USA

Grim tales of jailbirds, cutthroats, cuckolds, executioners, murderers and escapees. Prison ballads form part of the historic lifeblood of Country Music and saw a resurgence after the 1960 execution of controversial convict Caryl Chessman. Here are some of the very best, seldom heard since their original release. Running the gamut from smooth balladeers of woe to ramshackle and plaintive backyard rockabilly.

While these days your more likely to find your folk music heroes went to Eton with Prince William or all met at Cambridge/Oxford/insert other posh university it’s not always been so. While it’s always been true that the music of the working classes has always been adopted by the well-heeled and the image of the bearded Green Party, Real Ale drinking, middle class ‘leftie’ singing away with his finger in his ear still rings true around the folk clubs. This also explains their reluctance to accept other genre’s like celtic-punk as part of the folk scene as at it’s heart is a snobbery to keep others out at all costs. Folk music was never a static thing with bands and singers always finding ways to keep the music alive and relevant though always with a healthy respect for the past. That the celtic-punk scene can be said to be partly responsible for the popularity of bands long gone like The Dubliners, Clancy Brothers and The Pogues butters no onions with these people who just want to keep things as they were at all costs. Happy to be big fish in small pools! What the artists on this album would make of four faux-ploughboy, waistcoat wearing members of the aristocracy representing folk music I don’t know (have to admit here I DO actually love Mumford And Sons!) but one thing is for sure they wouldn’t last five minutes in the company of people featured here and long to be be forgotten while these days be writ high.

One things for sure it has always been, and always will be, the poor that go to jail. Whether for a crime they freely admit (or not!) or through bigotry and lack of decent representation the jails of the world are full of the poorest of our society. Folk and country music has never been a stranger to the inside of prison walls right from the very start and this stunning compilation covers just about every country music offshoot musically as well as covering just about every reason why you could end up inside. The album opens strongly with ‘The Wall’, written by Harlan Howard, given a powerful performance here by Freddie Hart. Born to a sharecropper family in Alabama Hart left school at 12 but still managed to become one of country music’s biggest stars of the 70’s. I love the sound of the harmonica and there’s plenty of it’s woeful sound to be found here to keep me happy.

“The years gone by since he made his try
But I can still recall how hard he tried and the way he died
But he never made that, wall he never made that wall”

All the tracks were recorded between 1956 and 1972 and although I have heard several prison -themed album’s in the past I seriously cannot remember one that came anywhere remotely close to the quality found here. I could wax lyrical about every artist but this review would then run for pages and pages. Suffice to say that all the artists here know what it means to be hungry and many indeed did cross swords with authorities and some others saw the other side of a prison gate. Tennessee born, early rockabilly star Jaycee Hill’s  fantastic ‘Crash-Out’, is typical of many here with the acceptance and regret of a life of crime. Most of the artists here are American but one of the album highlights is the London born Marty Robbins with his intense performance of ‘The Chair’. Inspired by the controversial execution of Caryl Chessman in 1960.

Chessman was an unsavoury character that much is true and something he was intelligent enough to recognise within himself but he was convicted and charged on a law that was later repealed though not retroactively meaning his death sentence still stood. He became the poster child for the anti-capital punishment cause and the most recognizable face on death row. In May 1960 Chessman choked to death in San Quentin Prison’s gas chamber while the phone outside rang, just too late, with his stay of execution. His story is also dealt with in songs on this album by Country Johnny Mathis, one of the album highlights with its sheer, haunting poetry, Ronnie Hawkins and Jimmy Minor. The full story of Caryl Chessman is also told in a fine performance from Hoyle Miller notable for the last line of his song

“you see I too Hoyle Miller was once too on death row”

Dirt farmer’s son Porter Wagoner gives us a compelling version of the Hank Williams penned ‘(I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle’. Known for his flashy suits and for giving Dolly Parton her big break Wagoner never forgot his working class roots often touring in rural areas where many would not perform and was also famous for his friendly relationship with his fans mingly before, during and after gigs with them. The jauntyness of ‘I Always Did Like Leavenworth’ belies the subject George Kent is singing of. Eddie Noack was a honky tonk singer influenced by Hank Williams and his superb version of ‘Invisible Stripes’ tells of the stigma that jail carries throughout  the rest of your days. Named from the stripes of the uniform prisoners were made to wear. A subject also visited here by Howard Crockett who turned to singing after a shoulder injury ended a promising baseball career. He performs a excellent cover of the famous Johnny Cash penned song ‘I Got Stripes’. Artist jailbirds like Johnny Cash, David Allen Coe and Merle Haggard are notable by their absence but the music that inspired them more than makes up for it. There are simply too many great songs and artists here to give justice to and the album comes to an end with ‘A Prisoner’s Dream’ by Charles Lee Guy III. When he was 16 he was convicted of manslaughter and sent to jail. During his imprisonment he learnt to play guitar and started writing songs. He sent a tape to Capitol Records who were sufficiently impressed to bring their studio equipment to Vacaville Prison in December 1962 to record him. Charles’ album, The Prisoner’s Dream, was well-received and in October, 1963 Time Magazine reviewed the album:

“Charles Lee Guy III has been an inmate of California State Prison since he was 16. The songs he has learned to sing there all reflect his sorry circumstance – and among them is the latest composition of a prison chum, country music’s Spade Cooley [himself a wife killer]. Guy’s woeful voice and guitar accompaniment fit the spirit of his music, and in this remarkable album he has the power of a young white Leadbelly.”

One of the songs on that album was titled ‘Wishin’ She Was Here (Instead of Me)’ thought to refer to his mother who many thought had committed the murder that Charles had been found guilty of. A moving, emotional and chilling way for this album to close.

All the tracks here were first issued on long forgotten 45’s often on obscure, tiny or private-press labels. All are incredibly rare and many are reissued here for the first time since release and are remastered from the original master tapes giving the album a sound that is as clear as crystal. Their are twenty-eight tracks here and just under eighty minutes of music. Pretty much all of the songs come in around the two minute mark and the pacing on the album is also well thought out. Available on vinyl and CD the amount of care put into this album is to be applauded including the incredibly handsome twenty page, full colour booklet that comes with informative liner notes by Alvin Lucia and rare photos and label shots. This amazing package has been put together by Bear Family Records who also gave us Hillbillies In Hell- Country Music’s Tormented Testament, another timeless compilation telling of Satan, drugs, murder, suicide, demonic visions, infanticide and redemption. Their were plenty of prison songs before the era (1956-1972) chosen here on The Hangman’s Blues but these songs begin from the early days of rock’n’roll and though most are straight up country songs all have a dark edge to them, of course, and some have that raw rock’n’roll sound that many of you will love I am sure.

Declarations of innocence, profound diatribes on capital punishment and mournful odes to the Last Mile. The Hangman’s Blues will chill, thrill and bedevil the dreams of all who hear it. Feel the penal pain. Like the album liner notes say…we are all prisoners in one way or another. -londoncelticpunks

1. Freddie Hart - The Wall 2:49
2. Jim Carter - Jailer Jailer 2:23
3. Lonesome Johnny - Death Row 1:50
4. Jaycee Hill - Crash Out 1:56
5. Bill Carter with the Cooper Brothers - Jailer Man 2:56
6. Country Johnny Mathis - Caryl Chessman 2:51
7. Ronnie Hawkins - The Ballad of Caryl Chessman 2:37
8. Marty Robbins - The Chair 4:16
9. Stonewall Jackson - Run 2:31
10. Jimmy Minor - Death Row 2:32
11. Al Dean - Hangman 2:20
12. Bobby Sykes - The Guard on the North Wall 3:33
13. Hoyle Miller - Twelves Years on Death Row 2:31
14. Porter Wagoner - (I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle 2:23
15. Tommy Faile - Ball and Chain 2:38
16. George Kent - I Always Did Like Leavenworth 2:36
17. Bill Anderson - Ninety-Nine 2:30
18. Eddie Noack - Invisible Stripes 2:18
19. Dee Mullins - Sixteen Hundred Miles 2:11
20. Steve Davis - Life-Timer 2:03
21. Leon Payne - A Prisoner's Diary 2:55
22. Johnny Bond - At Dawn I Die 3:24
23. Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart - 24 Months 2:20
24. Danny Dill - The Eyes of Death 2:33
25. Tommy Dee - The Chair 2:21
26. Howard Crockett - I Got Stripes 2:08
27. Johnny Paycheck - 21 Miles to Lake Charles Prison 4:13
28. Charles Lee Guy III - The Prisoner's Dream 3:00

Guinea Bissau

Great reissue of the excellent 'Festival' LP from Super Mama Djombo (Guinea Bissau), remarkably well recorded in 1980. Beautiful Beautiful stuff....

Hailing from a boy scout camp deep in the jungle of late 1960s Guin-Bissau, Super Mama Djombos founding musicians have come a long way to display their wonderful music to the world! Drummer Z, singer Herculano, and original guitar players Gonalo and Taborda picked the name Mama Djombo as an homage to a local goddess revered by independence fighters.

