Performers include: The Robins, Willy & Ruth, Honey Bears, Gene & Billy, Big Boy Groves, The Sly Fox, Ray Agee, Garland The Great, Gil Bernal, Mister Ruffin, Ernie Andrews.
Contains 30 tracks.
Before becoming fully established as national hit songwriters and producers with the Coasters, Elvis Presley, and others in the late '50s, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were two of the five partners in Los Angeles R&B indie label Spark. This collects 30 of the mid-'50s sides issued by the company, many of which were written and produced by Leiber and Stoller. In fact, this comprises the majority of Spark's output; it put out only 22 singles in all. Only three of these songs will be well-known: the Robins' classic comic R&B/rock numbers "Riot in Cell Block #9" and "Smokey Joe's Cafe," and Willy & Ruth's "Love Me," the original version of a song covered with considerable success by Presley in 1956. Just because the rest is damned obscure, however, doesn't mean it isn't worth checking out. Indeed, although Leiber and Stoller's talents had yet to blossom, this is a couple cuts above the norm for a mid-'50s R&B compilation. That's mostly because there's so much more humorous verve on this stuff than there was on much R&B and early rock that was immediately forgotten. The half-dozen cuts by the Robins (who, of course, evolved into the Coasters) are still the highlights, but there are exuberant jump blues and R&B novelties by the likes of the Honey Bears, Big Boy Groves & Band, and the Sly Fox (a raw bluesy cat by Spark's standards, or anyone's standards). Some routine ballads and straight R&B tunes are interwoven as well, but this is still recommended to both fans of Leiber and Stoller, and to R&B specialists looking for something that offers pleasure as well as scholarly insight. Blues harmonica player Garland the Great's "Strike a Match" was previously unreleased, and marks the first-ever appearance of this Leiber-Stoller composition. ~ Richie Unterberger
Living Blues (5-6/02, p.83) - "...West Coast R&B magic and mania at its absolute best."