"A blues is a feelin' and when it git you, it the real news," to quote the legendary Huddie Ledbetter. Yet man sang the blues long before Ledbelly. On the levees, in the gin mills, alone between bedposts. He's had to. Sometimes glad, usually sad, the blues finds a way to come out. Anyone who can sing them usually does. But when a great voice cries and shouts them--one that has learned the meaning in tent meetings and back streets--it's a time to listen. Lou Rawls has such a voice.
In his first album, Lou is teamed with the incomparable Les McCann, Ltd. Such a collaboration could only result in the free, swinging session that it is. For most of us, it is a long-awaited date.
Both Lou and Les arrived on the Hollywood scene around the same time, 1958. It wasn't long before they discovered each other. Alike in background, their musical message was similar as well. Equally articulate, they strived to communicate the truths and feelings they'd painfully learned. They more than succeeded; but it wasn't until a cold January night in 1962 that the two could join in spirit.
After finishing a performance at The Renaissance, a Sunset Strip nitery, the trio met with Lou Rawls and set up shop in the recording studios of the Capitol Tower. Following coffee and the signal from producer Nick Venet, Lou and the group began what must go down as one of the smoothest, most relaxed sessions on record.
The collection itself is a departure from the neo-gospel or "soul-jazz" with which both have been long associated. Rather, their treatments are reminiscent of the "rhythm and blues" of the early '50's. The result: electric!
Stormy Monday opens the first side. Following Les's neat introduction, Lou builds steadily and takes it on out with the section driving hard behind him. God Bless the Child follows, with Lou wailing in his great soulful style. See See Rider is a derivation of the traditional "Easy Rider." Like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey before him, Lou considers this among his greatest favorites; and the way he sings it makes this evident. The familiar ballad, Willow Weep for Me, becomes more of a blues here, with Lou giving it some of both blues and ballad stylings at their very best. In the last song on the side, Lou runs the scale on the word "move" and you feel that he just might Move to the Outskirts of Town.
Side two begins with the Big Bill Broonzy trademark, In the Evening When the Sun Goes Down. But it's all jazz here. The same is true of Nobody's Biz-ness. Les lays down a rocking beat and Lou responds, driving all the way to the end. The next song finds everyone working in his best moody mood. In a spontaneous recording session that seldom required more than three run-throughs, this song, Lost and Lookin', was perfect in only one. The mood is raucous and swinging for Muddy Water, and the whole group has a lot of fun with it. They wrap it up with Sweet Lover, a real rhythm and blues tunes. Lou plays it loose and swinging in front of Les's moving piano, and the listener is apt to echo Lou's approving "yeah!" at the end.
After repeated playbacks, the group congratulated each other, packed up their "tools" and left Capitol as the chill dawn was breaking over Hollywood. Satisfied, they knew they had added to a lasting tradition. They had done their finest for the blues.
-- Don Buday