Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bill Black and Siggy Jackson

At the car boot sale this morning I picked up no fewer than three original London LPs by Bill Black's Combo (Solid and Raunchy, Let's Twist and Movin'). Bill's immortal claim to fame, of course, was playing bass with Elvis in his early years and on the sleeve notes of one of the albums he was able to say that he had played on more million selling records than any other instrumentalist. After he broke with Colonel Tom Parker (and Elvis) over money he formed his own combo and a series of instrumental hits in the early 60s formed the bedrock of Hi Records in Memphis. Pretty well all these records had the same bluesy shuffling beat and although worth a listen they were not particularly exciting, but it was a formula that worked and the band sold huge numbers of copies. Bill died prematurely aged 39 in 1965 and never played with Elvis again. But he left a double legacy - as a key player in Elvis's early success and as the foundation of Willie Mitchell's Hi label, which went on to make stars of Al Green and Ann Peebles among others.

Another fascinating - and very listenable LP - that I found today was Blue Beat in my Soul by Blue Rivers and the Maroons, released in 1967 on Columbia's short lived Blue Beat series. It contains some decent covers of ska hits such as Phoenix City and Guns of Navarone, some original ska numbers such as Seven Steps to Power and Witchcraft Man, and a good Otis Redding style number called I've Been Pushed Around. The band were the proteges of Siggy Jackson, a Jamaican record producer who emigrated to the UK and invented the name Blue Beat to describe the new style of music when he persuaded Melodisc owner Emil Shallit to let him set up a new label to promote Jamaican music in the UK. The label helped West Indian music take off, with records by the likes of Prince Buster and Derrick Morgan leading the way. The rest, as they say, is history as first ska, then rocksteady and later reggae went from strength to strength. But for some, even today, the music was and always will be Blue Beat.


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