Singles The Definitive 45s Collection 1952-1991
102. Sun Ra I Am Strange 3:13
103. The Nu Sounds With Sun Ra Chicago USA 2:56
104. The Nu Sounds With Sun Ra Spaceship Lullaby 2:19
105. The Cosmic Rays With Sun Ra And Arkestra Daddy’s Gonna Tell You No Lie 3:08
106. The Nu Sounds With Sun Ra And Arkestra A Foggy Day 1:04
107. Billie Hawkins With Sun-Ra And His Orchestra I’m Coming Home 2:04
108. Billie Hawkins With Sun-Ra And His Orchestra Last Call For Love 2:28
109. Sun-Ra And His Arkistra Soft Talk 2:43
110. Sun-Ra And His Arkistra Super Blonde 2:37
111. Le Sun-Ra And His Arkistra Saturn 3:02
112. Le Sun-Ra And His Arkistra Call For All Demons 4:22
113. Le Sun-Ra And His Arkistra Demon’s Lullaby 2:41
114. Le Sun-Ra And His Arkistra Supersonic-Jazz 2:36
115. Le Sun-Ra And His Arkistra Medicine For A Nightmare 2:37
116. Le Sun-Ra And His Arkistra Urnack 3:50
117. The Qualities It’s Christmas Time 2:45
118. The Qualities Happy New Year To You! 1:48
119. Yochanan, The Space Age Vocalist M uck M uck (Matt Matt) 2:48
120. Yochanan, The Space Age Vocalist Hot Skillet Momma 3:14
121. Sun Ra And The Cosmic Rays Bye Bye 2:51
122. Sun Ra And The Cosmic Rays Somebody’s In Love 1:48
123. Le Sun Ra And His Arkestra Hours After 2:48
124. Le Sun Ra And His Arkestra Great Balls Of Fire 5:29
201. Sun Ra And His Astro Infinity Arkestra October 4:42
203. The Cosmic Rays With Sun Ra And Arkestra Dreaming 2:45
204. The Cosmic Rays With Sun Ra And Arkestra Daddy’s Gonna Tell You No Lie 3:06
205. Hattie Randolph With Sun Ra And His Astro Infinity Arkestra Round Midnight 3:51
206. Hattie Randolph With Sun Ra And His Astro Infinity Arkestra Back In Your Own Back Yard
207. Le Sun Ra And His Arkestra Saturn 3:42
208. Le Sun Ra And His Arkestra Velvet 3:25
209. Yochanan, A Space Age Vocalist With Sun Ra And His Arkestra The Sun One 2:32
210. Yochanan, A Space Age Vocalist With Sun Ra And His Arkestra Message To Earthman 2:26
211. Yochanan With Sun Ra And His Arkestra The Sun Man Speaks 4:37
212. Sun Ra And His Arkestra Space Loneliness 4:35
213. Sun Ra And His Arkestra State Street 3:33
214. Sun Ra And His Arkestra The Blue Set 4:43
215. Sun Ra And His Arkestra Big City Blues 3:15
216. Sun Ra And His Arkestra Featuring Pat Patrick A Blue One 3:51
217. Sun Ra And His Arkestra Featuring Pat Patrick Orbitration In Blue 4:46
218. Sun Ra And His Arkestra Hell #1 (A.k.a. Out There A Minute) 3:27
219. Little Mack With Sun Ra And His Arkestra Tell Her To Come On Home 2:07
220. Little Mack With Sun Ra & His Arkestra I’m Making Believe 3:14
301. Sun Ra And His Outer Space Arkesta The Bridge 1:58
302. Sun Ra And His Outer Space Arkestra Rocket # 9 2:26
303. Sun Ra And His Astro-Solar-Infinity Arkestra Blues On Planet Mars 3:27
304. Sun Ra And His Astro-Solar-Infinity Arkestra Saturn Moon 2:15
305. Sun Ra And His Astro-Intergalactic Infinity Arkestra Journey To Saturn 3:46
306. Sun Ra And His Astro-Intergalactic Infinity Arkestra Enlightenment 3:28
307. Sun Ra And His Astro-Intergalactic Infinity Arkestra I’m Gonna Unmask The Batman 2:18
308. Sun Ra And His Astro-Intergalactic Infinity Arkestra The Perfect Man 5:01
309. Sun Ra And His Arkestra Love In Outer Space 3:51
310. Sun Ra And His Arkestra Mayan Temple 3:40
311. Sun Ra Sky Blues 2:44
312. Sun Ra Disco 2021 2:35
313. Sun Ra Rough House Blues 3:36
314. Sun Ra Cosmo-Extensions 4:25
315. Sun Ra And His Outer Space Arkestra Quest 2:36
316. Sun Ra And His Outer Space Arkestra Outer Space Plateau 2:24
317. Sun Ra Arkestra Nuclear War 7:45
318. Sun Ra Arkestra Sometimes I’m Happy 4:30
319. Sun Ra Arkestra On Jupiter / Cosmo Drama (Prophetika 1) 3:12
320. Sun Ra Arkestra Cosmo Drama (Prophetika 2) 3:17
321. Sun Ra I Am The Instrument 6:59....
Ever since his death in 1993, interest in Sun Ra’s music has grown. That comes as no surprise. He was a fascinating figure, and one of most enigmatic and innovative musicians in the history of music. The man that many referred to as Mr. Mystery is nowadays regarded as one of the most important figures in jazz.
He was also a pioneer. Constantly, Sun Ra pushed musical boundaries as he combined Egyptian history with space-age cosmic philosophy and freeform jazz. However, Sun Ra was more than a musician, bandleader, composer He was also a cosmic philosopher, writer and poet. Sun Ra was a complex character.
Over the years, Sun Ra’s complex persona and mythology evolved. He saw himself as a pioneer of Afrofuturism, who believed he was alien from Saturn. His mission on earth was to preach peace, and the medium he used to this, was music.
The music that Sun Ra recorded covers and incorporates every aspect of jazz music, including swing and bebop to fusion. Sun Ra was the original musical chameleon, and his music continued to evolve over the course of a truly prolific career. He released over 125 albums over the course of career that spanned six decades.
