All Content © 1997, 1998 Jared O'Connor and Michael Baker

Big Joe Turner - Boss of the Blues - Atlantic - 1956

October 22, 1998

For a few glorious years in the early 50's, jazz, blues, R&B, and rock & roll were pretty much the same damn thing, and Big Joe Turner was in charge of them all. Hollering out the blues with a warm, enveloping passion, moaning through slow-burning jazz ballads or lung-busting the immortal "Shake, Rattle and Roll" (an Official Entry for first rock & roll song ever recorded), Turner's career spanned over four decades and his popularity crossed all genre boundaries.

It's easy to see why, too - at 6'2", 250 pounds, Turner was a huge presence on stage, and that comes through on record. From the moment he opens his mouth, you know you are in the presence of Authority. In the days before amplification you had to have a massive voice to reach the crowd, and his huge, broad, round baritone cuts through the band like a scythe.

His band is a seasoned slayer, too - the pinnacle of the Kansas City sound, equal parts late-night smoky jazz and lowdown blues, with piercing trumpet, twin sax attack and moaning trombone that echoes Turner's swooping dynamics. The rock steady swing of the drummer and penetrating stand-up bass are a granite-hard foundation, but the high point is Pete Johnson's boogie-woogie stride piano, which puts some serious ivory flame underneath that backbeat. Johnson played under jazz giants Art Tatum and Errol Garner, which gives his style a sophistication unlike most jump bluesmen, but by no means dilutes that house party rhythm on "Roll 'em Pete".

The album is choked with classics like the sly update of "St. Louis Blues", the fiery blowing on "Low Down Dog", and Turner's randy vamping on "I Want A Little Girl". What kind of man has a personality big enough to lay the foundation for both R&B and rock & roll while commanding the blues with the power of Howlin' Wolf and the interpretive skill of Muddy Waters? Here's your chance to find out.

- Jared O'Connor

slow-burnin blues

All Content © 1997, 1998 Jared O'Connor and Michael Baker