The Sprague Brothers – Best Of The Essbee Cds Volume 1
Penetration – Hippy Hippy Shake – Rock Rock – Surefire – New Reason to Cry – You Only Live Twice – I’ll Be True – Green Arrow – I’ll Do It Every Time – Drum Boogie – Rock’n’roll – I Feel A Brand New Heartache – My Tender Heart – Praying Mantis – Since I Don’t Have You – No One Wants My Love – Nesman Studios – Tall Tall Trees – Sunset in Tokyo – Just over a Girl
The Sprague Brothers recording carreer didn’t stop with the end of their contract with Hightone. They released a bunch of records on their own Essbee label. This compilation gathers the best of this now hard-to-find albums. As usual with the Sprague Brothers, one can expect fine songwriting and beautiful arrangements. Rock’n’roll is a term that everybody seems to use nowadays, but this is the best word to describe their music. A mix of surf (Penetration, Green Arrow), early Beatles (“I’ll Be True” and its intro taken from Beatles’ “Devil In Her Heart” would make Sir Paul jealous), and the usual Everly/Holly/Fuller influenced stuff. You’ll find some rockabilly (Johnny Power’s “Rock Rock”) too, and “My Tender Heart” sees the bros go bluegrass. Frank and Chris play all the instruments, except on one tune where they are backed by Deke Dickerson and Shorty Poole, and the skills of each of them is simply amazing. Of course Chris is a good drummer (if you don’t believe me listen to “Drum Boogie” a Gene Krupa meets Bill Haley song) but he can play steel, upright bass, sing fine harmonies and on “Just Over A Girl” he gives us a great piece of eefing. Frank Lee Sprague is even more impressive as it seems that no instrument has secret for him : surf guitar, bluegrass mandolin, Jerry Lee Lewis boogie piano… You name it, he plays it. Add extensive liner notes and you’ll have another must-have from El Toro.
The Sprague Brothers – Best Of The Essbee Cds Volume 2
Angelyne – Alll Night Long – Down The Line – Gotta Get You Near Me Blues – Never Knew – One Wheel Draggin’ – Pickin’ Peppers – Sea Cruise – Just Give Me a Chance – Diamond Head – Mopar Junk – Wailin – Beep Beep – She Won’t Stay For Long – I Found Someone New Today – So How Come – If You’ll Be Mine – Goldfinger – All By Myself – Goodbye My Love
Second volume of the reissue of this records released in small quantities namely “Three” (which was originally due to be released on Hightone), “Covers”, “Instrumental Party” and “Rockabilly’). This set focuses more on the talent of brother Chris (aka Sugarballs) featuring many of his own compositions and lead vocals. The element are the same you can find on volume one with straight ahead rockers (Angelyne, Beep Beep), a bit of Bobby Fuller type of song (All Night Long) and some rockabilly too with two Buddy Holly covers from his earlier period. Beatles/Merseybeat influenced songs are here too, both electric (If You’ll Be Mine, I Found Someone New Today the later one featuring great harmonies) or acoustic like The Searcher’s “Goodbye My Love” which sounds like an outtake from the Norwegian Wood sessions. They also perform a set of instrumental ranging from the western jazz of Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant (Pickin’ Peppers) to the Ventures’ Diamond Head. Another James Bond theme is played after You Only Live Twice on Volume 1, this time it’s Gold finger. As you can see, as usual with The Sprague you’ll find plenty of styles. El Toro did a really good job with this reissues allowing us to have access to this recordings. Hope someone will do the same with their early 90’s live albums like “Live At Frank’s Place” and “Live In The Van With The Sprague Brothers”.
The Sprague Brothers – Changing The World One Chick At A Time
Wichita Falls Records WFR 339
Rockabilly Twist – Wormwood – Keep On Loving Me – I’ve Got It Made – She’s In The $ Now – I Want To Be Her Man – Little Star – Better Believe – You’re Scarce – She Took My Spittin’ Cup – Wichita Falls Rag – I’m Settin’ Jake – She Brought Back My Spittin’ Cup – No One Cares – Highway 15 -. Harlem Ska (bonus track) – American Music (bonus track) – Girl Can’t Hep It (bonus track)
Listening to a Sprague Brothers album is always like a good journey into American music. You find as usual some Everly Brothers type of tunes (Chris and Frank really know how to harmonize and put together some melodies that stick into your head) and some Bobby Fuller (“Wormwood”) so this is no surprise to find on the guest list Randy Fuller and Edan Everly. “Little Star” is a beautiful ballad in a Texas style (think Buddy Holly), Spanish guitar and superb string arrangement. Rockabilly is also very well represented with “You’re Scarce” and “I’m Settin Jake”, two songs that could come straight from the vault of Sun records. Talking about rockabilly, “Rockabilly Twist” is exactly what the title means with at the end, you have to hear closely, a citation of Surfin’ Bird / Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow. “Wichita Fall Rag” is a stunning western swing instrumental with Jeremy Wakefield on steel, Deke Dickerson on rhythm guitar and Shorty Poole on bass. They really should record more in that style. They provide another instrumental with the short “Highway 15” but this time more in a Ventures style. “She Took My Spittin Cup” and “She Brought Back My Spittin Cup” are, it’s no surprise with titles like that, on the hillbilly side. You also have plenty of bonus tracks The Blasters’ American Music on which Frank replicates riffs by Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee, The Ventures and Buddy Holly (it’s also great fun to hear a harmonica solo reminiscent of the Beatles on a song called “American Music”), the classic “Harlem Nocturne” turned into a ska and “The Girl Cant Help It”. But wait, there are more hidden bonus, but sorry folks, you’ll have to buy the cd to discover them.
The Sprague Brothers – The Savage Sprague Brothers
Wichita Falls Records WFR 334
Betty’s Got A Hot Rod – Once Again I’m Fallin’ – She’s An Adulteress – It Doesn’t Hurt Anymore -This You Did – Charlene – Everything I Have Is Yours -In Your Heart -The Invisible Man – Two Hands In My Pockets – Nothing Matters But You – USA
This album subtitled «early recordings from the vault» contains material recorded in the 90’s with Frank and Carl playing all instruments. As I said before, comparisons aren’t always fair. You see, saying that someone sounds like (put the name of the legend of your choice here), could reflect a lack of personality from the artist. But who could say that the Sprague don’t have no personality? Surely not me. So if you don’t know the brothers yet, I would say that they are the perfect mix of Buddy Holly, The Everly Brothers, Bobby Fuller with a good dose of early Beatles (when they were still playing live). As Frank Lee Sprague once said «Influenced by none, inspired by many» and the fact are here you can cite every artists you want, the sound is 100% Sprague Brothers. They could be good musicians and singers but they’re more, Frank is one hell of a songwriter. From the beautiful semi accoustic «Charlene» to «Once again I’m fallin’» and its haunting harmonies without forgetting the rockin’ side of the brothers with «Two Hands In My Pockets» and «USA» with lyrics similar in the meaning to Blasters’s «American Music».
If you’ve already bought their Hightone releases you know what I’m talking about. If you’ve never heard them and you want to know how to write «pop songs» (before this word becomes pejorative), give this album a try.
Fred “Virgil” Turgis