The Easy Riders Jazz Band - "Then"
In 1998 Big Bill got the idea of having a reunion of the Easy Riders
from the sixties with as many possible of the original members. Two of
them, Art Pulver & Dick Griffith, had already died. They were replaced
respectively by John Russell & Emil Mark. Bass player Mouldy Dick
McCarthy had serious health problems & played on only a couple of
numbers. He was replaced by Arnie Hyman for the rest of the session. The
original front line was still there and, on some numbers, the present
reed player, Paul Boehmke, was added. Bill then made an exchange with
George Buck offering a recent session with George Probert for some unissued
Rider tracks from the sixties. The result is a double CD offered for the
price of one!
A presentation like this provokes obvious comparison between the old and
the new band. Some reviewers have preferred the old Riders. Nostalgia?
Maybe. When listening to the "Then" CD I was overwhelmed with
memories of that time and how then, already, I enjoyed the unpolished
& somewhat primitive [in the positive meaning of the word] New Orleans
sound: the young Sammy, then even closer to his idol George Lewis, the
simple piano style of Bill Sinclair sometimes reminding me of some of
the country pianists like Bobbie Nelson, Willie's sister. The Kid Thomas
inspired cornet of Fred Vigorito and, last but not least, the robust trombone
of Big Bill himself, maybe not flawless but already then full of authentic
New Orleans spirit. Anyone who doubts this should listen to that moaning
trombone on "Just A Closer Walk with Thee" played as a dirge
at a New Orleans funeral. Everything wasn't perfect but the band had a
certain quality that very few European bands ever mastered: an authentic
New Orleans sound.
Sometimes the tempos were not just right. Some time ago I told Bill that
he should have changed the title "Gettysburg March" to "Gettysburg
Race." He agreed but said, "We were all young and eager &
couldn't wait to start the next tune. Then he reminded me of the old joke
about the two bulls. Two bulls, a very young one and an old one are standing
on a hill looking down on a pasture full of cows. "Let's run down
there and screw a couple of those cows," the young bull said. "No,"
the old bull replied, "Let's WALK down and screw them ALL."
Very appropriate. That's why I prefer the new "Now" session
The tempos are much better chosen, the rhythm is more relaxed. Experience
and maturity have done their job. The idea to let the current reed player,
Boehmke, join the original one, Rimington, was absolutely a good one and
resulted in some great duets. The album starts with "Panama"
where the two saxes exchange six choruses ending up with two together,
a real fireworks display. Listen to the two clarinets interpreting the
Ellington number "Solitude." Muted cornet & trombone add
to the unique mood. Notice the relaxed tempos on "Apple Blossom Time"
and "Someday My Prince Will Come" [yes, it's the well-known
Snow White & the seven dwarfs tune]. Just like his model Kid Thomas
Vigorito plays some very lyrical stuff. Big Bill shows he is not just
a Big Jim clone; sometimes one can hear echoes of Albert Warner &
Kid Ory as well. He also uses mutes more often than Big Jim did and his
wa-wa solos swing like hell.
For me the most beautiful number on this second session is the last one,
The Easy Riders closing theme song,. "Now Is the Hour," a slow
waltz played as - - a slow waltz! All the romanticism and melancholy of
a sultry New Orleans night are heard in this number. One can almost smell
the sweet magnolias.
- Marcel Joly
Jazz Journal International
Bill Bissonnette's Easy Riders Jazz Band emulated the sound and vigor
of the New Orleans revival as effectively as any group in the States,
only matched by such as Ken Colyer and Barry Martyn in our own country
and a couple of groups in Europe. He drove his band to an uninhibited,
and often crude, but sincerely spontaneous approach which clearly benefitted
from its regular opportunities to play with those Crescent City musicians
whom Bill Tempted to visit his bases of Conecticut; George Lewis, Kid
Thomas, Sammy Penn and, best of all, his trombone idol.
