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DECCA 48100; MARCH, 1949

 
 

 

In any look back on the complex historical evolution of a cultural movement, a philosophy, an entire civilization for that matter… or something even more important than all of that such as a style of music… there’s bound to be moments where all sorts of things already touched upon earlier in the study sort of coalesce.

At a certain point there comes a sudden blending of divergent storylines which tightens the narrative and sends it hurtling off into the next phase of the developmental stage.

Oftentimes these moments aren’t noticed when they’re happening and don’t become apparent until much later on when we can look back and see things from a broader perspective. In fact they need not always be momentous events unto themselves as much as they are a symbolic sign of a much larger ongoing occurrence.

Their very existence though provides confirmation of the transformative nature of the proceedings, a signpost on the road towards the promised land.

Maybe it’s fitting that rock’s first female artist was the one behind the wheel for just such an occasion, for while Albennie Jones’ presence in rock ‘n’ roll lasted just a few years before she faded away into near obscurity the trails she blazed in that brief time on the scene and the vocal prowess she exhibited demanded she be celebrated… or at the very least earned her the right to simply be remembered.
 

 
We know all too well now that she wouldn’t be remembered in the long run, not much anyway, as time has a way of obscuring all but the brightest stars in the sky. But even as the recognition for rock’s earliest days grows ever more dim with each passing year, if you look up at just the right time in just the right spot you might just see the one record of hers that still flickers enough in the vast expanse of darkness at the farthest reaches of the rock galaxy to catch your eye.

With the release of Hole In The Wall Jones stakes her claim for a sliver of immortality as with this record a number of threads of rock’s journey to this point in time become interwoven and grow stronger as they rush headlong into the future.
 

See If My Baby Can Stand The Test
The ongoing saga of Albennie Jones, the First Lady Of Rock as it were, has been of particular interest here on Spontaneous Lunacy since we were knocked out by her first two sides in rock ‘n’ roll’s very first month of existence.

Those performances showed her to be a vocalist of remarkable ability, her voice powerful yet nuanced and handled by Jones with tremendous judgment. Her potential seemed limitless. She recorded for one of the major labels, Decca, which gave her an opportunity for widespread promotion that most rock artists on small independent labels couldn’t hope to receive. She had working behind her some of the most gifted musicians in the field, most prominent among them pianist Sammy Price and guitarist Billy Butler, whose combined work on those sides was almost as revelatory as her singing had been. Though the record itself required a bit more concentration and sensitivity of the listener to fully connect than the gaudier numbers others would be issuing in the field, it still seemed a decent bet that if anyone was likely to help carry rock forward, perhaps give it some critical respect to go along with whatever commercial impact it had through the work of others, it’d be Albennie Jones.

We know now that wasn’t to be.

Though her subsequent records showcased many of the same attributes, the deftness of touch seemed to be missing ever so slightly and as such the results were a bit more heavy handed. Since those records, the brilliant first effort or the ensuing follow-ups, weren’t actual HITS made her destined to be a largely forgotten figure from the early days of rock’s story. She’d soon be swept aside by bigger, more successful names and relegated to the also-ran designation at the back of the book, an otherwise obscure name contained in the index that rarely if ever was referred to.

So the first beneficiary of the rousing Hole In The Wall is Jones herself, who gets rescued from total historical obscurity as a result of a record that so clearly highlights her abilities in much more unambiguous fashion than her previous works of art.

The other aspects of the record – and rock’s position in the world – that come into play with this can only be discerned by hearing it, which means this is as good a time as any for the actual review of the music within to start.
 


 
 

I’ve Been Holding My Own For A Long Long While
What struck us about Jones’ first forays into the rock field was how brilliantly she handled different tempos to convey different underlying sentiments, from the agonizingly slow ache of The Rain Is Falling on the one side which spoke of a desperate yearning for physical release, to the faster paced Papa Tree Top Blues on the flip on which she seemed to have found the man to give her such a release. But since that time the bulk of her material has stuck comfortably in between those extremes, choosing to draw from both simultaneously which largely de-emphasized each delivery’s greatest attributes.

With Hole In The Wall however they finally turn her loose. While it still retains a structural familiarity, melodically speaking anyway as her cadences fall in the same fashion as we’re used to with her, this is running on much higher octane fuel as she revs up the delivery and doesn’t hold back. There’s electricity in her voice, a focused intensity and a sense of utter liberation that we haven’t encountered before and the results are exhilarating.
 

 

Throughout the record she’s spurred on by the backing which for once doesn’t rely nearly as much on the aforementioned duo of Sammy Price and Billy Butler on piano and guitar respectively. Instead this is horn driven and even as those horns are somewhat outdated, with the great Hot Lips Page leading the show on trumpet, the individual components take a back seat to the task of merely adding to the vibrant noise they all create. There IS a sax solo 2/3rds of the way through which starts off with a paint peeling squeal before settling down some, but even that raucous interlude doesn’t last long as Albennie seems raring to get back in the driver’s seat.

Kicking her in the ass throughout all of this is the most prominent backbeat she’s encountered to date, propelled by rhythmic handclapping worthy of a revival meeting and some steady drumming that occasionally breaks through for a brief flourish placed front and center. All of this gives the impression of it veering dangerously close to running off the rails yet Jones keeps her hands on the reins just enough to prevent them from running away from her. The band has never sounded more alive and provide a base from which to build a monument.

The rest is all Jones.
 

