R&B Dynamite
Etta James
The Best Of B.B. King
B.B. King
Flair Records

By Keith Clements

Several issues of recent CDs are resurrecting the great blues sounds from the '50s and '60s to a new generation of blues fans in the '90s.

Let's first talk about Jamesetta Hawkins. One of the first 78s I ever owned was "The Wallflower" by Etta James and the Peaches. This was her first hit and was originally known as "Roll With Me Henry," but with that kind of title it didn't get any airplay. Later, other singers such as Georgia Gibbs did a less raunchy version called "Dance With Me Henry." This song was a response to Hank Ballard's "Work With Me Anne." It still sounds great today with a great call and response between Etta and Richard Berry. Berry just happened to be hanging around in the studio and added his sly "All Right Baby." The Peaches, Etta's backup group, consist of Abbye and Jean Mitchell who started singing with Etta when she was 15. Etta recorded this gutsy song at the tender age of 17 years; in fact, all of these songs were recorded when she was a teen-ager.

This CD packs a lot of music, with 22 cuts for nearly 57 minutes, that demonstrates a wide variety of her rhythm-and-blues talents. I'll briefly run through the high points and low points as they appear on the CD.

"W-O-M-A-N" pales in comparison to Ko Ko Taylor's similar version of "I'm Woman." "I'm a Fool" sounds like Frankie Lymon's "Why Do Fools Fall In Love." "Hey Henry" was a follow-up to her first hit but was not very successful. "Hope You're Satisfied" is a great slow duet with Louisville's own Harvey Fuqua, of the Moonglows. This was the last song Etta recorded for Modern because Harvey introduced Etta to the Chess Brothers where she began a new career recording on the Argo and Cadet labels, subsidiaries of Chess. "Good Rockin' Daddy" was the second big hit for Etta which had the same swinging tempo that Wyonnie Harris and Roy Brown were doing at the time. One of my favorite cuts is a sleeper called "That's All" which is a punchy upbeat song with a steady rhythm and jazzy guitar. "Just a Fool," which is not listed on the liner notes, has Etta singing a slow duet ballad with her voice overdubbed. The songwriting team of Leiber and Steller wrote "Tears of Joy." "The Pick Up" has a New Orleans back beat and a novelty dialogue with a tenor saxophone. "How Big a Fool" is not on the CD of rhumba and rock guitar riffs. Etta responded to Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally" with her frantic version of "Tough Lover" that has the howling sax of Lee Allen. "Be My Lovey Dovey" is a nice medium rocker that is a previously unreleased song.

"Nobody Loves You Like Me" sounds like Little Willie John's "Fever" with a dated reference to Sputnik. The bluesiest cut on the CD is "You Know What I Mean" which takes lyrics from Eddie Boyd's "Five Long Years" like "If you ever been mistreated ... ." "Baby, Baby Every Night" is a nice medium-tempo vocal by Etta and, finally, "We're In Love" is a corny duet that should have been left off the disc.

This CD comes with an informative eight-page booklet with several promotional pictures of Etta and her early album covers. The liner notes are authoritative and easy to read. It's nice to see these historically important CDs pack as much information as the old LP jacket covers.

Etta's career is still going strong over 40 years later with a powerful appearance last year at the Macauley Theatre. Etta's live performances are unforgettable, with her commanding stage presence and growling lyrics. She still frequently appears with the legendary R&B promoter and percussionist, Johnny Otis, who was her first manager and discovered Etta when she was performing at the Fillmore in San Francisco.

If you are looking for some pure, unadulterated sounds from the big mama of R&B, this CD is highly recommended. If you want to learn more about Etta's early career, check out the No. 54 issue of Living Blues, which has a great photo of her on the cover.

The Best of B.B. King, Vol. 1 includes his earliest songs on a major label, Modern Records, which was owned by the Bihari Brothers. This L.A.-based company issued B.B.'s finest music on several subsidiary labels including RPM, Kent, United and Crown. These were the "cheapy" albums you could pick up for a dollar at the grocery stores.

This CD is the first of a series of B.B.'s music recorded during his formative period utilizing his big band with horns. The liner notes state that several unissued masters were discovered and will be released later in this series.

The twenty cuts on this 57-minute-long CD are all classic B.B. that include "You Upset Me Baby," "Every Day I Have the Blues," "Sweet Little Angel," "Ain't That Just Like a Woman," "Sweet Sixteen (Parts 1 & 2)," "Please Love Me" and his first big hit, "Three O'Clock Blues." If you are planning to put together a collection of B.B.'s music on CD, this is a good starting point. There is also an eight-page booklet with lots of nice early promo photographs of King, but the liner notes are minimal. I guess there is no need to rehash his past and his influence on other blues guitarists.

Maxwell Davis is an unsung hero who was involved on both this disc and Etta's as the musical director and arranger for Modern. He was also an accomplished tenor sax player who soloed on many R&B records. The sound quality is excellent on both CDs for it has been digitally remastered from the original master tapes to create what was actually heard during the original recording sessions. We are fortunate to have this R&B and blues music available to us today as fresh as it was 40 years ago.

(Keith Clements is Secretary of the KYANA Blues Society.)