RAYMOND HILL (By Shaun Mather)Born 29 April 1933, Clarksdale, Mississippi
Died 16 April 1996, Clarksdale, Mississippi
Blues singer and saxophonist Raymond Hill had the perfect upbringing. His father Henry ran a Mississippi juke joint and he encouraged his son to soak up the sounds of the club's acts. These acts included the very best bluesmen in the business, legendary figures like Sonny Boy Williamson and Robert Nighthawk. Apparently it was the house band's sax player, Winchester Davis, that caught his ear the most, and he persuaded his parents to buy him his own sax.
The first band he joined was Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm. On 5th March 1951, Hill became a part of history when Turner took the band up to Memphis for what turned out to be the groundbreaking Rocket 88 session. What I always find amazing about that record is how important each instrument is to the whole sound. Hill is featured up front throughout and plays a great extended solo after Jackie Brenston's invitation to "blow your horn Raymond". As brilliant as Hill is on the song, you couldn't really say he outplayed Ike's piano or Willie Kizart's guitar. It's a fabulous record and regardless of whether or not it's the first rock'n'roll record, it's certainly one of the best. Hill's contribution to Turner's own I'm Lonesome Baby from the same session is arguably even better.
A lack of royalties from the leader led to Raymond Hill going his own way. He did some more session work for Sun and on October 6th 1952 he had his own session. With Kizart and Houston Stokes (drums) among the band, Hill cut seven numbers which all remained in the can. It was surprising really because both My Baby Left Me and I'm Back Pretty Baby seemed well worthy of release. My Baby Left Me is a stomping slab or r'n'b with Kizart at his most vicious and delicious.
In March 1954 he played a session behind Little Junior Parker which produced a sterling foursome, topped by the much covered Feelin' Bad. Another session on 12th April finally yielded the Sun single that Hill had craved. Reunited with Ike Turner for the day, he cut two strong (self-written) instrumentals, The Snuggle and Bourbon Street Jump, released as Sun 204. The Snuggle (later also recorded by Bill Justis) features rolling piano work by Billy Emerson, leaving Ike Turner free to play his electric guitar. Two months after is release came Sun 209 courtesy of Elvis Presley and after that the writing was on the wall for the bluesmen.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, the migration north to Chicago didn't bring success and by 1955 he was working full-time for Ike in St Louis. Also in the set-up was Jackie Brenston, and the duo apparently went off the rails for a long while. When Turner moved west to California, Hill stayed in St Louis and joined Albert King's band. He is believed to have quit the music scene in the 70's, a bit like that Elvis fella.
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