Thursday, April 17, 2008

Sun Arise Pt 1.

I sometimes feel that Sun records is so inextricably linked w/ Rockabilly -and by proxy, a rather gallant notion of the atypical hayseed - that people often forget the fact that Sam Phillips made his bones on blues, country and gospel. Now, I know these genres aren't as exploitable as some would like, nor do they telegraph any particular haircut or soda-shop ethic, but all sensationalism aside, what early Sun releases do, rather beautifully, is serve to paint a fairly accurate portrait of the state of Memphis affairs at the time, mainly, the disparity of a general populace resigned to being broke, black, blue.

Take the 'Kid' here. All four of these sides are gut buckets full o' Juke joint impropriety, poverty, and alcohol - all backed up against a Jump-blues mid-tempo dirge. Emerson typifies the early fifties Sun entry, the likes which launched the careers of many famous, not to mention, unjustly forgotten musicians.

"Slashing blues, infectious RB, formulaic rock roll, moving gospel -- keyboardist Billy "The Kid" Emerson played all those interrelated styles during a lengthy career that began in Florida and later transported him up to Memphis and Chicago.

A 1952-53 stint in the Air Force found Emerson stationed in Greenville, MS. That's where he met young bandleader Ike Turner, who whipped Emerson into shape as an entertainer while he sang with Turner's Kings of Rhythm. Turner also got Emerson through the door at Sun Records in 1954, playing guitar on the Kid's debut waxing "No Teasing Around."

Emerson's songwriting skills made him a valuable commodity around Sun -- but more as a source for other performers' material later on. His bluesy 1955 outing "When It Rains It Pours" elicited a cover from Elvis a few years later at RCA, while Emerson's "Red Hot" (a takeoff on an old cheerleaders chant from Emerson's school days) became a savage rockabilly anthem revived by Billy Lee Riley for Sun and BobLuman on Imperial.

After his "Little Fine Healthy Thing" failed to sell, Emerson exited Sun to sign with Chicago's Vee-Jay Records in late 1955. Despite first-rate offerings such as the jumping "Every Woman I Know (Crazy 'Bout Automobiles)" and a sophisticated "Don't Start Me to Lying," national recognition eluded Emerson atVee-Jay too.

A prolific writer, Emerson penned songs for Junior Wells, Willie Mabon, Wynonie Harris, and Buddy Guy during the early '60s, often in conjunction with Willie Dixon. When recording opportunities slowed, Emerson played jazzy RB in lounges and supper clubs (guitarist Lacy Gibson was a member of his trio for a while). Emerson took Europe by surprise with a dynamic segment on the American Blues Legends 1979 tour."

As with most early Sun releases, sound quality generally suffers from inferior vinyl production (Sun discs sound almost as bad as Columbia 78's). For those doing fieldwork, steering clear of bootlegs can be a pain in the dick. A good tip the old timers stick to w/ regard to authenticity, is to keep your eyes peeled for push marks on the labels (three circular divots resulting from the production plant) as well as small type on the label's artist & title sections. And though these are good places to start, as always, there are exceptions to the rule, some single runs being pressed at different area plants.

Now don't take this diatribe as a stinger aimed at the hillbilly set. The awesomeness of the Sun records rockabilly roster goes without sayin'. It's just that this junk here screams for a six pack, a full moon and a front porch where you can get plowed and count your blessins' while they still count. So...watcha waitin' fo!!!

When It Rains, It Pours - Billy "The Kid" Emerson

Move, Baby, Move - Billy "The Kid" Emerson

Little Fine Healthy Thing - Billy "The Kid" Emerson

1 comment:

Devil Dick said...

You know how i feel about this man.
When it rains it pours is one of my all time faves. Wish i owned an OG copy. Good lookin' out!