Kendra Steiner Editions

July 28, 2019

Frank Virtue and The Virtues, “Hop, Skip and Jump: 1955-1962” (Hydra Records, Germany, CD)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 12:54 pm

FRANK VIRTUE AND THE VIRTUES

“Hop, Skip and Jump” (Hydra Records, Germany, CD issued in 1997)

30 tracks recorded in Philadelphia, mostly recorded between 1955 and 1959

VIRTUE 1

 1  Roll ‘in An ‘a’ Rockin’
2  Straighten Up & Flyright
3  Rattle My Bones
4  Guitar Boogie Shuffle
5  My Blue Heaven
6  I Think You’re Lying
7  Let’s Have A Party
8  Hop Skip Mambo
9  Corrine Corrina
10  Boppin’ The Blues
11  Stranded In The Jungle
12  Flippin’ In
13  I Ain’t Gonna Do It No More
14  Mambo Rock
15  Rip It Up
16  My Constant Love
17  I Made A Mistake
18  Oo Ya Gotta
19  Lover Boy
20  Go Joe Go
21  Can’t We Be Sweethearts
22  Fever
23  Rose Of San Antone
24  Hallelujah I Love Her So
25  Charleston Twist
26  Mountaineer Teen Break
27  Toodle Oo Kangaroo
28  Roll Over Beethoven
29  I’m Going Home
30  Good Bye Mambo.

virtue 4

There is a lot of mis-informed discussion printed both online and in books and magazines about the early days of rock and roll and the pre R&R days by people who have not actually listened to a lot of small-label recordings from the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. People like the late Billy Miller or the late Cub Koda or The Hound or Bill Dahl you could trust because they’d listened to thousands of records from that era, and knew their R&B and country boogie inside out. They’d listened to the source recordings, not just read about them….or used someone else’s third-hand generalities as the evidence for their claims.

One of the most important (though not most often discussed) streams that fed into the river that was 50’s rock and roll was the nightclub “jive” tradition from the Northeastern United States, often with Philadelphia as its home base. Artists such as the pre-Cameo Charlie Gracie, Freddie Bell and the Bellboys (whose arrangement of “Hound Dog” was adapted by Elvis), Bill Haley, Mike Pedicin, Jimmy Cavallo/Cavello, and many others were doing a music rooted in Louis Prima and without the cultural influence of the American South you would find in someone from Memphis or Mississippi or Houston, where country music was the native and dominant  music of the region, and where young white musicians would grow up alongside African-American blues artists, even during the days of legalized segregation, and hear local blues and R&B records by local artists on local radio stations.

These kind of artists were issuing records as early as 1951 and 1952 which are by any standard rock and roll, and for every Haley or Cavallo or Gracie who was recording in that era, there were surely dozens or hundreds working the local lounges and Italian restaurants and lower-tier nightclubs of the Northeast. On a German collectors album devoted to Charlie Gracie, which includes all of his amazing pre-Cameo rock and roll records (he was somewhat watered down by Cameo, as many other artists were), there is a 1952 TV appearance from a Philly broadcast hosted by Paul Whiteman, where Gracie does a solo vocal-and-guitar performance which is a full two years before Elvis’ first Sun Records, and while it’s quite different, it’s a totally original SOLO rock and roll performance, one of the earliest, and in a just world, it would be anthologized widely and be well known and cited often and included in documentaries. It isn’t (and it’s not on You Tube, or I’d provide a link).

A lot of these artists tended to be “entertainers,” where the show element of a performance was important, and a frontman with good people skills and a line of jive patter was essential. While we can never find ourselves in a New Jersey Italian restaurant and lounge in 1954 featuring such an artist (as we enjoy our linguini with clam sauce), the album under review today will get you as close as you can possibly get in 2019 to that magical world.

Frank Virtue is probably best-known today for his massive instrumental hit “Guitar Boogie Shuffle,” a rock and roll guitar adaptation of Arthur Smith’s “Guitar Boogie,” and for his Philadelphia studio (see pic) where hundreds of great local singles were recorded over the decades (he also mastered the Beatles single on Swan!). “Guitar Boogie Shuffle” by Frank Virtue and The Virtues was issued in a number of countries and has been reissued many times, along with album-length collections of the Virtue band’s instrumental rockers (which, it should be mentioned, featured JIMMY BRUNO on lead guitar, who had a long career as a jazz guitarist and has a number of albums out you can still find today). Everyone should own a collection of The Virtues instrumentals, but that’s not what’s being discussed today.

