In the Beginning, there was…

Various Artists – Jesus Rocked the Jukebox (Craft Recordings)

Rock, R&B, Soul and most of the popular music of the last 50 years owes an incredible debt to Gospel. Yet, never before has a collection explored that lineage quite like Jesus Rocked the Jukebox: Small Group Black Gospel (1951-1965). This new, three-LP set from Craft Recordings, reminds us just how influential spiritual music was on everything that came after.

There’s a great quote from Gospel singer Inez Andrews on the inside jacket of this new collection: “We have a lot of rock n’ roll singers out in the audience. They come purposely to see what they can learn – or what they can steal.”

And steal they did.

The set opens with “People Don’t Sing Like They Used to Sing” from the Original Blind Boys. The loud drums, scratching guitar, banging piano, and growling lead vocals rocks harder than anything Elvis ever did. “I Am So Glad,” with its hand clapping and call and response singing sounds like an early prototype for girl groups like the Shirelles.

Even if you’re not familiar with Gospel music, you will recognize many of the artists – Sam Cooke is featured on several tracks with the Soul Stirrers, the gorgeous acappela “Jesus Gave Me Water” will give you shivers, while the pleading vocal on “Just Another Day” predicts Cooke’s future pop success.

No other band walked the line between spiritual and secular so delicately like the Staple Singers. An early example of their talents is featured on the tremolo guitar-led “Uncloudy Day,” while “Let Me Ride” is fueled by the same chugging beat that Johnny Cash would perfect.

The Harmonizing Four’s “Oh Sinner” reminds of the Coasters with its baritone lead vocal, while “God Has Not Promised” by the Highway QC’s is a gorgeous ballad that would fit in with any doo wop group of the time.

Other highlights include the haunting “Wade in the Water,” also from the Harmonizing Four, and the waltz tempo of “Way Up the Hill,” from the Highway QC’s

“This May Be The Last Time” from the Original Five Blind Boys of Alabama may very well have been the inspiration for the Rolling Stones’ similar “The Last Time” (both songs feature the line “I don’t know”).

The connections with pop music are everywhere – from the blues guitar of “Swingin’ on the Golden Gate” by the Happyland Singers, to the sweet soul balladry of “Mary Don’t You Weep” by the Swan Silvertones. There are similarities to pop singers as well – you’d swear it was Wilson Pickett on the guttural singing of “I Can See Everybody’s Mother” from the Original Blind Boys of Alabama, or it could be Jerry Butler begging on “Sign of the Judgement” by the Swan Silvertones. And “He’s Alright” by The Blind Boys of Alabama rocks just like a Little Richard classic.

Another hallmark of recent Craft Recordings releases is the great packaging. Here, the triple-disc set folds out into a three-panel gatefold, complete with photos of many of the records featured in the set, plus an in-depth essay by noted Gospel expert Robert M. Marovich.

Any fan of early rock n’ roll or R&B will find plenty to love in Jesus Rocked the Jukebox. —Tony Peters