Wednesday

THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME (REISSUES AND ANTHOLOGIES) By Michael McDowell


YOUNG WINGS CAN FLY: In one of the most ambitious reissue projects seen in some time, the enigmatic WJBK label has released the first eight installments of what promises to be an ongoing CD series, WJBK Hits, chronicling the most rare and overlooked singles from the weekly surveys of the legendary suburban Detroit radio station's prime run between 1956 and 1964. Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell has the story below (Click on above image to enlarge).

 CD REISSUES / ANTHOLOGIES
(REVIEWS ARE POSTED IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER BY ARTIST)

THE  COMPLETE AUTHORIZED RECORDINGS -
The Majic Ship
(Gear Fab)

Upon emerging from a brief sabbatical slightly more than twenty years ago, Roger Maglio's Littleton, Colorado-based Gear Fab label literally hit the ground running. Since that time, it has more than sustained its momentum as one of the premier reissue labels in all of music.

Appropriately and somewhat inevitably, Gear Fab has come full circle with this expanded edition of one of its earliest and most acclaimed collections. First issued in late 1997, The Complete Authorized Recordings brought together for the first time the richly diverse works of this ambitious Long Island quintet. The original project was presented in a manner not unlike Tommy Roe's late 1969 Twelve In A Roe anthology album for ABC Paramount, in which excerpts from interviews with Roe introduce each track in the album itself. Maglio followed suit with this Majic Ship project, providing valuable first hand observations into the legacy of this somewhat enigmatic band.

For the twentieth anniversary reissue, Gear Fab dropped the jewel case format used for the 1997 edition and added a bonus track, an expanded essay and newly discovered band photos. But as before, the music nonetheless takes center stage here. Featured of course is their 1969 signature cover of Sam and Dave's You Got Me Hummin' (originally issued as a single on the Crazy Horse label), as well as their entire 1970 album for Bel-Ami Records and their unique takes on Sir Mack Rice's Mustang Sally, the Tokens' Green Plant, Buffalo Springfield's For What It's Worth and Bert Sommer's And When It's Over.

With another installment in their ongoing Psychedelic States series (with the next one spotlighting West Virginia) and a CD reissue of the hopelessly rare 1971 album by the Pearl River, New York-based quintet Daybreak scheduled for July 2017 release, Gear Fab's momentum is happily continuing unabated. In the meantime, this upgraded Majic Ship collection is, in the words of one of the band's signature tracks, an On The Edge essential. 

THE ULTIMATE COLLECTION -
Roy Orbison
(Legacy Recordings)


Upon rare occasion, an artist comes along who is so prolific over an extended period of time, that their work actually sounds like the creation of several different artists, due to inevitable changes in vision and mission statement.


One such performer is the late jazz trumpeter, Miles Davis. By the time his career came to an end with his passing in September 1991, the focus of his current releases was far removed from his acclaimed earlier efforts for Prestige and Columbia.

The same could be said of beloved composer and vocalist David Bowie. When he passed away in January 2016, he left behind more than a half century's worth of work that found him reinventing himself on a regular basis.



To be certain, the best way to appreciate such an artist is to treat each phase of their work as being by an entirely different performer. Indeed, such an approach would also be fortuitous when taking into consideration the more than three decades' worth of material produced by the subject at hand: vocalist, composer and Vernon, Texas native Roy Kelton Orbison.



Upon launching his career in the early 1950s as a member of the Wink Westerners, Orbison went on to record a number of groundbreaking tracks for such labels as Je-Wel, Sun, RCA Victor, Monument, MGM, Asylum and Virgin. In the process, he amassed a wealth of original material that is regarded in the highest esteem by many.



All of which could well serve to make the project at hand an exercise in futility.



Indeed, to attempt to compress such a vast legacy into a single twenty-six track CD is bound to generate howls of indignation from both the faithful and the casual devotee. Many would contend that his work for Monument Records alone would fill a two-CD Best Of package to capacity. And in light of the recent release of a box set that comprehensively chronicled his tenure with MGM, there has been renewed interest in that phase of his work.

Some may also cite his stature as one of the premier artists of the legendary Memphis-based Sun label and direct their attention to that relatively smaller yet no less impacting chapter of his career. Still others would hail his 1988 comeback single, You Got It and his concurrent work as a member of the Traveling Wilburys, immediately prior to his tragic and unexpected passing at age fifty-two in December of that year.



Indeed, one could also rightly contend that a collection of career defining tracks which omits his larger than life mid-1965 farewell single for Monument, (Say) You're My Girl has no right to be referred to as a "Best Of" collection. The exclusion of such similarly essential fare as Goodnight, Working For The Man, Uptown and Breaking Up Is Breaking My Heart only serves to underscore the point, as does the fact that several far more comprehensive (and no less essential) multi-disc CD sets containing most of those key tracks have all surfaced within the past decade.