Tiny Guin Bissau is located between Senegal at its northern border and Guine Conakry on its eastern and southern border. A former part of the mighty Mali empire, it was then one of the last African countries not to have gained its freedom from Portugal, its colonial power. Hence a fierce war for independence struck the country, until independence was eventually won over in 1974, after many years of suffering.

In the early 1970s, the Mama Djombo underground orchestra played mostly for secret political rallies supporting the PAIGC, the major Independence Movement for Guin and Cabo Verde. Adriano Atchutchi became the bandleader after independence, bringing a book full of his songs. Atchutchi recruited singer Dulce Neves, adding creole sweetness to its already heady mix of juvenile enthusiasm, candid melodies and touches of luso-tropicalism.

Some of their early songs were roughly recorded when the band played live over Guin Bissaus national radio, after the country won independence in 1975. Without a proper recording studio in Bissau, the orchestra took off for Lisbon in January 1979. For less then a month, Super Mama Djombo recorded hours of music from their vast repertoire at Valentim de Carvalho studios. The production gave the band new horizons to their music, if not for the use of the Echoplex effects on the drums which added width to the production.

Following the first release Na Cambana, the Festival album stands as a tribute to that large Cuban event from 1978. On the ten minute title track, Super Mama Djombo despises imperialism of any kind. It praises Amilcar Cabral and Che Guevara while keeping the beat alive with an almost spacy echo. In the same vein, Sociedade de malandros condemns nepotism and a thieves society. Made from the same mould, Mortos nega showcases the collective talents of the orchestra and its exceptional players. These three songs manage to speak to both the body and the mind alike. The bands sound is sharp as if the orchestra knew its time had come in this Lisbon studio.

Keeping an infectious beat, the hypnotic Tamanco is another winner. More laid back, Alma beafada displays the softer side of the orchestra, showcasing the vocal talents of Chico Karuca, backed by a strong sense of collectiveness. Super Mama Djombos saudade is highlighted on Julia, written by guitar player Miguelinho. It tells the loss of two beloved women. Tundus eerie playing, dreamy electric guitars, hints of a frail tape loop echo and Miguelinhoss mellow singing, let alone the haunting melody, make this song one the bands masterpieces.

Three more albums would follow before the demise of the band in the early 1980s, due to lack of political support. The new military power in Bissau deposed president Luis Cabral, who was a strong advocate of the orchestra. Now reunited, Super Mama Djombo make up for the lost time and stand as one of West Africas greatest orchestras. Listening to Festival is truly the best way to enjoy the music of Guinea Bissaus musical heroes.


A1 Festival 9:42
A2 Alma Beafrada 4:52
A3 Tamanco 5:31
B1 Mortos Negra 5:25
B2 Julia 6:53
B3 Sociedade de Malandros 5:16

Colombia

Vampi Soul re-issue of an obscure 1968 Discos Fuentes gem Cañabrava by Combo Los Yogas, awesome Colombian salsa and descarga.

Combo Los Yogas was a short-lived early Colombian salsa band from Medellín directed and arranged by Aníbal José Ángel Echeverri, the famous antioqueño keyboardist known as Aníbal Ángel or simply Anán. Anán studied arranging and composition at the famed Manhattan School of Music in New York, had many of his own songs become hits over the years, founded the raspa gallega band Los Teen-Agers ("raspa" or "gallega" denotes combos that played tropical Afro-Colombian coastal music but were from the whiter interior) in 1958, and recorded with Discos Fuentes starting in 1965, so he was already an established musician on the scene by the time he founded this oddly named combo. With the influence of New York's burgeoning young Latin scene being absorbed by certain sectors of the youth in South America at the end of the 1960s, Aníbal Ángel must have felt the urge to join the fray, so in 1968 he founded Los Yogas to explore this new phenomenon from the north. Employing Barranquilla native Johnny Moré as his lead vocalist (Moré, who claimed to be related to Cuba's Beny Moré, also worked with the Conjunto/Sexteto Miramar and Rafael Benítez as well as pianist Joe Madrid) and a full combo with trumpet, trombone, congas and timbales, Los Yogas recorded a fantastic collection of cover tunes in the guaguancó, son, guajira, descarga and cha-cha-chá rhythms.

The sound here is very raw and hard, something that makes this obscure Discos Fuentes record a sought after collector's item. Taking their cue from the New York scene, Los Yogas cover Larry Harlow's arrangement of 'Coco May May' (itself a cover of an old Cuban classic) and 'Bajándote' from Orquesta Harlow's 1967 album of the same name, as well as a fabulous version of Puerto Rican singer/songwriter Chivirico Davila's 'Montuno Pa' Caridad' from Joe Cotto's classic early 1960s album "El magnífico". Sprinkled throughout are heavy versions of Cheo Marquetti's son cubano classics 'Que no muera el son', 'Caramelo a kilo' and 'Apriétala en el rincón', all tunes heavily influential on Fania co-founder and musical director Johnny Pacheco. Venezuelan sax player and New York transplant Juan "Johnny" Sedes' composition 'Aquí y allá' (from his 1967 Met Rico LP "Presentando a Juan Sedes y su Orquesta con Vitín López, El Cantante de la Salsa"), which is the first US-made record (and song) to reference salsa as a category of music, became a hit in Colombia for Los Yogas when they covered it, as did the title tune 'Cañabrava' by Mexican composer Paco Chanona and the album's sultry closer, the guajira descarga 'Oye mira' (originally done in 1965 by Pete Rodríguez y su Conjunto La Magnífica).

Despite being a record with no originals, "Cañabrava" holds up magnificently due to the inherent quality and execution of its repertoire, providing a wonderful snapshot of the influences and early development of the genre of salsa in 1960s Colombia, a country where this music would take root like no other and become a national obsession in the following decades. --Pablo Yglesias aka DJ Bongohead

1. Qué No Muera El Son 3:02
2. Coco May May 3:44
3. Montuno Pa' Carida (with Johnny Moore) 3:52
4. Aquí Y Allá 2:37
5. Caramelo A Kilo 2:46
6. Cañabrava 2:52
7. Bajándote 4:56
8. Apriétala En El Rincón 2:26
9. Oye Mira 6:30

Africa

Noir C'est Noir second volume -- special issue: garage, psych, and prog! A deep exploration of the vast archives of all across Africa for a series of selections of dynamite fusions that have barely been assembled together previously, such as soul, jerk, psych, beat, garage, and others. All cuts reissued for the first time. Noir C'est Noir series hopes to bring joy and satisfaction to the fans of the lost music from all across Africa, from north to south, from east to west. Congo, South Africa, Benin, Tanzania, and so on -- up to 11 different countries from the continent are represented. These recordings were made during the '60s and '70s from a time when African people were willing to celebrate the Pan-African identity within their own conception of music. This second volume of Noir C'est Noir concentrates on garage punk, psychedelia, and prog genres... But there's a lot more to be heard. All the 14 songs reissued here appear to the international public for the first time.

1. Wrong Notes - Verequoi 4:26
2. Narma Samith - Zifaffildada 3:49
3. Orquestre Veve - Venus 3:00
4. Os Rebeldes - Murder By Contract 2:09
5. Sunny Blacks Band - Holonon Die 3:11
6. Vum Vum - Monami 1:48
7. Simiao - Wasati Walomu 2:22
8. Tall Enma & His Skipper - Hammatan 2:55
9. Os Impacto - Knock On Wood 3:15
10. Gino Garrido e Os Psicodelicos - Baby I Love You 2:41
11. Teta Lando - Muato Wa N' Ginjila 3:46
12. Os Inflexos - I Feel Fine 0:46
13. Shar' Habeel - Dance and Cheer 4:29
14. H2O - Rien Des Mots 1:45

Johnson City, Tennessee

The Johnson City Sessions were a series of influential recording auditions conducted in Johnson City, Tennessee, in 1928 and 1929 by Frank Buckley Walker, head of the Columbia Records "hillbilly" recordings division. Certain releases from the Johnson City Sessions—especially Clarence Ashley's "The Coo-coo Bird" and The Bentley Boys' "Down On Penny's Farm"—are considered by music scholars as important recordings of early country music that influenced a whole generation of revivalist folk musicians of the 1950s and 1960s, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Doc Watson.

(4-CD LP-Sized Box-Set with 136-page hardcover book; 100 tracks, over 5 hours of music) The famous 1927 Bristol Sessions, produced by VICTOR RECORDS in Bristol, Tennessee are known as ''The Big Bang Of Country Music.'' But don't overlook the recordings made in nearby Johnson City by COLUMBIA RECORDS in October 1928 and October 1929. Collectively, the Johnson City recordings are regarded by scholars, collectors, and lovers of old-time music as a distinctive cross-section of Appalachian music, captured on the cusp of the Great Depression. Indeed, the final recordings of the 1929 session took place on October 24 - the infamous 'Black Thursday' when Wall Street crashed.

