Johnnie Ray – Hysteria: The Singles

Three-CD box lays claim to Ray's status as rock's first star

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The late Sam Phillips famously said that if he could find a white singer with a negro feel, he’d make a million?and then stumbled across Elvis Presley. Maybe the early recordings of Johnnie Ray didn’t reach Memphis (though I doubt it), but in 1951 that’s precisely what The Nabob Of Sob was doing: selling tortured club blues singles by the million (“Whisky And Gin”, “Cry”) while having his clothes shredded by hysterical young girls. Despite being skinny, pigeon-toed, half-deaf and effeminate, this highly emotional performer was the most popular singer of the pre-Elvis era. Indeed, when Elvis first started out, he was introduced on stage as “the new Johnnie Ray!”. Though mostly remembered for such lip-quivering hits as “The Little White Cloud That Cried”and “Glad Rag Doll”, JR definitely started out on an R&B kick?which he regularly returned to on “Such A Night” and “Flip Flop And Fly”. Though later, JR would slip from vaudeville (“Somebody Stole My Gal”) and show tunes (“Hey There”) into jukebox hits (“Just Walkin’ In The Rain”) and faux gospel (“Up Above My Head”), he was always at his most potent preaching his own take on the blues.

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