Elder Curry and Elder Beck both were singing evangelists, solid instrumentalists (Curry on guitar, Beck on piano and trumpet), and with their fervent, stomping approach to a sort of blues-tinged gospel, they inadvertently prefigured rock & roll. Many have sited Curry’s 1930 recording of Memphis Flu (which features Elder Beck on piano) as the first glimmer of rock & roll, and with its relentless 4/4 drive and the energy of Curry’s clapping and foot-stomping congregation added in, it certainly rocks, although the message is a little sobering, as Curry tells his listeners in a fire-and-brimstone style that influenza is a manifestation of God’s wrath at sinners. Given that some 700,000 Americans died during the influenza outbreak of 1918/1919, the tone of Memphis Flu seems to lack any degree of compassion, but it is a fascinating song, full of an odd, contrary joy that seems to belie its intent, and it definitely gets your feet moving. This release from Document Records contains Memphis Flu as well as the rest of Curry’s recorded work, done for Okeh Records in 1930. It also contains the earliest tracks of Beck, recorded for Okeh (1930), Decca (1937), and Bluebird Records (1939). Beck was a constant presence on radio and records well into the 1940s, and although he is essentially a singing preacher, he was also a consummate musician, adept at piano, organ, trumpet, vibes, and drums, with a versatile voice to match, and he kept one foot in Saturday night even as he issued forth on Sunday. – Steve Leggett
Note: Continued on Document DOCD-5524.