BEAR FAMILY RECORDS has gathered the entire issued output of the 1928-29 Johnson City sessions. This is the first time all 100 songs have been issued together... and the first time many have been heard since the Depression. The accompanying 136-page, LP-size hardcover book contains newly researched essays on the background to the sessions and the artists, with many rare and unpublished photographs. Also included are complete song lyrics and a detailed discography.

Three of these performances were chosen by the pioneering scholar Harry Smith for his 1952 compilation Anthology Of American Folk Music - a seminal source for the urban folk revival of the 1950s and '60s: The Coo-Coo Bird by Clarence (Tom) Ashley, Old Lady And The Devil by Bill and Belle Reed, and Down On Penny's Farm by The Bentley Boys - the inspiration for Bob Dylan's Hard Times In New York Town and Maggie's Farm. Other gems include a topical best-seller of the Prohibition era, When the Roses Bloom Again For The Bootlegger, the Grant Brothers' Tell It To Me, revived by the Old Crow Medicine Show, and many more.

Can You Sing Or Play Old-Time Music? is packed with stringband tunes, ancient ballads, sacred songs, hillbilly blues and blue yodels the entrancing musical world of old Appalachia.

Recorded in the two years following The Bristol Sessions of 1927, The Johnson City Sessions are considered one of the founding documents of country music, and they've never been documented the way they are on this four-disc 2013 set from Bear Family. Like the label's exhaustive box chronicling The Bristol Sessions, this four-disc set is designed as a definitive document of these field recording sessions shepherded by Columbia Records. Indeed, a fair chunk of this material has never been reissued, either on disc or vinyl, but it has echoed over the years, with three of the cuts showing up on Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music and the entire collection of Appalachian folk, providing a foundation for the old, weird America that has been celebrated in the years since Smith. This, naturally, digs much deeper into this particular section of Appalachia, as discovered and recorded by Frank B. Walker. Some of the names are familiar -- Charlie Bowman, the Roane County Ramblers, Clarence (Tom) Ashley -- but this music is not about the singer so much as the song, songs that were often sung in the years before the Great Depression; songs that capture a wild, mythical America. By preserving every one of the surviving 100 recordings, The Johnson City Sessions provides an important historical document nearly the equal of The Bristol Sessions. -AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

The X Factor sessions of old-time hillbilly music

Would you buy a box set of X Factor audition performances? It might seem a strange question, but that’s essentially what we have here, albeit in a form that carries a weight of cultural and historical importance it’s difficult to imagine X Factor achieving.

When the Victor imprint sent producer Ralph Peer to Bristol City, Tennessee, in 1927 to capture local hillbilly performers and make records to meet rising demand for the genre, they set a pattern for others to follow. A year later, Columbia sent Frank B Walter to do a similar job in Johnson City, 25 miles from Bristol, and this is what Bear Family, in their usual exemplary fashion, reveal here.

Though the Johnson sessions didn’t unearth stars of the magnitude of the Carter Family or Jimmie Rodgers, they captured a wider variety of song types. Walter had more eclectic musical tastes – or less of an immediate concern for marketability – than Peer, and the result was a fascinating mix of genres and regional differences. The Bristol sessions had alerted local – and not-so local – musicians to the fact that fame and fortune might await if another chance like this came along.

Along it duly came and, with everyone who thought they could carry a tune alerted, the newspaper advertisements headed “Can You Sing Or Play Old-Time Music?” attracted scores of hopefuls from all over Appalachia – a phenomeneon directly comparable with the thousands who turn up at X Factor’s regional auditions.

As far as the musical content is concerned though, a more useful comparison is with Richard Thompson and his curating of popular songs. Whereas the Bristol City sessions were more focused on songs with the potential to achieve wide popularity, the Johnson City material featured a much broader range, from traditional ballads and their Appalachian variants, through hymns to parlour songs that could be performed in genteel society.

Good examples of the latter can be found on Disc Two, where the Bowman Sisters sing Stephen Foster’s Swanee River (properly, The Old Folks At Home) and My Old Kentucky Home, both of which represent once-authentic sentiments that have been processed through a commercially minded consciousness and turned into sanitised replications of raw emotion. Or so it is possible to argue – but then the perspective of time and context comes into play because the Bowman Sisters are a very early example of a country music sister act, which constitutes something of an important milestone in gender history; these tracks were also issued in Japan, which gives them an important role in the history of cultural globalisation.

There are many such conflicts in these recordings and their conditions of production – ancient vs modern; family vs commerce; tradition vs technology; the concepts of gesellschaft vs gemeinschaft articulated by 19th-century economist Ferdinand Tönnies – and they are all important. But there are only two questions worth answering here:

Is it any good?

Is it worth buying?

The answer to both is a resounding yes. Bear Family have worked their usual magic with the sound quality, the 138-page book is readably authoritative and you get the original of Clarence Ashley’s The Coo-Coo Bird. -recordcollector

Ralph Peer’s 1927 Bristol Sessions were revolutionary in their influence, but the Johnson City Sessions recordings, overseen by Columbia’s pioneering A&R scout Frank B. Walker, reflect Walker’s more eclectic tastes and keener sense of humor. Indeed, the recordings from the Johnson City Sessions provide a distinctly different portrayal of Appalachian music. Peer was interested primarily in capturing vocal performances of sacred material or secular songs with concisely-structured lyrics projecting generalized emotions—ostensibly to reach the broadest possible audience.

For his part, Walker maintained an open-tent approach, which led him to make recordings that would not have interested Peer. And by the sheer happenstance of who showed up to make records for Walker, the Johnson City Sessions also documented some different regional sounds and styles from those recorded during the Bristol Sessions. Walker recorded a wide range of Appalachian musicians, primarily from Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, and North Carolina. In Bristol, Peer had recorded musicians from the first three of those states plus Virginia, but had not attracted North Carolinians.

Like Peer, Frank Walker was a pioneer of the commercial recorded sound industry. Born in 1889 and reared in Fly Summit, New York, Walker when young played music in a string band and ultimately considered rural white vernacular music as his “first love” (his own words, taken from his interview with Mike Seeger). After World War I Walker promoted concerts for Italian opera singer Enrico Caruso, then left to work for Columbia Records.

By 1923 he was successfully recording Bessie Smith and other blues performers. (By his own recollection, Walker had already begun recording rural white music by 1922. He claimed that his label, believing such music was commercially unprofitable, refused to release these earlier recordings.) By January 1925, he had convinced Columbia to launch a series of commercial records that eventually featured performances by such white musicians as Gid Tanner, Riley Puckett, and Charlie Poole. As was the industry standard at the time, Walker initially worked in temporary studios set up in lowland Southern cities. It was after Peer’s success at Bristol in 1927, Walker decided to set up his own temporary studio in nearby Johnson City.

A few of the 78 RPM records made in Johnson City in 1928 sold well when released by Columbia in early 1929. One record by the duo of Earl Shirkey and Roy Harper, “Steamboat Man” backed with “When the Roses Bloom Again for the Bootlegger,” sold nearly 75,000 copies. Walker decided to return to Johnson City the following October to make additional recordings.

His timing was unfortunate, to say the least, coinciding with the Wall Street Crash; in fact, the last day of recording in Johnson City in 1929 took place on October 24, 1929—“Black Thursday.” As a result, the 1929 Johnson City Sessions recordings, despite their overall excellence, sold poorly upon their release in early 1930.

Few of the recordings from Johnson City are widely known today. Three records—“Old Lady and the Devil” by Bill and Belle Reed, “The Coo-Coo Bird” by Clarence Ashley and the Bentley Boys’ immortal “Down On Penny’s Farm”—were both reissued in 1952 on the influential Anthology of American Folk Music. “Down On Penny’s Farm” would lend a thematic and stylistic backdrop for not one but two Bob Dylan songs, “Hard Times in New York Town” and “Maggie’s Farm.”

Other outstanding recordings from the sessions include, from 1928, “Johnson Boys” by the Grant Brothers, “Southern Number III” by the Roane County Ramblers, “Johnson City Blues” by Clarence Greene, “Lindy” by the Proximity String Quartet, and “Roll On Buddy” by Charlie Bowman and His Brothers; and from 1929, four classic recordings by Clarence Ashley, “I’m Just a Black Sheep” by Jack Jackson, “Beckley Rag” by Roy Harvey and Leonard Copeland, “West Virginia Hills” by the Moatsville String Ticklers, and “Powder and Paint” by Ira and Eugene Yates.

Frank Walker’s inspired work on the Johnson City Sessions may not have garnered much scholarly attention, yet his peers certainly bestowed respect upon him for his subsequent roles in the recorded sound industry. For his work for RCA Victor, producing recordings by Bill Monroe, Glenn Miller, Coleman Hawkins, and Duke Ellington, and for MGM Records overseeing the career of Hank Williams, Sr., Walker acquired the sobriquet “The Dean of the American Record Industry.”

