Warren Smith, The Complete Sun Recordings

John Morthland

By John Morthland

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Especially in his high, crying voice, Smith was likely the finest pure country singer at Sun — but he was no slouch with rockabilly, either. That was evident from his very first single, which had a slightly restrained (for rockabilly) reading of Johnny Cash's "Rock ‘N 'Roll Ruby," with some snappy guitar work from Buddy Holobaugh, on the A-side and the first version of the lovely country ballad "I'd Rather Be Safe Than Sorry" on the flip. That single sold better than the first efforts of Elvis, Cash, Perkins and everyone else on Sun. He continued that approach with a second single pairing a Cash-like interpretation of the traditional "Black Jack David" with "Ubangi Stomp," a rockabilly romp the racial politics of which would today immediately ruin the career of anyone who sang it. His third single backed the country-pop "So Long I'm Gone" — with the steadfast Jimmy Wilson on piano and Al Hopson on guitar — with the wild "Miss Froggie," featuring Hopson's jumpy guitar breaks.

Country and rockabilly, topped with a lonesome wail

Somehow, though, Smith never recaptured the momentum of his debut single, despite such worthy efforts as a remake of Slim Harpo's "Got Love If You Want It" (retitled "I've Got Love" here), with the dueling guitars of Hopson and Roland Janes, offbeat stuff like "Uranium Rock" and rockin 'country efforts like "Who Took My Baby" that hold their own against similar Jerry Lee sides. Indeed, though he wasn't nearly as relentless or flamboyant — who was? — Smith had a country/rock/pop sensibility quite a bit like the Killer's; one wonders if Smith's standing at Sun wouldn't have been better if the two men hadn't come along at the same time.