A Sun Ra acetate from 1955

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#1 Mon, 2010-11-29 14:52
Robert L. Campbell
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A Sun Ra acetate from 1955

Saturnites and Saturnians,

Recently I acquired a few acetates that once belonged to Jimmie Davis. At various times Jimmie Davis ran roller skating rinks, skate shops, and record stores at different addresses on the South Side of Chicago. From the beginning of 1955 through some point in 1957 Jimmie and his wife Lillian operated a small record record label called Club 51, which we keep a page on at the Red Saunders Research Foundation.

Club 51 accumulated an extensive inventory of acetates and lacquers, some at 78 rpm and some at 33 1/3, by various singers and vocal and instrumental groups, many of them still unidentified. (A few vocal group acetates were included in the Relic Records LP of Club 51's vocal group output.)

Some of these acetates were very cheap direct-to-disc recordings made in the back room of the Davises' record store, where vocal groups often made demos (not always intended for Club 51; a bigger company like Vee-Jay was known to send groups to the store to make their demos). These are often in truly dire sonics.

Others, varying widely in sound quality, were made in a variety of other venues and seem to have ended up in the Davises' hands because the groups in question were making a bid to record for Club 51.

A few, which naturally sound pretty good, were actively considered for release by Club 51 (a label that put out just seven official singles) and even circulated in small numbers to DJs.

The items being considered for release had stick-on Club 51 labels ("Disc Jockey Advanced Sample") attached to them. The rest carried labels provided by the company that made the recording blanks. Sometimes Jimmie Davis wrote in the titles and artists; sometimes the person responsible for the demo wrote them in; other times the labels were left blank.

Among the acetates with blank labels provided by the Gould-Moody company, a supplier, was one that featured a Wurlitzer electric piano on both sides. I picked this one up on the assumption there weren't terribly many musicians in Chicago playing electric piano during the Club 51 years, so it might be by someone interesting.

Sure enough, the acetate is by Sun Ra and various members of an early Arkestra.

One side consists of Ra in a trio with a string bass and a drummer using brushes (probably Richard Evans and Robert Barry) trying out a piece that I can't identify. It could be an unreleased Ra composition. There's a 2-minute runthrough, a false start, then another two-minute runthrough. (Although the lacquers are 10-inch blanks cut at 78 rpm, there are about 4 1/2 minutes of music on each side, pushing recorded grooves right up to the edge of the label.)

The other side consists of a fairly polished performance of "Out of Nowhere." Here Ra, Evans, and Barry, are joined by John Gilmore, soloing on tenor sax, Pat Patrick, soloing on baritone sax-then a muted trombone (probably Julian Priester) helps to take the piece out. The horns are a touch recessed, and the Wurlitzer a little too prominent (some of bass notes are, well, formidable), but the recording is really not bad, even as heard through some acetate crackle.

Jimmie Davis knew Sun Ra, because a doowop group that he called the Four Buddies (there were actually five of them) recorded for Club 51, and he referred the Buddies to Sunny to work on their interpretations of standards. (The Buddies, who did some rehearsals with him, were instructed to address Sunny as "Lucifer.")

My guess is that in the fall of 1955, after buying an early-model Wurlitzer (the "electronic piano" was mentioned in ads for Sunny's appearance at the Grand Terrace Ballroom, in October 1955), Sunny gave the demo to Davis in the hopes of a getting an offer from Club 51 to record his early-model Arkestra (we know that other jazz combos submitted acetates to the label). None materialized, and Sunny and Alton Abraham went on to open Saturn Records instead.

If you have further questions, please email me off-list.

Robert Campbell

Robert L. Campbell Editor, New Ideas in Psychology Webmaster, Red Saunders Research Foundation Professor, Department of Psychology 410A Brackett Hall Clemson University Clemson, SC 29634-1355 USA phone (864) 656-4986 fax (864) 656-0358 http://www.robertlcampbell.com http://www.redsaunders.com