Various Artists

Roots of Rock [Yazoo 1991]

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This compilation from the premiere Yazoo roots reissue label contains 14 original jazz and blues recordings circa the 1920s and 1930s that would inform some of rock & roll's best-known and revered compositions -- many of which had been credited as being of an unknown or "traditional" origin. The authenticity of a majority of these sides is immediately apparent from the copious amounts of surface noise on the original 78 rpm source material. That caveat aside, this is some vital music that could easily be considered the rock & roll of its era.

Most of the titles found on this volume can be easily associated with their obvious counterparts. There are a couple of notable tunes which were covered [read: stolen] by Led Zeppelin, such as the 1929 recording of "When the Levee Breaks" by Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie as well as Bukka White's "Shake 'Em on Down" from 1937, which Zep dubbed "Custard Pie" on Physical Graffiti (1975). Cream was among those to find inspiration in Charley Patton's "A Spoonful Blues" as well as Skip James' "I'm So Glad." The Jefferson Airplane blues-based spin-off, Hot Tuna, recorded a stretched-out "That'll Never Happen No More," which is featured here by Blind Blake, who is rumored to have taught it to Reverend Gary Davis. It was Davis who then recollected it to Tuna's Jorma Kaukonen, as well as other folkys such as Dave Van Ronk and Stefan Grossman. Although the title "That's No Way to Get Along" may not immediately click with rock fans, many will inevitably know the same tune as "Prodigal Son" by the Rolling Stones. The same fate may befall Henry Thomas' "Bull Doze Blues," which will inevitably be recognized by the Canned Heat version which was retitled "Goin' up the Country."

Stephen Calt's six-panel liner-notes text contains a bevy of little-known facts and places each of the cuts within their proper historical perspective. This single-disc compilation is a perfect primer for anyone interested in tracing the real Roots of Rock.

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