Wednesday, January 27, 2010

ROW: Joe Houston – Cornbread and Cabbage Greens (Specialty)

Honkers and bar walkers were legion in the Los Angeles R&B scene of the late-Forties. The arguable triumvirate of the community consisted of Big Jay McNeeley, Chuck Higgins and Joe Houston, as reviled by jazz purists as they were revered by teenage fans hungry for that hot-stepping, proto-rock & roll sound. Houston’s style hardly varied from his peers in appropriating Illinois Jacquet’s freak register squeals and gutbucket growls as springboard vernacular. These 26 sides, originally waxed for storefront labels like Fort Knox, Regent and Money and later bought up under the Specialty umbrella, cross off pretty much all his stylistic ticks. Most are booting instrumentals with basic rhythmic backing working as vehicles for his wailing, stratosphere-slashing tenor. A few, like the disc’s title track, also pivot off boisterous shout-chorus vocals. The truly revelatory cuts are the final three that Houston’s wildly gesticulating tenor with an unnamed electric guitarist who slathers on stinging distortion and contrasts starkly with the decorous T-Bone Walker-style fretwork of earlier sides. Houston was still actively touring at the time of this collection’s pressing in 1992, sobering proof for those aforementioned purists that a honker’s career could just as easily eclipse a serious jazzman’s in the longevity department.

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