There are albums that assume an importance in your life and "Playing for Keeps" by Big Twist and the Mellow Fellows is one of them. Playing this album once more brought back so many memories. Like seeing the video for "300 Pounds of Heavenly Joy" on a video jukebox (you don't see many of those these days …) way back in 1983.
As many of you will no doubt be unfamiliar with the band, a few words of introduction might be welcome. Big Twist and the Mellow Fellows were a Chicago based r&b band that, like most of their contemporaries in the genre, made a decent living out of live performance. Besides the rich, deep tones of their lead singer the late Larry Nolan, they also featured legendary sax player and producer Gene Barge (aka Daddy G) and the greatly underrated guitarist Pete Special. They recorded a couple of albums for Flying Fish and a couple for Alligator (released here in the UK on Sonet).
On this album - their studio album for Alligator - they showed a remarkable poise through as they romped through a collection of songs penned by members of the band alongside r&b standards like Tony Joe White's "Polk Salad Annie". There is just something about a horn section that gives a party feel to music and this album is no exception. It was also the album that triggered the dormant record collecting gene and the wallet got really and truly punished after that. First it was other releases on the Alligator label like Bobby Bland's "Members Only" and then it was off on an expensive voyage of discovery through the blues and early doo wop. Worth every penny it was too!
Even today, when I listen to this album, I find myself moved by Larry Nolan's voice (try "Just One Woman" for an example) and when I think of him in the video for "300 Pounds of Heavenly Song" resplendent in a suit and borsalino hat - remember this was the eighties when fashion, like music, was suffering from a serious case of desperation - I knew what real style was. Sad to think that Larry Nolan is no longer with us but at least you can still get this album (and the "Live in Chicago" set as well) on CD. Everybody needs a bit of Big Twist & the Mellow Fellows in their life.