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Sunday 22 July 2018

The Untouchable Sound Of Bill Black's Combo

Side 1:
01. White Silver Sands
02. Movin'
03. Smokie - Part 2
04. Monkey-Shine
05. Don't Be Cruel
06. Little Queenie
07. Josephine
08. Willie

Side 2:
01. Turn On Your Love Light
02. Memphis, Tennessee
03. Hearts Of Stone
04. Twist-Her
05. Honky Train
06. Little Jasper
07. Do It - Rat Now
08. So What

As bass player in Elvis, Scotty and Bill, Bill Black sits for evermore at the top table in rock and roll Valhalla. What we have here is a boffo compilation of instrumental sides recorded by the group he formed in 1959 after splitting with Elvis - Bill Black's Combo.

The initial line up which featured on the group's biggest hits was - Bill Black (electric bass), Reggie Young (lead guitar), Martin Wills (tenor sax), Joe Lewis Hall (piano) and Jerry Arnold (drums). Their brand of danceable beat heavy music was an instant hit with "Smokie Parts 1 and 2" reaching number 17 in the Billboard Hot 100 in December 1959 and topping the R&B chart in January 1960. The run of chart success continued through 1960 into 1961 with "White Silver Sands" being their biggest hit at number 9 in the Hot 100 and number 1 in the R&B chart.

Their last top 20 hit was "Hearts Of Stone" in February 1961, but their records continued to enter the top 40 and then the lower reaches of the Hot 100 for several years - see the details below in the Trax Fax section. Unfortunately poor health caused Bill to retire from touring and concentrate on a recording studio he opened in Memphis.

The Combo carried on touring with a changing line up (sans Bill) which included Ace Cannon, Carl McAvoy and Chips Moman at various times and at the request of The Beatles featured as the opening act of the Fab Four's US tour of 1964. Bill sadly passed away in October 1965 while undergoing surgery for a brain tumor.

Bill Black's Combo continued to tour and record after Bill's death. There is one example of their later work on this compilation, an excellent version of Bobby Bland's "Turn On Your Love Light."

Their music wasn't well known in the UK, with only two of their records brushing the lower reaches of the charts over here in late 1960, so this LP came as a pleasant surprise when I bought it back in the 1980's. There is a touch of slightly cheesy organ on a few tracks, but in the main it's excellent toe-tapping stuff with "Twist-Her" being a standout for me. It's an absolutely essential choice for your next Big Boss Twist Party, groovers!

Bill Black's Combo was a big influence on fellow Memphis groups The Mar-Keys and Booker T and the MGs, so if you're a fan of their sounds, then you'll love this LP.

There's a marvellous YouTube clip of the group in action in the film "Teenage Millionaire" in 1961. They come across as super-cool -  

 Teenage Millionaire

A good short article on the group is here -

Trax Trax Trax - The Fax Fax Fax

Smokie - Part 1 / Smokie - Part 2 - released on Hi 45-2018 in October 1959 - #17 in the Billboard Hot 100, December 1959. #1 in the Billboard Hot R&B Sides, January 1960.

White Silver Sands / The Wheel - released on Hi 45-2021 in February 1960 - #9 in the Billboard Hot 100, March, 1960. #1 in the Billboard Hot R&B Sides, May 1960. #50 in the UK charts in September 1960.

Josephine / Dry Bones - released on Hi 45-2022 in May 1960 - #18 in the Billboard Hot 100, July 1960.

Don't Be Cruel / Rollin' - released on Hi 45-2026 in August 1960 - #11 in the Billboard Hot 100, October 1960. #9 in the Billboard Hot R&B Sides, October, 1960. #32 in the UK charts in November 1960.

Blue Tango / Willie - released on Hi 45-2027 in November 1960 - #16 in the Billboard Hot 100, December 1960.

Hearts Of Stone / Royal Blue - released on Hi 45-2028 in February 1961 - #20 in the Billboard Hot 100, March, 1961.

Movin' / Honky Train - released on Hi 45-2038 in August 1961 - #41 in the Billboard Hot 100, October, 1961.

Twist-Her / My Girl Josephine - released on Hi 45-2042 in November 1961 - #26 in the Billboard Hot 100, January, 1962

So What / Blues For The Red Boy - released on Hi 45-2055 in July 1962 - # 78 in the Billboard Hot 100 in September 1962.

Do It - Rat Now / Little Jasper - released on Hi 45-2064 in March 1963 - #51 in the Billboard Hot 100 in June 1963.

Monkey-Shine / Long Gone - released on Hi 45-2069 in August 1963 - #47 in the Billboard Hot 100 in November 1963.

Memphis Tennessee and Little Queenie - released on Hi LP HL 12017 "Bill Black's Combo Plays Tunes By Chuck Berry" in June 1964.

Little Queenie / Boo-Ray - released on Hi 45-2079 in August 1964 - #73 in the Billboard Hot 100 in October 1964.

Turn On Your Love Light / Ribbon Of Darkness - released on Hi 45-2145 in May 1968 - #83 in the Billboard Hot 100, July, 1968.


Bob Mac said...

Thanks BW, you've certainly been very active lately, posting daily. You been taking Benzedrine for breakfast? ;-)

boogiewoody said...

I think it's called "displacement" - i.e. doing this instead of the things I should be doing!


Anonymous said...

thank You for the album of Bill Black's Combo.
Good notes again & recording infos. Appreciated.
- Jay from the North.