Sometimes you can tell a CD by its cover. Holler and Stomp by The Cash Box Kings
features a cover of a white guy in a huge white cowboy hat and a black dude
wearing a bluesman black fedora. So what is this: a country record or a blues
record? Well, it is both. Holler and
Stomp by the Chicago
band featuring Joe Nosek on harmonica and cowboy hat and 6’3″, 300 pound Oscar
Wilson on vocals and fedora is a throwback album. It seeks to find the place
where country music intersected with the blues back in the 1950’s. And this
ambitious goal pays off in a wonderful, enjoyable album.
Holler and Stomp would
be much appreciated by the late Sam Phillips, who created Sun Records in Memphis. In the strictly
segregated post-World War II American south, Phillips recorded white guys like
Johnny Cash and Charlie Rich and black cats like Howlin’ Wolf and Ike Turner.
And Phillips famously once said if he could ever find a white boy to sing like
a black man he would make a fortune. Then one day a truck driver named Elvis
Presley walked off the street into his studio.
The Cash Box Kings are going on this CD for a raw, stripped
down sound that you found on early tracks from Sun or Chess Records in Chicago.
So there are scratchy guitars and driving Little Walter-like harp and standup
bass playing like Willie Dixon did on all the classic Chess tracks. There are
covers on Holler and Stomp of both
early Muddy Waters and vintage Hank Williams. There is also a track by
rockabilly’s Ray Shape, who as a reverse Elvis was called in his day, “the greatest white-sounding black dude
ever.” And since the blues and country had a baby called “rock and roll” there is
even a cover of an early Jagger/Richards Rolling Stones hit called “Off the
Hook. The latter in the hands of The Cash Box Kings comes off less as a pop tune
than as an electrified county song.
You might think all of this might be too ambitious for one CD
or mark this effort as little more than a musical history lesson, but this is
an excellent album. The Cash Box Kings are a tight band. They give us an
energetic, respectful, tribute to the music they love. Listen to the second cut
“That’s My Gal” and you will be captured
immediately by intro, which pays tribute to the the Louisiana swamp blues of
Slim Harpo’s “Baby Scratch My Back.” The fourth cut is one of Muddy’s first
hits for Chess, “Feel like Going Home” with its deep blues lyric: “Brook flows
into the ocean and ocean flows into the sea/ If I don’t find my baby, somebody
will bury me.” The blues does not get much deeper. On a song like “Hayseed
Strut” we hear a country swing song that might have people two-steppin’ in a
roadhouse on a Saturday night, complete with country mandolin and an upright
The Cash Box Kings understand that when it comes to music what
unites us is far stronger than what divides us. This is the truth that Sam
Phillips practiced in his tiny studio sixty years ago. People wanted music they
could dance to and music that reflected their struggles and lives. They didn’t
care about its color. And Elvis, to his eternal credit, was brave enough to
bridge the gap between country and blues and music was never the same. Also to the
King’s credit, he never stopped giving props to the music that inspired him.
You can hear him doing that in his 1968 comeback special, in effect challenging
a new generation to go back and discover the glory of Jimmy Reed or Lloyd
Price. And The Cash Box Kings have done exactly the same thing decades later on
Holler and Stomp. You will not be
disappointed. It will be interesting to see what they come out with next.
My Girl” “Feel Like Going Home” “Blues Come Around” TOM CALLAHAN