The tragi-comedic musical playlets of the late Harry “Little” Caesar have entertained aficionados of Post WWII West Coast R&B for more than half a century. Not so much musical offerings as mini-dramas, such as ‘Goodbye Baby’ and ‘The River’ are virtually unique within the genre. These records, although not national hits, were big regional sellers in their day – and the scarcity of good condition copies reflects just how much their original owners played their Recorded In Hollywood 45s and 78s of these and other Caesar offerings, such as ‘Lying Woman’. There was a vinyl retrospective issued almost a quarter of a century ago, but the CD revolution has hitherto passed by Harry and his recordings for Modern, RIH and Downey.
Now that Ace owns the catalogues of those three companies it’s possible for us to compile an all-singing-and-some-talking Little Caesar CD that contains all of his 1950s recordings, including those that he made as a member of doo wop quartet, the Turbans (west coast variety rather than the ‘When You Dance’ group of a few years later). And so, here’s “Your On The Hour Man”.
Although Caesar is undoubtedly best known for his ‘story’ songs, he was recorded by his producers in a variety of different styles, and so the varied repertoire on this CD embraces everything from upper-echelon jump blues, to Billy Eckstine-style balladeering and quality group R&B. Caesar’s catalogue might not be that huge when stacked up against those of some of his peers, but it’s seldom less than entertaining, and tracks like the Willie Mabon-styled ‘You Can’t Keep Me Down’ and the two versions of ‘Cadillac Baby’ (different to those previously issued on Ace CDs) are as good as anything you’ll hear from the era. The master tapes for many of Caesar’s RIH sides have long since disappeared, and so we have used the very best disc dubs that we were able to locate.
With sleeve notes by Billy Vera – who knew Caesar – and the usual dazzling array of label shots from all phases of Harry’s recording career – “Your On the Hour Man” is sure to hit the spot with and all of you collectors out there who continually clamour for more vintage California R&B from the vaults (of which there are several more CDs to come from Ace between now and the end of the year.)
By Tony Rounce