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 is album retro-review number 113 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!
Rock and Roll as a music style has been with us for around seventy years.
With no one being quite certain what the first Rock and Roll track even was, an exact date is impossible to determine, but what isn’t hard to determine is who some of the original artists of this most dominating music form were.
The album is The Roots of Rock: Volume 12 – Union Avenue Breakdown and the album is 1977 vinyl compilation release and was part of a 13 volume release.
Released by Charly Records it’s code is CR 30127 and its a 16 track album with all the material coming from the legendary Sun Records Company.
Although it is released on the Charly label, it is not a re-release as the combination of artists and tracks on this album had never previously been released.
An additional bonus is that the tracks are in their original mono format! This is to be applauded.
This volume features the work of eleven different artists who recorded on the Sun Record label in Memphis.
It has a front laminated picture sleeve with extensive sleeve notes. The reference to Union Avenue would be because the original Sun Studio was located at 706 Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee.
The Memphis Recording Service, owned and operated by the even more legendary music producer/pioneer Sam Phillips, opened on January 3, 1950!
There are many on-line references to Phillips opening the Sun Studio on this date, but he didn’t form the Sun label until 1952 as an extension to his recoding service.
Now it is entirely possible that the very first Rock and Roll track came from these studios even before the Sun label came into being as Sam Phillips recorded Jackie Brenston singing Rocket 88 at the Memphis recording Service during 1951.
This track is thought to be by many music scholars, as the first R & R track, which interestingly, also featured a young Ike Turner on guitar.
Personally, I am still not 100% convinced of this as a music fact as it really is hard, if not impossible, to clearly define what elements were necessary for a piece of music to be called the first Rock and Roll track.
Certainly the melting pot from which the style developed is deep and wide, as it can be shown the R&R has elements of Race Music, Jump, Blues, Western Swing, Jazz, Gospel and even Country Music.
There are elements of Rock can be heard in music from the 1920’s onward. Certainly for myself a key element of R&R music is the establishment of the “back-beat”, where the emphasis shifts from the first beat in a 4/4 timing, to the second beat.
Trying to establish exactly when in a time period that occurred in music is incredibly difficult, as a back-beat is in its self part of syncopation, which has formed the basis of many styles of music over a long period of time.
What is not in dispute is, that Sam Phillips and Sun recordings were the first to gather artists with the specific intention of recording what was labelled in the 1950’s, as Rock and Roll.
The story of Sun Music is indeed a fascinating and lengthy story. That full story is not for this review.
However, it is not just impossible, but would be silly not to make mention of elements of the story as we examine the music, as in many ways Sun, Phillips, the artists and the music are inseparable.
The album itself provides a lot of relevant information and I’ll make reference to the liner notes during discussions.
Certainly the artists appearing on this album came predominantly from the Blues idiom and Memphis in the early 1950’s was certainly a major gathering place for blues musicians.
While there is little doubt that many of these artists were initially in the area because of the clubs and bars that they could play at. However with the opening of Phillips’ studio, and his encouragement of blues artists to record there, there is little doubt that the studio in Union Avenue became a magnet for blues artists.
The album label says, “This album presents sixteen recordings, most previously unissued, made by a dozen of the artists best associated with the contemporary blues of Memphis and Mississippi, and whose music has perhaps not been given the exposure it deserves.”
Anyone who has any knowledge of Sam Phillips would understand why he was sought out by blues artists, and indeed Phillips welcomed anyone whom he saw talent in, regardless of their colour and class.
We need to remember that this was Mississippi, it was the early 1950’s and, race segregation was very much in vogue. Most of the artists that Phillips recorded had not a snow flakes chance in hell of ever seeing the inside of the then, commercial studios of the big labels.
It was that very openness of Phillips that eventually gave rise to him recording and giving the public an opportunity of hearing the likes of Elvis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Charlie Feathers, Ray Harris, Warren Smith, Charlie Rich, and Jerry Lee Lewis, and, black artists such as James Cotton, Rufus Thomas, Rosco Gordon, Little Milton, Bobby Blue Bland, Howling Wolf and B.B. King.
But these successes would come later, and this album recognises and celebrates the music of the earlier pioneers.
|A1||–Jimmy DeBerry *
||Party Line Blues|
|A2||–Joe Hill Louis *||Treat Me Mean And Evil|
|A3||–Willie Nix *||Prison Bound Blues|
|A4||–Willie Nix *||Take A Little Walk With Me|
|A5||–Walter Horton *||Walter’s Boogie|
|A6||–Walter Horton *||Talkin’ Off The Wall|
|A7||–Albert (Joiner) Williams *||Sweet Home Chicago|
|A8||–Albert (Joiner) Williams *||Rhumba Chillen|
|B1||–Woodrow Adams ^||The Train Is Coming|
|B2||–William Stewart ^||Rattlesnakin’ Mama|
|B3||–William Stewart ^||They Call Me Talkin’ Boy|
|B4||–Dr. Ross* With Henry Hill ^||That Ain’t Right|
|B5||–Dr. Ross ^||Texas Hop|
|B6||–Pinetop Perkins ^||Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie|
|B7||–Chris Booker ^||Walked All Night|
|B8||–Boyd Gilmore & Earl Hooker^||Believe I’ll Settle Down|
It’s interesting that the album compiler – Martin Hawkins (who incidentally co-authored both the “Catalyst”: The Sun Records Story, and, The Sun Session Files, has split the artists into two groups, Memphis and Mississippi, representing the two brad areas the 12 artists came from.
