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Straight To Watts: The Central Avenue Scene 1951-54 Vol 1 (MP3), MP3 (£7.99)
The cool side of West Coast post-WWII R&B, as captured by Jake Porter's Combo Records. If you couldn't make the party in person on LA's Central Avenue during the early 50s, here's the next best thing to being there.
To the north and west of Los Angeles' famed Central Avenue and to the south and east of Hollywood is where trumpeter/producer/ songwriter Jake Porter ran his little Combo label out of his home on a tiny budget. Thanks to that small budget, Jake got by by recording talent either at the beginning or near the end of their careers. Combo's one big hit, Ko Ko Mo (I Love You So), was taken away when the act, Gene & Eunice, signed with the larger Aladdin label.
But, at least, Jake managed to keep a piece of the song itself, which earned some nice bucks via cover versions by the Crew Cuts, the Flamingos, Perry Como and even Louis Armstrong. Pachuko Hop by tenor sax man Chuck Higgins sold well locally, especially among Mexican-American teens.
On this set, we have the Combo act which went on to the biggest success, Johnny Guitar" Watson, when he was still the singing piano player in Higgins's band. Motor Head Baby is Watson's recording debut and he also does Stormy.
Among those winding down their careers on Combo are guitarist Gene Phillips, one of Modern's early hitmakers, and Southwest bandleader Ernie Fields, whose T-Town Mambo, heard here, owes a nod to his earlier T-Town Blues. From the same era, Jack McVea and Christine Chatman perform, too.
Floyd Dixon is presented with one side of his only Combo record and a track previously heard only on an earlier Ace LP. Floyd, who had just left Specialty at the time of this date, is accompanied by Johnny Moore's Three Blazers, with whom he made a couple of sessions for Aladdin.
Frankie Ervin's only claim to fame came later, when record collectors found out that he was the lead singer on the Shields' You Cheated. Prior to that, Frankie had made a number of records for Modern and Federal, among others.
As Jim Dawson notes, Betty Hall Jones is today confined to a home, where she suffers from Alzheimer's disease. When I saw her perform a couple years back, the condition was already upon her, causing her to sing her biggest song, This Joint's Too Hip For Me, three times in the same set!
The ubiquitous Smokey Hogg, who Porter said was one of his best selling artists, shows up with one of his unique blues. Watts's William "Brother" Woodman, whose brother, Britt, played trombone with Duke Ellington, also recorded for Jake, here with his wife, Candy Rivers. Candy had put in time with Joe Liggins, notably on one of Joe's best songs, One Sweet Letter, covered by the Ravens and Patti Page.
A couple of the songs themselves deserve mention. For one, Jake's own risque The Monkey, another being Rozelle Gayle's version of the now-standard, The House Of Blue Lights. An unknown female vocalist attacks Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad, better known to rockers in a version by Wanda Jackson.
Here's a nice cross section of Los Angeles acts, all recorded in the home of our man, Jake Porter."