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How did Sam do it?
on 6 September 2011
There have been quite a few compilations of Sun material over the years but this one and its partner (Vol 2) remain excellent value. While the 3 CD "Rockabilly Meltdown" set concentrates on rockabilly (and does a pretty good job of it) this one does leaven the rockabilly mixture with several other goodies which gives us a bit more variety. Whilst the rockabilly is fine - the first set kicks off with "Matchbox" from Carl Perkins and closes with Jerry Lee's "Wild One" and there's plenty from the Sun second division of Warren Smith, Sonny Burgess, Carl Mann, Billy Lee Riley, Hayden Thompson, Johnny Carroll, and many, many more in between - the non-rockabilly material deserves some closer analysis.
There are a fair number of blues tracks reflecting Sun in its pre-rockabilly days. One of the most well known among these (since it does get anthologised) is Little Junior Parker's original cut of "Mystery Train", later to form a stunning vehicle for Elvis. Less well known is Junior Parker's marvellous "Feelin' Good", which is not dissimilar to John Lee Hooker's "Boogie Chillen", only better. This was later recorded by Jerry Lee - I have it on single somewhere and always wondered where he got the song from. On the subject of originals we also get Billy Emerson's cut of "Red Hot" - the later, and more well known one from Billy Lee Riley, appears on Volume 2 (the other set referred to above). There are several more interesting blues including a wild cut called "So Long Baby, Goodbye" from Sammy Lewis and Willie Johnson - the latter was the man who made those slashing guitar sound on the early Howlin' Wolf singles. There's also a neat instrumental, "Easy" from "Jimmy and Walter" - who are they, you may ask, well, Walter was Walter Horton, renowned harmonica man, as good as Little Walter in some people's eyes.
On the country side we get Johnny Cash's "I walk the line". Corny you say. Don't care. I don't mind how many times I hear this track. We also get the far more obscure "Home of the Blues" from the same man - one of his very best Sun offerings. We also get various rock'n'roll ladies on this collection. "Ten Cats Down" from the Miller Sisters has appeared in other comps but it deserves it. Linda Gail Lewis (sister of Jerry Lee) with her version of Eddie Fontaine's "Nothin' Shakin'" hasn't appeared anywhere else to the best of my knowledge.
Yet another great Sun comp. How did Sam Philips do it?