As Scott Billington notes in his excellent introductory essay to this set, sister labels Ric and Ron Records existed for only four years, but during this brief history, they captured an important transition period in New Orleans music. Founder Joe Ruffino favored a less-polished studio sound in his music and hired a number of young studio musicians (including Edgar Blanchard, Harold Battiste, and Mac Rebennack, later to be better known as “Dr. John”) to bring a more improvised style that reflected the music of the streets to his recordings. By the time the labels folded with Ruffino’s death in 1962, Ric and Ron had released the earliest recordings by future stars, Johnny Adams and Irma Thomas, produced a national hit with Joe Jones’ “You Talk Too Much” and, in Billington’s words, “released a disproportionate number of truly great and fun records”.
Ric and Ron Records produced roughly 70 singles in their brief history and Feelin’ Right Saturday Night offers up 28 of them. Ace Records’ two volumes of The Ric and Ron Story released in 2014 might offer a more extensive collection at 48 total tracks, but Feelin’ Right Saturday Night tells the labels dual story effectively and concisely. There’s not a stale track here, and the collection’s 70 minutes pass by in a whirlwind of energy.
The collection opens with Professor Longhair’s “Go to the Mardi Gras” and features his classic “Tipitina” in a demo version, but it is many of the lesser-known tracks that provide the deepest joy here. In “Don’t Mess with My Man” one can already hear the homespun passion that 19-year-old Irma Thomas would bring to her later hits. Joe Jones offers probably the definitive version of “You Talk Too Much”, but he’s outdone by Martha Nelson’s even more spirited answer-song, “I Don’t Talk Too Much”, where she dismissively rants, “You say I talk too much, but you can yak pretty good yourself.” Mercy Baby gets just one cut here, but his “Pleadin'” is a highlight as he tries to outdo James Brown on his own turf. The Velvetiers’ closing track which gives this collection its name is an amalgam of everything exciting and anarchic in New Orleans music, rolling piano, bluesy saxophone, a doo-wop like sing-along, and random caterwauls spiraling into something unique and danceable that could not have been created in any other American city.
Billington, who has produced Grammy-winning later career works with Bobby Rush, Irma Thomas, and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown who are all well-represented here at the start of their careers, offers deeply researched liner notes on the label’s brief but important history. Fans of New Orleans music who don’t haven’t already explored the Ric and Ron story will find this an essential collection.