CD Reviews for 05/13/05 (Hip-O Select releases – Sir Doug, Johnny Ace, Howard Tate, Rock & Roll T…

This week we shine the spotlight on another noteworthy domestic label on the reissue front in Hip-O Records. In particular, the newly hatched Hip-O Select series. What the Legacy Recordings is to Sony Music (which is in possession of everything Columbia Records has put out in its storied history), Hip-O is to the Universal Music Group which encompasses a catalogue as extensive as that of Sony. Label the powers that be at Hip-O tomb raiders of sorts by tapping the vast collection of out-of-print and hard-to-find treasures in the vaults of the Universal Music Group. We’re talking vital goods from labels ranging from Decca and Mercury to Chess, Coral, and Verve. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Where the Hip-O Select imprint differs from the straight-up Hip-O budget releases is that the Select series features limited edition reissues with high quality packaging that are available for purchase over the internet only. Check the web site at for the complete scoop. We showcase four recent titles in the series in this week’s Compact Capsules.

Doug Sahm and the Sir Douglas Quintet
The Complete Mercury Masters
Hip-O Select B0002496

For fans of the late Texas psych, soul, blues, border rock, and country artist Doug Sahm, 2005 is already shaping up to be a banner year. It began in February with the CD reissue of Mr. Sahm’s long out-of-print 1975 album Groover’s Paradise from the good folks at Collector’s Choice Music. Now barely two months later, Hip-O Select has delivered a big gulp of Sir Doug with the 5-CD extravaganza titled The Complete Mercury Masters. First off, when this thing arrived in the mail it was hard to get up the nerve to remove the shrink wrap from this handsome set. Music aside, The Complete Mercury Masters is as visually a striking package as I’ve encountered in a long time (and is no doubt going to be in the running for some sort of Grammy for album artwork come the awards ceremony next February). It is a red, clothe-bound book featuring a beautifully spare reproduction of the cover art from the Sir Douglas Quintet’s 1970 album 1+1+1=4. The music isn’t too shabby, either. The collection presents the entirety of six Sir Douglas Quintet albums made for Mercury Records and its Smash and Phillips imprints. In order, the listener is treated to remastered versions of the 1968 album Sir Douglas Quintet+2=(Honky Blues), Mendocino and Together After Five each from 1969, the 1970 release 1+1+1=4, The Return Of Doug Saldana from 1971, and Rough Edges from 1973. Add to this some SDQ outtakes and previously unreleased tracks, a collection of Spanish-language recordings from a four-song 1970 EP, a handful of Sahm’s productions featuring Roy Head and Junior Parker, and a disc devoted entirely to rare SDQ mono singles and it is a dose of Sir Doug like never before. For the uninitiated, few artists in the annals of American music blurred the lines between genres quite like the late Sahm. Rock, blues, soul, swamp pop, country, psychedelic, norteño, polka, and Western swing, the Sahm in his various incarnations covered it all. To the San Antonio native, the multi-styled approach to music making was what Texas music was all about with the common threads connecting his music being a ready-steady groove and a whole lot of soul. As he sang in his classic song “At The Crossroads”, “You just can’t live in Texas, if you don’t have a lotta soul.” Sahm epitomized it. The true kicker regarding virtually all the material comprising this circa 1968-73 collection was that nearly all the tracks were laid down in California where the band was based. It was to San Francisco that Sahm relocated after his bust for pot in Corpus Christi in 1966. What is inherently obvious across a healthy portion of this collection is that while you can take the man out of Texas, you sure as heck could not take Texas out of the man. Songs like “At the Crossroads”, “Texas Me”, “Nuevo Laredo”, “Dallas Alice”, and “Seguin”, to name a few, were indicative of Sahm jonesing real bad for the Lone Star State. He’d return to Austin in 1973 and continue to carve out his unique niche in the annals of American music. Now if only the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame would honor his exploits. Featuring insightful liner notes by critic Scott Schinder, discographical information for all 105 tracks, and rare photos of Doug and the band, The Complete Mercury Masters while pricey is prime Sir Douglas Quintet, not to mention more than ample proof that his hall of fame enshrining is long overdue.

