The Cobra Records Story

Various Artists

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The Cobra Records Story Review

by Bruce Eder

If the 50 tracks on this double-CD box sound an awful lot like they could have come off of any of MCA's various Chess boxes -- but especially the Willie Dixon volume -- it's no accident. Cobra Records was an upstart Chicago-based label that existed for a little over three years at the end of the 1950s, founded by Eli Toscano and Willie Dixon as competition for Phil and Leonard Chess's Chess Records, where Dixon had worked -- and been regularly cheated of fees and royalties -- since the end of the 1940s. His answer was to leave the employ of the Chess brothers and go to work with Toscano, and the result was an almost "shadow" Chess label, jump-started by the likes of Otis Rush ("I Can't Quit You Baby"), Buddy Guy, and Magic Sam, and filled out with Sunnyland Slim, Shakey Horton, Betty Everett, and Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm. They're all here, along with lesser known performers such as Louis Myers & the Aces, the Clouds, and Little Willie Foster, and there's not one cut on this set that's less than a first-rate, pounding, driving piece of electric Chicago blues. The sound ranges from very good to excellent, the guitars and vocals right in your face and the annotation in the accompanying booklet extremely thorough, so you know exactly which bandmember is impressing you at any given moment -- and Dixon played in and led most of the bands represented, so most of what's here is, in effect, expressions of the Chess Records sound in everything but name. And amid the contemporary Chicago blues, the producers have even managed to find room for one smooth, stomping piece of rock & roll, the Clouds' "Rock and Roll Boogie," which almost sounds like a throwback to '40s-style jump blues. It's all worth hearing, and is the perfect acquisition for anyone who feels like they've run through the totality of MCA's Chess reissues.

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
Willie Dixon Band / Otis Rush 02:49 Amazon
2 Willie Dixon Band / Otis Rush 02:49 Amazon
Betty Everett 02:00 Amazon
Magic Sam 02:49 Amazon
Harold Burrage 02:31 Amazon
Magic Sam 02:14 Amazon
7 Otis Rush 02:49 Amazon
Otis Rush 02:56 Amazon
Willie Dixon Band / Charles Clark 03:14 Amazon
Buddy Guy & His Band 03:02 Amazon
11 Buddy Guy & His Band 02:36 Amazon
Magic Sam 03:34 Amazon
Magic Sam 02:43 Amazon
Willie Dixon Band / Shakey Jake 03:03 Amazon
Willie Dixon Band / Shakey Jake 02:45 Amazon
16 Otis Rush & His Band 02:43 Amazon
17 Otis Rush & His Band 02:31 Amazon
18 Buddy Guy & His Band 02:58 Amazon
19 Buddy Guy & His Band 02:39 Amazon
20 Otis Rush & His Band 02:38 Amazon
Otis Rush & His Band 02:40 Amazon
22 Ike Turner & His Kings of Rhythm 02:25 Amazon
Ike Turner & His Kings of Rhythm 02:19 Amazon
Carlton Oliver / Ike Turner & His Kings of Rhythm / Ike Turner 01:56 Amazon
Jackie Brenston / Ike Turner & His Kings of Rhythm 02:26 Amazon
Ike Turner & His Kings of Rhythm 02:12 Amazon
Ike Turner & His Kings of Rhythm 03:06 Amazon
blue highlight denotes track pick