The earlier recordings were made, but never issued, at a time when Sammy
Rimington was visiting with the band prior to joining them permanently,
and were not issued at the time. After all these years, the band's intensity,
based on heart rather than head and lacking any pretensions to refined
technic, still remains infectous and convincing, with a togetherness which
exemplifies a common aim, an emotional rather than intellectual understanding
of what later day New Orleans is all about. For all of its faults, it
is difficult not to be carried along by it.
The later band, designed as a reunion, cannot replicate that earlier naive
instinctiveness, and to some extent, that works to its disadvantage especially
when the format runs to more extended solos; but it benefits from the
added refinement which experience has brought to Sammy and to Fred Vigorito,
now a very accomplished and elequent cornet player. At the same time,
it is still flying the same standard as its earlier alter ego, and fulfilling
the same principles. It is good to have the comparison between old and
new, but for choice I would settle for the dewy eyes of youth. It may
be just nostalgia, but I don't think entirely so.
- Christopher Hillman
Jazz Rag - British jazz magazine
JCCD-3037/8 Then & Now - The Easy Riders Jazz Band
Big Bill Bissonnette is an uncurable romantic about all things New Orleanian,
but he also has a keen sense of history, and the two combine on Then &
Now, a 2-fer of unreleased tracks by his 1965/66 Easy Riders Jazz Band
and a 1998 session reuniting all surviving members. The Then band offers
a sturdy brand of New Orleans, strong on ensemble playing. By and large,
the 1998 Now version is looser, with more solo space, though a rousing
Walk Through the Streets of the City is an exception to that. Paul Boehmke's
tenor adds an extra dimension to some of the tracks, particularly in two-sax
exchanges with Sammy Rimington on such as Panama.
- Ron Simpson
L. A. Jazz Scene - U.S.A. March 1999
JCCD-3037/8: Then & Now - The Easy Riders Jazz Band [2-fer]
In the 1960's, trombonist Big Bill Bissonnette led the Easy Riders Jazz
Band, a group that recorded several albums for his Jazz Crusade label
and Pearl, Center & GHB. The then young revivalists not only played
concerts on the East Coast of the U. S., but toured with trumpeter Kid
Thomas Valentine, altoist Capt. John Handy and other veteran New Orleans
For this double CD, Bissonnette unearthed a previously unissued program
of the Easy Riders from 1965/66 for the first disc and recorded a new
set in 1998 by the survivors for the second half of the 2-fer. The energy
of the original group, their exciting ensembles and heated solos are all
quite impressive. Rimington is the best known Easy Riders graduate but
the rhythm section [pushed by banjoist Dick Griffith] was also quite strong
and the band really romps.
By the time of the 1998 set, Griffith and drummer Pulver had passed away
and Dick McCarthy, the original bass player, was ailing. Arnie Hyman replaces
"Mouldy Dick" on nine of the later numbers. The only other personnel
change is that Paul Boehmke [a fine clarinetist heard here primarily on
tenor] who has been a member of the Easy Riders for many years since the
late 1960's, enlarges the band on six of the numbers. "Panama,"
with its exciting alto-tenor "battle" by Rimington & Boehmke,
is a definite highlight although all of the selections are quite enjoyable,
even such unlikely material as "Solitude" and "Someday
My Prince Will Come."
In both sets the Easy Riders Jazz Band is heard at its best on the more
uptempo material since it sounds a bit derivative - with George Lewis
& Kid Thomas strongly emulated - on the slower pieces. Bissonnette,
Rimington and Vigorito had each grown as musicians through the years yet
the frontline individually and collectively sound quite strong during
Sold as a 2-fer, the set is highly recommended for fans of revival New
Orleans jazz. It is one of the most exciting releases in this idiom put
out the past year
- Scott Yanow
Boxell's Jazz Website
JCCD-3037/8: Then & Now - The Easy Riders Jazz Band
This set of two CDs features Big Bill Bissonnette's Easy Riders Jazz Band
with 33 years between them. The first CD comprises of unissued recordings
from 1965/6 made for the renowned George Buck. Sammy Rimington contemplating
Ken Colyer's Jazzmen and visited Big Bill about doing a toru with the
Easy Riders. Bill had already had Sammy in his International Jazz Band
and took no persuading to have one of England's finest reedmen in his
band. Subsequently, Sammy left Colyer and became a long-term member of
the Easy Riders. Circumstances overtook the band and these tracks were
The first thing that strikes you is that the sound, although definitely
of the New Orleans flavor, is very different from the sound that was current,
and still current, in Europe. The Europeans tend to stick to the early
New Orleans sound, possibly because of the fact that they used original
recordings of the master to learn the music. The American sound had moved
on. The sound put out by the rhythm section is very distinctive and being
a much more noticeably driving force. The image that came to mind was
that of a diesel, throbbing and powerful. The front line is also strong,
so they are not over-powered by the rhythm boys; can anyone imagine Big
Bill's trombone or Fred Vigorito's cornet being overpowered? Sammys plays
his albert system clarinet in a somewhat looser style than with Colyer
d he even gets a chance to "skate."