Johnny Ace
The Complete Duke Recordings
Hip-O Select B0002744

Label the story of Johnny Ace one of the most tragic in the annals of performers. Heading into a Christmas Eve performance in Houston, Texas in 1954, the career of the singer Ace was riding high. He had just laid claim to his sixth Top 10 recording on the Billboard R&B charts in just a three year period. Included in those six charting singles were two recordings which made it all the way to the top position, his 1952 debut “My Song” which spent nine weeks at the top position and “The Clock” from a year later which had a stranglehold on the number one spot for five weeks. Unfortunately, all that promise came to a sudden end that evening in Houston when Ace was done in by a single shot while playing a game of Russian roulette backstage before his scheduled appearance. The Memphis born and raised Ace, whose real name was John Marshall Alexander, was just 25. A singer in the style of the great Charles Brown, Ace first made a mark for himself in the late 1940s as a piano player for Memphis-based band The Beale Streeters which included B.B. King and Bobby Bland. Ace would sign with the newly formed Duke label in 1952 with “My Song” his inaugural effort for the label. Then based in Memphis, Duke would soon after be taken over by entrepreneur Don Robey who already owned the Peacock blues label. Robey would make Ace a priority in his stable of artists with the ensuing chart success a testament to both Ace’s talent and Robey’s promotional skills. The new retrospective The Complete Duke Recordings gathers together for the first time on CD all 20 recordings Ace made for Duke Records including two posthumous 1955 hits, “Pledging My Love” and “Anymore”, the first of which spent an incredible 10 weeks in the number one spot on the R&B charts. More than half the tracks feature backing by the great Johnny Otis Orchestra. Otis and company add a ton of verve to the songs and were form-fit to Ace’s smooth vocal style. Other highlights include the stirred-up “Yes Baby” which found Ace dueting with Big Mama Thornton, the doo-wop stylings of “Anymore” featuring Ace in total crooner mode, and the big band swagger of “No Money” which finds Ace in Big Joe Turner territory. In all, it is 20 tracks to savor that will no doubt have listeners wondering what might have been.

Johnny Burnette & the Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio
The Complete Coral Rock ‘n Roll Trio Recordings
Hip-O Select B0002209

Looking for the foundation on which rock ‘n’ roll, let alone rockabilly music was built? Then search no further than the oft-times feral works of Johnny Burnette and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio. Brothers Dorsey and Johnny Burnette along with guitarist Paul Burlison pretty much created the mold that nearly all other bands followed. It was for Bob Thiele’s Coral Records that the trio recorded its pioneering sides during six separate sessions in 1956 and ‘57. Whereas it was all she wrote for the trio, the sessions yielded such genre-defining tunes as “Tear It Up”, “The Train Kept-A-Rollin”, “Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee”, “Honey Hush”, “Rock Therapy”, “Rock Billy Boogie”, and “Lonesome Train (On a Lonesome Track)”. These along with some 21 other selections comprise the highly recommended 28-track set The Complete Coral Rock ‘n Roll Trio Recordings. From Burnette’s screams and howls to Burlison’s accidental discovery of the “buzz” sound on his guitar (the result of a couple of dangling tubes in his amp) to the aggressive drive of their songs, these trailblazing sides represent rock ‘n’ roll in its infancy, as primitive as it is beat happy.

Howard Tate
Get It While You Can: The Complete Legendary Verve Sessions
Hip-O Select B0002210

During his late 1960s prime, Howard Tate parlayed a highly expressive vocal style and tasteful strokes on the guitar to make his mark as a top notch soul artist. Recording for Verve Records under the guidance of legendary producer Jerry Ragavoy, Tate’s output for the label epitomized the classic soul sound of that period. Bolstered by a mix of horn arrangements that moved between punchy and throbbing to go with plenty of well-placed organ and piano, Tate’s singing was attuned to Ragavoy’s magic on the production end. Whereas Tate only placed three songs in the Top 20 of the Billboard R&B charts during his prime (“Ain’t Nobody Home”, “Stop”, and “Look at Granny Run Run”), his work was cited by plenty of in-the-know types, Atlantic Records’ honcho Jerry Wexler among them, as providing the blueprint for some of the great soul sides to come out of the 1970s. Tate is best remembered for the tune “Get It While You Can” which Janis Joplin covered note for note and which is just one of many shining moments on the retrospective Get It While You Can: The Complete Legendary Verve Sessions. The meaty, 29-track sets combines the entirety of the 1967 album Get It While You Can with a collection of mono singles and four bonus tracks. It is a collection that shows Tate to be equally at home be it soul or straight-up blues, not to mention one heck of an overlooked artist in the soul scheme of things. Recommended.