cream of the crate: album  review #111 – atlantic r&b: volumes 1 – 3 (1947 to 1957)
cream of the crate: album review #111 – atlantic r&b: volumes 1 – 3 (1947 to 1957)
The Covers of the first 3 CD’s in the set – [CICK to enlarge]

 

  This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.

 

 

"This CD set should be a part of any collection that presumes to take American music -- not just rock & roll or rhythm & blues -- seriously." - (All Music)

This is album retro-review number 111 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.

The series is called
“Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.

The first fifty reviews were vinyl only, and the second fifty reviews were CD’s only. Links to these reviews can be found at the bottom of this page. From review 101 onward I have mixed vinyl and CD albums and, try and present an Australian album every fifth review!

In fact this is a series of Cd’s released by Atlantic Records – and I have Volumes 1 – 5 in my collection, covering a total period of eighteen years from 1947 to 1965. In essence they represent the best of the fantastic Atlantic R&B releases.

In order to make the review manageable, I have broken it into two reviews. This week I will examine Cd’s 1 – 3 and in the next retro-review, Cd’s numbers 4 and 5.

Atlantic R&B Volumes 1 – 5 were released by Warner Bros Music (UK) in 2006 on the Warner Platinum label as part of a series that actually contained eight albums going from 1947 through to 1974.

I chose to stop at Volume 5 as the period up to 1965 were the halcyon years as far as I’m concerned.

A brief history of Atlantic Records is probably in order, so that we can understand why there is such a plethora of talent on these CD’s.

cream of the crate: album review #111 – atlantic r&b: volumes 1 – 3 (1947 to 1957)
Early photo inside Atlantics studio

 

In the end, Atlantic Records was to become the powerhouse of rhythm and blues as the 1950’s progressed, but you could not have guessed it would end up like that, given it’s rather unusual genesis.

It was the brainchild of two brothers, Ahmet and Neshui Ertegun whose own background was about as far away from R&B as it was possible to get. Sons of the Turkish Ambassador in Washington, they were, however, big jazz fans.

cream of the crate: album review #111 – atlantic r&b: volumes 1 – 3 (1947 to 1957)
Ahmet and Neshui Ertegun



They formed Atlantic Records in 1947 because when their father died and their income stopped, Ahmet said, “I didn’t want to go into the army and I didn’t want to work“. [Rock of Ages, Ward, Stoke & Tucker]

Selling his fabulous record collection he left Washington with his friend Herb Abramson, who had some recording experience. Actually Herb even had a huge hit in 1947 with “Open the door Richard“.

After a short stint producing some music at two small independent labels, Ahmet was content to sit and wait for the never to be delivered royalty cheques to come.

Broke, he returned to Washington and borrowed some money and began to sign up talent in the hope of getting that one big hit, the one that would make his label viable.

cream of the crate: album review #111 – atlantic r&b: volumes 1 – 3 (1947 to 1957)
Ahmet – [CLICK to enlarge]
The story goes that a New Orleans distributor contacted him and asked if he could source 5,000 copies of a new record –Drinking Wine, by Stick McGhee. Ahmet said, sure but had no idea how to find 5,000 copies of a cut record, so with the the help of blues singer Brownie McGhee whom he had formed a friendship with – and, who was Stick’s brother, together they convinced Stick to re-record the track for Ertegun, and the rest is history.

Renaming it Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee, it became a massive hit – and good job so because Ertegun was relying on his latest signing of Ruth Brown to bring home the bacon, but she was laid up in hospital.

When Brown did start recording, it was with a “pickup” band – but because of his mighty jazz connections, it was “some” band, being the all-star ensemble of Eddie Condon. And when the drummer, Big Sid Catlett, heard Browns voice, he made sure that special care was taken of the arrangement of her track, So Long.

It was released on the Atlantic label and it established Brown as a major talent and affirmed Atlantic as a class label that was prepared to take chances.

So Long is now considered as the track that lay the foundations for what would become known as Soul Music.

From that moment on he was joined by his brother Neshui, and it seemed as though the Ertegun’s had the magic touch and both writers and artists of considerable note began seeking them out.

Neshui

 

So this week I look at the first three albums – Volume 1 covers the period 1947- 1952 and has the code 8122775762; Volume 2 covers the period 1952 – 1954 and has the code 8122775772; Volume 3 covers the period 1955 – 1957 and has the code 8122775782.

That brings us to Cd number 1 (1947 to 1951).

cream of the crate: album review #111 – atlantic r&b: volumes 1 – 3 (1947 to 1957)
Cd #1: label – [CLICK to enlarge]
cream of the crate: album review #111 – atlantic r&b: volumes 1 – 3 (1947 to 1957)
Cd #1 Rear cover: Track Listing – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

I was spoiled for choice of tracks to feature, a problem that actually exists with all five of the Cd’s I will talk about. 

