Phil Dirt - Reverb Central - PO Box 1609, Felton, CA 95018-1609 USA
The Merced Bluenotes - Get Your Kicks on Route 99dotdotdotdot
artworkFirst off, there's not a lick of surf on this CD. What is here is vital R&B instros from California's Central Valley that were concurrent with surf, and are not far from Jim Waller and the Deltas and Jim Doval and the Gauchos sphere of influence. Second, according to Alec Palao, Greg Ellmore and Gary Duncan (Grubb) were never members of the Merced Bluenotes prior to founding the Brogues, which gave way to Quicksilver Messenger Service. This assessment is based on asking the black members directly if they were. However, in the beginning, the Merced Bluenotes were an all white rock n roll cover band, so its still a possibility. I once brought up the Merced Bluenotes to Duncan, who did not deny membership, but also did not elaborate. A fan in Olympia, Washington sent me the following on this subject: "It appears that Kenneth Craig was the lead guitarist, Bobby Hunt was the organist, Bill Hunt played ?, George Coolures played harmonica, and there was a fifth member name unknown. I'm not sure, but it appears Gary Grubb (Duncan) on vocals and Greg Ellmore were only brief members in 1964. Anyhow, I keep searching the net but there is little info on the Merced Bluenotes. Apparently one ex-member plays currently for a group called the Family Scandal Blues Band based out of Modesto, Ca."

That said, the Merced Bluenotes were of the same period surf evolved, and were a tuff R&B combo that left behind a handful of groovy intro singles before disappearing.

The Merced Bluenotes were from Merced, California, a small town about 75 miles east of San Jose. Theirs is an unlikely take, but then that IS the story of rock 'n' roll, isn't it.

Back in 56, a handful of Merced teenagers founded the Merced Bluenotes to back Roddy Jackson. Fire Chief George Coolures urged the Civitan Club to sponsor them. It was he that moved them away from rock n roll covers to R&B originals. By the summer of 1960, the original white members were replaced by black keyboard player Bobby Hunt and master shuffle drummer Carl Mays, Jr., and also featured black singer/guitarist Ken Craig, saxophonist Bill Tiger Robertson and Mexican bassist Gilbert Fraire. Following some obscure local releases in 1960-61 and moderate success with "Rufus" on Accent, the group connected with Harvey Fuquas Detroit-based Tri-Phi label. 1963s "Whole Lotta Nothing" was their second Tri-Phi single, and was their most successful. 16 instros and ten vocals, many out of the vaults for the first time.
Picks: Whole Lotta Nothing, Bad, Bad Whiskey, Do The Pig, Mama Rufus, Rufus, Midnite Session Parts 1 & 2, Skippy, Thompin', Fragile, Rufus Jr., Finger Licking, Head Bad, Watermelon Man, Jump, Bad, Bad Whiskey, Whole Lotta Something

Track by Track Review


Whole Lotta Nothing dotdotdotdot
R&B (Instrumental)

"Whole Lotta Nothing" is thee signature song for the Merced Bluenotes. A snappy and endearingly simple progression rhythm, piano plinking, raw sax honking, and a sense of a simpler time. Unlike those that do this sort of thing today, this sounds genuine. Simply an infectious groove.

Bad, Bad Whiskey dotdotdot
R&B (Instrumental)

"Bad, Bad Whiskey" was the third single a-side from the Merced Blue Notes. It lies closer to the infectiousness of "Rufus Jr.," and features a traditional guitar break. Cool tune.

Do The Pig dotdotdot
R&B (Instrumental)

Soulful and perhaps influenced by Jimmy McGriff, the Merced Bluenotes romp through the kind of R&B instro that Graham Bond used as a signature sound, just a little cleaner. "Do The Pig" is a fun jammin' number that requires no analysis to understand.

Mama Rufus dotdotdot
R&B (Instrumental)

This followup to "Rufus Jr." is less groovy and more Jimmy Smith-like. If it weren't for their first single, it would be more notable, but as a follow-on, it's less interesting. Percussive keys and whirling organ.

Rufus dotdotdot
R&B (Instrumental)

"Rufus" is a saucy R&B jam with a groovy guitar line and almost Jimmy Smith organ style. Moderately paced with restrained energy

Midnite Session Parts 1 & 2 dotdotdot
R&B (Instrumental)

This is a slow and musty instro with real rock 'n' roll piano a la the New Orleans sound, and a jam foundation. Dirty R&B with a late night feel.

Skippy dotdotdotdot
R&B (Instrumental)

It's interesting to me that "Skippy" sounds more like it was cut in Seattle in '63 than in Merced. The progression is relentless, the shouts are infectious, and the soulful groove just a little dirty. This is previously unissued.

Thompin' dotdotdot
R&B (Instrumental)

This galaxy side has the sound of the more familiar Merced Bluenotes tracks, but is slower and less infectious. "Thompin'" is a pleasant jam with adequate soul and groove. The guitar break is very nicely done.

Fragile dotdotdot
R&B (Instrumental)

"Fragile" is a slow walkin', slow talkin' Tri-Phi single from ''63 that's more sultry blues bar than rock. Some nicely done blues guitar licks ride above a low down organ howl.

Rufus Jr. dotdotdotdot
R&B (Instrumental)

This is a splendid R&B intro in the tradition of soulful grooves that undulate with an emotional simplicity and a dominant gutty guitar and bass line. Surely inspired by the likes of Jimmy Smith and Booker T. and the MG's, "Rufus Jr." romps with an infectious beat and great jammin' midsection spiced with great shouts. This was their second single. Very cool song.

Finger Licking dotdotdotdot
R&B (Instrumental)

This previously unissued side from the Merced Bluenotes has an organ sound reminiscent of a slightly subdued Wailers ("Mashi"), just less intense and slower. "Finger Licking" is a very cool instro with a swirly organ under great piano jammin' and guitar. The bass and drums are essential elements, though their role is surely unselfish support.

Head Bad dotdotdot
R&B (Instrumental)

"Head Bad" is a lot like another take on the "Rufus Jr." theme. Previously unreleased and simply a fun groove.

Watermelon Man dotdotdot
R&B (Instrumental)

Perhaps the most gentle version of Herbie Hancock's classy "Watermelon Man" since Mongo Santamaria made it a household sound. Not commanding, but just very nice, with genuine soul.

Jump dotdotdot
R&B (Instrumental)

With a rhythm nut unlike "Rufus Jr.," this track jams and grooves with a basic soulful organ and picked bass. "Jump" is a mighty nice track.

Bad, Bad Whiskey dotdotdot
R&B (Instrumental)

This unreleased alternate take of "Bad, Bad Whiskey" is not terribly different, and shows the same infectiousness as "Rufus Jr.."

Whole Lotta Something dotdotdotdot
R&B (Instrumental)

I had heard rumor of a followup track called "Whole Lotta Something" back in the day, and it's good to finally hear it. This perviously unreleased track is an infectious groove with a Jimmy McGriff meets Jimmy Smith at a Wailers' frat party kinda sound. Great sax lines and swirling organ.