Many of the albums that Sun Ra released were often pressed in small numbers, and came wrapped in a plain white cover. These have become highly collectable. So have the countless singles that Sun Ra released. They were also released in limited numbers, and are one-offs. Nowadays, they’re incredibly rare and indeed, valuable. This means they’re beyond the budget of most record collectors. However, Strut Records have collected sixty-one four of Sun Ra’s singles for a recently released box set, Singles The Definitive 45s Collection. It documents a forty year period in Sun Ra’s career.
This includes the early years of his career in Chicago. During this period, Sun Ra gave spoken word recitals, worked with various duets and small groups. Many of the singles document the evolution Sun Ra’s Arkestra. This includes its early years, right through to its heyday when it numbered thirty musicians. These singles were released between the early fifties right up until 1992. They document a large part of the Sun Ra’s career. His story began in the deep South in 1914.
Herman Poole Blount was born on 22nd May 1914, in Birmingham, Alabama. Very little is known about Herman’s’s early life. So much so, that for years, nobody knew what age Herman’s was. What is known, is that growing up, Herman immersed himself in music from an early age.
He began to learnt to play the piano aged five. Soon, he was a talented pianist. By the age of eleven, Herman was to able read and write music. It wasn’t just playing music Herman enjoyed. When musicians swung through Birmingham, Herman’s was there to see everyone from Duke Ellington to Fats Waller. This inspired Herman to become a professional musician.
By his mid teens, Herman was a high school student. However, music was Herman’s’s first love. Music teacher John T. “Fess” Whatley realised this. He helped Herman’s’s nascent musical career. John was a strict disciplinarian. This rubbed off on Herman. Later, he would be relentless taskmaster when he formed his Arkestra. This worked. When the Arkestra were in full flow, they were peerless. However, that was way in the future. Before that, Herman’s’s career was just unfolding.
In his spare time, Herman was playing semi-professionally. He played in various jazz and R&B groups and as a solo artist. Before long, Herman was a popular draw. This was helped by his ability to memorise popular songs and play them on demand. Strangely, away from music, the young Herman was very different.
He’s remembered as studious, kindly and something of a loner. Herman’s was a deeply religious young man. That is despite not being a member of a particular church. One organisation that Herman joined was the Black Masonic Lodge. This allowed Herman’s access to one of the largest collection of books in Birmingham. For a studious young man like Herman’s, this allowed him to broaden his knowledge of various subjects. Whether this included the poetry and Egyptology that would later influence Herman’s’s musical career.
The next step in Herman’s’s musical career came in 1934. Ethel Harper, his biology teacher from the high school, had a band. Herman was asked to join. After joining the musician’s union, Herman toured the Southeast and Midwest. Then when Ethel left the band to join The Ginger Snaps, Herman took over the band.
With Ethel gone, the band was renamed The Sonny Blount Orchestra. It headed out on the road and toured for several months. Sadly, The Sonny Blount Orchestra wasn’t making money. Eventually, the band split up. However, other musicians and music lovers were impressed by The Sonny Blount Orchestra.
This resulted in Herman being always in demand as a session musician. He was highly regarded within the Birmingham musical community. So much so, that Herman was awarded a music scholarship to Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University in 1937. Sadly, he dropped out after a year when his life changed forever.
It was in 1937, that Herman experienced a life-changing experience. It’s a story he tells many times throughout his life. He describes a bright light appearing around him and his body changing. “I could see through myself. And I went up … I wasn’t in human form … I landed on a planet that I identified as Saturn. They teleported me. I was down on a stage with them. They wanted to talk with me. They had one little antenna on each ear. A little antenna over each eye. They talked to me. They told me to stop attending college because there was going to be great trouble in schools … the world was going into complete chaos … I would speak through music, and the world would listen. That’s what they told me.” For a deeply religious young man, this was disturbing and exciting. It certainly inspired Herman.
After his “trip to Saturn,” Herman dedicated himself to music. He devoted himself to music. So much so, that he hardly found time to sleep. All Herman did was practice and write songs. The first floor of his home was transformed into a musical workshop. That’s where he rehearsed with the musicians in his band. Away from music, Herman’s took to discussing religious matters. Mostly, though, music dominated Herman’s’s life.
So it’s no surprise that Herman decided to form a new band. He decided to reform The Sonny Blount Orchestra. It showcased the new Herman’s. He was a dedicated bandleader, who like his mentor John T. “Fess” Whatley, was a strict disciplinarian. Herman’s was determined his band would be the best in Birmingham. Seamlessly, The Sonny Blount Orchestra were able to change direction, and play an eclectic selection of music. Before long, The Sonny Blount Orchestra were one of most in-demand bands in Birmingham. Things were looking good for Herman. Then in 1942, The Sonny Blount Orchestra were no more. Herman was drafted.
On receiving his draft papers, Herman declared himself a conscientious objector. He cited not just religious objections to war and killing, but that he had to financially support his great-aunt Ida. Then there was the chronic hernia that blighted Herman’s’s life. The draft board rejected his appeal. Things got worse. His family were embarrassed by Herman’s’s refusal to fight. Some turned their back on him. Eventually, Herman’s was offered the opportunity to do Civilian Public Service. However, he failed to appear at the camp in Pennsylvania on December 8th 1942.
This resulted in Herman being arrested. When he was brought before the court, Herman debated points of law and the meaning of excerpts from the Bible. When this didn’t convince the judge Herman said he’d would use a military weapon to kill the first high-ranking military officer possible. This resulted in Herman being jailed. For Herman’s, this lead to one of the most disturbing periods in his life.
So bad was Herman’s experience in military prison that he had to write to the US Marshals Service in January 1943. By then, Herman felt he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He was suffering from stress and suicidal. There was also the constant fear that he’d be attacked. Luckily, the US Marshals Service looked favourably on his letter.
By February 1943, Herman was allowed out during the day to work in the forests around Pennsylvania. At nights, he was able to play piano. A month later, Herman was reclassified and released from military prison.
Having left prison, Herman formed a new band. They played around the Birmingham area for the next two years. Then in 1945, when his Aunt Ida died, Herman’s left Birmingham. Next stop was Chicago.
