logo Enthusiasms No 67
A collection of shorter pieces on subjects of
interest, outrage or enthusiasm ...

JSP - Jolly Smashing Products

JSP records were formed in 1978 by London-based blues promoter John Stedman.  (JSP actually stands for John Stedman Promotions.)  Over the past few years they have been slowly issuing classic box sets of early 78rpm recordings, not only of blues singers, but also of old-timey and country music, jazz, music-hall, and an assortment of so-called 'ethnic' recordings; the latter including Jewish Klezmorin, Greek Rembetika, Cajun and both Bulgarian and Slovenian singers and musicians.  The box sets are modestly priced (Red Lick are currently selling both the 4 CD and 5 CD sets for only £14.50 per box!), are excellently re-mastered and come with informative, if sometimes brief, notes.  At the moment there are just over 150 box sets on offer.  Probably the majority of the sets are of blues performers, closely followed by old-timey musicians and then by jazz musicians.

When it comes to Blues, then there really are some outstanding recordings available here.  Take, for example, Charlie Patton: Complete Recordings 1929 – 34 (JSP7702).  Not only do we get all of Patton's great Mississippi recordings, but we also have contemporary recordings by many of the other people who played alongside Patton.  These include Bertha Lee, the Delta Big Four, Willie Brown, Son House, Louise Johnson, Henry Sims and Buddy Boy Hawkins.  Of course Son House is missing from this set, but don't worry, he can be found alongside Skip James, Bukka White, Tommy Johnson and Ishman Bracey on Legends of Country Blues (JSP7715).  And when it comes to the 'lesser' Mississippi performers, such as Big Joe Williams, Tommy McClennan (a great favourite of mine), Robert Petway, 'Honey Boy' Edwards and 'Poor Boy' Lofton, then they can be heard on Big Joe Williams and Stars of the Mississippi Blues (JSP7719).  One final set, and one that should not be missed, is the anthology When the Levee Breaks – Mississippi Blues: Rare Cuts 1926 – 46 (JSP7781).

Not all the anthologies are from Mississippi, however.  Atlanta Blues (JSP7754) and Shake That Thing – East Coast Blues 1935 – 53 (JSP 7753) have self explanatory titles and, in the latter case, confirm that not all of the re-issued recordings date from before the Second World War.  Jook Joint Blues – Good Time Rhythm & Blues 1943 – 56 and Crazy With the Blues – Juke Joint Blues (JSP4213) contain some of the best post-war country blues that ever made its way onto shellac.  There are also anthologies of recordings from Chicago (JSP7744 & JSP7783 – the latter featuring such performers as Muddy Waters, Johnny Shines, Robert Lockwood and Snooky Pryor - Texas (JSP7758), New York (JSP 7763 & JSP 77108), New Orleans (JSP 7773 & JSP7792) and the West Coast of America (JSP77122 & JSP 77127).  The Memphis set – Memphis Blues - Important Post war Blues (JSP7777) – is chock full of sterling performances by the likes of Howlin' Wolf, Earl Hooker, Walter Horton and Joe Hill Louis. 

And then there are the sets devoted to a single artist.  Joe Hill Louis, mentioned above, can be heard on the double CD Joe Hill Louis – King of the One Man Bands 1949 – 54 (JSP4208) which features the recordings that he made for the Memphis Sun label.  Some of John Lee Hooker's best early tracks can be heard on Classic Early Years 1948 – 51 (JSP7703), while all of Blind Lemon Jefferson's known recordings are on JSP7706.  JSP7711, Blind Willie McTell.  Classic Years 1927 – 40, contains some of McTell's best pieces, together with the Library of Congress recordings that he made for John Lomax.  The latter includes the now famous spoken passage where McTell says to Lomax that the white folk treat the 'coloured' folk just fine! What else, I wonder, could he have said to Lomax in 1940?

Other solo sets include recordings from Blind Boy Fuller (JSP7735), Blind Willie Johnson (JSP7737), The Memphis Jug Band & Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers (JSP7745), Big Bill Broonzy (JSP7718 & JSP7750), Lightnin' Hopkins (JSP7705 & JSP7790), Leadbelly (Important Recordings 1934 – 49 JSP7764), Blind Blake (JSP7714), Memphis Minnie (JSP7716 & JSP7741) and Leroy Carr (JSP77104 & JSP77125).

JSP's old-timey reissues follow the same patter, with both anthologies and solo collections.  The two volume set of Uncle Dave Macon recordings are, to my mind, amazing (JSP7729 & JSP7769), especially when you consider that a similar German re-issue set can cost you in excess of £200.  Likewise the outstanding Charlie Poole set (JSP7734), which is again far cheaper than the offerings of some other re-issue companies.  Some anthologies, such as Serenade in the Mountains –Early Old-Time Music on Record (JSP7780), contain really outstanding performances, although in one or two cases, Classic Field Recordings (JSP77131) springs to mind, some of the performers are not quite in the same league.  One other performer, Riley Puckett, whose sometimes eccentric guitar runs and vocals were a feature of the Skillet Licker's recordings, surprised me when I heard his 4 CD set – Riley Puckett: Country Music Pioneer (JSP77138).  Here was a performer, I thought, who would not have enough good material to fill 4 CDs.  Well, I was wrong and I have to say that Puckett's singing, even on songs such as Little Brown Jug, Red Sails in the Sunset, Moonlight on the Colorado, When I Grow too Old to Dream and South of the Border seems to get better each time I play these albums.

