Red Sovine's 2012 installment in Bear Family's ongoing country boogie & rockabilly series is called Juke Joint Johnny after the 1957 single that may be the high-water mark for Sovine's wild side. The other 30 songs on this cracking little compilation usually follow this path, collecting jumping, swinging boogie he cut in the '50s for MGM and Decca, songs that are a far cry from the honky tonk and truck-driving anthems that brought Sovine fame in the late '60s and '70s (Ace's 2005 compilation of this period is called Honky Tonks, Truckers & Tears, which gives you an idea how these singles are perceived). There are a fair number of weepers and shuffles in the vein of Hank Williams -- Sovine was an adept mimic of Hank's phrasing, something he played to his advantage later on his hits -- but a good chunk of the sides here are jubilant country boogie, Red riding the rhythm with an evident grin on his face. "Juke Joint Johnny" is the place where it gets wildest thanks in no small part to the crackling, kinetic guitar, but he sounds supremely sly lying back on the shuffle "Wild Beating Heart," exuberant on "Don't Drop It" and "How Do You Think I Feel" (later to be covered by Elvis Presley in a very similar arrangement), barrels through Gene & Eunice's R&B rocker "Ko Ko Mo (I Love You So)" and gets thick and swampy on "The Cajun Queen." Very little of this material has shown up on CD -- the breakthrough "Why Baby Why," which he cut with Webb Pierce just after George Jones released his original (the pair wound up besting Possum on the charts) often pops up -- so this is valuable historically but better still, this is simply thoroughly entertaining: Sovine may still have been finding his commercial niche but as he tried on different styles he not only demonstrated his diversity but he cut some of his most lasting music.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
feat: Goldie Hill
feat: Goldie Hill