A couple of months in, and already I would wager money on "Rockin' The Blues" being in the shake-up for reissue album of the year. The album originally came out on CD about a year ago, but was almost instantly withdrawn. It has now resurfaced as a strictly limited pressing, so skip the review and get on the case straightaway, before it is sold out. Apparently label owner Henry Stone thinks blues does not sell any more.
The album includes tracks from three of Stone's labels (Rockin', Chart, and Marlin), and features a collection of artists who found their way to Stone's studio in the period 1953-57. Despite the disparate range of styles on offer--Memphis, Chicago, Texas, West Coast and Florida-- the whole package hangs together exceedingly well. This is thanks in part to a raw earthiness in the sound on all of the tracks, which helps bind things together.
For your money you get ten tracks (four previously unreleased) from the highly influential Earl Hooker, in his prime in the days before he discovered the wah-wah pedal. On four of these tracks he accompanies harp player Little Sam Davis. Joe Hill Louis moonlights on four tracks as Johnny Lewis and Leslie Louis, due to contractual obligations elsewhere. These tracks include the almost demented "Ridin' Home" on which Louis and sax player George Lawson decide to play in different keys! Lightnin' Hopkins is in fine form on the only two cuts he recorded for Stone's chart label, as do Eddie Hope and the Mannish Boys who, on this evidence, would have been a match for Chicago's finest. Lastly there is a previously unissued take of Jimmy "Tin Pan Alley" Wilson's cover of "Alley Blues", and the classy "Goin' Back Home Today" from Florida resident Willie Baker. Apart from "Ridin' Home", and even that has a perverse kind of charm to it, every track is a little gem in its own right.
Sound quality is excellent throughout, with most of the tracks having been dubbed direct from the master tapes. Although half a dozen of the originals were lost in a fire, they have been lifted from mint condition 78s, and it is hard to spot the difference.
"Rockin' The Blues" is an absolute cracker, and is one of those "must have" albums. Do yourself a favor: buy it, and prove label owner Henry Stone wrong. Word has it that Hot Productions are hoping that there is enough surviving material to put together another volume. If it is half as good as this, then be prepared to add it to your list of essential purchases.
Rockin' Records: Hot Productions Inc., 1450 NW 159th Street, Miami, FL 33169. (Tel: (305) 628-9797)
If you cannot find it in the stores, try Red Lick Records in the UK: firstname.lastname@example.org
This review is copyright © 2000 by Gordon Baxter, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.