32-tracks of obscure, formative, and hardcore country from independent labels scattered throughout the States? Yes, please.
Do a bit of vinyl bin diving, and you may find a gem or three. Do a lot over a number of years, and you may come up with enough to fill a double album survey (on lively green vinyl) of vanity-pressed, hometown, and larger independent labels attempting to scratch-out space within airwaves populated by Webb Pierce, Hank Williams, Faron Young, and George Jones.
Much like the Epic Rockabilly Stars series in the early 80s, Strut My Stuff (named for the Slim Redman lead-track) brings rarely heard music to those with an affinity toward the unknown. Not every track is striking, and several are little more than two chords and a catch phrase. Still, if one song drags, the next is likely to remove it from memory. This type of music isn’t readily available; if you know what you’re looking for, or stumble across it on various dodgy download site, you’re aces. Otherwise, most likely no chance.
A few cuts flirt with rockabilly (Bill White’s “Leave My Gal Alone,” Billy Parks’ hardscrabble “Four Leaf Clover,” and Bobby Rutledge’s “Waitin’ In Line”), others with novelty (“Women Drivers” from California-Okie Weldon Rogers, Luke Gordon’s “Moustache on the Cabbage Head,” and Lou Millet’s “My In-laws Made an Outlaw Out of Me”) but the majority are unabashed honky tonk, and almost all offer a moment or three of interest. The only track not from the 50s is Jimmie King’s 1963 near-rocking beauty, “Pretty Little Baby.”
Few of the featured artists or labels are household names, but some come close. Ray Anderson (“Living Too Fast”) played some with the Osborne Brothers, and Hank the Drifter (Daniel Andrade, performing the inspired “Don’t You Lock Your Daddy Out”) was a fairly well-known Hank Williams devotee. Starday affiliate Moonlight is represented, as are Admiral and Ark, but the majority of the tracks are from labels most have never encountered, including Fable, Poor Boy, and Mel-O-Tone.
Among the finest tracks are Cliff Shepherd’s “Live Live Live,” Chuck Ray’s “I May Not Be Able, But I’m Willing To Try,” and Aubrey Bradford’s “Get Your Feet on the Floor.” The ill-fated Riley Crabtree is featured twice, “She Loves Me Better” from 1959, “Tattle Tattle Tale,” 1957: good stuff there. For a number of reasons, not the least of which its recall of classic sounds, most interesting may be Maine’s Ray Aldridge’s number; “It’s Not Easy To Forget” features a backing band including a youthful Lenny Breau and Dick Curless playing guitar.
Presented in mono, Strut My Stuff leaves little room for complaint: I’m sure many females also recorded for minuscule labels with limited success, but you wouldn’t know from the included—Penny West (“Needle In A Haystack”) and Helen Tussey (with Les, relationship unclear, on “They Went Around”) are the extent featured herein.
Not necessarily apparent is what prevented these numbers from hitting the charts of the day; it wasn’t the quality of the tunes, the singing or playing. Strut My Stuff is likely to inspire searches for more music from featured artists. With detailed notes from curator G-Minus Mark, Strut My Stuff is also available on CD, but that translucent green vinyl sure is eye-poppin’.