So what does a single disc billed as The Ultimate Collection include that would be worthy of such a distinction? There are of course the obvious Monument-era tracks such as Oh Pretty Woman, Crying, Only The Lonely, Dream Baby and Running Scared. His MGM work is represented by Crawling Back, Too Soon To Know and the wonderful Ride Away. And while the earlier Sun era material relies on the obvious and often covered Ooby Dooby to represent it, the inclusion of You Got It and two Traveling Wilburys tracks will likely serve to sustain the interest of those who discovered his art in the home stretch.

Assembled by Orbison's son, Alex Orbison, The Ultimate Collection is certain to be a point of contention by title alone with the purists, who have their own individual perspectives on the issue of "ultimate". That said, with its emphasis more on Orbison's rocking material and a reasonable cross section of his discography, this latest addition into the fold will certainly (to invoke the title of one of his classic singles for Sun) add admirably to what is already a very full Rockhouse.


SONGS OF FAITH -
Dee Dee Sharp (ABKCO)

One of the great injustices in rock and roll history was the decades long unavailability of the majority of the catalog of the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based Cameo/Parkway family of labels.

From late 1956 until its untimely demise in early 1968, Cameo, Parkway and its family of affiliate labels (including Wyncote, Winchester, Sentar, Vando, Fairmount, Lucky Eleven, Showplace, Windy C and others) set the bar high with a richly diverse and world class artist roster. Just a random sampling of the artists whose work graced those labels more than underscores the point, including Charlie Gracie, the Storey Sisters, Bobby Rydell, the Mike Pedicin Quintet, the Applejacks, Chubby Checker, Ray Vernon, John Zacherle, the Rays, the Dovells, the Turbans, the Orlons, the Tymes, the Kinks, Sounds Orchestral, the Rag Dolls, the Three And A Half, the New Colony Six, Evie Sands, Bob Seger and the Last Heard, the Olympics, the Rationals, Bunny Sigler, Terry Knight and the Pack, Frankie Beverly, the Ohio Express, Eddie Holman, the Yellow Payges, the Five Stairsteps, Chris Bartley, the Bossmen, Candy and the Kisses, Question Mark and the Mysterians, Lonnie Youngblood and Clint Eastwood.

Soon after Cameo/Parkway’s demise, its catalog’s continued availability fell under the jurisdiction of the ABKCO label. For several years, ABKCO kept select highlights of the label’s archives in print on vinyl, including a handful of Various Artists album collections and in demand singles, including Chubby Checker’s cover of Hank Ballard and the Midnighters’
The Twist, the Tymes’ So Much In Love and Bob Seger and the Last Heard’s East Side Story and Heavy Music.

However, other than occasional appearances on Various Artists CD compilations of questionable origin in the late 1990s, much of the Cameo/Parkway archives lay dormant until the first decade of the twenty-first century. At that time, ABKCO tested the waters with a highly acclaimed CD box set that showcased a diverse overview of the label’s legacy.

Soon after, an agreement was reached with the Collectors Choice label in the United States and Ace/Big Beat in the U.K. to once again make available some of the highlights of Cameo/Parkway’s album legacy in the CD configuration. Impeccably produced and highly acclaimed collections featuring the works of Bobby Rydell, the Rationals, Clint Eastwood, Chubby Checker, the Orlons and Terry Knight and the Pack followed suit. However, not long after their release, the Collectors Choice label ceased operations, once again derailing the overall mission statement’s momentum for a season.

Happily, ABKCO itself is now attempting to pick up some of the slack. To its considerable credit, it has opted to go the ambitious route with this latest reissue.

One of Cameo’s most beloved and impacting solo artists was the Philadelphia born vocalist and pianist, Dione “Dee Dee Sharp” LaRue. Not long after signing with Cameo, Sharp earned widespread critical acclaim for her duet single with Chubby Checker,
Slow Twistin’. A series of engaging solo singles for Cameo followed, including Ride!, Gravy, Wild, Do The Bird, Deep Dark Secret, Where Did I Go Wrong, Let’s Twine and the utterly stupendous late 1965 monster classic, I Really Love You. Sharp also worked alongside label mate Bobby Rydell on Cameo’s influential You Be A Disc Jockey instructional album.

From the onset, Sharp’s considerable vocal prowess made a considerable impression on label heads Kalman “Kal Mann” Cohen and Bernard “Bernie Lowe” Lowenthal, as well as Cameo’s resident musical director, Dave Appell. Although Mann, Lowe and Appell usually combined their formidable technical acumen to create highly refined and personalized material and arrangements tailored to each individual artist, they upon occasion would incorporate the creative vision of each artist into the project(s) at hand (most notably with Charlie Gracie, who was and is a virtuoso guitarist). In Sharp’s case, so impressed were Mann, Lowe and Appell with the results of her 1962 debut LP,
It’s Mashed Potato Time, that in mid-August of that year, she was sent to New York City (in tandem with the aptly named vocal trio, the Cameos) to bring to fruition her personal musical vision by recording this extraordinary and ground breaking second album. 

To be certain, Sharp was no stranger to Gospel music. The granddaughter of a Baptist minister, Sharp had frequently led worship services at her grandfather’s church. For a season, she also worked alongside the late Thomasina Winifred “Tammi Terrell” Montgomery in the All-City Philadelphia Choir. And while the resultant
Songs Of Faith was a considerable departure from that which had defined her work to date, the project proceeded with the label’s blessings.

