Tommy Johnson

Tommy Johnson – 1928 – 1929

Document Records – DOCD-5001
Cool drink of water blues – Big road blues – Bye-bye blues – Maggie Campbell blues – Canned heat blues – Lonesome home blues (take 1) – Lonesome home blues (take 2) – Big fat mama blues – I wonder to myself – Slidin` delta – Lonesome home blues – Boogaloosa woman – Morning prayer – Black mare blues (take 1) – Black mare blues (take 2) – Ridin` horse – Alcohol and jake blues

Tommy Johnson

Probably because he doesn’t have the same romantic aura around him as his homonym Robert, Tommy is not the Johnson that history, or more precisely the media, remembers.
His recording career was brief, with only 17 titles, all available here, but the quality was constant.
During two sessions, one for Victor (songs 1-8) and the other for Paramount (9 to 17), he recorded one of the most interesting, rich and unique catalogues in terms of Delta Blues that’ll influence many generations after him (Howlin Wolf, Houston Stackhouse…). He was also among the first to come with the “crossroad mythology”.
His voice is full of intensity, especially on autobiographical pieces like “Canned Heat Blues” or “Maggie Campbell Blues” (named after one of his wives) and can turn into a high-pitched falsetto, sometimes close to yodel. He supports it with a solid guitar style inspired by Charley Patton. Some sides show him backed by a second guitar (Charlie McCoy), a clarinet, and a piano on Black Mare Blues.
Maybe the Paramount sides, compared to the Victor recordings, don’t fit your quality standards, which is not a surprise from the label (Paramount, not Document), but make an effort, and you’ll be rewarded ten times by the quality of the music you’ll hear.
Sadly, Johnson’s bad temper and his alcoholic habits didn’t allow him to build a “serious” career, which I guess led to more alcoholism. He lost his royalties gambling and drinking and died in extreme poverty in 1956.
His musical legacy is a must-have for anyone interested in Delta Blues.

Available here
Fred “Virgil” Turgis

Bear Family V/A – Destination…

Various Artists – Destination Health

Bear Family BCD17524
Rock Therapy – Johnny Burnette & The Rock’n’Roll Trio / Doctor, Doctor – Ben Joe Zeppa & The Hot Notes / Call A Doctor – The Crows / Achoo-Cha-Cha (Gesundheit) – The Andrews Sisters / Doctor Feelgood – Herbert Hunter / Quarantine – Dennis Bell / Asiatic – Ebe Sneezer & The Epidemics / Pills – Bo Diddley / Red Cherries – Flyod Dixon / Bop Pills – Macy Skipper / Boogie Disease – Doctor Ross / Boppin’ The Blues – Carl Perkins / Doctor, Doctor, Doctor – Joey Nepote with H.B. Barnum Orchestra / Doctor Jazz – Woody Herman & his Orchestra / Doctor In Love – Richard Allen / Rock Doc – Louis Jordan / Drinkin’ Hadacol – Little Willie Littlefield / Fever – The Knockouts / Satellite Fever – Asiatic Flu – Lonnie Miley / Tu-Ber-Cu-Lucas – Huey ‘Piano’ Smith & The Clowns / Medic (from the TV series) – Les Baxter & his Orchestra / Vitamina – Noro Morales / Operation Blues #2 – Homer ‘Zeke’ Clemons & his Texas Swingbillies / D.R. Rock – George Chisholm & The Blue Notes feat. Bert Weedon / Diagnosis Neurosis – Their Singing Bodies / PSA (Public Service Announcement) for Mental Health Association – Tab Hunter / Amnesia – The Mysterions / Psycho Serenade – Big Jay McNeely & Band with Little Sonny Warner / She Said – Hasil Adkins / Feelin’ Good – Sonny Burgess & The Pacers

