Monday, July 30, 2007

Slim Harpo - Folsom Prison Blues (Excello 2306)

Folsom Prison Blues

In 1969, Bob Wilson began doing some session work for Shannon Williams, then the head of A&R for Nashboro/Excello. The company's recently completed modern facility, Woodland Sound Studios in East Nashville, was a far cry from the room over Ernie's Record Mart where most of their early material had been recorded.

Williams made a deal with him; if Wilson helped him record Gospel for his Creed and Nashboro labels, he'd allow him to produce R&B acts on Excello. He brought in old pals Karl Himmel and Billy Cox (freshly returned from his stint with the Band Of Gypsys), and went to work. Backing up folks like Willa Dorsey and The 21st Century Singers (who they would also tour with), they came up with some excellent music.

Although he would later produce artists like The Kelly Brothers and Eugene Kemp (a former member of the Bright Stars that was 'crossing over'), Wilson had his sights set on Excello's biggest seller the whole time, the one and only Slim Harpo. Once he got the approval from Williams, he brought in buddy Ben Keith as his co-producer, and 'Music City Four' compadre Mac Gayden on the slide guitar. Building on a riff that Gayden had come up with a few days earlier, Bob worked up this smokin' arrangement of Johnny Cash's 1956 classic that Cash himself had taken to the top 40 the year before when he recorded it live at the prison itself.

Laying down the positively sizzling instrumental backing tracks, both for today's selection and it's follow-up I've Got My Finger On Your Trigger (for which Pee Wee Ellis would write the horn charts), they convinced Shannon Williams to fly Harpo up to Nashville to overdub his vocals and harmonica. Sadly, these two amazing singles would be the last things he ever recorded, as he died of a massive heart attack shortly after he returned home to Louisiana.

Absolutely superb stuff, I'm sure you'll agree that it just doesn't get much better than this, y'all!