Instrumentals were the lifeblood flow of early rock & roll, embracing everything from crude little guitar combos that could barely play their way out of a paper bag to expatriate jazz tenor saxmen who weren't so high-minded as to turn down a few bucks for honking some lowdown slop. The 18 tracks collected here reflect all of that diversity and more, gathering up rare examples of great rocking sides that never became hits, many only receiving scant local airplay, if even that.
A late 1959 two-sided single on the rare Flame label from Arkansas sets the pace with Johnny Carter and the Boppers' incredibly crude electric string band-sounding "Rhythm Rock" (based on Luther Perkins' solo on Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues") and the similarly bare-bones "Drum Shuffle," sounding like "Wipe Out" without a personality. Ronnie Robens and the Mai-Kais' "Grazin'" is wonderfully crude as well, out of tune, out of time and propelled by guitar sounds that could only be ordered direct from the Sears and Roebuck catalog. The craziest drum solo award goes to the the Earthquakes with their lightning-paced "Earthquake Boogie," where the drummer regularly pegs out the meters all the way to the wild-ass ending. For a head-on collision of echo and pedal-to-the-metal playing enthusiasm, you'd have to go a ways to beat the Noise Makers' "Panic" and its slightly less manic flip side, "Zoobee." The country combo Joe Dee and his Top Hands take a stab at the big beat with their "Honky Tonk Guitar," while the Vulcans' "Jambo" remains one of the great unheralded "break" tunes of all time. The surf side of the musical equation is well represented by the Royaltones' "Black Lightning," the Hollywood Hurricanes' sleazy "Beavershot," and a pair from the Sting Rays, "Surfer's Walk" and "Mad Surfer." Although there are no big names or hits here, there are still some pretty energetic moments aboard this collection, and fans of the early rock & roll instrumental genre will definitely want to check it out.