Bear Family's Electric Blues
history Plug It In! Turn It Up!
may not seem quite as ambitious as some of their projects, but that's only because it arrives in four volumes of three CDs, not a hulking 12-disc, 12X12 box complete with a hardcover book. Taken on its own terms, it is a pretty impressive chronicle of electrified blues from its infancy to its prime. Here in the first volume, the spotlight shines on its birth, opening up with a cut from Andy Kirk & His Twelve Clouds of Joy
, a 1939 side called "Floyd's Guitar Blues" featuring a solo by Floyd Smith
, and running to 1954, when the jumping, hard-charged sound started to break into the big time. Wisely, Bear Family is happy to repeat artists -- there is no way to limit yourself to just one T-Bone Walker
or Muddy Waters
song, after all -- and they bend the rules ever so slightly, letting in sides by R&B singers like Fats Domino
and Ray Charles
, artists who aren't always strictly classified as electric blues but certainly fit this wide definition. Roughly speaking, the first disc here is devoted to the swinging, jumping sounds of the '40s and '50s, with the second finding the rawer, nastier sounds starting to sneak in (Jackie Brenston
's 'Rocket '88'," Howlin' Wolf
's "How Many More Years," Elmore James
' "Dust My Broom," and Little Walter
's "Juke" pop up here), and the third concluding with the rise of overdriven Chicago blues and boogie, with Jimmy Reed
rubbing shoulders with Wynonie Harris
. Perhaps there are some seminal sides from these 15 minutes -- almost certainly there are -- but this first volume of Plug it In! Turn It Up!
tells its story expertly and, best of all, it sounds like a party as it does so.