Roots and Branches – ‘Woke Up This Morning (My Baby She Was Gone)’ to ‘Rollin’ Man’

Special thanks to Jimmy Dukes for bringing this to my attention –

Recorded in December of 1952, B.B. King’s ‘Woke Up this Morning (My Baby She Was Gone)’, was his first release for the year 1953.

B.B. King

And His Orchestra

Released A-side RPM single, March 1953

Woke Up This Morning (My Baby She Was Gone) (2:58)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amLdS7KFEFo

A swinging jump blues built around two different time signatures, King’s guitar is heard only briefly on the intro with the break taken by Bill Harvey on tenor saxophone.  Billing his band on the track as an “Orchestra” was not much of an exaggeration as the bass, drums, horns, congas and piano whip up a percolating mambo rhythm ready made for the dance floor.  King’s vocal soars above it all, effortlessly ascending to an exasperated high falsetto as the unfairness of his situation becomes too much bear.

 

The number had an interesting “after-life”; the first cover came around two years later, released on the tiny Harlem-based label Atlas Records.  Credited to Emmett Davis and His Rockers, this arrangement supercharges the number replacing King’s guitar intro with percussion, then threading the guitar lines beneath the vocals throughout the number.  The highlight though is a stuttering guitar break that mirrors the “crash-boom-bang” drumming that opens the song.  (although I have not been able to confirm, it is possible that New York City session ace “Wild” Jimmy Spruill is the guitarist)

Emmet Davis and His Rockers

B-side, Atlas 78 “You Know You Didn’t Want Me’ (1955)

Woke Up This Morning (B. B. King)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwIOKge0r4g&t=100s&fbclid=IwAR2fwmDgPRsPtRiUxPgl0PtELBKfY1gF1M5m5cr1Lv8K7eurMrpd1ce8HtM

 

Big-band crooner Arthur Prysock also recorded the song that year for the Wing label.  The arrangement and Prysock’s too smooth baritone are a bit too tame for my tastes, though his brother Wilbert “Red” Prysock blows a fine solo on tenor saxophone solo. A link to the song can be found below*

 

In 1963, Etta James performed the song for a live LP recorded at the New Era Club, in Nashville, Tennessee, aptly titled “Etta James Rock the House”.  James’ band increases the tempo and she seems to be building on Davis’s recording with the scat singing near the end.

 Etta James

Released, Etta James Rock the House (Argo 1963)

Woke Up This Morning (B. B. King) (3:38)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FlRY8X2OCog

 

I am not sure which version of the song first crossed the Atlantic, but the first to cover it in England (to the best of knowledge) was Alexis Korner and Blues Incorporated on the “Red Hot From Alex” LP in 1964

Based on Herbie Goins’ vocal and the comparatively more conservative tempo used, it would appear that this version was based on Prysock’s recording, not King’s*.

 

King himself returned to the song the next year on his seminal “Live at the Regal” dramatically increasing the tempo and dropping verses to bring it in at well-under two minutes.*

 

Green (like many British Blues guitarists) knew that LP, having covered two of the songs on it, with one, ‘How Blue Can You Get’ becoming a set standard around the time they went into the studio to record tracks for their second LP.

There is no doubt however that the arrangement of Green’s ‘Rollin’ Man’ was based on King’s original recording of the song; what I don’t know is if Green was already familiar with the recording or if someone else (my guess would be Mike Vernon) introduced him to it.

Fleetwood Mac

Released on, Mr. Wonderful (Blue Horizon 1968)

Rollin’ Man (Peter Green) (2:52)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAb49JA-Ui4

The number opens with Green already peeling off licks leaving the listener feeling as if they have just managed to jump onto this train as if pulls out of the station.  Christine Perfect’s piano provides the rhythmic piston push to power this behemoth down the track as the horns stoke the excitement with their steam whistle blasts.

The number comes to a dead stop after the musical intro and when Green begins to sing, he accompanied only by the rhythm section and Perfect’s unrelenting piano.

On the second verse, as Green pushes his seductive agenda, the horns begin to moan beneath him.  This leads into the first break, with Green’s paint-peeling tone laid over the roar of the band.

Perfect adds immeasurably to the number’s success, but this is also some of Fleetwood’s finest work to be captured on tape up until this time.  Rather than locking into a specific pattern and holding it with metronomic rigidity, he finally loosens up and tosses in some rolls, flowing with the music.

For me, this number best captures the feel that Vernon and the band were said to be going for on this LP, recording live, in the studio.

 

As with King’s original number, Green’s too has garnered some interesting covers.

The first (most likely the first cover of a Green-penned song) was done not long after the LP’s release.  The Oscar Benton Blues-Band in the Netherlands recorded the song for their debut 1968 Decca release “Feel So Good”.

Oscar Benton Blues-Band

Feel So Good (Decca 1968) – Netherlands

Rollin’ Man (P. Green) (1:59)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wc3OvOb-Hig

Without the benefit of horns, the band leans more heavily on the piano, which is a good thing, but the number might have benefitted had the drums brought up and the bass dialed down.

Benton takes the vocal and plays the lead guitar, and opting for high speed strumming to keep up the energy.

The band handles it all quite nicely; the only downside, for me is that Benton’s vocals put me in mind of Victor Brox of the Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation.

 

Thirty-seven years later, Dave Specter got together with fellow guitarist Steve Freund to have a go at the number.

Dave Specter & Steve Freund

Released on, Is What It Is (Delmark 2005)

Rollin’ Man (Peter Green) (5:17)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1YjZ92nw5g

 They too drop the horns, allowing their twin guitars to carry the number.

Rock-steady drumming helps power the number and the washes of organ, coming in like the tide with the second verse, seeps into all available nooks and crannies, filling out the sound.

Specter and Freund each take a run at the main theme and then delightfully expand their homage to include Fleetwood Mac’s third guitarist, Danny Kirwan by seamlessly transitioning to ‘Like It This Way’ before finishing up with ‘Rollin’ Man’.  Even at five minutes, the two seem to just be warming up when the number is unceremoniously faded despite sounding as though they are getting ready to kick it into overdrive.

*Arthur Prysock

Released, B-side, Wing single “Come Home” (1955)

Woke Up This Morning (B. B. King) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1F_HPEiUoLc

 Alexis Korner and Blues Incorporated

Red Hot From Alex (Transatlantic 1964)

Woke Up This Morning (B.B. King) (2:24)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DHwpfIXSds

B.B. King

Live at the Regal (1965)

Woke Up This Morning (B.B. King) (1:57)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbOkh2TUO5U

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