It's, as I type this, twenty-five minutes until my birthday, so in honour of that, here's a completely self-indulgent post on my part…
When you have an upright bass, Gentle Reader, and a player who knows how to slap it, you do not actually need drums. And here's the proof…
First off is one of my favouritest rockabilly songs, All I Can Do Is Cry, originally recorded by Wayne Walker in 1956, but here performed sans drums by two members of Dublin neo-rockabilly/psychobilly group, Spellbound. If I had to articulate why I like this song so much, I think I would say that it's partly because of that lovely opening riff, the somewhat freestyle guitar-work, and the contrast between the quite mournful lyrics and the up-tempo rhythm. Or, less pretentiously—I dunno; I just do. Oh, and in this version, watch for the fuck-up by the guitarist around 1:25; 'cause hey, it's nice to know accomplished musicians do it now 'n' again. Gives the rest of us hope!
And here's another from '56, this time by the original artists, The Rock 'n' Roll Trio, aka Johnny Burnette's Rock 'n' Roll Trio. Lonesome Tears In My Eyes, like the previous song, contrasts a sad song with a fairly fast rhythm, and there's some quite nice intricate guitar work from Paul Burlison. The rhythm achieved by Dorsey Burnette on bass though; well I'm not quite sure what to call it. It has that 'broken' feel typical of a rumba, but it don't sound like any rumba I've ever heard. Nice though, whatever it is. (Dorsey Burnette had, you may find interesting if you like musical trivia, played, uncredited, on some of Howlin' Wolf's radio shows. The Wolf would merely make the introduction, 'Me and my cats.' And thus, in small ways, was southern race-law flouted and slowly weakened in the 1950s. They couldn't mix on a stage in front of an audience, but musicians being musicians, they were damn well gonna mix where they could get away with it; and if it left them all with a slightly smug feeling of having got one over on (the white section of) an audience who might have been horrified, who can blame them?) Here's Lonesome Tears In My Eyes:
This next one, Rollin' And Tumblin', was originally recorded by Hambone Willie Newbern in 1929, but the version I'm posting is a tad later; Muddy Waters, in 1950, with Ernest "Big" Crawford on bass. There is, I have to say, nothing particularly special about this record if you look at the component parts. Lyrically, there's a million blues songs like it. The guitar part, though played well enough by Waters, is based around a riff that goes back to some of the earliest guitar-blues numbers, and the bass is a steady, relaxed, double-slap. But somehow, when combined, they make a classic. This has been covered more than Adam and Eve's genitalia, but somehow, with a drum and electric bass backing, it lacks that 'God, I really need to dance!' feeling that I always get from this version. Oh, and I'm posting a video of parts one and two; because you hardly ever get to hear part two, and it deserves an outing.
This next number and the artists performing it, I know very little about. It's been covered to hell and back by rock 'n' roll and rockabilly bands over the years, but I couldn't even tell you who first recorded it. (This image of the record label shows one Wayne P. Walker being given the writing credit. I wonder if that's the same Wayne Walker who recorded All I Can Do Is Cry. Nice coincidence if not.) Still an' all, it's a good song, with a lovely, dance-floor filling pounding single-slap rhythm.
With this next number, Real Rock Drive, we introduce just a touch of drums. It's the first single by Bill Haley With Haley's Comets (later to be, variously, Bill Haley And The Comets, and Bill Haley And His Comets), after they changed their name, and musical approach, from the more cowboy-influenced Bill Haley And The Saddlemen. I've always been quite fond of the way, in those late Saddlemen, early Comets, numbers, the bass (Marshall Lytle, on this track) provides virtually all of the rhythm, while the drums (either Charlie Higler or Dick Boccelli; I'm not sure which), though they do provide a quite muted emphasis of the beat, are only really heard in short bursts, providing 'mood' between lines in the vocals. Quite clever, and very effective.
And this number, too, has some fairly muted drums on it. But how, I ask you, could I do a post on slap-bass, without including Willie Dixon? And I should hope that I really don't have to tell anyone anything about the man. This is just pure magic, from beginning to end…
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