Anyone looking for a single-disc survey of Roosevelt Sykes' pre-'50s career should probably go directly to Nasty But It's Clean, a chronological, 25-track sampler of his best work from the years 1929-1949, which was released by Catfish records in 2000. These recordings, which were issued to the public on 78 rpm platters bearing the Okeh, Paramount, Victor, Champion, Decca, and Regal logos, were cut in studios all across central and eastern North America, mapping the pianist's peregrinations with sessions held in Chicago IL, Grafton WI, Richmond IN, Cincinnati OH, Memphis TN, Louisville KY, and New York NY. Sykes, whose early Victor records identified him as Willie Kelly, and who recorded for Paramount as Dobby Bragg, is heard with guitarists Clifford Gibson (tracks one and two), and Kokomo Arnold (tracks 12, 13). When a drummer is heard in duet with the piano, the chances are fairly good that you're listening to Big Sid Catlett, a master percussionist whose sessions with Sykes (and bluesman Peetie Wheatstraw) complement the bigger picture presented by his adventures in jazz with Louis Armstrong, James P. Johnson, Benny Goodman, Sidney Bechet, and Lester Young. In addition to a lot of spirited performances that show what Sykes could do alone or with minimal accompaniment, "Boogie Honky-Tonk" and "High as a Georgia Pine" provide a taste of how he sounded with horns and a full rhythm section. The title track, by the way, is one of Sykes' best early instrumental piano solos. Recorded in Louisville in 1931, this three-minute essay reveals all of his early influences: Jesse Bell, Baby Sneed, Fats Waller, Little Brother Montgomery, and Leothus "Pork Chops" Lee Green.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf