Freed’s accomplishments as a pioneer DJ and promoter are incontrovertible. He may not have invented rock’n’roll, but his contributions to helping it achieve its mass acceptance will never be forgotten. His stage shows are the stuff of legend featuring, as they did, just about all of the biggest and best rockin’ stars of their generation. Those shows also featured a crack unit of musicians, drawn from the world of jazz and also from the busy New York session scene, backing up the main attractions when they had no band of their own and, during the shows, also stepping out on their own to deliver – more often that not – a piledriving saxblaster to keep the kids hoppin’ and boppin’ while they waited on the arrival of their next rock’n’roll hero.
Fronted through the years by tenor men of the calibre of the experienced Al Sears and Freddie Mitchell, the ubiquitous Sam “The Man” Taylor and the young King Curtis Ousley, the Alan Freed Big Band was not just a great rockin’ unit, it was also something of a last hurrah for the big bands of a previous era – bands that had been forced to downsize due to changes in public preferences and, ultimately, to the arrival of rock’n’roll itself.
At the height of his popularity, Freed gained a recording contract with Coral Records and, being a non-performer himself, used that contract to get the Alan Freed Big Band on wax. The musicians that made up the fluid line-up of the Band appeared on four Coral and Brunswick albums in a little under two years, the last of which was credited to the King’s Henchmen. The first of these has been reissued many times, both on vinyl and CD, but the recordings that were featured on the other three have been unavailable for almost half a century until now.
Thanks to the diligence and persistence of King Curtis expert Roy Simonds, and all-things-New York R& B font of knowledge Rob Hughes, the King’s Henchmen album and the AFBB tracks from the ‘middle two’ albums (both of which featured other artists, like Freed favourites Buddy Holly and Jackie Wilson) are finally getting a chance to tear up your turntable, under the general heading of “A Stompin’ Good Time”.
This CD – which has been mastered from freshly-minted transfers of the original album masters – contains some of the most exhilarating music that you will ever hear. Close your eyes and set your mind’s time machine to 1958, and you will almost be able to see these titans of the tenor chasing solos all over the stage in an attempt to outdo each other, all the while being cajoled by Freed into going to ever-greater lengths to achieve their maximum excitement levels.
By Tony Rounce