Benny Joy Rocks

Bear Family Records have added another volume to their ever-expanding Rocks series. This time the focus is on the rocking work of Benny Joy. Featuring 30 rocking recordings made in the 1950s, many unreleased until the 1970s and 1980s; Is this worth picking up?


An artist I have stumbled upon many times via Rockabilly searches, I have been known to stick songs such as Crash the Party, “Hey”…High School Baby, Spin the Bottle and Come Back into my playlists. I often wondered why much of his recordings seemed more like demos. As it turned out, he only released a few singles but had made a large amount of other recordings. He later became a prolific songwriter, writing songs for other artists including Marty Robbins, Carl Smith, Charlie Rich and Debbie Reynolds. His initial work writing and recording songs continued to inspire, with Joy becoming popular during the European Rockabilly revival in the 1970s.

The Album

The first track on the album is Crash the Party, a Benny Joy staple. A must for any Rockabilly fan’s playlist that simply…crashes the party with some gusto! The unedited version of this song is also available here, showcasing a clearer crispier sound. It also has an extra breakdown of guitar solos that will get your head bopping.

Joy only released a handful of singles, yet this collection is bursting with lots of rocking sounds. Many of the recordings heard here are demos, either made at home or in various studios. Joy, under his real name Benjamin Eidson, is credited as a writer on all of the tracks. This is quite some feat, as many of those demos had the potential to be hits. Especially when you consider that when Joy turns up fully produced, backed by a full band, his shouty vocal energy is unparalleled. Even on then-unissued tracks like Button Nose or Rollin’ to the Jukebox Rock, the production was so loud, raw and extremely addictive that they may have just caught on.

The demos featured here are a mixed bag. My very favourites featured here are the ones where Joy and Big John Taylor are just trying out tracks. The likes of Gossip, Gossip, Gossip and Come Back have catchy melodies that are little earworms, despite their rough nature; Their quality is validated by this fact.

Four recordings feature Jerry Reed on guitar and Ray “The Streak” Stevens on piano. Nosy Nosy Neighbors has a funky bassline, and groovy vocals overshadowing the understated guitar lines. The unbalanced mixing on this recording is initially annoying for Reed fans until you can’t help but bop along to the groove. Two of the songs, Dark Angel and Indian Giver, are an example of his songwriting intended for other artists. The two songs in question were intended for Johnny Cash, and it shows. Aside from the obvious backing cliches, Joy seems to be doing a convincing Cash impersonation, complete with identifiable vocal mannerisms. I’ve heard this kind of mimicry on demos, and it rarely works out. Joy, however, appears to have a large amount of control over his voice.

Two of the recordings featured here are instrumentals, Money, Money, and Rebel Rock. On first listen, I was reminded of the work of Link Wray from this period; The repetition of a motif while the layers surrounding it change is very reminiscent. They are led by Joy’s long-time guitar collaborator Big John Taylor.

This writer’s other highlights include Hey…High School Baby, the softer Love Zone, the Bluesy Cold Cold Woman and Big John Taylor’s Talking About It.

Sound Quality

Bear Family Records have done their best to restore these recordings, which would’ve been tough considering many of them sound as though they come from the original 45s. The sound, as you would imagine, differs depending on which track you’re listening to. Some have mild sound defects at moments which are not immediately apparent. Others have that overloaded 50s sound that will be familiar to any fans of more obscure recordings from this period; This writer happens to like that sound because it conveys the attitude of the music. The treble is high on some tracks, but this doesn’t detract. The home demos are the least produced here, but Joy’s songwriting shines through any issues with guitar levels or occasionally slightly muffled vocals.

A Little Something Extra…

Inside a nicely printed digipak is a 37-page booklet featuring liner notes by Roland Heinrich. There is also a discography and rare photographs and illustrations. Lastly, there is an analysis of each song. The liner notes are well written, with this writer particularly enjoying the way Roland injected some of his own experience of hearing Joy’s music for the first time; An experience I could relate to.

Conclusion

Overall, Bear Family Records has compiled an excellent set that pays tribute to the 50s recordings of Benny Joy. His energy matches (or even exceeds) his contemporaries, pairing it with a mind for writing catchy songs that do the business. The frustration you may feel as a listener is the fact many of the songs included here are merely demos. The songwriting prowess so evident on these low-fi recordings that you’ll feel sad they couldn’t go any further. However, the content included here has inspired many, as evidenced by the booklet, and will continue to do so with the help of this compilation. Arrive for the singles you’ve heard about, stay for the unissued material then “Come Back” for the demos that show what could have been. He does indeed rock! Benny Joy Rocks is available from Bear Family Records.

Track Listing

  1. Crash the Party
  2. I’m Gonna Move
  3. Ittie Bittie Everything
  4. Big John Taylor– Money Money
  5. ‘Hey’… High School Baby!
  6. Little Red Book
  7. Gossip Gossip Gossip
  8. Dark Angel
  9. Miss Bobby Sox
  10. I Need A Whole Lotta You
  11. Love Zone
  12. Nosey Nosey Neighbors
  13. Cold Cold Woman
  14. Spin The Bottle
  15. (What’ll I Do) Call the Zoo
  16. Big John Taylor – Rebel Rock
  17. Little Girl, Little Girl
  18. Rollin’ to the Jukebox Rock
  19. Bundle of Love
  20. Steady With Betty
  21. Indian Giver
  22. Big John Taylor – Talking About It
  23. Touchdown
  24. Crash the Party
  25. Spin the Bottle
  26. Button Nose
  27. In Study Hall
  28. Wild Wild Lover
  29. I’m Doubtful of Your Love
  30. Come Back

Benny Joy Rocks

10

Rating

10.0/10

Jamie Dyer

Jamie Dyer is an experienced writer, broadcaster, musician and social media marketer. He enjoys Old Time Radio, vintage TV, collecting vinyl and supporting the New York Knicks.

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