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ATLANTA 6000; JUNE 1950



We’ve finally reached the midway point of 1950… something which unfortunately has taken a lot longer than anticipated.

This is now the last record being covered for June 1950 and it comes 14 months after our first review of that decade which probably doesn’t bode well for getting to the current rock scene in your lifetime.

But it’s still a momentous occasion of sorts and so before we head into the second half of 1950 let’s pause a moment for a word from our sponsor…


What’d You Say, Daddy?
This is likely one of the strangest records we’ll cover here, even if we DO eventually make it to the releases of the Twenty First Century. For while this was indeed a commercial release, it was also a “commercial” on a release, as in an ad for a product.

Though the record label wasn’t exactly a real one, the artist sure was and consequently this record actually was a huge hit in parts of the South, even topping the local Atlanta charts in the Cash Box listings.

Though details are sketchy it’s not hard to see how this came about. Wright was based in Atlanta and when not touring or recording in New Jersey for Savoy Records for whom he was contracted he would spend much of his down time around town – clubbing, visiting local big-wigs in music circles and showing off, reveling in his new-found celebrity.

One of those big-wigs around town was Zenas “Daddy” Sears, one of the first white disc jockeys to have a radio show that was focused on rock ‘n’ roll and of course like all radio shows he naturally had sponsors, one of which was 20 Grand Cream Ale… a popular beer.

Sears himself was the primary local pitchman for the product – as seen in the picture here – and certainly a big enough name around town to spread the word about the drink to his constituency. But while he was widely beloved in the black community for his program as well as his progressive Civil Rights stance both of which made him radical in the South at the time, he wouldn’t be quite as effective selling this stuff as an even bigger name from that very community would be.

Someone like Billy Wright.

Perhaps this is just a case of one hand washing the other, a typical quid pro quo deal that benefited both parties… Sears got a huge star to do his primary sponsor a favor while Wright made the number one rock ‘n’ roll disc jockey in the state happy which would guarantee that his records would be heavily plugged and his local appearances promoted on the air.

But while all that undoubtedly is true, it’s worth noting that while also appearing on air on WGST, Sears had been overseeing local talent shows where aspiring artists looking to break into the big-time got their start, among them Little Richard, Chuck Willis (whom he later managed) and Tommy Brown (who co-wrote this, suggesting perhaps that he had been singing it on radio if nothing else prior to this). Another who graced those stages before he launched his recording career in mid-1949 was Billy Wright and so their connection went back a little ways before they got together for Man’s Brand Boogie.

Whatever the impetus behind this “favor” – whether genuine friendship or merely a mercenary deal for both – this was no rush-job hastily worked out in the radio booth wherein Wright ad-libbed a few lines to a familiar melody to pitch a product which Sears surreptitiously recorded and played incessantly after Wright went on his way. Nope, this was a full length composition – a full song in every sense of the word and that’s what makes it somewhat unusual in the annals of rock ‘n’ roll.

In The Bottle And In The Can
One of the unavoidable, but still sometimes frustrating, aspects of the music business is that the way in which audiences are exposed to artists is through their records… a tightly controlled performance in other words.

Though this is surely a good thing for their musical legacy – it’d be damn near impossible seventy one years later to be writing in this much depth about artists who never cut a record basing all of our information on word of mouth testimonials about how they sang in a club or on a street corner somewhere – it is still by nature a somewhat artificial representation of who they were as people.

Songs were written to be musically appealing not personally revealing and while the lyrics may help to create an artist’s image, they were still shaped for mass consumption and thus not always a true reflection of their personalities.

Man’s Brand Boogie sort of blurs those lines, for while it was definitely a song that had been composed in advance and worked out pretty well to make it seem less like a sales pitch and more like a regular song, there’s still a very casual off-the-cuff feel to it that makes it a rare opportunity for listeners – then and now – to get some idea of who Billy Wright was and what he was like.

Maybe the best recommendation for such an unusual song is that it’s hard NOT to like him more after hearing it.


Got Just What It Takes
You can tell this was a sizable production because Wright is backed by a full combo here – horns, piano, bass and drums – though they sit out during the introduction which finds Wright and a female counterpart trading off lines “arguing” over whether 20 Grand is a man’s brand, as he claims, or a woman’s brand, all while backed by insistent hand-claps which establishes a strong propulsive groove.

When the band does enter the picture they’re playing a simple but effective generic rock track with a repetitive horn riff that does what it needs to get you hooked with little fuss. The subsequent sax solo is actually worked out pretty well, although because there’s spoken “ad-libbing” going on over it then it probably can’t rightly be called an instrumental break, but it’s a good one regardless of what you call it with a nice tension to the drawn out lines, winding upward as they go.

The real story though isn’t the musical side of the equation, it’s what Wright is doing to sell the beer, sell the song and sell himself as a character in the process.

The lyrics of Man’s Brand Boogie are sort of up and down, as you might expect for a song whose main objective is to hawk something. The first lines are pretty good and you wouldn’t think this was anything but a normal record until the second stanza tries awkwardly cramming in the sales pitch for “the best brand in the land” as he compares his baby to the beer.

It’s not QUITE as weird as that makes it out to be, but it’s still a little forced.

But when the sax starts soling and Billy and the girl he’s singing with have a lively spoken back and forth exchange it really picks up, their sparring was clearly written in advance but they sound as if it’s all off the top of their heads with plenty of hooting and hollering going on as they deliver their lines to add to the casual feel.

The best part though is what follows… again, something designed to seem ad-libbed but far too cleverly risque to be left to chance… as Wright begins singing what appears to be some risque rhymes leading to him following the word “glass” with something that starts off “and cool off your…”

The girl jumps back in, feigning panic and squealing ”Noooo!” and Billy stops and now speaking tells her he was going to say ”cool off your THROAT!” rather than the obvious term for a female’s posterior.

The deliveries make it much funnier than the written description can hope to convey and you also need to remember this was 1950 when the public utterance of the word “ass”, especially in the repressive South, would probably get you sentenced to thirty years on a chain gang, so to even go this far in pushing the boundaries for a commercial was pretty daring.

Things sort of break down from there structurally as the best ideas have been used and the trumpet starts intruding a little too much, but I guarantee that they sold a lot of beer with something this elaborate… not to mention a lot of records, which is the unexpected side benefit to this endeavor.

Take My Advice
Whoever’s idea it was to press up copies of this song and sell them however far the radio signal reached was ingenious. Since jukebox play was still the dominant form of exposure for rock ‘n’ roll, despite Sears’s own radio program which was starting to prove it could be popular over the airwaves as well, the “Atlanta” record label – surely Sears himself and an enterprising a partner or two – only had to get those records in jukeboxes to earn some money because listeners who heard him spinning it once a night on the radio would then seek it out to hear on their own and they’d pocket the profits. No sales force, distributors or royalties required.

Billy Wright himself might not have gotten any payments out of Man’s Brand Boogie but for once there’d be no cause to complain that a company was ripping off its artists.

This was a bonus record for him of sorts, a selling job, for the beer yes, but moreover for his own career, giving audiences a chance to hear him in a different context and make him a little more relatable.

That it was a good enough song in spite of its more mercenary goals is a testament to their natural skills, and so while Spontaneous Lunacy proudly avoids cluttering these pages with banner ads, this is one advertisement that we definitely don’t object to.


(Visit the Artist page of Billy Wright for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)