The second CD is from a 1998 reunion. In the meantime two of the rhythm
section have died and the third was only able to put in the odd appearance
following a lung transplant. This does make a noticeable difference with
the rhythm section more subdued. The other difference is that the band
is more "reedy." After Rimington left the band , the very capable
Paul Boehmke took his place. This CD has both of the men in the line-up.
Often a four-man front line gets too complicated and tangled, but the
Easy Riders handle it all with their usual aplomb. This CD needs to be
in the collection of those of us who are of the European school as it
helps us to appreciate the depth and breadth of our favorite jazz style.
New Orleans jazz is an idiom, not a straight jacket and these CDs help
increase your appreciation of that important fact.
AMG **** Review - U. S. Jazz Guide
This two-CD set serves as a perfect tribute to trombonist Big Bill Bissonnette's
trad jazz band of the 1960s, the Easy Riders Jazz Band. The first CD has
the band in prime form from 1965-66, jamming happily on 13 songs, including
a couple basic originals, "It's Tight Like That," "The
Shiek of Araby," "Over the Waves," and "The Old Rugged
Cross." The personnel is Bissonnette, Sammy Rimington on clarinet
and alto, cornetist Fred Vigorito, pianist Bill Sinclair, banjoist Dick
Griffith, bassist Mouldy Dick McCarthy, and drummer Art Pulver. In 1998,
Bissonnette gathered together the group's survivors (Griffith and Pulver
had passed on), added Paul Boehmke on reeds for some cuts, and had bassist
Arnie Hyman replacing McCarthy on all but four songs (Mouldy was ailing
and would soon pass away). The band's sound was unchanged, with Rimington,
in particular, showing that he had grown as a musician through the years.
The joyous reunion (which includes "Panama," "Over the
Waves," "West Indies Blues," and "Walk Through The
Streets Of the City") is a success, making this two-CD set highly
recommended to fans of revival New Orleans jazz.
- Scott Yanow
Ron Going: Leader of Gremoli Jazz Band
I have a sufficient number of recordings of various styles
of music that I never have to be bored when selecting a CD or two to play
in the evening. Last night I selected JCCD 3037/8 which you had sent a
few years back, (thank you very much!), and I haven't listened to in quite
a while. What followed was confirmation of a theory expressed by Frank
Demond that recordings , like wine, can and often do , improve with age.
My memory reminds me that I enjoyed them very much when I first heard
them but oddly enough, I enjoyed them even more last night in spite of
my old ears. By the time you guys were in your 50s and had been playing
35+ years you played at a predictably high level of competence and understanding,
while still creating excitement which is not a universal characteristic
for guys in that age group and older. The 1965/66 recordings are another
story all together. You guys in your young 20s and Sammy only 19 for some
of them is nearly unbelievable! The understanding of the genre and the
ability to execute it at that level , with no more experience than you
all had, was way past remarkable. Even if I ignore the age and experience
factors, the musical performance stands on it's own as a very significant
example of New Orleans Jazz! I highly recommend an occasional listen to
any and all who may have not listened to it in the last several months
and to those who have never heard it, there is some more "ear candy"
- Ron Going
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