When electrified blues and rhythm & blues first took hold in the black music market in the late 1940s and early 1950s it wasn’t the major labels that catered for this raunchy, exuberant and confident musical hybrid.
Instead, it was immigrant families such as the Chess brothers in Chicago and the Biharis in Los Angeles who saw there were demands to be catered for and money to be made.
The Biharis (originally from Hungary) started their Modern label in the forties and added the subsidiary Flair a few years later.
Its music was brash, beguiling and best played loud, whether it was Ike Turner (years before he met Tina) with the insistent 1954 instrumental “Loosely” or Louisiana guitarist Clarence “Bonton” Garlow extolling the delights of “Route 80” down to New Orleans.
But striding through this two-CD set like the colossus he was, is Elmore James, the guitarist many consider to be one of the finest bluesmen of the post-war era. It wasn’t just his influential and imitable guitar playing that attracts but a voice and lyrics that can have you crying in your beer or rocking the house down. Just try his definitive “Dust My Blues” or the majestic “Standing at the Crossroads” for starters.
Elsewhere there’s the delights of Richard Berry (the man who was to bring us the first version of “Louie Louie”) with the prison drama “The Big Break” and Carlos Santana’s father-in-law Saunders King with the more mellow “Quit Hangin’ Around Me”. Juke joint heaven.
Dust My Rhythm & Blues: The Flair Records R&B Story 1953-1955 (Ace) is available for £17.77 from amazon.co.uk
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