And still they come.
We rattled off three Kent/Modern sourced LPs pretty quickly in the early 80s, now we’re up to six 24 track CDs and counting. That’s not bad for a label primarily associated with the blues and we’ve doffed our caps a little more to that genre on this latest instalment.
Arguably the later 60s and early 70s blues recordings have been under-represented on Ace, as that era doesn’t seem to be particularly favoured by blues fans. Possibly it’s because of the soul music influences creeping in, but that is all the more reason for a few to be represented here. Al King’s My Name Is Misery is a case in point, though influenced by fellow King, B.B., the clean and crisp Maxwell Davis production utilises a horn section so good it could have helped out in Memphis, had that city’s brass musicians ever been abducted. Tommy Youngblood’s Back In The Saddle has that languid, sexy West coast feel to it so apparent on Johnny Watson’s records; whereas the unexpected bonus find of an unissued Jimmy McCracklin track is sung in a more traditional, doleful, piano blues, ballad style.
Other acts like Johnny Copeland, Vernon Garrett and Gene Taylor perform at that tough arena where soul meets the blues and all three acts give rousing renditions of that hybrid. Early “Birth Of Soul” contenders from Marvin Phillips, Billy Watkins and Little Henry & the Shamrocks are more doo wop-influenced, the Marvin Phillips’ track being a particularly fine unissued master which is debuting here.
And then there are the out-and-out soul sides. Mary Love, Jackie Day, the Ikettes and Felice Taylor represent the distaff side and as ever their contribution is solid soul singing on some choice West coast compositions. We thought we’d mopped up all of the recently departed Jackie Day’s Modern sides but we have a future treat outlined in the sleevenotes. Fast, funky and frenetic sums up the late 60s contributions of the Windjammers and the Four Tees, whereas Bobby White and Frank Armstrong’s one-off, off the wall contributions defy most soul conventions; but are captivating nonetheless.
Soul ballads are in that southern style beloved by Los Angelinos. Willie Gauff and his everlovin’ Love Brothers, Jeb Stuart, Freeman King (our only artist ever to have appeared in Hill Street Blues) and the aforementioned Ms Day give us four of the very best.
My favourite association has to be with Terry & The Tyrants and their final Kent recorded track Love Me To Death. Group member and co-composer Jimmy Russell took some time out to show me around LA the last time I was there and the visit to Modern’s South Normandie Avenue studios, offices and pressing plant helped me visualise the operation. His enthusiasm for, and championing of, producer Maxwell Davis, who helped create many of the tracks on here, was also most instructive and will hopefully lead to further projects.
Studying a specific label group like this one is a never-ending learning process for us all and I’m finding out more facts and insights as my brief grows ever wider. The research to find out the provenance of the Marvin Phillips’ track alone took up one afternoon. But it’s also a very rewarding task and the smile I got from reading Jim Dawson’s sleeve note description of Willie Headen’s shoe-shine and singing ventures was priceless (and quoted).
By Ady Croasdell