This week’s selections from the Cash Box R&B Top 60 of 50 years ago are from the higher numbers. For the past 10 years the prevailing trends of Rock & Soul, despite it’s influence on both, the Blues had been moved to the sidelines, given a comfy chair & told to take it easy grandpa. In the late-60s young white musicians often checked for the Blues greats who had inspired & influenced them & there was greater interest in & revival of these artists. Anyway, a good record is just that however it is labelled & Blues acts still broke into the lower half of the R&B chart they just weren’t selling in the Motown millions. Here are three from the 26th of February 1972 listing.
B.B. King, the Beale Street Blues Boy, was at first a trailblazer then pretty soon a legend of modern electric Blues. His fluid, string-bending guitar style & strong vocals brought R&B hits throughout the 1950s & 60s leading a busy life on the road, 342 shows in 1956, for himself, his guitar Lucille & his band. In the late 1960s a young producer, Bill Szymczyk, compensated for a lack of vowels in his surname with enthusiasm & creativity. In the studios of London, Los Angeles & New York young musicians who had been inspired & influenced by B.B. were invited to join the sessions. The “Completely Well” album (1969) contained “The Thrill Is Gone”, his only Top 20 Pop hit & awarded the 1970 Grammy Award for Best R&B Male Vocal Performance, “Live In Cook County Jail” (1971) has an intensity & command to rival B.B.’s landmark 1965 live recording at Chicago’s Regal Theatre.
By 1972 Szymczyk had moved on to eventual fame & fortune with the James Gang, J. Geils band, the Eagles & er, Wishbone Ash. B.B’s current LP “L.A. Midnight” was sometimes uneven, always interesting. Joe Walsh & Jesse Ed Davis are happy to join such an iconic player, Taj Mahal’s guitar & harmonica can be heard & Red Callender, from ace sessioneers the Wrecking Crew, adds a distinctive tuba to three tracks. It’s a more experienced unit playing on the record’s standout track which placed at #50 on the chart this week. “Sweet Sixteen” was a hit for B.B. in 1959, a mainstay of his live set there are several versions on his records & this updated version (“I just got back from Vietnam baby & I’m a long way from New Orleans”) sounds to me like the best of a good lot. Starting calmly with B.B.’s strong vocal & precise picking the entry of a propulsive horn section stirs the King of the Blues to a powerful, wailing crescendo. The chart 45 was just less than four minutes long, the full seven minutes of the album track has been included here, I know that the screen is black but it’s there. There were many more years of great music from B.B. King & many accolades to come his way, all of them becoming of a true legend.
In 1971 Albert Collins was working in construction because playing his guitar wasn’t paying too well. Born in 1932 in Leona, Texas Albert made the Blues scene in Houston where the guitar solo was the thing. His 1965 debut, “The Cool Sound of…” consolidated the nickname “Iceman” & in 1968 with the encouragement & connections of Canned Heat he signed to their label Imperial & moved to Los Angeles. A couple of albums later & Albert was again looking for a day job just as he had back in Texas. Things were looking up when he was signed to the new Tumbleweed label, a start-up by B.B. King’s erstwhile producer, that man again, busy Bill Szymczyk.
“There’s Gotta Be A Change” employs a similar modus operandi that was a success for Bill with Mr King. Jesse Ed Davis & drummer Jim Keltner show out as does a full horn section & the versatile, always interesting, Dr John on piano. Albert Collins, “The Master of the Telecaster”, was no shrinking violet, his voice & his guitar are always out front. With a capo low on the neck Albert’s fiery, vibrant tone stung like a bee, seven of the nine tracks, including “Get Your Business Straight (#41 on the chart), are written by his wife Gwendolyn. They had their act together, “There’s Gotta …” is a great example of early 1970s Blues, but Tumbleweed folded the following year & it was five years before renewed interest & Gwendolyn’s encouragement brought him back to the studio. This time around there was more recognition for an individual Blues stylist who could put on quite a show, his 100 foot long lead taking him into the audience & sometimes out of the club to order a pizza! Albert got to play at Live Aid with George Thorogood, with Gary Moore & Robert Cray, both strongly influenced by him & on “Underground”, David Bowie’s theme for “Labyrinth” (“a savage, rough, aggressive sound” – D.B.) . In 1993, the year of his passing, he joined B.B. King onstage at the “Blues Summit” to duet on “Call It Stormy Monday”, the classic by T Bone Walker, a player who influenced both great guitarists. Someone had brought along a camera that night so here it is.
Higher up the chart “Standing In For Jody”, the 11th consecutive R&B Top 20 for Johnnie Taylor was sliding down slowly to #21 while Little Johnny Taylor, a different guy, had a new entry at #58 with “It’s My Fault Darlin'”. Little Johnny got his name when he was the smallest member of the Gospel group the Mighty Clouds of Joy, still a teenager when singers like Little Willie John & Bobby Bland attracted him to secular music.In a move to Galaxy Records he became thir biggest selling act when, in 1963, the slow Blues burn “Part Time Love” became a #1 R&B hit. His following records were not as successful & 1968’s “Soul Full Of Blues, Little Johnny Taylor’s Greatest Hits” though a fine collection was perhaps an exaggeration.
Ronn r#Records released a lot of now obscure R&B singles- (Little Duck & the Quackers – anyone?) & it was with them that “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing Pt.1”, the title track of a subsequent LP, returned Little Johnny to the R&B Top 10. A cut from this record “It’s My Fault Darling” just made it at #58 this week. There’s a large helping of Soul served with LJT’s Blues but it was the slower songs of yearning with a dry humour in the lyrics (wieners for lunch, a Joe Louis punch in “It’s My Fault…”, intimate knowledge of bunions & bedsheets as signs of infidelity in another hit “Open House At My House”) that makes him distinct. Listening to these three artists it’s clear that a horn section was now a feature of Blues records. Little Johnny recorded two good albums at Ronn then another with his namesake & label mate Ted Taylor There were less releases though he still performed & in 2016 no less than the Rolling Stones revived “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing”.