Who is/was Syl Johnson? He's the guy on the cover making the standard musician's move on the lady at the table. Who is/else was Syl Johnson? Well he sure played some fine and hot guitar on Jr. Wells' great sides recorded for Mel London's Chief & Profile labels (check that out also), just prior to the material on this disc. But this review is about Syl and "Welcome to the Club". Syl had a decent comeback not too long ago (mostly playing blues) and I believe he his still out and about, recording and touring.
This CD contains a set of what might be termed "crossover" recordings, from Blues to R&B/Blues which were recorded by Sydney Nathan's King Records in Cincinatti, runner up to Chess Records for some fantastic blues releases and the place where Freddy King carved all his guitar instrumentals. As the liner notes spell out, Syl Johnson was looking for a different gig because Magic Sam had already eclipsed him as a bluesman in his hometown of Chicago (the two knew each other and had similar guitar styles).
Syl was looking for new material to mine and James Brown was hot at this time (early 1960's) so it's clear where the musical direction was going. I must admit it took me about 3 plays to get synchronized with the groove that this CD offers, and there is no filler on it by any of the artists. It isn't traditional Chicago "Blues" as I was expecting, but so what.
The opening title, "Gibble Gobble", an instrumental by Willie & the Sparklers establishes a brief but catchy beat that leads nicely into the rest of the numbers. It's easy to see where the charted "beat" hits like Louie Louie and Wooly Bully came from because this stuff preceded them by about 5 years. Next up is Lee Shot Williams with the title track "Welcome to the Club". This is crying R&B with hard-as-nails rhythm and Lee's fabulous voice blasting out the theme over the horn mix (which is not about a music club at all). Feeling lonely? This CD will fix that after the first 2 tracks.
Well, back to Syl Johnson (the featured artist if you haven't figured it out by now). This guy coaxes some amazing sounds from his 50 buck guitar and I'm sure that hard core-blues fans won't be disappointed with some of the other cuts by him. I forgot, what a singer Syl is too. Ace (er, King) really did their homework getting these titles together. Put it in your car CD player or just stick it in your home player on repeat (not recommended for portable listening devices - sorry no real reverb with cans or buds on). If you've got neighbours, they are going to want to bring their stash over and have a party, so imbibe.
Ace didn't really make much fuss about this set (compared to the way they write up their B.B. King releases). With the arcane liner notes that accompany many of their sets, I believe the target audience got missed here. With some luck it probably gets infrequent airplay on the better blues Internet shows like Bob Corritore's from Phoenix. On the other hand, if you live in Chicago (I don't), you may know more than I do. Great release Ace, just the same. It's comforting to know (so many years later), the 60's charts weren't completely overrun by Neil Sedaka and Paul Anka. As usual for Ace, the play time is generous and the track sequencing is well-programmed.
A point off for not being better marketed. This one is not retro in the least.