No tags :(

Share it

JUBILEE 5058; MAY 1951



For most of its run since opening its doors in 1948 Jubilee Records has been a one group label, at least when it came to rock ‘n’ roll.

Their fortunes rode on the backs of The Orioles and while they took them farther than most independent companies got, scoring a bunch of hits including some chart toppers along the way, eventually their wings were going to get tired carrying the entire load by themselves.

But when Jubilee HAS seen fit to release an occasional rock single by somebody else it’s usually been a one and done proposition and more often than not it wasn’t even an artist seeking a recording career of their own, but rather a session musician convinced to cut a record in the downtime from their primary job.

That’s the case here as well, except this happens to be someone whose name has popped up before this without us ever actually getting a chance to be formally introduced to him.


Everybody Going To Town
For those who tend not to closely follow the careers of largely anonymous sidemen in the music industry seven decades in the past, Buddy Lucas was a prolific presence on the New York studio scene in the 1950’s and 60’s playing saxophone (and some harmonica) on countless monster hits over that time.

Though he hasn’t yet been featured as a musician as far as we know, he’s already made a limited impact in rock thanks to writing a few songs for 15 year old ingénue Sylvia Vanderpool last year. This raised questions at the time which we still can’t answer, namely how did his songs get to her? Did he write them FOR her specifically and she took them to the sessions, or was he contracted by the label to supply her with material yet NOT hired to play on the records?

The latter seems unlikely, for how would Columbia Records, one of the biggest pop labels in the world, have found out about Buddy Lucas in the first place unless it was through his playing and either way what would prompt them to ask him to write songs for a vocalist when he hadn’t done so before?

That the songs were pretty good, and certainly in the case of Sharp Little Sister seemed tailor made for Vanderpool, makes it all the more intriguing.

But here at least we know “what’s what” going into this release. Jubilee had recently hired him to lead their studio band and so it was only natural they give him a release of his own to maybe help make a name for himself in the process.

Having already proven that he could write music AND lyrics that’s what he does on Sopping Molasses, showing the label that while they might be thinking of him strictly as a horn player, he was going to prove to them that he could sing too and in the process maybe give the company what they’ve lacked these last three years – a viable second rock star.

Wants To Know What She Was Puttin’ Down
We’ve heard a few sax players open their mouths for something other than blowing or eating… wait, that doesn’t sound good. Umm, let’s say “for something other than their primary job in a studio” and it hasn’t always been for the best. Singing and playing are two vastly different skill sets and while a musician may be capable of carrying a tune, they weren’t necessarily capable of really putting it across with much panache.

Lucas’s voice is the first thing you hear on this record though, chanting the title line before horns come in sounding a little out of date… not mid-40’s big band style, but late 40’s transitional style at least.

That’s just the prelude though because Sopping Molasses is clearly more of a vocal record than it is an instrumental that just happens to have a few vocal interludes to give it an identity.

Like so many sax instrumentals in rock however the topic has to do with tastes specific to the black culinary experience, as if the thought of food alone will be enough to spend your money to play a record rather than buy a meal. Because of this the lyrics are pretty disposable… how many insightful, entertaining or interesting observations can you make about molasses?

What’s worse is the song is pretty much a straight lift of Stick McGhee’s two wine based songs, mostly Drank Up All The Wine Last Night from which it borrows the structure of the verses with the “mop mop” hook swiped from Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee for good measure. Since there are horns on the former cut you wonder if Lucas might’ve been on that October 1949 session but there’s no personnel available for it but Lucas’s proper career as a rock sessionist doesn’t appear to have begun until the start of the Fifties so it’s unlikely.

Though the song itself is nothing new in theme, construction or melodic inflections, it’s nice to at least be able to report that Lucas’s vocals are pretty good, certainly better than most sax players moonlighting as singers have been. He’s actually slightly comparable to McGhee in that they both have a rough texture to their voices, though Lucas doesn’t have quite the resonance that Stick has, nor the hard metallic edge to his tone. Still, he sounds perfectly fine and you’d never guess that singing was his second – or third, if you count songwriting – talent on his depth chart.

What we’re waiting for though is for him to break out the first skill listed on his résumé to see how that shapes up compared to the madmen of the horn we’ve become acquainted with over rock’s first three and a half years.

Spinning On The Floor
You’d think that Lucas being a sax player who was hired to lead the band, not the chorus, that he’d devote more time to showcasing his instrument here, but the solo is all we get out of him and that lasts all of forty seconds.

Luckily that forty seconds shows us that he’s a really good… and really committed… rock saxophonist, not some moonlighting jazz player who wants to hide his head in shame for consenting to play something like this in the first place.

His tone is fantastic, a full gritty sound, perfectly situated in the horn’s sweet spot, never straining, never reaching too far for anything out of his grasp. He gives each note room to breathe too, removing the impatient vibe that some solos give off by cramming as many notes in as possible in an effort to impress.

Lucas by contrast is perfectly under control on Sopping Molasses, taking his time, hitting his marks, content to add to the slightly greasy feel of the record – or should that be the sticky feel? – and giving you more flavors in the record than if you were confining yourself to only the vocal parts he’d served.

That there’s no escalating build-up, vigorous assault or earth-shaking aftershock from his standalone spot might cause some listeners to complain, but it’s more what he plays than what he doesn’t which you should focus on. Rock had been inching away from the pyrotechnics over the past year and a half and there was always that risk they might excise the gutsy tenor for something more manageable, especially in New York sessions where the musicians hired came from a more sophisticated jazz club scene than in other regions of the country, yet Lucas is having none of that.

This is a rock sax part through and through, well judged and equally well executed and is the highlight of the record even if it’s not something that on its own will blow you away.


Squeezed To The Back
The real question – or questions, plural – coming out of this release was just what Jubilee Records had in mind for Lucas.

Their main rock act, The Orioles, don’t use horns, much to their detriment at times, so was his presence a sign that was about to change? If not was it a sign that they were going to start signing more rock vocal acts finally and let Lucas back them in the studio, thereby setting them apart from The Orioles and giving the label a more diverse sound palette?

Lastly, was Buddy Lucas going to be allowed to cut more records on his own like Sopping Molasses or was this a rare gift to welcome him to the team before sticking him in the corner and never letting him show his face to the public again?

Maybe your idea of a welcome newcomer to a label doesn’t include a retread song with an overused theme and no real inventiveness in the lyrics sung with a decent but unspectacular voice and a horn solo that is effective but not eye-popping, but the fact of the matter is rock in general, and Jubilee in particular, needed people like Buddy Lucas to bolster their ranks.

Records like this may not be potential smashes but the more of them that existed by as many artists as possible, all of whom were as glad to be playing this kind of music as Buddy was, the better rock’s prospects were going forward.

In other words you’d rather have too much molasses to sop up than not enough.


(Visit the Artist page of Buddy Lucas for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)