A lot has already been said in these pages about the Excello label, both on the quality of its artists and its influence on the on-going development of popular music. Compilations such as No Jive! (CDCHD 652) and Wail Daddy! (CDCHD 653) have opened our eyes to the wealth of sterling, and sometimes startling, blues performances that reside in the company's vaults.
By contrast, Swamp Blues is a brilliantly executed sampling of the vibrant blues scene in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in the summer of 1970. Recorded over the course of four hot August days, the sessions were produced by R&B monthly editor and Blue Horizon boss Mike Vernon. In his detailed and informative notes, Mike gives a flavour of the voyage of discovery that people like he, Mike Leadbitter and John Broven and I embarked upon during the 60s. They were exciting times, taking the train up to London to find Guy Stevens' record stall just off Cambridge Circus, where boxes of bright orange Excello 45s tempted the passing populace. Returning home, Mike Vernon & I would incorporate the latest Lightnin' Slim and Lazy Lester songs into the repertoire of our R&B group, which was briefly inflicted upon our South London neighbours. Years later, Mike was able to release albums by Slim and Lester, Slim Harpo, Lonesome Sundown, Silas Hogan and Arthur Gunter on Blue Horizon and it was through that agreement that the Swamp Blues sessions were first mooted and then realised. Ideally, Mike would have liked Lightnin' Slim and Lazy Lester to be present but he was more than happy to bring together Silas Hogan, Whispering Smith, Arthur 'Guitar' Kelley, Clarence Edwards and ex-Howlin' Wolf pianist Henry Gray. Mike's decision to split the sessions between group and solo recordings was undoubtedly the right one. By doing so, he allowed the artists to perform their blues in a decidedly contemporary vein before reaching back into the older styles which had been their formative influences. It's hard to believe nearly 30 years have elapsed since these recordings were made, for gathered here on one CD their immediacy remains intact.