I don't rightly know why I have this album. George reviewed it a few years back, and I decided I should probably have at least one collection of something like this. I saw it fairly cheap on Amazon – no longer the case, by the way – and so I picked it up. And that's how I found myself with a 4 CD, 100 song box set of Big Joe Turner's material.
And you know what? I don't regret it. I don't listen to it except in portions, of course, but even the one or two times that I listened to it in one hour chunks, it never got annoying or boring. This is amazing to me, since it's basically just the same old dude bellowing over piano-and-brass dominated “jump blues” (or whatever you want to call it). Big Joe Turner himself had basically nothing to do with the actual creation of this material, usually just singing and having no writing or playing credits. It's tempting to use the Elvis Argument here and say “Well, the material may be good, but Big Joe Turner doesn't deserve any credit as he was little more than a personality to attach the work of others.” However, that line of reasoning is also subject to the Elvis Counter-Argument, which states “He may have had little to do with the creation of the material, but would the material have existed if Big Joe Turner had not?”
I don't know the answer to these questions, but certain things seem apparent to me. One is that the people who played for Big Joe Turner were thoroughly excellent, always varying up the samey material enough to make even the most redundant and unnecessary tracks sound unique. Another is that there is no doubt in my mind how much of an influence this particular type of blues had on rock music. The opening “Roll 'Em Pete” sounds like piano based Jerry Lee Lewis style rock and roll over 15 years before that time, just a little bit calmer and more restrained.
Highlights are difficult to pick out, but I'd have to point out the ones which break from the blues formula and presage rock in certain ways. The frenetic – and electric guitar based! - “I Don't Dig It” is excellent, for example, as are both parts of “Around The Clock,” which certainly informs Chuck Berry's “Reelin' and Rockin'” in very obvious ways. “Bump Miss Suzie” is another great upbeat Little Richard style number, and “Honey Hush” is basically the exact same song as the later, much more epoch defining “Shake, Rattle, and Roll.” I have to guess the latter met much greater success than the original because of the lyrics – sexual innuendo as opposed to the excessively violent misogynistic lyrics of the former. Not that “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” isn't also misogynistic, it's just that nobody heard that because of the fun “let's dance!” mode of the chorus.
Really, the only section I'm not fond of are the slow ballads that Turner suddenly became obsessed with in the early-50's. He had a big hit during this period (“Chains of Love”) but the lumpy blues ballads just aren't very interesting in the hands of Big Joe Turner and his sidemen. Still, this is just a small section at the beginning of the fourth disc and is hardly cause for complaint.
I'm hardly an expert on this kind of music, but I know what I like, and for the most part, I find this collection pretty enjoyable. It's hardly my favorite thing in the world to listen to, but it's a nice little package of one of the more influential big band blues artists of his day, and if you're interested in this type of music for either historical or enjoyment purposes, you could probably do a lot worse than Big Joe Turner. Pick up a similar collection if you're interested.