Though he managed to cut some interesting records in the early 1950’s Emitt Slay was never a star, coming along fifteen or twenty years too early to fill his ideal role as the lead guitarist in a band where he could chip in with the songwriting duties, even handle an occasional lead vocal maybe, but mostly be content to tear off some scintillating solos while shrieking fans celebrated his every move.

Slay rose to prominence in Detroit in the early 1940’s as a guitarist and while it was still something of an underused instrument in most band’s arrangements, he cut some records as a sideman for Louis Armstrong, showing the regard he was held in by music royalty.

As the 1950’s dawned and rock ‘n’ roll was starting to feature a few more guitar solos than they’d started with a few years earlier, Slay got his first chance to be a featured artist on record when he got two releases under his own name working with Todd Rhodes and played behind Rhodes for more than a year spanning the end of his stint with local Sensation Records and the start of his tenure with King Records.

But Slay soon went out on his own, forming a band known variously as The Emitt Slay Trio and more colorfully The Slayriders, which featured Bob White – not Slay – handling vocals with Lawrence Jackson on drums for Savoy Records. They also briefly featured female vibraphonist Terry Pollard in their group but while the records showed off Slay’s abilities on guitar to good effect, the transition of the music to a guitar-based sound was still a few years off and without a better lead singer the records gained little traction.

But while Slay faded from public view he remained in demand around Detroit as a sessionist as well as a club act for a number of years. He died in 1970, one of a handful of guitarists who contributed to the evolution of the sound of rock ‘n’ roll by being ahead of his time in many ways, which only ensured him he’d get little credit for it in the end.

EMITT SLAY DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

(Sensation 32, April, 1950)
As songwriter… for Kitty Stevenson.

(Sensation 38; August, 1950)
Though the enthusiastic vocals sound like somebody else, Slay’s guitar work is unmistakable and forms the best aspect of this record which is aided by a good Todd Rhodes arrangement to give it a fuller sound and make it a true band performance. (6)

(Sensation 39; October, 1950)
Though a largely outdated idea – both the lyrical side and much of the arrangement – this gets redeemed somewhat by Slay’s slicing guitar interlude and a pretty decent Louie Stephens tenor sax solo that follows, but that’s hardly enough to make it sound current. (4)