Chicago blues on Federal Records, the King subsidiary, is most notably personified by Freddy King's hit singles, and maybe the legendary collectors' album that Otis (Smokey) Smothers waxed with a major contribution from Freddy. These landmarks are both well documented on Ace. More Federal Chicago blues were gathered by Ace in 1999 on "Chicago Blues From Federal Records" (CDCHD 717). Those 22 tracks still left more than enough for a strong sequel. Indeed, "Welcome To The Club" proves to be a killer, with confirmation, reiteration and guaranteed revelations for blues and R&B fans.
As Bill Dahl recounts in another excellent note, Chicago pianist/A&R man Sonny Thompson was the local driving force for Federal, and to some extent stepped into the breach left by the demise of Eli Toscano's Cobra and associated labels. From 1959 through most of the 60s, Thompson directed an impressive array of Chicago talent to King and Federal, usually overseeing and often playing on their Cincinnati sessions which yielded a skilled blend of contemporary trappings and a blues base.
"Welcome To The Club" showcases the rousing 1964 R&B title tune by Lee "Shot" Williams (successful enough to be covered quickly for Checker by Little Milton) and three powerful blues by "Shot" featuring sterling guitar by fellow Federal artist Bobby King (see CDCHD 717). Stalwart singer/ guitarist Syl Johnson's contribution to Federal by introducing Freddy King to them is substantial enough. Unfairly, the dozen songs for Federal which started his own recording career are too often overlooked - as is his role as one of true pioneers of the famed "West Side" style of driving, percussive Chicago blues guitar. His six tracks here range from striking blues ballads (with creative input from Chicago soul veteran Howard "Seaphus" Scott) through two R&B remakes with nice guitar solos to a storming '61 coupling: (She's So Fine) I Just Gotta Make Her Mine / I've Got To Find My Baby is one of the great Chicago blues guitar singles, way overdue for reissue. As a point of interest, the attractive cover photograph of Syl was taken in a Chicago club in 1960 by revered blues authority Paul Oliver. Paul told me that Syl was the youngest artist he interviewed at the time for his noted book Conversation With The Blues.
Eddy Clearwater's cuts on CDCHD 717 are rounded out with two more appealing Chuck Berry-styled workouts here. Then singer/guitarist Danny Overbea (of 40 Cups Of Coffee fame and whom we remember working at Clearwater's West Side record store in the mid-70s) contributes I'm Tired Of Being Tossed Around, which he recalled to notewriter Dahl with probably less charity than is warranted.
That leaves the biggest surprise: nine of the eleven songs from a May 1960 marathon session by the Oklahoma-based aggregation led by drummer Wright and featuring vocalists Sammy Jr Faggitt and Jesse Anderson (also a saxophonist credited by "Lee Shot", but not the official papers, with writing You're Welcome To The Club). The group's tracks are as tough from top to bottom as they are obscure, whether it's the extended grinding, riffing instrumentals Gibble Gobble and Bloodhound, the previously unheard slow guitar blues of Hard Times (complete with a signature lick borrowed from Federal alumnus Johnny "Guitar" Watson), and Sufferin' In Mind or the unissued but rocking I Want To Love You. Anderson, who also has two strong cuts in his own name, gave a colourful account to Bill Dahl of the band's Cincinnati excursion that rivals the music in vividness and enjoyment. "Welcome To The Club" is an eye-opener for even the most experienced blues collector. That makes the thought of the next instalment almost scary. Meanwhile, there's a memorable, consistently rewarding blues "club" here to frequent again and again.
A most refreshing release.
By Dick Shurman