Friday, 23 December 2011

The Rhythm and Blues album

I've been fascinated for some time about some of the great rhythm and blues albums that were released in the late 1950's into the early 1960's. In a six year time frame we had a body of work that would influence the next generation of musicians, and I'll focus on how this influence spread to the U.K and how rhythm and blues found its vitality renewed by the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Animals and The Pretty Things to name a few. Most of the big names in the British blues scene were born either during or just after the Second World War so during their teenage years there was a plethora of amazing blues music coming over from across the Atlantic. In 1959 you had the legendary Howlin Wolf release his Moanin in the Moonlight album which covered some of his earlier recordings dating back to his Sun days in 1951. In 1962 he released the legendary self titled album also known as the Rocking Chair album. These two albums were hugely influential on British audiences, primal and raw with some pioneering guitar work they were the perfect guide for any aspiring young blues musician. Robbie Roberston was particularly enamoured with Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin and his early sound was based on what he heard on these albums.

Rock and roll pioneer Bo Diddley who achieve chart success in the U.K released his seminal album self titled album in 1962 which was a huge influence on the Rolling Stones. The Stones would successfully adapt that shuffling idiosyncratic beat into some of their early recordings, especially their cover of the Buddy Holly track Not Fade Away. B.B King released Singing The Blues in 1956 which captured some of his earlier material, he recorded My Kind of Blues in 1961 which heralded a new direction for rhythm and blues, with a more strident sound that benefited from better studio production. Elmore James released Blues After Hours in 1961, once again it was basically a compilation of material that had been recorded in the 50's. Sonny Boy Williamson recorded few studio albums but he landed a beauty with Down and Out Blues that comprise his most significant recordings from the Chess studios in the late 1950's, from 1956 onwards. Songs like Your Funeral My Trial and Fattening Frogs for Snakes had that tight Chicago studio ensemble of bassist Willie Dixon, drummer Fred Below and pianist Lafeyette Leake many tried to copy that in the pocket style.

Bobby Bland released two classic albums in 1962 and 1963, Two Steps from The Blues and Call Me saw Bland taking rhythm and blues in a new direction towards soul music, with a blend of dramatic string laden ballads and storming in the pocket R&B with songs like I Pity The Fool. Muddy Waters was another whose influence spread far and wide through the release of a best of compilation in 1955 and his searing performance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1960 which was recorded and released in 1960. His early compilation album was eagerly sought after, his early pioneering of the electric blues, his frenzied performing style which sat alongside the similar style of Howlin Wolf were copied not just in the UK but later on in the U.S which seemed to take a lot longer to demonstrate their appreciation for their iconic bluesmen.

For most R&B artists it was very rare to get the opportunity to record an entire album, most record labels either didn't have the budget to release a long play record, especially if they were a small independent, or they saw no commercial value in the LP. Most albums were put together form previously released singles that were sometimes two or three years old or maybe even longer. Only when an artist had a single gain significant sales was an LP warranted. The sheer volume of LP releases over that period was the foundation from which U.K bands gained their knowledge and appreciation for the blues.

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