Moving to Chicago, Herman’s quickly found work. He worked with Wynonie Harris and played on his two 1946 singles, Dig This Boogie and My Baby’s Barrelhouse. After that, Herman worked with Lil Green in some of Chicago’s strip clubs. Then in August 1946, Herman’s started working with Fletcher Henderson. However, Fletcher’s fortunes were fading.
Fletcher Henderson’s band was full of mediocre musicians. The main man, Fletcher Henderson, was often missing. He was still recovering after a car accident. So Fletcher needed someone to transform his band’s fortunes. This was where Herman’s came in. His role was arranger and pianist. Herman’s realising the band needed to change direction, decided to infuse Fletcher Henderson’s trademark sound with bebop. However, the band were resistant to change. So in 1948, Herman left Fletcher Henderson’s employ.
Next for Herman was forming a trio with saxophonist Coleman Hawkins and violinist Stuff Smith. This trio didn’t last long and didn’t release any recordings. Not long after this, Herman would make his final appearance as a sideman on violinist’s Billy Bang’s Tribute to Stuff Smith. After this, Herman Poole Blount became Sun Ra.
Chicago was changing. It was home to a number of African-American political activists. A number of fringe movements sprung up. They were seeking political and religious change. Herman became involved. He was immersing himself in history. Especially, Egyptology. He was fascinated with the Chicago’s many ancient Egyptian-styled buildings and monuments. This resulted in Herman discovering George G.M. James’ The Stolen Legacy. Discovering this book was a life-changing experience.
In The Stolen Legacy, George G.M. James argues that classical Greek philosophy actually has its roots in Ancient Egypt. This resulted in Herman concluding that the history and accomplishments of Africans had been deliberately denied and suppressed by various European cultures. It was as if his eyes had been opened. For Herman, this was just the start of a number of changes in his life.
As 1952 dawned, Herman had formed a new band, The Space Trio. It featured saxophonist Pat Patrick and Tommy Hunter. At the time, they were two of the most talented musicians Herman knew. This allowed him to write even more compacted and complex songs. However, by October 1952, he wasn’t writing these songs as Herman Poole Blount. No. Sun Ra was born in October 1952.
Just like Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, adopting the name Sun Ra was perceived by some as Herman choosing to dispense with his slave name. Instead, he named himself after the Egyptian God of the Sun, Sun Ra. Soon, this new identity would begin to evolve.
Sun Ra’s complex persona and mythology evolved over a period of time. He saw himself as a pioneer of Afrofuturism, who was alien from Saturn. His mission on earth was to preach peace, and the medium he used to this, was music. This some felt, was a kind of rebirth for Sun Ra. It certainly was a musical rebirth.
After Pat Patrick got married, he moved to Florida. This left The Space Trio with a vacancy for a saxophonist. Tenor saxophonist, John Gilmore filled the void. Soon after, Marshall Allen an alto saxophonist joined. So did saxophonist James Spaulding, trombonist Julian Priester and briefly, tenor saxophonist Von Freeman came onboard. Another newcomer was Alton Abraham, who would become Sun Ra’s manager. He made up for Sun Ra’s shortcomings.
While he was a hugely talented bandleader, who demanded the highest standards, Sun Ra, like many musicians, was no businessman. With Alton Abraham onboard, Sun Ra could concentrate on music. Alton took care of business. This included setting up El Saturn Records, an independent record label, which would release many of Sun Ra’s records. However, El Saturn Records didn’t released Sun Ra and His Arkestra’s debut album, Jazz By Sun Ra.
Jazz By Sun Ra was released in 1956, on the short-lived Transition Records. However, Sun Ra and His Arkestra’s sophomore album Super Sonic Jazz was released in March 1956, on El Saturn Records. For the next few years, El Saturn Records released most of Sun Ra and His Arkestra’s albums. El Saturn also released many of Sun Ra’s singles, including those that feature on Singles The Definitive 45s Collection.
A total of twenty-four tracks feature on disc one of Singles The Definitive 45s Collection. They cover several different aspects of Sun Ra’s early career.
This includes several solo recitals recorded during the early fifties. I Am Strange and I Am An Instrument are cosmo dramas, where Sun Ra accompanies himself on piano as he delivers a sermon. They would become a regular feature of Arkestra shows from the seventies onwards. Sun Ra however, wouldn’t found his Arkestra until 1956. Before that, Sun Ra would work with various musicians.
Among them, were The Nu Sounds With Sun Ra. They recorded in Chicago between 1952 and 1962. This included A Foggy Day, which was recorded at Club Evergreen, Chicago, in 1954 or 1955. It featured on the flip side of Daddy’s Gonna Tell You No Lie, and was credited The Cosmic Rays with Sun Sun Ra.Another recording from The Nu Sounds With Sun Ra is the space bop single Chicago USA. It featured Spaceship Lullaby on the B-Side. These tracks find Sun Ra looking into the future, as his adopted hometown Chicago becomes some sort of Utopian modern city. However, Chicago USA wasn’t released until 2005, some twelve years after Sun Ra’s death.
By the spring 1956, Sun Ra was playing alongside Billie Hawkins. They were billed as Billie Hawkins with Sun Ra and His Orchestra. Later in 1956, I’m Coming Home was released as a singles, Last Call For Love on the flip side. Already.Sun Ra’s Orchestra was starting to take shape.
They had already released one of their first singles. This was Soft Talk, which featured Super Blonde on the B-Side. It had been recorded during March 1956, at the Balkan Studios. When the single was released on Saturn, and was credited to Sun Ra and His Arkistra. However, when the followup was released, the Orchestra had dawned a new name.
For the first time, Le Sun Ra and His Arkistra featured on a single. This was Saturn which featured Call for All Demons on the flip-side. It had been recorded at RCA Studios, during May 1956 and was released on Saturn. So was the followup Demon’s Lullaby, which featured Super-sonic Jazz on the B-Side. It was released later in 1956.The final single Le Sun Ra and His Arkistra released on Saturn during 1956 was Medicine For A Nightmare, with Urnack on the flip-side. However, Le Sun Ra and His Arkistra wasn’t the only project Sun Ra was involved with.
Around 1957, a quartet lad by Sun Ra worked with Yochanan The Space Age Vocalist. They recorded the bluesy, but jazz-tinged single M Uck M Uck (Matt Matt), which featured Hot Skillet Mama on the B-Side. This was the first of several fruitful and memorable collaborations between Sun Ra and the leftfield R&B vocalist.
