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Serve It To The Right, CD (£11.50)
Our second volume of Smokey features more than two dozen boogies, shuffles, rumbas and urban-to-uptown items - many previously unreleased by this unique - and genuine - Texas Rhythm (and blues!) legend.
Hands up all those who remember Sailor's Delight, Paul Sailor" Vernon's frankly fabulous and still much-missed magazine from the late 1970s, which regularly showed that it was possible for the previously reverential (and often just plain po-faced) idiom of blues journalism to have a wickedly humorous side (and which, by the way, also featured some of the best set sale and auction listings that it's ever been this writer's eternal disappointment not to have enough F-olding to fully exploit at the time...)
Whatever your memories of SD, it's impossible to think about the mag without recalling Sailor's relentless written criticism of Smokey Hogg, or Dave "Latchford Slim" Clarke's equally-acerbic cartoon lampoons (see below, reproduced with Dave's permission). Funny they then were and still are, but they were also directly responsible for nurturing the tarnished reputation that the most excellent Texas bluesman Andrew "Smokey" Hogg still 'enjoys' - for want of a better word! - in certain collector circles.
It's true that Smokey's unique, even eccentric sense of timing has always rendered him a cottonpatch apart from the majority of his peers. It's also true that many of his best records display an enjoyably ramshackle quality, which makes them sound like segments of a longer song, where his various producers just turned the tape machine on and off for when they decided they'd got enough on tape. (According to Modern Records boss Jules Bihari, that's more or less what often did happen, with Jules waving his arms frantically from the recording booth when he wanted Smokey to knock it on the head!). But Smokey was by no means the only bluesman to bring eccentric timing and ramshackle recording qualities to the genre. If you don't believe me, may I refer you to the early recordings of the seldom-if-ever-criticised Mr. John Lee Hooker for full further proof of this...
Little by little over the past few years, Ace has been restoring the sheen on Smokey's unfairly tarnished image, via a series of compilations that will bring to catalogue the best of his 100+ Modern recordings, as well as other fine sides he cut around the same time for Combo and Recorded In Hollywood (both of which Ace also own nowadays). Ray Topping's splendid DEEP ELLUM RAMBLER (CDCHD 780) was as solid a showcase for Smokey's downhome side as anyone could ever hope to hear. And the honour of further excavation in the SH tape archive has now fallen to this writer, who hopes that you will be as appreciative of SERVE IT TO THE RIGHT as you were of Ray's previous superb volume.
This time around I have chosen to showcase as many musical moods of the Hoggster as the vaults would reveal. Thus you'll hear him alone, with his own solo guitar or a piano accompaniment that Tony Collins' fine notes speculate may also be the work of Mr. Hogg. You'll also hear him with a fine, jazzy combo led by Jake Porter, and rockin' out with Hadda Brooks' (and, on later sides, Willard McDaniel's) jumpin' little trio. You'll hear how Smokey's formative musical years were not only influenced by Big Bill Broonzy and John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, but also by the western swing of the Light Crust Doughboys and Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies. In short, you'll hear a far more versatile blues man than you might ever have imagined. And if you stick around for next year's already-complied Vol 3, Baby Don't You Tear My Clothes, you're guaranteed to hear more of the same.
Between 1947 and 1958 Smokey Hogg recorded several times a year, and cut several hundred sides, not only for Combo and Modern Records, but also for Blue Bonnet, Specialty, Exclusive, Imperial (on two occasions, several years apart), Top Hat, Recorded In Hollywood, Macy's, Sittin' In With, Federal, Ray's, Show Time, Ebb and Mercury. For someone who's spent most of the past 20 years being chiefly remembered as the unsuspecting victim of relentless lampooning, that's an awful lot of labels willing to take a chance on an alleged no-talent...
To be fair to his detractors - and as Tony Collins points out - "It's true that not all Smokey's output was of the highest quality...but most of his recordings stand up today as excellent examples of swinging, small-group, downhome blues. And Modern usually captured him at his best."
I can argue with none of those statements, especially the last one. Here's another generous portion of Smokey Hogg very much "at his best", with nothing to provoke a hint of a "yawn" or a "zzzzzz" from even the most diehard 'sea dog'. Now that's truly "delight"ful news, and not just for sailors either.
By Tony Rounce"