Columbia Records’ Johnson City Sessions have long merited an in-depth examination, and that examination is now here, in the form of a four-CD box set and book released by Bear Family Records. Developing a story begun in the 2011 box set The Bristol Sessions, 1927-1928: The Big Bang of Country Music, this new collection, entitled The Johnson City Sessions, 1928-1929: Can You Sing Or Play Old-Time Music?, continues Bear Family Records’ commitment to tracing the larger story of the location recording sessions conducted in Appalachia in the late ’20s and early ’30s.

The Johnson City Sessions compiles all 100 extant recordings made during those 1928 and 1929 Columbia sessions—the first time that they have been collected in any form. The recordings and accompanying book chronicle the presence in Johnson City of all the musicians who heeded the invitation of a widely disseminated October 1928 newspaper ad, calling upon area musicians to participate in “an actual try-out for the purpose of making Columbia Records.”

In April 2013 the State of Tennessee erected an official historical marker to commemorate this compelling if overlooked event in early country music history. In October 2013, Johnson City will host several public activities focused on the Johnson City Sessions, including the dedication of the Bear Family Records box set.

Today, the Johnson City Sessions recordings are deemed by those who know them best (scholars and record collectors, if not yet the general public) to be a strong, distinctive cross-section of old-time Appalachian music made at the cusp of the Great Depression. Indeed, they might arguably constitute the second-most important recording sessions ever conducted in Appalachia. If the 1927 Bristol Sessions can be considered “the Big Bang of Country Music,” then the Johnson City Sessions were a major aftershock. -appalachianhistory.net

1-1 Shell Creek Quartet - My Boyhood Days
1-2 Shell Creek Quartet - Back Where The Old Home Stands
1-3 Grant Brothers & Their Music - When A Man Is Married
1-4 Grant Brothers & Their Music - Goodbye My Honey - I'm Gone
1-5 Grant Brothers & Their Music - Tell It To Me
1-6 Grant Brothers & Their Music - Johnson Boy
1-7 Roane County Ramblers - Home Town Blues
1-8 Roane County Ramblers - Southern No. 111
1-9 Roane County Ramblers - Step High Waltz
1-10 Roane County Ramblers - Tennessee Waltz
1-11 Renus Rich & Carl Bradshaw - Goodbye Sweetheart
1-12 Renus Rich & Carl Bradshaw - Sleep Baby Sleep
1-13 Clarence Green & Wise Brothers - Pride Of The Ball
1-14 Clarence Green & Wise Brothers - Kitty Waltz
1-15 Clarence Green - Johnson City Blues
1-16 Clarence Green - Ninety-Nine Years In Jail
1-17 Proximity String Quartet - Lindy
1-18 Proximity String Quartet - Louise
1-19 Greensboro Boys Quartet - Sing Me A Song Of The Sunny South
1-20 Greensboro Boys Quartet - Sweet Little Girl Of Mine
1-21 Richard Harold - The Battleship Maine
1-22 Richard Harold - The Fisher's Maid
1-23 Richard Harold - Sweet Bird
1-24 Richard Harold - Mary Dear
2-1 Bowman Sisters - My Old Kentucky Home
2-2 Bowman Sisters - Swanee River
2-3 Charlie Bowman & His Brothers - Roll On Buddy
2-4 Charlie Bowman & His Brothers - Gonna Raise The Ruckus Tonight
2-5 Bill & Belle Reed - You Shall Be Free
2-6 Bill & Belle Reed - Old Lady And The Devil
2-7 The Reed Children - I'll Be All Smiles Tonight
2-8 The Reed Children - I Once Did Have A Sweetheart
2-9 McVay & Johnson - Ain't Going To Lay My Armor Down
2-10 McVay & Johnson - I'll Be Ready When The Bridegroom Comes
2-11 Earl Shirkey & Roy Harper - Steamboat Man
2-12 Earl Shirkey & Roy Harper - When The Rose Bloom For The Bootlegger
2-13 Earl Shirkey & Roy Harper - Poor Little Joe
2-14 Earl Shirkey & Roy Harper - We Patted At The Gate
2-15 George Roark - I Ain't A Bit Drunk
2-16 George Roark - My Old Coon Do
2-17 Ed Helton Singers - A Storm On The Sea
2-18 Ed Helton Singers - My Old Cottage Home
2-19 Garland Brothers & Grinstead - Just Over The River
2-20 Garland Brothers & Grinstead - Beautiful
2-21 McCartt Brothers & Patterson - Green Valley Waltz
2-22 McCartt Brothers & Patterson - Over The Sea Waltz
2-23 Blalock & Yates - Morning Star Waltz
2-24 Blalock & Yates - Pride Of The Ball
2-25 Jack Jackson - Flat Tire Blues
2-26 Jack Jackson - My Alabama Home
3-1 George Wade & Francum Braswell - Think A Little
3-2 George Wade & Francum Braswell - When We Go A Courtin'
3-3 Jack Johnson - In Our Little Home Sweet Home
3-4 Jack Johnson - I'm Just A Black Sheep
3-5 Roane County Ramblers - Free A Little Bird - 1930 Model
3-6 Roane County Ramblers - Johnson City Rag
3-7 Roane County Ramblers - Callahan Rag
3-8 Roane County Ramblers - Alabama Trot
3-9 Wyatt & Brandon - Evalina
3-10 Wyatt & Brandon - Lover's Farewell
3-11 Roy Harvey & Leonard Copeland - Just Pickin'
3-12 Roy Harvey & Leonard Copeland - Beckley Rag
3-13 Roy Harvey & Leonard Copeland - Underneath The Sugar Moon
3-14 Roy Harvey & Leonard Copeland - Lonesome Weary Blues
3-15 The Spindale Quartet - Sweet Peace The Gift Of God's Love
3-16 The Spindale Quartet - God Will Take Care Of You
3-17 The Spindale Quartet - Face To Face
3-18 The Spindale Quartet - Lift Him Up
3-19 Earl Shirkey & Roy Harper - The Virginian Strike Of 23
3-20 Earl Shirkey & Roy Harper - The Policeman's Little Child
3-21 Earl Shirkey & Roy Harper - My Yodeling Sweetheart
3-22 Earl Shirkey & Roy Harper - I'm Longing To Belong To Someone
3-23 Earl Shirkey & Roy Harper - We Have Moonshine In The West Virginia Hills
3-24 Earl Shirkey & Roy Harper - A Hobo's Pal
3-25 Moatsville String Ticklers - The West Virginia Hills
3-26 Moatsville String Ticklers - Moatville Blues
4-1 Weaver Brothers - You Came Back To Me
4-2 Weaver Brothers - Prison Sorrows
4-3 Byrd Moore & His Hot Shots - Frankie Silvers
4-4 Byrd Moore & His Hot Shots - The Hills Of Tennessee
4-5 Byrd Moore & His Hot Shots - Careless Love
4-6 Byrd Moore & His Hot Shots - Three Men Went A Hunting
4-7 Bateman Sacred Quartet - Nothing Like Old Time Religion
4-8 Bateman Sacred Quartet - Some Day
4-9 Fred Richards - My Katie
4-10 Fred Richards - Danville Blues
4-11 Clarence Ashley - Dark Holler Blues
4-12 Clarence Ashley - The Coo-Coo Bird
4-13 Clarence Ashley - Little Sadie
4-14 Clarence Ashley - Naomi Wise
4-15 The Bentley Boys - Down On Penny's Farm
4-16 The Bentley Boys - Henhouse Blues
4-17 Bowman Sisters - Railroad Take Me Back
4-18 Bowman Sisters - Old Lonesome Blues
4-19 Ephraim Woodie & The Henpecked Husbands - Last Gold Dollar
4-20 Ephraim Woodie & The Henpecked Husbands - The Fatal Courtship
4-21 Ira & Eugene Yates - Powder And Paint
4-22 Ira & Eugene Yates - Sarah Jane
4-23 Ellis Williams - Buttermilk Blues
4-24 Ellis Williams - Smokey Blues

USA

Virginia's County Records makes available these field recordings of four guitarists from the South and West , captured between 1967 and 1971. The purpose of the recording is to showcase the enduring influence of 19th century guitar playing on many of the 20th century's most influential fingerstyle players, including Elizabeth Cotten, Sam McGee, and Gary Davis. Some of the songs collected here are dated as early as 1850, yet survive with modern twists and turns developed in technique along the way. This is especially true in the playing of Lewis Thomasson here, whose adaptations of traditional tunes are infused with his more percussive flair and use of unusual tunings. For acoustic guitar fans, this is essential listening. -AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek

RURAL PARLOR GUITAR is the one of the very few commercial recording to focus on this genre, and the only one to include multitude artists from different regions. Each of the four musicians was raised in rural areas in the early 1900s: Lena Hughes in northwest Missouri; Earl Blair in the Arkansas Ozarks; Lewis Thomasson in the open plains of Coryell County, Texas, and E. C. Ball in the southwest mountains of Virginia. They learned to play — without sheet music, radio or recordings – from family and other musicians.

