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Album Review

Fond of sentimental ballads and downhearted laments, West Coast singer and guitarist Saunders King led a series of little bands that also handled novelty jive swing and bluesy jump tunes. King's pioneering electric guitar work puts him in league with Charlie Christian, Eddie Durham, and Tampa Red. This chronological compilation documents the records he made for several small-time labels in San Francisco and Los Angeles between 1948 and 1954. The survey begins with four rare Cava-Tone sides involving unidentified personnel. "Nobody Wants Me," first recorded earlier in 1948 by its composer, Memphis Slim, would soon be popularized by Joe Williams and Count Basie as "Every Day I Have the Blues." The most interesting track from this session concerns an overweight member of the order Lepidoptera. Although he receives composer credits on both his 1942 version (see Classics 5064) and the 1948 remake heard here, Saunders King most certainly was not the originator of "Big Fat Butterfly," a cocky variation on the popular slow ballad "Poor Butterfly." This catchy routine, also served up by Lorenzo Flennoy's trio in 1945 on Melodisc, was written by Harold Austin and the great Skeets Tolbert, composer of "Hit That Jive, Jack." Tolbert recorded the song in 1941 (see Classics 993) and King absorbed it into his own act shortly afterwards. The chronology unfolds with a series of rare tracks originally issued on the Modern, Aladdin, Rhythm, and Flair record labels. King's small bands included trumpeters Eddie Walker and Allen Smith; a succession of fine saxophonists in Eddie Taylor, Pony Poindexter, Kermit Scott, Curtis Lowe, and Jerome Richardson; and excellent support from pianist Cedric Haywood. King is at his soulful best on the cool and ruminative "Empty Bedroom Blues," the old "St. James Infirmary Blues," and the excellent "Something's Worrying Me," while the band rocks nicely on the upbeat rhythm tunes like "Little Girl" and "2:00 AM Hop." Rather than offering spiritual advice, his "Read the Good Book" cops out instead by reworking the tired-assed patriarchal formula of biblically bolstered misogyny, a sour cul-de-sac all too common in the world of blues music. Always willing to pull back and sing pretty, King periodically slowed things down and satisfied his penchant for crooning with "Summertime" or even "Danny Boy."


Born: 13 March 1909 in Staple, LA

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

Pioneering R&B guitarist Saunders King had his first hit in 1942 with "S.K. Blues." King was a preacher's son who sang gospel in his father's church in Oakland. He learned piano, banjo and ukulele. In 1938 he began playing guitar and wound up singing with the Southern Harmony Four for an NBC radio station in San Francisco. He soon developed his passion for blues and "S.K. Blues" was an enormous hit. It also features one of the earliest examples of electric blues guitar, the style for which T-Bone...
Full bio
1948-1954, Saunders King
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