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SELECTIVE 101; MAY, 1949

 
 

 

I didn’t want to do this… I certainly didn’t HAVE to do this… yet here I am doing it anyway.

No, I’m not talking about the website itself, but rather today’s entry, one that I was hesitant to include.

Yet the reason I was initially reluctant to add this to the roll call of songs chronicling rock’s full history isn’t because it’s not a good record, it’s a perfectly fine record actually. It’s also not that it doesn’t fit seamlessly into rock ‘n’ roll stylistically, because it does. The reason is because the artist himself belongs to another genre… or two.

If there’s one thing that has caused (probably needless) consternation for me over the first two years of rock it’s been trying to write about artists who were outside of rock who briefly stepped INTO rock as if to test the waters before quickly hopping back out, drying themselves off and heading back inside to the warmth of whatever genre they came from.

Since the point of this project is the tell all of rock’s history as well as examine the artists who devoted themselves to this field, it was sort of a distraction to have to talk about those from other fields who were sort of muddying the waters between genres. It also perhaps ran the risk of making it confusing for those who might start wondering why we were focusing on someone who made their name in jazz or blues or pop who were only stopping by for the proverbial cup of coffee in rock before heading elsewhere. No matter how much I may try to explain that they’re just temporary visitors you’re never quite sure if you’re making the lines of distinction entirely clear.

Therefore when faced with yet another interloper from the outside music world I initially said, the heck with him, let’s just skip over him and move on to the next artist, one who wasn’t auditioning for a role he had no intention of keeping as soon as a better offer came along.

Obviously I’ve reconsidered and so here we are muddying up those waters yet again with a moonlighting jazzman named Bump Myers which means my emphatic disclaimer that “I really didn’t want to do this” is about to be drowned out by the noise from Myers’ saxophone.
 

 

Please Make Your Selection
Let’s get to the reasons for this reversal right off the bat just to clear my own conscience.

For starters as inconvenient it is to the goal of forming a more linear narrative for rock history the fact remains that these early deviations into this world from artists belonging to other realms is a pretty big component in rock’s early story. After all this was a music that was not yet two years old and which had very little mainstream recognition (just one pop chart entry to date, the Orioles’ It’s Too Soon To Know) and although it was starting to dominate the R&B Charts it was still at risk for being viewed more as a crazy fad, or at best a minor trend that could run its course at any time.

So for a jazz artist with good credentials to be making a move to rock ‘n’ roll, whether by their own volition or at the behest of a record label, indicated that this upstart brand of music from across the tracks was being taken seriously by someone, even if was only as a means for commercial exploitation and that’s a pretty big deal. The more people who get into it, for whatever reason, the better it is for the genre’s future as a whole.

The other reason why this case in particular matters a little bit more is because it marks the first release for a new record label, Selective, a Los Angeles based company that wouldn’t be around for very long but would have a very interesting array of artists pass through its doors, most of which were playing rock ‘n’ roll.

What makes that notable is the fact that Selective was owned and operated by a well-known pop songwriter who you’d think would be the last person in the world seeking to promote a brand of music which theoretically could put his primary job at risk, or at the very least wasn’t doing anything to HELP his main occupation.

If Bumps Myers was Selective’s only artist skirting the edge of rock that might be understandable, something able to be passed off as a fluke or an unexpected quirk if he took his own music in a direction different than the jazz they might’ve expected out of him, but he set the tone for the label right out of the gate by picking up the rock mantle with Bumpin’ With Bumps and everyone who followed it seemed carried the baton he handed them.

Whether this was Selective’s intent or whether it was just a matter of circumstance as the motley crew of prospective artists available made such a direction inevitable, the fact that a man steeped in jazz who was recording for a pop songwriter’s label wound up cutting rock records means we had no choice but to tackle it ourselves.
 

Jazz vs. Rock, Pt. V: Rock Strikes Back!
Okay, just who IS Bumps Myers, you’re asking yourself. A jazz sax player, fine, but a lot of guys we’ve seen so far fit that basic description too and we didn’t go to such lengths to defend their presence here. What makes Myers all that much different than the others?

Glad you asked… or rather, Glad I asked on your behalf.

By 1949 Myers was 37 years old and already a twenty year veteran in the business. Based in L.A. he’d played with such big names as Lionel Hampton, Benny Goodman, Jimmie Lunceford, Lester Young and Benny Carter, established jazz greats each and every one of them. He the spent much of 1947 backing blues legend T-Bone Walker in the studio during what was arguably Walker’s most iconic stretch as a recording artist.

That’s a pretty heady résumé for someone who never became a star himself.

But maybe because he never became a big name that’s why he was so open to rock ‘n’ roll when finally given the chance to cut sides for this new label. While it might seem as though stepping into this field from jazz was a way to instantly kill your credibility as a jazz musician, he’d seen what the shift in styles had already done for Paul Williams, Wild Bill Moore and Hal Singer – fellow jazz-bred sax players who’d become bonafide stars as rockers. He’d also witnessed kids just coming up who steadfastly avoided jazz’s critical allure and instead dove headlong into rock ‘n’ roll from the start, getting all sorts of attention in the process, like local noisemaker Big Jay McNeely who scored two national hits with his first two releases a few months back.