Late 1957, saw multi-instrumentalist Marshall Allen join the Arkestra. He was capable of seamlessly switching between reed instruments, and would become of one of the Arkestra’s secret weapons. So would bassist Robbie Boykins. They were part of what’s regarded as the classic lineup of the Arkestra.
In mid-1958, Sun Ra was about to work on several projects. This included recording Sun Ra and The Cosmic Rays’ single Bye Bye, which featured Somebody’s In Love. It was released later in 1958 on Saturn. By then, Le Sun Ra and His Arkistra had recorded and released their single Hours After. Tucked away on the flip-side was a reinvention of Great Balls Of Fire. It’s just one of the tracks that signalled that Sun Ra and His Arkestra were about to hit a rich vein of form.
Between 1958 and 1959, Sun Ra and His Arkestra released two classic albums, The Nubians Of Plutonia and Jazz In Silhouette. Both albums featured the classic lineup of the Arkestra. However, very little is known about another recording that took place between 1956 and 1960.
This was The Qualities’ Christmas single, It’s Christmas Time. It featured Happy New Year to You! on the flip-side. There’s uncertainly as to who played on the single, and when it was recorded. That however, was the case with many of Sun Ra’s recordings. The lineup of his bands and Arkestra were constantly evolving. That was the case throughout his career.
Rather than picking up where disc one picked off, disc two of Singles The Definitive 45s Collection goes back in time to 1959. That’s when Sun Ra and His Astro Infinity Arkestra recorded the single October. It was released eight years later, in 1967 with Adventure in Space on the B-Side. Both sides show Sun Ra and the Arkestra maturing as they create ambitious and innovative music. This were pioneers, who would influence a future generation of musicians.
There’s some debate when The Cosmic Rays with Sun Ra and Arkestra recorded the single Dreaming, and the B-Side Daddy’s Gonna Tell You No Lie. With details somewhat sketchy about the sessions, it’s thought that the two tracks were recorded in either 1955 or 1959. Regardless which date it was, these two track among the finest tracks The Cosmic Rays with Sun Ra recorded. Dreaming was released as a single on Saturn, and finds The Cosmic Rays with Sun Ra at their very best.
Another artist Sun Ra worked with, was vocalist Hattie Randolph. They recorded the single Round Midnight on 6th March 1959. Tucked away on the flip-side was the hidden gem Back In Your Own Back Yard. Round Midnight was released on Saturn later in 1959 as Hattie Randolph with Sun Ra and His Astro Infinty Arkestra. Hattie Randolph was just the latest artist to work with Sun Ra.
A years later, in 1960, Yochanan The Space Age Vocalist was reunited with Sun Ra and His Arkestra. They recorded the single Message to Earthman, with The Sun Man Speaks featuring on the B-Side. It was released on Saturn in 1961 as Yochanan The Space Age Vocalist with Sun Ra and His Arkestra. This was another fruitful collaboration. These two tracks were reissued in 1986, with The Sun Man Speaks becoming the single and Message to Earthman being relegated to the B-Side. By then, Sun Ra was one of the elder statesmen of jazz, and a prolific recording artist.
That had always been the case. Le Sun Ra and His Arkestra had recorded throughout the second half of the fifties. They recorded Saturn and Velvet during a session on 6th March 1959. This was the same session that Hattie Randolph recorded with Sun Ra and His Astro Infinty Arkestra. They’re on good form on Saturn which was meant to be released as a single. Alas, the single was never released, and these two joyous tracks where Le Sun Ra and His Arkestra stretch their legs, never found the audience they deserved. That’s a great shame, as the Arkestra’s classic lineup was established, and hd entered a fruitful period of their career.
This two classic albums, The Nubians Of Plutonia and Jazz In Silhouette were proof of this. On 14th June 1960, Sun Ra and His Arkestra entered the studio and recorded two singles that would be released later in 1960. The first was Space Loneliness, which featured State Street on the B-Side. It was followed up by The Blue Set, with Big City Blues on the flip-side. Both singles featured a tight septet, who began to explore new ways to playing. This they called “tone science,” and lead by Sun Ra, John Gilmore, Marshall Allen, Ronnie Boykins and Phil Cohran embarked upon a musical adventure. One of the earliest fruits of this adventure was the bluesy Magnus Opus, Space Loneliness. It’s one of the finest moment from a session that produced twenty tracks. However, a year after the sessions that produced Space Loneliness, Sun Ra and His Arkestra were on the move.
Sun Ra and His Arkestra decided to move from the Windy City to New York in 1961. Early in 1962, Sun Ra and His Arkestra headed to the Choreographers Workshop, where they were joined by Pat Patrick. They recorded the single A Blue One, Orbitration In Blue on the B-Side. It was released on Saturn in 1964. This was one of just six single released during the seven years Sun Ra and His Arkestra were based in New York. By then, the focus was much more on albums.
Another single recorded at the Choreographers Workshop, in New York, was Tell Her To Come On Home, It was recorded during 1962 and featured vocalist Little Mack Gordon. For the flip-side, I’m Making Believe was recorded. The single was then released on Saturn. However, another track recorded the Choreographers Workshop wasn’t released until much later.
This was Hell #1 (A.k.a. Out There a Minute). It was recorded between 1962-1964 at the Choreographers Workshop. However, the track lay unreleased un 1989, when it was released on E.P. given away with the New York based Chemical Imbalance magazine. This Sun Ra and his management hoped, would introduce his music to an even wider audience. By then, Sun Ra’s popularity had increased and his music was appreciated by a much wider audience.
Disc three is the final disc in the Singles The Definitive 45s Collection box set. It picks up where disc two left off.
In 1967, Sun Ra and His Arkestra were recording at Sun Studios, New York City. They recorded the angle The Bridge, and its B-Side Rocket # 9. By then, Sun Ra had decided that lyrics were part of his ‘sound’. Often, he used these lyrics to pass on a social messages, or tell what be believed to the truth about a subject. Other times, the meaning of the message was so well hidden or complex that it passed most people by. These Sun Ra considered to be a message from Saturn. One of the singles to feature a ‘message’ is The Bridge, which nowadays, is a real rarity. It shows Sun Ra’s music continuing to evolve.