Show My Man I’m The Best In Town
Her voice has the swaggering self-assurance of someone who fully understands her appeal (musically and, in the context of the song, physically as well). The lyrics lay this perspective out in no uncertain terms from the start, as she dives right in at full throttle, wailing away with excited anticipation of her forthcoming night on the town.

She’s got a man – of course she does – but by the sounds of it (not so much by what she says but rather the WAY she says it) she expects that even more guys will be tripping over themselves in an effort to win her over as well. She’s not doing anything to discourage them either, wearing the hottest clothes (“gonna stack my frame in my Sunday best!”, she cries), flaunting it shamelessly.

Though she seems more than a little interested in revving her man’s motor… okay she sounds HORNY, dammit!… what really comes across in this performance isn’t her singular attraction to him as much as her burning desire to get out on the town and wield the power she knows she now possesses. She’s taking full control over this situation, telling her man to be ready and waiting for her when she arrives, even ordering him to tell his parents not to wait up for them. Let’s just hope this is no wet behind the ears kid she’s hooked because if so he’s not going to be able to keep up, though by the sounds of it that won’t slow her down in the least, she’ll dump him for another and then – if need be – another still.

By the end of the song the energy exhibited is positively radiating from her body and we even manage to hear Jones commenting off-mic to the musicians or producers in the fade, unwilling or unable to contain herself after such a torrid display they collectively laid down.

It’s as if they all knew they’d just harnessed the power of an atom bomb in the studio and translated it to wax to unleash on the world.
 

Gonna Rock n’ Roll Tonight
The sights and sounds and overall energy of the entire scene that unfolds within the confines of the record is intoxicating. It perfectly encapsulates the kind of night that is apt to end with the participants blacking out and waking up in a cell somewhere, but the stories they’ll tell about their adventures leading up to that will last a lot longer than whatever sentence they pull from the judge for drunk and disorderly, disturbing the peace and whatever other crimes against sedate humanity they dream up to justify their incarceration.

Which dovetails nicely into the other attributes Hole In The Wall possesses and makes this an even more noteworthy entry into the rock canon than the mere excitement of the performance would merit on its own.

Structurally it’s pretty clear where the inspiration, if not outright theft, of this came from. The chassis the song is built upon belongs to none other than Roy Brown’s Good Rocking Tonight which of course was the very first rock ‘n’ roll song way back in September, 1947. It also steals shamelessly from Wynonie Harris’s chart topping cover of Good Rockin’ Tonight, specifically in the hand-clapped backbeat which gives them both so much energy and forward momentum. You could even throw in the loose connection to Amos Milburn’s recent chart-topper Chicken Shack Boogie as this one also refers to such a wayward yet happenin’ spot.

In other words this was acknowledging the past and yet still building upon it for the future, stripping all of the earlier prototypes for parts, refitting them and polishing them to a brilliant shine.

Yet it doesn’t stop there, though here the similarities are merely coincidental rather than intentional, as like Brown’s recent updating of the theme in Rockin’ At Midnight this shores up the age-related deficiencies of the original models by speeding it up to accentuate the reckless spirit of those involved as well as shedding some of the more restrained vocal mannerisms, giving it a streamlined sound that makes it sound startlingly immediate to the senses still trying to catch up to what’s come before.

But we’re still not done with the vital additions, not the least of which is the outright declaration of the TERM “rock ‘n’ roll” which adorns this song in its most spotlighted lyrical moments, validating the entire movement as something far more planned than anyone in the years since have given credit for. They’ve even altered the designation of Price’s band on the label to read “featuring Sam Price & His Rockin’ Rhythm” as if to emphasize their intent and there can be little doubt these efforts had their effect, as Billboard magazine’s enthusiastic review for it called the record “a slam bang rocker”, certifying the concept to the industry and the nation at large in the process.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that rock ‘n’ roll didn’t exist in the late 1940’s. It not only existed, but as Albennie Jones and company showed, it thrived.
 

You Better Be Ready
The significance of ALL of this is the fact that a year and a half into rock’s lifespan the participants in the music were showing they were consciously aware of it all. This could no longer be passed off as cosmic happenstance, a random convergence of a few far-flung shared attributes that was as much a fluke as anything else.

No more. The songs, the artists, the audience were now feeding off one another, adding more fuel to the rock ‘n’ roll fire at every turn, in the process turning it into a raging inferno. There was now a shared history they were all invested in and songs like this were celebrating that history and expanding upon its possibilities for the future.

In many ways, though there’s still eight months to go before the new decade arrives, Hole In The Wall was the culmination of the forties rock scene, a perfect distillation of everything it had been up to now and a sneak preview of the confident, even arrogant, attitude it’d embody heading forward.
 

 

For Jones it proved to be the peak of her career, certainly the fulfillment of the promise we’ve been long touting on these pages and as such a validation of her abilities themselves and her ability to connect. Seven decades down the road modern listeners with an interest in the deeper story of the music often refer to this song as a jumping off point for the rock phenomenon.

Whatever its specific role in rock’s story, whether kick-starting a more unbridled approach for the music overall or just for women within rock, or merely serving as a summation of everything that has come to pass thus far, there can be no mistaking the intent of those partaking in the journey.

Rock ‘n’ roll’s clarion call for freedom was now ringing out loud and clear. It was gonna be loud, it was gonna be insistent and it was gonna be unapologetic about it and to hell with anyone who might try and resist its pull.

Those dragged into this hole in the wall whether by force or by the intrigue of what lay behind those walls, were not going to be able to resist for long. The walls that held this music back from penetrating society at large were starting to crumble and soon would come crashing down.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Albennie Jones for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)