Or should that be rare obscurities? Either way, a glance at Ebay will tell you these little buggers are getting quite pricey, which takes a lot of the fun out of collecting records. What we have today are five great records by five little known artists, all can be classified in the genre that collectors now call Black Rockers, a classification given its baptism in the recently published second edition of Tom Lincoln and Dick Blackburn's Guide To Rockabilly and Rock'n'Roll 45 RPMs (so you know I'm not makin' it up). This begs the question, just what is a Black Rocker? What makes one record a Black Rocker and another an upbeat blues record or a fast paced R&B record? I honestly couldn't tell you, although I think the influence of Little Richard would surely be one of the marks of a Black Rocker. So whatever you want to classify these five rare discs, they're all long time favorites of mine, and I thought, this being the dreaded holiday season, I'd share them with you, dear reader.
Piano pounder Freddie Hall came from Chicago where he cut a single for Chance in '54 backed by Little Walter's Aces (sans Walter) and didn't record again until 1959 when he cut this crude rocker-- She's An Upsetter b/w I Love This Carrying On for C.J., the first and best of three 45's he'd wax for that tiny label. Ike Perkins guitar playing is especially noteworthy on this one. On his next disc (Little Baby's Rock, C.J. 602) the band would be dubbed the Night Rockers, cuz that's exactly what the were. Oddly enough, in the latest edition of Blues Records 1943-1970 the personal on this record are listed as unknown. One look at the label tells us who the personal were, they're names are printed right there on the label! Someone should write in a correction, I'm way to lazy to get around to it. Anyway, the a-side bears a strange musical resemblance to the Cochran Brothers' Tired & Sleepy (Ekko, 1957), while the b-side is perhaps the crudest Muddy Waters cop ever recorded. A double sided winner.
Not much is known about Square Walton but his first session for RCA, back in 1953 produced two killer singles-- my preference is for the first, Bad Hangover b/w Fishtail Blues, although the follow up-- Pepper Headed Woman b/w Gimme Your Bankroll is also great (I still need a 45 of that one if anyone's selling or trading, my 78 RPM copy has seen better days). These sides feature the feral guitar playing of Mickey Baker as well as Sonny Terry on harmonica and were produced by Leroy Kirkland who was involved in more records than even the most crazed collector could count. Square Walton recorded one more session for RCA in '54, another four sides were cut, again with Mickey Baker on guitar, but none these sides were released. I know nothing about Square Walton and have never even seen a photo of him. Maybe for the best, perhaps he was ugly? I do know he was not Mercy Dee Walton (of One Room Country Shack fame) nor was he Jesse James Walton who recorded for HiQ although he is often mistaken for one or the other.
Alexander "Papa" Lightfoot recorded for Peacock in '49 (one of the rarest singles of all time), Sultan in 1950, Aladdin in '52, and Imperial in '54 (including an earlier, cruder, version of Mean Old Train) before arriving at Savoy who recorded him in Atlanta in 1955 with Edwin "Guitar Red" Maire's band. Both sides-- Mean Old Train b/w Wildfire, the only tunes from that session to see the light of vinyl are wild, distorted harmonica rockers. The a-side a vocal, the b-side an instrumental. Both are first class blues wailers. He wouldn't record again until 1969 when he cut an LP for Vault. Papa Lightfoot never made a bad record. If you ever run into those old Imperial Rural Blues/Legendary Masters LP's that Bear Hite compiled in the late 60's, Papa Lightfoot's Aladdin and Imperial recordings (including the un-issued stuff) are on volumes 2 and 3.
Dennis "Long Man" Binder started out recording for Sam Phillips in '52 although nothing was issued from his one session at 706 Union Ave. He appeared briefly singing and playing piano with Ike Turner's King's Of Rhythm who backed him on his only Modern single- Early Times b/w I Miss You So, two more songs from that 1954 session would later surface, one (Nobody Wants Me) on the great Ike Rocks The Blues (Crown) LP, the other on an Ace CD that appeared in the nineties. Here, on his only disc on Chicago's United label-- The Long Man b/w I'm A Lover, issued in 1955, he's backed by another guy named Guitar Red, Vincent Duling in this case (there are at least three Guitar Red's I know of), as well as Al Smith on bass, the man who produced all of Jimmy Reed's greatest discs. Two more tunes from the session would eventually be issued on Delmark. Binder would record one more record time, for the ultra obscure Cottonwood label out of Clovis, New Mexico in '59 (She's Sumpin' Else b/w
Crawdad Song), then disappear forever.
Our final selection is yet another mystery artist. Joe McCoy cut two singles for the New York based Tiara label in '58. Tiara was the label that released the Shirelles first two singles, before they went on to a stunning string of hits on Sceptor. Anyway, Hey Hey Loretta b/w Too Much Goin' On was McCoy's first and best single for the label, although his second-- Dizzy Little Girl is quite good. No one seems to have a clue as to who Joe McCoy was, or even if he was black or white (me thinks he sounds black, others disagree). Either way, Hey Hey Loretta is a classic rockin' r&b stomper, with a rolling beat that sounds more New Orleans than Broadway. Too Much Goin' On get extra points for putting a UFO in the lyrics. You don't find many records as good as this one.
Classifications are for critics and egghead writers, the line between R&B, rock'n'roll and blues is often non-existant, which is why I chose these five records as they all seem to illustrate my point. The moral of the story being, forget the classifications, records come in two types-- good and bad, and that's all you need to know*.
* I once stopped into a pub in London that was a Teddy Boy hang out and overheard a conversation about what "proper rock'n'roll" was that nearly ended in a knife fight!