How does a man who recorded the original versions of three of R&B’s most renowned songs – and, indeed, who wrote one of said songs himself – get to be as terminally obscure as the late Roy Hawkins? Between 1948 and 1951 he was one of Modern Records’ best-selling artists, and one of their brightest prospects for the future. The sides he cut for Modern had a profound influence on the next generation of blues and soul giants, and his biggest hits were revived by such notable ‘fans’ as Ray Charles, James Brown and B.B. King. Yet his career never took off in the way it ought to have done and, never found or interviewed during the 60s blues revival, he died before any of the next generation of researchers had the chance to interview him.
Yet Hawkins was such a hot commodity in his prime that he was called and called back to the studios enough times to make almost 60 masters, most of them within the space of just a couple of years. West coast blues aficionados have rightly celebrated their uniform excellence for decades, and they will be thrilled that Ace has at last put together “BAD LUCK IS FALLING”, a companion volume to its first Hawkins CD, “The Thrill Is Gone”, from 2000.
Whether recording with his own fantastic band, or the cream of LA’s session cats – including, for one memorable session covered herein, the great T-Bone Walker - the tracks Roy cut were always stylish and soulful. Like most R&B vocalists of his era he was more than a little under the spell of Charles Brown, but his own warm natural vibrato was always in evidence and it gave him an immediately identifiable edge over the many other Brownalikes of the period. And, of course, Hawkins was a considerably more adaptable bluesman than Charles in that he could cope with everything from the boogie rock of Highway 59 to the New Orleans-style strut of Welcome Home (unbelievably never issued prior to this CD). Even taking on something as seemingly incongruous as Maxwell Anderson and Kurt Weill’s beautiful September Song was not too great of a challenge, it would seem – although there may be a few blues purists out there for whom that’s perhaps one challenge too many.
“Bad Luck Is Falling” offers the balance of Hawkins’ Modern masters that have not yet made it to an Ace CD – including hitherto unreleased titles – plus the quartet of tracks than Modern purchased from Bob Geddins’ Down Town label in 1948, along with Roy’s contract. As an added bonus, it rounds these off with alternate takes of several of the man’s biggest selling Modern 78s and 45s, including one on his classic original of The Thrill Is Gone. All of the ‘alts’ that have been included offer subtle, but noticeable, differences to the originally issued masters. Audiophile blues fans will notice that, unlike the first volume where all the inclusions were in uniformly great sound, the quality here does occasionally slip below Ace’s preferred standards. This is wholly due to the extreme rarity of some of the material and, in a couple of cases, irreparable damage to our original acetate sources. We’re sure that any sonic defects are more than compensated for by the stunning music that’s evident throughout.
By Tony Rounce