Various Artists

East St. Louis: Stevens Sessions

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The father-and-son team of Fred & Bill Stevens founded the Stevens label in 1958 to promote local talent in and around East St. Louis. Their seven 45-rpm releases were mainly devoted to obscure R&B and blues artists, from the hard-edged blues of Johnny Wright and Timothy Cooper (billed as Little Cooper on some tracks) to the sometimes pop-oriented R&B of Bobby Foster. The label's biggest name was Ike Turner, who was still under contract to Sun Records at the time but was not being recorded. To avoid legal hassles, Stevens recorded Turner under the name Icky Renrut on a series of scorching guitar instrumentals (including an early recording of "Prancin'," which he re-recorded for Sue Records) and tough rockers. The crazed "Jack Rabbit," for instance, sounds like a Chuck Berry tape filtered through a distortion pedal. The label had a big-band R&B combo led by Sammy Grimes and a white rock & roller named Chuck Wheeler, whose sole Stevens single is omitted for not being R&B or blues. It's too bad the compilers couldn't find room on a 23-track compilation for all 14 of the commercially released sides, but completists can find one of Wheeler's Stevens recordings, "Cherokee Rock," on the Buffalo Bop compilation Wa-Chic-Ka-Nocka. The additional tracks are unreleased recordings from various Stevens sessions, all of which took place in 1959. Judging from Bill Greensmith's liner notes, only Bobby Foster's first single sold in any appreciable numbers, so the label folded under financial pressure after a year. The seven tracks featuring Ike Turner will be of primary interest to most listeners.

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