All the defining characteristics of the parlor guitar genre are here: open tunings; the use of three and four fingers, arpeggios, hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides and harmonics. Many of the tracks have never been available commercially before; each is an excellent representation of parlor guitar. The tuning for each song is included.

“The guitar styles depicted in this CD are all different, yet very representative of what one might have found in the rural south eighty or more years ago. Only a handful of guitarists in the 1920s, such as Roy Harvey and Leonard Copeland, made commercial recordings in this flavor, making this collection an invaluable resource for parlor-style guitar.” – Jeremy Stephens

“19th century parlor guitar was the foundation or an influence for the playing of early rural guitar players as diverse as Elizabeth Cotten and Sam McGee. Probably even the early blues players. This CD presents some of the last players of this rarely recorded style.” – Mike Seeger

All the recordings, save for E. C. Ball’s two self-recordings, were made by Charlie Faurot on his trips to their homes from 1967 to 1971.

American guitar begins here

If you're interested in blues guitar or country guitar, you should own--no, you MUST own this cd. This is where the history of American guitar begins.

Until about 1875, guitars were handmade and expensive. About that time, industry began applying to the guitar the same manufacturing techniques it had earlier applied to the fiddle (making it cheap and affordable--and a common folk instrument). This made guitars affordable. Unfortunately, hardly anyone knew how to play them.

In stepped a series of entrepreneurs who turned out books on how to play guitar. They aimed at the same market as had bought the piano--young, middle class ladies. The books included light classics, intermezzos, novelties, and numbers written especially for teaching the instrument. Later, when the syncopated music craze began to hit in the 1890s, cakewalks and rags were included in the books. Many of the numbers were in standard tuning. But, to help make learning more simple, many were also written in various opening tunings, particularly G, C, and D tunings.

Now, what does this have to do with country music and blues? Country first. One of the young ladies who started playing parlor guitar, about 1881, was Alice DeArmond Jones of Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. Later, she taught her son, Kennedy Jones, to play the instrument as she had learned it. Kennedy taught many youngsters in the area, including Mose Rager. And Rager, too, had a student--Merle Travis. And Travis became the model for Chet Atkins.

Now blues. Two of the most popular songs in the parlor guitar guitar repetoire were "The Spanish Fandango" and "The Seige of Sebastopol" (both included here). "The Spanish Fandango" was typically played in G tuning, and "Sebastopol" (as it was often known) was played in D tuning (here, however, it's in C tuning). To this day, country bluesmen still describe the open G tuning as "Spanish" tuning and the open D as "Vastapol." So, somebody sure was listening. Delta blues styles probably weren't greatly influenced by parlor guitar, except that some of the upper-register slides and devices that parlor guitarist played with fingers, the Delta players played with a slide. Also, listen to "Cannon Ball Rag" on this cd and compare it to Mississippi John Hurt's "Louis Collins." Spooky. If you want to hear a style midway between parlor guitar and blues, check out Elizabeth Cotton's two cds on Smithsonian Folkways, Freight Train And Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes and Shake Sugaree.

The performances on this cd were recorded 1967-1971 by four musicians who grew up in the early part of the century. The songs are, by our standards, sedate. They display, however, impeccable musicianship and an unmatched musical pedigree. The history of the American popular guitar begins here. -James Walsh

1. Lena Hughes - Spanish Fandango 2:43
2. Earl Blair - Dewdrop 2:23
3. Lewis Thomasson - Sevastapol 4:18
4. E.C. Ball - Walking The Wires 1:27
5. Lena Hughes - Alone In My Rocking Chair 2:27
6. Earl Blair - Midnight Fire Alarm 1:57
7. Lewis Thomasson - Arlington 2:54
8. E.C. Ball - Cannon Ball Blues 2:23
9. Lena Hughes - Old Spinning Wheel 2:12
10. Lewis Thomasson - Winter's Waltz 3:12
11. Lena Hughes - Mother's In Heaven 2:19
12. Earl Blair - Home Sweet Home Waltz 1:47
13. E.C. Ball - Virginia Rag 1:51
14. Lewis Thomasson - Echoes 1:36
15. Lena Hughes - Lamplighting Time In The Valley 2:15
16. Lewis Thomasson - Lewis Thomasson's Schottische 2:08
17. Lena Hughes - Sioux City Sue 2:21
18. E.C. Ball - Grandfather's Clock 3:26
19. Lewis Thomasson - San Saba 1:17
20. Earl Blair - Wild Rose Medley 1:48
21. Lena Hughes - Pearly Dew 2:36

Trinidad

It’s Trinidad, dad!

As Bear Family’s ever-diligent sleevenotes inform us, the mixed-race Lovey’s Original Trinidad String Band have the distinction of being the first English-speaking group comprising of black musicians to record onto phonograph, with their 1912 recordings pre-dating known jazz sessions by 18 months. Their reputation must have preceded them: when the String Band sailed to New York for a north-east US tour, both Columbia and Victor were ready to usher them into recording studios.

Sounds like they were no-fuss sessions, too: rooted in the carnival tradition, violinist George R Baillie (the group’s “Lovey”) led a tight troupe that, on this evidence, tore the room up anywhere they played. Performing a mixture of paseos – popular two-steps – and vals, their varied repertoire provided ragtime-tinged dance music and, with the vals in particular, music for the early days of the Argentine tango’s worldwide export.

Like the musicians themselves, the String Band’s music is a pioneering mix of styles, which, as the title suggests, capture the early days of Trinidad’s burgeoning calypso music. Apparently it took decades to become respected as an art form in its homeland, but most people would have been too busy dancing to care. -Jason Draper

This is the story of an exciting discovery. The very first recorded examples of calypso music. 

When researching aspects of the history of the Caribbean, American ethnologist Dick Spottswood unexpectedly uncovered an unknown musical treasure. From the depth of a library he fished out several flat cardboard boxes containing matrixes. The accompanying note said the recordings were made by a 12-piece jazz orchestra from Trinidad in 1912: Lovey's Trinidad String Band. 

Who were these musicians We do not know much about them, and the internet doesn't either. It is known, though that in May 1912 the dance band embarked on a tour to the United States of America as reported by the 'Port-of-Spain Gazette' a couple of days before their departure. The ensemble had been founded by violinist Lovey (real name: George R. Baillie) during the last decade of the 19th century. So by 1912 they were by no means unknown in their home country. 

We can't say for certain which cities, festivals and ballrooms the Trinidad instrumentalists visited in the U.S.A. But this is clear: they stayed in New York City from late June into July 1912 where they recorded several songs of South American rhythms, first in the studio of the Victor Talking Machine Company, then at the Columbia Phonograph Company. In doing so, George R. Baillie and his men made musical history; they were the first to bring the sound of Calypso onto records. 

Recording technology back then was in its infancy and scratches and noise were common. So it's amazing that the sound of these old, uniquely important recordings is actually pretty clear. They sound no worse than recordings from the '40s or '50s, says Richard Weize who has restored and issued many Calypso pearls from the early days of shellac records on his Bear Family Records label. For the restoration of these historic recordings he couldn't have secured the services of a better man than mastering expert Chris Zwarg from True Sound. 

These completely restored masters should be of special relevance for the state of Trinidad and Tobago. Fifty years ago, in the summer of 1962, the islands finally became independent from Great Britain. The people celebrated carnival for a week, remembering and celebrating their own identity. Half a century earlier, Lovey's Original Trinidad String Band had played a substantial role in developing and promoting the identity of the people of Trinidad and Tobago.

1. Manuelita (Vals Español) 2:57
2. Rosenthal (Vals) 2:58
3. Unidentified (Vals #1) 3:12
4. Unidentified (Vals #2) 2:55
5. Unidentified (Paseo #1) 3:01
6. Sarah (Paseo) 2:52
7. Oil Fields (Paseo) 2:55
8. Trinidad (Paseo) 3:03
9. Mango Vert (Paseo) 3:00
10. Pauline (Paseo) 3:00
11. Mari-Juana (Paseo) 2:59
12. Alexandrina (Paseo) 2:58
13. Unidentified (Paseo #2) 2:52
14. Tobo Justina (Paseo) 3:00
15. Siempre Alegre (Vals) 2:53
16. Manuelito (Vals) 3:09
17. Clavel Blanco (Vals) 3:09
18. Flores de Trinidad (Vals) 3:07
19. La Liebre (Stop Vals) 2:55
20. Unidentified (Vals #3) 2:50
21. Discie You Doan Know De Law (Paseo) 2:58
22. Trinidad (Paseo - bonus track) 2:53
23. Manuelita (Vals Español - bonus track) 2:41
24. Sarah (Trinidad Paseo - bonus track) 3:06

Trinidad

Two incredible and heavily Afro-Latin influenced calypsos -- one instrumental, the other with a vocal chorus -- from the late 1950s, by the man whose orchestra played a critical part in helping Lord Melody and The Mighty Sparrow become calypso superstars.