Artists from Memphis have been identified with an *, and those from Mississippi with ^.
To make it even easier he put all those representing Memphis on Side 1 and Mississippi on Side 2, which was a brilliant move because it allows us to compare the artists against each other knowing that they came from the same region.
Now it is important that we note that the album is titled “Roots of Rock“!
It is not a rock and roll album but when we listen to the music on it, not only are we listening to some fabulous blues music, we begin to hear the embryonic beginnings of rock, and I have intentionally chosen two tracks on side 1, that best exemplify this.
Track number 6 is Walter Horton and Talkin’ Off The Wall.
Now Walter Horton, also known as Big Walter (as opposed to Little Walter, whose name was Walter Jacobs), was actually born Walter Horton on 6th April 1917 in Mississippi. Big Walter was also known around the music traps as Walter “Shakey” Horton and to confuse matters even more, was given the titles of “Mumbles” by Sam Phillips.
A seriously good harmonica player, in fact some blues aficionados would claim the best. Walters was a support man in his early career working with Jimmy DeBerry (who is on this album) as well as Joe Hill Lewis.
He also worked with some of the “greats” such as Willie Dixon and Sunnyland Slim.
However interestingly his solo works were recorded by Sun and Sam Phillips, but not released on the Sun label, but rather were recorded by Phillips for the labels Modern, RPM and the better known, Chess label.
The track we are looking at is an instrumental featuring Big Walters harmonica playing and it’s a nice uptempo piece featuring Joe Hill Louis on drums, which is very interesting as Joe is far better known as a guitar player.
Guitar on this track is by Pat Hare. Big Walters harmonica work was a feature of the day and after working at and for Phillips, he eventually ended up at chess records.
Despite the considerable acclaim he enjoyed from his peers, Horton never became a recording star on his own; he simply lacked the temperament to keep a band together for very long, preferring the sideman work where his shyness was less of a drawback.
That, coupled with his often heavy drinking, meant that money was often scarce, and Horton kept working steadily whenever possible. He died of heart failure on December 8, 1981, and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame the following year.
Walter Horton – Talkin’ Off The Wall
The final track on side 1 is by Albert (Joiner) Williams and has the title Rhumba Chillen.
It is a boogie through and through and leaves little doubt in any journey that purports to trace the heritage of R&R, that one of the key elements of rocks development was the boogie.
Yet there were many great boogie players, non less than John Lee Hooker who had many great boogie tracks, including Boogie Chillen, and there are great similarities between the two tracks.
Albert Williams features on two tracks and it is obvious that he was considered as good as the playing on this album suggests yet the fact of the matter is that there is almost no information on him, which is amazing given his talent.
According to the liner notes (which are very sparse on information), he was a piano player who regularly played with Howling Wolf around the period that this track was recorded.
Yet the liner notes do not indicate the exact date of the recording, in fact these two tracks by “Joiner” were actually unknown prior to this release and, there is no details of who played on these tracks with him.
The only thing we do know was that it was recorded by Sam Phillips at his studio sometime between 1950 and 1952 and that he also recorded Sweet Home Chicago.
The other track by Williams, that is also on this album, represents the only other known recordings by Albert “Joiner” Williams. To add to his mystery, there are no known photographs.
So as you enjoy this track, give the man the respect his music is due, and recognise that among the many roots of rock are artists who are quickly slipping into oblivion, soon to be forgotten.
Albert (Joiner) Williams – Rhumba Chillen
The liner notes say it all! “Mississippi blues is represented here in its contemporary, electrified form, as evolved from the older cottonpatch styles.”
In fact some of these tracks could, or probably more appropriately, should be considered as some fine examples of delta blues.
We are looking at the tracks that best exemplify those that we can begin to see or rather hear, the connection to the soon to be formed rock and roll, and in that regard it is impossible to past track number 5 – Doctor Ross and Texas Hop.
Dr. Ross is probably among the better known artists on this album.
Given Dr. Ross has over ten albums to his credit the available information on him is still scarce. Born October 21, 1925 as Charles Isaiah Ross, in Tunica Mississippi, he was an American blues singer, guitarist, harmonica player and drummer – literally a one man band.
Ross played various forms of the blues that have seen him compared to John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy Williamson I, and is perhaps best known for this and other recordings he made for Sun Records in the 1950s, most notably “The Boogie Disease” and “Chicago Breakdown“.
Ross first seems to have made his music presence known circa 1951 on Mississippi and Arkansas radio stations. By this stage he had become known as “Doctor” because of his habit of carrying his harmonicas in a black bag that resembled a doctor’s bag.