To that effect,
Songs Of Faith drew from a wellspring of some of the best known Gospel standards of the day. They include Thomas A. Dorsey’s Peace In The Valley, Al Hibbler’s He, Frankie Laine’s I Believe, Les Paul and Mary Ford’s Vaya Con Dios, Stuart Hamblen’s It Is No Secret (What God Can Do) and the Mahalia Jackson/Laurie London staple, He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands.

Happily, the mission statement did not lose its primary focus through the inclusion of such peripherally Gospel favorites as Edna McGriff’s
Heavenly Father and Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s Climb Ev’ry Mountain (from the soundtrack of The Sound Of Music). The Cameo leadership team even contributed commendably and credibly to the proceedings with We’ll Walk Together (co-authored by Kal Mann and pianist Jack Pleis, who turned in one of Cameo’s best instrumental releases later that year with his All The Hits Of 1962 album) and Mann and Lowe’s celebratory I’ll Make You Mine.

Apparently aware of the timelessness and crucial impact of the Gospel message, Cameo astutely afforded
Songs Of Faith the full benefit of its recent studio technical upgrades. Much has been written elsewhere (including Blitz Magazine’s landmark 2016 interview with Bobby Rydell) about how Cameo overcame early technological challenges and created some of the most lavishly arranged and impeccably produced releases of all time under the most challenging of conditions. But by 1962, the label had invested heavily in technical upgrades, recording its best material (including this album) on four track, thirty-five millimeter stereo film, rather than conventional recording tape. The story of those developments was chronicled in detail on the back cover of the original album release and is included in this collection, along with the original sleeve notes by J.P. Byrne (who also did the honors for the aforementioned Jack Pleis album) and an all new essay by Gayle Wald.

Meanwhile, Sharp continued to record for Cameo throughout 1966. After the label’s demise, she sustained her momentum into the 1970s with releases for Atco, Gamble and Philadelphia International. And while to date she has not returned to Gospel music in the studio on such a grand level, Songs Of Faith nonetheless continues to serve as a fitting testimony to both her divinely inspired gifts and as tangible evidence of Stuart Hamblen’s maxim that
It Is No Secret (What God Can Do). 

 

THE IMPERIAL RECORDS STORY 1962 -
Various Artists (Real Gone Music)

As the remarkably prolific U.K. version of the Real Gone Music label continues to expand its interests in Various Artists collections, there has been a greater emphasis on packages which focus on specific record companies. Their recent releases highlighting the vast catalogs of Sun Records and the Tamla/Motown conglomerate have been excellent, and thankfully seem to be only the tip of the iceberg.

Among the most richly diverse sets is this ninety-one track, four CD box, which chronicles the highlights of the 1962 releases on Imperial Records. Founded in Los Angeles, California in 1946 by Toronto, Ontario native Louis Robert “Lew Chudd” Chudnofsky, Imperial over the next decade and a half became one of the premier labels in all of rock and roll, with releases by such giants of the genre as the Spiders, Eric Hilliard “Rick” Nelson, the Johnson Trio, Antoine “Fats” Domino, Smiley Lewis, Big Jay McNeely, the Bees, Faye Adams, Roy Brown, Ken Copeland, the Paris Sisters, Ernie Freeman, the Burnette Brothers and many, many more.

It is a testimony to Chudd’s acumen in the music industry that many of Imperial’s early mainstays were still affiliated with him in 1962. By that time, Imperial had also acquired a number of world class artists whose repertoires had been established elsewhere. The Imperial Records Story 1962 chronicles the best of the label’s A and B sides from that year. Given the evidence at hand, it was arguably Imperial’s best year to date.

As had been the case for the previous several years, two of rock and roll’s absolute masters remained Imperial’s flagship artists in 1962. The first of these was the New Orleans, Louisiana based Fats Domino, who made his debut with the label in 1949. Domino’s momentum continued unabated in 1962, represented here with such engaging single sides as Stop The Clock, Ida Jane, Nothing New, My Heart Is Bleeding, Dance With Mister Domino, My Real Name, the irresistible Hands Across The Table and his masterful interpretation of Hank Williams’ You Win Again.

Imperial’s other front runner in 1962 was the legendary rock and roll pioneer Rick Nelson. The recipient of multiple awards from Blitz Magazine (including Single Of The Year in 1977 for You Can’t Dance and posthumously in 1986 for You Know What I Mean, as well as a dead heat tie with Hank Williams for Best Solo Artist of the Twentieth Century), Nelson’s work in 1962 was showing evidence of increasing signs of the explosive artistic growth that would lead him to further develop the country rock that he had pioneered the previous year with his monster classic, Gene Pitney-penned Hello Mary Lou single. With Imperial continuing to afford him the necessary creative autonomy, Nelson’s releases for the label in 1962 continued to break ground in a variety of ways.

