Big John Hamilton: How Much Can A Man Take (SunDazed CD 2006)
This is Big John's belated cd debut, a compilation of sides which appeared on 45s put out on labels like Minaret and SSS between 1967 and 1971.
I'm happy to declare up front that I have long regarded Big John's work in this period as some of the best southern soul ever recorded. As such a cd reissue is long overdue, so hats off to Sundazed. Here are 18 tracks of classic southern soul in pristine sound – most of them making their cd debut. Sound quality is excellent throughout - Sundazed seem to have sourced the original masters. Top notch backing was provided either by the Muscle Shoals A-Team or the excellent session guys producer Finley Duncan used at his own Playground Studios on Florida. The quality of the material is also uniformly extremely high, the lack of hits at the time proving yet again there was no link in this era between artistic quality & commercial success. However there is more. Added to the pleasure of the music itself is the delight of a set of liner notes which are based around a recent interview with the man himself. Such an interview is something of a coup in itself given that nothing appears to have been heard of Big John prior to this for decades. I'm not aware of any previous interviews with the man and so far as I am aware little was known about him before this interview. So I'm delighted to say that John Lee Hamilton is still very much with us and on the evidence of this interview is a intelligent and engaging character who is still actively singing within his church. Contributions are also included from Doris Allen, with whom John recorded some fine duets in this period (none of which feature on this cd unfortunately) . Quite simply, this cd is a must for fans of southern soul, if only to save the vinyl from overuse!
That said, this disc is by no means the complete Big John Hamilton Minaret sessions. Sundazed themselves describe it as an overview. Of the 18 tracks here, two are billed as previously unreleased: 'I'm Getting It From Her and ‘Go Ahead On’. However 'I'm Getting It From Her' actually first appeared on the 1987 Japanese LP Deep Soul Classics Vol. 2. That marvellous LP also featured another three other previously unreleased tracks 'Temporary Love','Angel' and ‘I’ll Keep Loving You’, none of which made this cd. Also missing are ‘Free Me’ (Minaret 7611) and ‘I Got To Get Myself Together’ (Minaret 136). This is a great pity as ‘Temporary Love’ and ‘Angel’ are both amongst my personal BJH favourites and none of these are of any less quality than the ones that made it onto the cd. In fact, whilst it is nice for completist anoraks like me to add another track to the BJH canon, I don’t think the uptempo Stax-esque 'Go Ahead On' is a patch on any of those omitted. Of course my preference is generally for the deep side of soul. The rapid tempo of 'Go Ahead On' may cause northern soulies to disagree with me.. In any case, the omission of these tracks and the absence from this disc at least of the duet material with Doris Allen means that I regard the cd as a complement to the P-Vine LP rather than a replacement. I've added links in previous posts so you can hear the missing tracks.
It also seems there is still more vintage Big John Hamilton which is yet to see the light of day. A couple of years back Jim Lancaster acquired Playground Studios from the estate of the late Finlay Duncan. In the course of renovating the facility a considerable number of master tapes have surfaced, many of which are unreleased. Some of these feature Big John, both solo and duetting with Doris Allen. At time of writing Jim is hoping to get a cd featuring some of this material out to market sometime in 2007. To say I'm looking forward to this is something of an understatement. Expect a review here!