Holy Mackerel! – Best Roots Rock Compilation of 2009

Holy Mackerel- Little Richard celebration

As 2009 comes to a close, and many folks are still frantically running around trying to figure out what sort of holiday presents to buy for their loved ones, I feel I would be remiss to not share my opinion about one of the coolest CDs to be released this year. My friends at Ace Records put one particular compilation that I’m quite fond of, and I feel it’s my duty to let the world know all about it.

Holy Mackerel! is a wonderful collection that celebrates music that was directly inspired by the spirit of Little Richard. With an assortment of 25 tracks recorded between 1957 and 1965, Holy Mackerel is a collection of songs that attempt to replicate or at least acknowledge the Little Richard style of singing. There’s some familiar names that most people would recognize on this collection- James Brown, Otis Redding, Etta James, Ike & Tina Turner are some of the big artists on this one. Then, there’s the other names that only the most dedicated of music collectors would know about- Ronnie Molleen, Little Ike, Screamin’ Joe Neal, and Big Al Downing, among others.

Being the big Richard Berry appreciator that I am, I was especially tickled to discover an alternative version of “Yama Yama Pretty Mama” recorded in 1956. As Ace Records has been methodically transferring all of the master recordings of the Modern-RPM-Flair legacy produced by the Bihari Brothers, they’ve discovered some unreleased variations of previously-released songs. Thanks to the dedicated preservation efforts of Ace, you can now hear take #7 of “Yama Yama Pretty Mama” as well as take #1 of “Tough Lover” by Etta James, both recorded at Cosimo Matassa’s J&M Studios in New Orleans, using many of the same musicians hired by Little Richard.

Like most of the Ace Records releases, this CD utilizes state-of-the-art audio mastering that actually sounds better than the original vinyl (at least to my ears), encyclopedic liner notes that provide a wealth of information about each individual track, and beautiful images from dedicated archivists that truly did their homework. Tony Rounce, who assembled the Richard Berry compilation coincidentally called “Yama Yama – the Modern Recordings 1954-1956” really did a fabulous job on putting this one together.

As this collection points out, there was a period when Little Richard dropped out of the rock and roll universe to devote himself to the church, leaving behind a massive void, which other musicians looked upon as a new opportunity to be filled. In fact many of the recordings on this CD were direct attempts by musicians to capitalize on the essence of what Little Richard was no longer providing.

One of the groups that came into greater prominence during Little Richard’s rock ‘n roll hibernation was The Upsetters, which was literally Little Richard’s backup band. The final track on this CD is a song called “I’m In Love Again,” which features a 1962 reunion of Little Richard with his old band, back when he was still officially disavowing his rock and roll roots.

As the story goes, two years after that particular record, Little Richard officially returned to rock and roll with “Bama Lama Bama Loo,” a new rock group from Liverpool known as the Beatles were all too happy to acknowledge him as one of their biggest influences, and the rest is history, so to speak.

Anyways, this CD, subtitled “Pretenders to Little Richard’s Throne,” is an excellent addition to anyone’s music collection. As Tony Rounce states in the introduction to his liner notes “It’s not high art, but rock ‘n’ roll was never meant to be that. What it is, is one of hour of exhilarating homage to one of popular music’s most stellar and enduring talents.”

It’s my choice for the Best Roots Rock Compilation of 2009. This is FUN music, pure and simple!

… and those of you that need a reminder of what Richard Berry’s “Yama Yama” sounds like, here’s a nice little cover of that song by Big Sandy & the Fly-Rite Boys that I shot last year in San Jose with my little pocket camera. (Totally unplanned, by the way)


DISCLOSURE: I am mentioned in this CD as the source of a Richard Berry photo.

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