Over the next three years he recorded in Memphis, Tennessee for both Chess and Sun, creating exhilarating harmonica or guitar boogies made distinctive by his sidemen playing washboard (with a spoon and fork).
This track, Texas Hop, is a boogie instrumental in the best style of the good doctor.
I have already mentioned the importance of the boogie style of playing in contributing to the development of rock and roll, and in this track you really can hear the slight emphasis on the send beat of the timing, which is the basis of the development of rock and roll’s “backbeat”.
Dr. Ross – Texas Hop
Track number 6 is credited to Pinetop Perkins and is Pinetop’s Boogie.
At first I wasn’t certain that this was a mistake as I have Perkins’ version of this track on a number of compilations and this is so clean a recording. It led me to erroneously conclude that it must be someone else.
Then I realised I was making a mistake that many people do, as there were two “Pinetops” and both played piano, both played boogie woogie and both recorded this same track.
Now this album has the very best version of this track & it’s pure gold! The cover notes point out that this is a previously unreleased version.
This “Pinetops” was born Joe Willie Perkins on July 7th 1913, in Belzoni Mississippi.
His story is one of a man who wanted to be a blues singer and play blues guitar and by all accounts was a good player.
But in the grand tradition of many blues players he got into a brawl with all people, a chorus girl and so badly injured the tendons in his arm, he was unable to play guitar again.
So he swapped to piano.
Now he recorded the track Pinetops Boogie Woogie at Phillips’ studio in the early 1950’s and it leaves little doubt that this is THE version! It is also somewhat curious, almost a “Catch-22” type situation, that he claims he was called “Pinetop” because of the track he had written and recorded.
Yet why did he call it “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie“?
Who was the “Pinetop” he was referring too?
Well the answer brings us back to the “other” Pinetop – Pinetop Smith who actually wrote the track.
Perkins is thought to have been influenced by piano player Pinetop Smith, and so it was logical he would play the track, and having recorded it gave rise to folk labelling him “Pinetop”.
In fact Pinetop Smith recorded the track way back in 1928 and in his version he talked over the track, to tell people how to do the dance.
We accord Pinetop Smith the respect and recognition he deserves, but there is no doubt that this version by Pinetop Perkins is a superior recording, hey! he had Sam Phillips as his engineer/producer.
The fact was that as rudimentary as recording was in the early 1950’s, it was still far superior to what recording facilities Pinetop Smith had at his use in 1928. So it is we can hear the music of the piece as it was developed out further by Perkins and in so doing, bringing it closer to an embryonic rock track.
Perkins played as a sideman on so many tracks and appears as a sideman on so many albums, but it seems he never recorded an album featuring himself, and that was a shame.
Among the music greats he supported was Earl Hooker and later, Muddy Waters.
Pinetop Perkins – Pinetop’s Boogie
If this were a single stand-alone album, it would be hard to accept it as representing the “Roots of Rock”.
But it isn’t!
It is part of a 13 album set compilation so as listeners we need to re-recognise that this album gives but a glimpse into what we might consider as the Roots of Rock.
I would find it difficult to accept any argument mounted that tried to deny that Sam Philips managed to create fantastic music and shape great artists in a recording space that by today’s standards would be tiny!
It is really so hard to imagine the reality of having so many artists of such diverse backgrounds and styles go through the doors of the studio at Union Avenue in Memphis, both prior and post it officially becoming Sun Studio. The key factor and the binding person in all this was Sam Phillips and he encouraged actively, the different musical styles that walked through its doors.
The men on this album were indeed only a small part of the recording giants that cut tracks at Phillips’ studio. Yet when we listen to both the Memphis and Mississippi blues styles that are represented on this album, it is easy to claim that the album not only entertains, but is a key part of identifying the Roots of Rock.
There were two vinyl copies on Ebay when I checked, one copy costing around $46.00 inc postage and the other at $43.00 inc postage – so they are not cheap.
I also checked Discogs and copies of various volumes on vinyl are available there from around the world, and some volumes are cheaper than others.
However, be aware there are many “Roots of Rock” collections – but the Sun collection is the only one that has the original tracks as recorded at Sam Phillips’ studio.
I checked out Youtube and not unexpectedly live performances captured on film or video of any of these performances was indeed rare, but I did find some.
I have supplemented those with some tracks by artists that are on this album even if the track i’m presenting with a video, isn’t on the album so that at least give you an idea of their music styles even though there is no live footage.
I have chosen the best tracks available, and if those tracks are not on this album they are identified with an *.
Dr. Ross (Live) – Feel So Good*
Pinetop Perkins (Live) – How Long Blues*
“Big” Walter Horton explains his harmonica style – plays examples [in colour]
Willie Nix – Baker Shop Boogie*
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –
To view/listen the first 50 Cd album reviews just click the image below –
Click to open the following Vinyl reviews from 101 onward:
#108: Paul Simon – Graceland