Kings of the Blues was a real keeper of a collection. It featured songs from three different labels of the 50's and 60's.....Combo, Modern, and Specialty. I wasn't familiar with most of the artists, but there were enough that I did know (B.B. King, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Guitar Slim, John Lee Hooker, T-Bone Walker, Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James, Lightnin' Hopkins, Clifton Chenier, and Lowell Fulson) to make it worth a listen to me. Once I heard how good all of the tracks were, I was hooked. Even the relatively obscure (to me) artists were worth hearing.
Most of the tracks were rarities, too. The opening cut, B.B. King's "Sweet Little Angel," for the Modern label, was actually a 45 version cut with his seasoned road band, and was a tad raunchier than his album version that used the Maxwell Davis Band. I prefer this one to the more frequently heard album track.
|Johnny "Guitar" Watson|
Other tracks from the Modern label on this set are heard from familiar artists like Lightnin' Hopkins ("Lonesome Dog Blues"), T-Bone Walker ("Sitting Here Thinking"), Pee Wee Crayton ("Wild Hop"), Johnny Fuller ("Hard Times"), Lowell Fulson ("Too Many Drivers"), and Elmore James ("Please Find My Baby"). These tracks show the diversity of the Modern label, moving from country to urban blues with ease.
|Frankie Lee Sims|
Other Specialty tunes include another previously unreleased track from Texas piano man Mercy Dee Walton, called "Problem Child," a rare 1951 track, "Lonesome Old Feeling," by Georgia blues man Bumble Bee Slim (a.k.a. Amos Easton), and the Zydeco legend Clifton Chenier, who does a swinging version of "Yesterday," a variation of Little Walter's "Last Night." Chenier is a bit of an oddity on this set, but you can tell by the vocal that the King of Zydeco was a blues man at heart.
The Combo label was a tiny one-man label run in California from the basement in the house of bandleader Jake Porter. Combo had a few minor hits, but eventually Porter began to focus on his own music and his career. There are four tracks from Combo included, including this track by Floyd Dixon (a.k.a. Jay Riggins, Jr.), "Riding Mighty High," which was unreleased until this set. Dixon also recorded for Modern and Specialty (where he cut "Hey Bartender") during his lengthy career, which lasted until just before his death in 2006.
Kings of the Blues is, naturally, out of print now. I recently found it used on Amazon for a bargain price, so I seized the opportunity to repurchase it. It was a lot of fun to listen to then and it's still a lot of fun....a perfect mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar. If you're able to locate a copy of it (and there were several reasonably priced copies still available at Amazon), you should give it a listen. Like nearly everything else released by Ace Records, it's worth searching out.