Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Vee Jay - The Definitive Collection

Vee Jay is probably best known as the first label to license the Beatles in America as well as releasing The Four Seasons' hits but they had so much more! This 4 CD set is a mix of fantastic blues, amazing doo-wop and cool early rock'n'roll.

Some of the stars included here are Jimmy Reed - his terrific and essential hits were with Vee Jay - the early (fantastic) Staples Singers, John Lee Hooker, and an amazing array of others. Vee Jay had an impressive number of hits - besides the blues records, there were doo-wop smashes like the Spaniels' "Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight", El Dorados' "At My Front Door", the Dells' "Oh What a Night", "For Your Precious Love" and "Make It Easy on Yourself" by Jerry Butler & the Impressions, the fairly incomprehensible "Shambalor" by Sheriff & the Ravels, Jerry Butler's classic "He Will Break Your Heart", the hits "Raindrops" by Dee Clark and "Every Beat of my Heart" by the Pips, Gene Chadler's massive "Duke of Earl", and plenty of others.

This set has some dynamite blues, though - Floyd Jones' "Ain't Times Hard", LC McKinley's "Blue Evening",  Billy Boy Arnold's "I Wish You Would" (that was covered zillions of times from the 60's on), Eddie Taylor's "Bad Boy", the jump blues classic "Hands Off" by Jay McShann, the rockin' "Oop de Oop" by Earl Phillips, Al Smith's Combo's groovy "Fooling Around Slowly", the hoppin' "Rock'n'Roll Mama" by Camille Howard, the great Pee Wee Clayton's "Telephone is Ringing", Elmore James' "It Hurts Me Too", the sultry "Blues Get Off of My Shoulder" by Bobby Parker, Memphis Slim's stompin' "Steppin' Out" (made famous by Cream), Roscoe Gordon's "Just a Little Bit" (innumerable covers), Christine Kittrell's "I'm a Woman", and, yes, lots more!

Gospel is also represented, such as the oddly named Highway QC's and their "Somewhere to Lay My Head", the Staples Singers powerful early work, such as "Uncloudy Day" (love this stuff that's just voices and Pops Staples' guitar), the Harmonizing Four's "Farther Along", the Original Five Blind Boys doing "Leave You in the Hands of the Lord", "Mary Don't You Weep" by the Swan Silvertones, "Old Ship of Zion" by the Sallie Martin Singers, and, you guessed it - still more!

There are a few oddities, like the jazz-pop of "Exodus" by Eddie Harris, the leap onto the surf wagon (or board, I suppose) in "Body Surf" by Aki Aleong and the Nobles, the early soul/pop of Betty Everett with the original "You're No Good" and the "Shoop Shoop Song", the early British beat/rock'n'roll of "Have I the Right" by the Honeycombs (one of the first pop bands with a female drummers), the country-rock of Hoyt Axton's "Bring Your Lovin'", Gloria Jones' soul rocker "Tainted Love", Billy Preston (long before he was hanging out with the Beatles and the Stones) doing the swinging instrumental "Billy's Bag" (showing he had his style early on), and the whole shee-bang ends with the fabulous Little Richard doing a wonderful gospel-styled soul tune, "I Don't Know What You Got But It's Got Me".

Looking at it from the modern day of mega-record-companies that require millions of dollars of promotion for any record to become a hit, it is pretty damn amazing that this small, independent label was responsible for so many huge records. This fantastic 4 disc set goes a long way in showing their legacy. Unfortunately, I don't have the booklet that accompanies this, but the music alone is well worth it.