Early last year, I wrote a review of a CD called Saxomania: Honkers and Screamers (Charly, 1995), a rowdy release featuring various ‘50s R&B saxologists. What drew me to the CD were six hard-to-find tracks by one of my favorite jump blowers, the late Red Prysock. Shortly after my review appeared, I received a bunch of e-mails from Prysock fans across the U.S., half of them Korean War vets, who thanked me profusely for plugging the CD. Apparently longtime Prysock lovers have spent many frustrating years combing the earth for his music.
I share their frustration. Lately I have searched for the 1996 CD Rock & Roll: The Best of Red Prysock (AVI), supposedly the finest Prysock overview currently available. Haven’t been able to find it anywhere.
Along comes Verve’s 12-CD Swingsation series, and low and behold, one release showcases 14 tracks by Prysock! Though it hardly includes the best material recorded by the ‘50s sax honker, any Prysock collection is worth celebrating. Prysock was one of the earliest musicians to bridge the gap between swing and R&B, and one of the best saxophone screamers of all time. Most of his music swings so hard it hurts.
Swingsation kicks off with the saxman’s 1955 hit "Hand Clappin’," a raucous instrumental rave-up. Many of the other songs on this compilation offer variations on the "Hand Clappin’" formula. Tracks like "Red’s Blues," "The Fox" and "The Lion’s Den" are highly charged. Interesting to hear jazzmen Blue Mitchell (trumpet), Frank Galbreath (trumpet), Dicky Wells (trombone) and others back up Prysock’s powerful tenor sax.
Swingsation is mostly a hodgepodge of material Prysock recorded for the Mercury label, and it leaves out many of Prysock’s finest instrumentals ( "Heavy Juice," "The Hammer," "Fruit Boots"). Still, it should please any fan of wild jump ‘n jive.
Equally good are Swingsation compilations featuring Sam "The Man" Taylor and the great bar-walking wailer Sil Austin. If you're into the swing revival, you simply must check out these three releases.