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ALADDIN 3058; MAY 1950



There’s long been a myth regarding rock’s origins that we’ve gone to great lengths to unravel step by step, which states that the music was the melding of two cultures, black AND white, and two styles representing those cultures, the catch-all term of rhythm and blues (encompassing jazz, gospel and blues) and country and western.

But clearly this was ex post facto Cacuasian propaganda to try and claim some tangible credit for the creation of the 20th Century’s most indelible music, for as we’ve seen country music had absolutely, positively nothing whatsoever to do with either rock’s creation or its subsequent popularization.

Yet the belief persists in many circles and even has caused some writers to go back and try and dredge up country tunes of this era as being directly connected to rock ‘n’ roll… such as this composition, whose only tangible connection to rock music is that Amos Milburn covered it.

Everybody’s Dancing And Jumping Too
One of the figures who pops up fairly frequently in these deluded attempts at musical appropriation is Hardrock Gunter, the professional name of the man born Sidney Gunter, a 32 year old from Alabama whose group, The Pebbles, added a modest boogie piano to the standard C&W lineup with steel guitar and fiddle.

Maybe that was all it took to open up white Southerners to the possibility there was something worth pursuing outside their own rigidly narrow musical experiences, and so when his original record Birmingham Bounce was released in the spring of 1950 it became the hot novelty record of the moment.

As what happened earlier this year with Red Foley’s country novelty Chattonoogie Shoe Shine Boy, other record companies scrambled to cover it in all different kinds of styles, yet another example of the prevailing mindset of the day when it came to selling records.

It was Foley himself who kicked things off with a version that topped the Country Charts and with that the floodgates opened as more country offerings from Tex Williams and Pee Wee King followed, as did a big band rendition by Tommy Dorsey and even one for jazz fans by Lionel Hampton (which did quite well in Alabama, showing apparently that Black Southerners either had a sense of humor or were gleefully sticking it to their cultural oppressors by co-opting it themselves).

Everywhere you looked it seemed another artist – Ted Heath, Chuck Merrill and even Art Lund – were singing the praises of this supposed rural craze, all desperately hoping to get a piece of the action.

Rock, which had largely remained out of this kind of musical annexation before 1950, jumped in with Milburn’s rendition, which it should go without saying, is the first that Birmingham Bounce sounded anything at all like rock ‘n’ roll.


When You Come Down South And Want A Good Time
The differences right away are plainly obvious. While both Gunter and Milburn start off with a solid piano boogie, they quickly diverge in their backing as the fiddle moves to the forefront of the country tune of Gunter’s, while Milburn’s rock take on the song highlights the horns.

Truthfully even Amos’s gang isn’t fully throttling their saxophones the way they really need to, as they’re treading somewhat lightly even though the rhythm they’re providing is still miles ahead of Gunter’s during this section.

Vocally there’s also quite a difference. Gunter’s twang-filled lines are semi-spoken, slightly drawled at times, and with a good-natured cheerfulness that takes the edge off them, giving the impression that he’s not altogether serious about what he’s saying. It’s almost as if he’s going out of his way to make sure you understand this is to be taken as sort of a lighthearted joke… a send-up of something alien to his own constituency’s culture.

It’s not mean-spirited or condescending in any way, but it’s also not a whole-hearted embrace of the mindset behind its purported influences.

Milburn on the other hand is vocally emphasizing the rhythm, doubling up on it with those saxes, transforming the entire feel of the record well beyond the different instrumental qualities they both feature. Whereas Gunter’s is describing something from the outside looking in trying merely to interpret it for his listeners, Milburn is immersed in the bedlam they’re trying to create.

There’s no question which sounds more vibrant as Amos is comfortable rattling off descriptions of these sights and sounds while Gunter is far more self-conscious about it. But the fact is the lyrics actually were written for that type of outsider delivery, which is to say that while Milburn makes them sound better, in doing so he detracts from the unique perspective that Hardrock was providing.

Proof of this is found in the utterly gimmicky nature of it all. Gunter has woven in all of these showpieces – a sudden drum break, a fiddle solo, another for the steel guitar along with moments where all of the instruments drop out altogether to let Gunter hit you with the resolution to certain lines – all of which make Birmingham Bounce an instructive novelty record, nothing more.

