Ike Turner / Jackie Brenston: Rocket 88, a Proper Introduction (Proper Records / UK)
On May 12, 1951 Chess Records released “Rocket 88.” The song quickly blew to the top of the R&B charts, becoming, in the eyes of many, the first rock and roll hit. (I’m partial to Wynonie Harris’ roaring version of “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” myself.) Chess credited the record to Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats. However, the song wasn’t recorded by Chess, but in Sam Phillips’ Sun studios in Memphis and the creative force behind “Rocket 88” wasn’t Brenston but Ike Turner. Indeed, Brenston was merely a journeyman horn player in Turner’s great band, The Kings of Rhythm. Along with Ray Charles, Ike Turner was one of the most versatile musicians and arrangers in the history of American music. He was born in the legendary cradle of the blues Clarksdale, Mississippi and by the age of 15 had mastered the delta blues, swing, R&B and the heady jazz sounds emanating from New Orleans. But his voice was limited and Turner tapped Brenston to sing they lyrics on the super-charged tribute the new Oldsmobile Rocket Hydra-Matic 88. The song was a reworking of an R&B hit by Jimmy Liggins from 1947 called “Cadillac Boogie.” Turner’s version is raw and driving, with the horns attacking as fiercely as electric guitars. This collection redeems Ike Turner’s central role in the transformation of Delta blues into rock. In these 30 songs, we find Turner arranging and playing guitar and piano on some of the earliest hits of B.B. King, Little Milton, Howlin’ Wolf, and Bobby “Blue” Bland. Riff by riff you hear the architecture of rock music being laid down by one its most deviously creative practitioners. Ike’s reputation will probably never recover from the pummeling he took after Tina’s prime-time revelations about their rough-and-tumble relationship. But that hardly matters. The records endure, scoring a direct hit on the hips. Even the most uptight prig would be hard to resist the music’s visceral lure. Once upon a time, rock and roll really was devil’s music.
Gilad Atzmon: In Loving Memory of America (Enja / Germany)
For his latest recording, the acclaimed London-based saxman (and sometime CP contributor) Gilad Atzmon turns his attention to New York in the 1950s, probably the most innovative era of America music. With a judicious mix of standards and original compositions, Atzmon recreates the mise-en-scene of an after hours jazz club. The legend being served here is the titanic Charlie Parker, but Atzmon reimagines Bird on his own terms, with spiraling and plaintive sax and clarinet solos that swirl like helixes encoded with the sounds of Harlem over the refined shadings of the Sigamos String Quartet. This is noir jazz, the insidious music that breaks out while the empire sleeps.
Charlie Rich: That’s Rich: the Original Sun Recordings (Snap Records / UK)
Charlie Rich was probably the most talented white musician and composer to walk into Sam Phillips’ Sun Records studio. But Phillips found Rich’s playing “too jazzy” for the edgier sound he wanted and reportedly handed Rich a pile of Jerry Lee Lewis records and said, “Come back here when you sound that bad.” It didn’t take Rich long to mimic the master. During his five-year stint at Sun, Rich wrote songs for Lewis and played piano on recordings by Johnny Cash, Billy Lee Riley and Ray Smith. Although his singles failed to follow Elvis and Carl Perkins’ ascent to the top of the charts, Rich’s own recordings for Sun, from “Lonely Weekends” to “Who Will the Next Fool Be,” are almost uniformly dazzling. Has there ever been a smoother and more sly imitation of Elvis than Rich’s voice on “Rebound”? This collection from Snap Records in the UK includes 30 of Rich’s best Sun recordings, including his swinging version of “Blue Suede Shoes” and a slowly grinding cover of “CC Rider.” But Rich eventually grew frustrated at his being eclipsed by lesser talents in Memphis and soon turned his back on rock music and took his talents to Nashville. In the 1970s he sold millions of records and made loads of money from the syrupy productions of Billy Sherrill (see: “Most Beautiful Girl). But the music was bitter and alienated, lacking the propulsive fire of those early recordings in Memphis when a revolution was being hatched.
Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Born Under a Bad Sky. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.