All of us have our recording collecting stories, particularly from the halcyon era of the early 1960s just as England was beginning to swing. Having said that, I couldn't recall how I acquired my treasured copy of the Smokey Smothers King LP until I caught sight of the rubber stamp on the well-worn inner sleeve: peter russell's hot record store, 24 market avenue, plymouth, england (dial 60255) records and hi-fi". The album probably cost something like 32/6d by mail order around 1963, just a few months after its release. As it turns out, the magical music apart, this LP has been a much better investment than punts in the City or Wall Street, the current value being in excess of $2,000. "
Little was I to know that almost 40(!) years later, I would be involved in the reissue of this classic blues LP. Then, of course, vinyl was forever and the shiny CD was not even a glimmer on the horizon.
When Smokey Smothers signed for King, label boss Syd Nathan gave producer Sonny Thompson a mandate that he wanted the artist to match the hotter-than-hot sounds of Jimmy Reed. But instead of being a nondescript Reed clone, Smothers injected his own warm personality into the proceedings. The killer difference, though, was that instead of a Reed-like harmonica being featured, Freddy King took the lead role on guitar and played his best ever Chicago old-school style on record.
Through the years, there has been an official LP reissue titled The Driving Blues on UK Polydor in 1969 and, I'm afraid, the inevitable not-so-official releases. I wanted our package to be something special to reflect the LP's exalted status, and I think we have accomplished that aim. When the tapes were called for, I asked not only for the LP and singles masters, but also for any outtakes. Imagine my delight when the custodian of the King vaults came up with the tapes from the original 25 August 1960 session, the one that featured Freddy King in his supreme moment as a sideman and when the 12 LP songs were recorded in one day. The other members of the immaculate backing group were Fred Jordan (second guitar) and ex-Tiny Bradshaw drummer Philip Paul. Actually most of the tracks were first released as singles on subsidiary label Federal before the King LP appeared in 1962. The singles and the LP sold poorly - hence the LP's rarity.
Bluesologist Dave Sax spent hours analysing the various takes (thanks, Dave!) with the result that we are able to present the LP tracks in their undubbed and unedited form for the first time. Not only this, but there are nine alternate tracks that are quite varied from the issued cuts. Just listen to the rejected take of You're Gonna Be Sorry, where Smokey cries out Play it, Freddy!" and Freddy does. The CD is rounded off by the four-title session for Federal from 1962. There is hot amplified harmonica work from Louis "Little" Boyd of the local Cincinnati group, the Bees, but without Freddy King, Jordan and Paul this is ragged session compared with its illustrious predecessor.
The accompanying highly-illustrated booklet contains essays by three authors:
> Leading record dealer John Tefteller explains why the ultra-rare LP is so highly respected (and valued) by collectors.
> My co-compiler Dave Sax details his analysis of the various takes while extolling the 1960 session.
> Chicagoan Bill Dahl gives a run-down on Smokey Smothers' career, based on a personal 1992 interview.
To cap it all, Duncan Cowell, of Sound Mastering Ltd, has mixed down the original 2-track tapes to give a belting mono sound that would have leapt out of the jukeboxes and radios of the day. Leonard Chess (if not Syd Nathan) would have approved.
Certainly, the revered King LP (plus...) could not have a better tribute on CD.
By John Broven"