On 22nd September 1968, Sun Ra and His Arkestra returned to Sun Studios. They cut the single Blues On Planet Mars, with the hidden gem Saturn Moon relegated to the B-Side. Blues On Planet Mars was released as a single in 1969. Both tracks would feature on another of Sun Ra and His Arkestra’s classic album, Atlantis. It featured what Sun Ra dubbed his “solar sound instrument.” In reality, it was a Hohner Clavinet and would become an important component of his ‘sound’. Atlantis would be one of the final Sun Ra and His Arkestra recordings in New York for a while.
After seven years in the Big Apple, Sun Ra and His Arkestra moved to Philadelphia. Sun Ra’s House would become a makeshift studio, and where many recordings would be made. This included
Sun Ra And His Astro-Solar-Infinity Arkestra single Journey To Saturn, which featured on the B-Side Enlightenment. Both sides featured the vocal prowess of June Tyson. She had joined the Arkestra in 1968, and her role was to communicate Sun Ra’s message. The way she did this, was via space age songs, poetry recitals and the ritualistic echoing of Sun Ra’s message. June Tyson’s addition brought a new dimensions to Sun Ra And His Astro-Solar-Infinity Arkestra.
By the time Sun Ra And His Astro-Solar-Infinity Arkestra entered Variety Recording Studio, in New York, there was no sign of June Tyson. That day, The Perfect Man was recorded. It became the B-Side I’m Gonna Unmask The Batman, which was recorded at WXPN radio station, Philadelphia, 4th July 1974. Again, there was no sign of June Tyson, with Sam Bankhead adding the vocals. Later in 1974, the radio broadcast pf I’m Gonna Unmask The Batman was released on Saturn, and became the latest Sun Ra single. He was by then, one of the most prolific recording artists.
There was no sign of Sun Ra slowing up. Sun Ra And His Arkestra recorded the single Love In Outer Space during 1975.
Where the track was recorded is unknown. However, the B-Side Mayan Temple was recorded at Variety Recording Studio, New York City, 27th June 1975. It presents Sun Ra’s philosophy for the future, and the this is delivered by Harlem poet David Henderson. His addition results in a beautiful and heartfelt version of Sun Ra’s utopian vision. Sadly, when Love In Outer Space was released, it as a limited edition and very few copies of the single exist. It’s a real rarity, and its addition on Singles The Definitive 45s Collection box set is a welcome one.
So is Sun Ra’s live version of the single Sky Blues. It was recorded live at at a solo concert at Teatro Ciak, Milan, on the 23rd of 1978. Later in 1978, Sky Blues was released as a single on Saturn, with Disco 2021 on the B-Side. Both sides show Sun Ra’s determination to ensure that his music continues to remain relevant.
That was the case throughout Sun Ra’s career. In early May 1979, Sun Ra travelled to Montreal, Canada to play another concert with his Arkestra. Instead, he was accompanied by just a drummer. He features on Rough House Blues and Cosmo-Extensions, which are essentially captivating duets between Sun Ra’s synths and the drums. Later in 1979, Rough House Blues was released as a single by Saturn, with Cosmo-Extensions featuring on the flip-side. Both sides showed another side of Sun Ra, as he continues to innovate.
He had been innovating throughout his career. Especially with the Arkestra, which had changed its name several times. By the 8th of July 1977, it was billed as Sun Ra and His Outer Space Arkestra. They were due to feature on WKCR-FM, in New York City on 8th of July 1977. That day, they recorded Quest, would be released as a single five years later. On the flip-side was Outer Space Plateau, which was recorded at Sun Ra’s house in 1982. Later that year, Quest became Sun Ra and His Outer Space Arkestra latest single, as they move in a a new direction, constantly pushing music to its limits and way beyond.
In September 1982, Sun Ra and His Arkestra headed to Variety Recording Studio, New York City to record a single for Columbia. They recorded the two tracks that became their latest single, Nuclear War and the B-Side, Sometimes I’m Happy. It features June Tyson, whose vocal plays an important part in the sound and success of the song. Sun Ra and His Arkestra had recorded two of their best songs of recent years.
Nuclear War was a single that could’ve crossed over. With its call and response style, it was catchy and one of Sun Ra’s most commercial singles. It was pressed on 45, but as a 12 inch single This should’ve introduce his music to a much wider audience, including DJs. However, when Sun Ra delivered the single to Columbia there was a problem. The repeated use of the oath MF proved problematic. There was no way Nuclear War would get radio play. Sun Ra was shown the door, and his time at Columbia was over.
After the controversy of Nuclear War, Sun Ra and His Arkestra returned to playing live and recording. They records On Jupiter during a live performance in Philly during 1978. This track wasn’t released until 2014, when it featured on the Norton Records’ single Sun Ra Centennial 1914-2014. On the flip-side was Cosmo Drama (Prophetika 2), which was recorded in New York in 1979. Both sides are a tantalising taste of Sun Ra and His Arkestra live during the late-seventies.
The final in disc three of Singles The Definitive 45s Collection, is I Am An Instrument. It was recorded at Sun Ra’s home in 1991. By then, he was recovering from a stroke he had suffered in 1990. Despite this, Sun Ra courageously continued his career, and delivered a recitation whilst accompanying himself on thrash harp and toy piano. Sadly, I Am An Instrument wasn’t released until it was released in conduction with the May 1994 edition of The Wire Magazine. Sadly, by then, Sun Ra had passed away a year earlier.
On May 30th 1993, Sun Ra passed away aged seventy-nine. That day, music lost a true visionary. He had spent the last six decades releasing groundbreaking music. Constantly, Sun Ra pushed musical boundaries to their limits, and sometimes way beyond on the 125 albums he recorded. That’s not forgetting the countless singles that Sun Ra released. A tantalising taste of these singles feature on the Singles The Definitive 45s Collection box set, which was recently released by Strutb Records. This is a lovingly curated compilation that will appeal to veterans of Sun Ra albums, and newcomers to his music. Sun Ra was one of most enigmatic and innovative musicians of the 20th Century. That’s no exaggeration.