bear family destination health

Another excellent thematic compilation album from Bear Family, this time centred around the subject of health in all its possible forms (and styles).There’s no better way to introduce this collection than Johnny Burnette & the Rock’n’Roll Trio’s Rock Therapy. It’s a classic that we’ve heard hundreds, if not thousands, of times, but it still sounds fresh and wild.
Next is Benn Joe Zeppa, who offers a groovy rocker with a scorching guitar solo. The next tune is from the Crows, a Harlem quintet halfway between doo-wop and rhythm and blues. The McGuire Sisters are pretty strange. On the one hand, you have the lovely harmonies of these charming girls, and on the other hand, the song features a sinister organ, all that on a Cha-cha rhythm, with a string orchestra punctuated by the girls’ sneezes. After a great rocker from Herbert Hunter, you find a poor teen pop with annoying female backing vocals by Dennis Bell. Much better is Asiatic Flu, perfectly described as a Rockabilly Novelty. Bo Diddley is, as usual, excellent, and Floyd Dixon’s tune is a piano blues in the vein of Charles Brown. Following this great song is a string of three classics: Macy Skipper’s Bob Pills, an insane tune, insane enough to be covered by the Cramps, Doctor Ross’ Boogie Disease and the immense Carl Perkins with Boppin’ the Blues. Inspired by Chuck Berry, Joey Nepote’s Doctor Doctor Doctor is good, albeit a bit messy. Totally different in style, Woody Herman delivers a swing, although a bit tame compared to Jelly Roll Morton’s version of Doctor Jazz. Also heavily orchestrated is Richard Allen’s Doctor in Love, a song recorded for the movie. Think of a British version of Frank Sinatra. Next is Louis Jordan’s Rock Doc. What can I say? Louis Jordan is a genius; that’s all you need to know. Little Willie Littlefield keeps a high level of quality. Instead of a well-known version of Fever, the fine folks at Bear Family included the Knockouts version, a doo-wop with a rocking attitude, a growling voice and a mellow saxophone. That’s why those compilations work, by mixing well-known stuff with more obscure versions.
Talking about obscure, Lonnie Milley is not the kind of Rockabilly you find on your run-of-the-mill compilation. Continuing with the unexpected, Huey Piano Smith is not featured here with the hit Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu, but its follow-up (equally excellent) from 1959: Tu-Ber-Cu-Lucas and the Sinus Blues. Les Baxter is featured here with a T.V. theme. Noro Morales brings a touch of exotism with the mambo-tinged Vitamina. It’s good, but I much prefer the hot western swing of Zeke Clemmons and his Texas Swingbillies. D.R. Rock is a bouncing Rhythm’n’Blues, played by jazzmen under the name of George Chisholm and the Blue Notes. The result is a tune filled with hot solos. Completely different are Their Singing Bodies with their pre-garage Rock. After a public service announcement from Tab Hunter (thank you Tab) back to Garage with Amnesia by the Mysterions which sounds like a psychedelic nightmarish rendition of Steel Guitar Rag. Great with a capital G. As you can imagine, Big Jay Mc Neely’s Psycho Serenade is wild and could have been easily covered by the Sonics. Hasil Adkins took the musical insanity to a whole new level that still waits to be reached today. He deserved more than anyone else his place on this compilation. Bear Family decided they couldn’t let their listeners with such madness, and Sonny Burgess’ Feelin’ Good ends this collection on a positive note.
As I said, this collection works well because Bear Familyl mixes classic numbers with more obscure gems. And in the end, there’s a bit of something for everyone.
Another good point is that the compilations in that series are all at a very friendly price.

Available here.

Dave and Deke Combo

The Dave and Deke Combo – Moonshine Melodies

No Hit Records – HITCD09 [1993]
Tally Ho  – I’m Just Too Lazy – Maybe Baby  – You Ain’t As Dumb As You Look  – Flipped!   – Didn’t It Rock   – Salty Boogie  – Two Guitars, No Waitin’  – Go Ahead On – Strange Woman’s Love  – Warm Lips (Big Trouble)  – Show-Me Boogie

