A name familiar to vintage rock’n’roll aficionados via novelty-tinged Specialty 45s such as Hiccups, Roddy Jackson was in actual fact a raw, piano-pounding screamer whose most rocking material was banished to the vault. “CENTRAL VALLEY FIREBALL” aims to correct that injustice by compiling for the first time Roddy’s complete 1950s recordings.
The Central Valley was ground zero for Californian rock’n’roll back in the mid-1950s, populated by a swathe of culturally disenfranchised teens primed for action. When Roddy and his band the Blue Notes came bursting out of the town of Merced in 1956, they burned a path that folks are still talking about today, half a century later. A blonde-headed wildman with a hamburger-throated voice to match, Jackson was also, unusually for the era, an accomplished writer and player, but what is most different about his musical background is its integrated, multi-racial flavour. The Blue Notes were a unique mix of black, Hispanic and Caucasian who came together at Merced High, bound purely by their love of music. They were also fortunate to have the support of the avuncular George Coolures, Fire Chief of Merced, as documented on the unmissable Ace compilation “Get Your Kicks On Route 99” (CDCHD 1026).
By his own admission, Jackson was out of control in those years. Driven to the extreme, he pushed Chief to get the band signed to Los Angeles’ famed Specialty imprint. When the labels A&R staffer Sonny Bono inked Jackson, but not the Blue Notes, the singer loyally refused to quit the group, but nevertheless grew increasingly estranged from them with solo recording sessions and out of state appearances. Bono and Art Rupe attempted to put Roddy in the same novelty bag as Little Richard (Baby Face etc), but where Jackson shines on record is with his own originals and an amazing, carthartic presence. “Central Valley Fireball” comprises the surviving Specialty singles and studio masters, rare audition tapes and, as a bonus, a couple of the singer’s home recordings, including his original demo of She Said Yeah, made famous by Larry Williams and later a 60s rock standard in the hands of the Rolling Stones, Animals etc.
Jackson has recently returned to the stage to wow audiences on both sides of the Atlantic as one of the last surviving, truly authentic 1950s performers. Any fan of vintage rock’n’roll should not miss him in person – but start by digging these amazing nuggets from California’s original wildman.
By Alec Palao