The Sirens Records have been resurgent in recent months issuing several
quality piano blues CDs. The latest, "Primitive Piano," was originally
issued in 1957 on Tone Records, when it had seven tracks--three by Speckled
Red and two each by Doug Suggs and James Robinson. The new CD version
includes seven rediscovered tracks: two more by Doug Suggs, and five by
Billie Pierce--two with husband Dede on vocals. There is also the bonus of
an interview with Doug Suggs by producer (and piano maestro) Erwin Helfer.
Louisiana-born Rufus Perryman gets things underway. Known as Speckled
Red--he was an albino--he was based in St Louis at the time of the
recordings. The first of three original tunes is the instrumental "Dad's
Piece," which has a sound that appears rooted in the classic ragtime era,
whilst the heritage of the two vocal pieces, "Early In The Morning," and
"Oh Red" appears more recent, judging by the former's strong boogie woogie
Doug Suggs, who was born in St. Louis, fills the second slot. The first of
two tracks, "Doug's Jump," is a classy steady rolling blues instrumental,
with Suggs' left hand providing an excellent illustration of the walking
bass line. Things are slowed down a little for Claude Brown's "Sweet
Patootie," but the playing remains very fine. Suggs then gives way to
another Louisiana born St. Louis settler, the prolific James "The Bat"
Robinson. Both of Robinson's songs, "Bat's Blues" and "Four O'Clock" are
what the majority of people would most readily recognise as blues.
Female piano virtuoso Billie Pierce dominates the newly discovered tracks.
These start with a couple of classics: "Keep A Knockin'," done a bit slower
than Little Richard, and "See See Rider," which features an extended piano
introduction. After the slow original, "Florida Blues," Billie Pierce
shares the mic with husband Dede as they take things to the church for a
couple of takes of "Bye and Bye." The first positively rattles along,
before the pace is cooled a little for the second.
Doug Suggs reappears to do a great job as closer. The delightful rolling
blues instrumental, "Smoke Like Lightning," is followed by another classy
piece, "Slow and Low," which rounds off the musical part of the album. All
that remains is for Suggs to provide some insights into his musical career
with a little prompting from Erwin Helfer.
"Primitive Piano" is a fine album. Lovers of piano playing will find much
to admire here. There is a range of styles on display that crosses the
borders between blues and jazz, once more showing the close links between
them. The quality of the recordings is very good, with the exception of one
or two patches early on during the interview. In addition to being full of
fine piano playing, "Primitive Piano" provides an interesting historical
snapshot of who was in and around St. Louis scene almost 50 years ago.
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