dave and deke combo

Released in 1992, Moonshine Melodies marks the thunderous, smashing debut on long-distance of the Dave and Deke Combo. The group had previously released an eight-track cassette and a highly acclaimed EP (Hey Cuzzin’, already on No Hit Records).
The Dave and Deke Combo formed around Deke Dickerson and Dave Stuckey, joined by Lucky Martin on double bass and initially Bobby Trimble (Big Sandy and the Fly-Rite Trio) on drums. The line-up stabilized when Lance Ray Soliday replaced Trimble on drums. Like their EP, this fabulous first album was recorded under the leadership of Wally Hersom, whose work on the first Big Sandy was already exemplary. At less than 28 minutes, with the longest track barely reaching three minutes, it’s a well-executed affair.
The Dave and Deke Combo plays Hillbilly with a strong Rockabilly tinge, with a few boogies (talkin’ or not) thrown in for good measure and a good dose of novelty. The combo maintains the tradition of hillbilly groups such as Rusty and Doug, Jimmie & Johnny, the Farmer Boys (of which they cover I’m Just Too Lazy), etc. Even if Stuckey or Dickerson sing solo on some tracks, the emphasis is on harmonies. Perhaps less evident on record, the Dave and Deke Combo also poses as an heir to artists such as Homer and Jethro, Lonzo and Oscar, or Cousin Jody, bringing a touch of humour to a scene which sometimes tended to take it a little too seriously. And like their illustrious predecessors, this apparent relaxation and humorous approach hides a high level from both a musical and artistic point of view. Even if the album contains a majority of covers (Sparkletones, Tommy Cassell, Little Jimmy Dickens, Jim & Rod), Stuckey and Dickerson prove that they are excellent songwriters whose original songs have no reason to be ashamed of the company of their illustrious elders. Better still, they give the impression of being period pieces because they blend in so well with the selection. We will particularly mention You AIn’t As Dumb As You Look (Dickerson) or Warm Lips (Big Trouble) (Stuckey).
Added to this are their qualities as singers, alone or in harmonies, and musicians. With this album, Dickerson established himself as the heir of the great guitarists of the fifties, Joe Maphis being an obvious inspiration. Stuckey, however, is not to be outdone, as shown in the instrumental Two Guitars No Waitin, on which we hear him strumming on the acoustic guitar opposite Dickerson. The rhythm is also impeccable. Let’s mention Soliday, whose drumming knows how to be discreet. He supports the group subtly and uses his cymbals sparingly, a quality that is too rare among drummers.
With this record, as well as albums by Ronnie Dawson, Big Sandy and the Planet Rockers, No-Hit Records was, for a brief period in music history, the best Rock’n’Roll label in the world.

The Dave and Deke Combo – Hollywood Barn Dance

Heyday Records [1996]
Let’s Flat Get On It  – Snatchin’ And Grabbin’ – Right Behind Me – Let Go Of Louie – El Cumbanchero – Cut Out That Boogie – Did Anybody Mention My Name? – No Good Woman – Hitch In My Get-A-Long – Two Timin’ Mama  – Slippin’ And Slidin’ (And Scootin’ Around) – Henpecked Peckerwood – Goin’ Steady With The Blues  – Deke’s Hot Guitar – Half Shot Boogie – Baby’s Hot Rod – Wild Woman – Chrome Dome

The Dave And Deke Combo – Hollywood Barn Dance

Three years after their remarkable debut album, the Dave & Deke Combo returns with a new double bassist (Shorty Poole) and a new album on a new label (Heyday Records, responsible for the compilation Pushin’ the Norton on which we find, in addition to Dave and Deke Combo, Big Sandy and the Fly-Rite Boys, Jeff Bright, Russell Scott, etc.).
Tim Maag, who briefly played in the Cramps under the name Touch Hazard, came to lend a hand to Wally Hersom for the recording. The album sounds more like an extension than a companion to Moonshine Melodies. The sound is slightly cleaner (I said slightly). One can feel that the group has evolved. Artistically, Deke has progressed further (if that were even possible). This is obvious in the instrumental El Cumbachero or on Deke’s Hot Guitar, which sees him imitating the different guitarists at Stuckey’s call. But even more, his style has freed itself, and his inventive riffs are more present.
Furthermore, the group dynamic seems different. It’s almost invisible at times, but if Moonshine Melodies gave the impression of a collective effort, the differences leading the group to separate shortly after begin to appear on Hollywood Barn Dance. In other words, although the album includes moments of symbiosis like on Moonshine Melodies (Let’s Flat Get On It, Going Steady With The Blues, Deke’s Hot Guitar, or the Ray Campi cover Let Go Of Louie), the personalities of the two leaders assert themselves. Stuckey, who takes the lion’s share in terms of songwriting, tries to keep the group in a traditional line, while Dickerson leads the group towards Rock’n’roll with his guitar and some of his compositions (No God Woman) and relative modernity.
I don’t mean Hollywood Barn Dance is less good than Moonshine Melodies; it’s just partially different. If it weren’t so cliché, I would say it is more mature, and each of the two singers has found their way. The group broke up shortly after. Dickerson continued to explore a more Rock’n’roll vein, and Stuckey recorded a Western Swing album that remains to this day unmatched by any contemporary group (apart perhaps from the Lucky Stars, for whom he plays drums). Then, he formed his own traditional Jazz group. In the end, we can say that this separation will have been more than positive.

