Throughout the 1960’s, rock music went through a turbulent period of transition. As bands like The Who and Cream steered the music industry toward album-based efforts and away from the singles-oriented business model, many bands found their musical catalogues re-arranged, distorted, and occasionally lost beneath the wheels of change. The most high profile causalities of this innovation were the Beatles, who, to the frustration of fans, were forced to arrange different tracks for British and American album releases (thus creating overlap and paradoxical phenomena, like two Rubber Souls).
Yet it was out of this chaos that emerged perhaps one of the best kept blues-rock secrets of the 60’s. Resulting from a series of back-room deals and compromises, 1966 saw the release of What’s Shakin’, an Elektra compilation featuring a loose collection of early recordings from a number of notable blues-rock acts- including a Paul Butterfield Blues Band fresh from of their groundbreaking debut, a yet-to-be famous Lovin’ Spoonful, and an Eric Clapton in the early stages of forming Cream (complete with a certain Mr. Jack Bruce on bass).
Though the album is fairly obscure to the public at large, these early blues cuts are anything but. Fans of Al Kooper will be quick to recognize the alternate version of “Can’t Keep from Crying, Sometimes", which in itself is a fantastic find. And those acquainted with the Bluesbreakers repertoire will be not fail to pick up on the take on “Steppin’ Out", a version that rivals in quality Clapton’s tenure with John Mayall. (And yes, that is Stevie Winwood on vocals).
Remarkably, the album only slows down really in one place (chiefly “I’m In Love Again"). Aside from this, the album soars. The Lovin’ Spoonful keep up their melody end, Eric Clapton remains faithful to his Southern delta roots, and The Butterfield Band are on fire with quality leads and a grooving beat. But what makes this album, whose concept is flimsy at best, work so well?
The secret is in the total absence of self-indulgence. The lack of a central artistic ego negates any bad effects that pop up on countless other records- leaving only a band that wants to play the blues. Clapton especially seems to have taken this stance- one gets the impression that Eric is purifying himself before his long tour-of duty with Cream. Case in point: no solo on “Crossroads"
For those who crave blues, this back-to-the basics experiment will not fail to please you. If you’re willing undertake a small online search, you’ll find that What’s Shakin’ is quite possibly the best low-key compilation of the 60’s. It is every bit as refreshing as a shot of Jack Daniels, yet is guaranteed never to make you black out. Who else can say that?by L. Jackson Weisberger
1. The Lovin' Spoonful – Good Time Music - 3:06
2. The Lovin' Spoonful – Almost Grown - 1:50
3. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band – Spoonful - 2:55
4. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band – Off The Wall - 2:02
5. Al Kooper – Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes - 4:30
6. Eric Clapton And The Powerhouse – I Want To Know - 2:14
7. Eric Clapton And The Powerhouse – Crossroads - 2:32
8. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band – Lovin' Cup - 2:35
9. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band – Good Morning Little Schoolgirl - 2:20
10.Eric Clapton And The Powerhouse – Steppin' Out - 3:12
11.Tom Rush – I'm In Love Again - 2:04
12.The Lovin' Spoonful – Don't Bank On It Baby - 1:52
13.The Lovin' Spoonful – Searchin' - 3:13
14.The Paul Butterfield Blues Band – One More Mile - 3:30