Joe Hill Louis, The Complete Sun Recordings

John Morthland

By John Morthland

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Louis, who played guitar, drums and rack harmonica simultaneously, was the first artist to have a record released (rather than leased to another label) by Sam Phillips, who had a soft spot for one-man bands, that kissin 'cousin to Memphis jug bands. In August, 1950, Joe Hill's jaunty, upbeat "Gotta Let You Go" b/w the very cool "Boogie in the Park" appeared on Sam's Phillips label, which then promptly folded (with Louis going to Modern and then Chess). With insistent guitar, wheezing harmonica and Louis 'nasal plaint for vocals, those tunes were irresistible harbingers of the bluesman's subsequent output; because he made his living playing country dances, Louis had little use for slower tempos. That driving rural boogie sound was influential around pre-rock Memphis, especially on his near-hit "We All Gotta Go (Sometime)" and the fiery, over-amped "When I'm Gone (She Treats Me Mean and Evil)." The first version here of "We All Gotta Go" was the single, and the "official" Sun discography lists only one alternate, but these three are very similar.

This one-man band made an irresistibly driving rural boogie sound

Louis also worked regularly as a session musician and occasionally recorded his own material with bands; the 1952 "Dorothy Mae," a rollicking ode to his wife, features Louis on guitar and vocals with three sidemen. During his second stint with Sam Phillips, beginning in 1953, he was singer/sideman when pianist/vocalist Mose Vinson recorded four of Joe Hill's earlier favorites with a five-piece combo.