Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup – Definitive Collection (review)

Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup – My Baby Left Me: The Definitive Collection (Fantastic Voyage) review

Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup played a pivotal role in the development of rock n’ roll – heck, you could say he helped invent the genre.

In 1954, Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore and Bill Black were in the Sun Studios in Memphis, and not getting anywhere.  Label owner Sam Phillips had brought Presley into the studio because he saw something magical in the former truck driver, but up to this point, he hadn’t been able to capture any of that magic on tape.  Elvis had insisted on recording ballads like “Harbor Lights,” which were unremarkable.  Then during a lull, Presley broke into an impromptu version of Crudup’s “That’s All Right,” with Moore and Black jumping in to the hyped up beat.  The mix of hillbilly and blues was a new and different sound – the birth of rock n’ roll.  When later issued as Presley’s first single, it sent shockwaves through every station that dared play this bold new music.  If Crudup hadn’t written that song, we might still be listening to Perry Como!

Fantastic Voyage records has assembled a two-disc anthology of Crudup’s under-appreciated catalog called My Baby Left Me – The Definitive Collection. His voice is reminiscent of a less gruff Charles Brown at times, and his guitar is raw, yet full of feeling.  Much like Jimmy Reed, Crudup found a groove and stuck with it.  Disc one opens with the chilly “Death Valley Blues,” from 1941, featuring just his vocals and acoustic guitar – not that far-removed from performances by Robert Johnson or Charlie Patton in their immediacy.  He also would borrow and reuse lyrics from other songs over and over – he starts “If I Get Lucky” by singing “That’s alright mama / that’s alright for you,” a full six years before actually recording the song with those lyrics in the title. The chugging beat and cool delivery help “Who’s Been Foolin’ You” stand out from the pack, while “Rock Me Mama,” is a blistering blues.  The original “That’s All Right” has a killer walking bass line, and a stop/start section that gives Presley’s version a run for the money.

Disc two’s highlights include “My Baby Left Me” (also recorded by Presley), which features some of the most out-of-control drumming you’ll ever hear in this genre.  Most of the collection centers around Crudup’s stay with the RCA/Victor/Bluebird family of labels from 1941-53.  But, what makes this set truly remarkable is that it doesn’t stop there – several later singles recorded for Champion, Checker and Trumpet, are also included.  Among the great tracks here is “Open Up Your Books (Daddy Wants to Read With You),” a double-entendre with a furious harmonica throughout.  There are times when he goes more topical on his music, as on “I’m Gonna Dig Myself a Hole,” an anti-war track.

Presley would go on to record two more Crudup songs, “My Baby Left Me” and “So Glad You’re Mine,” and both stand out as highlights of The King’s early recording career.  Unbelievably, Crudup never received any royalties from Presley’s success – these issues weren’t resolved until years after Crudup’s passing.  Hopefully, with the release of My Baby Left Me, Crudup will get some long overdue respect. –Tony Peters