The blues comes in plenty of hues. Devotees of early blues should check Blues Images’ (www.bluesimages.com) 2008 calendar. Each month features a 12” x 12” reproduction of the original illustrated ad for a 1927-32 platter on the accompanying CD — for example, Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “One Dime Blues” and Blind Blake’s “Seaboard Stomp.”
Among black-owned labels, Vee-Jay never established a distinct sound like Motown, though in its 1953-66 lifetime, it encapsulated Midwestern black music, with blues (John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed, Walter Horton, Elmore James), doo-wop (The Spaniels and El Dorados) and R&B (Betty Everett, the Iceman Jerry Butler). The fervent Staple Singers and Swan Silvertones embodied gospel’s influence on rock.
With four CDs and 85 tracks, the admirably annotated and illustrated Vee-Jay: The Definitive Collection (Shout! Factory) presents the defunct label in all its sepia glory with both hits (Reed’s “Ain’t That Loving You Baby,” Gene Chandler’s “Duke Of Earl”) and wonderful obscurities (Sheriff & The Ravels’ “Shombalor”).
Reed, who’s well represented with seven tracks, was plagued by illiteracy and a short memory — not to mention alcoholism and epilepsy — so he kept his wife, Mary, (the honoree of “Honest I Do”) beside him in the studio to whisper his lines in his ear before he sang them. As for Vee-Jay’s notable white acts, there’s only “Sherry” from The Four Seasons and no early Beatles. The track list says Hank Ballard’s “The Twist” is here, though it isn’t.
But, yes, that’s Jimi Hendrix backing Little Richard on the box’s incendiary finale. By the way, Shout! Factory’s Vee-Jay reissue marathon also includes individually available, 16-to-18-cut The Best Of The Vee-Jay Years CDs by Reed, The Staples, Butler and The Dells.
As for a Reed tribute, Omar Kent Dykes (of Omar & The Howlers) and Jimmie Vaughan’s On The Jimmy Reed Highway (Ruf) has way more drive than Reed’s comparatively low-key originals (“Bright Lights Big City,” “Baby What You Want Me To Do”). Dykes and guest Lou Ann Barton’s jiving call-and-response “Good Lover” is especially charming. Delbert McClinton and Reed’s Vee-Jay label mate, harp man Horton, also help on this good-time cruise.
Recalling eras before mass media homogenized our culture, the 15-track Down Home Saturday Night (Smithsonian Folkways) offers pianist Memphis Slim’s boogie-woogie, The Texas Playboys’ western swing and Boozoo Chavis’ accordion-sparked zydeco, as well as blues, bluegrass, Cajun and dance-oriented conjunto from the real McCoys of indigenous American music.
John Sebastian and the J-Band with Geoff Muldaur buoyantly revive Cannon’s Jug Stompers’ (and then The