Three of my favourite old-timey sets are Worried Blues (JSP7743), which contains all the recordings made by Frank Hutchinson and Kelly Harrell (as well as recordings by the Tenneva Ramblers and the Blue Ridge Highballers), Serenade in the Mountains (JSP7780), with recordings by the likes of Bascom Lamar Lunsford, the Nation Brothers, the Carolina Tarheels and the Floyd County Ramblers, and Mountain Frolic (JSP77100), another anthology with superb recordings by Buell Kazee, Al Hopkins, the Crockett Family and many, many more.  I should also mention Appalachian Stomp Down (JSP7761) which contains the recorded works of two of my favourite performers, G.  B.  Grayson & Henry Whitter.  Grayson, a lovely old-time fiddler, was descended from the sheriff of that name who arrested the legendary Tom Dooley.

There are solo sets by the Delmore Brothers (JSP7727, JSP7765 & JSP7784), Cliff Carlisle (JSP7732 & JSP7768), Darby & Tarlton (JSP7746), and J.E.Mainer (JSP77118 & JSP77124).  If you are looking for early bluegrass recordings then I would suggest Bill Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys: All the Classic Releases 1937 – 49 (JSP7712), the anthology Bluegrass – Classic Recordings Remastered.  Early Cuts from 1931 – 53 (JSP7731), another anthology Authentic Rare Bluegrass – Independent Label Sides 1951 – 54 (JSP77110), which contains some wonderful tracks, and Flatt & Scruggs and the Stanley Brothers (JSP7724).  I really do like the Stanley Brothers' early recordings, especially their version of the old English folk song Oxford City (here titled The Little Glass of Wine).

Really, there is just too much to mention here, both as regards blues and old-timey music.  And the same can be said for the jazz re-issues.  There is everything from the essential Louis Armstrong Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings (JSP100) to the equally essential Charlie Parker package, which features his 1940s' tracks made for Savoy and Dial (JSP915).  I have a real soft spot for Jelly Roll Morton and just love his five CD set, which includes all of Morton's 1926 – 30 recordings (JSP903).  Add to these no fewer than six sets by Django Reinhardt (JSP901, JSP904, JSP919, JSP953, JSP955 and JSP966), a further six splendid boxes of Fats Waller (JSP927, JSP928, JSP946, JSP948, JSP949 and JSP952) together with sets by County Basie (JSP922) and Sidney Bechet (JSP933), and you will get some idea of the wide variety of material that is available here.

There is a small section, labeled 'English Heritage' in the JSP catalogue, which will be of interest to many MT readers.  Here we can find two sets by the great George Formby (JSP1901 & JSP1902), a selection of British humorists, such as Stanley Holloway, Noel Coward and 'The Cheeky Chappie' himself, Max Miller (JSP1904), and a lovely selection of early Music Hall performers, such as Harry Champion and Marie Lloyd, on JSP1903.

Cajun lovers will, I'm sure, appreciate Cajun Early Recordings – Important Swamp Hits (JSP7726) and Cajun Country Two – More Hits from the Swamp (JSP7749) for recordings by The Hackberry Ramblers, Nathan Abshire, Dennis McGee, Joe Falcon and Leo Soileau, among others.  There are also five box sets of vintage Rembetika, comprising two anthologies, Greek Music from the Underground (JSP7776) and More of the Secret History of Greece's Underground Music 1908 – 48 (JSP77105), neither of which, of course, have anything to do with the Athens metro, as well as solo sets from Vassillis Tsitsanis (JSP77111 & JSP771230 and Markos Vamvakaris (JSP77132).  My favourite 'ethnic' set, however, is the lovely collection of early Bulgarian recordings Outsinging the Nightingale – Lost Treasures of Bulgarian Music 1905 – 50 (JSP77134).  I think that the use of the word 'Treasures' is well-placed here, but then it could also be used for so many of these JSP sets.

Obviously, with some 150 sets available, I have not mentioned all of them.  I have, in fact, chosen some of my favourites and would suggest that readers get hold of the JSP catalogue for themselves.  There is also a JSP website, though, to be honest, I do think that this could do with a revamp.  The site only details some of the sets and it can be frustrating, at times, trying to get information on some of the other sets.

Some readers, I guess, might suspect that I am connected in some way with JSP.  I have, after all, produced a short article that is full of their praise.  Well, just to set the record straight, this is not the case.  To the best of my knowledge I have never met John Stedman, nor do I know anyone who works for JSP.  What I simply wanted to do in this 'Enthusiasms' was to suggest to readers that here was a series of CDs that were well worth investigating.  I think that JSP have done a magnificent job in producing these box sets and only hope that there will be many more to come in the future.

Mike Yates - 14.4.11


Rod Stradling - e-mail: rod@mustrad.org.uk  Tel: 01453 759475
snail-mail: 1 Castle Street, Stroud, Glos GL5 2HP, UK

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