This week we’re taking a look at the transition from Jump Blues to Rock ‘n’ Roll from the 1940s into the 1950s. We’re focussing on four fabulous female R’n’B singers; Ella Johnson, Big Mama Thornton, Annisteen Allen and Little Esther, on four EPs from El Toro. And then some more stuff because once we start pulling out our records and playin’ ’em…
Ella Johnson began as one of the singers in her brother Buddy Johnson’s orchestra but this is no tale of nepotism. She had a high rich voice that was considered as fine as those of Billy Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald at the time. The orchestra was one of the best jump blues outfits around as may be expected with Buddy cutting his teeth just out of his teens with The Cotton Club Revue. The orchestra had hits through the 1940s and as Rock ‘n’ Roll hit they pretty much carried on doing what they did and a new audience found them. The tracks on this EP span 1951 to 1957 with three jumpin jive tracks and the earliest track has attracted the popcorn crowd.
Whoo-hoo! Big Mama was a hugely influential blues artist with a string of hits and a real pathfinder for Rock ‘n’ Roll that came in her wake. You just need to listen to her 1954 track I Smell a Rat to know this. The next issue from the same year Stop Hoppin on Me hears the Mama in a less raucous mood with fine backing adding a mambo tinge and super guitar. Her 1953 smash Hound Dog was reissued in 1956 for some reason lost in the mists of time. This ep contains both sides from the 45 following the reissue, Just Like a Dog (Barking Up the Wrong Tree) and My Man Called Me. The topside carries on in the Hound Dog style but on the My Man… we hear a softer mama showing she is more than just a shouter. Four fabulous tracks from a giant.
Like Ella, Annisteen was a singer with big bands in the 1940s who pretty much continues as she always had but was suddenly a Rock ‘n’ Roll singer. On these mid 50s tracks Annisteen has left the swing/jazz behind and is backed by a stripped-down combo with a particularly tough guitarist. Talking of tough, the track Rough Lover should not be confused with the similarly titled Tough Lover from Etta James. You can, however, feel free to be confused about the track Fujiyama Mama, yes this is the original recording from 1955 predating the Wanda Jackson version by two years. Allisteen has been unfairly overlooked over the years and hopefully, this fine foursome will raise her status.
Little Esther (Jones) and later Phillips is a storybook example of the tragedy that a life as an entertainer can become. But let’s ignore that and listen to four fabulous songs. She was discovered by Johnny Otis and sang with his band and was just 19 years old with more than 12 records out when the first two tracks on this EP were released in 1953. The others came out in 1956 and 1957. The backing on the songs may be the last of the big band sound but her voice has an ahead of its time soul quality and this combination creates a unique joyous sound that lifts the heart and moves the feet.
Sticking with RnB but changing formats we have the latest Southern Bred CD. Anyone following this series will know what to expect as we hit volume 21. A heap of Rhythm and Blues from the gruff down-home to the sophisticated uptown. With artists like Jimmy Witherspoon, Louis Jordan, Washboard Sam and if you are still in the mood for female RnB – Lillian Offitt, Big Maybelle and Sister Rosetta Tharpe to name but a few – you are guaranteed high quality and with 28 tracks high quantity as well.
And finally a little list: Three brand new CDs from ATOMICAT covering styles of Rock ‘n’ Roll other than RnB…
The opposite end of Rock ‘n’ Roll from fine female RnB vocals? Mainly men playing instruments with no vocals at all. Sometimes though you just want the wild guitars, screaming saxes and crazy drums to be free to do their own thing.
Or maybe this is the opposite of female RnB; Johnny Cash-a-likes. The sound of big John brought to you by a few well-knowns like Warren Smith and Sleepy LaBeef but mainly one-off and unknowns exploring the raw Rockabilly sound.
But at the end of the day why not mix everything up with a glorious mix of rockers from RnB, to Doo-Wop, to Rockabilly and Rock n Roll. Really covering all the bases.
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