West African and Venezuelan inspired dancefloor 45 from Cyril Diaz. Return of Cyril Diaz sees the 50's bandleader play the roots music of his Afro-Venezuelan parentage. His father Gordon Diaz migrated to Trinidad sometime in the early 1900's. 

Throughout the 1950's Cyril Diaz and his big band calypso orchestra toured the Caribbean and South America recording culturally inspired hybrid calypsos with an african and latin tinge. Showcased here is his fascination with west african shango on "Mme Killio" and the cuban derived but venezuelan made rumba on "Lena."

1. La Orquesta de Cyril Diaz - Lena 2:42
2. Cyril Diaz and his Orchestra - Madame Killio 2:45

Trinidad

This four track EP, limited to 1500 copies, sees Soundway head to Trindad for 4 orginal 1950s instrumental calypso recording from Cyril Diaz who became renowned for the “rich and smooth tone” of his tenor sax playing. On this EP Soundway presents four of his tracks including the traditional Cuban standard ‘Tabu’, the Haitian inspired ‘Vodoo’ and ‘Serenal’ with it’s alternate version ‘Chive Soup Merengie’ both derived from Trinidad’s Latin music tradition; parang.

1. Taboo 3:37
2. Voodoo 4:10
3. Chive Soup Merengue 3:03
4. Serenal 2:38

Notes
The version of "Tabu" appeared on "Calypso Carnival 1958 Vol. 1" (Balisier HDF 1003).
"Voodoo" is taken from the 1959 LP "Caribbean Cruise With The Cyril Diaz Orchestra".

Nassau, Bahamas

The sounds of the islands... soulful, sultry, beguiling grooves at one end...Grade A funk at the other... a total winner!

Strut presents an exclusive release for Record Store Day, an 11-minute previously unreleased version of folk-soul gem Fishman from 1972 by legendary Caribbean funk band The Beginning Of The End.

Unearthed recently from the band’s tape archives, Fishman paints a warm picture of life in Nassau. As The Beginning Of The End’s bandleader Ray Munnings remembers, “There was this guy that would walk through the streets early morning – you’d hear him calling ‘Fishmaaan, Fishmaaan!’ He had the catch, fresh from the boats so you could buy grouper, goggle eye and snapper there on your doorstep. The song is a nice way of remembering that slice of island culture from the early ‘70s.”

This newly unearthed version builds from the 45 version, with the band solo-ing and jamming freely: “it’s great to hear this version after 55 years,” Munnings continues, “we would always stretch out in the studio. We were a tight unit with my two brothers and I at its heart. We just naturally played long during our sessions and it’s great to hear the end part here too – we just started talking together, laughing about cooking up some conk stew!” This new release features the rediscovered full length version and the 45 version, originally released as a B-side to Doin’ The Funky Do. It also includes the in-demand full length edit of the band’s rare groove classic, Funky Nassau built from the Part 1 and Part 2 versions. Fishman is released on Strut on Record Store Day (21st April 2018) featuring a strong new cover design by Bethany Porteous. All tracks are remastered from the original reel to reel tapes by Peter Beckmann at Technology Works.

1. Fishman (Full Length Version) 11:46
2. Funky Nassau (Full Length Edit) 5:02
3. Fishman (Original 45 Version) 3:16

Peru

Sicodélica - The Peruvian Psychedelic Sounds of Los Destellos (aka The Flashes)

Los Destellos were the foremost psychedelic Peruvian tropical band of the late 1960s and early 1970s. This exclusive retrospective charts the big hitters and hidden gems of their illustrious career - from boogaloo, cumbia and 'beat' to hard-core Afro-Cuban jam sessions.

Enrique Delgado's Los Destellos showcase the fearless sense of adventure and variety found in Peru's mind-boggingly prolific musical output of the 1960s and 1970s. While Los Destellos flirted with Nuyorican boogaloo made for go-go girls and groovy urban discos (as on El Boogaloo Del Porro), they are rightly credited as the progenitors of the Peruvian variant of Colombia's cumbia, and were capable of playing hard-core Afro-Cuban descargas as well.

1. Onstá La Yerbita 6:16
2. Volando Con Destellos 3:24
3. Guajira Sicodelica 3:25
4. Bogaloo De Los Destellos 2:32
5. Noche De Garua 3:19
6. La Cumbia Del Sol 3:55
7. Tu Jugaste 5:11
8. El Campesino (Soy Un Campesino) 2:53
9. El Eléctrio 3:11
10. Descarga Destellos 3:25
11. Volando Alto 3:15
12. La Fatidica 3:18
13. Sin Un Querer 3:26
14. El Boogaloo Del Perro (Extra Track) 3:30

Notes

All tracks taken from ''The Rough Guide to Latin Psychedelia''

Jamaica

From 1965 through to the early seventies, under the auspices of leader/producer, Winston Riley, they recorded a formidable number of hit singles, and with such luminaries as Slim Smith, Pat Kelly, Bruce Ruffin, Dave Barker and Lloyd Parks, all at one time fronting the group, the standard of their work never fell short of excellent. Few, if any compilations this year will come close to matching Queen Majesty in terms of its soul and style - In essence, the Techniques were the quintessential JA vocal group of their day.

The Techniques Brings A Difference To Rocksteady

Any ardent dance or party fan of the late 1960s will tell you that whenever they attended one of these sessions, they would, almost invariably, be dancing to the music of a Jamaican singing group. Groups, whatever they be - duos, trios or quartets - even in the midst of the day.

It was a time in Jamaican music, when the accelerated pace of the ska beat was giving way to the slower, more placid, and I dare say, melodious rocksteady format, but still before the rise of reggae.

Parties and dance venues at the time, rocked to the sweet, throbbing rocksteady beat of groups like the Wailers (Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer), The Maytals ('Toots' Hibbert, Jerry Mathias, Raleigh Gordon), The Gaylads (Horace Seaton, Winston Stewart, Maurice Roberts), The Melodians (Brent Dowe, Tony Brivett, Trevor McNaughton), The Jamaicans (Tommy Cowan, Norris Weir, Martin Williams), and The Techniques, whose members were multitudinous.

These were indeed the groups that ruled the roost of harmony singing and whet the appetite of dance fans and Jamaican music lovers during the rocksteady era, which incidentally represented the shortest period of a genre's dominance in Jamaica. Rocksteady was the music of choice from late 1966 to approximately the middle of 1968.

In terms of composition, the top groups followed a similar pattern: They performed as trios and almost invariably had one lead singer throughout the lifespan of the group. The Techniques, however took a different route to success. Although conforming to the standard trio composition, the members were never constant, as they witnessed no less than a dozen members participating during the approximately ten years of the group's existence

In addition, The Techniques, which had its genesis in 1965, boasted some half a dozen lead singers, moving in and out of the group like a procession.

Their leader, Winston Riley, who passed away on January 19 this year, was the only member who stayed with the group throughout. When I asked him in a radio interview to explain this phenomenon Riley's answer was, "Whilst I'm around the group is always alive, because I am the sound and the sound is me".

And the Techniques did, in fact, maintain a unique falsetto sound, which was amazing, given the many line-up changes.

Different sound

Riley was determined to create a different sound from all the other groups. He claimed that he had to maintain the sound, in order to maintain the group, and he did so with distinction.

The Techniques first came together in 1962, as schoolmates at Kingston Senior School, located at the northernmost end of King Street in Kingston, and began by performing there at school concerts.

Staying together after leaving school, they continued to perform at concerts and places like the Chocomo Lawn in west Kingston.

In 1965, ska singer Stranger Cole introduced them to producer Duke Reid, and they got the opportunity to record their first set of songs in the ska mould.

Their distinctive styling and rich vocal blend, featuring Keith 'Slim' Smith's crystalline lead vocal delivery, earned for them the ska hits, What You Gonna Do, Telling Lies, You Don't Know, I'm In Love, When You Are Wrong, and their first and most popular early hit - Little Did You Know.

The original line-up for those early sessions, resembled nothing that party and dance fans became familiar with during the rocksteady era of the mid to late 1960s. It consisted of the ever-present Winston Riley, uniquely positioned as the leader who did not sing lead, Slim Smith on lead vocal, a man who, to this day, is considered the most talented singer this nation has produced, with Frederick Waite and Franklin White completing the quartet.

The Baba Brooks band was in attendance at the Federal Recording Studios.

