Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The Masters: 50's & 60's Early Rock & Roll - Best Live Albums

RtBE loves listening to new music and prides itself on keeping tabs on up and coming artists but in 2019 we are also going to have a monthly spotlight on legendary artists who we really love. We are calling this series The Masters. It will focus on the best albums, live records, transcendent shows and other odd ways we appreciate the artists and their contribution to music, culture and our formation.

For October The Masters focuses on Early Rock & Roll

Unlike our previous list this month which was more of a chance to just discuss the legends and their greatest hits, since they never focused on albums during their heydays and were only out for the hits, this list will be official live shows/releases from those artists and others. 

Then again, this list is kind of pointless as EVERYTHING was live back then, so the ripping King Curtis saxophone blare, or Lloyd Price bellow or DJ Fontana snare slap was captured as is. Even though almost all of their studio records were recorded live in the studio, some of the classic concerts from that era are worth revisiting.

We cover a few we left off our list of top studio work, but some of them also pop up. Remember these lists are made to start conversations, so without further ado let's go up, down, down up, any way you wanna let it roll, yeah, yeah, yeah...

5. Jerry Lee Lewis - Old Time Religion - Rare Recordings 1970
Duality of heaven and hell caught Jerry Lee Lewis many many times throughout his life. He would swear off rock and roll, give himself to Jesus, then crawl back to the nightlife shortly after. His cousin was Jimmy Swaggert after all and the church was always a part of his life, just ask Sam Phillips. This amazing recording finds Jerry in Sunday morning form with some sly lines about selling his new records after the show, but with a stripped down band of Jerry Lee Jr. on drums, Kenneth Lovelace on guitar and fiddle, Edward DeBruhl on bass, and William “Bill” David Strom on organ the group plays through hymns and religious songs.

Hearing this as a counterpoint to Lewis crazy rock and roll gives the full sense of the artist and is vital to his standing. Lewis is saved as he takes the band through "I'm Longing for Home", "The Old Rugged Cross", "I Know That Jesus Will Be There" and "Amazing Grace". Lewis and band are in bright form as they wrap up with a run consisting of "On the Jericho Road", "I'll Fly Away", "My God Is Real", "When Jesus Beckons Me Home", "I Won't Have to Cross Jordan Alone", "Keep on the Firing Line". Putting the holy in the holy spirit of rock and roll, Lewis and band spread the good word on Old Time Religion, a super cool live record.   

4. Johnny Cash - At Folsom Prison 1968

While we are discussing early rock and roll, the man in black was always country western, but he ran in these circles (another Million Dollar Quartet member) and it would be a shame not to give him some love this month. Granted you can argue this doesn't fit our self imposed criteria but who cares, this album IS punk as fuck.

Famous for playing in front of prisons, the most rapt, appreciative audience one could have. The playing is prime, fierce and wild. The title track written for the occasion, "Cocaine Blues", "The Long Black Veil", the growling "Egg Sucking Dog" and the heartfelt "Send a Picture to Mother" show various stages of Cash's amazing voice and style. The gorgeous duet for "Jackson" and the set closing reflective "Greystone Chapel" are dynamic as Cash cements his outlaw image. A classic in any genre.

3. Elvis - Elvis: '68 Comeback Special  1968
In 1968 the King was not cool, this changed that. While it was as much visual as the music and singing with Elvis. Wearing his sexy black leather suit, the King held a mini court where fans clung to every utterance. This dynamite set propelled the King to another act in his career, selling out arenas around the country.

Performances of the stone cold classics, "Heartbreak Hotel", "Hound Dog" and "All Shook Up" are amazing, as is his paying tribute to Jimmy Reed with "Baby What You Want Me To Do?" and  Lloyd Price with "Lawdy Ms. Clawdy". While we mentioned before RtBE aren't the biggest Elvis fans we have to thank him personally for that cover, as it lead to our band covering that song multiple times live, fusing our lead singers love for Elvis with the New Orleans beat of Price.  So for personal reasons alone we will give this Elvis record/show some love.

2. Sam Cooke - One Night Stand! Live At The Harlem Square Club 1963

Like with Johnny Cash, we kept all of the soul crooners out of our earlier list including Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and Sam Cooke. All are amazing and RtBE owns multiple records by each, spinning them often, but they are always more soul, than rock and roll. The two exceptions for live records are Otis Live In Europe with him covering the Stones and Beatles and this record by Cooke.

We went with Cooke because he is doing his thing back in '61 but this show just pumps, predominately because of drummer Albert "June" Gardner who gets the crowd jumping. Cooke sings with his classic smoothness buts adds a party showman raw vibe to the mix, getting the crowd to wave hankies and keep the party alive. For such a smooth singer and performer this album, well cooks! "Feel It", "Chain Gang" and "Somebody Have Mercy" are all mega, just listen to the way he works the crowd on "Bring It on Home To Me" below. Again, if this doesn't fit the exact requirements, fuck it, it sounds hot as hell, and besides it was all live back then...but one "live album" does stand out from the pack...

1. Jerry Lee Lewis - Live at The Star Club  1964

This album was reason alone to do this entry in our Masters series as Jerry Lee made this list twice and with damn good reason. While Old Time Religion has Lewis finding God, The Star Club shows him at the height of his talent...10 Plus Years (!) after the popular heights, proving the man had so much to offer, if only he didn't derail his own career (multiple times). Playing in a tiny sweaty night club in Hamburg the legend just simply did it again as Live At The Star Club puts the Saturday Night on Old Time Religions Sunday morning; yin and yang.

What is so amazing about this show is like Chuck Berry, Lewis wasn't too concerned about who he played with as he KNEW he would bring it and these young kids just had to hang on for the ride throughout his songs. A no name three piece backing band support Lewis, but it is literally the Killer slaughtering on this record. "High School Confidential" is vibrant, he almost steals the originals away on covers of "Money" and "What I'd Say" both monstrous and completely bad ass. Then he starts in on the hits...

The B-side is Lewis master class in Rock and Roll, tossing in Little Richard tracks, Elvis numbers he does better than the King (well to these ears) and the songs that made him famous. The Star Club proves there is really only one Killer, let's be thankful again for that.

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