It's a String Thing

While King Records will always be most famous as the longtime home of James Brown’s recordings, and also it’s irascible, dictatorial owner Syd Nathan (who famously recorded, pressed and packaged his records under one roof!), it’s the King R&B catalog (including Brown) that is the label’s greatest contribution to music history, Guys like Roy Brown and Wynonie Harris are as good as blues shoutin’ gets. This new compilation is selected by Colin Escott, mastered by Bob Irwin and pressed on heavy vinyl. Nice cover art too!

Maybe it’s the sound. Or the way it looks slung around your neck. Or its mystical appeal to females, but the appeal of the electric guitar has been there literally from its invention in the early 1930s. Here a selection of tracks (1949 to 1962) taken from the King master tapes (except for the John Lee Hooker track which existed only on lacquer) featuring most of the great guitar players who recorded for King, makes for a very engaging stringfest. The variety of styles showcased here is impressive. Compilation records, particularly the ones focused on a single instrument, are usually a mix of much that’s been heard before and a nugget or two worth the effort, but here the batting average is uncommonly high. While there are known quantities like Johnny "Guitar" Watson’s “Space Guitar,” where the reverb is turned up and he tries to sound like a little green man, a track like “The Big Push” by Cal Green and his Orchestra, a rare incorporation of a rock ‘n’ roll guitar into a big band, is a seldom heard diamond in the rough. There’s also a pair of tracks here by Jimmy Nolen, better known as the guitar player in the Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley-era James Brown band. While the “Chicken Scratch” was his trademark move on guitar, here he gets his T-Bone Walker on in the shuffle, “Strollin’ With Nolen.” One of T-Bone’s old friends, Roy Gaines, who’s the only person on this compilation still breathing, pays tribute to his mentor with the slow single notes and chording of “Gainesville.” The two Mickey Baker tracks are interesting, not only for Baker’s unmistakable tone, but also because in “Steam Roller” there’s a frantic organ part and in “Do What You Do” there are horns. None of these players are credited probably because both tracks were recorded in Paris where Baker lived. Oddly, while this single LP has a booklet of new liner notes by Escott, there is almost no session information, nor an explanation.

While the tracks by this record’s most famous names, the unrelated Albert and Freddie King, are ordinary, it’s “Stomp Boogie” by Texas Slim, aka John Lee Hooker that’s the real rarity here. Recorded under one of Hooker’s frequently used noms de musique, this short but very raw instrumental, with some sonic challenges, is a classic example of the man strumming and keeping his usual steady stompin’ trompin’ beat.

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

Bill Doggett, whose name appears on the album cover, played keyboards, mostly the B3.