Their stay with Reid was ephemeral as Waite soon left via the migration route, and Smith joined Jimmy Riley and Lloyd Charmers to form the Uniques, while Winston Riley and Franklin White went their separate ways. Riley was, however, determined to keep the group alive and reformed them in 1967 with new members, Junior Menz as lead vocalist, who had served a short stint with the Paragons, Bruce Ruffin and himself. This line-up gave Jamaica and dancehall fans a number of resounding hits, including Queen Majesty, an adaptation of one previously done by the Impressions titled, Minstrel And Queen, and had follow-ups, My Girl and Love Is Not A Gamble, written by Riley and based on an experience he had.

Junior Menz soon migrated as well, and was temporarily replaced in a very strange way by a banker named Johnny Johnson, who fooled many into thinking that he was Pat Kelly, who would be Menz's more permanent replacement.

Masterpiece

Riley told me Johnson was just 'travelling through' Reid's studio that day and he asked him to accompany Ruffin and himself on the recording Travelling Man. Written by Riley, Johnson's lead vocals made him into the travelling man who 'wanted to stop roaming around, searching to find a love, and hoping some day she will come along to this travelling man'.

It became a masterpiece which took Jamaica by storm in 1968.

Pat Kelly joined Riley and Ruffin in 1968 and placed third in the Festival Song competition that year with Run Come Celebrate. It was the most successful period of the group's ten-year history.

Hits like There Comes A Time, The Time Has Come, Man Of My Word, and You Don't Care, an adaptation of the Impressions You'll Want Me Back, led by Kelly and produced by Riley, came pouring out of Reid's studio.

As a group, the Techniques were almost unequalled in the area of vocal harmony. Sticking to the theme of romantic love, unlike many other groups who focussed on protest songs, the group's falsetto sound kept them different.

Other members of the group at one time or another included Tyrone Evens, Jack Paris, Marvin Brooks, Lloyd Parks, and Winston Francis who had a stimulating piece on Go Find Yourself A Fool. All went on to be successful solo artistes, which bears testimony to the quality of the group. -jamaica-gleaner

One of Jamaica's most influential vocal groups, the Techniques' history was particularly convoluted. Formed in late 1964, the original group comprised lead singer Slim Smith, Winston Riley, Frederick Waite, and Franklyn White. Their recording debut, "No One," was overseen by Edward Seaga, but it was their subsequent singles for Duke Reid that took the island by storm, with 1965's "Little Did You Know" the first of many to top the Jamaican chart.

With Smith's emotive vocals to the fore, the Techniques skanked their imprimatur across the ska age. But just as rocksteady began to take hold, Smith decamped for a solo career at Studio One, which continued even after he formed the Uniques in 1968. From this point out, the Techniques were a highly unstable unit, who against all odds continued recording incredibly sublime music. The remaining trio eventually crumbled, but a new one featuring Riley, Junior Menz, and Pat Kelly rose phoenix-like in its place, sailing to number one with "You Don't Care for Me at All." Kelly departed for school in the States, with Menz taking over the lead, and Bruce Ruffin enlisted; it was this lineup that recorded the band's enduring classic "Queen Majesty." Kelly then returned, Menz left, and the rejigged trio continued cutting hits such as the festive "Run Come Celebrate." Over the next few years, more singers came and went, Dave Barker and ex-Termite Lloyd Parks came; Riley himself left for a career in production. To further muddy the waters for later fans, Smith set about covering a number of his former band's old hits. Regardless of these upheavals, the Techniques/ standards never slipped, as this sensational compilation illustrates. As typical with Trojan compilations, the sequencing follows its own inexplicable logic, only vaguely chronological. Which makes identification of the different lineups difficult, although the credits sometimes help identify the lead singer. Even packed with tracks, amazingly quite a number of songs escaped the compiler of Queen Majesty, but you'd need a box set for them all. Still, the group's myriad hits are virtually all present and accounted for, taking listeners from their early ska heights into their rocksteady reign and on through their reggae prime. An absolute must-have for every fan of Jamaican vocal groups. -AllMusic Review by Jo-Ann Greene

A fantastic, rewarding compilation of the songs of one of Jamaica's earliest formative vocal groups.

The Techniques was one the earliest premier vocal groups ever to have graced the island of Jamaica. And what a soulful, well blended group it was! Formed in 1962 by Winston Riley, who was to become one of the most venerable record producers ever and then introduced by singer Stranger Cole to a pioneering, far-seeing producer, Duke Reid, the Techniques produced some of the most brilliant, heartwarming, yet unforgettable hits in the ska and rocksteady eras. Keith 'Slim' Smith became legendary in his own right as a solo. But earlier on, he was one of the key singers of the group before going independent by 1966 (by then Jamaican music was leaning more towards rocksteady). A regrettable move? Not really, for not only Slim Smith niched himself into the pantheon of great Jamaican singers, but also because it gave Pat Kelly a chance for what was to become quite a celebrated singing career in its own right. He went solo himself by 1968, but with all singing adroitness and the love for singing he had developed further during his short period with the Techniques.

What was typical was that most of the great singers and vocal groups had their starts in the ska era. The Techniques is no exception, with "Don't Leave Me" and "You Don't Know" especially well received. But it was rocksteady that made the group to what it became, and in the 1967-68 period (the high point for the ensemble), the Techniques produced some of the most memorable hits such as "You Don't Care" (my personal favorite), "Queen Majesty", "I'm in the Mood", and "Love is not a Gamble". The first disc is nicely laid out, with the first sixteen tracks that are devoted to ska music, and the remaining thirteen that feature rocksteady songs.

What was also typical (during the Sixties through the early 1980s) was that many of the songs spoke against social injustices and appealed for social harmony to the masses (Jamaica was somewhat in whirlwind after its 1962 independence from British rule). One example of such is "Out of Many-One", sung by the Techniques and which puts to mind the other songs of this sort during the period, like, for instances, "Freedom to the People" (the Heptones), "Blessing of Love" (Alton Ellis and The Flames), "Look Who's Back Again" (Slim Smith & Delroy Wilson), "Let's Join Hands Together" (the Melodians), and "Africa Unite" (Bob Marley). Here the rendition of "Out of Many-One" is striking yet genuine and Trojan Records remastered it (and most of the others) quite flawlessly.

While the songs in disc one are for the most part winning, the songs on the second disc are, however, more of a mixed bag. The first five (of 1968) "I'm in the Mood", "There Comes a Time", "Man of my Word", "The Times has Come", "You're My Everything" are memorable. But the more I listened to the second disc, the more I noticed that the quality of the music waned a bit: much of the freshness and originality withered somewhat. For instance, "I Feel Alive" (1969) is no way in par with, for instance, "Run Come Celebrate" (1968) while the "Traveling Man" (1971) remake (too common of a practice back in those days unfortunately) is no match for the original version (1965). Frankly, I very much prefer Trojan's inclusion of "Ol' Man River" instead (incidentally in a Heartbeat CD album (HB 121) which is still available - thankfully).

But that said, Trojan Records must be given high praises and gratitude for giving us an opportunity to explore the early wonders of one of Jamaica's formative singing groups forever enshrined in our collective memories. Will it be too much to ask Trojan to reissue Slim Smith's complete volumes of songs as well as the songs of the Paragons and of the more obscured musical artists during the golden years of Jamaican music (like Phil Pratt for instance)? -David Anthony Hollingsworth

Disc 1
1. The Techniques - Don't Leave Me 2:20
2. The Techniques - Telling Me Lies 2:20
3. The Techniques - You Don't Know 3:05
4. The Techniques - When You Are Wrong 2:25
5. The Techniques - I Am In Love 2:28
6. The Techniques - I Love You 2:30
7. The Techniques - Heartaches 2:42
8. The Techniques - What Love Can Do 3:01
9. The Techniques - Little Did You Know 2:36
10. The Techniques - No One 2:36
11. The Techniques - Remember I Told You 2:27
12. The Techniques - I'm So In Love With You 2:31
13. The Techniques - A Place Called Love 2:38
14. The Techniques - I Can't Love Another 2:24
15. The Techniques - My Whole Life Depends On You 2:53
16. The Techniques - What'cha Gonna Do 2:15
17. The Techniques - You Don't Care (You'll Want Me Back) 2:39
18. The Techniques - Queen Majesty (Minstrel And Queen) 3:32
19. The Techniques - Out Of Many - One (Fighting For The Right) 2:40
20. The Techniques - Oh Babe (Sick And Tired) 2:48
21. The Techniques - Day O (The Banana Boat Song) 2:54
22. The Techniques - Drink More Wine 2:58
23. The Techniques - Bad Minded People 1:55
24. The Techniques - Love Is Not A Gamble (Tears On My Pillow) 2:38
25. The Techniques - Travelling Man 2:32
26. The Techniques - My Girl 2:39
27. The Techniques - It's You I Love 2:40
28. The Techniques - I Wish It Would Rain 2:22
29. The Techniques - Run Come Celebrate (Festival 68) 2:15

