Joe Turner with Pee Wee Crayton and Sonny Stitt
Recorded March 3, 1975.
This CD reissues one of Big Joe Turner's better Pablo releases. In 1975 Turner's voice was still strong and he had a compatible four-piece group that featured veteran guitarist Pee Wee Crayton. With guest Sonny Stitt contributing typically boppish solos on tenor and alto, Turner sings mostly familiar material (including "Stormy Monday," "Piney Brown" and "Shake, Rattle and Roll") plus his recent "Martin Luther King Southside."
All Music Guide
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Joe Turner started out on the blues trail performing double duty-tending bar and singing. In the free-wheeling atmosphere of after hours jam sessions in Kansas City, Turner would frequently take off his apron and sing a few easy rocking songs with the house band whenever business was quiet. Many times the last show ended at 5 a.m. and Turner would have plenty of opportunities to sing. He remembers those impromptu performances serving as invaluable apprenticeship.
"I got acquainted with a lot of musicians," he has recalled in Living Blues. "They used to help me a lot, you know, teach me all the gimmicks and things. I got so I was pretty good at it. So from then on I just took it up for a profession."
Half a century later, Joe Turner is the grand doyen of big city blues singers. Still performing in 1978 with a jaunty vigor of a younger man, he has a durability unmatched by most of his compeers. Nonetheless, his health isn't what it used to be. He suffers from diabetes and carries more than 300 pounds on his 6-foot, 11/2-inch frame.
He walks with a cane and finds it more comfortable singing while sitting in a chair.
The singer considers his weight a sensitive issue and wont discuss the exact figures. "That's personal," he declares, turning his palms face-up. "I used to be skinny. People called me "TV Joe. '
Nevertheless, his rich baritone is still strong enough to shake a room. It jumps and booms with a power that carries it into every nook and cranny without benefit of a microphone, much like the old days when he stood flat-footed roaring out waves of lyrics.
Within the restriction of the blues form, Turner is a great melodist. And unlike many blues vocalists, he is a genuine improviser, ever altering the melodic content, inflections and rhythmic accents of his material. It's no accident that he has a gift for the impromptu. As a native of Kansas City, he grew up around the shining musicians who lived and passed through the urban area that was the last great germinating spot for jazz outside New York. Turner performed and socialized with Count Basie, Buster Smith, Lester Young, Hot Lips Page, Ben Webster, Jo Jones, Andy Kirk, Mary Lou Williams, George and Julia Lee-and, of course, Pete Johnson.
What an experience it must have been to hear that magisterial voice ringing out nightly from behind a bar or the edge of the bandstand -accompanied by some of the loftiest instrumentalists.
In the best tradition of a gladiator, Turner has always welcomed the company of the most challenging hornmen. So it is in this collection that he meets Sonny Stitt-surprisingly-for the first time on record. No stranger to the Kansas City tradition, Stitt is persistently associated with Charlie Parker, one of the most eminent exponents of the city's cultural heritage. Their musical styles, however, were both alike and dissimilar. The story goes that as a young man, when he was in Tiny Bradshaw's band, Stitt went to Kansas City looking for Parker. After finding him and jamming for an hour, Stitt said Parker exclaimed: "You sure sound like me." Some water has gone under the bridge more than once since and Stitt has carved out his own musical personality, much of which is evident on this disc. He has an imposing sense of melodic decoration and plays the blues with an elegant lyricism and earthy whimsicality. The saxophonist knows when to stretch out phrases in easy-rider fashion or cut loose with a torrent of double-time statements.
Their collaboration on Lucille is a stately discourse on the familiar-the loss of a romance. Stitt plays tenor saxophone and Turner phrases like one. The tempo is a slow walk and the men pace themselves at an ambling gait. Stitt's deep-throated, moaning solo, incidentally, is marvelously constructed, building dramatically in speech-like fashion with a variety of long-held quarter-notes, and ending with jet-streamed eighth and sixteenth notes.
Their performance is similarly moving on Martin Luther King Southside, a subtle combination of the ageless male-female question with elemental reform. Again, Turner and Stitt slow the tempo to an easy walk-and simply deliver their recitatives, aided by a rhythm section whose individual and ensemble strengths are equally impressive.
The rest of the program is familiar in the Turner repertoire, and in some cases is part of the common language. Though he's sung these songs for longer than he may care to remember, Turner continues to come up with a refreshingly different turn of phrase or subtly altered inflection. He just keeps rolling on like the big wheel to which he frequently makes musical reference. And he shows no significant sign of slowing down.
"Every now and then I get the urge to get up on the stage and 'do my thing, as the people say," he told Living Blues. "And I enjoy it."