Big Joe Turner

The Real Boss of the Blues

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Bob Thiele launched Bluestime in 1969 with the express purpose of recording many of his heroes, including Big Joe Turner, who cut the LP The Real Boss of the Blues that year. Turner was roughly 13 years removed from his peak and certainly willing to do whatever it took to get back in the studio and maybe the charts, so he followed producer Thiele through Gene Page arrangements that updated his classic jumpers of the '50s. The big band is diminished -- there is a horn section but nothing approaching an orchestra -- and he's paired with a blues-rock combo whose members love and respect the form but are more than willing to follow the fashion of the time, laying back into the grooves (this isn't music meant for dancing, it's for listening) and allowing plenty of space for solos, including an extended flute fantasia on "Careless Love," a move that dates this record as much as anything else. If Turner seems indifferent to these extended instrumental sections, blame it on a production where he's placed at the forefront while he's at the microphone and then the band is shoved in front. Perhaps this doesn't give The Real Boss of the Blues the kineticism of his classic Atlantic recordings but it's evenhanded and showcases both sides equally. Unlike the similar Chess records of the time, there's never the sense that the band overpowers Turner -- admittedly, overpowering Big Joe would be a difficult task -- and the rock fluidity of his backing band accidentally reveals that he's a subtler singer than often given credit; witness "Two Loves Have I," the rare contemporary piece here that is breezy and engaging, and also shows that he could navigate the waters of post-Motown R&B if he chose. He didn't, of course; he stuck to his shouting and that sounds good with the lively if slightly anonymous outfit he has here. It's not vintage Turner but it's worthy: it's one of the rare late-'60s blues LPs that feels of its time yet is connected to the past. Ace's 2014 reissue includes live readings of "Honey Hush" and "Yakety Yak," which isn't the Coasters song but a reworking of "Honey Hush"; taken from the Super Black Blues, Vol. 2 LP, both are solid, but not as lively or interesting as the music on the album proper.

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