Although the contributions of St Louis, MO to R&B are often unfairly overshadowed by those of its near neighbour, Chicago, IL, in the late 1950s and early 60s the city was a thriving and throbbing source of all that was and still is good in black American music. From the mid 50s onwards, Leo Gooden was an important local mover-and-shaker whose Blue Note Club was the focal point for almost everything that happened on the local scene. Gooden had the attention of the Lion brothers, founders of the otherwise-unrelated Blue Note Records and he was instrumental in bring several notable future stars, including guitarist Grant Green, to their attention via the bandstand of the club.
Besides this, his own ear for talent helped Leo Gooden put together one of the best musical aggregations of its time. Assembled initially to be the house band at the Blue Note, Leo’s Five soon took on an identity of their own. The driving rhythm section of drummer Kenny Rice – who’s still working in and around St Louis today – and organist Don James was something of a prototype for the small jazz-R&B combos that sprang to prominence in the early-mid 60s, such as those of Jimmy McGriff and Jimmy Smith. In addition the hard saxophony of tenor player Charles “Little Man” Wright led a horn section to die for. The tightness of their ensemble would have been the envy of every local musical outfit – and there were some pretty big outfits in St Louis and East St Louis in those days, including those of Ike Turner and Oliver Sain.
Although they never recorded for a major label, Leo’s Five enjoy as big a 21st century reputation among fans of soul jazz, mod jazz and new breed R&B as do many groups with a considerably higher profile. This CD brings together all of the best tracks from their rare, locally pressed 1960 album, augments them with an assortment of even rarer St Louis 45s, on which they appeared billed as that perennially popular favourite “instrumental accompaniment”, and tops the whole package off with two fantastic singles where they are fronted by a true blues guitar legend – and a man who sat in with Leo’s Five many times, in his prefame days – the late, great Albert King. All of this ultra-desirable, early 60s prefunk commands small fortunes in collector circles.
With notes by British born, St Louis based blues/R&B expert Bill Greensmith, reminiscences from Kenny Rice, fabulous photos and memorabilia, this is a set that no fan of cookin’ R&B instrumentals will want to be without.
By Tony Rounce and Roger Armstrong