Welcome to the inaugural installment of Catfish Reef, Houstoned Rocks's ongoing exploration of Houston's rich musical history. Once a week, we'll rifle through the crates in the Bayou City's collective trash can and dust off a record you really ought to hear and why you ought to hear it.
We'll begin with a collection of neglected Albert Collins instrumentals from the mid-'60s.
Albert Collins Truckin' With Albert Collins Blue Thumb Records
If you think of Albert Collins was just another axe-wielding Alligator Records blues genericist, this album is a key part of the antidote to that misconception. Originally recorded in 1965 — when Collins was fresh off a day job washing dishes at a River Oaks soda fountain -- for Bill Hall's TCF Hall label in Beaumont, this collection was re-released after Collins's rediscovery in 1969 by Canned Heat's Bob Hite.
Truckin' finds Collins doing just that through ten instrumentals and one slow blues vocal. Most of the tunes here have "cool" titles and they all live up that description. There's "Frosty" and "Don't Lose Your Cool," both of the show-stopping shuffles he played right up to the end of his days, but there's also so much more here.
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Back in the mid-60s, black musicians were still crafting their records for a black audience. The so-called blues boom had yet to occur; the white blues purists had yet to start sorting out who was "authentic" from those they thought weren't in accord with the Robert Johnson myth. Blues musicians like Collins were still evolving to try and keep up with black musical taste, which might then have been in a greater state of flux than it is now.
Gutbucket blues with long guitar-god shredding solos of the sort Collins would revisit on his '70s and '80s Alligator releases were resolutely out of style. In style were the funky groove-jazz nocturnes of organists like Jimmy Smith, whose shadow hangs heavy over this album, in both the funky Rhodes organ of Walter McNeill and the piercing sax leads of Henry Hayes, both of which are played off of Collins's trademark stinging, jagged Telecaster.
And perhaps "groove blues" might be the best two-word descriptor for this album, though it also features forays into surf ("Kool Aide"), the spacey, spare jazz of "Thaw Out," whacky rumba ("Frostbite"), and the mariachi-tinged "Icy Blue," the perfect song to accompany margaritas at Third Ward's Spanish Village restaurant. (There's also "Snow-Cone II," which is every bit the equal of "Frosty" and "Don't Lose Your Cool" in the funky-butt shuffle department.) As with jazz tunes, most songs feature the three lead instruments trading off solos, but the tunes are short as blues singles of the era — most clock in at under three minutes.
Truckin' With Albert Collins is the perfect album for truckin' around Houston, preferably late at night, in a Cadillac convertible with the top down in the funky part of town. — John Nova Lomax