While his deceptively low key Teenage Idol single hinted at the disdain that he rightfully harbored with regards to the depiction of his legacy within some circles (a concept that he honed to perfection a decade later with his self-penned, landmark Garden Party 45 for Decca), Nelson’s mastery of the mid-tempo love ballads such as It’s Up To You, the gorgeous I Need You and the utterly sublime Young World were hallmarks of his tenure with Imperial. All are prominently featured here, as is his definitive take on George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward’s often covered 1933 Porgy And Bess staple, Summertime. With their groundbreaking rendition, Nelson and his powerhouse band (featuring the great James Burton on lead guitar) created one of the prototypical anthems of first generation garage rock, which in turn provided the direct inspiration for both the Liverpool Five’s She’s Mine for RCA Victor in early 1966 and the Blues Magoos’ signature track, (We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet for Mercury in late 1966.

While Domino and Nelson continued to represent the best in all of music throughout 1962, theirs was only a small percentage of the overall Imperial roster that year. The label continued to boast a vastly diverse roster, and primarily persevered as a leader in blues and rhythm and blues. Among the best of the genre’s 1962 output were the late veteran composer, vocalist and guitarist Fird “Snooks” Eaglin, who recorded for Imperial as Ford Eaglin. In 1962, he turned in several essential sides for Imperial, including I’m Slippin’ In, Don’t Slam That Door, Willy Lee, People Are Talking and a spirited reinterpretation of label mate Fats Domino’s Going To The River.

Eaglin’s contributions were augmented most handsomely with a wealth of singles by such heroes of the genre as Amos Milburn (I’m Still A Fool For You), Aaron Thibeaux “T-Bone” Walker (Evil Hearted Woman and the poignant and ironic Life Is Too Short), Floyd Dixon (Tired, Broke And Busted), Charles Brown (Fool’s Paradise), Smiley Lewis (Gumbo Blues), Lloyd George (the superb Come On Train, which had been previously issued on Post Records), Bobby John (the outstanding Garnet Mimms/Jackie Wilson-hybrid Falling), the immensely respected traditionalist Lil’ Son Jackson (Everybody’s Blues), Henderson County, Kentucky native and one-time Raelette Mary Ann Fisher (the inspiring It’s A Man’s World), the magnificent Berna Dean (whose Mahalia Jackson/Faye Adams-inspired The World Keeps Changing is a highlight of this collection, as is her compelling One Gal In Town, Five Men Hangin’ Around) the highly prolific Sam John “Lightnin’” Hopkins (Shotgun, Picture On The Wall and Feel So Bad) and the great Earl King (Always A First Time, We Are Just Friends, his cut to the heart You’re More To Me Than Gold and his larger than life, groundbreaking Trick Bag).

Also contributing significantly to Imperial’s front runner status in 1962 was the beloved Tampa, Florida native Ottis Dewey “Slim” Whitman. Known for his charismatic high tenor range and flair for lyrical high drama, Whitman (who had previously recorded for RCA Victor) provided Imperial with a number of first rate tracks that year, including Annie Laurie, I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know, a splendid cover of Fats Domino’s Valley Of Tears, a majestic take on the late Gogi Grant’s The Wayward Wind and his absolutely heart wrenching career highlights, Backward Turn Backward and You Have My Heart. Whitman continued to record prolifically until 2010, and passed away in June 2013 at ninety years of age.

Another major acquisition for Imperial was master percussionist and Santa Monica, California native Sander L. “Sandy” Nelson. After firmly establishing himself in 1959 with the anthemic instrumental Teen Beat for the great Art Laboe’s Original Sound Records, Nelson then joined forces with Imperial, where he recorded prolifically throughout the 1960s. His contributions in 1962 included Drum Stomp, Drummin’ Up A Storm, And Then There Were Drums, the frantic Teenage House Party and memorable covers of Rick Nelson’s Be-Bop Baby and Roy Brown’s Let The Four Winds Blow.

Nelson went on to sign with the Veebltronics label in 1984. While there, he released the acclaimed A Drum Is A Woman and Hunk Of Drums singles, which were produced by one time Blitz Magazine contributing writer Frank Beeson. Nelson currently resides in Boulder City, Nevada and records occasionally.

Interestingly enough, the innovative and highly prolific duo, Shirley Mae Goodman Pixley and Leonard Lee (who had established a most impressive legacy as Shirley and Lee) were also major contributors to Imperial’s legacy in 1962. Having recorded copiously for Aladdin throughout the 1950s, Shirley and Lee signed with Warwick Records in 1960, where they released three singles before joining forces with Imperial in 1962. Lew Chudd apparently gave them the green light in a variety of ways, as their Imperial output that year ranks among their best, highlighted by Together We Stand Divided We Fall (which is some respects is a respectful nod to their earlier work for Aladdin), The Joker (not to be confused with Billy Myles’ earlier single of the same name for Ember), the Leonard Lee-penned My Last Letter and his Fats Domino-inspired Don’t Stop Now. 

