Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Black History Month-Big Joe Turner

Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley may have started the big part of the rock and roll era but in my estimation if it wasn't for Louis Jordan, Chuck Berry would still be in hair styling and Bo Diddley a boxer. Yes Louis Jordan was one of the big influence of rock but Big Joe Turner was the other pioneer.  His Atlantic sides remain early rock and roll gold.

Joe Turner goes all the way back to the 1930s during the Kansas City Jazz era and was one of the best blues shouters in that time, but John Hammond had him and Pete Johnson in the famous Spirituals to Swing at Carnegie Hall with the classic It's All Right or Roll Them Pete in 1938, one of the key tracks that foretold the future of rock and roll but that time known as boogie woogie. Throughout the years, Turner would play with the likes of Willie "lion" Smith for Decca with the early jazz blues of I've Been To Kansas City, do a blues duet with Jimmy Witherspoon for Aladdin and selected singles that comprised on the Rock Before Elvis 2 CD set on Stash to which brings the argument that Turner may have been the forefather of rock since Stash put no fewer than five songs on that comp. Recording with a variety of labels (MGM, Swingtime, Freedom, Okeh, Imperial to name a few) there's a few great CDs that are worth getting; the hard to find Jukebox Lil of I Don't Dig It (early imports suggest this came out on the Route 66 label but the CD that I found came from the Czech Republic of the late 80s), Arhoolie's Tell Me Pretty Baby (with Pete Johnson behind the piano) and the EMI Jumpin With Joe which rounds up all his Aladdin and Imperial sides.

But his glory years was with Atlantic and hooking up with wildman Harry Van Walls on Chains Of Love (some of the wildest 88 playing is on that) Turner begin to strike R and B top ten with songs such as Shake Rattle And Roll (later watered down for white folk consumption by Bill Haley And The Comets), the boogie Honey Hush (later done by Foghat), Corrine Correna and TV Mama (with Elmore James playing guitar), Turner benefited from some of the finest Atlantic musicians and production from Jerry Wexler and Ament Ertugen.  But still Turner remained his jazz roots, reuniting with Johnson once again on the classic Boss Of The Blues and the lesser but still entertaining Big Joe Rides Again. And after his tenure with Atlantic, returned more into the Kansas City type of jazz  or straight blues, moving over to Norman Granz, Pablo Records and recorded off and on till his passing in December 1985 after suffering a heart attack.

The Pablo years have their moments although the Very Best Of Joe Turner showed more up to date and less essential takes on Shake Rattle And Roll or Flip Flop And Fly. 1983's Blues Train features him with Roomful Of Blues (Muse) and is produced with love by Doc Pomus and Bob Porter.  The 1985 Pacha Pacha All Night Long collaboration with Jimmy Witherspoon was Turner's last and he wasn't in the best voice and was in ill health.  A curio if you come upon it.  But in my book, his Atlantic albums are required listening.  And his 40s recordings just as good too.

The Albums (incomplete)

Early Big Joe (MCA 1985) A-
I've Been To Kansas City (Decca/MCA 1990) B+
I Don't Dig It (Jukebox Lil 1988 thereabouts) A-
Have No Fear, Big Joe Is Here (Savoy 1982)  B+
Tell Me Pretty Baby (Arhoolie 1991) A-
Jumpin With Joe-The Complete Aladdin and Imperial Sides (EMI 1992) B+
Big Joe Turner's Greatest Hits (Atlantic 1985) A+
Rhythm And Blues Years (Atlantic 1985) A
Boss Of The Blues  (Atlantic 1956) A
Big  Joe Rides Again (Atlantic 1958) B+
Shoutin The Blues (Specialty 1991) B+
Big Bad And Blue (Atlantic 1993) A+
Pacha Pacha All Night Long (Pablo 1985) B-


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