Founded by Ray Dobard in the early fifties, his California based label, Music City, enjoyed a longevity very few other labels enjoyed. Partly, this is to do with Ray’s ability to find talented artists and groups. It was also to do with his ability to keep ahead of musical trends. 

By 1957, rock ‘n’ roll was growing in popularity. Ray noticed an increase in people looking for rock ‘n’ roll records in his record shop at 1815 Alcatraz Avenue, San Francisco. The only problem was, a lack of rock ‘n’ roll records. Demand was outstripping supply. This was despite new independent labels springing up throughout the Bay area. At first, Ray didn’t change Music City’s release schedule to include rock ‘n’ roll records. Instead, Music City stuck to releasing singles by vocal groups. Then when Ray realized that rock ‘n’ roll was here to stay, he decided that Music City should expand into rock ‘n’ roll.

Before 1956, worried rock ‘n’ roll was a passing musical fad, Music CIty dipped its toe in the water of rock ‘n’ roll. By getting his groups to record a few rock ‘n’ roll records, Ray could gauge interest in the latest musical trend. A year later, Ray’s enthusiasm in rock ‘n’ roll had grown. Soon, Music City had jumped onboard the rock ‘n’ roll bandwagon. Among the artists that recorded for Music City were The 3 Honeydrops, Mike Smith, Willie Moore, The Pendleton, The Five Crytels, Ron and Don, The Dialtones and Sonny Raye. All these artists and more, feature on Ace Records latest compilation Going Wild! Music City Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Going Wild! Music City Rock ‘n’ Roll was released on 24th June 2013. It features twenty-four tracks. They were recorded between 1957 and 1961. Of the twenty-four tracks, sixteen have never been released before. They make their debut on Going Wild! Music City Rock ‘n’ Roll. Compiled by Alec Palao, Going Wild! Music City Rock ‘n’ Roll is described as: “rockabilly ravers, piano pounders and juke jivers.” Sounds good to me. Let’s pick some of the highlights of Going Wild! Music City Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Opening Going Wild! Music City Rock ‘n’ Roll, is The Honeydrops’ Rockin’ Satellite. Released in 1957, at the birth of the space race, it’s a reminder of another musical era. Reminiscent of Bill Haley and The comets, this finger popping tracks from Mel Larson, Lani Wood and Jerry Marcellino was a musical change in direction for the three journeymen musicians. This was one of two singles The Honeydrops released.

Honey Drop was the other. It’s the best of the two. Soulful and heartfelt accompanied by punchy harmonies, it’s an underrated slice of rock ‘n’ roll. As an added and welcome bonus, the previously unreleased Chickaboom features on Opening Going Wild! Music City Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Best described as a piano pounder, Jimmy Cicero Devil’s Child epitomizes everything that’s good about rock ‘n’ roil. It’s a rebellious and dangerous explosion of music. Growling horns, pounding piano and a vocal that draws inspiration from Jerry Lee Lewis, this is a true hidden gem. Recorded in 1960, the song lay unreleased in Music City’s vaults. That’s where compiler Alec Palao discovered it, and has chosen to share it with music lovers everywhere.

When Mike Smith signed to Music City, he was trying to rejuvenate his career. He’d enjoyed a minor hit single with Week Of Loneliness in 1959. Since then, his career had stalled. So Mike decided to jump onboard the rock ‘n’ roll bandwagon. He signed to Music City and released Coast To Coast, his first single for his new label. It looked a surefire commercial success. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. A year later, Mike was looking for a new label. Despite that, Coast To Coast is an irresistible and rollicking reminder of rock ‘n’ roll’s glory days.

Before finding fame with the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia was The Pendletons’ drummer. They released Now Is The Time on Music City.Their contribution to Going Wild! Music City Rock ‘n’ Roll is much better. Santa Rita Jail was written by Rod Gibino and Larry Gonzales. It’s a timeless tale about Alameda County’s main jail. Driven along by the rhythm section of drummer Jerry Garcia and bassist Jim Bedford, Larry Gonzales snarling, rocky vocal is full of angst and rebellion. If only the recording was better, this track would’ve been a classic.

The Holidays’ Hoochi Coochi Man was recorded in March 1958. Written by John and Louise Foster, for some reason, it was never released. Given the quality of this stomper, this is surprising. This wasn’t their only recording for Music City. The Oakland quintet released several tracks for Music City. Then when The Holidays were over, they became The Four Rivers. One wonders whether the released if Hoochi Coochi Man could’ve prolonged The Holidays’ career.

Oh That Train Aka Clickety Clack is one of the tracks The Five Crystels have on Going Wild! Music City Rock ‘n’ Roll. The other is Yay Yay. Their music is best described as eclectic. Veering between sensuous, raunchy, R&B right through to standards and novelty songs, their music is hard to categorize. Originally titled Clackety Clack, this fusion of rock ‘n’ roll, throwaway pop and R&B the title was changed to Oh That Train Aka Clickety Clack. Although very similar to Yakety Yak, it has one thing in common, its proliferation of poppy hooks. Yay Yay the other offering from The Five Crystels, features some of the best guitar playing on the compilation. It comes courtesy of Chuck “Big Guitar” Ernst, one of the best guitarists to walk through Music City’s doors.

Goofin’ Off is another piano pounder, this time from The Dialtones. Recorded in August 1957, Goofin’ Off was penned by Leslie and James Robinson of The Dialtones. They were one of the few groups on Music City who wrote their own songs. Good as this track is, and you’ll not hear better piano playing on Going Wild! Music City Rock ‘n’ Roll, problem with the way the vocal is recorded, lets the song down slightly. Given how basic recording equipment was in 1957, not only is this forgivable, but part of the track’s charms.

Roll On Little Mama by The Mandarins is my final choice from Going Wild! Music City Rock ‘n’ Roll. Recorded in 1957, it’s a piano pounding, finger-popping track. Searing guitars, whoops, hollers and handclaps accompany the lead vocal, while the punchy, cascading harmonies add the finishing touch to what was The Mandarins only single.

Although I’ve only mentioned eleven of the twenty-four tracks on Going Wild! Music City Rock ‘n’ Roll, there’s much more awaiting discovery on the compilation. This includes contributions from Frankie Daro, Ron and Don, The Emarks, Sonny Raye and Willie Moore. There’s even two tracks from artists whose identity compiler Alec Palao wasn’t able to discover. Vera Lee and Street Rock are credited to unknown artist. I wonder who these mystery artists were and what became of them? These two tracks add a taste of intrigue to Going Wild! Music City Rock ‘n’ Roll.

The twenty-four tracks on Going Wild! Music City Rock ‘n’ Roll which was recently released by Ace Records are just a taster of the music in Music City’s vaults. Having said that, Music City were neither the biggest, most prolific nor most successful rock ‘n’ roll label. Other labels can fight it out for these crowns. Nor is Music City the most collectable label. That’s because Music City is something of a well-kept secret. It was at its peak between 1957 and 1961. That’s when Music City were doing what they did so well, releasing rockabilly ravers, piano pounders and juke jivers aplenty. Standout Tracks: Jimmy Cicero Devil’s Child, The Pendletons Now Is The Time, The Holidays Hoochi Coochi Man and The Dialtones Goofin’ Off.


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