Strictly Instrumental — Volume 11
Buffalo Bop 55198
By Hank Davis
It’s really amazing. This is Volume 11 in a series of utterly obscure rock and roll instrumentals drawn from 45s released during the 1950s on equally obscure labels such as Conbie, Bangar, Del Amo and Peach. Never heard of them, you say? Welcome to the club. How about groups like The Flintales, The Polaras, The Rhythmics and The Scavengers? Again, welcome to the club.
These bands probably enjoyed one release more than half a century ago, only to be resurrected on a CD collection from Germany. Their records probably never sounded as good as they do on this CD. To this day, I still have no idea how the nice folks at Buffalo Bop manage to get so much crisp, undistorted sound off these original 45s, since mastering off original master tapes was hardly an option. The color photos of original labels included with the CD are always a plus for collectors, and the occasional artist photo is a real delight.
Another puzzling question is where they find these things. I’ve raised this question before in reviewing Buffalo Bop collections for Goldmine’s readers. Eleven volumes at about 30 tracks a volume. Hmmm, that’s more than 300 sides. And keep in mind that Buffalo Bop doesn’t routinely use both sides of a single. If they don’t like that wimpy ballad on the flip side, it’s on to the next. So each CD is the result of a lot of record sleuthing. Finding a lot of boxes in a lot of attics and garages in small-town America.
But there’s a downside, and you don’t have to be a musician to hear it. Most of these songs (23 out of 28 here) are 12-bar blues, played at approximately the same tempo. And there’s not much variety in key, either. Guitar bands (I had one for many years) play almost everything in E or A. If you add a sax, that changes things a bit. Sax men hate to play in those keys, and most can’t. Martin Willis, Sun Records’ resident sax player, once told me with pride, “I learned to play in those keys, or else I couldn’t have worked at Sun.” There’s some unintended variety here, because even when these bands play in the same key, they’re not quite in tune with the outside world; the guitars and bass just tune to each other. Once you add a piano or a sax, you can’t get away with that.
The highlights here — and believe it or not, there are a few – include The Royaltones’ record of “Wail!” (Jubilee 5338 — as close as we get to a major label) and “Hanky Panky” by Jay Brown & The Jets (Peach 736). The truth is, if you take away the influence of Duane Eddy and, to a lesser extent, Link Wray, there’s not much left here in the way of style. The shadow of those two guitarists rests heavily over almost everything. Will there be more in this series? Hard to tell. Does there need to be? That’s quite a different question. If there are 10 more volumes, I doubt they’ll contain many surprises. From a completist’s point of view, it’d be nice to unearth that many more obscure artists and labels. But from a musical point of view? I’m not so sure there’ll be much to gain.
I would have thought the well would have run dry ages ago. But it obviously didn’t. I guess hunting for obscure old rockin’ 45s, vocal or instrumental, is like what you discover about field mice if you live out in the country. There’s a seemingly infinite supply of them, and they’re all pretty much the same.
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