Many artists are described as innovative. However, very few really are. Sun Ra is one of the exceptions. From the moment he dawned the role of Sun Ra, his music was transformed. It became much more complex. This was only possible because Sun Ra found liked minded musicians. Among them were Pat Patrick, Tommy Hunter, John Gilmore, Marshall Allen, James Spaulding, Julian Priester and Art Yard. They became Sun Ra’s legendary Arkestra.
For nearly forty years, Sun Ra and His Arkestra pushed musical boundaries. Sun Ra was a perfectionist and relentless taskmaster. With some of most talented, inventive and adventurous musicians of their generation, Sun Ra set about honing the Arkestra’s sound. He was demanding and exacting standards. Second best was no use to Sun Ra. What he was after was an Arkestra who were innovators and musical adventurers.
Sun Ra was never content to stand still musically. Similarly, he was always striving to reinvent his music. The original version of a song was merely the starting point. What it became, was anyone’s guess? Sun Ra was forever determined to innovate. When he reinvented a track, he took the music in the most unexpected direction. He combined Egyptian history and space-age cosmic philosophy with freeform jazz. This innovative fusion transformed the career of the man born Herman Poole Blount.
Eventually, Sun Ra became a giant of jazz. This took time, patience and dedication. He had come a long way since his early days in Birmingham, Alabama. Sadly, very little is known about Sun Ra’s early year. This just adds to the man many called Mr. Mystery.
So does his alleged ‘trip’ to Saturn, which changed Sun Ra’s life forevermore. Thereafter, Sun Ra became added philosopher to his C.V. However, it was music which made Sun Ra famous.
That music is celebrated on Singles The Definitive 45s Collection box set, where Sun Ra combines Egyptian history with space-age cosmic philosophy and freeform jazz. Sun Ra was more than a musician, bandleader, composer. He was also a cosmic philosopher, writer and poet. Despite his many talented, Sun Ra is best remembered for the music he produced over a career spanning six decades. The music Sun Ra wrote and recorded was innovative, inventive and influential, and is why nowadays, he is regarded as one of the most important figures in jazz.
Sun Ra departed Earth on May 30, 1993, just days after the 79th anniversary of his arrival. (One doesn’t talk about Ra in terms of “birth” and “death,” but more on that later.) He left behind a massive, convoluted musical legacy—including at least 120 full-length albums, one of the world’s largest known discographies—and perhaps an even bigger mystery. Who was this jazz composer/arranger/bandleader/pianist, who insisted that he was a native of the planet Saturn and espoused a philosophy that blended science fiction, Biblical texts and ancient Egyptian history and mythology (wearing costumes that also expressed that combination)? And what were we to make of his music, which ranged from big-band swing to bebop to avant-garde and fusion?
Twenty-three years later, we have some answers. It’s only in that time, for example, that Sun Ra has been revealed to be the former Herman Poole “Sonny” Blount, born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1914. A small army of researchers has made some sense of his discography as well, assigning session dates and personnel to previously un-annotated tracks. Many of the Sun Ra Arkestra’s albums were ex post facto compilations of disparate sessions and lineups. Still, there are a number of holes and gray areas, and perhaps always will be. But with Strut Records’ release of Singles: The Definitive 45s Collection—an assemblage of one of Ra’s most overlooked bodies of work—the picture becomes a bit more complete.
“It’s a very interesting and singular perspective on the Sun Ra story,” says Paul Griffiths, the London-based music writer who compiled Singles. “It will be a huge listening experience, and, I think, quite a revelation.”
We don’t often think about post-World War II jazz in the context of singles; almost as soon as long-playing records were introduced in 1948, jazz and its often lengthy improvisations proved uniquely suited to the format. The 45 rpm market, ideal for jukeboxes and radio stations, was reserved for pop songs. But Sun Ra was never interested in convention. With his idiosyncratic vision, he and his business manager Alton Abraham—with whom he founded his El Saturn Records label—wanted to share it with the world.
“Singles were popular at that time. Singles were how you got attention,” says Irwin Chusid, administrator of Sun Ra LLC (the arm of Sun Ra’s estate that controls his catalog). “And putting out albums was a lot more expensive than putting out singles. So I think it was the economics of the music at the time that necessitated dealing with seven-inch singles. Alton Abraham wanted to make money, to sell records, so what do you do? You put out singles!”
Marshall Allen, longtime alto saxophonist for the Sun Ra Arkestra (and its leader since 1993), agrees that the singles were probably a business decision rather than a creative one. Certainly the musicians were never told that they were specifically making record sides. “At any session, Sun Ra would have so many tunes for us to do, and we’d go into the studio and make whatever,” he says. “And then he and, maybe Alton, would decide what to do with it afterward. We’d find out about it when it came out, just like everybody else.”
Small independent labels weren’t a rare commodity in the 1950s and ‘60s; they came and went frequently. But like most of them, Saturn wasn’t really plugged into the major distribution channels. “They probably just took them around to the stores and said ‘Here, would you carry our records?’” says Chusid. “Maybe they sold them at gigs, or through the mail. But there was no wide distribution of the records, which is why these records are so rare.”
The rarity of the records allowed many of them to slip through the historical and musicological cracks. Indeed, this is not the first collection of Sun Ra’s releases on 45. Evidence Records, the last label to which Sun Ra signed in his lifetime, put out a compilation in 1996 among a bevy of Ra releases. But that release was flawed on many levels. For one thing, it contained 49 tracks to the new collection’s 63.
“The old Evidence CD had quite a few gaps in it,” says Griffiths. “[It didn’t include] things that have been released posthumously, things that were not even known about from the Saturn catalogue that were just only discovered after the release of this. There’s a single called ‘Orbitration in Blue,’ which was only discovered after the Evidence thing came out. And this has got an extended version! So this new release has some music that even the most ardent Ra-o-philes won’t own. It’s a whole different listening experience, because you’re getting a really in-depth version of the story.”
“In-depth” is an apt term. Commissioned by Sun Ra, LLC, this music comes not from secondhand sources, like record collectors, but from the original session reels. Ra had given these to Michael D. Anderson, former percussionist in the Arkestra (now executive director of the Sun Ra Music Archive). Chusid has been able to help restore them. In other words, not only is there more music to be heard, but the previously available music now sounds substantially better.
