I’ve always liked a bargain. I’m the one that you’ll see in the supermarket with a basket laden with BOGOFs* and yellow-stickered reduced-to-clear items. I’m the same with records: why, I reason, pay an inflated price when, if you bide your time, the one you want will come along at a price which is kinder to the wallet.
So I was delighted when, some years ago, I went into my then local record shop in Redhill, Surrey and thumbed through the browser of blues LPs. There among the albums by Cray and various Kings, the Chess reissues and the latest releases on the proudly independent Red Lightnin’ label, were a batch of US imports at what seemed ludicrously cheap prices. The label was called United, the LP jackets had photos of black children on the front and on the back, and they were half the price of standard UK releases. I left with two Elmore James sets which included tracks that I hadn’t got on his Sue albums, a Memphis Blues compilation, and a broad grin.
That United label was one of several budget-priced LP lines operated by the Bihari brothers, original owners of the Kent/Modern group of labels which now belongs to Ace lock, stock and barrelhouse. Their first such label was Crown, launched in 1957, and A ROCK’N’ROLL DANCE PARTY was the reactivated label’s first budget LP, #5001 and selling in general stores, petrol stations and similar outlets for a princely 98 cents - about the same price as buying two 45rpm singles at that time.
A look at the original LP’s contents (the first 12 tracks in the listing) will prove that purchasers got themselves one heck of a bargain: a dozen prime black rockers and rockaballads which included bona fide hits like Marvin & Johnny’s Cherry Pie, originally a B-side before DJs flipped it over, the Teen Queens’ Eddie My Love and Etta James’ Dance With Me Henry, her turbocharged ‘57 model of her initial hit. Add a clutch of the always immaculate cover versions which peppered Modern’s release sheets of the 50s, like the Cadets doing Nappy Brown’s R&B rocker Don’t Be Angry and the Willows’ doo wop-bopper Church Bells May Ring, as well as a uniquely black slant on Heartbreak Hotel, and you have a strong selection. For me, the icing on the cake is provided by sax masterblaster Joe Houston’s perennial favourite All Night Long, the mellifluous Don’t Feel Sorry For Me by Jimmy Beasley who was up there with Joe Barry and Al T. Joe as a prime Fats Domino imitator, and one of those endearing oddities which the Biharis seemed so fond of, Joe Turner’s years-old Roll ‘Em Pete with a dubbed-on tenor sax, possibly played by Maxwell Davis on an unusually busy day - par for the course from the label which once issued a Boyd Gilmore single with the guitar solo from Elmore James’ Please Find My Baby parachuted into the middle of it.
In the early 60s the Biharis reissued the LP, with a “J” suffix added, but with six of the twelve tracks replaced - rather as Melodisc did with Prince Buster’s “I Feel The Spirit” LP a few years later. So here’s your BOGOF from Ace: those six substitutes are on this CD also (tracks 13 to 18). They perform better than England’s substitutes did in a recent, best-forgotten football campaign: B.B. King’s rockinest moment Bad Case Of Love, Long Tall Marvin’s ironclad rocker Have Mercy Miss Percy and Sunday Meetin’ Rock by one Johnny Allen (not the respected swamp-popper of that name) are the pick of them though, if you like wild and frantic, then Robbie Robinson’s berserk assault on the tenor sax Go Robbie Go may appeal.
Not only does ‘A Rock’Roll Dance Party’ give you two LPs (well, one and a half if you’re going to be pedantic about this) for the price of one, it adds no fewer than eight tracks from the Modern vaults, most of which have not been issued on Ace before. Indeed, Eddie Lang’s Come On Home apparently hasn’t been reissued anytime, anywhere, which is startling as this is a peach of a New Orleans R&B side cut, at Cosimo’s in 1956 with an uncredited but doubtless star-studded studio band. The other pure delight in this last section of the CD is one of Maxwell Davis’ rare outings under his own name - usually he was too busy writing, arranging, producing and playing for other artists. His Cool Diggin’ is one of those wonderful easy-grooving sax/ piano instumentals, fairly tuneless but marvellously atmospheric, in the vein of Sil Austin’s Slow Walk or Lala Wilson’s Sweetie Lester, and its title sums up its mood perfectly.
So here’s yet another bargain from Ace, an extended and appetising album which also totally lives up to its title. Incidentally, its follow-up Crown LP “A Hollywood Rock’n’Roll Record Hop”is due for similar treatment from Ace soon - BOGOF hunters will want to add that one to their baskets too.
Note for overseas readers and supermarketphobes: BOGOF = Buy One Get One Free.
By Mike Atherton