert JURGEN CRASSER has mastered them with care - and given their age and the wildly varying sources, the sound quality is uniformly great. But - it has to be said that in comparison to 1951 to 1960, the sound on both 1949 and 1950 is a lot rougher, especially when it’s off a 78”…

The first indication of this is on Track 3 – the ballad “Bewildered” by Red Miller (originally a hit for Tommy Dorsey 10 years earlier) – it’s rough sounding, but the charm is there and still remains a lovely listen. But then things jump straight into the legendary – the awesome one-chord, foot-stomping “Boogie Chillen” by John Lee Hooker - sounding like Blues was literally invented right here.
As if sensing its importance, the Modern Records 78” is pictured alongside an early shot of him on Pages 12 and 13. Over 60 years old and this simplest of Blues stomps still has incredible power and mojo (lyrics above).

Outside of Blues (Jimmy Witherspoon) and Vocal Groups (The Orioles) - the other order of the day was shuffling boogie tunes – most of which were instrumentals. There’s “Texas Hop” by Pee Wee Clayton (with Buddy Floyd on Tenor Sax), “The Hucklebuck” by Paul Williams (a tremendous dancer that was No.1 for weeks) and “T.J. Boogie” by Georgia piano player T.J. Fowler, where you can literally hear Glenn Miller and Lionel Hampton receding into the background, blurring into that new rocking Rhythm ‘n’ Blues sound – and even Rock 'n' Roll…

Criminally forgotten gems go to "The Spinach Song" by the witty and saucy Julia Lee. Sounding fantastic (top Capitol Records production values), it’s a master class in double-entendre lyric writing – sex disguised as a song about a hot vegetable on a dinner plate (“I didn’t like it at first, but oh how it grew on me…”). It’ll have you grinning and running to the confessional. Speaking of likeable sinners, habitual womanizer and whiskey drinking Wynonie Harris gives us his fantastic voice and another irresistible bopper in “All She Wants To Do Is Rock” – where he also uses the lyric couplet “rock ‘n’ roll” six years before its explosion. “Numbers Boogie” sounds like a nine-year old singing, because it is… Sugar Chile Robinson was a piano-playing child prodigy born in Detroit and Capitol rather cutely advertised him as needing his stool to be propped up by two telephone directories in order to reach the keys. He was a smash though – and even headlined in England’s West End in 1951 (great advert and publicity photo on Pages 54 and 55). Ruth Brown’s “So Long” on Atlantic sounds far better here than it has done on any other compilation I have by her. And of course, there’s the perfection of Louis Jordan on “Saturday Night Fish Fry” – it’s easy to see why he was so beloved and shifted so many units – everything about his songs was right – catchy tune, great lyrics, huge personality…

But my favourites are two criminally forgotten blues shouters - Billy Wright and Charles Brown. Now a footnote in history, the openly gay Billy Wright looked like a younger Little Richard. Wild showmanship, Pancake 31 makeup to lighten his face, even his singing style was lifted by Richard a few years later (James Brown and Otis Redding name-checked him too). His “Blues For My Baby” on Savoy is exactly the kind of great choice the compilers should make. Charles Brown was a ‘classy’ Blues singer – his “Trouble Blues” has a real beauty about it - the great bluesman even received a letter of consolation written by President Clinton, which was read out at his funeral in 1999.

Although slightly different in layout, like the "Sweet Soul Music" series, the booklet 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 full colour plate of lesser-seen records and their label bag graces an entire page (“Drinkin’ Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee” by “Stick” McGhee on Atlantic and "Rock The Joint” by Jimmy Preston on Gotham and are on Pages 36 and 58). 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.

To sum up - even though they're expensive as imports, I think once long-time collectors actually get their hands on even one of these compilations (no matter what the date) - they'll be irresistibly hooked. For the casual buyer just looking for a great one-stop account of R&B Music for a given year - "1949" is 'the' place to start.

Detailed track list for the Bear Family CD compilation “Blowing The Fuse - 1949"
Label & Catalogue Number () for the USA 78" follow the Title and Artist Name.
If there's TWO Catalogue Numbers, the first is the Original; the 2nd is the Reissue.

1. Up Above My Head, I Hear Music In The Air – SISTER ROSETTA THARPE and MARIE KNIGHT with the Sam Price Trio (Decca 48090)
2. Texas Hop – PEE WEE CRAYTON and his Guitar (Modern 643)
3. Bewildered – RED MILLER TRIO (Staff 607/Bullet 295)
4. Boogie Chillen – JOHN LEE HOOKER (Modern 627)
5. Deacon’s Hop – BIG JAY McNEELY (Savoy 685)
6. Ain’t Nobody’s Business, Part 1 – JIMMY WITHERSPOON (Supreme 1506)
7. The Hucklebuck – PAUL WILLIAMS and his Hucklebuckers (Savoy 683)
8. The Spinach Song – JULIA LEE and her Boyfriends (Capitol 15367)
9. Rockin At Midnight – ROY BROWN and his Mighty, Mighty Men (DeLuxe 3212)
10. Tell Me So – THE ORIOLES (Jubilee 5005)
[Featuring Sonny Til and Norman Bridges on Lead and Bridge Vocals]
11. T-Bone Shuffle – T-BONE WALKER (Comet T-53/Capitol 57-70042)
12. Pot Likker – TODD RHODES and his Orchestra (Sensation 15/King 4287)
13. Trouble Blues – CHARLES BROWN TRIO (Aladdin 3024)
14. Drinkin’ Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee – "STICK" McGHEE and his Buddies (Atlantic 873)
15. T. J. Boogie – T.J. FOWLER and his Orchestra (National 9075)
16. So Long – RUTH BROWN with Eddie Condon’s N.B.C. Television Orchestra (Atlantic 879)
17. All She Wants To Do Is Rock – WYNONIE HARRIS (King 4304)
18. Roamin’ House Boogie – AMOS MILBURN (Aladdin 3032)
19. Baby Get Lost – DINAH WASHINGTON (Mercury 8148)
20. Why Don’t You Haul Off And Love Me – BULL MOOSE JACKSON and his Buffalo Bearcats (King 4322)
21. Numbers Boogie – SUGAR CHILE ROBINSON (Capitol 70037)
22. Rock The Joint – JIMMY PRESTON and his Prestonians (Gotham 188)
23. Blues For My Baby – BILLY WRIGHT (Savoy 710)
24. Saturday Night Fish Fry, Parts 1 & 2 – LOUIS JORDAN and his Tympany Five (Decca 24725)
25. Cuttin’ Out – ANNIE LAURIE with The Paul Gayten Orchestra (Regal 3235)
26. For You My Love – LARRY DARNELL (Regal 3240)
27. Mary Is Fine – CLARENCE 'GATEMOUTH' BROWN, his guitar and Orchestra (Peacock 1504)

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