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Arthur (Big Boy) Crudup Retrospective Is All Right

March 20, 1992|ROBERT HILBURN | TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

Little did Arthur (Big Boy) Crudup realize that he was earning a place in pop-rock history in 1946 when he wrote and recorded an upbeat number titled "That's All Right."

Some of the veteran bluesman's earlier recordings--including "Rock Me, Mama" and "Keep Your Arms Around Me"--made it into the national R&B Top 10 charts, but "That's All Right" was only a regional jukebox hit.

One of those who heard the song years later, however, was a young, aspiring singer named Elvis Presley, and he recorded it as the A side of his first Sun Records single in 1954.

Presley's version--a slightly more raucous, country-flavored rendition that stands as one of the defining moments in the evolution of rock 'n' roll--was also only a regional hit, but it caused enough excitement in the South that Marty Robbins, who was a more established artist at the time, recorded the song a year later--and the Robbins' single did break into the country Top 10.

By this time, however, Crudup, who was nearing 50, had been so soured about not being paid adequate publishing or recording royalties for his '40s recordings that he had turned his back on the music business, according to Billy Altman's liner notes for "That's All Right Mama," a just-released Crudup retrospective from RCA Records.

Crudup, who had supported himself in the '40s by working at a tire factory in Chicago and then at a sawmill in his native Mississippi, moved in the '50s to Franktown, Va., where he lived quietly, farming and fishing.

Rediscovered during the blues revival of the '60s, Crudup recorded several albums for Delmark Records and toured the United States and Britain. He did some shows with Bonnie Raitt before his death following a massive stroke in 1974.

Because of the Presley recording, "That's All Right, Mama" was his chief calling card. In an interview with the Times after a 1969 appearance at the old Ash Grove club in Los Angeles, Crudup, a disarming blues singer and guitarist, spoke affectionately about the Presley version.

"Elvis didn't do it the same way I (did)," Crudup said. "He made it into a kind of hillbilly record. But I liked it. I thought it would be a hit. Some people like the blues, some don't. But the way he did it, everybody liked it."

The RCA package--one of three new releases in the label's "Heritage" series--contains 22 of Crudup's recordings, including "That's All Right" and "My Baby Left Me." The latter was recorded by Presley in 1956 as the B side of his hit "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You."

The other new "Heritage" releases: "Canned Heat Blues: Masters of the Delta Blues" (featuring works by Furry Lewis, Tommy Johnson and Ishman Bracey) and "Washboard Sam: Rockin' My Blues Away."

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