Fantasy Records F-9006 (stereo; 2 record set) (USA), 1975
This ambitious project took many years to bring to fruition, first existing in a book by Diane Lampert, Peter Farrow and George W. George, with the music later composed by Julian 'Cannoball' Adderley and his brother, Nat Adderley. It dramatizes the legend of John Henry, "a steel-drivin' man", who worked on the railroads in America's South just after the Civil War, when, legend has it, he worked himself to death trying to out-do an automatic track-laying machine. Not your usual Adderley album, this has no jazz solos per se, and 'Cannonball' is only listed as playing alto saxophone with the large orchestra which accompanies the singers. The main characters are played by Joe Williams (John Henry), Randy Crawford (Carolina), Robert Guillaume (Jassawa), Judy Thames (whore), and Lane Smith (Sheriff and Bull Maree). Williams is of course the famed vocalist who came to prominence in the 1950s with the Count Basie Orchestra, Guillaume starred in the '70s TV smash series "Soap", then went on to have a further hit series as the butler in "Benson", while the then 21-year-old Crawford, of course, went on to have a dazzling career, singing "Street Life" with The Crusaders as well as having many other hits. In the orchestra, we have a full string section, with Jack Shulman (concertmaster), Bernard Kundell, William Henderson, Jerome Reisler, Henry Roth, Arthur H. Brown, Mary Newkirk, Pamela Goldsmith, Gareth Nuttycombe, Alexander Neiman, William Hymanson, Alfred Lustgarten, Kathleen Lustgarten, and Edgar Lustgarten (who also features on cello on "The Roger Kellaway Cello Quartet", A & M Records, 1970; see my future listings for this rare album). As well as 'Cannonball' on alto, the other musicians are: Allen De Rienzo, Oliver Mitchell, Oscar Brashear, trumpets; Dick 'Slyde' Hyde, George Bohanon, trombones; William Green, Jackie Kelso, Donald Menza, Jay Migliori, reeds;Jimmy Jones, piano; Dawili Gonga, keyboards; Billy Fender, Don Peake, guitars; Carol Kaye, Walter Booker, basses; Roy McCurdy, drums; Airto Moriera, King Errisson, percussion.
In the chorus are: Mortronette Jenkins, Gwendolyn Owens, Jessie Richardson, Stephanie Spruill, Vernettya Royster, Donald Dandridge, Sherwood Sledge, Fleming Williams, Charles May, Josef Powell, Michael Gray, and Billie Barnum. A note of interest: Most of the orchestral and string players above were active on the Hollywood recording scene in the mid-'70s, leading me to believe that this was actually recorded in Hollywood and mastered at Fantasy's studios in Berkely, despite what the liner notes say.