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Album Review

This seventh volume in Bluebird/BMG's Secret History of Rock & Roll series may be its first to directly connect with early rock. Bluesman Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup is well known, as is Otis Blackwell, for creating the material that inspired Elvis Presley and gave him his earliest successes. "That's All Right Mama" was one of Presley's first Sun recordings, and it holds up as a feral rollicking classic. But Crudup's own version, recorded in Chicago in 1946, has enough piss, vinegar, and razor-sharp teeth to make Presley's read a cipher. In Crudup's version, the words "that's all right" are not so clear cut as they are coming from Presley's mouth. There is a degree of menace, sarcasm, and the hint of "just wait and see, baby" in the way they fire off his lower lip; he's not looking in, but at his woman, straight in the eye. Proof of this is in Crudup's "My Baby Left Me." Where Presley's was full of swagger and determination to win sympathy, Crudup's is full of a barely contained rage and a sorrow that lies in bewildering feelings of helplessness and aggression. His trio with drummer Judge Riley and bassist Ransom Knowing from 1950 is a revelation in intent. The point is that over 22 tracks, Crudup reveals time and again that while he may be kept out of the history books as little more than a footnote as Presley's inspiration and to his success (and to the greed of Lester Melrose). Crudup was in fact one of the edgiest and scariest bluesmen of his generation whose phrasing and guitar attack preceded even that of Chuck Berry ( the real Elvis, or was Presley the other, later Chuck Berry?). No matter, here is a look at Crudup in fine, remastered sound that showcases the many records he placed on jukeboxes throughout the South and in large Midwestern cities like Detroit and Chicago in the 1940s and early '50s. The music here begins in 1941 with "Death Valley Blues," one of the most forlorn, highly lonesome blues tunes of the year, and "Black Pony Blues," coming out of the hokum tradition in the Delta. It ends in 1954 on a Chicago radio station with "If You've Ever Been to Georgia," with Crudup in full throat, laying it out raw and snaky with a full band backing him. Rock & roll was officially born a few months later, but Crudup's rolling and tumbling blues were the hardcore beginnings of the sound that Presley would be enamored with his entire life. This is an essential volume in an essential series.


Born: 24 August 1905 in Forest, MS

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

Arthur Crudup may well have been Elvis Presley's favorite bluesman. The swivel-hipped rock god recorded no less than three of "Big Boy's" Victor classics during his seminal rockabilly heyday: "That's All Right Mama" (Elvis' Sun debut in 1954), "So Glad You're Mine," and "My Baby Left Me." Often lost in all the hubbub surrounding Presley's classic covers are Crudup's own contributions to the blues lexicon. He didn't sound much like anyone else, and that makes him an innovator, albeit a rather rudimentary...
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When the Sun Goes Down: Rock Me Mamma, Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup
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