In 1951, Billy Ward's Dominoes made popular music history when their "Sixty Minute Man" crossed over from the black R&B charts to the white pop charts. Led by Bill Brown's boasting bass vocal, the song proved as irresistible as the sexual superman Brown portrayed. This recording is featured in a new Dominoes collection, "Have Mercy Baby" (Charly CRB 1095), one of 12 new Charly releases devoted to the rich R&B legacy of King Records and its subsidiaries, Federal and DeLuxe.
With a roster of black acts second only to Atlantic in quality and success, the Cincinnati-based King label played a critical role in the development of postwar R&B, rock 'n' roll and soul music. All of the albums in this series, which moves from the late '40s shout blues of Wynonie Harris to the early '60s guitar blues of Freddy King, offer 16 cuts in original mono, colorful packaging and detailed annotation.
Beyond "Sixty Minute Man," the Dominoes were also significant for introducing gospel singing styles into a vocal group context. The man bringing the emotional cries and syllable-stretching melisma of the church to the Dominoes was the great Clyde McPhatter. "Have Mercy Baby" features McPhatter on eight emotion-charged lead vocals, including the hand clapping and openly erotic title cut.
Another pioneering gospel-trained vocal group was Winston-Salem's Five Royales. The 16 cuts on their "The Roots of Soul" (CRB 1096) provide an excellent introduction to the earthy vocals of Johnny Tanner, the group's urgent harmonizing and especially Lowman Pauling's stinging guitar and superb song writing. Listening to the harsh, impassioned singing on "Think" or "Don't Let It Be in Vain," it's easy to understand why this group's mid-'50s recordings were a major influence on James Brown.
Another influence on James Brown was Detroit's Little Willie John. His 16 performances on "Grits and Soul" (CRB 1098) reveal John as a vastly underrated stylist who, like McPhatter and Sam Cooke, helped bring gospel fire to the blues. Particularly impressive is the way John imbues blues ballads like his classic "Fever" with a smoldering intensity and emotional depth that belie his young age. In 1954, R&B reached a peak in the sexy exhortations of Hank Ballard and the Midnighters and their controversial hit, "Work With Me Annie." That song, like all the cuts on the Midnighters' collection, "What You Get When the Gettin' Gets Good" (CRB 1090), evokes the careless and bawdy spirits of a Saturday night dance party. Up-tempo dance grooves were the Midnighters' forte and the group would also find some success in the rock 'n' roll era with the original "The Twist" and "Finger Poppin' Time," both on this collection.
Two releases are devoted to perhaps the two greatest R&B singers of the immediate postwar period, Roy Brown and Wynonie Harris. Both the Brown collection, "Boogie at Midnight" (CRB 1092), and the Harris collection, "Mr. Blues" (CRB 1097), focus on the up-tempo jump blues these men recorded in the early '50s. Although both artists had big voices, the rough-shouting Harris projected mostly sexual bravado, especially in risque' numbers like "Keep on Turnin'," while Brown's impassioned crying style reflects both deeper blues and gospel sources.
Fans of full-bodied boogie and jump blues will welcome "Breakin' the House" (CRB 1092), a collection of raucous early '50s R&B from singer-band leader Tiny Bradshaw. Included is Bradshaw's original jump version of "The Train Kept A-Rollin'," which later begat the Johnny Burnette Trio's rockabilly version, which in turn led to the Yardbirds and Aerosmith's rock versions. Another release, "Bad Bad Girl" (CRB 1100), offers the early '50s recordings of Little Esther (later Esther Phillips), who reveals a jazz-influenced blues style not unlike that of her idol, Dinah Washington.
The Charly series also provides four instrumentally oriented albums devoted to the smooth sax sides of Earl Bostic, the small combo R&B of organist Bill Doggett, the raw blues of Johnny (Guitar) Watson and the clean Texas guitar stylings of Freddy King. The Watson collection, "I Heard That" (CRB 1101), is especially noteworthy as it provides 11 of his early Federal recordings that haven't been reissued before. One of these cuts, a 1954 instrumental called "Space Guitar," anticipates the otherworldly electronic guitar antics of Jimi Hendrix by more than a decade.