Monday, August 19, 2013

I Put a Spell on You - The Okeh Story

The Okeh Records was a terrific and prolific label that was responsible for some of the best and most rockin' r'n'b to come out of the 1950's. As the title reveals, Screamin' Jay Hawkins had his biggest hit while on this label, but there were many other greats, from big Maybelle to Brook benton to Dave "Baby" Cortez and even Frankie Valli (though he recorded under the name Frankie Tyler for the out-of-control "I Go Ape"). Okeh was a contemporary of Chess (indeed, Okeh actually started first!) and mined a lot of the same type of talent.

Many of the artists on Okeh received their greatest hits on other labels, but there is a lot of fantastic music here and plenty of chart success. I remember Little Joe and the Thrillers "Peanuts" from my childhood, though I don't remember the killer guitar solo! Big Maybelle's fantastic original "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" is even more sexualized than Jerry Lee Lewis' monster hit - which probably explains why Maybelle didn't get the chart topper. Dave "Baby" Cortez's "You Given Me Heebie Jeebies" may not have risen to the top like his instrumental "Happy Organ", but this is a cool, Little Richard inspired rocker and his "Honey Baby" is a fine blues rocker!

Tons of fun cuts here - "I've Got That Feeling" by LaVerne Ray & the Raytones, Paul Gayten's "Cow Cow Blues" (the instrumental basis for Dr. John's "Do the Mess Around"), a couple more Screamin' Jay gems, such as "Person to Person", "You Made Me Love You" and "Frenzy" and Big Maybelle's terrific "The Other Night", "One Monkey Don't Stop the Show" and "I've Got a Feelin'". Some cool, early doo-woppish r'n'r like Chuck Willis' "Ring Ding Doo" and The Skee Brothers' "That's All She Wrote", but also some truly wimpy cuts, like Brook Benton's "The Kentuckian Song" and "Bring Me Love" or the goofy "If You Care" by Frankie Tyler (Valli).

Nice surprises for me included Doc Bagby's sax-driven blues number "Sylvia's Callin'", Lois Lee's sassy "I've Got It Bad For You Baby", Hurricane Harry doing "Last Meal" that I know from Jimmy Rogers' version, the Dolls' Shangra-La's-esque "Please Come Home", the swinging "You Care" by Jolly Boy Shepard (reminiscent of "Youngblood", though a bit darker sounding), the Five Scamps "Red Hot" is a hot, jumpin', sax workout, and Marvin Gaye even makes an appearance - albeit as a backing singer - for the Marquees "Wyatt Earp".

This is a fun, 2-CD set of 50's r'n'r, r'n'b, doo-wop, soul and blues - well worth owning!