"That’s the other big thing about the Evidence set: It wasn’t very well mastered,” says Griffiths. “The mastering was done from very lo-fi single pressings. But this set is going to sound fantastic, because of what Irwin Chusid and Michael Anderson, who’ve got access to the extended master tapes, have done.”
Sun Ra LLC also has a library of work from the many historians and discographers in the years since the artist’s departure. Griffiths is one of these historians. “I’m a big fan with a rather large scholarly knowledge of the workings of it all,” he says. “They trusted my expertise and knowledge of what is a very, very complex discography to say the least.” He assembled a more-or-less chronological sequence of tracks out of that knowledge, and annotated them extensively.
Played end to end, Singles sounds much like the great Sun Ra albums. (Many of these singles were ultimately included on his albums.) Like them, it draws from a wide range of times (though about half are from his Chicago period of the 1950s, they continued all the way up to a 1991 CD single) and places—recording studios, rehearsals, club gigs, his house. There are sides by big band, small groups, and at least two (versions of “I Am an Instrument,” recorded four decades apart) featuring solo Sun Ra.
Most interestingly, though, the collected singles engage in the usual panoply of styles, from swing to experimental freeform, to R&B—and doo-wop. He shares the bills with several vocal acts, including the groups the Nu Sounds and the Cosmic Rays, as well as a Memphis-bred R&B belter called Yochanan, the Space Age Vocalist.
It’s unknown how these artists came into Sun Ra’s orbit. “I’m sure that Alton Abraham was at least partly involved in finding these musicians, maybe hooking them up with [Sun Ra],” says Chusid. “Or these musicians came to his attention, he maybe saw them in the club. But he began working with them. Coaching these singers, helping them with their harmonies, their arrangements, providing musical backdrops to their vocals.”
“He would find places where there was a piano, it might be somebody’s basement or it might be anywhere,” Allen recalls. “And he would just work with these guys. Sometimes he would put us on the record with them.”
But these vocal groups are enigmas in their own right, adding to Sun Ra’s mystique. “He might have given them names, or he might have changed their names, assigned them a name for a record and they didn’t exist as an actual vocal group that was out there performing,” says Chusid. “Some of the same singers that were part of the Cosmic Rays might also have been in the Nu Sounds. The Nu Sounds who sang on one recording may not have been the same Nu Sounds who sang on another recording. These are part of the mysteries of that period.”
Singles, then, represents a crucial piece of the puzzle—but not the last piece. According to Allen, there are perhaps thousands of hours of unheard recordings. “He recorded everything, good or bad,” says Allen. Every day we would rehearse for hours, seven days a week, and he would record it. For thirty-four years.”
The whole picture will probably never be clear—and if Sun Ra truly did return to Saturn after departing his earthly body, as he always claimed, he is probably quite satisfied with that. “I think he wanted us to keep digging through the myth and the facts and the speculation,” says Chusid, “and to spend centuries piecing together an accurate chronicle.” By itself, Singles: The Definitive 45s Collection offers enough wonderful music for years of close examination.
Strut offers a richly researched and smartly sequenced compilation of all of Sun Ra's singles, offering a compelling and unique look at the cosmic jazz innovator’s genius.
How do you pin down Sun Ra? The cosmic jazzman laid down so much music it would take a warehouse of full-time historians working round-the-clock hours to figure it all out. Albums were often hastily assembled from his prolific sessions, packaged with DIY artwork and sold at gigs for quick cash. Thousands of hours of unheard recordings are rumored to exist. Maybe he stacked boxes of magnetic tape on far-away planets too, such was his connection to the stars.
If it’s even possible to traverse the vast Sun Ra universe on board a single starship, then Strut Records’ new compilation Singles: The Definitive 45s Collection offers a compellingly sturdy vessel. It’s a 65-track set of 7-inch fragments of the celestial god, sent to earth to help us map out details of his galaxy that the albums could not. There are no wasted motions here: Each flat, wax disc represented another bright star in the constellation Ra.
The name of his birth certificate read Herman Poole Blount. Born in Alabama in 1914, the mysterious musician showed up in Chicago in 1946 with little more to his name than a jail record picked up for refusing to fight in World War II for ethical reasons. The jazz scene was primed for revolution and Blount moved to a different beat, driven by a journey to Saturn he claimed he made years earlier while in deep spiritual concentration.
The star man would later take up the name Sun Ra, form his ever-changing band the Arkestra, and spend a lifetime teaching the world Afrofuturism, a complex ideology of Black nationalism, Egyptian myth, scientific discovery, science fiction movies and the other-worldly fashion choices he’d flaunt on-stage. Forget “Disco 2000”; Sun Ra was envisioning to the paranoid blips and beeps of “Disco 2021” some 30 years before Pulp showed up. He mastered the electro squiggles of “Planet Rock” prior to the birth of hip-hop, and forged his own form of analogue cyberpunk as Philip K. Dick sat as his typewriter laying out his own dark vision of the future. Singles preserves all that for future generations.
It’s said when you watch classic movies like Citizen Kane today, it’s important to bare in mind that these movies were writing the rules of filmmaking that we now take for granted. Sun Ra’s music somehow doesn’t require that kind of explanation. As soon as the needle drops, it sounds like scripture—a key testament that formed a building block of a half-century of music. Everyone from George Clinton to OutKast read from The Book of Ra.
And yet, on paper the project seems an odd prospect. Sun Ra was a lot of things—pianist, bluesman, bandleader, arranger, interstellar poet, multiverse traveller—but he’s never been accused of being a singles artist. Because of the format, Singles eschews his lengthier wigouts for shorter vignettes. You might not get the 20-minute avant-garde virtuosity of “Space Is the Place,” but you do get jaunty holiday jingle “It’s Christmas Time.” That might seem less crucial, but when grappling with Ra’s slippery legacy, nothing here feels disposable.
For the fanatics, Singles will offer little they’ve not heard before. While the original 45 versions of a lot of these songs, many of which were released on Ra’s own El Saturn Records, are rare (or, in some cases, completely lost), they’ve all cropped up in other places, including a similar-but-less-expansive compilation put out by Evidence Records in 1996. Still, there’s undoubted power in hearing Ra’s career laid out like this.
