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Hands Off! The 1950-1956 Modern Studio Recordings, CD (£11.50)
As its subtitle proclaims, this CD comprises the complete Modern studio recordings of Donna Hightower, Helen Humes, Dolly Cooper, Linda Peters and Zola Taylor – a neat idea for all us fans of female R&B from the early and mid-1950s.
Of earliest vintage are the tracks by HELEN HUMES, who stopped off at the label in 1951 for one session. There’s something very girlish sounding about this great singer, although she was in her late 30s at the time, having first recorded at age 14 for Okeh in 1927. Helen famously sang with the bands of Harry James and Count Basie, among others, before recording for numerous indies throughout the 1940s. Among the five sides she cut for Modern are versions of The Laziest Gal In Town (the terrific Cole Porter number popularised by Marlene Dietrich) and I Ain’t In The Mood (an answer-song to John Lee Hooker’s I’m In The Mood). Helen wrote the other three songs herself, including Take My Love, which makes its CD debut here.
DONNA HIGHTOWER also wrote much of her own material and possessed a vocal style younger than her age. She recorded for Decca backed by the Horace Henderson Orchestra in the early 1950s, before relocating to Los Angeles, where she released four singles for Modern’s RPM subsidiary, starting with Dog Gone It and Bob-O-Link, both in thrall of LaVern Baker, the best selling female R&B star of the day. The company even had the Cadets/Jacks back her on these fine sides, just as the Gliders had done for LaVern on her hit songs. Donna’s third and final session for the label yielded He’s My Baby and Cool Daddy Cool, two top notch examples of female rock’n’roll.
The story goes that LINDA PETERS and DOLLY COOPER are the same person. The singer was still under contract to Savoy Records on the East Coast when she fetched up in Los Angeles in 1954, hence the use of the Linda Peters pseudonym for her first Modern session, which begat two excellent Little Esther-influenced singles and You Won’t Trouble Me No More, a previously unissued track. Reverting to her previous moniker, her next single – My Man b/w Ay La Bah – was another corker, but then came a cover version of Gloria Mann’s Teenage Prayer, delivered by Dolly in a rather mannered voice. Dolly/Linda (her real name was Thelma Cooper, or Thelma Cole, apparently) was managed by Buck Ram, under whose guidance she subsequently recorded the rock’n’roll collectable Big Rock Inn.
Many of Buck Ram’s other acts also recorded for Modern, including the Teen Queens, the Flairs, Obediah “Young” Jessie, Shirley Gunter and ZOLA TAYLOR, whose curiously epicene contributions end this CD: Make Love To Me and Oh, My Dear might not be exactly in tune, but they have a lot of charm and heaps of historical value. Ram obviously saw enough potential in the pretty teenager to giver her a job in another of his groups, the Platters.
Ace devotees and hardcore R&B collectors might be familiar with some of the tracks on HANDS OFF!, but there are plenty of cuts here making their CD debut, and numerous others that are hitherto unheard alternate takes, so completists are well catered for. The ladies contained weren’t with Modern long enough to record albums of their own, but between them they did wax sufficient material for this splendid 75-minute CD.
By Mick Patrtick