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Big Joe Louis & His Blues Kings/The Stars In The Sky, CD (£11.50)
In his sleeve notes for the original 1989 vinyl issue of half of this 2CD set, producer/ renowned blues fan and expert Mike Vernon describes the sound of Big Joe Louis and his Blues Kings as being "...as tough as it gets this side of the pond", going on to say that "there simply was not another UK band...playing such uncompromising...juke joint down home blues (at that time)". Ever the astute judge of musicianship then and now, Mike was right on the money on both counts. And, happily, he still is, because BJL and his current line up of BK's are still the UK's most committed blues aggregation in 2002 (as Vernon himself again confirms in the all-new notes for this package...)
To say Joe and co. are better now than they were when they cut these sides more than a decade ago would be the truth, obviously. A honing-of-craft that only 10+ years of gigging could bring - and gigging everywhere from shoeboxed-sized rooms behind smoky pubs, to major world-wide blues festivals as far apart as Burnley and Belize - would render any other assertion a lie. But as you'll hear here, there never was a time when this band wasn't hotter than a proverbial two-dollar pistol, or smokin' like a roomful of beagles at laboratory-test time...
Big Joe's personal commitment to the blues (he's both a living archive of R&B information and a die-hard record collector) echoes that of another, earlier non-American artist who has dedicated his life to the same medium - John Mayall. Like Mayall, Joe's own abilities as a bluesman are on a par with those who have influenced him down the years, making him as much of the real deal as yer Muddy or Wolf (OK, he may not have 'enjoyed' their kind of personal hardships, but growing up close to the poverty and squalor that is a way of life in Kingston, Jamaica has given BJL a blues perspective that someone who achieved their adolescence in the semi-suburbia of Kingston, Surrey could not possibly have the same handle on!) And again like Mayall, he's worked with the finest musicians of his era to produce a body of work that can easily hold its own with that of the vintage artists he so admires. Along with four previously unreleased stormers that were originally excluded only because they wouldn't fit the finite running time of a vinyl LP, the early part of that 'body' can now be heard on CD for the first time, courtesy of Ace's new 2CD expansion of the original 1989 album of - and by! - Big Joe Louis And His Blues Kings.
There's an honesty and vitality about those first recordings that was still present three years later when BJL and band made their second good rockin' album with Vernon The Stars In The Sky - a former Dutch-only release that's now available here, at no extra cost, as the second half of our value-packed programme. These qualities have continued to be the hallmark of the Blues Kings' live and studio work, as you will know if you have either bought their mid 90s Ace album Big Sixteen - still available on CDCH 622 - or caught any of their more recent live performances as the new century has gotten under way.
When the first BJL album came out at the end of the 1980s, CD was still a relatively new-fangled thing and many record buyers were still not entirely convinced about its longevity. Some albums were still coming out in a vinyl-only format, and Big Joe Louis And His Blues Kings was one such album. We've been regularly asked about the prospect of a CD issue down the years since that vinyl issue was deleted. And now, in all its raw R&B glory and laden with a good hour's worth of added extras, here it is...
...you can run, but you can't hide, from the hard hitting musical uppercut of Big Joe Louis, London's foremost heavyweight of the Blues! First round knockout or what?
By Tony Rounce