The Dave and Deke Combo – There’s Nothing Like An Old Hillbilly

Bucket Lid Records BL503
No More Cryin’ the Blues – Hey Mae Laurie Ann – Red Headed Woman – Moonshine – This Is It – Let’s Rock Tonight – Hey Baby – Alamo – Love Me – Let’s Take a Little Ride Sweet Rockin’ Mama – Lookin’ for Money – I’m Gonna Tell – Laughin’ and Jokin’ – Carryin’ On – Real Cool Rocket – The Stranger Walks – Chew Tobacco Rag – Twin Guitar Twist – Muskrat – In the Meadow

Dave and Deke Combo - There’s nothing like an old hillbilly
Dave and Deke Combo – There’s nothing like an old hillbilly

Although the Dave & Deke Combo split gave us two great solo artists (as a bonus, it also gave us a fantastic drummer), sometimes we missed the Combo, its harmonies, and its humour. So when reunion gigs were announced, everyone knew it would be one of the major events of 2005. The first gigs in Vegas and Oneida were a huge success. To celebrate this reunion, the band released a rarities CD.
Tracks 1 to 6 allow us to hear the Combo with Bobby Trimble on drums. These tunes come from their first 8 track demo. One can find the other two songs on the CD version of Hollywood Barn Dance. You’ll also find live cuts, unreleased songs from the Moonshine Melodies and Toerag studios sessions, and rare-to-find songs recorded for Roger Corman. I won’t go into more detail as the liner notes explain everything. It’s interesting to see that a lot of these songs are still in Deke Dickerson’s repertoire today, like “Red Headed Woman”, “Love Me” (not The Phantom’s One) or “Lookin’ for Money”. And the icing on the cake is that you’ve got a brand new recording by the band. Elvis’ In the Ghetto is given the Homer & Jethro treatment and renamed “In the Meadow”. It’s probably one of the best songs the Combo ever produced.

Fred “Virgil” Turgis

Dave Stuckey’s website

Dave Stuckey and the Dave and Deke Combo on bandcamp

Deke Dickerson’s website

The Dave and Deke Combo (Moonshine Melodies line-up)
The Dave and Deke Combo (Hollywood Barn Dance line-up)

Kyle Eldridge

Kyle Eldridge – Spooky Moon

Swelltune Records – SR45-010 [2022]
Spooky Moon / Star Struck

Kyle Eldridge

Excellent double-sider from the Wizard of the Strings: Kyle Eldridge.
Spooky Moon, a superb mid-tempo country tune with a fiddle, perfectly suits Eldridge’s nasal tone, akin to Gene O’Quin. The flip, Star Struck, is an instrumental tune in the Joe Maphis tradition: virtuosity, energy, tuneful skill and dexterity, and precision, served by a clean and crisp guitar sound.
Stunning! It’s incredible the amount of talent you can put in such a tiny piece of vinyl.

Buy it here or here.

The Hicksville Bombers

The Hicksville Bombers – What Kinda Fool

Raucous Records – Rauc 022 [1995]
What Kinda Fool / Bopper and Shakers – Get Outta My House

Hicksville bombers

The Hicksville Bombers are Dave Brown on vocals and guitar, Pete “Geordie” O’Brien on double bass and vocals, and Bryn Jones on drums and vocals. The trio formed in Lincoln, England, in 1992. They recorded this EP with Chris Cummings (Riverside Trio) at his Riverside Studios.
What Kinda Fool is a superb blues-bopper that maintains the tension throughout the song. It benefits from an excellent guitar work from Brown, mixing bopping blues with Rockabilly influences. Bopper and Shakers is a menacing Blues tune akin to On The Road Again. The boys keep it simple with powerful and effective riffs and pounding – almost tribal – drums. Get Outta My House is more on the hillbilly side of things, with the slap bass to the fore and boom-chicka-boom guitar ala Luther Perkins.

Fred “Virgil” Turgis

hicksville bombers

Polecats (the)

The Polecats – Live’n’Rockin’

Link Records – LINKMLP 069 [1988]
Pink & Black – Blue Jean Bop – Rockabilly boogie – Hip hip baby – We Say Yeah – Runnin Back – Miss Bobby Sox

Polecats - live'n'rockin

It’s a way too short live album from the Polecats. One can wonder why Link didn’t release a whole show, considering the band probably had one in its archive. The sound is good without being overwhelming; the double bass, in particular, lacks a little depth, and the drums are not too present in the mix. That said, it is very well-played and very catchy too. The group overflows with youth’s exuberance, allowing certain vocal approximations to pass (for example, We Say Yeah). The group also knows how to be wild on certain songs, notably their cover of Rock-Billy Boogie by Johnny Burnette. All the songs are covers (Benny Joy, Gene Vincent, Dennis Herrold, Sonny Fisher, Cliff Richard & the Shadows) except for Runnin’ Back, which was composed by Boz Boorer and comes from Polecats Are Go.

Fred “Virgil” Turgis