Pixley went on to front Shirley and Company, whose 1974 Shame, Shame, Shame single for All Platinum was produced by Mickey and Sylvia’s Sylvia Robinson. Pixley passed away in July 2005 after suffering a stroke several years earlier. Meanwhile, Leonard Lee briefly collaborated with fellow rock and roll pioneer Jesse Hill and worked for a season as a session musician. Sadly, he succumbed to a heart attack in 1976 at age forty.

Despite many personnel changes in the wake of the release of their signature track, When You Dance for Herald in 1955, the venerable, Philadelphia-based Turbans continued to record prolifically. Interestingly enough, during a brief affiliation with Parkway Records in 1961, the Turbans turned in what is arguably their finest moment with a sublime remake of When You Dance, which features some of the most magnificent, Bert Berns-inspired strings ever committed to record.

By the time they signed with Imperial in late 1961, the Turbans’ repertoire also included numerous releases for both Herald and Red Top. 1962 proved to be a banner year for the group. Their repertoire was literally all over the map, highlighted by an uptempo remake of Gene and Eunice’s 1955 Aladdin label classic, This Is My Story, as well as the true to template ballad Six Questions (which was co-authored by the Fireflies’ Richie Adams) and the wonderfully screwy, bizarre and thinking outside of the box The Lament Of Silver Gulch, which is best described as a combination of the best of the Olympics’ Little Pedro, the Ivy Three’s Yogi and the Coasters’ Along Came Jones. 

Many other greats likewise sustained their momentum at Imperial during 1962. After a highly productive affiliation with Ace Records, the legendary Frankie Ford added significantly to his legacy at Imperial in 1962 with A Man Only Does (What A Woman Makes Him Do) and They Said It Couldn’t Be Done. Likewise, the utterly stupendous Majors turned in their signature track, A Wonderful Dream, as well as the monster classic A Little Bit Now (which the Dave Clark Five covered on their Everybody Knows album for Epic in 1967). In turn, New Orleans vocalist and composer Robert Parker continued to build on the momentum that would at last peak in 1966 with Barefootin’ for Nola Records via his engaging 1962 Imperial single, Twistin’ Out In Space.

Meanwhile, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his group, Dante and His Friends added immeasurably to their impressive list of accomplishments in 1962 with the Herb Alpert co-authored Little Girl (You’re My Miss America), which the Beach Boys covered in September of that year on their Surfin’ Safari album. Beloved long time television show host Albert Franklin “Clay Cole” Rucker also tried his hand as a recording artist for Imperial in 1962, with the resultant Twist Around The Clock more than proving his mettle in that respect.

This most essential collection is rounded out with worthwhile contributions by Ernie Freeman, the Utopians, Dennis Bell, Mike Anthony, Chick Carlton, Wardell and the Sultans (the brilliant I’m Broke), Timmy Brown and the aforementioned Richie Adams. While some have voiced concerns over collections such as these for reasons ranging from lack of sleeve notes to copyright issues (the latter which has prompted such veteran greats as Bobby Rydell and Cliff Richard to address Parliament in recent years), The Imperial Records Story 1962 and other collections like it are nonetheless most assuredly well compiled and mastered gateways to crucial developments in rock and roll’s rich and diverse legacy. In the words of project contributor Sandy Nelson, it represents Rompin’ And Stompin’ at its finest.

 
40 YEARS OF STONY PLAIN -
Various Artists
(Stony Plain Records)

In an industry in which some of its most influential representatives have augmented their respective mission statements to fall at least in part under the jurisdiction of the corporate perspective, it is encouraging to witness the ongoing success of a given independent record label which has not allowed the occasional deference to human frailty to derail its overall forward momentum.

To that effect, when the Edmonton, Alberta-based Stony Plain label released the vinyl edition of country music veteran Ricky Skaggs’ Family & Friends album in 1982, the label of the album credited the artist as “Ricky Scaggs”. If nothing else, that minor gaffe reaffirmed the point that the driving force behind the label’s success was (at least in part) the human propensity towards fallibility. Yet ultimately, the label’s vast and diverse repertoire underscored both its ongoing commitment to excellence and the accessibility of both label and artist to its discerning audience.

40 Years Of Stony Plain is not the label’s first such commemorative collection. Previous milestones were also chronicled accordingly (highlighted by the 2011 thirty-fifth anniversary counterpart), as noted in the accompanying essay by Richard Flohil. As such, there is less of a focus on the label’s earliest work in this collection, and an increased emphasis on some of their most recent releases, including the excellent Bankrupted Blues from the current Jumpin’ & Boppin’ album by label mainstay and keyboard virtuoso Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne.

Nonetheless, 40 Years Of Stony Plain represents the label’s impressive legacy quite well, offering as it does highlights of previous releases by such greats as pioneering rockers Jay McShann and Rosco Gordon, New Traditionalist veterans Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell and Steve Earle, folk rockers Maria Muldaur and Ian Tyson, guitar heroes James Burton and Albert Lee, blues legends Long John Baldry, Henry Saint Clair “Taj Mahal” Fredericks and Billy Boy Arnold, and the late Sir Douglas Quintet front man Douglas “Doug Sahm” Saldana. The ambitious three CD set also includes an entire disc of outtakes by Muldaur, label veteran Duke Robillard and others.

