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FREEDOM 1546; OCTOBER 1950

 
 

 

When people are recounting his lengthy career it’s a fair bet that most will say unequivocally that Joe Turner’s best stretch came for Atlantic Records.

These people are of course wrong.

It’s not that Turner’s time at Atlantic wasn’t great, and in fact because it was also his longest stint anywhere, nearly a full decade, it also means he does in fact have more great records on that label than any other… a fairly evident numbers game if nothing else.

But pound for pound Turner’s brief run with Freedom Records in 1950 was when he was at his best, more pointedly one session with one particular group of backing musicians was when he reached his absolute pinnacle as a recording artist.

That magical moment in time comes to a close here, but that’s no cause to mourn because we have this one final cut to savor.
 

 

Hey Fellas, Gather Round
The creative and commercial revival of Joe Turner was now complete and from here on in there was to be no doubting what he was capable of and where he truly fit best.

When his early acclaim during the boogie-woogie craze of the late 1930’s faded into the din created by World War Two he’d managed to remain both visible and sporadically viable tackling a wide variety of stylistic approaches, but none of it really comprised altogether vital music as the 1940’s progressed.

When rock ‘n’ roll appeared in 1947, a style Big Joe seemed born to sing, he was stuck pursuing the aims of record companies who were slow to catch on to the uprising happening in front of their eyes and so – with a few notable exceptions – it took Turner until he landed with Freedom Records at the dawn of 1950 to find his footing and once he did the hits followed… regional hits officially, but records that over the course past year sold and sold for months on end.

Now that Freedom Records was about to close its doors Turner was on the move again, in fact he’d already signed with Imperial where he continued his winning streak having rediscovered what he did so well and finding that there was a large enthusiastic audience eagerly waiting for hear him do it.

So it’s only fitting that on his final release for Freedom he and the band that got him back on track are equal stars on Jumpin’ At The Jubilee, a celebration of their respective talents, as well as a celebration of the music that allowed them all to leave their mark on the history of recorded sound.

Whoever wants to party, wherever and whenever they may be now or well into the future, all they need to do is pull out this record and crank up the volume because that party is already underway.
 


 
 

All The Cats Are Gonna Drop On By
Without casting aspersions on his past collaborators which includes some legendary musicians, the key to Turner’s turnaround once he landed with Freedom was the presence of saxophonist Conrad Johnson and his band of local studio aces collectively known as The Hep-Cats when backing guitarist Goree Carter.

Carter, Johnson and the others are all present on Jumpin’ At The Jubilee, the last of four cuts they recorded with Turner last December which have already made up the three best sides on the label. Why they held back the fourth track this long is anybody’s guess but it completes the grand slam of his time with the company, as the other session with different musicians eleased over the intervening months were acceptable, but hardly earth-shaking.

But THIS… this is something else altogether, kicking off with a bang with tight riffing saxes, insistent hand-claps bolstering the backbeat and a churning rhythm while Turner eggs them on, calling them out, if not by name at least by instrument, and they respond in the way you’d hope, full of fire.

For such a raucous arrangement it’s amazing how well everything fits together, the highlights piling up on one another to create an embarrassment of riches. The saxes at the start are scalding hot, tearing up the runway with passion but as soon as Joe jumps in they bow out altogether yet because the other instruments don’t let up you don’t even notice their absence for awhile. Similarly Carter was lurking in the shadows when the record kicked off but he gets the second solo and gives the record a different but entirely compatible feel to what preceded it.
Maybe it’s a little slower than you’d expect it’s played with almost buzzing intensity which sets up Joe’s return.

The third solo – yeah we’re on three already with yet another still to follow – comes from Lonnie Lyons on piano, a two-fisted barrelhouse throw-down on overdrive… and the record is barely halfway over! They’re hitting you with everything they’ve got and adrenaline junkies that you are there’s no doubt you still are craving even more.

What stands about this is how despite Turner whooping it up, this is more or less a showcase for the band, with each one getting a chance to shine individually, but also to show off their cohesiveness as a unit. The second half features Carter joining Lyons and the rhythm section snarling away behind Turner’s vocals and the final solo with the horns back out in front has Carter slashing away behind them.

For them to feel this comfortable with one another, Big Joe and the band that is, shows an enormous amount of trust, for we’ve seen Turner defer to good musicians in the past only to have them undermine him with outdated arrangements. But here they’re all on the same page and both sides not only hold up their end, but elevate each other to raise their game until the record nearly melts from the musical fission going on.
 

Everybody’s Rockin’ Tonight
Let’s not forget though as stellar as they are behind him this is still a Big Joe Turner record and it’s his name and reputation which will act as the selling point for this single. Though we’ve already pretty much established how good he sounds here, let’s pay at least some attention to just how he carries out his duties and how effectively he acts to set the musicians up to extend the vibes he’s laying down himself.

Nobody ever had to instruct Big Joe how to be enthusiastic when singing with a top flight band, the joy just seeps out of his pores, but here he sounds positively elated. It was the fourth cut of that session and he’d already laid down two absolutely perfect – by our measurements anyway – songs (plus one just a notch below that) and so he was playing with house money by now.

Even so Jumpin’ At The Jubilee is exquisitely crafted for something that sounds so loose and ad-libbed.

Fans of that Atlantic period to follow are sure to recognize the first line was recycled for his immortal Honey Hush, but whereas on that he was laid back and grinning while recounting the tale, here he sounds like he’s got ants in his pants and that’s just the prelude to the record. Once he lays into the meat of the song he’s throwing around boastful declarations, shouting out gregarious demands and by the sounds of it the party he’s talking about – and the food and booze he’s crowing about – has already been going on for hours and he’s definitely partaken in all of it.

Each time he hits those words “jubilee time” he seems to be lifted off the ground, all two hundred and forty pounds (give or take) of him, knowing full well the band isn’t going to let him fall.

They never do, the whole lot of them ride that exuberant wave to the finish. If rock ‘n’ roll is a communal activity then this record is the epitome of that.
 


 

Clap Your Hands And Stomp Your Feet
Sometimes great artists are stuck in bad situations… record labels that don’t have a clue of how to position them in the marketplace, saddled with bands that insist on having too much of a say in deciding the direction of the tunes, or caught spinning their wheels waiting for the end of an era that doesn’t particularly suit their talents.

Joe Turner had suffered through all of that in the past. He was still great, but sometimes you’d be hard pressed to find proof of it as one single after another met with no interest and couldn’t stir the least bit of excitement.

But then your luck turns, everything falls into place in random yet magical fashion that makes it all seem preordained. Turner meets Goree Carter at a gig, they sit around after the show and Carter urges him to give the label he’s recording for a shot.

As unlikely as it seems that chance meeting turned Turner’s entire career around, giving him a renewed sense of musical purpose and backing it up with verifiable commercial returns, in the process setting the course for his long term future.

Yet this all too brief partnership lasted just one transcendent day in a studio where everything came together perfectly. You hear stories about such events, live shows or jam sessions that the people in attendance talk about with a glazed look in their eyes years later, but it’s otherwise lost to memory.

But sometimes those pairings do manage to get preserved for posterity and one listen to how electrifying they sound together on Jumpin’ At The Jubilee is proof that this group of like-minded individuals reached heights that few mortals ever experience.

No matter how many times you hear it the effect is the same and you convince yourself the festivities are never going to end. Rock ‘n’ roll just might live forever after all.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Big Joe Turner for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)