Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

July 23, 2016

The Norman Petty Trio: Complete Album & Singles Collection (Nor-Va-Jak 2-cd set)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 4:50 pm



(Nor-Va-Jak, 2-cd set)

musical genre: lounge/cocktail
64 tracks – from the original mono master tapes
3 albums (Corsage / Almost
Paradise / A Petty For Your Thoughts)
1 EP – 14 singles
including 45 releases by Vi Petty & as the “Charlie Bee Combo” 

available from

norman petty trio

I just rec’d my copy of this fine collection today and wanted to share my excitement about it. Before I say anything else, though, I need to point out that there is not one note of rock’n’roll on this album, even in the broadest definition of the term. Now that that’s understood…

Clovis, New Mexico’s NORMAN PETTY was one of the great rock’n’roll producer/engineers. While his name is most associated with Buddy Holly, he worked with hundreds of artists from all across the midwest and southwest….and a number of bands even came down from Canada to work with him, in the hope that some of the Petty magic would rub off on them. And more often than not, it did. Petty loved the studio environment and he was a great tinkerer, someone who was quite interested in the TEXTURES and COLORS of the sound. He had some kind of ideal sound in his head, and as a studio whiz, he worked with the musicians to get that special something onto tape. The exhaustive reissues of the Fireballs catalog over the years from Ace UK, as well as all their unreleased material which has come out, is a perfect case study for what Petty could do in the studio. With a master guitarist such as George Tomsco of the Fireballs, who could probably produce ANY imaginable sound or tone on his instrument, and the engineering/producing mind of Norman Petty, the large Fireballs catalog is one of the most interesting SOUNDING bodies of work in rock and roll. Like Link Wray or Bo Diddley or Duane Eddy, Tomsco and the Fireballs, with producer Norman Petty, created almost cinematic recordings that have held up decade after decade, and also recordings that because of the effort and quality put into them back in the day, still sound great in digital sound on today’s CD’s. I could go on for hours on this theme, as a lifelong fan of Norman Petty’s productions, but this post is devoted to a new reissue of Petty’s OWN music, the recordings of the NORMAN PETTY TRIO.

I had heard a scratchy 45 or two of theirs back in my active vinyl collecting days, but never heard much of their work, and when you think about it, you can’t really have a deep knowledge of Norman Petty without hearing his own recordings. The core of the group is Petty’s own organ (and other pre-synthesizer organ-like instruments) and his wife Vi on piano, with a few other instruments, usually gtr and drums and sometimes bass. The recordings were made between 1954 and 61 and were issued on a number of labels, RCA’s “VIK” subsidiary, Top Rank, ABC-Paramount, Columbia, Felsted, etc. Petty always licensed his productions to any number of labels, and perhaps those contacts were initially made during his Norman Petty Trio days. The group did have some national hits, and they have a very appealing sound. Yes, they are clearly in the “lounge” category, although some of the later sessions have a more pronounced beat and could be lounge answers to the instrumental records he was cutting with rock and roll combos. However, most of the music is the kind of thing you’d hear at a nightclub in a moderate-sized city, where couples who could afford it would dress up for the evening, drink martinis and various cocktails, perhaps have a steak and shrimp cocktail or an elegant salad or whatever, and dance to a band such as the Norman Petty Trio. This is really not jazz, although clearly Petty appreciated jazz, and he had the good taste to do Ellington covers among other jazz tunes. He was aiming, I’m guessing, at the audience who enjoyed Peter Nero or Carmen Cavallaro….cocktail music (Wikipedia calls this genre “light music”). While much of what we retroactively call “lounge music” is padded with strings and too much instrumentation, and has an instantly kitschy sound, the main selling point of the Petty Trio is their clean, sharp sound, a sound with a good amount of space and room to breathe. Even then, Petty understood that quality small group productions needed that space, and in these excellent transfers from the original MONO tapes, the three-dimensional but understated sound comes through beautifully.

Of course, we should give a lot of attention to Violet Ann Petty (“VI”), keyboard player on many Petty productions. She clearly has classical training, as I first discovered when ACE issued the unreleased Fireballs album BLUE FIRE. I’d be getting into an atmospheric Fireballs instrumental and suddenly this rhapsodic piano would come up and I’d be transported to some concert hall for 16 bars! Some of the material here has the flavor of the “light classical,” but mostly (on piano and celeste) she engages in a kind of counterpoint with her husband on organ—-in fact, it’s much like a couple dancing, Vi’s piano and Norman’s organ-work, one leading, one following, not getting in each other’s way, not stepping on any toes, being light on their feet, and being elegant and classy….and that’s EXACTLY what this music communicates, and surely what the supper-club audiences of the day would have wanted from the Norman Petty Trio.

Lounge music is not for everyone. However, if you had to make a case for the “cocktail music” genre, The Norman Petty Trio would be the artists to play for someone. There’s nothing campy or kitschy about this music. Although it is not jazz, it has all the good qualities one enjoys about a trio led by, say, Erroll Garner. The tempos are excellent for dancing, and as I stated earlier, it’s clean and understated and supple music.

It’s also very important to hear for the serious fan of Norman Petty’s productions. And it explains a lot about some of the “square” qualities that would surface on his productions from time to time. This album is 95% instrumental, but the few vocals show that his taste in vocalists would be in the manner of the Four Freshmen or Doris Day.

Again, this album is not for most people reading this post, but I feel an obligation to help promote this release, because it’s an important piece of the Norman Petty story, and for the person who enjoys lounge/cocktail music, it’s a real treat. There are 64 songs, all in fine, clear mono sound with a wonderful presence, and as an ABC-Paramount promotional ad included in the inside of the CD package reads, it’s “beautifully recorded.” Interesting to note that that’s how this music was sold in its day. These performances are the roots of Norman Petty’s musical universe. As such, hearing them clarifies a lot about his later work. Thanks to compiler Shawn Nagy for doing a superb job with this set. It’s as “classy” in that old school sense as the music on the discs.

petty 45

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