“We pride ourselves on being eclectic”, label founder Holger Petersen has said.

Not only eclectic, but in the words of Blasters lead guitarist and one time Stony Plain solo artist Dave Alvin, a company that knows how to take care of business Between The Cracks. The label is concurrently celebrating the induction of guitarist and long time Stony Plain artist Rory Block’s 16 July induction into the New York Blues Hall Of Fame.



WJBK HITS, VOLUMES ONE THROIUGH EIGHT-
Various Artists (WJBK)


"Lack of critical thinking is hurting my brain".


So said one highly respected entertainment industry veteran recently in a spirited social media discussion about the current socio-political climate. Indeed, while invective has become increasingly commonplace in such settings, it can also be inferred that a seeming lack of critical discernment has likewise clouded the vision of many within the musicologist and record collector demographic.

To wit, there remain many who were instrumental in the critical backlash against the protracted aesthetic slump in which mainstream music at large found itself in the late 1960s and early 1970s. To their considerable credit, the faithful stood their ground and took above and beyond the call of duty action by either forming bands (resulting in the so-called punk/new wave revolution of the mid to late 1970s) or by becoming journalists, who picked up the slack in the mainstream and once again made certain that credit was given where credit was due. Indeed, Blitz Magazine was a part of that movement, and remains the lone still active survivor within the genre.

Most curiously, many of those same individuals who took such a groundbreaking stance more than four decades ago are now a regular presence in the aforementioned social media circles. Yet they now espouse a much more conciliatory and much less imaginative perspective on the very subject which had previously so moved them. For example, many within their ranks will post online various musical selections which are to their liking. Often these are tracks that are celebrated and well respected within their circles, and the artists behind them are routinely afforded the admiration, respect and attention that their work deserves.

But instead of singing the praises of that particular piece's merits, the posting is often accompanied by complaints from the one who posted it along the lines of, "I can't believe this never went any higher than number 92 on the national charts", "Why isn't this artist in the Hall?", or "I'm amazed. I didn't think this record would be any good. It was never a hit".

And therein lies the paradox. If the aesthetic merit of a given musical work is subject to its performance on a so called national chart, or whether or not some hall with no public mandate and no more authority to act in that respect aside from that which they have bestowed upon themselves has deemed them worthy of an autographed picture on their wall, then those making such observations have contradicted themselves. For it is often those same individuals who will champion the works of such beloved musical visionaries as the Pretty Things, Ronnie Self, the Chocolate Watchband, Charlie Feathers, the International Submarine Band and Johnny Powers, each of whom enjoyed only modest (at best) mainstream success.

So does the lack of commercial acclaim for those artists infer that the quality of their work is substandard? If that were the case, the ongoing demand that has kept their catalogs in print for more than a half century would not exist. But what is most disconcerting is that those who should know better remain so jaded by their early indoctrination into a system that drilled into them a "charts and radio" method of shaping their musical perspective (and again, this is supposedly a more discerning audience, not the rank and file peripheral "fan" for whom music was little more than background fodder for their personal revisionist history) continue to make such laments, as if they need the permission of the mainstream to proceed with their opinion of a given artist or recording. In other words, an inability to think for themselves. Or, as the astute entertainment industry veteran noted above, "a lack of critical thinking".

All of which makes the project at hand as much of a seeming incongruity as the limited perspective of those who once espoused the height of critical discernment.

From the onset, Blitz Magazine has acknowledged the impact of the legendary Dearborn, Michigan radio station, WKNR Keener 13 and its vaunted air staff (known as the Keener Key Men Of Music) as the single most impacting and enduring influence on our own work. Our ongoing series of salutes to the station's vaunted alumni (which to date has included lengthy dialogues with Jim Sanders and Frank "Swingin' " Sweeney) will resume soon, featuring long time station mastermind and resident visionary, Bob Green.

So, as a radio station with a 32 singles and four album weekly playlist, how could the likes of WKNR be cited as a catalyst for critical thinking? For the simple reason that each member of its air staff brought to the broadcast booth a thinking outside the box mission statement that Green subsequently (and somewhat infamously) referred to as "intelligent flexibility".

In other words, while a weekly WKNR Music Guide provided a template, it soon after their late October 1963 inception became a template without walls. On the spot creativity could prompt everything from the airing of such off the charts moments as Kenny Young and the English Muffins' Mrs. Green and Norma Tracey's The Skateboard Song to customized renditions of crucial classics (with Edwin Starr re-cutting his landmark 1966 Ric-Tic label Stop Her On Sight single as Scott's On Swingers, as well as first generation garage rock greats the Shy Guys reinventing their signature Palmer/Panik label single, We Gotta Go as The Burger Song as tributes to Keener Key Man Scott Regen, not to mention Keener's J. Michael Wilson himself overdubbing the New Vaudeville Band/Dana Rollin smash, Winchester Cathedral and the Underdogs' Love's Gone Bad with unique vocals by his on air "assistant", Rodney the Wonder Rodent).

