Guitars, guitars, and more guitars is the focus of five recent collections from Coxsackie, New York-based reissue house Sundazed Music. The latest offerings from the label take us from the country guitar stylings of the likes of Merle Travis and Speedy West to a compilation of ultra cool, early 1960s rockers to a collection from arguably the ultimate monster of the rock and roll guitar instrumental in Link Wray who passed away in 2005. Let’s get to it.
Sundazed kicked off a new series of releases early last Summer focusing on country guitar greats. The initial wave in the series featured reissues of albums from such trailblazing stringbenders as the aforementioned Travis teaming with the equally talented Joe Maphis, the duo of James Burton and Ralph Mooney, and pedal steel wizard Speedy West. Dubbing the series “The Guitars That Won the West” and featuring albums sourced from the original analog master tapes, each reissue was an exact reproduction of the original album with the only addition being new liner notes from various guitar and country music authorities. Now along comes round two of “The Guitars That Won the West” and it is every much as essential a collection of recordings as round one.
If you live here in Rhode Island like I do, don’t even dream about calling yourself a country music fan if you didn’t listen to the late Eddie Zack’s Hayloft Jamboree radio program at some point during its 55-plus years of broadcasting in the Ocean State. While the legendary bandleader liked the crooner side of country a little too much for this writer’s tastes at times, it was when he pulled a nugget of a record out of left field that could make the syrupy tunes he may have preceding it with vanish like they never happened. One such nugget was a single called “Country Guitar” from a six-string wizard by the name of Phil Baugh. Jaw-dropping is just one description that comes to mind when Zack sent that oldie out over the airwaves one Sunday morning. No less a guitar honcho himself than dieselbilly knucklehead Bill Kirchen almost fell out of a folding chair when he happened to be in Rhode Island relaxing with pal (and R.I. rockabilly great) Jack Smith one Sunday after a gig the previous evening and heard Zack spin the Baugh tune. Released as the A-side of a 45 RPM record for the Dallas-based Longhorn label in 1964, dazzling fretwork is putting it lightly where Baugh and his trusty Telecaster were concerned. Off the scale is more like it. The fact that copies of the single were rarer than elephants in these parts only added to the aura. So successful was the Longhorn 45 that the label signed Baugh to record an entire album’s worth of material. With country singer Vern Stovall on vocals on about half the tracks and the remaining numbers all Baugh-fueled instrumentals, the resulting album, titled simply Country Guitar, was a veritable treatise on the art of guitar – country style. Unfortunately, as far as sales were concerned the album stiffed. Well, I am happy to announce that justice of the stringbending variety is finally served with release of the collection Live Wire! (Sundazed SC-6222) featuring the string-stroking brilliance of the criminally neglected Baugh as originally heard on that long lost LP. In addition to the original 11 tracks comprising that LP, Live Wire! also includes both sides of Baugh’s mega-scarce second single for Longhorn (“Live Wire” b/w “One Man Band”). Colorful liner notes from contemporary guitar ace Deke Dickerson provide the complete lowdown on this overlooked genius. If only ol’ Zack was still around to spin this big gulp of Baugh. This one comes highly recommended.
Few could do on a pedal steel guitar what the incredible and innovative Speedy West could. Faster than a speeding bullet may be just one way to describe West’s oft-times dizzying strokes on the steel. Being the resident pedal steel player for Capitol Records during the 1950s, West accumulated some pretty weighty credentials playing on records from everyone from Tennessee Ernie Ford to Kay Starr to Spike Jones to Bing Crosby. Whereas he is renowned for his duo work with guitar-toting sidekick Jimmy Bryant who along with West was part of the Capitol Records Hollywood “house” band, the great West also forged a significant solo career during his time with Capitol releasing several albums which to this day are revered by steel guitar players worldwide. Guitar Spectacular (Sundazed SC-9008) is an exact reissue, cover art and all, of West’s 1962 release for Capitol Records. Recorded in L.A. with studio hotshots Roy Lanham and Billy Strange on guitar and Earl Palmer accompanying on drums, West was clearly his element banging out a dozen dazzling original instrumentals that move from breathtaking (“Space Man in Orbit”, “Wild and Woolly West”) to serene (“Sunset at Waikiki”, “Lazy Summer Evening”) with all stops in between. When it comes to steel guitar, as Guitar Spectacular clearly demonstrated the buck stopped at Speedy West.
