Ace's expanded CD reissues of original Crown albums are continuing to please most collectors out there especially those whose first introduction to Modern Records' great archive of R&B came via those Crown (just about!) vinyl pressings of the late 1950s and early 1960s. We've been delighted with the letters, e-mails and reviews that have told us that, no matter how many ways we could compile our Modern recordings, there's always going to be a soft spot in the hearts of long-time collectors for packages replicating what they originally bought on vinyl, all those years, even decades ago.
This month's supersizing of an original Crown album shines a spotlight on a mainstay of the Modern catalogue in its early days, the great Jimmy Witherspoon. Roger Armstrong has already expanded and reissued Spoon's early 60s Crown album "JW Sings The Blues", so I thought it only fair that the man's only other Crown set should form the next phase of our campaign to reissue all of Spoon's early Modern masters, and significant alternate takes, during the next couple of years. Those who have the original 1950s "Jimmy Witherspoon" album will be delighted to see that we have retained the superb original cover art, as well as expanding the original 10 tracks to 18, via the addition of several more 'of-the-period' Modern sides the majority of which have never been reissued legally on CD before.
Spoon was a prolific recording artist, to say the least and in the 60s especially it sometimes felt like he was releasing albums on a monthly basis. However, when "Jimmy Witherspoon" first came out, in the late 1950s, he was less well represented on long-playing vinyl. Thus the original Crown album would have been the first that many of Spoon's fans ever owned - particularly outside America, where imported vinyl was still a relatively scarce commodity. Even though it was assembled from tracks that had been recorded up to a decade earlier, the album hung together extremely well, thanks to careful sequencing on Joe Bihari's part that placed five late 40s live cuts on side one, and five of Spoon's best studio sides on side two. The tracks we've added now are all from sessions that were held around the same time, reaching as far back as his second Modern recording date on 31 December 1947 and coming up to one of the final sessions from Spoon's first period with Modern, in 1951. For all lovers of post-WWII West Coast R&B, it's a treat from beginning to end.
We get to hear rare examples of "live" R&B, exactly as it would have been heard at the massive audiorium shows of the late 1940s, with Witherspoon backed by the fine quartet of Gene Gilbeaux and, on the sparkling remake of his breakthrough hit 'Ain't Nobody's Business', by Roy Milton and his Solid Senders. We also hear Witherspoon in the studio with some of the greatest session cats of the day, among them tenor men Buddy Floyd, Maxwell Davis and future jazz legend Ben Webster, along with soon-to-be Combo Records founder and trumpeter Jake Porter, sublime guitarist Chuck Norris and Spoon's mentor and chief early booster, the great Kansas City pianist Jay "Hootie" McShann. The repertoire ranges from Spoon's wholly-successful attempts to hitch his wagon to the stars of Louis Jordan, Charles Brown and Wynonie Harris to the jazz-blues crossover ballads that Spoon always handled better than most of his contemporaries. With all tracks being directly remastered from the original Modern acetates, you're guraranteed never to have heard 'em so good as you will here!
"Jimmy Witherspoon" will soon be followed by further compilations of the man's Modern recordings. Between them (and this one), they will replace our vintage catalogue item "Blowin' In From Kansas City", the contents of which will be sonically upgraded and redistributed across what is currently envisaged to be at least two more sets of premium quality Spoon. Till then, you are cordially invited to DRINK BEER and HAVE A BALL, 'cause there's GOOD JUMPIN' TONIGHT and it AIN'T NOBODY'S BUSINESS but Spoon's and yours!
By Tony Rounce