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Blues For The Red Boy: The Early Sensation Recordings, CD (£11.50)
Back in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Detroit was still mostly famous for its automobile production and was very much the upcomer from a musical standpoint. John Lee Hooker had only just arrived in town, Johnnie Ray had not yet begun to wow 'em at the Flame Show Bar and the young future record mogul Berry Gordy was still splitting his time between the assembly line, the boxing ring and early attempts at songwriting. As elsewhere in the USA, big band jazz was on its last legs, and musicians that had cut their teeth on jazz were now making their living playing the harder, faster and more vibrant new format that hip folks around the country were calling Rhythm and Blues. Even though Detroit's major musical revolution was still a few years off in 1947, the times they were just beginning to be a-changing. And the Todd Rhodes Orchestra was at the vanguard of change, its music pointing the way forward to the rock'n'roll era while still maintaining its links with the fast dying swing years.
Blues For The Red Boy brings together the best of the Todd Rhodes Orchestra's recordings for Bernie Besman's Sensation Records, as cut in Detroit between 1947 and 1951. As well as the famous title track - later retitled Blues For Moondog and used by Alan Freed as his radio show theme when he was still broadcasting out of Cleveland - the repertoire here includes all of the orchestra's justifiably famous jumpin' rearrangements of classical pieces by the likes of Greig and Rachmaninoff, a heap of rockin' Rhodes-written original boogies and blasters and a selection of groovy vocals by the band's resident chick" singer Kitty Stevenson and "singing waiter" Louie Saunders. The sleeve notes, by the world's #1 Rhodes expert and fan, Jim Gallert, tell the fascinating story of the Todd Rhodes Orchestra in incredible detail, and also give the reader a fascinating insight into the kind of life led by working musicians in Detroit in the days before Motown made the city a household musical name.
As well as being a bandleader and musician of no small repute, Todd Rhodes was quite the talent spotter. Many of the musicians who later found fame as part of Motown's celebrated Funk Brothers got their start in the Rhodes band. Among them was the great drummer Benny Benjamin, who powered just about every important Motown recording from the 60s and whose earliest recorded work can be heard here.
At the time of these sessions, Rhodes' favoured arranger was a young Johnny Allen who, in the 60s and 70s (and to this day, actually!) would also find gainful employment sorting out the string sections at Motown, and also on just about every record produced by Don Davis for Golden World and, subsequently, Stax/Volt. Following the premature passing of Kitty Stevenson - whose entire catalogue of work is heard here, save for a few unissued and seemingly lost masters - Rhodes took on another young Detroit-based gal who was building a name for herself at the Flame Bar but who had not yet recorded. Her name? La Vern Baker-.-although she's not featured here ...
Not only does the CD boast phenomenal sound quality throughout, it also features many alternate takes that are, in our opinion, considerably better than those originally released. And on top of all this, it contains a generous helping of completely unissued masters, which have been consigned to audio limbo hitherto for over half a century. To be able to give this material the kind of presentation it has truly always deserved is a matter of some pride for Ace, and it must be said that our buddies at Sound Mastering have surpassed even their usual immaculate standards with this one - such is the power of sound here that it couldn't really sound that much better if you were actually standing in the Detroit studios at the moment of recording!
Regrettably, many of the Rhodes band's Sensation and King masters have lately been subject to slipshod, non-endorsed, Out-Of-Copyright anthologising by "les usual suspects", utilising their own by-now-standard (make that substandard!) remastering techniques. Blues For The Red Boy is the first and only 100% legitimate CD reissue of these sides - and as Ace owns the copyrights and the actual Sensation acetates and/or mastertapes, you can believe that legitimacy is not an issue here! We will also be paying a royalty to Rhodes' 94-year old widow Annie Mae - something else that 'les freres OOC' will doubtless not be doing...
By Tony Rounce"