|The Complete Wix Sessions of Ray Smith
Wix Records, WCD-1006
The name Ray Smith sure brings back good memories. I remember seeing and hearing him perform live only once, and that was 22 years ago, way back in 1979 and only about 6 months before he died. And boy, did he rock! This particular gig at the International Rockhouse meeting in Holland was recorded and issued on the Rockhouse label in 1979. A re-issue is long overdue. But this CD that Steve Lester (Wix Records) sent me is a gem too. And its release was long overdue as well.
All twelve tracks were recorded at the Mercey Brothers Studio (Elmira, Ontario, Canada) and were issued on the small but not insignificant Wix label. The Wix recordings also marked Ray's piano debut on a studio recording, he usually played rhythm guitar before that. Ray did use a lot of piano on his earlier recordings, that were graced by some fine piano players like Charlie Rich and Floyd Cramer. Ray learned a lot from his close friend Jerry Lee Lewis, and he is sure showing off on these recordings, which contain some great piano breaks.
There are "only" 12 tracks on this album, but still the total length exceeds 56 minutes of playing time. This is due to "The King's Medley", an ode to Elvis Presley of no less than 10 of the King's biggest hits, which keeps your attention for almost 25 minutes. But let us start at the beginning...
The album hits off with the Charlie Rich original "Break Up", a song that Ray had recorded before at Sun in 1958 with Charlie Rich on piano. This recording was not orginally issued by Sun, but it can be found on many later compilations (Sunset Special, Sunbox 106). This time, Ray plays the piano himself, and he's doing a great job. This is one fine piano rocker, with some real mean guitar breaks by Bob Maceachern.
The country classic "Room Full Of Roses" is almost unrecognizable as a fantastic fast paced rock and roll song with lots of hard hitting piano breaks and a superb hard driving electric bass. Turn up the volume, this is what rock 'n' roll is all about! And of course Ray just had to record "Whole Lotta Shakin" Jerry Lee style, again with that same bass rhythm.
Fast rocking is the keyword on this album, Kris Kristofferson's country song "Me and Bobby McGee" (made immortal by the legendary Janis Joplin) suddenly turns out to be a genuine piano rocker. Bet you haven't heard it like this before! Next, Ray slows it down a bit (just a little bit, mind you) with Fats Domino's "Let The Four Winds Blow". What can I say? I take this version over the original any day. Another country classic is Hank Williams' "Jambalaya", which has been recorded as a rock 'n' roll song before by numerous other great artists, like Fats Domino, but as can be expected after hearing the first 5 tracks, this version rocks you fast! Same thing goes for another classic "The Wabash Cannonball".
On the next track, Bob Maceachern does some showing off on his guitar and drummer Johnny Forsythe is going berserk on the Surfaris orginal surf hit "Wipe Out". Ray is hammering his 88 keys and screaming along throughout the song. The guys obviously had a lot of fun recording these tracks. "I'm Gonna Rock Some More", the title song of the original Wix LP, does exactly what is promises: more rocking! And don't you believe it when Ray sings "Hang Up My Rock 'n' Roll Shoes" (Chuck Willis, 1958), because he doesn't, another great combination of hard hitting piano and cutting lead guitar.
Next is the afore mentioned Elvis Presley medley, which includes Mystery Train, Love Me Tender, Don't Be Cruel, It's Now Or Never, Teddy Bear, Wear My Ring, Wonder Of You, Blue Moon Of Kentucky, That's All Right Mama and Hound Dog. A very well done tribute to the King. The great mood swings and of course Ray's fabulous voice, makes this tribute crawl under your skin.
The last track is a cover of the well known gospel song "Just A Closer Walk With Thee" in a very acceptable way, even for all you hardcore rockers. And then there is some hiss, crackle and pops, which indicates that this song (like some others) were re-mastered from vinyl. And that's just how it should be, no good old rock and roll song can do without it, it gives you that nostalgic feeling. It shouldn't have been a problem at all to remove these noises with all the modern techniques available today, but I'm glad they didn't, it just belongs... And the five stars at the top of this page are well earned, this CD is a must-have for any rock 'n' roll record collector!
And don't forget to read Steve Lester's extensive lines notes on the inside of the front cover! Realy worth your time (you'll need glasses though :))
Reviewed by The BlackCat, 2001