There was That Old Black Magic, by Tiny Grimes, who was one of the first artists signed by Atlantic, even prior to Ruth Brown.

There is track number 11 Mardis Gras in New Orleans by the amazing Prof Longhair, and when you add (Big) Joe Turner, The Cardinals and The Clovers, what you have are some of the very best artists of this early R&B period.

I have gone for the two artists I have spoken about. Track number 7Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee by Stick McGhee.

It’s a good time drinking track and we need to remember that while alcohol prohibition had been repealed almost 15 years previous to this tracks release in 1947, alcohol was always in folks minds.

This was both because it was the source of the profit many clubs made and, the dry prohibition years were still never far from peoples minds.

cream of the crate: album review #111 – atlantic r&b: volumes 1 – 3 (1947 to 1957)
Stick McGhee

 

I did find it fascinating, although not unusual, that the original lyrics were altered in order that the track could get commercial airplay. Part of the original lyrics went,

Drinkin’ that mess is our delight,

And when we get drunk, start fightin’ all night.

Knockin’ out windows and learnin’ down doors,

Drinkin’ half-gallons and callin’ for more.

Drinkin’ wine motherfucker, drinkin’ wine! Goddam!

Drinkin’ wine motherfucker, drinkin’ wine! Goddam!

Drinkin’ wine motherfucker, drinkin’ wine! Goddam!

Pass that bottle to me!

 

cream of the crate: album review #111 – atlantic r&b: volumes 1 – 3 (1947 to 1957)

Ok! So these days artists can get away with the odd “motherfucker’ in their lyrics, but while it was perfectly acceptable in the clubs of the day, it was never ever going to be allowed on the air of “respectable America. So the lyrics were altered to –
Drinking that mess to their delight
When they gets drunk, start fighting all night
Knocking down windows and tearin’ out doors
Drinkin’ half a gallons and callin’ for more

Drinkin’ wine spo-dee-o-dee, drinkin’ wine, bop ba
Wine spo-dee-o-dee, drinkin’ wine, bop ba
Wine spo-dee-o-dee, drinkin’ wine, bop ba
Pass that bottle to me

Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee (Stick McGhee)

 

Next I have to address track number 8, Ruth Brown and the track that started Soul Music, So Long.

cream of the crate: album review #111 – atlantic r&b: volumes 1 – 3 (1947 to 1957)
Ruth Brown

 

Born in Portsmouth, Virginia, on January 12th 1928, she was known as “Miss Rhythm“. So Long proved an instant hit and cracked the Top 10 on the R&B charts.

Throughout the 1950s, Ruth Brown offered up a slew of hit R&B songs that boosted her career (and along with it Atlantic Records and the still relatively new genre of rhythm and blues).

Her greatest hits included “I’ll Wait for You,” “I Know,” “5-10-15 Hours,” “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean,” “Oh What a Dream,” “Mambo Baby” and “Don’t Deceive Me.”

In particular, “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean” and “5-10-15 Hours” achieved enormous popularity with black and white audiences alike, providing a template for much of the rock ‘n’ roll music that followed in their wake.

Brown’s records were so consistently popular that Atlantic Records was sometimes referred to as “The House That Ruth Built.”

Nevertheless, Brown’s enormous popularity and the success of her records did not translate into personal financial wealth. This was largely due to a practice known as “whitewashing,” in which white singers covered black artists’ songs without permission. [Ruth Brown Biography]

So Long

 

Cd Volume 2 has twenty six ripper tracks from the period 1952 – 1954.

This was a fantastic period for what was generally called Race Music, a term used from the 1920’s through to the late 1940’s early 1950’s.

In June 1949, at the suggestion of Billboard journalist Jerry Wexler, the magazine renamed its chart again to “Rhythm & Blues Records”. Wexler wrote : “Race” was a common term then, a self-referral used by blacks…On the other hand, “Race Records” didn’t sit well…I came up with a handle I thought suited the music well – ‘rhythm and blues’… a label more appropriate to more enlightened times.

Shortly after specific elements were given their own name, such as the development of “Soul Music“.