Disc 2
1. The Techniques - I'm In The Mood (For Love) 1:53
2. The Techniques - There Comes A Time 2:31
3. The Techniques With Pat Kelly - Man Of My Word 2:12
4. The Techniques With Pat Kelly - The Time Has Come 1:58
5. The Techniques - You're My Everything 3:09
6. The Techniques With Pat Kelly - What Am I To Do 2:25
7. The Techniques - The Reason Why 2:38
8. The Techniques - Baby Don't Say Goodbye 1:56
9. The Techniques - I Feel Alive 2:17
10. The Techniques - The Heart Of A Man 2:04
11. The Techniques - Love, Love, Love 2:37
12. The Techniques - A Little Bit Of Something 2:30
13. The Techniques - I Specialise In Good Girls 2:48
14. The Techniques With Dave Barker - Lonely Man 3:00
15. The Techniques - Your Love's A Game 2:08
16. The Techniques - You Ain't Got A Heart At All 2:15
17. The Techniques - Lonely, Lonely Man Am I 2:26
18. The Techniques With Dave Barker - My Best Girl 2:16
19. The Techniques - Travelling Man 2:30
20. The Techniques - It's Summer 2:49
21. The Techniques - Free To Go 2:53
22. The Techniques - Since I Lost You 4:36
23. The Techniques - I'll Be Right There 3:44
24. The Techniques - World Without Love 2:13
25. The Techniques - What's It All About 2:13
26. The Techniques - That's The Way Love Is 2:51
27. The Techniques - I Still Love You 3:18
28. The Techniques - The Best Time Of My Love 2:51

Jamaica

Wentworth Vernal and Lloyd Parks formed the Termites in the mid 60s and Lloyd Parks went on become one of Jamaica's premier bass players. He got his start at Studio One singing. 'Do The Rocksteady' has been re-pressed at different times over the last 40 years or so.

The Termites (Lloyd Parks and Wentworth Vernal) were a no-frills rocksteady duo whose harmonies lifted their songs, all of which were recorded at Studio One for producer Coxsone Dodd, into classics territory. Do the Rock Steady is essentially their collected work, and it includes their biggest hit, a plea for leniency from a landlord called "Have Mercy Mr. Percy." Parks and Vernal have voices that were born to mesh, and everything here has a fresh and angelic feel, and it doesn't hurt, either, to be singing over those great Studio One rhythms, although few of these tracks have been versioned. "Sign Up" has a special doo wop appeal, and is one of the obvious highlights of the album. A couple of the cuts appear in expanded mixes (including "My Last Love" and "Heartaches") that don't necessarily add anything to the songs, and one wishes the original length single versions of these had also been added, but that is a small complaint about what is simply a wonderful set of vintage rocksteady. -AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett

1. Do the Rock Steady 4:08
2. My Last Love 5:56
3. Sign Up 3:17
4. It Takes Two to Make Love 2:37
5. Attractive Girl 2:14
6. Beach Boy 2:21
7. Corporal Jones 2:45
8. Heartaches 6:27
9. Too Late Will Be Your Cry 2:34
10. Go Back to Your Country 3:16
11. Have Mercy Mr. Percy 3:36
12. Mommy Didn't Know 2:31
Bonus Tracks
13. Rub Up Push Up 2:12
14. I Made A Mistake 3:00
15. Breaking Up 3:09
16. Shake It Up 2:49
17. We Gonna Make It 2:26

Pakistan

"Plugged-in Punjabi pop and Acme Disco from the compact career of lyrical Lollywood's little sister!" 

An excellent and rare to find compilation of the uptempo soul and funk originating from house of Lollywood, Pakistan. The gems that are here would be sampled and resampled when it is discovered by the North American/Brit scene. The voice of Nahid Akhtar is ecstatic, and the instrumentals range from guitars, horns and moogs to thumbs, snares, and cowbells.

Phwoar! Was it the pseudo-seductive cry of ‘Come here naughty boy’, the warbling cosmic synths of ‘Aesi Chalo Na’, the calypso-slide guitar-accordion medley at the start of ‘I Am Black Beauty’ or the moment ‘Good News For You’ lapses into the James Bond theme, that first caught our attention? Just a few tracks in and unable to make head or tail of what came before, it probably doesn’t really matter, because every single track of this collection is wilder than the last. Another off the wall find from the Finders Keepers crew that dives head first into the technicolour majesty of short-lived Lollywood star Nahid Akhtar. On paper I Am Black Beauty is a snapshot of Lahore’s late ’70s cinematic world, in practice though it is so, so much more. – AS

“I am black beauty… love me!” A forthright enough request, one would think, from an artist whose music was indeed loved, revered and which played a hugely influential and omnipresent role in Lahore’s vibrant cinematic patchwork that covered the late 1970s and early 1980s. However, until now, it seems that this lost love letter to a potential global audience of millions of sonic suitors has been caught up in the pesky Pakistani postal system. Nahid Akhtar needs a connection.

Don’t blame the Khyber Mail. In a neat and tidy career that spanned exactly ten years, Nahid Akhtar came, saw and conquered, then relatively disappeared without even thinking about buying the t-shirt. Disrobing the vibrant finery that interweaved textures of Ghazals, classical music, Punjabi folk songs and Qawwalis (not forgetting a wide range of progressive pop music penned for the Pakistani picture house) from which this records track list is lovingly gathered.

It is virtually unfathomable that the multifarious music of Nahid Akhtar, combining textures, tempos, technologies, global influences and multi-cultural languages (and all this within the opening seconds of a song!), didn’t open the door to international stardom to match that of Asha Bhosle or Lata Mangeshkar from India. In the last few years the music of Lollywood’s golden era has enjoyed a marked resurgence amongst outernational music fans, with labels like Finders Keepers remastering and compiling the work of the Tafo Brothers and M. Ashraf for a global market with wide critical acclaim. Hopefully, with this collection as a sturdy stepping stone to a widely rewarding expanse of further listening, the music of Nahid Akhtar can find a place alongside your favourite international songbirds and her original love letters to the world of music will command a much justified RSVP.

A1 Badami Nainon Wale 3:32
A2 Naughty Boy 3:44
A3 Aisi Chalo Na Chaal Ke Dil Mera 3:44
A4 I Am Black Beauty 4:14
A5 Karye Pyar 5:46
B1 Yeh Aaj Mujhko Kya Huwa 5:07
B2 Good News For You 3:09
B3 Some Say I Am Sweety 3:18
B4 What Can I Do? 3:21
B5 Sheeshe Ki Botal 5:06

Cameroon

I have no idea what some of the lyrics are, but I am singing along, all the same. Damn fine funk! -zzzptm

Ekambi Brillant was born in the village of Dibombari in Cameroon in 1948. In 1962 he attended school in Yaoundé and learned his musical craft. In 1971 he heads off to the big city lights of Douala. Here he finds himself in a French TV, music competition hosted at Le Domino nightclub. It is here where he brushes shoulders with other Cameroonian music legends such Manu Dibango and Francis Bebey.

The music contest win gives him the break he needs and in 1972 and with the support of fellow troubadour JK Mandengué he finds himself with a record deal with Phonogram and his first hits in France.

Its in 1975 where we pick up this merry tale. Because it is in 1975 when things start to get a bit funky. Which is just how we like it here at Africa Seven. In partnership with French producer, guitarist and all around hero, Slim Pezin he creates the Africa Oumba album. He goes on in the two subsequent years to record the Soul Castle and Djambo's Djambo's albums also with Slim.

Our compilation focuses on the funkier end of Ekambi's music drawn mainly from the 1975 to 1978 period. Things open up with our theme tune Africa Africa (of course). It's tribal twisted psych funk is the perfect start to any album. We then move to Aboki possibly Ekambi's finest dance floor filler. Next it's the choppy disco strings and slap bass of Nyambe and the swirling African swing of N'Kondo and the pulsing chop-funk Ekila.

The flip side starts off with Soul Castle an ordinary day tale for our hero. Massoma and its funk boogie get things bopping next up before Machine Ma Bwindea gives us some punchy brass and low slung funk grooves. Mother Africa shows us the songwriting power of Ekambi while also managing to have one of the funkiest flange basslines we have heard in a good while. Things close off with swing-time of Lambo Lena.

Ekambi Brillant would go on to become one of the big name legends of Cameroonian music with nearly 20 albums to his name. He has contributed to the emergence of several Cameroonian artists such as Marthe Zambo, Valéry Lobé, Aladji Touré and Africans. He now spends his time in Cameroon and Washington DC. Ekambi, we salute you sir.

1. Africa Africa 2:08
2. Aboki (Mon Copain) 4:39
3. Nyambe 4:26
4. N'kondo (La Joie Des Retrouvailles) 3:01
5. Ekila 5:45
6. Soul Castle 1:46
7. Massoma (Remerciements) 4:18
8. Machine Ma Bwindea 4:36
9. Mother Africa 4:12
10. Lambo Lena 4:02

Archive