Doo-wop was one of the most popular forms of 1950s rhythm and blues, often compared with rock and roll, with an emphasis on multi-part vocal harmonies and meaningless backing lyrics (from which the genre later gained its name), which were usually supported with light instrumentation. Its origins were in African-American vocal groups of the 1930s and 40s, such as the Ink Spots and the Mills Brothers, who had enjoyed considerable commercial success with arrangements based on close harmonies. They were followed by 1940s R&B vocal acts such as the Orioles, the Ravens and the Clovers, who injected a strong element of traditional gospel and, increasingly, the energy of jump blues. By 1954, as rock and roll was beginning to emerge, a number of similar acts began to cross over from the R&B charts to mainstream success, often with added honking brass and saxophone, with the Crows, the Penguins, the El Dorados and the Turbans all scoring major hits. Despite the subsequent explosion in records from doo wop acts in the later 1950s, many failed to chart or were one-hit wonders. Exceptions included the Platters, with songs including "The Great Pretender" (1955) and the Coasters with humorous songs like "Yakety Yak" (1958), both of which ranked among the most successful rock and roll acts of the era. Towards the end of the decade there were increasing numbers of white, particularly Italian-American, singers taking up doo wop, creating all-white groups like the Mystics and Dion and the Belmonts and racially integrated groups like the Del-Vikings and the Impalas. Doo-wop would be a major influence on vocal surf music, soul and early Merseybeat, including the Beatles.
At the beginning of October, again with Abraham's help, Sunny was booked at the Grand Terrace, a venerable ballroom whose management was going through a spell of trying to revive it as a musical venue. The Terrace had reopened to much fanfare in May 1955; a show featuring King Kolax's band had run out of steam in July; a second revue featuringMemphis Slim's combo had had a shorter run in August. Sunny appeared as part of an elaborate show called "Autumn Follies" organized by Rudy Crier; top billing went to blues and soul singer Harold Burrage. Remarkably, the sign board announcing the show was rediscovered in 2012.
Thunder Before Dawn--The Indestructible Beat of Soweto Volume Two [Earthworks/Virgin, 1988]This compelling version of mbaqanga is preeminently a music of professional rhythm sections--the legendary Makgona Tsohle Band driving Mahlathini's cuts, the guitar-organ motor behind Amaswazi Emvelo. Unlike such urban roots musics as Chicago blues or Memphis soul, it doesn't mess much with laid-back--as deep into street action as punk, its forward motion is almost frantic with joy, which may mean it's less joyful than we assume (and it pretends). It's no shock that the level of inspiration doesn't match Volume One's--how many miracles do we get in a lifetime?--but the falloff in warmth is a little disappointing. Only Jozi's "Phumani Endlini" has much pastorale in it, and only the three instrumentals cut life much slack. My favorite comes from Malombo, a "black consciousness" band who've always seemed pretentious to read about, but whose haunting understatement bears the same relationship to this nonstop anthology as Ladysmith's pop spirituality did to its vigorously secular predecessor. A-
Vee-Jay: The Definitive Collection [Shout! Factory, 2007]Before Motown, Chicago-based Vee-Jay was the biggest black-owned label of the rock and roll era, with a run of r&b and then pop hits stretching from Jimmy Reed's "High and Lonesome" in 1953 to the Dells' "Stay in My Corner" in 1965--and also included the Four Seasons' 1962 "Sherry" and, thanks to Capitol Records' initial stupidity, four of the first nine Beatles' songs to go top 40. But the label failed to survive these unlikely successes--by 1964 or so, it was said to be involved in sixty-four separate legal actions. Vee-Jay had no house style--just a&r man Calvin Carter, who favored the rougher strains of blues and gospel but appreciated every r&b and gospel style, and promo man Ewart Abner, who could schmooze anybody about anything and ended up president of Motown. Reed was its most prolific artist. Label-hopping blues primitivist John Lee Hooker had his biggest singles with Vee-Jay, and apostle of soul cool Jerry Butler his first. Carter also brought the world the supernal doowop of Pookie Hudson's Spaniels and the durable post-doowop of Marvin Junior's Dells. But all these artists are more efficiently accessed on their own collections. What's striking on this four-CD set is the one-shots: young Gladys Knight and aging "5" Royales, cult heroes Rosco Gordon and Pee Wee Crayton outdoing themselves, hot songwriter Hoyt Axton's hokum blues and future record exec Donnie Elbert's falsetto workout. Like most boxes, this one needs its familiar hits and is too long on high-generic collectors' items. But with the worst of eighty-five tracks a lounge-jazz "Exodus," a lot of people were clearly doing something right. [Rolling Stone: 3.5]
Two Niles: To Sing a Melody: The Violins and Synths of Sudan [Ostinato, 2018]Not for everybody--in fact, not for me at first. Cheesy synths, honeyed strings, vocals that wailed or ululated more than shouted or crooned--it was all too much. But gradually I came to hear what the extensive notes on this handsomely packaged, moderately priced double-CD gave me a grip on: a fleeting '70s golden era that uplifted a Khartoum postcolonial elite under the thumb of Nasserite music lover Gafaar Muhammad Nimeiry. This was relatively genteel stuff, its steady rhythms devoid of Ali Hassan Kuban Nubian drive. But Zaidan Ibrahim's "Ma Hammak Azabna" is pretty bouncy, Hanan Bulu Bulu's "Alamy Wa Shagiya" pretty girl-group, and people's hero Mohammed Wardi the soul of compassionate yearning and resolve. Problem was, Nimeiry was a politician first like all strongmen, the arty ones included, and as Islamism took root in northern Africa he turned due right. His Sharia-based September Laws of 1983 banned songs about women in a nation where incinerating heaps of cassettes became street entertainment, and in 1989 a military coup sent even Wardi into exile, where a year later he found himself offering a few hours of pleasure to 250,000 asylum-seeking refugees in Ethiopia. B+ 2b1af7f3a8