Many of the artists featured on Volume 1 reappear on Volume 2, along with some new artists, such as the up and coming Ray Charles and Clyde McPhatter and groups such as the Clovers, who appeared on Volume 1, but made a bigger impact in the period that Volume 2 covers.

cream of the crate: album review #111 – atlantic r&b: volumes 1 – 3 (1947 to 1957)
Cd #2 label – [CLICK to enlarge]
cream of the crate: album review #111 – atlantic r&b: volumes 1 – 3 (1947 to 1957)
Cd #2 Rear Cover: Track Listing – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

Another critical addition to Atlantic during this period in fact wasn’t even a recording artist.

Ahmet Ertegun recruited Billboard reporter Jerry Wexler in June 1953. Remember is is Wexler who is credited with coining the term “rhythm & blues” to replace the earlier “race music”.

Wexler was appointed vice-president and he and Ertegun soon formed a close partnership which, in collaboration with Tom Dowd, produced thirty R&B hits.

One such hit was by the Atlantic signed Chords, which was one of the earliest “cross-over” hits with Sh-Boom, when it went to number 5 on the Billboard Chart.

Although later outsold by the Crew Cuts version, it was a major point in the development and acceptance of black music on the commercial charts, where up until this time black music only charted on the black charts.

But I like track number 1 on Volume 2 The Clovers with Ting-A-Ling.

cream of the crate: album review #111 – atlantic r&b: volumes 1 – 3 (1947 to 1957)
The Clovers – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

The Clovers were a five piece group who were known for the R&B sub-genre, Doo Wop!

They went into the studio for their first recording session for Atlantic Records that included the Ahmet Ertegun composition “Don’t You Know I Love You“; the song backed with the standard, “Skylark” was their first top ten R&B hit for the label and remained in the R&B chart for five months.

However it was the track Ting-A-Ling that reached number 2 of Billboards R&B charts, that bought them fame and recognition.

Ting-A-Ling (The Clovers)

 

It is very tempting to move to Ray Charles, as Charles had such an enormous impact upon both R&B and commercial music, but some of his best work comes up in later Volumes, so I have chosen to look at another female artist signed to Atlantic LaVern Baker.

cream of the crate: album review #111 – atlantic r&b: volumes 1 – 3 (1947 to 1957)
LaVern Baker

A vivacious woman with a unique voice. According to her bio, ” LaVern Baker was born Delores Baker on November 11, 1929 in Chicago, Illinois. A descendant of former slaves whose family had migrated to Chicago from Mississippi in search of greater opportunity, Baker was raised primarily by her aunt, the jazz singer Merline Johnson who was best known as “The Yas Yas Girl.”

Memphis Minnie, the legendary blues singer and guitarist, was also one of Baker’s aunts. Like many great African-American singers of her generation, Baker grew up singing in the choir of her Baptist church. Although small in stature, by the age of 12 she had developed a shockingly powerful voice and regularly served as her choir’s leading soloist.”

Encouraged by her early success, Baker left Chicago and moved to Detroit—the hub of an emerging musical genre known as rhythm and blues, or simply R&B, a “new” style that drew its sound from both gospel and blues.

By 1953, Baker felt ready to strike out on her own as a solo artist. Rather than making her solo debut in the United States, Baker embarked on a several month European tour, primarily in Italy, where she was quite popular.

Upon her return to America later that year, Baker signed a recording deal with Atlantic Records, the label of the R&B pioneer Ruth Brown. Her impassioned first single, “Soul on Fire”—which foreshadowed the sultry, passionate vocals for which she later became famous—failed to attract much attention at the time but has since been celebrated as a classic of the early R&B sound.

In October 1954, Baker recorded her breakthrough hit “Tweedle Dee,” a coy, simple and upbeat song that was a smash hit for the duration of 1955.” [LaVern Baker Bio]

Tweedle Dee (LaVern Baker)

 

As R&B became popular with the cross-over audiences and thus bringing in the much bigger white market, more and more black groups and artists were recording and finding popularity.

One feature of Volume 2 is that it tracks beautifully the development of that music as exemplified by Ray Charles’I Got A Woman, the previously mention hit by the Chords, further massive hits by Ruth Brown, the introduction of (Big) Joe Turner with Honey Hush and Clyde McPhater with Money Honey.

Volume three picks up on the rise of popularity of this music genre.

cream of the crate: album review #111 – atlantic r&b: volumes 1 – 3 (1947 to 1957)
Cd#3: Cd label – [CLICK to enlarge]
cream of the crate: album review #111 – atlantic r&b: volumes 1 – 3 (1947 to 1957)
Cd #3 Raer Cover: Track Listing – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

Now we are in the period 1955 – 1957, which was also the period where Rock & Roll was beginning to rear its head and have an influence upon the music and the culture of America, and eventually, the world.

