(Savoy) "We give away more copies than we sell," moans a Savoy publicist. Too bad, because these nine double discs should be anything but the best-kept secret in Rock & Roll.
The Roots was begun in 1977 and a fresh volume has emerged every three months since, more or less. The first, titled simply, The Roots of Rock and Roll, presents an amalgam of early styles to which later volumes are entirely devoted. Wild Bill Moore, a Texas tenor sax player, kicks off side one with a 1947 recording of "We're Gonna Rock, We're Gonna Roll," one of the earliest references to R&R; in it, boogie woogie piano, screaming sax and uproarious vocals meet an immovable backbeat, and rock & roll is born. Other noteworthy artists introduced in this set are sax legend and wild man Big Jay McNeely, pianist/writer extraordinaire Sam Price and the little known but immensely talented and important blues singer from the Fifties, Big Maybelle. For the variety included, from very early Do-Wop to some of Rock & Roll's first shouters (Nappy Brown, etc.) to straight ahead boogie woogie rock, this LP is a perfect cross example of roots music. And as with all Roots volumes, the extensive and well-written liner notes are invaluable.
Volume 5, Ladies Sing the Blues (featuring Big Maybelle, Little Esther, Albinia Jones, Miss Rhapsody and Linda Hopkins) is a must-have primarily because of an entire side by Big Maybelle (eight tracks), one of the most explosive singers of all time. Born Mabel Smith in 1924, she reduced the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival to ashes with her performance. Unfortunately she died after a long bout with heroin in 1972. She is sorely missed.
Honkers & Screamers (vol. 6) is perhaps the most definitive Rock & Roll album in the series. This instrumental LP of very early (mostly around 1948) sax-led rock features Paul Williams (not the short blond mutant), Hal Singer, Big Jay McNeely (the main argument for this set) and other important sax screamers. McNeely's ferocious sax attacks coupled with some of Rock & Roll's earliest arrangements are powerful statements indeed. In a sense, this record hints at a very primative form of jazz rock: highly improvised yet controlled-by-the-arrangement sax playing is set against Jazz's traditional "walking bass" and pounded home with a solid 4/4 beat. Uplifiting stuff.
Also uplifting (to say the least) are four sides of Sam Price & the Rock Band (vol. 7): Backed by some of the most important players of the day--sax legend King Curtis and jazz guitarists Mickey Baker and Kenny Burrell, Price is a wonderfully versatile boogie woogie piano player and writer (he wrote or co-wrote all 25 tunes). This set, mostly from 1956-57, features Curtis at his absolute best; his stutters, yowls and screams on sax constitute the perfect Rock & Roll instrumental voice. When Sam Price and friends hit their boogie woogie stride on tracks like "Roll'em Sam," "Bar B-Q Sauce" and "Honky Tonk Caboose," nothing else seems to matter.
The Shouters(vol. 9), just released, presents frontmen like H-Bomb Ferguson, Nappy Brown and Gatemouth Moore in their earliest and most passionate incantations with performances showing the evolution-to-come of R&B-based rock singers.
Each release in this series is an important one and several are of the Highest Order of Rock & Roll importance. May it never end.