We will look at Black Top Records in a future post. Today, I want to focus on one of their recordings in particular.....one of my all-time favorites, Gulf Coast Blues, Volume 1. This disc was released, with little fanfare, in 1990. It featured two of the label's recording artists, Joe "Guitar" Hughes and sax man Grady Gaines, plus a couple of the label's supporting artists, taking center stage for the first time.....piano player Teddy Reynolds and guitarist Clarence Hollimon, along with his wife, R&B singer Carol Fran.
|Carol Fran and Clarence Hollimon|
Fran and Hollimon have a cool story. They first met and dated in the late 50's, when she was a singer for Excello Records with a hit record, "Emmitt Lee," to her credit. Hollimon had previously played guitar for Big Mama Thornton, but was now backing Bobby "Blue" Bland on several of his recordings for Duke Records. They eventually went their separate ways, Fran continuing to record for multiple labels and serving as vocalist (sometimes teaming with another future Black Top all-star....James "Thunderbird" Davis) in Guitar Slim's band, and Hollimon in demand as a session guitarist for Bland, Junior Parker, and others. The pair reunited in 1982 and this time around, sparks flew and the couple were married and began performing together.
At the time of Gulf Coast Blues Volume 1, Hollimon had already appeared on several of Black Top's recordings, but Fran had been away from the studio for awhile, frustrated by lack of success and too many great recordings that never were released. On this release, they shined on two tracks, a bouncy "Everyday Is Not The Same," where Fran sang lyrics in English and French, and this remake of "Emmitt Lee," featuring some of Hollimon's wonderful guitar. Fran and Hollimon eventually made two recordings for Black Top, plus one more for JSP several years later, just before Hollimon passed away in 2000. Fran has continued to perform and record, despite suffering a serious stroke. She recovered sufficiently enough to resume performing last year.
|Joe "Guitar" Hughes|
On Gulf Coast Blues, Reynolds showed that he was quite a gifted songwriter, and a vocalist with chops that were at times similar to Lightnin' Hopkins. He got the lion's share of tracks on the disc with four excellent sides mixing Texas blues and soul in equal parts. He was best known during his later years for his commercials for Blue Bell Ice Cream in the 90's. He passed away in 1998, after one last recording session with Texas Johnny Brown.
You might have noticed that the actual name of the subject album was Gulf Coast Blues Volume 1. Don't bother searching for Volume 2, because it never happened, which was a shame. I was dying to hear more of this great music back then, but thanks to Black Top, there's was still plenty to be heard for a few years to come.
Simply put, if you like southern blues and soul like they used to do it, you will love this CD. It's out of print, but not too hard to find, and Amazon actually has it in mp3 format. So what are you waiting for???!!!