Bill Justis, The Complete Sun Recordings

John Morthland

By John Morthland

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

When Bill Justis took over as musical director at Sun in 1957, it was a sure sign the label was softening up. This saxophonist, after all, considered himself "above" mere rock & roll — at least until he saw the money that could be made from it. At which point he came up with "Raunchy," though it was not his sax but Sid Manker's repetitive guitar lick, played on the bass strings rather than the middle strings, that made the title plausible.

Sun’s musical director not only got “Raunchy,” he got funky, too.

Though he was also responsible for such travesties as "The Stranger," Justis did turn out some other noteworthy, mainly instrumental sides such as "College Man" and the previously unreleased "Scroungieville." The latter is, again, nearly all Manker's show, with a bottom-heavy solo that could easily be mistaken for something by Duane Eddy. On "Catty Wampus," Justis himself gets funkier than usual, while tracks like "Rollin'" strike a nice groove. The man definitely had some rock & roll in him, you just have to pick and choose carefully to get him at his best.

And here's a curiosity for you: "Flea Circus," which starts out sounding kinda tinny before turning into a provocative little piece, was one of the first tunes written by a young Steve Cropper.