Why, it seems like only yesterday [cue harp and wavy, out-of-focus visuals] when you could pore over an album's liner notes and not have to squint to garner an embarrassment of riches and a treasure trove of tidbits...
- The honkers and screamers were the original rock and rollers … They were wild men. They disrupted the smoothness of black popular music in the 1940s with their booting, shrieking solos and outrageous stages routines - walking out into the audience as they honked one note over and over, peeling off their jackets and ties while they played and then lying on their backs and kicking.
The usual fluff-piece function of album liner notes to promote the recording artist at hand usually undergoes a change in best-of retrospectives, with their focus on career-long appreciations. While the liner notes writer will almost invariably consider the applicable historical context, the approach for various-artists’ anthologies is to expound upon the broader historical implications and cultural perspective.
That Robert Palmer, the late New York Times pop music critic and Rolling Stone contributing editor, can supply some depth as well as breadth to a 1979 Savoy Records anthology of influential pre-rock artists is remarkable. Honkers & Screamers: Roots of Rock and Roll, Vol. 6 showcases the music of saxophonists Paul Williams, Hal Singer, Big Jay McNeely, Lee Allen, and Sam “The Man” Taylor.
But, in addition to providing biographical information and track-specific details on Honkers, Palmer considers other aspects as well. He not only explores the roots of the music — such as in the African masked dancers who also masked their voices and “gurgled, bellowed, shrieked, rasped, buzzed, and generally carried on” — and the immediate antecedents of saxophone R&B, he also, when the occasion calls, delves into the nuts-and-bolts technicalities of the subject.
For example, as Palmer sketches out the honker and screamer beginnings of jazz masters Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane, he explains how the instrumental technique of their avant-garde tendencies was rooted in R&B saxophone tradition. The sound was largely a result of “overblowing the horn to get a distorted tone, biting down on the reed in order to produce shrill squeals, playing lengthy solos that grew hotter and hotter until they verged on hysteria.”