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Drinkin' & Stinkin', CD (£7.43)
When Ray Topping assembled the first Ace CD compilation of Gene Phillips' Modern recordings a few years ago, he promised that a second volume would eventually be forthcoming. It's taken us a couple of years to make good on that promise - some of the acetates for repertoire that Ray didn't use were heavily worn or damaged in some way, and the Sound Mastering audio geniuses have had to devote long (if ultimately rewarding) hours to their restoration. But on the understanding that good things always come to those who wait, we're delighted at last to bring forth - as a valuable addition to our fast-expanding 10-inch series - Drinkin' And Stinkin', a most worthy companion to 1999's Singing The Blues (CDCHD 746).
Gene Phillips was one of the first important artists to be signed by the fledgling Modern Music Company back in 1946, and probably ranks as the label's second-most important early signing behind Hadda Brooks. Even though he was only signed to the label as an artist for 3-4 years, he enjoyed a lengthy subsequent association with the Bihari brothers' West Coast R&B indie as a sideman. (It's recently been established that he played on the Oscar McLollie sessions from 1955, and indeed he may well have continued his relationship with Modern beyond then...)
This CD, of course, deals with Gene's recordings under his own name. And what recordings they are! Despite an obvious debt to the oeuvre of R&B megastar Louis Jordan - and, let's face it, if your music is going to owe anything to somebody else's, Mr Jordan's is not the worst repertoire in the world to be indebted to - they are, without exception, fabulous examples of proto-R&B as it was beginning to shake the shackles of jazz, and to emerge as a valid music form in its own right. Just a few years after these sides were recorded, the Treniers made a fine record called It Rocks! It Rolls! It Swings! The music of Gene Phillips and his Rhythm Aces was, and still is, tailor-made to suit such a description...
In selecting the repertoire for this set, I re-listened to every surviving take on these masters and chose those I felt were the best, regardless of whether or not the takes in question were those originally designated as the "master" by Jules Bihari. Since I've become more deeply involved in the Modern reissue programme I've realised that the Bihari-approved take was, in many case, merely the last complete one of the session in question, rather than the best one, and that there were often far better takes lurking further to the front of any given acetate or tape. In presenting these in preference to a "master" I'm certainly not trying to second-guess the Bihari brothers - I'm merely attempting to give the listener (and, hopefully, the buyer!) the best possible representation of this tremendously underrated R&B pioneer. More than half of these performances have never been reissued in any format, and 8 of the takes I've unearthed for your listening pleasure have never been issued at all!
There are many treats here, from the adrenaline-fuelled R&B bounce of Boogie Everywhere, Royal Boogie and 304 Boogie (the latter titled by Mr Topping - in respect of the fact that its matrix number is MM 304!) to the witty Jordanesque blues of Stinkin' Drunk (the lyric of which provides our title here), Women Women Women and a personal favourite, Getting Down Wrong. There are also two rare opportunities to hear Gene live, coming to you from Frank Bull and Gene Norman's 1951 "Blues Jamboree". Despite the fact that these performances were severely truncated for issue (and, sadly, no original unedited acetate survives) they demonstrate what a great thing a Gene Phillips gig must have been back in the day.
The 19 tracks here represent the balance of Gene's Modern/RPM catalogue, and their reissue in the 10 inch series means that at least one take of everything he recorded for the Biharis as a bandleader is now available on an Ace CD. And well might they be, for this is great music from beginning to end, and music that the passage of more than half a century has done nothing to impair its vivacity of. Gene Phillips' career as a leader may have been over long before the birth of rock'n'roll, but these stupendous recordings show that, as a vocalist and musician, he has as much claim to have been in on R&R's midwifery as any of his more famous contemporaries.
by Tony Rounce