Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Harold Dorman- Uncle Jonah's Place

Labels rarely capture the true essence of their content, music is awash with labels but rarely is their a true fit between category and sound. I write within the confines of labels, but the music I listen too and write about bursts through those confines.

The demise of rockabilly at the end of the 1950's signalled a fork in the road, a change of destination for white artists who had so significantly mixed country and western and rhythm and blues into a formidable and powerful sound. What continues to fascinate me is the direction the music took in the years from 1959 to 1964, the canvas was broad dictated somewhat by geography and studio location. What was always present was a passion for music and desire to create something that not only met with commercial expectation but pushed the boundaries beyond the confines of rockabilly.

Sun Records was a pioneering label and studio, owner and producer Sam Phillips was determined to find a way to take his beloved blues and mix it with the more acceptable country sounds of the south to create something that was vibrant and acceptable to the white community, what his records always retained was a sense of spontaneity and a deep and abiding respect in the rhythm, it was the counterpoint and the starting and finishing line. The current addition of the Oxford American magazine focused on the musical history of Mississippi, the magnolia state with a reputation as the birthplace of the blues and a history of racial violence. Of the many great artists to hail from ole Miss was rockabilly singer Harold Dorman, who came to prominence via his hit Mountain of love in 1960, the song was later successfully covered in 1965 by Johnny Rivers. Harold Dorman recorded some fantastic singles for Sun in the early 60's some great uptempo rockers. He also recorded for other small regional labels like Santo which was run by Wayne McGinnis and Don Crews, Crews was the first partner in American Sound Studios with Chips Moman.

Uncle Jonah's is a funky tune, it has that familiar Sun Records characteristic it's dynamic and raw, Dorman sounds like a black R&B singer extolling the virtues of Uncle Jonah's Place a hip joint, a shack across the tracks (according to Oxford American most likely a black juke joint) that unites people of all creed under the umbrella of music. It's rare to find a record for that time that boasts an integration theme, Dorman sings of losing his faith in the human race but re-discovering it at Jonah's Place, where all are welcome. For a lot of musicians in the late 50's and early 60's it was often common place to play in black clubs and frequent black clubs and be welcomed into those surroundings. The Bill Black Combo often played dancehalls in Texas where the audience was primarily black, the same could not be said for black artists playing in southern honky tonks, there was no reciprocation. That raw quality was starting to disappear from white male vocal recordings, the trend was towards pop or 'countrypolitan' or just straight country but Dorman seemed to oscillate between raw rock and roll and almost soul music. Uncle Jonah's Place features a honking sax sound that was starting to desert rock and roll music during that time, it also has some similarities with Gary U.S Bonds' New Orleans but with a more streamlined beat. I've been discovering through the Bear Family catalogue how the rock and roll spirit survived in small pockets of the south and eventually morphed towards soul and back into it's R&B roots.

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