Or as Sweeney and Green have both noted, the WKNR experience was a consummate one, not merely filler in between records. That is, the news segments (from their award-winning Contact News team), commercials and inventive (and often adlibbed) banter of the Keener Key Men Of Music was as much a part of the entertainment as the music itself. And instead of the time, temp and call letters soundbite common to much of their counterparts elsewhere (exacerbated exponentially by the rise of the Drake Format prior to decade's end), the Keener Key Men Of Music by example (if not design) articulated their case sublimely, leaving the listener to form their own perspective and draw their own conclusions.

WKNR did this so well, that theirs was the fastest ascent to the top spot in their respective market (Windsor/Detroit) in the history of the medium. By early 1964 (a mere three months after their change of call letters from WKMH, and in the wake of such potentially momentum derailing events as the tragic assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the on air meltdown of morning drive Keener Key Man Mort Crowley as a commentary of sorts against perceived injustices against the station by a local utility company), WKNR was a solid number one, both in its own market and within the industry at large. Throughout those most crucial years in the development of rock and roll (1964-1968), WKNR was one of two stations that routinely broke records nationally, with the rest of the nation's broadcasters following suit weeks (or in some cases, months) later.

While such developments bode well for the WKNR mission statement, it nonetheless came at the expense of others who were long established in the market. Among them was the suburban Southfield-based WXYZ 1270 AM, which at its pinnacle employed such giants of the industry as Dave Prince, Joey Reynolds, Joel Sebastian and Lee Alan (who went on to author an acclaimed book on the subject, Turn Your Radio On). WXYZ soldiered on bravely throughout 1966, finally switching formats to Easy Listening in January 1967.

In turn, the success of WKNR meant the imminent demise of the station that for all practical purposes was its forerunner in terms of that so-called "intelligent flexibility". That station, WJBK made its debut on 07 October 1925 on 1290 AM in nearby Ypsilanti, Michigan. WJBK relocated to Detroit in 1940, at which time it switched its broadcast frequency to 1490.

The station once again took a slight move to the right on the AM dial in 1954, when it ended up at 1500 AM. Two years later, WJBK increased its power to 50,000 watts and concurrently embraced a wide variety of music, with rock and roll in the forefront.

With such formidable and relatively free thinking on air talent as Kemal Amin "Casey" Kasem, Marc Avery, Clark Reid, Robert E. Lee, Bob Edgington and future first generation garage rock giant Richard Terrance "Terry Knight" Knapp (as Jack The Bellboy), WJBK espoused its own version of consummate entertainment, only to be inevitably overshadowed by WKNR's undeniable mastery of the concept. WJBK conceded the race in 1964, persevering throughout the 1960s with a series of variations on the Easy Listening format before changing call letters to WDEE on 26 December 1969 and quickly taking over the reins of the country music demographic from the Royal Oak-based WEXL 1340 AM. Now known as WLQV, 1500 AM features a Christian talk format that includes regular broadcasts by such beloved and influential evangelists as John MacArthur and the late Adrian Rogers, as well as the magnificent John Vernon McGee's renowned five-year Thru The Bible series.

During its formidable run, WJBK also published a weekly Radio 15 Record Review survey, which embraced a much larger and diverse template of seventy-five singles. It is from those most ambitious weekly chronicles that the magnificent CD reissue series at hand takes its cue.

Compiled by sympathetic industry veterans with considerable research and painstaking attention to detail in terms of sonic and visual quality, the WJBK Hits series offers an average of twenty-nine to thirty-two tracks per disc, each taken from the weekly Radio 15 Record Review charts between 1956 and 1964. Every volume features a reproduction of a classic WJBK survey on the front cover, while the back cover chronicles title and artist, year of release, peak chart position on WJBK and whether each track is presented in stereo or monaural (with a most welcome generous helping of stereo whenever possible).

And therein is the key to the thinking outside the box mission statement championed by WJBK, WXYZ and WKNR, and reinforced with this remarkable reissue series. For example, consider the year 1963. While current revisionist history within sympathetic circles continues to summarize the year through a handful of familiar singles (including among others the Kingsmen's Louie, Louie, Steve Lawrence's Go Away Little Girl, Jan and Dean's Surf City, Lesley Gore's It's My Party, the Trashmen's Surfin' Bird, Marvin Gaye's Can I Get A Witness and Dion DiMucci's Donna, The Prima Donna), WJBK (and before year's end, WKNR) took a much broader perspective on the musical landscape, both then and as commemorated within this CD series.