Remember, since it’s NOT a rock song (in any way) as written, that makes Amos Milburn the interloper in the story that’s being spun by the lyrics.

Musically however is a slightly different matter.

A Funny Little Rhythm With A Solid Sound
When Milburn alters one of the lyrics to tell us ”It’s an old Milburn tune with a high-diddle-diddle/Let’s all dance to the sax and the fiddle” it not only changes the authorship in an off-handed way, but also epitomizes the vastly different mindsets behind the two competing versions.

Gunter’s line references a notoriously racist tune – “Whether it’s Old Black Joe or High-Diddle-Diddle”, then concludes it by saying “Everybody dance to a hillbilly fiddle” which leads into that high-pitched fiddle solo.

In other words you’re still doing a barn dance amongst all white faces. There’s no change in the actual atmosphere despite a few earlier references to boogie beats. It’s a country song through and through, except it’s a dancer not a weeper which made it somewhat unusual for its time.

Milburn’s though rocks out in the breaks on his record with stabbing horns that get almost violent as Don Wilkerson’s tenor sounds like it’s trying to shred the speaker cones with spastic fury. They ease off some after that, much to its detriment in fact, but even so Milburn’s Birmingham Bounce never lets up on the insistent energy.

The crude recording conditions (Milburn was called on the road while touring Florida and told to cover this and had to make due with what he could find in Pensacola, which meant no traditional studio or skilled engineer) means that Johnny Brown’s deft guitar solo is muddy and wanders off-mic, but the song still gives off a palpable vibe of electricity even though it’s highly doubtful that any of them from Milburn on down were enthusiastic about recording it.

By the end of Gunter’s record you got the sense his group enjoyed stretching out on something they didn’t take very seriously, or at least figured the audience wouldn’t take seriously. On the other hand while Milburn doesn’t sound as if he was taking the material seriously either, their musical firepower – even if tamed down some by comparison to much of their output – still burned far hotter than anything Hardrock Gunter could dream of and anything the country audience, even the most tolerant of them, would dare to allow.


I Know How To Make It Best By Far
The story of Hardrock Gunter and his tentative forays into something that was at least cognizant of a new musical maelstrom that was already well underway is interesting perhaps, but not very relevant to rock’s story except well down the road.

The best analogy would probably be to compare Gunter’s role for future white rock artists to that of black groups from the early 1940’s like Three Sharps & A Flat, The Five Red Caps or Lucky Millinder, all of whom had some faint hint of things on the horizon which they themselves were unwilling or unable to capture.

But unlike them, Hardrock Gunter wasn’t even that prescient when you think about it, since rock ‘n’ roll DID exist when he cut Birmingham Bounce and so white or not, he would never be allowed in the discussion of early rock acts if he couldn’t at least show more facility for the style than this… or its frequently lauded, but no less ill-fitting follow-ups Gonna Dance All Night or Lonesome Blues… none of which were close to rock ‘n’ roll even if they were a fair distance from mainstream country too.

The one kicker to the story is that Gunter… when white rock ‘n’ roll came along and reasonably showed how it could be done by adding elements of a different cultural DNA into the existing blueprints… would go back and re-cut this song in a shorter (1:50) more guitar-oriented version (ironic considering it had been the piano – an instrument not on this later version at all – which had seemingly made the Bama Records original qualified to be called pre-historic rock in some people’s minds) for Island (not to mention a remake of Gonna Dance All Night for Sun Records that Sam Phillips had the good sense to add a saxophone to) but by then it was far too little and far too late for him to reap any benefit from it.

As for Milburn’s version which should be the ONLY thing that ever leads Hardrock Gunter to be discussed in rock’s story, the fact he was able to take an awkward and musically flimsy song and make it even an average rock record for its day is testament to his and the band’s abilities. Unfortunately those skills were sadly going to waste at this time by covering pointless records such as this rather than coming up with their own material which was what helped rock ‘n’ roll to become so big in the first place that guys like Hardrock Gunter would want to artificially try and claim some credit for it down the road.


(Visit the Artist page of Amos Milburn for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)