A New King Records Compilation

Often I receive review copies in the mail of upcoming releases, and there’s some entertainment value in opening the mailer and discovering what’s inside. As you might imagine, they’re not all masterpieces—but occasionally you end up with some nice surprises.  Yesterday something showed up called Hipshakers, Vol. 3: Just a Little Bit of the Jumpin’ Bean. While the title didn’t give it away, I could tell by the 45 labels plastered across the cover that it was a King Records compilation (more accurately, King Records and its subsidiary Federal).

That’s the third compilation in a series devoted to songs released on a Cincinnati label whose depth of talent was remarkable. This Hipshakers includes some of the better-known artists— Little Willie John and Freddy King, for instance—as well as a bunch of names that, for me, were either less familiar or totally unfamiliar.

For me, that’s much of the fun of the compilation—tuning into artists whose output was sometimes limited to a handful of singles (or in some cases one). People like Tiny Topsy, a female singer who belts out “Just a Little Bit” like it was nobody’s business. Or El Pauling and the Royalton, a 5 Royales spinoff; their “Solid Rock” has a mean guitar lick and is a much an early rocker as it as an R&B dancer. Continue reading “A New King Records Compilation”

A New James Brown Biography

I recently finished RJ Smith’s The One: The Life and Music of James Brown, and the impression I came away with was that by the time JB’s first single came out every day of his life was action packed.

In fact, I would guess that some days contained so many plots and sub-plots an entire novel could be written about one of them.

Probably there are thousands of stories to tell, and what impresses me about The One is Smith’s ability to tie together so many tales and still craft an entertaining and highly readable book. The One clocks in at just shy of 400 pages, but so much is packed into those pages that, considering how much information it contains, you would expect it to be twice that length.

Much of the book is focused on Cincinnati, where James Brown recorded countless singles and albums for King Records, hung out, met people, made friends and enemies, and worked with local musicians.

My favorite part of the book is where Smith recounts how Bootsy Collins added something to the band’s chemistry that helped take James Brown’s music to the next level. What happened seemed to be a combination of serendipity, raw talent and the kind of immersion in music that people experience when they’re aware that they have a chance to break something open.

Speaking of serendipity, I should mention that RJ Smith, whose extensive writing creds include gigs with Village Voice and Spin, is now moving to the city where James Brown recorded for King Records. A prior resident of Detroit and LA, Smith was recently hired as an editor for Cincinnati Magazine. As a music geek, I’m excited that he’s moving here, especially at a time when recognition of our rich musical history seems to be growing.