I'M A ROLLING STONE - LOUISIANA SWAMP BLUES, THE SINGLES A's & B's 1954-1962 (2CD)
Rock Me Mama, Bad Luck, New Orleans Bound, Lightnin’ Slim Boogie, Hoodoo Blues, It’s Mighty Crazy, My Starter Won’t Work, Rooster Blues, Nothing But The Devil, I’m Warning You Baby and more...
Perhaps the most archetypal practitioner of what was to become known as the ‘Louisiana swamp blues’, Lightnin’ Slim never really experienced the same level of international commercial success that some of his peers went on to. This may have been due to his unwillingness to travel too far afield, his relentlessly and embedded lugubrious manner, and perhaps the limited and repetitive range of his musical strokes but, for many, he was among the most natural and genuine bluesmen who ever recorded.
All of this is excellently demonstrated in this new collection of early singles, which establishes his template early on and then presents all the varieties (and lack of) he brought to his recordings. While Otis Hicks (his real name, and almost as evocative as his adopted moniker) may have operated to a formula, it is a formula that just about every other bluesman would have given their mojo hand for. And to a committed fan like yours truly, it is a style and formula that never pales.
Fortunately for Lightnin’, one of his early champions was label owner and producer, Jay Miller. For much of his recording career (these early sides in particular) Lightnin’ was in the studio with Miller knocking out originals and barely-concealed re-writes of the major blues hits by the likes of Muddy, John Lee Hooker, Sonny Boy Williamson and more. And in doing so, between Slim and Miller, a distinctive sound was formulated, soon to be referred to as the ‘Excello Sound’, named of course after the most successful label in Miller’s stable.
As well as Lightnin’s winning verbal drawl and simple but enticing guitar patterns, the musicians who backed him account for a veritable who’s who of swamp blues artists, most notably Lazy Lester as his most frequent harmonica-wailing sidekick but also variously including Slim Harpo, Schoolboy Cleve, Katie Webster, Guitar Gable and plenty more besides
Including as it does pretty much all of his biggest and best numbers, the 44 tracks served up in this set are as good an introduction to this once-heard, never-forgotten bluesmen that you can hope to find. Every one is a little gem, all bemoaning his poor fortune (Bad Luck And Trouble), sense of failure or impending doom (I Can’t Be Successful), dark forces afflicting him (Hoodoo Blues), troubles with women (My Starter Won’t Start) and more. Not a fellow likely to raise a chuckle at a party perhaps but just what you want and need from a favourite bluesman to share your troubles with.
For completists, the series of Lightnin’ CDs already available from Ace do a more comprehensive job by taking his recording career on into the 1960s (and providing much more in the way of detailed notes than offered here) but as a single collection this may well be the one.
Review Date: March 2015