There is some truly magnificent tracks featured on this volume, such as Flip, Flop and Fly and Corrine Corrina by Joe Turner; The Robins with the unforgettable Smokey Joe’s Cafe; Jim Dandy by LaVern Baker; Lucky Lips by Ruth Brown;The Coasters with Down In Mexico and Searching; Ray Charles’ Halelujah I Love her So; and Chuck Willis with C.C Rider!

Atlantic Records could seem to do no wrong, and life was great as so much fabulous music poured out of the studio and hit the airwaves.

From 1954 onwards Atlantic created or acquired several important subsidiary labels, the first being the short-lived but significant Cat Records.

By the mid-1950s Atlantic had an informal agreement with Eddie Barclay‘s French label Barclay Records and the two companies regularly exchanged titles, usually jazz recordings.

Atlantic also began to get recordings distributed in the United Kingdom; initially this was done through EMI on a one-off basis, but in September 1955, Atlantic’s Miriam Abramson went to the UK and signed a formal distribution deal with Decca Records, who were soon releasing every new Atlantic title.

A new subsidiary label, Atco Records, was established in 1955 and had almost immediate success with The Coasters and Bobby Darrin.

So Volume 3 spoils us with choice. But for all the great works on this volume, I find have to play and discuss The Robins and Smokey Joes Cafe which was also released on the new ATCO subsidiary.

California’s first “bird” group [groups such as The Swallows, the Ravens, The Orioles, The Penguins, The Crows, The Flamingos etc], was formed when Ty Terrell Leonard and the Richard brothers Billy and Roy met at Alameda High School in San Francisco in 1945, and formed the “A-Sharp Trio” (no recordings).

The trio came to Hollywood a year later, and in 1949 they were joined by Bobby Nunn, and later by Grady Chapman and they became The Robins.

Membership changed but this was the line up for the beautiful recording of Smokey Joes Cafe.

 

 

cream of the crate: album review #111 – atlantic r&b: volumes 1 – 3 (1947 to 1957)
The Robins

 

In fact the real history of all this is a tad murky, as The Robins actually disbanded as the record was being produced.

The songwriting team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller had started Spark Records, and in 1955 produced Smokey Joe’s Cafe for the Robins (their 5th single with Leiber-Stoller).

The record was popular enough for Atlantic Records to offer Leiber and Stoller an independent production contract to produce the Robins for the Atlantic label. Only two of the RobinsGardner and Nunn—were willing to make the move to Atlantic, recording their first songs in the same studio as the Robins had done (Master Recorders).

It appears as though the track was released as a track by the Robins, but it was a combination of the Robins and Billy Guy and Leon Hughes that actually were the voices on this track.

Be all that as it may, it is a superb piece of music.

One day, while I was eating beans at Smokey Joe’s Cafe
Just sittin’ diggin’ all the scenes at Smokey Joe’s Cafe
A chick came walkin through the door

That I had never seen before
At least, I never saw her down at Smokey Joe’s Cafe
And I started shakin’ when she sat right down next to me

Her knees were almost touching mine at Smokey Joe’s Cafe
A chill was running down my spine at Smokey Joe’s Cafe
I could smell her sweet perfume

She smiled at me, my heart went boom
Then everybody in the room at Smokey Joe’s Cafe
Said, “Man be careful, that chick belongs to Smokey Joe”

From behind the counter I saw a man
A chef’s hat on his head and a knife in his hand
He grabbed me by the collar and began to shout
“You better eat up all your beans, boy and clear right on out”

I know, I’ll never eat again at Smokey Joe’s Cafe
And so we’ll never meet again at Smokey Joe’s Cafe
I’d rather eat my chili beans

At Jim’s or Jack’s or John’s or Gene’s
Then take my chances eating down at Smokey Joe’s Cafe
Why risk my life when that Smokey Joe’s a crazy fool?

Waah-aah, at Smokey Joe’s Cafe
Waah-aah, at Smokey Joe’s Cafe
Waah-aah, at Smokey Joe’s Cafe

Smokey Joes Cafe (The Robins)

 

I’m moving back to track number 2 Flip, Flop and Fly by Joe Turner.

This is actually quite a seminal track in musics development. It has been referred to as “proto-typical rocker” track by “Bill Dahl” in his 1996 book, All Music Guide to the Blues.

It really is impossible to accurately identify the first R&R track, because the style came out of a melting pot of so many styles of music, including “Jump” music, “Western Swing”, R&B, Gospel, and even Blues with each form claiming a track in its genre to be the first rock and roll track.

However tracks such as Flip, Flop & Fly, were certainly starting to move music into this exciting new genre called Rock and Roll, which in itself would forever change the face of music.

