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JUBILEE 5058; MAY 1951

 
 

 

The flip side of Buddy Lucas’s debut is most notable for a single letter… or rather two letters that comprised a company misprint on the label itself… than anything contained within.

You can’t really blame them though, “whopping” or “whooping” isn’t exactly the best choice to make for a song title or a lyrical device and with Lucas’s more intense semi-shouted vocal turn and a minimum of his own sax playing this one is more interesting than it is compelling on its own musical merits.
 

 

My Head Stays In A Spin
Certain words are better spoken than said and “whooping” is definitely one of them.

First of all, though it has an actual definition: Whoop: A yell or shout of exuberance, the word is the derived strictly from the phonetic spelling of the sound it describes, not some Latin root word meaning from long ago. As such the word always looks out of place in print.

So you might be able to give Buddy Lucas something of a pass for writing Whopping Blues… or “Whooping Blues”… if he was coming up with the song verbally while looking for some sort of a hook rather than putting pen to paper and writing it like a business report, even if music WAS his business.

Whether he misspelled it or Jubilee did (and their ads show that they were of the belief it was Whopping no matter what evidence was offered to contradict that opinion), one listen to him singing it leaves no doubt as to what word he’s using, the only question is WHY is he using it? Unless it’s got a different meaning based on regional traditions “whooping” is an expression of excitement, not sadness which is clearly his intention, making the primary lyric misleading, even if we can easily adjust our thinking based on his interpretation.

But whether that makes the song any easier to appreciate or not is up for debate.
 

So Long Big Fat Daddy
At the risk of repeating ourselves, seeing a saxophonist who isn’t playing an instrumental on his recording debut but rather is singing on both sides of the record is somewhat disconcerting. Generally speaking people in the music business have a specialty which is what prompts them to be signed to labels and which will form the basis of their identity to the public at large and Buddy Lucas’s specialty was his abilities on the saxophone.

He sings alright, certainly better than most sax players we’ve heard, but he’s taking something of a risk by placing all his commercial eggs in a vocal basket, for if these records fail it won’t necessarily be remembered by his label – or future prospects down the road – that they did so because he chose to sing rather than blow, only that they didn’t sell well enough to merit another chance.

Of course on Sopping Molasses he DID play a solo which was really good and shored up a regurgitated song belonging to someone else and made it much more palatable… a record that was better than average without much difficulty.

But on Whopping Blues the sax we hear behind the vocals isn’t Buddy Lucas, unless Jubilee somehow beat most labels to the punch when it came to the practice of studio overdubbing by a couple of years. Instead we get Lucas bellowing about being in misery because his baby left him while someone else’s sax offers muted sympathy in response.

That part’s not bad… it’s not great either, but definitely serviceable… yet it’s the sax that sounds better than Lucas’s vocal and that’s not a good sign when Buddy’s main job description is the very thing someone else on his record is doing as well as he might. What’s the point of having him around if this other guy can handle the job?

The solo that follows is really good – languid and soulful – and you HAVE to assume that it’s Lucas playing, but can you be really sure? There’s no clear tonal distinction in the transition from the backing horn to the solo and since we never get another horn echoing the lead during this section without vocals it would appear there’s just one sax on the track.

But the intro definitely had two horns playing a drawn out siren-like refrain so we’ll go with the idea that Lucas was one of those, but without some studio trickeration he’s clearly not the horn playing behind himself – the vocals always start before the horn’s last notes fade – but that he was responsible for the solo.

Of course all of that is guesswork so who the hell really knows?
 

I Tried To Act So Tough
In 1951 the majority of listeners did not know who Buddy Lucas was, nor that he even played saxophone, and might not have cared who was playing what on this record even if they had found out his main occupation.

What matters is how the record sounds, regardless of who’s doing what, so focusing solely on that you have to admit that Whopping Blues is a little ungainly at times – not just in how it distorts the meaning of the title word, but also how Lucas’s intensity becomes less musical as it goes on, even if in the context of the story it makes sense.

One of the things you tend to do with songs like this is imagine another artist doing it, a contemporary with a similar voice but better technical ability. Since Lucas is a raw voiced semi-shouter here you’d think of Wynonie Harris or Crown Prince Waterford or someone of that ilk and and yet even those guys would have trouble with some of this. The latter would be almost certainly out of control from the start, while Harris would be more measured but seems unlikely to reveal the kind of desperation that Lucas shows at the end.

Maybe that means Lucas was ideal for it after all, but it’s not the smoothest of vocal turns even if it’s never off-putting. The record does have a halfway decent melody that helps, the non-whooping sections of the lyrics are painting a pretty clear picture and the arrangement behind him sets off the vocals well enough, so while it might not be worthy of praise you can’t criticize it too much.

It’s not a potential hit by any means but it also wouldn’t seem out of place on a jukebox stocked with rock records in the spring of 1951 either and that has to be something of a victory for Jubilee Records since outside of The Orioles it’s highly doubtful their singles were getting much exposure in those kinds of places.
 


 

Give Me One More Chance With You
Though Buddy Lucas delivers another side here that at least meets the demands of the day, not a bad feat for a first time out, what we’d really like to hear is him giving us one hell-bent instrumental just to see what he could do in that context.

The honking saxes of 1949 have been quieted a little TOO much as of late and while the racket will pick up again before long, Lucas seemed to be missing out on a prime opportunity to establish himself as a pillar of the east coast horn brigade during a lull in the action.

One vocal record was fine to show you had some versatility, but two sides right out of the gate seems like overkill, at least commercially where you want to provide variety for listeners as well as building your reputation for whatever it is you’ll be using as a selling point for your talents down the road.

Maybe he and the company actually felt that Whopping Blues was the stronger bet for a hit than an instrumental, but the lesson you learn is in a big spot never get beat with your second best pitch.

This one got fouled off so he’s still out there pitching, but c’mon, Buddy, while we can modestly appreciate this side for what it delivers, rest those tonsils next time out and pucker up those lips and start to honk and squeal. Rock’s got plenty of singers, but great sax players are sometimes hard to come by.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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