Limited edition of 1500.
The growth of rock music during its halcyon days of the 1950s is dotted with acts that, despite their obvious talent and revered recorded output, simply missed the one thing they craved most: a hit record to make them a household name. Tiny Topsy and Lula Reed are perfect examples.
Tiny Topsy died at the young age of 34. As a consequence, her recorded legacy matched her stage name. Her entire output consisted of just seven singles: five on Federal between 1957 and 1959, one on Chess subsidiary Argo in 1961 and the final release, a year before her untimely death in 1963, on King (a remix of two songs originally issued separately on Federal). Her recordings were small in number, but totally enjoyable.
Topsy was one of those marvellous big-voiced women, in the vocal style of Big Maybelle and LaVern Baker, who possessed a set of lungs to match her 250 pound physique. Her recordings range from the bouncy Baker-esque ‘Aw! Shucks Baby’ to driving rockers such as ‘Come On, Come On, Come On’ and ‘You Shocked Me” and the novelty number ‘Western Rock’n’Roll’, which spotlights popular hits of the day, including ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ and ‘Lollipop’. Topsy’s rarest 45 – which paired her original version of Roscoe Gordon’s 1960 hit ‘Just A Little Bit’ and the soulful ‘Everybody Needs Some Loving’ – made a fitting finale to her Federal career in 1959.
A Tiny Topsy LP emerged from Denmark in 1988, but the songs were all mastered too fast. In recent years, a bootleg CD of her recordings has also surfaced, but it clearly uses the Danish LP as a source and consequently suffers from the same speed issues. Ace’s reissue is, of course, mastered from new transfers of the original master tapes, and therefore does not.
Lula Reed’s early 60s recordings are a perfect follow-up to those of Tiny Topsy. Throughout her career, Lula was backed almost exclusively by the band of pianist Sonny Thompson, who eventually became her husband. Unlike Topsy, Ohio-born Lula’s career is better documented on CD reissues, her earlier sides for King Records having featured on Ace’s “I’ll Drown In My Tears” (CDCHD 984). After departing King in 1956, she and Sonny spent the later part of the 1950s in recording limbo, apart from a short stint at Chess in 1958 where Lula featured on three unsuccessful Argo releases.
Her recording career reignited when she returned to King in 1961, the period captured here. In contrast to her earlier sides, the Federal recordings display a more mature and tougher sounding Lula. Her first Federal release ‘I’m A Woman (But I Don’t Talk Too Much)’ could almost be viewed as a sequel to Tiny Topsy’s ‘A Woman’s Intuition’. The next, the funky rocker ‘Puddentane’, set the tone for her soulful delivery of all her other Federal sides, including the great duets with Freddy King that feature here as bonus tracks.
It’s unfortunate that both ladies are no longer with us. Although neither troubled the national charts of their day, their recordings clearly do not deserve the obscurity they have endured for the past 50 years. Here for the first time on CD are the complete Federal recordings from two of R&B’s finest Queens.
By Tony Watson