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RCA 22-0125; MAY 1951



There are some people who, because of either personality or upbringing, make for ideal “company men”.

They’re the types who dutifully subject themselves to the goals of those in positions of power, whether their parents, teachers or coaches when they’re kids or their employers as adults, putting aside their own aspirations for the good of the rigidly structured unit they belong to at the time.

Rock ‘n’ rollers are generally not of this mindset. They’re the rebellious kids who broke every rule growing up, who flaunted authority rather than bend to it, and who chose a profession – and specifically a brand of music within that profession – where artistic independence was valued far more than conformity.

Big John Greer is the exception that proves the rule however. A company man who smiled and did as he was told, trying hard to live up to the expectations of others rather than craft his own identity.

Normally this is not the kind of person we’d respect, let alone champion, but Greer was doggedly competent in a way that defies expectations and so good-natured about it that you can’t help but be won over at times.


‘Til Things Get Rough
As always is the case with Greer’s records on RCA that are attempting to reach the rock audience we know a couple of things about this record going in…

The first is that he’s not entirely following his own muse here, either the songs themselves or the playing style. It’s not that he was drastically opposed to such histrionics, but rather that it simply didn’t come naturally to him. For starters he’d come up in a different era, got established playing a different type of music, albeit a direct precursor to rock, and his mild persona on of top that meant he was hardly suited to the kind of showmanship that most rock acts made their name on.

The second thing we know is that RCA was not exactly aiming for authenticity when it came to their rather limited rock output but instead were attempting to merely replicate some surface attributes, usually in a toned down more socially acceptable manner, in the hopes that it’d pull in some fans who then might be turned on to the pop-leaning sides they also were releasing.

One of those meek efforts is found on the A-side of this release where we get Greer’s heartfelt reading of a song that was actually written by King Records resident rock producer, Henry Glover called When You Love (You Should Love From The Start), a dreadful pop production which makes it sound as if Greer had never in his life heard the definition of “love” let alone experienced it firsthand.

Yet even there he was just as competent pulling off that dreadfully square style as he proved to be when trying to rock up a storm on Clambake Boogie and that adaptability is what made him appealing to a company such as RCA.

With Greer as their poster boy for their brand of rock ‘n’ roll they stood to capitalize on the music without having to sell their soul to the Devil and put up with a petulant self-absorbed genuine rocker in the process, and if this music gradually fizzled out as they all hoped then they still had someone who could make for a reasonable pop act and would dutifully go along with the change in plans without putting up a fuss.

That’s a hard – and potentially schizophrenic – task for any artist to handle, but Greer did it without complaint and more impressively without completely alienating the diametrically opposed fans of these two disparate styles.

You Can Raise The Roof
The horns that open this are a little too mannered in their attempts to stir up excitement revealing the conflicted mindsets of the band and producers when it comes to conveying the right mood but Greer’s aggressive delivery is unquestionably legitimate, even somewhat impassioned all things considered.

His vocal tone itself may be a little refined, but that’s the fault of his larynx not his determination and as a result he’s selling this with the proper attitude allowing you to pick up on his enthusiasm while sloughing off the under-powered horns that are attempting to pull him back in time by about five years.

That’s all well and good, you’re probably saying, congratulating Greer for at least embodying the character he’s being asked to play, but surely any song calling itself something as lame as Clambake Boogie isn’t going to have the lyrical goods to impress us, so his effort is bound to be in vain.

After all, clambakes are something for the moneyed beach club set where the men wear pastel sweaters draped over their shoulders to show how casual they are and their wives and girlfriends – usually they have both – are all perky blonde airheads named Muffy (which tends to lead to confusion in conversations).

True enough, but while the setting for this song is completely out of touch for rock ‘n’ roll, the rest of the content is more on point, as we get the makings of a genuine party replete with “good looking chicks” who are being encouraged to drink, fight and raise sand while Greer earns our lasting respect by announcing “if the cops start comin’ we can throw ‘em out”.

To put it another way, there’s no chance in hell that anyone else employed by RCA Records was going to go to THIS kind of party which means we won’t have to fumigate the area or be on the lookout for narcs while we’re there.

As if that wasn’t enough to convince you we get a wholly convincing tenor sax solo – not by Greer however as he calls out to “Harry” to start honking. This was probably Harry Johnson who was playing with Greer in Lucky Millinder’s band at the time and while Greer himself was a helluva sax player, Harry is blowing up a storm here giving this even more kick.

It also proves that while most talented musicians are technically capable of carrying off this style, only those who fully commit to it can do so convincingly and Millinder’s crew who always seemed so hesitant to do so on their own sides manage to flip that switch here… or at least some of them do.


Tell All The Bad Cats
Though the record can’t keep up that fury after the break it’s still the most convincing Greer has sounded as a rock act and though it’s doubtful anyone at RCA could tell the difference between good and bad – or more likely felt what was good in rock was actually bad – they were inching closer to their aims at attracting some attention for these efforts.

You like to think that Greer got some personal satisfaction from his forays into rock ‘n’ roll, especially now that he was clearly becoming more comfortable in the role, but that malleable artistic approach of his always makes him difficult to read.

Maybe Clambake Boogie genuinely excited him as it allowed him to shed his mild outward appearance along with his dinner jacket, roll up his sleeves and let out some of the lust for life in the fast lane lurking deep in his repressed soul.

Then again, maybe he was just so conditioned to do as he was told that he was able to work himself into the right frame of mind for three minutes and spurred on by some suitable playing got in the spirit until the producer yelled “cut”.

Either way though the results are the same… solid workman-like rock ‘n’ roll from somebody who by now has proven his mettle as a rocker, regardless of whether pursuing these sensationalistic musical goals had been his idea or just something that he was required to do in order to satisfy the demands of others.


(Visit the Artist page of Big John Greer for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)