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Billy Preston: Ultimate Collection (Hip-O)
Billy Preston died this week after a prolonged coma, during which he was lovingly cared for by his friends Joyce and Sam (of Sam and Dave) Moore. Preston was only 59, but his career spanned much of the history of rock and soul. At the age of 12, he played W.C. Handy as a child prodigy in St. Louis Blues, a biopic about the composer. As a teen, he played piano and organ in the touring bands of Sam Cooke and Little Richard. He was befriended at an early age was none other than Ray Charles, who produced his first album, yielding the minor hit “Billy’s Bag,” and got him a standing gig as the keyboard player for the house band on Shindig, the weekly dance and music show on ABC. Preston was groomed on gospel and never really lost that flavor to his playing, as evident on his album The Most Exciting Organ Ever (no pun intended then, though later on that other organ would land Billy in a spot of trouble). His own records were good, but not great, marred by his limited voice. But Preston helped make great records for other bands and musicians, notably the Beatles (Let It Be and Get Back), George Harrison (All Things Must Pass and the Concert for Bangladesh) and the Rolling Stones (Love You Live). Indeed, Preston was known as the Fifth Beatle-the single “Get Back” was credited to The Beatles with Billy Preston. Preston had a big hit with Stevie Wonder’s “Will It Go Round It Circles”, while his own song, You Are So Beautiful, soared to number one featuring the broken voice of Joe Cocker.
Blind Boy Fuller: Truckin’ My Blues Away (Yazoo)
In the 1930s, Blind Boy Fuller, a native of the North Carolina piedmont, traveled up and down the East Coast playing a unique form of country blues. Between 1935-1940, Fuller recorded more than 135 songs before a debilitating illness, which thought was God’s punishment for playing the devil’s music, prompted Fuller to devote himself to spirituals, recording stunning versions of “Twelve Gates to the City” and “Precious Lord.” The conversion didn’t do Fuller any good. He died in 1941 at the age of 33. Truckin’ My Blues Away, with classic cover art by R. Crumb, captures the best of Fuller’s music, which is some of the bawdiest blues ever recorded: “Meat Shaking Woman”, “Bad Luck Blues” and the hilarious and X-rated “Sweet Honey Hole.”
Barbecue Bob Hicks: Chocolate to the Bone (Yazoo)
Blues for the summertime. The most popular bluesman in Atlanta in the 1920s and a top seller for Columbia Records, until his tragic death in 1931 at the age of 29, Bob Hicks was a virtuoso of the 12-string guitar, featuring an aggressive attack that might humble Jimmy Page or Roger McGuinn. Hicks was also a witty and prolific songwriter, specializing in multi-layered sexual innuendo in songs like “She Shook Her Gin”, “Atlanta Moan” and “Goin’ Up the Country”. A neglected titan of the country blues, who, as Dave Marsh reminded me, is a largely unknown influence on the stylings of Van Morrison and, by extension, the hordes of singers who swiped from Van the Man.
The Brains: Electronic Eden (Mercury)
Cut to Atlanta 60 years after the demise of BBQ Bob for the thrashing music of the best (and one of the few) southern punk band. You’ll search in vain for a single blues riff, but the camaraderie of spirit is inescapable. The political combo’s mini-hit “Money Changes Everything” is angst-ridden southern rock informed by a speed-reading of the Communist Manifesto,
I said I’m sorry baby, I’m leaving you tonight
I’ve found someone new, he’s waiting in the car outside
Oh honey how can you do it, we swore each other everlasting love
I said yeah I know, but when we did there was one thing
We weren’t thinking of
And that’s money
Money changes everything
The Saints: Nothing is Straight in My House (Cadiz)
The best Aussie punk band? How far can you dispute the claim, against songs like “I’m Stranded,” “Swing for Crime” and “Church of Indifference.” These days perhaps even Olivia Newton-John is grunting out the lyrics to “Madman Wrecked My Happy Home”.
Art Pepper: Meets the Rhythm Section (Contemporary)
LA saxman, brawler and heroin addict Art Pepper teams up with Miles Davis’s rhythm section (and fellow devotees of the opiated spike) to produce one of the greatest West Coast sessions in the history of jazz. Pepper’s autobiography, Straight Life, is a harrowing account of the life of a musician, ex-con and junky, including his bracing detour into the strange cult of Synanon.
Buffy Sainte-Marie: It’s My Way! (Vanguard)
Music from a real vampire slayer, who made LBJ’s enemies list as a “singer who should be suppressed”. The early work of the Cree singer-songwriter, including Universal Soldier, Where Have the Buffalo Gone and The Incest Song, holds up better than most of the folk music from a decade that fetishized authenticity. Her version of the traditional song “Cripple Creek” is so much better than The Band’s lugubrious send-up. Buffy come home, the resistance needs you.