Looking at the list of big-voiced shouters in the annals of blues, there were certainly many to choose from in the style's post-war heyday; Roy Brown, Big Joe Turner, Jimmy Rushing, Roy Milton, Nappy Brown, Jimmy Witherspoon, and others come to mind, but sometimes neglected is Wynonie Harris. His birthplace (August 24, 1915) of Omaha, Nebraska wasn't exactly the center of the universe for jump blues, although it became a popular stopping place for traveling singers and larger orchestras. Harris was a sharp-dressed, witty and wild, hard-drinking womanizer, and if talks were on the various exploits of those he competed with, he would win hands down. However, he could shout the blues like nobody's business and Proper Records of the UK has stepped up with proof. A chronological, well-annotated 4-disc set which compiles 81 tracks spanning seven years, 1944-50, clocking in at over 220 minutes makes this a wonderful addition to the blues shelves. Wynonie's success can easily be weighed by considering that he had over 15 top-ten hits between 1945 and 1952, but by the time a hillbilly kid named Presley covered "Good Rockin' Tonight" for the Sun label, Harris and many more were on the downside of their popularity. "Rockin' The Blues" will leave little doubt as to the capabilities of Wynonie Harris; the first three CD's contain 20 cuts each while the last contains 21, and there's some serious honkin' involved with a cast of names who later found great success in the jazz field.
Disc one gets started with a cast of heavyweight sidemen who accompany Harris in brilliant fashion on "Hurry, Hurry" and "Who Threw The Whiskey In The Well," a 1945 hit, when Harris was fronting the Lucky Millinder outfit. Eddie Davis, Panama Francis, Lawrence Lucie and others blow up a storm in this New York session and make way for a slew of Los Angeles recordings that feature Johnny Otis, Illinois Jacquet, Bill Doggett, Charles Mingus, Ulysses Livingston and more for cuts that include the two-part "Around The Clock," the storming "Wynonie's Blues," and "Straighten Him Out," with Gene Phillips supplying tasteful guitar and the risqué "Somebody Changed The Lock" with Jack McVea and his All Stars. Hawaiian guitar adds an interesting touch to "I Gotta Lyin' Woman" and the booming "Everybody's Boogie" cooks along at a breakneck pace while a pair of alternate takes of these two titles close out the first disc. There's also "Yonder Comes My Baby," "Here Comes The Blues," "Baby Look At You," "Time To Change Your Town," plus a solid armful more.
The second disc begins with "Playful Baby," a rustling jump tune and Herman Mitchell's guitar intro to "Papa Tree Top" makes this one worth the price of admission if Johnnie Alston's gorgeous tenor solo doesn't grab you on "Take Me Out Of The Rain." "Hey, Ba-Ba-Re-Bop" is another strong two-part piece from a late-1946 session with the Hamp-Tone All Stars featuring Arnett Cobb, Milt Buckner, Charlie Fowlkes, and others, while "In The Evenin' Blues" relaxes the groove and offers great dynamics. "Dig This Boogie" and the humorous "Lightnin' Struck The Poor House" appeared as Bullet 251 and are the first-known recordings of Herman Blount (later known as Sun Ra) from a Spring 1946 recording date in Nashville. "My Baby's Barrel House" and "Drinkin' By Myself" made up Bullet 252 with Wynonie's top-shelf vocals over some creative horn charts. Back in New York for late 1946, "Mr. Blues Jumped The Rabbit" and "Whiskey And Jelly-Roll Blues" landed on the Aladdin imprint, one of a number of labels Harris was with before major success with King Records. Mary Osborne's sharp guitar and Leonard Feather's piano add great interest here and there's plenty left with "You Got To Get Yourself A Job, Girl," the bristling "Hard Ridin' Mama," and "Good Morning Corinne," where Harris compares his problematic woman with another hard-headed femme-fatale by the name of Caldonia.
Disc three kicks off with another New York session from the middle of 1947 where Harris trades vocals with Big Joe Turner on the smoldering two parts of "Battle Of The Blues," a brooding "Goin' Home" and the aptly-titled "Blues." Archie Hall's nimble piano propels the charge on "Love Is Like Rain" and adds superior touches to "Rose Get Your Clothes," while "Wynonie's Boogie" is powered by a rhythm section of Edgar Brown's bass and Clarence Burt's solid drumming. Dexter Gordon and Weasel Parker combine tenor chores for "Your Money Don't Mean A Thing" where Wynonie manages some stunning vocal passages a step above his usual excellent standards, and a December 1947 date in Cincinnati found him in stunning form for "Good Morning Mr. Blues," "Blow Your Brains Out," and "Blowin' To California," with trumpet from Hot Lips Page and Joe Britton's grumbling trombone well to the fore. A week later, Harris was back in the studio in for "Good Rockin' Tonight," a gem if ever there was one, and the same date also contributed the fine "Lollipop Mama." A rollicking studio date in December of 1948 contributed "Grandma Plays The Numbers," a charging "She Just Won't Sell No More," and "I Want My Fanny Brown."
The final disc of the four leads off with "I Feel That Old Age Coming On" where Frank Culley's alto riffs with Hal Singer's tenor for some magic, and again, Harris is in top form vocally. "All She Wants To Do Is Rock" and the lowdown "I Can't Take It No More" stem from an April 1949 New Jersey date, and October found Wynonie back in Ohio for "I Like My Baby's Pudding," a stomping sexual rant, and "Triflin' Woman," a slow grinder. July of 1950 landed Harris back in New York where he was joined by Buddy Tate's tenor and Sonny Thompson's piano for the brimming "Mr. Blues Is Coming To Town" and the commercially-friendly "Put It Back," and October produced another session which offered a second version of "Triflin' Woman." A steaming "Man, Have I Got Troubles" features Jimmy Shirley's sparkling guitar sounding like it was recorded down in the basement while Harris might have been in a bathroom across the hall... this is room sound! The well-received "Good Morning Judge" is a reworked hillbilly number that King Records found success with when combined with R&B sensibility and it wasn't Wynonie's first blending of the two disparate styles. "Rock Mr. Blues" chugs along and Sonny Thompson (who later assisted Freddy King for many high-scoring instrumental cuts) shines again on "Mr. Blues Is Coming To Town," while "Confessin' The Blues" closes out the set in fine fashion.
All things considered, they don't get a whole lot better than this. Proper has issued a number of fine boxed sets in the past at bargain-basement prices and this one is no different. Packaging gets a good grade as it's handsomely assembled and the 50-plus pages of liner notes by Joop Visser shed great light on Harris' life while there are loads of vintage photos to go along with great reading. The detailed discography lists all known players, locations, and dates with original issue information, whether from various 78 releases on Decca, Philo, Apollo, Hamp-Tone, plus others, and cuts that came forth on later compilations as well. Sound quality is generally upper-level although a couple will fall short of making the next Sonic Wonder Awards, but at 81 tracks, a few misses won't make this any less fun. www.proper.uk.com will offer more info. This is an incredible package at an exceptional price and a strong recommendation for anyone who takes a particular interest in jump blues, or for those who lean more toward the jazz direction where groove and swing remain as integral parts of the makeup.
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