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The Blues Shouter

June 2023
1min read

Big, Bad & Blue
The Big Joe Turner Anthology

Rhino Records R2 71550 (three CDs), $44.98 . CODE: RHR-11

An anthology of the recordings of Big Joe Turner, who lived from 1911 to 1985, is also an anthology of a strain of popular music that stretches unbroken from Kansas City boogie-woogie to 1950s rock ’n’ roll and beyond. The full-voiced, brazen-sounding yet subtle singer began recording in the 1930s with piano accompaniment alone, and his accompanists included the boogie-woogie giant Pete Johnson and Willie (“the Lion”) Smith. In the 1940s he was making his blues a swinging big-band sound; by 1951 his “Bump Miss Susie” is almost indistinguishable from what will in a few years be called rock ’n’ roll. In 1954 he recorded his hit “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” to which Bill Haley would soon lend a country tinge and a white voice to revolutionize pop music. Turner later commented, “I made all those things before Haley and the others, but suddenly all the cats started jumping up, and I guess I kinda got knocked down in the traffic.” He did it first, and no one ever did it better. He was, as the author of the excellent liner notes to this set puts it, “no studied craftsman of ethnic art, he was the carpenter of the blues, pounding out the beat and driving it home.”

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