For while those aforementioned singles were a key part of the WJBK canon, so were a wealth of releases that were as integral to their focus, yet which remain largely overlooked by the supposedly sympathetic demographic that curiously continues to defer to mainstream outlets to dictate their taste for them. WJBK Hits sets the record straight accordingly, including among the eight volumes such landmark 1963 releases as the late, great James Louis "Jimmy Soul" McCleese's tongue in cheek romp, Go 'Way Christina, the Temptations' pre-David Ruffin Farewell My Love, the Chordettes' vocal harmony rich True Love Goes On And On, Nina Simone's extraordinarily thinking outside of the box live rendition of Little Liza Jane (which was inspired in part by composer Stephen Foster's 1850 standard, Camptown Races and which was honed to perfection via its impassioned live duet performances by banjo virtuosos Louis "Grandpa" Jones and David "Stringbean" Akeman), Nancy Sinatra's commendable take on Peter, Paul And Mary's The Cruel War, beloved country rock pioneer Big Al Downing's Mister Hurt Walked In, veteran rocker Jimmy Clanton's ambitious Red Don't Go With Blue, Baby Jane and the Rockabyes' Bert Berns-produced exercise in vocal euphoria Hickory Dickory Dock, Preston Carnes' high drama ballad Someone, Herb Alpert's masterful vocal ballad (as Dore Alpert) Dina, the Pennsylvania-based Classmen's Limelight label upbeat rendition of Bobby Helms' My Special Angel, actress and vocalist Noreen Corcoran's essential Vee Jay label Love Kitten single, the great Vic Dana's unique take on Vernon Dalhart's The Prisoner's Song, visionary blues rocker T-Bone Walker's Cold, Cold Feeling, the Darlings' Mercury label mid-tempo tale of woe Two Time Loser, the Jaynettes' magnificent Keep An Eye On Her, the legendary Waylon Jennings' utterly stupendous A&M label ballad Love Denied, Boot Hog Pefferly's cover of Clyde McPhatter's I'm Not Going To Work Today, Danny Wayne's stupendously hard rocking Card label single You're Wrong, the O'Jays' magnificent Stand Tall, the Appalachians' variations on a theme by the Coasters (Over Yonder), and the late, great vocal virtuoso Dean Martin's sublime take on the Ray Peterson interpretation of Corrina, Corrina.

As if that poignant cross section of groundbreaking music from 1963 alone was not enough, WJBK Hits at large combs the station's playlists in depth to emphasize just how richly diverse was the musical landscape throughout their run at the top throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s. Among the many, many highlights are Ruth Brown's repertoire-expanding What Happened To You, the Four Aces' inventive rearrangement of Ace Brigode's 1925 standard Yes Sir That's My Baby, James Hugh "Sonny James" Loden's engaging cover of Hank Williams' Lovesick Blues, Rusty Draper's arguably definitive rendition of the Hollywood Flames' larger than life rocker Buzz Buzz Buzz, the Rev-Lons' wonderfully screwy After Last Night, the Tarriers' Kingston Trio-inspiring Pretty Boy, Hank Snow's uncharacteristic My Arms Are A House, the Delroys' brilliant Bermuda Shorts, the Adorables' euphoric Deep Freeze, Boyd Bennett's risk taking cover of Dickey Doo And The Don'ts' Swan label monster classic Click Clack (risk taking in that covering such a landmark record basically amounts to tackling absolute, utter perfection, which Bennett nonetheless did most admirably here), the Four Tunes' somewhat bizarre take on the Sons Of The Pioneers' Cool Water, the late vocal powerhouse David Whitfield's majestic rendition of I'll Find You from the motion picture Sea Wife (which the legendary Ron Goodwin also recorded as an instrumental for Capitol), the Rockaways' Red Bird label prototypical garage rock and surf rock hybrid Top Down Time, the Couplings' Josie label rendition of the rocking Young Doves Calling (which shared the spotlight with a determined take by the Mudlarks),the late Debbie Reynolds' dramatic I Saw A Country Boy, and the Surfaris' straight ahead hot rod rocker, Boss Barracuda. Others among the too numerous to mention essentials include worthwhile and less than obvious contributions by the Clovers, Del Vikings, Miles Stone, the Secrets, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, Tony Williams, Bill Haley and the Comets, the Tymes, Bill Doggett, the Fiestas, JoAnn Campbell, Barbara and Brenda, the Dave Clark Five, the Darnells, Jackie DeShannon, Clairette Clementino, Diane Ray, the Cascades, Otis Williams and the Charms, Dee Edwards, Johnny Faire, the Society Girls, Billy Eckstine, Dotty and Kathy, Steve Lawrence, the Percells, La Brenda Ben, the Victorians, Count Basie with Joe Williams, O.C. and the Holidays, the Playmates, Henrietta, Jerri Adams, Kay Starr, the Darnells and the Prodigals.

"Some of the best music ever made", said CKLW veteran and renowned musicologist and music historian, Ric Allen. Allen was not a contributor to the WJBK Hits series, but nonetheless regularly chronicles the subject masterfully via such online sites as Michigan Music, as well as his own Facebook page.

"And some of the rarest, rather than the same 600 to 800 songs we currently get crammed down our throats".

While by its very nature the series is both a very limited pressing and available only in select outlets, WJBK Hits is nonetheless an inspiring and essential enough project to hopefully prompt some of the faithful to reassess their own self-imposed limitations and engage in a bit of that critical thinking necessary to both procure it and raise their own bar back to the high standards they have long professed to champion. Or, in the words of one of this series' most endearing tracks by first generation garage rockers, the Mojos, Everything's Alright.