What Speedy West was to the steel guitar, one could certainly argue Merle Travis was to the six-string guitar. Strictly Guitar was the name of a 1968 album by Travis for Capitol Records. It found the masterful one dipping into the 1920 and ’30s for renditions of pop standards of that era that he had cut his own teeth on when learning the ropes. Upon its release, it had been a dozen years since Travis’s last album of instrumentals. Features the 11 tracks comprising the original album with Travis moving between acoustic and electric guitar, the reissue of Strictly Guitar (Sundazed SC-9010) is most welcome .
Music readymade to incite an instant Friday afternoon kegger is the description just above the track listing for the second volume of Dancehall Stringbusters: Crunchy Guitar Instros From the 60s (Sundazed SC-11156) from Sundazed Music. While I’d be shocked to hear such rockin’ sounds as these coming from any college frat house or dorm on a Friday afternoon at the nearby State U., let alone a kegger being part of the picture, the description sure hits the nail on the head if you go back 40 years or so. To be more precise, we’re talking the period of 1960 to 1964 when each of the 20 tracks comprising this fabulous collection were laid down and when such loose and rockin’ tunage was in its heyday. It was a period when the big beat meant something entirely different than it does these days. Combos, typically three of four-piece outfits with guitar, bass and drums, in all their innocence and flat-out rockin’ and rollin’ simplicity defined the bulk of the bands making the cut on this second installment from the Sundazed folks. While a few of the entries may ring familiar – Roy Buchanan before he was anything and Joe Maphis after the commercial success thrill was gone – the bulk are no doubt unknowns to the average listener. Such obscurity does not detract in the least from the potency of this offering. It begins with a previously unreleased instrumental called “Cobra” from Moorestown, New Jersey-based combo The Belmont Five and proceeds to deliver one stringbusting knockout punch after another before closing with Bobby Arlin with the Hustlers delivering the final blow on “Mushroom Machine (Part 2)” some 40 minutes later. Somebody call the packy and tell ’em to get a cold keg ready.
When Link Wray passed away just before Thanksgiving, the world lost one of the pioneers of the rock guitar sound. Along with his band The Raymen, Wray’s early 1960s output for labels like Cadence and Epic represent the blueprint for many a guitar-toting rocker. Wray signed to the pop-leaning Swan Records in 1963 and recorded a number of sides for the label. Simply put, the output from those Swan sessions represent just one of many stops on the wild and wooly guitar trail of Link Wray. The newly released collection Law of the Jungle: The Swan Demos ’64 (Sundazed SC-6221) chronicles his stay with the label. Fortified by a wall-shuddering crunch that could crumble plaster and his generally tough as leather, black leather that is, sound, Wray’s savage strokes on his trusty Danelectro Longhorn guitar could be downright intimidating. The tracks comprising Law of the Jungle are sourced from original masters and represent an excellent cross-section of the varied sides of the Wray catalogue. Numbers like “Ace of Spades”, “Law of the Jungle”, “Deuces Wild”, “5-10-15-20”, “Bo Diddley” and a recut of the classic “Rumble” represent standard-issue Wray in all his ferociousness. On the flip side, Wray’s tact is one of restraint on a stunning version of Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine” readymade for lovers. “Return of the Birdland” plants itself in a zone somewhere between surf and R&B while a cover of Bo Diddley’s “What A Price” on which Wray works the vocal chords spews Southern soul. In a nutshell, this sucker is one fine collection that is made to crank. (Sundazed Music, P.O. Box 85, Coxsackie, NY 12051, or )
(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3. He lives in Peace Dale and can be reached at [email protected].)