Various Artists: Dr. Boogie Presents Wasa Wasa: Fabulous Rhythm 'n' Blues Shakers, 1952-1968
While it might not be the best place to start your foray into classic R&B, Wasa Wasa is still a respectable collection, not to mention fun as hell.
Straight outta Belgium, Walter De Paduwa, known as Dr. Boogie, is a radio personality, record fanatic, music historian, and a "Canned Heat devotee". That's where a red flag goes up, not because I think Canned Heat blow, but because of certain allegations floating around about the band, who were all collectors, especially frontman Bob Hite.
I first heard a tale from Woody Chancy, a DJ on Louisville, Kentucky's WFPK (whose weekly show, "Woody's Roadhouse", has become quite popular) and a specialist in classic black music dating back to the 1920's, the kind of guy like Seymour in Ghost World whose record room is strictly "off limits". He once told me Bob Hite purchased boxes of duplicate 78s (that is, 78 RPM records -- post-Edison cylinders and pre-33 RPM albums that we know today), and purposely destroyed the bulk of them to increase the value of the ones he owned. An anecdote that piques my suspicion about his ethics is a tale of how, in the early 1970s, Canned Heat arrived at Joe "The King of Record Collectors" Bussard's Maryland house, pulling up in a Rolls Royce with "Wads of money, enough to choke an elephant!" The entire band bought piles of his duplicate 78s, and the total came to $9000, which they paid in cash (according to the liner notes in Down in the Basement: Joe Bussard's Treasure Trove of 78s 1926-1937). Sounds fishy to me. In Re/Search's book, Incredibly Strange Music, vol. 1 there is an interview with Lux Interior and Ivy Rorschach of the Cramps, more record mooks, stating that Bob Hite visited the Record Rendezvous in Cleveland, Ohio, went up into the attic, and smashed duplicate 78 RPM records, again, to increase the value of his own. All of these are credible sources, yet I could not find any information that strictly confirmed these incidents or such behavior.
If it is true, Bob Hite is unforgiveable, and I would pray for his death if hadn't already died in 1981. You DO NOT destroy such rare music for personal gain, especially when you're such a fanatic that you claim to have over 15,000 78s, and you've been successful and don't need the money anyway! Yet, to repeat, this is all alleged.
Wasa Wasa (which is the title of a 1969 Edgar Broughton Band LP, stated to be an Eskimo term for "far, far away", but purportedly meaning "what's up?" according to this collection), sports 26 tracks, as the title says, from 1952-1968. The 16-year span is an interesting one, considering that during those years blues was evolving into jump blues, which evolved into R&B, which evolved into soul, and by 1968 was bordering on early funk. But as far as dancefloor "shakers", the purpose is clear; these are all dance tunes in one way or another, ranging from mediocre to exceptional, never bad, and only including a few tracks that appear on other compilations of this ilk. The level of the obscurity of these tracks is high, and while it might not be the best place to start your foray into classic R&B, it is still a respectable collection, not to mention fun as hell.
"T Bird" by Rocky Roberts & the Airdales starts us off, energetic R&B with exceptional bass work and, my ultimate weakness, handclaps, showcasing how this is an ideal collection for a party. Over the course of the record, there are numerous perfect 10s, like Good Time Charlie's "Whoop It on Me", a rhythm-heavy, dirty soul number with funk overtones, recalling something off Johnnie Taylor's early album, Raw Blues. Harold Battiste does "Funky Soul", and the name says it all. "My Testament" by Big Brown & the Gamblers could drive people into a frenzy, transcending its 12-bar blues trappings by adding some seriously scorching horns. Thomas East's "I Get a Groove" is Stax-influenced, and could be right off an Eddie Floyd or Sam & Dave LP. Two inappropriately named "mellow" songs here are wondrous -- "Mellow Moonlight" by Leon Haywood, and "A Mellow Mood" by Floyd Morris -- the first being simply killer soul in the Atlantic Records vein, and not too unlike Wilson Pickett's well-known hit "In the Midnight Hour", the latter recalling the Young-Holt Unlimited on the cusp of funk, sporting thundering rhythms and sublime piano work. On "How You Gonna Live", Frank Brunson muses, "How you gonna eat if you don't work? / How you gonna work if you don't sleep? / How you gonna sleep if you don't live somewhere?"; simple but insightful, and questions I'm faced with all the time, set to a solid blend of jump blues and early R&B. These tracks are all essential.
There are endless "create a dance" tracks, as I call them, "answer songs", and copycats. Consider "Crossfire Time" by Dee Clark. It copycats a song about a popular dance of the time, the "Crossfire" (duh), originated by the Orlons in 1963. Their version went to #19 on the pop charts and to #25 on the R&B charts that year, so B.W. Stevenson and Otis Blackwell wrote up "Crossfire Time", probably in about 20 minutes, and recorded the Dee Clark performance (which, by the way, is a mediocre excursion with no substance). Clark didn't fare so well, not appearing on the pop charts, and only reaching a lousy #92 on the R&B charts. However, it's not totally representative of Clark's career, as he had other big hits, including "Hey Little Girl". "The Dog" was a very popular dance, and here Junior & the Classics perform it very similarly to Rufus Thomas's version, and steal liberally from Ray Charles's "Mess Around". The results fare only lightly better than Dee Clark's "Crossfire Time", which is a complete throwaway. Other straight-up dance tunes, showcasing the "create a dance", copycats, and "answer" songs, include Jimmy Soul's "Everybody's Going Ape", Big Bob Kornegay's "Bullfrog Hop", Frank Duboise's "Chicken Scratch", and "Wine Woogie" by Marvin Phillips & His Men from Mars, which is jump blues straight out of the Wynonie Harris catalogue. And "Diggin'" by the Pac Keys cracks me up, as we already had Stax instrumental soul groups the Mar-Keys and the Bar-Kays (referenced by Samuel L. Jackson in Kill Bill). Nevertheless, it's a stand-out instrumental.
So, I've scratched some of the surface, but I'm not going to analyze (and you probably wouldn't read about) all 26 tracks. I will say this, however. The presskit actually lists 28 tracks, and the missing two are Joe Simon's "The Whoo Pee" (which would have to be another create/answer/copycat dance number) and Bobby Powell's "Who Is Your Lover?". This is a mystifying mistake to make, so don't think you're picking up the wrong Wasa Wasa if it only has 26 tracks.
This is the seventh release in Dr. Boogie's series of collections chronicling early black music from the 1920's to the 1960's, and his enthusiasm and knowledge are admirable. While this might not be the best R&B or soul collection out there, it's highly recommended if you're interested in this type of music, or simply want to give it a shot.
(A special thank you goes out to my friend Devil Doll, a bonafide and passionate specialist on early black music ranging from the 1910's up into the early 1970's. She was able to give me some essential information that indubitably helped this review.)