Recording Date: March 25, 1947 - Sept 22, 1958 Style: Cowboy Traditional Country Western Swing
A flamboyant and influential figure during his heyday, Pee Wee King remains somewhat underappreciated as a performer, though his fame as a songwriter is assured thanks to the smash hit "Tennessee Waltz." King helped modernize the sound and style of country music; he introduced electric instruments, drums, and horns to the notoriously conservative Grand Ole Opry, and dressed his band in sharply tailored, Western-style Nudie suits that looked anything but backwoods. Despite his affinity for Western swing and cowboy songs, King actually came from Polish extraction, which helped account for his eclectic approach to country music.
OK, first thing's first -- this 30-song collection, drawn from Pee Wee King's RCA Victor library, doesn't rock as much as its title would lead one to believe or hope. On the other hand, the mere fact that Bear Family Records could assemble 30 reasonably stomping numbers, gathered from 11 years across King's output, from 1947 through 1958, to deliver a set that would promise anything like it speaks volumes about King and his output, and the flexibility of the Golden West Cowboys. And as a peripheral matter, it also says a lot about just how well rock & roll was accepted in a lot of unexpected quarters in the mid-'50s. To country artists like Pee Wee King (and, for that matter, Ernest Tubb, who was covering Chuck Berry tunes in 1956), it was just another kind of dance music, maybe better liked by his younger listeners, but in the main not too far removed from the Western swing that he'd been doing since the 1940s. So the version of "Blue Suede Shoes" that opens this CD and lends its name to the title may be the tamest rendition most of us have ever heard -- but was pretty hot for 1956, and it leads into rocking numbers like "Bull Fiddle Rag," "Steel Guitar Rag," "Forty-Nine Women," etc., none of which would have been wholly out-of-place in a rock & roll concert of the period; and King's rendition of "Tweedle Dee," like "Blue Suede Shoes," is a number with some definite new sound associations. And from 1953 is a Western swing rendition of the "Dragnet" theme by Miklós Rózsa and Walter Schumann that turns it into a pretty decent showcase for amplified guitar, backed by a beat that just misses anticipating Bo Diddley's sound by a whisker. The fact is that Pee Wee King, born in 1914, cut more than his share of country-boogie numbers, all of which gave him an edge over most of the other country artists of his era in competing for listeners amid the new music environment of the mid-'50s. This CD is a celebration of that side of his output, as well as a thoroughly enjoyable collection, simply on its own terms. What's more, it's all amazingly consistent, given that the material here comes from a dozen years, with bassist Chuck Wiggins being the most common factor (along with King). Oddly enough, the producers of this disc have offered a rare apology for the quality of some of the audio, although it seems unnecessary. The annotation is thorough and almost as much fun as the listening, and that's considerable. DL