Arranged chronologically (or as close to it as possible—Ra wasn’t exactly pedantic when it came to labeling his sessions) and with about half the songs recorded during his 1950s Chicago period, Singles captures the genesis of his forward-thinking space-bop. Fittingly, the opening two tracks, “I Am an Instrument” and “I Am Strange,” both spoken-word numbers, predict his metaphysical interests. “I belong to one who is more than a musician/He is an artist,” he says on the former. His voice is tuned low and grave, as though foreshadowing a seismic event.
Whether he’s envisioning a playful, pamphlet-utopian version of the city on the Lieber-Stoller-esque “Chicago USA” or mixing experimental rhythms with dense and fractured chants on “Spaceship Lullaby” (both recorded with the Nu Sounds, an important precursor to the Arkestra), it’s thrilling to hear Ra connect Chicago’s timeless jazz scene to his increasingly wild tinkerings. Even the earliest material on Singles is the sound of a bandleader confidently wielding his arsenal for maximum purpose.
It’s not just Ra that gets shine. Singles captures The Arkestra at their finest. John Gilmore, a chief lieutenant in the group for almost 40 years, blusters with his tenor saxophone on the peppy “Soft Talk,” recorded in his first few years alongside Ra. The gentle horn riff of “Space Loneliness”—from 1960, Ra’s final year in Chicago—pulls you towards the void of the outer cosmos before blissful and delicate solos from Phil Cohran (cornet) and Marshall Allen (alto sax) chime in.
Given the nature of the format, Singles also showcases Ra’s pop instincts. Whether it’s the smooth doo-wop of “Daddy’s Gonna Tell You Know Lie” (of which there are two versions), the wild-man energy of singer Yochanan on blistering R&B number “Hot Skillet Momma,” or Hattie Randolph’s sweet rendition of jazz standard “Round Midnight,” it’s a thrill to hear Ra carve out lean jukebox jams. On “Bye Bye,” the sweet harmonies of the Cosmic Rays are drowned out by short, sharp skewering of double bass that tears through the final few seconds. Recorded a decade before George Martin was doing that sort of thing, it confirms that even in the pop realm, Ra was a daring futurist.
The later work sees Ra fully exploring the outer realms of his own talent. “Disco 2021” sounds like an android’s fever dream. A doomed but dinky organ holds hands with a Gilmore-led wind quartet on the ugly-beautiful “Outer Space Plateau.” Ra incorporates a Moog synth into “The Perfect Man”; probably recorded in mid-1973, he deploys a bluesy horn riff as the bedrock before running wild with the synthetic instrument. It’s a strange mismatch, but “The Perfect Man” feels like a rare link between dapper nightclub blues and the space-bound sounds of new wave, disco and early hip-hop. The song encapsulates Sun Ra’s freewheeling, alien brilliance.
The London-based Strut Records has long been prolific in unearthing and reissuing old music and has gotten pretty damn good at it. The three-disc CD and LP releases of Singles: The Definitive 45s Collection includes a lot of the trimmings you might expect: rare photos, artwork, sleeve notes and an interview with El Saturn Records founder Alton Abraham. There’s also detailed track-by-track and session notes by project compiler Paul Griffiths that you’ll open up a lot as you grapple with this set. Strut is experienced in dusting off old recordings, so the remasters sound crisp—particularly when played back-to-back with versions that cropped up on other compilations—but without suffocating that rich 45rpm flavor.
In addition to the CD and digital releases, Strut is putting out 20 cuts from the collection in two 45s box sets (Volume 1 released this month, Volume 2 released in March 2017) in a limited 500 copies run for the dedicated looking to fully immerse in the spirit of their original releases. For newcomers here for spiritual guidance, broaching Sun Ra’s seismic life work can be daunting. To penetrate the outer atmosphere and splash down into an unknown world; to crawl into a mind of a man with the power to transport his consciousness across our solar system. Singles offers a wide-ranging but accessible route to his unearthly sounds.
In addition to hundreds of studio albums, live recordings, and compilations, the Sun Ra discography also contains dozens of singles, many of them dating from the early days of the artist's career, before he really took off for the outer cosmos. His singles have been collected before, particularly on the 1996 double CD The Singles, issued by Evidence Records. Strut's 2016 collection contains three discs' worth of material, but it isn't just a reissue of the previous set with a bonus disc tacked on. This one includes recordings that were unearthed since the '90s, including plenty of spoken word pieces. (Norton Records has released several LPs and singles of Ra's "Space Poetry" since the 2000s.) Not everything from the previous set is included -- the older one had a few more alternate versions as well as songs recorded with singer Juanita Rogers and bluesman Lacy Gibson (Ra's brother-in-law) that are missing here. Everything that is included, however, is completely essential.
Beginning with some of Ra's early spoken pieces, the set moves into several doo wop and rhythm & blues singles he recorded with vocal combos such as the Nu Sounds and the Cosmic Rays. The songs already touch on outer space themes, even if the music itself is often relatively straightforward. Ra did work with plenty of more bugged-out vocalists, however, including swing singer Billie Hawkins and the incomparable Yochanan ("The Space Age Vocalist"). There's also the weirdo Yuletide classic "It's Christmas Time" by the Qualities. On the more straightforward side, there are two lovely renditions of Thelonious Monk tunes sung by Hattie Randolph, including a perfect "'Round Midnight." By the time the set reaches the mid-'60s, Ra and his Arkestra were recording skronky avant-garde pieces. Obviously, the single format doesn't have room for the lengthy freakouts of the Arkestra's concerts, but there are a few tastes of that madness here. There are also some of Ra's more well-known tracks, including the single version of his signature tune, "Rocket #9," which is much slower and bumpier than the fast version on the Space Is the Place album. During the '70s, Ra explored the possibilities of electronic keyboards, resulting in bugged-out electro-funk like the nearly Raymond Scott-sounding "The Perfect Man." While most of the tracks on this collection originate from 45s, thankfully the infamous "Nuclear War," released as a 12" single by post-punk label Y Records in 1982, is also included. The set ends with more spoken intergalactic wisdom and space poetry, including "I Am the Instrument," recorded at home near the end of Ra's life and posthumously released as a CD single packaged with a VHS tape.
The set contains much of Ra's more accessible work, making it an excellent (and very generous) introduction for newcomers, but there's also plenty of material that might've escaped notice from longtime fans.