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Sunday, 18 December 2011

Review: Wailin’ Daddy – The Best of Maxwell Davis (1949-1959)

Normally any CD reviews on Be Bop Wino are to be found at the end of posts on the artist or artists featured on the said CDs. However, this recent 3CD set released on Fantastic Voyage deserves its own post for 2 reasons – (1) it’s a superfine collection which fits right in with the kind of music so beloved of your blog host and many of the collaborators and followers of BBW and (2) it centres on an artist about whom I posted way, way back and therefore many blog followers would miss out if the review of “Wailin’ Daddy” were to be buried deep in the BBW archive.

Maxwell Davis is truly an Unsung Hero of Rock and Roll and the compiler of this set, Dave Penny, has set about rescuing his name from undeserved obscurity with the true fervour of an evangelist of rhythm and blues. For those of you who have missed out on the previous Maxwell Davis posts on Be Bop Wino and are wondering what all the fuss is about, he was one of the most important figures in the development of West Coast rhythm and blues in the 1940s and 1950s. He was an accomplished tenor sax player (listen to his brief but brilliant solo on “Safronia B” by Calvin Boze) but his importance really lies in his abilities as a bandleader, arranger, producer and song writer which saw him play a vital background role on many, many hit R&B records, especially a series of fantastic recordings by Amos Milburn, Percy Mayfield, Charles Brown, Peppermint Harris, and B.B. King.

He performed a role similar to that of Jesse Stone at Atlantic, Dave Bartholomew at Imperial and Willie Dixon at Chess. They were multi talented instrumentalists, songwriters, producers and arrangers who shaped the sound of post World War II Afro-American music, forging the new form of rhythm and blues and in its turn rock and roll. What makes Maxwell Davis different is that he worked for many labels in the Los Angeles area, most noticeably at Aladdin but also for Specialty and the Bihari brothers’ Modern / RPM set up. Those three are just the tip of the iceberg, for “Wailin’ Daddy” also includes recordings for Black & White, Pacific, 4Star, Excelsior, Capitol, Torch, Atomic, Down Beat, Miltone, Exclusive, Supreme, Swing Time, Imperial – I’ll just stop there, but there’s plenty more.

This mid price set covers his career from 1945 to 1959. CD1 (subtitled “Bluesville: The Best of Maxwell’s Singles) is a collection of recordings Maxwell made under his own name. Included are some of the poppy instrumentals he recorded at Aladdin in the 1950s, some of which you can find on this post, plus the harder hitting instrumentals he cut for Modern and RPM, some of which you can find on this post. There’s also a whole bunch of mid to late 1940s jump blues cuts from the likes of Black & White, 4Star, Swing Beat and Modern many of which have probably never been compiled on CD or vinyl.

The remaining two CDs follow Maxwell’s career as a producer / arranger through the 1940s and 1950s, being titled “Swingin’ An Echo: Blowin’ Through The ‘40s” and “Blow, Man, Blow: Rockin’ Through The ‘50s.”

Now it would have been the easiest thing in the world to throw together a collection of the big hits like “Bad, Bad Whiskey” or “Please Send Me Someone To Love” or “Black Night” or “You Upset Me Baby” but our indefatigable compiler has dug real, real deep to bring us a mix of the unexpected, the not so well known and the long forgotten. Sure the big names are there – on CD2 you get Lowell Fulson, Amos Milburn, Percy Mayfield, Lloyd Glenn and Jimmy Witherspoon among others, but there’s also Big Speed McDaniels, Felix Gross, Effie Smith, Mary De Pina and Geechie Smith. CD3 also has its share of well known names such as T-Bone Walker, B.B. King, Floyd Dixon and Joe Liggins but you also get La Melle Prince, Rock Heart Johnson, The Cocoas, and Rusty McDonald. As for unexpected big names there’s Ray Anthony (on a version of “Blow Man Blow”) and June Christy.

