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Rockin' At The Drive In, CD (£11.50)
AS I'VE MENTIONED elsewhere in this issue of RT, we have a whole lot of Combo and Modern compilations goin' on at Ace Towers this year. As the compiler and overseer of many of these CDs (plus compilations drawing upon other labels that Ace owns outright, such as Sensation and Flip) I can say with considerable confidence that it's going to be a bumper year for all lovers of vintage West Coast black music. And what better way to get the 2004 programme under way than with a first ever CD reissue of one of the greatest instrumental rock'n'roll albums of 'em all!
What else could I be talking about but Joe Houston's immortal Rockin' At the Drive In set? Cut for Jake Porter's Combo label across several sessions in 1956 and 1957, and featuring the Wild Man Of The Tenor Sax" at his considerable wildest, the CD release of this classic album comes almost 20 years to the day after Ace's original, slightly amended vinyl issue. Down the years we have often been asked when a CDfication of CH 120 is coming out, and now it's here we hope no one will be disappointed with this even-further-expanded version.
Besides the additional 11 tracks that this CD adds to CH 120, there are several other subtle differences that will add to its overall appeal. The original vinyl featured several tracks that have already been reissued on Ace CD's - notably on our compilation Honk! Honk! Honk! (CDCHD 781) and our previous volume of Joe Houston, JH Blows Crazy! (CDCHD 772). Rather than repeat them again here, we've used good alternate takes of the same song where such things exist and other repertoire where they don't. Thus nothing you hear here has ever appeared on a Joe Houston CD before - at least, not legally - and many things have simply never appeared on anything before! As is documented in the sleevenotes (written by one T Rounce) Joe Houston cut most of his recordings on the fly, working for whoever was prepared to give him some session time without heeding such contracts as he might have signed elsewhere. He recorded as both a leader and sideman for Jake Porter pretty much throughout the 1950s, and the sides that came out under his own name were often booze-fuelled, one-or-two take masterpieces that were released as recorded, with little regard for bum notes and occasional volume surges. Jake had a bar in his home studio, and thus it was that the longer the sessions ran, the looser the participants became. This - as far as I'm concerned, anyway - is all part of their charm.
The surviving Combo tapes are not always in the greatest of shape, and some painstaking repair work has had to be undertaken in places by our friends downstairs at Sound Mastering. You will hear how spectacular the results have been when you listen to Joe's Blues especially. This was assembled from three incomplete performances of the same jam - not that you'd ever know that otherwise when you hear the six minutes of sheer L-O-U-D excitement that SML have created from what were essentially little more than surviving scraps of tape. They have also worked their magic wonderfully on the title track and the one-off rehearsal performance of Joe's Hot House that's being used in place of the master. Hats and whole heads should be doffed to the guys wherever rock'n'roll is heard and appreciated!
Rockin' At The Drive-In boasts one of the great album covers of all time, and inside that cover there's one heck of a session of instrumental west coast rock'n'roll at its greasiest. Those who can't get enough of this honkin' stuff will thrill to the knowledge that a further volume, containing the balance of Houston's Combo recordings, is already being A&R'd. In the meantime it's time to put on your dancin' shoes and lose the blues as we go Rockin' At The Drive-In with the one-and only wild man of the tenor sax blowing 'All Night Long' as only he can!
by TONY ROUNCE