Surely when looking at those kind of returns even if Bump Myers wasn’t a betting man by nature he had to like the odds rock afforded him.

But while his chances for making a quick impact surely were higher in rock music by this point than had he cut jazz tracks instead, if only because by 1949 jazz was a largely a style whose star power was built on reputation more than hit singles, that didn’t necessarily mean he’d be equipped to deliver the types of singles in rock that could make a name for yourself. Many was the experienced jazz cat who felt this music was beneath them and all they had to do was throw in a few flatulent lows and ear-piecing highs to win over the unsophisticated young rock fan, yet quickly learned that those rock fans were far more savvy about what was legitimate than the musicians ever anticipated. It would hardly be good for Myers’ ego OR his career prospects if after making a halfhearted effort to connect in rock and failing he went crawling back to the L.A. jazz club scene with his tail between his legs.

So while there may not have been too much riding on Bumpin’ With Bumps in a larger sense – one or two failed records on a startup label in ANY style wasn’t going to make him an outcast in the music community, unable to find steady work – his chance for future recording opportunities might very well be impacted for good or for bad depending on the success of those singles and depending on the quality of the performances.

And THAT’S why it’s so interesting that for someone who’d been in the game as long as Myers had without getting these opportunities before he’d wind up playing a style of music that many of his peers probably thought had no quality to begin with.
 

The Right Idea
There can be little question that all involved, from Myers to the record company itself, felt this song – and this style – was the one with promise, because while the B-side was a fairly tame poppish rendition of the standard Annie Laurie – a song that another ex-jazzman turned rocker, guitarist Tiny Grimes, had cut last fall in a decent rendition for rock palates – it was designed merely a safeguard against complete and utter rejection of this, the bolder rock ‘n’ roll A-side.

The title itself might reek of tongue-in-cheek self-promotion but Bumpin’ With Bumps delivers what is needed for rock acceptance in an understated, yet not underpowered, way.

It does start off rather modestly by design. Not only does this allow the song to gradually ramp up as it goes along but it also prevents those expecting something more demure from pulling the plug before it’s fifteen seconds into the record. It might not be explosive but it’s a fairly good riff to start with, hinting just enough at a raunchy undercurrent without mistakenly setting himself up to let you down if he doesn’t fully deliver on that promise.

The need for this anticipatory moderation becomes evident on the next lines after that lead-in because he quickly pulls back on the intensity twenty-five seconds in and is joined by other horns for a shared refrain that is pretty mundane. Not awful… Not too jazzy or poppy by nature, just one without much character. It’s not melodic enough to pique our musical curiosity but it’s not gritty enough to appeal to our baser musical instincts either.

But luckily they’re not relying on this section to carry the day any more than they were the appreciably better first section because 45 seconds in Myers takes the lead and gets increasingly more committed to the task at hand. His tone gets rougher, he receives an injection of urgency in how he delivers his lines and if he doesn’t take it far enough to really get you worked into a lather, he at least gets you perspiring enough to get into what he’s playing.

There are times here where he might try too hard to reach down for a more obscene note and it becomes obvious that’s not where his strength lays. He’s not the kind to be delivering guttural passages that will have him tossed out of certain places for implied indecency but he does do a great job in finding the right mood and locking it down for a prolonged stretch. Maybe more impressively his tone during this section – which lasts well over a minute by the way – is something that will become one of the defining aural signposts of rock for the next decade. It’s played with a natural resonance and has a slightly grimy feel, letting everyone know this is not music for a sophisticated crowd of middle-aged martini swillers, but rather for those who are doing one more shot of the hard stuff before they stagger out the door.
 

Until Next Time…
But even with that recommendation for the basic attitude it displays and the mindset Myers has to make sure he doesn’t stray too far from what works there’s still not quite enough in the way of intangibles to really set this apart.

Following that best stretch it returns to the more simplistic shared refrain again, this time played with some more prominent support – including a guitar that hadn’t really made itself known prior to that – as well as with a little more muscle to the horn lines, but instead of closing out with a bang it takes us to the finish line by decelerating. That’s admittedly a standard tactic in instrumentals but one that usually was proceeded by taking us up to faster speeds during the bulk of the song than Bumpin’ With Bumps managed to do, so you can’t help but feel a little let down that it’s not all it might’ve been.

While it’s playing you aren’t going to be put off by any of it though and the middle section should at least keep you captivated and allow you suitable reason to groove along with what Myers is laying down, but it also won’t cause you to leap out of your seat and because it won’t wear you out when listening then you won’t wear IT out by continually plugging nickels into te jukebox to hear again and again.

Some might callously say that if this is all Bumps Myers has to offer then maybe we shouldn’t have bothered with him, but that’s a bit too extreme. This is an average rock instrumental for its time and that’d be plenty good enough even if it WAS all he had to offer.

But since he’ll be back to try again down the road it gives us an added reason to be glad we decided to write about Bumps Myers, for it shows that while rock might have been seen as nothing more than a calculated gamble by those involved with the record, it also proves that once the music gets in your system it’s not as easy to divest yourself from as its critics might suggest.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Bumps Myers for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)