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January 22, 1997
From Deep Vaults
Walter Jackson Walter Jackson, the Best of Walter Jackson (Columbia Legacy/Okeh 1996) -- has begun reissuing rhythm and soul releases from its deep vaults, including collections from Heatwave, The Three Degrees , and Cheryl Lynn . With the Walter Jackson set, Columbia hits paydirt.

The Walter Jackson story is a triumph of the human spirit. Born in Florida in 1938, Jackson was stricken by polio at age 5. Paralyzed for life, Jackson always appeared on stage with crutches and stiff leg braces.

But the physical disability did not deter Walter. Longtime friend and champion Carl Davis remembers Jackson's galvanizing effect on the ladies: "Women used to bring chairs to sit in front of the stage when Walter was on, and he would welcome it."

Jackson later moved to Detroit, where he recorded as a member of the Velvetones for the tiny Deb Records label in 1959. He also auditioned -- unsuccessfully -- for Motown and for Columbia Records.

Undaunted, Jackson moved to Chicago. In 1962, he was spotted by the legendary Chicago soul producer Carl Davis. Recalls Davis, "This young man came out on these crutches and I was a little taken aback. Then he began to sing, and I realized that his mind wasn't handicapped. As a matter of fact, he had this wonderful gift of being able to communicate through the lyrics and tell a story."

Davis tied Jackson in with some of Chicago's hottest R&B talents, including the up-and-coming Curtis Mayfield, who was penning future classics for the Impressions, Jerry Butler, and Jan Bradley, among others.

One of Jackson's key contributors was guitarist/singer/songwriter Billy Butler. Butler remembers that the combination of Jackson's towering voice and his physical frailty had a dramatic effect in concert. "When I was with the Enchanters, we did about a six-month tour with Walter, the Vibrations, and the Coasters. Because of his handicap, he was immobile, but he just captivated audiences. Standing ovations."

Like Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke, Jackson favored a polished, big band studio sound. But the highlight was his voice. In fact, Luther Vandross reportedly remarked, "Man, Walter Jackson was my favorite singer." The Best Of features selections from three albums recorded between 1965 and 1967: It's All Over, The Many Moods of Walter Jackson, and Speak Her Name.

Jackson's career later fell victim corporate politics, and he bounced among several labels before dying of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1983. But the voice lives on.

The Best Of features such soul gems as "Suddenly I'm All Alone," "It's An Uphill Climb (To The Bottom)," and "Funny (Not Much)." My favorite track is "Tear For Tear," which could easily have been recorded by any number of big-band crooners.

Despite his physical ailments, Jackson had a strong studio presence. Carl Davis stresses, "I just want people to think of him as a positive person -- this young man who overcame all obstacles and gained some success -- but nowhere near what he should have gotten." The Best of Walter Jackson is a fine reintroduction to this forgotten talent.

  Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash, Unchained (American 1996) - Unchained is the follow-up to 1994's acclaimed, American Recordings. Backed by an ace band, Unchained has a more exuberant feel than the sparse, acoustic-oriented American Recordings.

Which is not to say that Unchained doesn't have its excesses. Cash has an affinity for spiritual numbers, but his lugubrious delivery on such tracks as "Spiritual" and "Row Boat" makes them sound like dirges.

However, when Cash gets into a groove with the band (which includes Tom Petty and fellow Heartbreakers Howie Epstein, Mike Campbell, and Benmont Tench, as well as country picker, Marty Stuart) on such cuts as "Mean-eyed Cat" (a track originally written by Cash during sessions at the legendary Sun Studios in 1955), and the bouncy, radio-friendly, "I've Been Everywhere," he really builds a head of steam.

Johnny Cash is an American legend, and deserves every bit of his success. When he pulls out of his down moods, Unchained really takes off. Johnny should quit worrying about mortality, and make more toe-tapping numbers.

  Dash Rip Rock's Gold Record
Dash Rip Rock, Gold Record
(Ichiban 1996) - The three-piece southern boogie/punkabilly combo known as Dash Rip Rock has been working together for a dozen years. With the success of Southern Culture on the Skids and C.C. Adcock, there's room for another group of trash-talking, fun-loving, good ol' boys with bouncy melodies and a mean lead guitar.

Now six albums into their career, Dash Rip Rock consists of Bill Davis on guitars, Kyle Melancon on drums, and Hoky Hickel on bass. In addition to their delicious sendup of "Let's Go to the Hop" entitled "Let's Go Smoke Some Pot," Dash Rip Rock pays tribute to its swamp roots on a feedback-laden version of "Born on the Bayou."

Also featured is a live version of "Jambalaya," a punked-out cut that will distress any Neville Brothers fan, and the uptempo, "Liquor Store."

Brain surgeons they're not. But they don't pretend to be. Dash Rip Rock knows how to have a good time. And they want you to join them.

-- Randy Krbechek
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