Come On Let's Do the Twist

Ray Gunn & His Blasters Come On Let's Do the Twist LP (Parade, 195?)

...and now we come to the novelty that is rock & roll. At least that is how rock & roll was viewed by many in the 1950s. The "Ah it will never last" reaction to rock & roll by the music biz establishment is pretty much folk history by now so I won't bore you with it. But I will note that the dismissal of rock & roll gave it a lot more leeway than had it been immediately adopted by the status quo. Listen to pre-pop rock & roll and you notice a few things. First it is raw and wild. One of my favorite examples of pre- and post - pop rock & roll is the contrast between Elvis's Louisiana Hayride airshot and the RCA Victor singles. Like many of you, by the time I was a teen, I'd had enough Elvis worship (Beatles, too). It was quite apparent to my ears that early Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, and Little Richard were all better than Elvis. Kicks magazine and the wealth of rockabilly bootleg comps that came out in the Seventies & Eighties reinforced my anti-Elvis attitude. Then one day, about ten years ago, I got a collection of records that had Elvis's Louisiana Hayride radio session on it. Put it on the turntable and was blown away by it. One listen to that record and I understood why the big deal over Elvis. Here he sounds dangerous and wild. While it didn't make me like him more than say Jerry Lee Lewis or Bo Diddley, the record was a revelation. Important to this essay is that it was recorded while rock & roll was still considered a fad, a fringe market, and thus the rough edges were allowed to exist. A few years later, when Elvis was turning out stuff for RCA, that energy not only was drained from the "King" but being buried by the pop approximation of rock & roll.

Another thing you notice with pre-pop rock & roll is that it has an ethnic tinge. You can hear Blackness in the music. You also can hear hillbilly. And in some songs you can hear both. Under the radar, early rock & roll was a moment that White meet Black, unsupervised and without mediation. No need to break this meeting down, as it, too, is part of pop culture history, most recently retold in the musical Hairspray. Still I must note that the reason for this covert race mixing was because people thought that rock & roll was so insignificant that it wasn't worth paying attention to. When rock & roll proved to be a commercial success, a sustainable cash cow, then significant economic players became involved and set out to strip rock & roll of all that made it attractive.

The first things the majors did was do away with Blackness. The first strike was eliminating the Black face. Look at rock & roll albums made in the late Fifties by Blacks and you will find very, very few pictures of the people who made the records. You won't even find pictures of Black people - no Black couple holding hands, no Black girl and boy dancing, no Black teen looking at a record jacket. Instead there is record jacket apartheid. (Two exceptions are Bo Diddley, who fought to have his image on his record covers, though with the assent of the Chess brothers, and Miles Davis, though not rock & roll was the first major Black music artist to insist that his record cover models be Black.)

After the Black face was disappeared, then came the Black voice. Early Black rock & rollers like Gary Bonds and Bo Diddley found their songs off pop charts and on the "race" charts (later named R&B or Urban, all euphemisms for Black). Jim Crow now had its way with the music that was rock & roll. By 1960, the music was White - Black rock & roll was a novelty. Sure there were a few tokens - Fats Domino & Chubby Checker - but if you were Black and you wanted to keep making a living playing rock & roll, you called it Rhythm & Blues.

So come 1963, rock & roll is White and safe. Not only is Blackness gone, but so is the hillbilly influence. R&B no longer doubles as Black rock & roll. It is now pretty much an Black form of music, rooted in the Blues, influenced by Black gospel, and with little or no tinge of hillbilly, or White working class, sound in it. Then came the Rolling Stones and others to remind Americans that rock & roll has something to do with Black people and the sound changed a bit, though the ethnic make up pretty much remained White, something which has changed little to this day.

Enter Ray Gunn & His Blasters. Ray Gunn is obviously Black. Not only can you tell by his voice, but the record cover is a dead giveaway. Had Ray Gunn been White we would see him on the album jacket. His absence is proof enough of his Blackness. Ray Gunn also plays rock & roll, great rock & roll. It is not full of fire like Esquerita or Little Richard. Instead it has a coolness to it not unlike Nathaniel Mayer. The record was marketed as a "twist" album , following the massive success of Chubby Checker. For years, I passed up twist records, until I learned that for a few years, plenty of non twist records were called "twist" in order to sell them. However aside from Checker records, few "twist" albums are full of twist songs. A good portion of them are great rock & roll records.

Who Ray Gunn is, I have no idea. The liner notes state that his band backed Benny King, Rosemarie & Bo, and Pete & Ernest, but there is no indication whether that was on record or if the band was the house band at a club. The record label is from New York City, but plenty of labels were, so there is no lead there. There is a good chance that Ray Gunn could be an established singer, recording under a different name in order to ditch the label he was signed to or for the label to milk his voice for more money. Unfortunately, I found no information to tell me anything about him or the band. I do know that the record is pretty common and can be had for $5.

Ray Gunn & His Blasters, the band with the many faces. I happen to own an LP with the title "Tubby Chess and His Candy Stripe Twisters do the Twist" (Grand Prix K-187, 1962). And guess what? The three songs from Ray Gunn's album are absolutely identical with three songs on Tubby Chess' LP. The very same recordings indeed.

So the lamest Twist LP ever has an identical twin who changed his name. Amazing. I wonder if the same is true for the infamous album "The Surfsiders sing the Beach Boys Songbook"...
This LP is a prime example of 50s - 60s budget label product churning.

The same (sometimes brilliant but always anonymous) studio material was endlessly re-packaged using different artist names, album titles & covers, & song titles.

Additionally, basic instro tracks were re-shaped with sfx and/or overdubbed vocal tracks into something (anything!) that might vaguely resemble the style touted on the cover.

Lastly, there would almost always be two or three "absolute filler" tracks on every LP -- album tunes so jarringly out of place that they could only exist in the throwaway nether world of budget label "projects"...

Soooo... not to be contrary, but I don't really think there's any racial aspect at work here. Zillions of budget label LPs had either stock photo covers or graphics-only covers simply because (1) there was no real "artist" to promote, and/or (most importantly) it was cheaper to crank them out that way.

Datewise, this LP was probably released within a year or so of the Tubby Chess LP (which I own, but is currently have buried in a barn).... and most likely, somehow, someway, some stripped version of this material appeared on various budget "surf" albums a year later.

Hey this the same cat that is on the Cornet LP Let's Twist Again and is also on the Famous Twist With Dr. Pepper LP. He goes by Robbie Robber & The Hijackers! If you find these relics check out the hillbilly twist!
whoever he is, he ain't black.

i have the dr. pepper twist alb too, and hillbilly twist is pretty good, but there's another one on there that's even better, screaming r&b.
The 'Ray Gunn' moniker reminds of Jack Hammer, a black American who recorded some very popular twist records in Belgium for the Ronnex label in the early sixties. Most are really lame pop twist, although one of his later sides, The Wiggle is pretty great - wild screamin black rock & roll... I keep stumbling upon his records at flea markets. I don't know if they were ever released in the States?
I have an album 'The Twist'by "Bobby" Robber & the Hi Jackers. No label, just a number 156. (Says Robber was formally with Scott Bros.)It's the same as the Tubby Chess except for one track. Is this the Coronet album 'Let's Do the Twist' & what are details of 'Famous Twist with Dr.Pepper'.
Hey,Bazookajoe don't keep it a secret send in a track listing for the Dr Pepper Twist album, I need to know. Seems this guy also had stuff out as by Dave Carl and his Party Twisters and George Torres and the Twisters. Sure got around.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?