When the Sun Goes Down: The Secret History of Rock 'n' Roll

David Rickert By

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A few decades ago in England a bunch of ambitious youth influenced by American blues music created records that took the world by storm and which served as testimony to the rich musical heritage of the United States. After the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, popular music was never the same again. A few years later, jam bands like the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers sparked a similar bout of revivalism by updating old blues and jug band numbers and inserting them into their repertoire. When the Sun Goes Down collects a hundred of these influential roots classics from which one can easily trace the lineage for much early rock ‘n’ roll. Although limited to the artists represented in the RCA-owned catalog (Robert Johnson, for one, is not included), the series nevertheless contains many prototypes of later hits, while also being excellent songs in their own right.

Historically, this is a valuable set. Many of these recordings have not seen the light of day in years and you can almost hear the dust being blown off the tapes as you listen. However, new technological advances have stripped these recordings of much of their hiss and crackle and they now sound probably as good as they ever will. The liner notes provide informative historical background, as well as connecting the dots through the various recorded versions over the years. The music is delightfully eclectic and exhibits a heavy dose of ragged, folksy charm; the guitars all sound like they were strung with chicken wire, the pianos are all slightly out of tune, and there seemed to be plenty of people who know how to turn a jug into a serviceable instrument. Some of the names of these performers are sure to inspire a snicker or two (could Roosevelt Sykes have been anything but a blues musician?) yet fans of early jazz will certainly recognize Louis Armstrong, Meade Lux Lewis, and Albert Ammons among blues greats like Leadbelly and Big Bill Broonzy. The foundation of all the universal subject matter of the blues is also here: cheating women, jail time, alcohol, unemployment, all themes that expressed the unease in the nation in the years following the Depression and prior to the Civil Rights Movement. But underneath the crude instrumentation and mumbled lyrics, there’s no denying that these are actually very good songs, which accounts for the numerous versions that have popped up over the years. The first two discs are more diverse, including spirituals, minstrel songs, and prison work songs among the first attempts at blues numbers; the second two focus on more modern permutations of the blues, especially that form Chicago, and one can hear the glimpses of the rhythms and chord changes that would become today’s rock music.

It bears mentioning that as a product of marketing, When the Sun Goes Down is a triumph. A whole CDs worth of material by any of the musicians heard here would probably be an uneven listen, but this set allows for a grab bag of styles from musicians who probably only had one or two good songs in them to begin with. Also, the recent rekindling of interest in roots music has made this music fashionable once again and thus the marketplace is primed for its release. Despite the subtitle, this series is more likely to appeal to those who purchased the “Oh Brother Where Art Thou?” soundtrack rather than classic rock enthusiasts who want to explore the heritage of their favorite musicians.

RCA should be applauded for releasing a series that unearths some obscure recordings that are both historically significant and a pleasurable listen. Fans of the blues and early Americana will give this set its due routinely as a reminder of where it all began.

Track Listing:

Disc 1: 1. Catfish Blues - Robert Petway 2. Baby, Please Don't Go - Big Joe Williams 3. Ham an' Eggs - Leadbelly 4. Mississippi River Blues - Big Bill Broonzy 5. Just A Good Woman Through With The Blues - Trixie Butler 6. Garbage Man Blues - Milton Brown & His Musical Brownies 7. The Panama Limited - Bukka "Washington" White 8. Cool Drink of Water Blues - Tommy Johnson 9. The Midnight Special - Leadbelly 10. Worried Man Blues - Carter Family 11. Les Blues de Voyage - Amede Ardoin & Denus McGee 12. K. C. Railroad Blues - Andrew & Jim Baxter 13. Somebody's Been Stealin' - Rev. J. M. Gates 14. Beale Street Blues - Alberta Hunter 15. Devil In The Wood Pile - Noah Lewis 16. Walk Right In - Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers 17. Ninety-Nine Year Blues - Julius Daniels 18. Got Cut All to Pieces - Bessie Tucker 19. Feather Bed - Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers 20. Can't Put a Bridle on That Mule This Morning - Julius Daniels 21. Davidson County Blues - DeFord Bailey 22. Frankie and Johnny - Frank Crumit 23. Dixie Bo-Bo - Taskiana Four 24. Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child - Paul Robeson 25. St. Louis Blues - The Hall Johnson Choir.