Leave it to Hydra Records in Germany (check out their amazing catalog of deep archival digs of early rock and roll) to compile the ultimate collection of little-known and largely unreleased VOCAL recordings from Virtue and crew—-if you want to know what a typical nightclub set circa 1955 or 1956 from a Philly-based act that would use the word “rockin” in its advertising, this is it, 30 tracks worth.

The earliest 1955 recordings here, with an unknown female vocalist, still have the influence of the vocal trios of the big band era, but built on the chassis of a small guitar-based combo, and the rest of the tracks here are the kind of small-group jive-rock discussed above, sometimes with a booting tenor-sax. As would be expected and appreciated by nightclub and lounge audiences, a number of the tracks are rockin’ adaptations of standards such as “My Blue Heaven,”  “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” and “Rose of San Antone,” alongside doo-wop influenced tunes such as “Can’t We Be Sweethearts” and THREE (count em!) tracks that exploit the mambo-rock fad.

The vocalists (who include frontman Virtue) vary, and sometimes have more enthusiasm than great technique, but enthusiasm and a raspy tone are what rock and roll singing is about—-hey, even today there are artists milking this vein, often working cliched Italian-American stereotypes into the act (I saw one about six months ago at a lounge here in San Antonio! A transplanted upstate New Yorker who was “working” us Texas locals, telling us how this song and that excited the customers at “Vinnie’s Pizzeria” or whatever—-I suppose this kind of thing is to Jimmy Cavallo or Mike Pedicin what the Blues Brothers were to Junior Wells, and that’s not meant as a compliment) and making Sopranos and Mad Men and Bobby Darin references! It’s a timeless routine!

VIRTUE 2

I’m not claiming the performances on this album, taken from obscure acetates and local 45’s, are the greatest recordings ever made or that they are some unheard 1952 sessions that rewrite musical history. No, what’s special about them is that they are probably VERY typical of a unique movement in the NE USA. They are acetates documenting the act, not intended for airplay or wide release, along with raw local 45’s, which may have been sold from the bandstand or at a neighborhood record shop where Virtue himself night have dropped them off. The “typical” nature of the sides puts you in the moment in mid-50’s Philly or Jersey, and for me that’s an exciting thing. Most of the recordings are from 55-58, but there is also a 1962 twist 45, which sounds like the kind of “custom pressing” you’d find on a Collector/White Label compilation LP.

A name seen often on the credits here is the larger-than-life James Myers/Jimmy De Knight (credited as co-writer of Rock Around The Clock, and you should Google that to read the various perspectives on his authorship of that song), a man whose association guarantees some exploitation value to any project. Jack Howard, longtime Bill Haley friend and associate and man behind many Philly small labels, is credited with producing some of the sides here, as is Dick Clark (!!!!). The liner notes, composed by someone whose first language is German, mention that Clark used the band to record soundalike cover versions for quickie knock-off “covers of hits” records he produced. I was unaware of this side of Clark and don’t know anything about what labels these were issued on. It’s possible some of the selections here are from those knock-off records (they cover Stranded In The Jungle and Blue Suede Shoes and the like). I’d love to know more.

Whatever the source of the sides, they rock from start to finish, with that unique “New Jersey lounge” flavor that cannot be faked (only badly imitated, such as by the band I saw recently). Virtue’s biggest hit, “Guitar Boogie Shuffle” is included here, but otherwise this is the material you DO NOT hear on most Frank Virtue and the Virtues reissues. If you enjoy this kind of music, you should also get the Jimmy Cavallo collection on Blue Wave, the Mike Pedicin collection on Bear Family, the Charlie Gracie collection on Cotton Town Jubilee (or the old Gracie LP on “Revival” from France), any collection of Bill Haley’s pre-Decca sides, and Collector/White Label’s ROCKIN AND BOPPIN ‘BILLY IN PHILLY CD (which has a picture of Frank Virtue on the cover). Also, the European ANORAK ROCKABILLY 45 website had a good number of singles from the Philadelphia ARCADE label available for download a few years ago, and those might still be up—-those are also full of typical club bands of the era, in that amazing era in Philadelphia music history.

Want a taste? Not sure what’s being discussed here? You can listen to the entire album at the link below….put it on while you are doing whatever you’re doing today. And transport yourself to a neighborhood lounge in South Philly, circa 1956, with “famous recording artist” Frank Virtue and The Virtues. I’ll take the wayback machine there anytime….

virtue 3

listen to this entire sequence of 30 songs at this link:

You Tube: Hop Skip and Jump

virtue 5

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