When Modern Records' president Jules Bihari set off on his 1947 field trip to Houston, Texas, he was looking for among other things an act that would rival R&B's biggest name of the time, Amos Milburn. He'd received a tip about a teenage boogie piano prodigy, who could both bang the ivories and sing in a most Milburnesque manner and who had already put out a poorly-recorded, locally-distributed 78 that had sold like hotcakes. Bihari only had to hear Willie Littlefield's other repertoire to know that Modern had found their answer to Milburn, right there in the heart of Houston.
Bihari signed Littlefield to a deal that spanned around three years and yielded around fifty masters, including some of the best "boogies, blues and bounce" of the period. Little Willie Littlefield soon showed that he was much more than merely a Milburn clone, and his recordings prove time and time again that he has as much right to the title "R&B Legend".
What we have for you this month is the long-awaited second volume of Willie's best Modern recordings. Where the earlier "Kat On The Keys" focused primarily on Willie's later Modern sessions, BOOGIE, BLUES AND BOUNCE brings you the killer cuts from his earliest dates for the label, stretching all the way back to a 1947 audition session that Jules Bihari had the foresight to preserve for the delight of future R&B fans!
Here are the sides that built LWL's reputation as a boogie bluesman par excellence, ranging from the cool blues of his Houston-recorded breakthrough hit, It's Midnight, to cerebrally-blasting R&B rockers that were cut in Los Angeles with the cream of the Central Avenue session scene.
Many of the best tracks here included went unreleased until Ace started to reissue Modern's catalogue in the early 1980s, and many of those have been unavailable since the advent of CD. Ace's purchase of Modern in the early 1990s has revealed yet more unissued LWL performances than were originally thought to exist, including a second vocal/piano demo session from 1947 featuring prototype versions of several songs that, with full band accompaniment, would form some of Willie's earliest Modern singles. Despite the ragged quality of this source material sometimes, these are some of Willie's best-ever recordings and we're delighted to premiere them.
Talking of "ragged", not all of the Modern acetates have survived in the kind of condition that one might like, and some of the acetates from Littlefield's earliest full sessions have survived less well than most. Their raw quality has given the Sound Mastering team something of a challenge, but as is always the case they have improved the technical quality without compromising the integrity of the performances. You may hear a few more ticks and pops here than you do on most of Ace's Modern reissues, but the great performances will always win out over the odd click or two.
Although the release of "Boogies, Blues And Bounce" completes Ace's LWL reissue programme for now, there are still several excellent alternate takes in the vault not to mention the remainder of Willie's original audition session for Jules Bihari. We hope that we'll be able to bring at least some of these to you in forthcoming Modern multi-artist compilations. Meanwhile we know you're gonna dig what Willie's putting down on these fantastic sides from almost half a century ago. In the words of the man himself "C'mon Kats, Let's All Get In The Groove" .
By Tony Rounce