Disc: 2: 1. Telephoning the Blues - Victoria Spivey 2. Viola Lee Blues - Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers 3. Haven't Got a Dollar to Pay Your House Rent Man - Genevieve Davis 4. Saturday Blues - Ishman Bracey 5. When I Woke Up This Morning She Was Gone - Jim Jackson 6. Canned Heat Blues - Tommy Johnson 7. Statesboro Blues - Blind Willie McTell 8. Stealin' Stealin' - Memphis Jug Band 9. Judge Harsh Blues - Furry Lewis 10. Rent Man Blues - Edna Winston 11. I Don't Care What You Say - Harris & Harris 12. I Hate A Man Like You - Lizzie Miles 13. 'Tain't Nobody's Business If I Do - Pt. 1 - Frank Stokes 14. I'm a Mighty Tight Woman - Sippie Wallace 15. Blue Yodel #9 - Jimmie Rodgers 16. The Girl I Love She Got Long Curly Hair - Sleepy John Estes 17. Don't Want No Woman - McCoy & Johnson 18. Cocaine Habit Blues - Memphis Jug Band 19. Married Woman Blue - Blind Willie Reynolds 20. Red Nightgown Blues - Jimmie Davis 21. Hardworking Woman - Mississippi Matilda 22. Doubled Up in a Knot - Bo Carter 23. If You Want Me Baby - Daddy Stovepipe & Mississippi Sarah 24. The First Time I Met the Blues - Little Brother Montgomery 25. Sales Tax - The Mississippi Sheiks.

Disc: 3: 1. That's Chicago's South Side - Sam Theard 2. Peetie Wheatstraw - Pete Wheatstraw 3. Devil's Island Gin Blues - Roosevelt Sykes 4. Black Gal What Makes Your Head So Hard? - Joe Pullum 5. I Lost My Baby - Lil Johnson 6. I Lost My Baby - Lil Johnson 7. Keep Your Hands Off Her - Big Bill Broonzy 8. When the Sun Goes Down - Leroy Carr 9. Selling My Pork Chops - Minnie McCoy 10. Every Day I Have the Blues - Pine Top 11. Sweet Sixteen - Walter Davis 12. Honky Tonk Train Blues - Meade Lux Lewis 13. Trouble in Mind - Richard M. Jones 14. He Roars Like a Lion - Merline Johnson 15. Prowling Night Hawk - Robert Lee McCoy 16. Good Morning School Girl - Sonny Boy Williamson 17. You Got to Fix It - Speckled Red 18. Bucket's Got a Hole in It - Washboard Sam 19. Bottle It Up and Go - Tommy McClennan 20. Key To the Highway - Jazz Gillum 21. Don't You Lie to Me - Tampa Red 22. What Is That She Got - Johnny Temple 23. Going Down Slow - St. Louis Jimmy 24. Hobo Blues - Yank Rachel 25. He's a Jelly Roll Baker - Lonnie Johnson.

Disc: 4: 1. Pearl Harbor Blues - Doctor Clayton 2. My Buddy Blues - The Five Breezes 3. Worried Life Blues - Big Maceo 4. I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water - The Cats & A Fiddle 5. Grinder Man Blues - Memphis Slim 6. Walkin' the Boogie - Pete Johnson & Albert Ammons 7. Why Don't You Do Right - Lil Green 8. Little Boy Blue - Robert Lockwood 9. Angels in Harlem - Doctor Clayton 10. Illinois Blues - Sunnyland Slim 11. Chicago Is Just That Way - Eddie Boyd 12. That's All Right - Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup 13. Get the Mop - Henry "Red" Allen 14. Look On Yonder Wall - Jazz Gillum 15. Anytime is the Right Time - Roosevelt Sykes Trio 16. When Things Go Wrong With You - Tampa Red 17. Dust My Broom - Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup 18. Soap and Water Blues - Washboard Sam 19. Rockin' with Red - Piano Red 20. Little Angel - Tampa Red Sweet 21. My Baby Left Me - Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup 22. How Blue Can You Get {Downhearted} - Johnny Moore's Three Blazers 23. Right String But the Wrong Yo-Yo - Piano Red 24. Ride and Roll - Sonny Terry 25. Get Rich Quick - Little Richard.


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