Sun Records: The Ultimate Blues Collection

Although mostly forgotten now, bluesmen like Little Junior Parker (“Mystery Train”), Earl Hooker, Billy “The Kid” Emerson and Rufus Thomas (“Bear Cat”) all bowed on wax at Sam Phillips’ Memphis Recording Service. Even before starting his own label, Phillips (who died last July at 80) made both B. B. King’s and Howlin’ Wolf’s first records for other labels. Included in this three-disc collection are the first records by Little Milton and harp-man James Cotton (vocals only!) before he found fame with Muddy Waters. Guitarist Earl Hooker’s sensational “The Hucklebuck” (a variation on Charlie Parker’s “Now’s the Time”) and the equally exciting (but previously unreleased) “Razorback” are both here, as is pianist Pinetop Perkins’ 1953 debut (also unreleased), which brings up a big question: Out of these 75 tracks, why did Phillips keep 35 of them on the shelf? Where else can you hear one-man bands like Joe Hill Louis and Dr. (Isaiah) Ross on the same disc as guitarist Pat Hare singing “Gonna Murder My Baby,” which he did nine years later? I wouldn’t class this as the “ultimate” blues collection, but it sure is fascinating!