Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Jackie Brenston, Trouble Up the Road.

The story of one of fortune's fools: Jackie Brenston was a 21-year-old singer and saxophonist working in Clarksdale, Mississippi, when he landed a gig with Ike Turner's band. The band drove up to Memphis to cut some records for a new producer named Sam Phillips, and one track they cut was Brenston's rewrite of Jimmy Liggins' "Cadillac Boogie": "Rocket 88", which became an enormous R&B hit, one which essentially founded Sun Records and, some would argue, rock & roll itself.

The problem was that the single was credited to "Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats," not "Ike Turner and His Kings of Rhythm," a fact that galled Turner, and which became even more irritating when "Rocket 88" was a hit. Unsurprisingly, Turner and Brenston parted company soon afterward. But Brenston was still basically a tyro musician, and his attempts at a follow-up hit came to nothing. So by the late '50s, Brenston was back playing saxophone in Ike Turner's band--only this time Turner made sure his name was on the records. The band sometimes would play "Rocket 88" live, and Turner never let Brenston sing it.

Ike did let Brenston revive a song originally called "You've Got To Lose" that Turner's band had recorded (with Brenston singing) in 1958. (You can still hear it on Boogie Woogie Flu's tribute to Ike Turner). Renamed "Trouble Up the Road," and recorded during a break in an Ike & Tina session in 1961, it's a dress rehearsal for the rest of the decade. Brenston reorients the track, parking the percussive guitar riff on center stage and eliminating the secondary piano line, jacking up the beat and just making the whole piece louder and more propulsive. It's essentially what Pete Townshend, Keith Richards and Eric Clapton would do in a few years, in what Townshend would call "maximum R&B."

The world, however, is rarely interested its future, and the single only made it to #118 on the national charts. Turner and Brenston split up again, and Brenston began playing with Sid Wallace, making it through dreary gigs by getting drunk on a bottle of wine each night. He became a part-time truck driver, a full-time alcoholic. Brenston eventually drifted back to Clarksdale and Memphis, and it was in Memphis, where he had cut "Rocket 88", where he died in a V.A. hospital in 1979.

As the man sang: You got to lose/you can't win all the time.

Released under the name "Jackie Brensten" (for unknown but likely legal reasons), "Trouble" was issued as Sue 736 c/w "You Ain't the One"; on Bubbling Under.

Coming soon: the end of '61, summer songs, and a new, utterly random theme series.

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