Sunday, March 6, 2011

EL TORO RECORDS: Where Rock 'n' Roll lives! Part One


 I’ve always found it interesting that the record labels that are most dedicated to preserving the rich heritage of American music are usually based in Europe. From the ‘40s to the ‘60s, from Country to Rock ‘n’ Roll, it seems that U.S. based labels have all but forgotten most of the music that graced the airwaves (and filled the record bins) all those years ago.  But for every legend like Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry or Buddy Holly, there are hundreds of also-rans and never-weres that may have had oodles of talent and charisma to make it big but just didn’t have the luck. Some made it big locally while others spent most of their days on the lower end of the charts. Sadly, these artists have slipped into obscurity and have gone unnoticed for four, five and even six decades.  But that is where labels like El Toro Records comes in…
     For 15 years, Spain's El Toro Records has been one of Europe's leading independent labels specializing in American roots music, from ‘50s Rock ‘n’ Roll to Rockabilly, Western Swing, Rhythm & Blues and Instrumental Surf.  Not only does the label specialize in glorious reissues, but they’ve got a few modern bands that sound so authentic that they fit comfortably in the label’s amazing catalog.
     When going through their catalog, it becomes apparent that every generation has its lost musical heroes but with El Toro’s help, it’s never too late to discover (or rediscover) these once-forgotten gems from one of the most exciting times in recorded music history. While my own personal collection of El Toro releases is far from complete (but it’s growing), I wanted to share some of their most recent and exciting releases. If you love early Rock ‘n’ Roll, Jump Blues, Western Swing, Rockabilly and everything in between, then you should start clicking on the following links and buy, buy, buy!

Excellent two CD collection from the Phoenix-based session guitarist. While many of the tracks were not released under his own name, his distinctive guitar playing is the highpoint of each and every recording.  From local and national releases to novelty records, this double disc set has a haunting quality to it.   A big fish in a relatively small pond, Al Casey was already a local radio and TV celebrity when his friend Lee Hazlewood began using him and his band on sessions for the latter's Viv Records in 1955; so much so that Casey invariably received a credit on each label - an accolade that session musicians rarely received in those days.

Wow!  This is solid Blues and Rhythm & Blues from the guitar legend filled with spirited performances that sometimes sound more New Orleans influenced than Chicago, but that’s just me. This release includes the complete issued recordings of Rudy Green from his Nashville debut in 1946 to his last known single back in Music City over a decade later. Also included are a few examples of Rudy's work as a session guitarist in Chicago in the 1950s.

I’d be a big ol’ liar if I said that I’d heard of Johnny Jano before getting a hold of this awe-inspiring disc.  From the opening track, “Havin’ A Whole Lot Of Fun” to the closing demo of “She’s My Baby” (plus the instrumental “Okie Dokie Stomp” credited to Johnny Dubon & The Yellow Jackets), this is authentic Louisiana Rockabilly that is swampy, raw and pretty damn fabulous.  While Johnny Jano may have had some fans in his home state, he never did crossover, commercially, nationwide and that is just a shame.  This stuff is inspiring and this collection is sure to bring Jano the attention that he should have always had.  

While there were acts during the ‘70s and ‘80s that reintroduced Rockabilly to a whole new generation (including Robert Gordon and Shakin’ Stevens & The Sunsets), no band made a bigger splash around the world than The Stray Cats.  This outstanding collection features many of the original Rockabilly classics that inspired Brian Setzer and the boys. From tracks that inspired particular Stray Cats nuggets (The Nomads’ “Icky Poo” and Lonesome Lee’s “Lonely Travellin’” were direct ancestors to “Stray Cat Strut”) to acts that had a strong influence (including Elvis, Chuck Berry, Ricky Nelson and Gene Vincent), this is an amazing collection of real, raw Rockabilly that no Rockabilly fan should be without.

More to come over the next few days stay tuned!

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