There are a number of music artists called “Joe Turner”, but we are talking about the man who was also called “Big” Joe Turner. Joe was label as a “Shout” blues singer.

Now a blues shouter is a blues singer, often male, capable of singing unamplified with a band, and Big Joe Turner was the best!

cream of the crate: album review #111 – atlantic r&b: volumes 1 – 3 (1947 to 1957)
Big Joe Turner 1955

 

He was among the first to mix R&B with boogie-woogie, resulting in jump blues – a style that presaged the birth of rock and roll.

Indeed, Turner’s original recording of Shake, Rattle and Roll, cut for Atlantic Records in 1954, remains one of the cornerstones numbers of the rock and roll revolution. Flip, Flop and Fly, is, even to the use of a triplet title, very much like Shake, Rattle and Roll.

The major difference is that the later was picked up and made very popular by many white artists as the R&R era found its feet.

Now, when I get the blues, I get me a rockin’ chair
When I get the blues, I get me a rockin’ chair
Well, if the blues overtake me gonna rock right away from here

Now, when I get lonesome, I jump on the telephone
When I get lonesome, I jump on the telephone
I call my baby, tell her I’m on my way back home

Now, flip, flop and fly, I don’t care if I die
Now, flip, flop and fly, I don’t care if I die
Don’t ever leave me, don’t ever say, goodbye

Give me one more kiss, hold it a long long time
Give me one more kiss, hold it a long long time
Now, love me baby, till the feelin’ hits my head like wine

Here comes my baby, flashin’ her new gold tooth
Here comes my baby, flashin’ her new gold tooth
Well, she’s so small, she can mambo in a pay phone booth

Now, flip, flop and fly, I don’t care if I die
Now, flip, flop and fly, I don’t care if I die
Now, don’t ever leave me, don’t ever say, goodbye

I’m like a Mississippi bullfrog, sittin’ on a hollow stump
I’m like a Mississippi bullfrog, sittin’ on a hollow stump
I got so many women, I don’t know which way to jump

Now, flip, flop and fly, I don’t care if I die
Now, flip, flop and fly, I don’t care if I die
Now, don’t ever leave me, don’t ever say goodbye, oh my

Flip, Flop And Fly (Joe Turner)

 

So we come to the end of the review of the first three magnificent Cd’s, which leaves Volumes 4 and 5 for next week.

Volume 4 covers the cross-over period into the 1960’s, a period where popular music (read R&R) was largely being emasculated by dreary ballads, and many artists were keeping their heads down after the payola scandals.

Maybe this is why artists such as Chuck Wills recorded the track Hang Up My Rock and Roll Shoes?

But then again, Ray Charles was singing Let The Good Times Roll! It was certainly a period when rock and roll appeared to loose its way but there were still fabulous tracks such as Ben E. King singing the magnificent Spanish Harlem, while The Coasters had everyone jumping with Poison Ivy.

The final volume, number 5 (which covers 1961 – 1965) surely does contain many classic tracks such as The Coasters with Little Egypt; The Mar-Keys made themselves known with Last Night; Booker T. and the MG’s had a monster hit with Green Onions and The Drifters had some mighty hits such as Up On The Roof and, there was much, much more.

So don’t forget to come back for the final part of the review of this great CD set!


VIDEOS:

Jumping across to Youtube I didn’t know what to expect given the early nature of these recordings. Not surprisingly live performances from the period are few and far between.

I included a track by Tiny Grimes, who features on Vol. 1, but very very few live performances exist of him, so I included this 1945 performance, even though it is cut short.

All the artists recorded for Atlantic records.

 

Ruth Brown – Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean (Vol 2)

 

Ray Charles – I Got A Woman (Vol 2)

 

LaVern Baker – Jim Dandy (Vol 3)

 

The Coasters – Searching (Vol 3)

 

Tiny Grimes – Never Too Old To Swing (1945)


Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:

 

To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –

cream of the crate cd review #2 : robert johnson – the complete recordings

 

To view/listen the first 50 Cd album reviews just click the image below –

 

Click to open the following Vinyl reviews from 101 onward:

#101:  Bo Diddley – Bo Diddley’s Beach Party (Live)

#102:  Les Paul and Mary Ford – The World Is waiting For The Sunrise

#103:  Captain Beefheart – Trout Mask Replica

#104:  Los Fronterizos – Misa Creole

#105:  Bobby Bright – Child Of Rock And Roll

#106:  The  Nylons – One Size Fits All

#107:  Jimmy Cliff – The Harder They Come [Soundtrack from the film]

#108:  Paul Simon – Graceland

#109.  The Ventures – The Very Best Of

#110.  The Pardoners – Indulgences