As a pioneering West Coast rhythm & blues label, Lew Chudd's Imperial Records was well equipped to take advantage of the sweeping changes in the indie record market when Elvis Presley's Sun recordings suddenly changed the whole ballgame. Chudd had always recorded hillbilly music since Imperial started in 1947, but now actively scoured the South to find performers or records from small labels who could compete with Presley, Gene Vincent, Buddy Holly, and the host of talented Sun rockabillies dominating the marketplace. This first of three volumes documents that pursuit and offers up some incredible recordings from that ground floor period in rock'n'roll's history. How close Chudd had his ear to the ground is exemplified by the kickoff track, Bob Luman's version of "Red Hot." Featuring scorching guitar breaks from a young James Burton, this was a cover of Sun artist Billy Lee Riley's version, itself a cover of Sun bluesman Billy "The Kid" Emerson's original. But Chudd's nose for raw rockabilly led the company to several excellent outside master purchases, and Weldon Rogers' "So Long, Good Luck and Goodbye," The Strikes' "If You Can't Rock Me," and Billy Eldridge's crude "Let's Go Baby" all saw releases on tiny local Texas labels before being picked by Imperial for national consumption. Hillbilly artists already on the roster like disc jockey Bill Mack ("Play My Boogie") and country songwriter Merle Kilgore ("Everybody Needs a Little Lovin'") took a swipe or two at the new music, while artists like Warren Miller ("Everybody's Got a Baby But Me"), Lew Williams ("Bop Bop Ba Doo Bop"), Laura Lee Perkins ("Don't Wait Up") and Sammy Gowans ("Rockin' By Myself") came to the label and were recorded in Hollywood. Fans of wild, trebly rockabilly guitar work with revel in Dennis Herrold's raunchy "Make With the Lovin'," sporting a Telecaster sound that must have tested the limits of 45 RPM reproduction back then, and Johnny and Dorsey Burnette's "Warm Love" featuring a dynamite solo ride from country picker Joe Maphis. Rhythm and blues singer Roy Brown gets all echoed up on his "Hip Shakin' Baby" (one of several rockabilly sides he cut for the label) and the other can't-miss highlight comes with Bill Allen's reverberation screamer "Please Give Me Something." Although there are two other volumes in this set, this one features the highest number of classic, collectible tracks and alone would make a fine addition to any rockabilly collection.
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