KING 4530; APRIL 1952



This is hardly the first time we’ve had an artist who got their start in another pre-rock genre move into rock ‘n’ roll to try and stay relevant.

Nor is it even the first time someone who was a key contributor in a supporting role in another genre saw the benefit of being the star in our brand of music. Lots of jazz sax players made similar leaps with success.

But this IS the first time where someone who was actually a key component in a different style of music, not just an aspiring minor contributor, someone with some name recognition who helped to define some major hits along the way, decided to make this transition and eventually came to be defined by that move.

Before they were vilified for insidious political purposes it was often said that no one was more patriotic than an immigrant, for they voluntarily uprooted their lives to move to a new country for greater opportunities and thus never took those opportunities for granted like those who’d been born into it.

Bill Doggett proves that sometimes that was the case in music as well.


Dog Days
By 1952 fewer and fewer rock acts coming along had been born before 1920, but Bill Doggett was one who had, entering the world in 1916 and a little more than two decades later started his career in earnest with Lucky Millinder (becoming yet another rock legend who emerged from that vital pre-rock group in the process). Following his stint with them Doggett became The Ink Spots’ pianist and arranger in the mid-1940’s before doing time with Lionel Hampton.

After the war Wild Bill Davis had introduced the organ to popular music while playing with Louis Jordan and a few years later left to start his own organ trio leaving the job with the biggest star in black America open. Doggett was hired and became Jordan’s arranger just as rock ‘n’ roll slowly began its takeover of the world.

That’s a pretty impressive résumé to have when looking for a new career path. Four of top acts in black music of the 1940’s, including the two biggest, and Bill Doggett played a vital role in all of their careers. He also found time to record sides with Illinois Jacquet, Johnny Otis, Jimmy Witherspoon, Coleman Hawkins, Ella Fitzgerald and Wynonie Harris along the way.

It was while he was with Jordan however that his own future course was set, as he was intrigued by what Davis had done on organ and began to make the move to that instrument himself. The difference though was that Davis’s band, while widely respected, was geared towards live gigs as the jazz singles market was no longer as competitive commercially as it once had been while the album format was in its infancy.

Doggett on the other hand was a studio creature at heart when he left Jordan in 1951, and seeing the rather limited ways to make inroads as a jazz organist in the singles market, he turned to the one field in black music that had championed different approaches and was on the cutting edge of new sounds…. rock ‘n’ roll.

Hence, we have the two part declaration of his intent with Big Dog, a performance that is still a little jazzy around the edges, but he’s on the right label to make inroads into a potentially more welcoming market.

It didn’t quite work out that way at first, as over the next few years he’d still lean back towards jazz more than rock fans would like, but eventually he saw the light and became a rather unlikely rock star and this is where that road began.


Move Over Little Dog, A Big Ol’ Dog Is Movin’ In
As a two-part record we are used to having an extended song to cover, and while technically that may be the case here as well, they are two very different sides with apparently different intentions.

Unfortunately for Doggett the first side is the one which has less going for it, as quite naturally he wants to establish his own organ as the lead instrument from the start so we get a roller rink panorama over just a subtle rhythm.

As it goes on there’s a little more emphasis on accentuating that rhythmic quality, and of course the playing itself is fine, but not until we get the guitar jumping in to add a riff of its own does this get a little more focus and then only fleetingly.

The bridge on Big Dog (Part One), where Doggett drops down and delivers something bordering on ominous, works well and coming out of that into the guitar and organ trade off is nice, but you can see that Doggett is trying to figure out just how to blend these different stylistic attributes and still find an audience. The organ, even in jazz at this point, is not a commercial sound and so his instinct is to try to create a broad mood with it while letting the guitar bring things into sharper focus as you would a normal single.

It doesn’t quite work on the first side, so smartly he tries a slightly different approach as the song continues on the more compact Big Dog (Part Two) which leads off with that effective guitar of Jimmy Cannady before Doggett’s organ slowly creeps in and establishes more of a melody for this side of the record.

The result is a more rousing performance. The organ swells lend a much different texture to this than most songs which have to change notes to achieve a similar effect, while Cannady’s guitar – which gets a lot more time here – provides a more familiar sound for listeners to latch onto as does the omnipresent drumming that keeps a steady beat without feeling the need to get in the way.

Unlike the first side the bridge on the second half sends things off track somewhat, as it’s a fairly awkward transition, though the idea itself to switch things up is fine, and even the simple guitar riff that gets haunted by the organ playing a different response, almost like a distorted echo, sounds good in isolation.

This is a problem that would eventually be solved when Doggett’s group began adding other instruments, namely a tenor sax, which would allow for more variety within a given song, but you can see his mind working all of this out – remember, he’d been just as renowned for his arranging skills as his playing ability – and it’s fascinating to see him try and figure out the right formula in real time.

Yes, it’s still more of a curiosity than anything at this point, but you gotta start somewhere and ultimately the experiment will be successful as long as he sticks with it.


Dog On The Prowl
We tend not to remember when certain things we take for granted instrumentally were still as of yet unproven. The tenor sax solo… the electric guitar leads… the back beat… the organ… at one point in various forms of music those things were alien invaders to the accepted sounds and yet over time they changed the entire makeup of multiple genres.

They didn’t all start in rock ‘n’ roll of course by any means, but rock was what warmly embraced them all without hesitation. The organ may have the least representation in the genre compared to the others – and certainly jazz did pick up on it thanks to Jimmy Smith – but it’s hardly surprising that a music that made its name by breaking rules would be willing to break this one as well.

Big Dog is notable then for that fact more than the music contained within, which is interesting and fairly nice, if ultimately somewhat forgettable otherwise.

If we were breaking them into separate reviews, as with most two-sided singles, Part One would get a (4) and Part Two a (6), so maybe a few of the smarter ones among you can see how the final score breaks down without using a calculator.

But in this case the score isn’t nearly as important as the attempt itself, as they were essentially working without a net in trying something new and fairly radical at the time, and that it turned out as well as it did without any blueprint to base it off is a testament to Doggett’s vision.

It’d take a long while before he’d perfect it, but as first steps go it’s reassuring to say that this is at least headed in the right direction.


(Visit the Artist page of Bill Doggett for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)