‘Tis the season to be jolly once again, and that means its also time for another groovy gallop through the Modern Records archives in an attempt to bring you EVEN MORE MELLOW CATS AND KITTENS than we have already done on two previous volumes of fabulous, early west coast R&B.
This, the third – and by no means final – instalment in the MC’N’K series once again draws on the early Modern acetates. In the label’s early days, Jules Bihari always recorded far more material than Modern could release, and anyone who has bought the previous two sets will agree that the quality of what Jules left on the shelf is little short of stunning. No less than 16 of this volume’s recordings have been confined to acetate for more than half a century, prior to their debut here. Every single one is as good as any master that actually was released at the time on Modern – and many are better.
It’s great to be able to welcome back several old friends from earlier volumes. The remaining four tracks from Butch Stone’s small-but-perfectly-formed cache of repertoire will doubtless be among everyone’s favourites. Other returnees include the Three Bits Of Rhythm, Clarence Williams, Helen Humes and Scatman Crothers, represented by sides that pretty much sum up the sound of late 40s/early 50s Central Avenue R&B. Herb Fisher is featured on an early take of his Imperial 78 Ride, Ride, Ride – one of his best Modern sides and, curiously, one of only two that the Biharis chose not to issue. If you like the Amos Milburn/Floyd Dixon sound, you can add Herb to your list of ‘must hear’s’ right away.
Also featured are artists who were essential players in the development of post-WWII R&B. You’ll know Jimmy Witherspoon, Johnny Otis and Hadda Brooks, but you may be less familiar with Big Jim Wynn or Felix Gross. You will certainly want to know more about both of these LA session stalwarts once you hear the previously unissued Stop – Skip Four Beats (Wynn) and Full House (Gross). Another amazing picker, the brilliant guitarist Mitchell “Tiny” Webb, can also be heard here to devastating effect on B Splat (one of Modern’s first releases) as a member of George “Happy” Johnson’s ‘sextette’ and, if anyone ever really manages to lift the veil of mystery that shrouds so many West Coast sessions, he’s probably on a good many of the other sides featured here.
Modern’s earliest days are also handsomely represented by pioneering female vocalists like Numa Lee Davis, Estelle Edison and Pearl Traylor – none of whose careers extended far beyond their Modern sessions. Many of these ladies are accompanied by a tight little combo under the leadership of soon-to-be-seminal bebopper Howard McGhee.
We also have a mystery lady on hand to Pitch A Boogie. All I can tell you for sure is that she isn’t “Sounders (sic) King” whose name is scrawled on the sleeve that houses her acetate.
Even if snow isn’t going to be a-glistening in your lane, and whether or not you plan to deck your halls and don your gay apparel, the “Mellow Cats” series – and this volume in particular - offers a darn fine pick-me-up for any seasonal hangover blues that you may be experiencing soon. Have yourselves a Mellow little Christmas, Cats ‘n’ Kittens – and be aware that we’ll be doing it all over again with instalment # 4 in exactly twelve months time!
By Tony Rounce