With such a selection this 3CD set should appeal to both the long time R&B fan and the newbie. It’s not only a history lesson, it’s real fun to listen to with loads of jumpin’ and rockin’ goins on for you hepcats out there. Those short but always on-the-money sax breaks by Maxwell are simply superb with their big warm tone, and where required, buzz saw rasping. Give ‘em a big ending is a basic rule for compiling an R&B mix and the sequence on CD3 from track 24 through to track 30 certainly does that with blasters like “Flip Your Daddy” and “Hot Banana” guaranteed to fill the dance floor or at least get you bouncing round your living room.

In the UK “Wailin’ Daddy” should cost you about £12. Packaging is good with the discs coming in a digi box similar to those old Capitol Blues Collection sets. You get 89 tracks and a 20 page booklet with photos (including a basketball team featuring Charles Mingus and Maxwell Davis), label shots and the usual informative essay by Dave Penny. That’s pretty much a bargain. This is the first issue of a series called “The Architects of Rock ‘n Roll” which may well include more Be Bop Wino heroes. I’ll keep you posted.

Wailin' Daddy: The Best Of Maxwell Davis (Fantastic Voyage FVTD130)

See also these Maxwell Davis posts where you can grab some tracks and read some info:

Maxwell Davis - Father of West Coast R&B

Maxwell Davis And His Tenor Sax


Anonymous said...

This looks like a fantastic set! Here's hoping that, stranded in the hinterlands of Canada, I can actually find this gem already waiting for me at my favourite cd shop. Excellent review that lays out why it's a must-have.

Dave Penny said...

Fantastic review, BBW - thank you very much for your kind words. The "Architects" series hopes to return in the new year with a similarly exhaustive King Curtis set.

Kindest regards


Anonymous said...

The password doesn't seem to work! Has it been changed without me knowing:) Paul

boogiewoody said...

No it's still the same password, Paul. There is no download of the 3CD set. The two old LP posts should still be downloadable. are you having problems with one of the LPs?

RPM said...

Thanks very, very much for both the Maxwell Davis LPs: great playing from the bands, clean production and amazing tone and range from Mr. Davis himself across a wide variety of material. Essential.

While Bebop Wino is both educational and fun, it really is much, much more than that.

Your diligent research, great writing, keen ears and meticulous posts - as, for instance in your swing band discussion during August and September, 2010 - simultaneously place this music in its historical context and remind us just how timeless it is.

Thanks for all your hard, careful work and best wishes for the new year.

RPM said...

Thanks very much for both Maxwell Davis records: great playing from the bands, clean production, and great tone and range from Mr. Davis himself across a wide variety of material.

As always, while Bebop Wino is both educational - and fun - it really is much, much more.

Your diligent research, great writing and meticulous posts - as, for instance in your discussion of swing bands in August and September 2010 - simultaneously place this music in historical context and remind us all of its timeless nature.

Thanks for all your hard and careful work, and best wishes for the holidays and new year.

doug said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you., I had the low b udget release "Blue Tango" when it was new and wore it to shreds. This post really made my day.

Pterosonus said...

I bought this based on your review and am very glad I did. Excellent songs from pre- and early rock days when saxophone was the killer lead soloist instead of guitar. A couple of songs come from extremely worn out 78's and should have been left off and replaced with songs that don't sound like they're being played behind a waterfall. Annoying lack of personnel listing, as incomplete as it might have been. Great set! Got mine on eBay for $19.00 with free shipping.

boogiewoody said...

Thank you Pterosonus. I should have mentioned that a couple of the earlier and rarer sides are mastered from rather worn discs. Fantastic Voyage stuff is public domain so you're not gonna have pristine sound quality on every track.

The lack of personnel details is another slight drawback - you only get the label, release number and year. Maybe there just wasn't room for that amount of info.

The set is comparatively cheaper over here at around £11 or £12 and is well worth that amount of money.

Pete W said...

Just a word to the wise that as of now (Feb 22 2012) the great Maxwell Davis 3-CD 89-track "Wailin' Daddy" box set is amazingly only £5.00 on Amazon UK! Any British BBW-ers who don't already have it should order a copy quick before the price goes back up...