Big Maybelle – The Okeh Sessions – CBS Epic (1952-1955)/ PurePleasure Records double audiophile 180 gram mono LPs PPAN EG38456 ****:(Re-mastering by Ray Staff at Air Mastering, Lyndhurst Hall, London; Big Maybelle, vocals; backed by numerous musicians including: Guitar: Brownie McGhee, James Cannady, Mickey Baker Piano: Al Williams, Ernie Hayes, Fletcher Smith, Lee Anderson Saxophones: Jerome Richardson, Budd Johnson, Sam “The Man” Taylor Trombone: Alfred Cobbs, Billy Byers, Eli Robinson Trumpet: Joe Wilder, Taft Jordan Bass: Grachan Moncur, Al Hall, Lloyd Trotman, Norman Keenan Drums: Charlie Smith, Panama Francis, Herbie Lovelle, Jimmy Crawford, Marty Wilson)
Big Maybelle was a big woman, whose sheer exuberance matched her physique. She was one of the top rhythm and blues singers of the 1950s.
She could belt out the blues with a gruff voice (she was often referred to as a female Howlin’ Wolf), yet she could caress and make a pop ballad all her own. She also covered jazz and even rock and early rock and roll at the end of her career. There are opinions that she influenced later major artists like Etta James and Janis Joplin. She cut “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On’ two years before Jerry Lee Lewis. Unfortunately, hard drugs was her undoing and kept her from becoming a major break-out artist.
Maybelle’s prime years are covered in her Okeh recordings of 1952-1955. We now have them in a definitive version, remastered in 180 gram glory by ace engineer Ray Staff for PurePleasure, the English record company devoted to the re-issue of prime historical value recordings in the best acoustics possible.
Right out of the gate, Maybelle takes command on “Just Want Your Love.” Not as gruff as Big Mama Thornton, but no doubt fully in command as a blues shouter, Maybelle delivers the goods. “So Good To My Baby” features a raucous horn section and hot guitar by James Cannady. The great tenor saxophonist, Sam “The Man” Taylor is here as well. Hot stuff…
A real treat is the bantering between Maybelle and rival Rose Marie McCoy on “Gabbin Blues.” Rose gives and Maybelle answers her in kind. The weather is no match for Big Maybelle on “Rain Down Rain” as Sam Taylor wails in the background.
“Stay Away from My Sam” is old school blues, slowed down. We get the chance to hear Brownie McGhee on guitar on the tracks on Side 2, from 1953. “Jinny Mule” is a gas, complete with mule stomps on drums. A highlight follows with “Maybelle’s Blues” written by Miss (Maybelle) Smith herself.
Side 3 features Maybelle’s talents on ballads like “Ain’t No Use” and “You’ll Be Sorry.” They show the sweet side of Maybelle, as does “You’ll Never Know” on Side 2, where Miss Smith shows her jazz ballad chops that rival Dinah Washington, albeit in a lower register.
“One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show” is a novelty number where Maybelle flirts and struts her stuff backed by some blistering guitar by Mickey Baker. Maybelle later lays down the law on “Don’t Leave Poor Me.”
Who would have guessed that it was Quincy Jones who arranged and conducted (on March 21, 1955) “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” for Maybelle, backed by an all-star contingent including Billy Byers, Jerome Richardson, Budd Johnson, and Heywood Henry…
Maybelle’s career floundered in the 1960s and she passed away after a diabetic coma in 1972. Those curious about the power that she brought to the stage can catch her on video in the documentary, Jazz on a Summer’s Day, filmed in color at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, by Bert Stern.
If there was more justice in this world, Big Maybelle would get her props as one of the greatest female blues shouters. Hopefully, audiophile collectors can help get out the word about Big Maybelle after listening to The Okeh Sessions.
Side A: Just Want Your Love, So Good to My Baby, Gabbin’ Blues, My Country Man, Rain Down Rain, Way Back Home
Side B: Stay Away from My Sam, Jinny Mule, Maybelle’s Blues, I’ve Got a Feeling, You’ll Never Know
Side C: No More Trouble Out of Me, My Big Mistake, Ain’t No Use, I’m Getting’ Long Alright, You’ll Be Sorry, Hair Dressin’ Women
Side D: One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show, Don’t Leave Poor Me, Ain’t To Be Played With, New Kind of Mambo, Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On