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A Listener's Guide

Perdurable Percussion Platters

Persuasive Percussion (vols. 1-4)
Provocative Percussion (vols. 1-4)
Pertinent Percussion Cha-Chas
Persuasive Percussion 1966
, Enoch Light (Command)
The albums that started the whole percussion craze.

Perspectives in Percussion, vols. 1-2, Skip Martin (Somerset)
Somerset (first home of the 101 Strings) was never a label to miss the chance to follow a successful example. They outdid their usual low standards in this case, hiring big band and studio vet Skip Martin to arrange and a killer cast of West Coast jazz/studio musicians: Jimmy Rowles on piano and organ; Paul Horn on sax; Pete Candoli on trumpet; Excellent percussion

Mallet Mischief, Harry Breuer (Audio Fidelity)
Featured on the cover of Incredibly Strange Music, Vol. 1, this album's cover, with a party girl in a gold dress rocking out while Harry leers over the vibes in the background, belies the seriousness of Breuer's work. Far more than a session man, he wrote many of the works he performed and went on to explore electronic music in the early days of the Moog synthesizer.

Percussive Jazz Doctored for Super Stereo, Peter Appleyard (Audio Fidelity)
If any label competed head-on with Command in the quality of its engineering and packaging, it was Audio Fidelity. Producer Ernie Oelrich took Appleyard, a respectable jazz vibe man, and put him in the soup with Bob Rosengarden and other ace session men, resulting in a soup that sounds like a jazz vibe trio on steroids. And uppers.

Skin Tight Cover

Skin Tight, Marty Gold (RCA Victor)
For the music, I swear!
Skin Tight's cover features one of the hotter cheesecake shots, but inside is an excellent album, one of the earliest examples of what Frank Barber called "melodic percussion." Marty Gold uses a wide variety of percussion instruments, including the boo-bam (tuned bongos) to carry the melody and provide distinctive highlights and accents.

Mr. Percussion, Bobby Christian (Mercury)
"They call me MISTER Percussion!" Chicago studio vet and Dick Schory colleague Bobby Christian turns in a hot selection of standards featuring his work, but the best cut on the album is an eerie version of "Cherokee" with his wife singing the otherworldly vocal effects.

Mr. Percussion, Terry Snyder (United Artists)
Wait a minute--which one of you guys is the REAL Mr. Percussion?
United Artists hired Snyder away from Command to inaugurate their Wall-to-Wall Sound series of gorgeous gatefold stereo albums. Snyder's UA albums are more musical and less zany than the Commands, but it also seems at times that a bit too much got smoothed out.

Melodic Percussion, Frank Barber (Capitol)
Barber, England's top entry in the percussion sweepstakes, cut several albums for Capitol, Polydor, and other labels. Barber's choice of material is more eclectic than other percussionists: Melodic Percussion includes numbers by Dave Brubeck and Duke Jordan along with standards like "La Cumana."

Mallets, Melody, and Mayhem, Saul Goodman (Columbia)
Goodman was actually a very serious performer, educator, and advocate in the percussion world. First chair in the percussion section of the New York Philharmonic, he formed his own company that still manufactures some of the best drumsticks in the world, and he commissioned a number of serious compositions to highlight percussion.

Percussion: Playful and Pretty, Phil Kraus and Bob Rosengarden (RCA Victor)
A late entry in the game, from 1965. Kraus and Rosengarden were "first call" session men in New York and are nearly ubiquitous on Space Age Pop recordings made in New York City.

Perfect Percussion, Roy Harte and Milt Holland (World Pacific)
Harte and Holland, who usually worked uncredited as busy session percussionists, roll out a collection of 44 instruments in a jazzy collection that's far more musically enjoyable than yer average percussion album. As typical of Richard Bock's World Pacific label, taste, not trendiness, takes precedence.

Discussion in Percussion, Mike Simpson (Mercury)
Simpson, a Chicago colleague of Dick Schory and Bobby Christian, was the leading composer for Schory's Percussion Ensemble, which performed serious and well as popular pieces. This is from Mercury's "Perfect Presence Stereo" series aimed directly at Command's market. Except Mercury preferred cute cheesecake shots (three of the same girl) instead of abstract designs.

Music for Baang, Barroom, and Percussion, Dick Schory (RCA Victor)
Schory was very much Saul Goodman's counterpart in the Chicago Symphony: performer, educator, vendor. He knew how to appeal to an audience, though, and throughout his series of albums for RCA, he favored a light-hearted rather than a bombastic or ostentatious approach.

Exotic Percussion, Stanley Black
Buy one album, get two genres!

Around the World Percussion, Irv Cottler (Somerset)
Cottler, a swing band veteran and a leading Hollywood studio session man, romps through a series of standard tunes on an international theme.

Wild Hi-Fi Drums and Wild Stereo Drums, Various (Capitol)
Two compilations on Capitol featuring Irv Cottler and other studio regulars on compositions highlighting the drums. Billy May and Les Baxter contributed a few numbers, but the best piece, hands down, is "Drivin' Round the Block" by Dickie Harrell, the drummer from Gene Vincent's Blue Caps.

Around the World in Percussion, Louis Bellson (Roulette)
Roulette Records called in veteran jazz drummer Louis Bellson for their shot in the percussion parade. Bellson was too good to stoop to cheap tricks and turned in a piece of work that's both a solid jazz album and one of the more interesting percussion albums. His take on "sabre Dance" is one of the unique versions of this instrumentalists' warhorse (race).

Bongos/Reeds/Brass, Bob Florence (Life series, Hi-Fi Records)
A West Coast jazz and studio vet, Bob Florence cut this album for Hi-Fi Records for the first of a short-lived series attempting to cash in on the Command success:
  1. Prominent use of percussion? Check!
  2. Distinct stereo effects? Check!
  3. Abstract design in primary colors? Check!
  4. Gatefold cover? Check!
  5. Technobabbling liner notes? Wait a minute:
    We won't attempt here to clue you as to the places, sounds, and incidents which will tax the capacities of your "woofers" and "tweeters." Just listen through and have the enjoyment of picking them out for yourself.
Take this imposter away!

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