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SCORE 4008; OCTOBER, 1949

 
 

 

Just what we love to see… a new artist on the scene with lots of introductory information on him to divulge which then gets sidetracked by the incomprehensible actions of the record label he’s recording for, thereby turning much of the review into a frustrating detective story with no satisfying ending in spite of what the record’s title promises.

But since we have no choice – and since the artist, and even the record in question are worth studying – let’s just get down to brass tacks and dive on in before we change our mind and head to the beach or something.
 

 

Let The Rain And Snow Fall
A few months back we reviewed the first – and until today the only – rock release on Score Records, a subsidiary of Aladdin, one of the more prominent independent labels whom we’ve dealt with often around here.

That record was made by The Robins, their first under that name following their appearance as The Four Bluebirds in April with Johnny Otis on Excelsior. Because of the names involved (Otis being one of the most important all-around figures in rock history, and The Robins themselves who’d eventually split off into The Coasters one of the premier 1950’s rock vocal groups), the details of their early endeavors have been more thoroughly researched and reported on. Thus we know when they cut those tracks and precisely when they were released, the first on the Score label in May and the second on the parent Aladdin label the following month.

What’s the point of rehashing all of this minutia now? Well, it’s a numbers thing, as in that release from May was on Score 4010. Today’s record by trumpeter turned vocalist Calvin Boze, cut in mid-August and released in October, came out on Score 4008.

Realizing that record men don’t have 401 sets of hands to be able to count to 4010 very easily, we can simplify their dilemma in figuring out which number comes first by focusing on the last two digits of both numbers – 8 and 10. Unless you’re Captain Hook and lost one of your two standard issue hands to a pesky non-music loving crocodile then you should be able to use the fingers ON those hands to see that eight comes before ten and thus by doing some simple calculation you’d see that 4008 also comes before 4010.

Except on Score Records that is.

This type of thing almost certainly would not have been noticed by anybody in 1949, including even those who bought both records on the day they each hit the stores, and truth be told maybe not by many of you either in 2019. But there ARE those out there who pick up on such things and that might lead them to think the one who can’t count is ME!

So for the sake of my own reputation let me tell you that I while know it’s easy to be fooled by the glamour and the accolades that go with writing music history blogs there are times when the actual research involved is a royal pain in the ass because of frustrating statistical anomalies surely conceived at the time to torment those in the future who want to write about these things accurately.

Of course all of that is neither here nor there when it comes to the actual content of the record, which remains the primary object of this crazy indulgent project.

So onto the task at hand, the first appearance of Calvin Boze, another figure who seems an unlikely convert to rock ‘n’ roll but someone who for the next few years gave it a pretty good whirl.
 


 

Way Down Inside My Soul
Boze was born in Texas in 1916, played trumpet in a high school band with the likes of Illinois Jacquet and Arnett Cobb, two of the greatest tenor sax players ever, and then in college he played with singer/pianist Charles Brown, who in short order would go on to become the top cocktail blues star of them all. Needless to say that’s a hell of an impressive résumé for your formative years.

In early adulthood Boze began singing as well as playing trumpet in territory bands and worked his way up the ranks before landing in Los Angeles after the war just as the music he was most experienced in began to see its grip on the public start to loosen considerably. This was a common plight for musicians still looking to establish themselves at the time when the ground was shifting rapidly. Calvin Boze had just turned thirty and thus could reasonably still be considered up and coming… except suddenly there was less available for him to umm “up and come” into.

The changing musical tastes meant their choices were either to keep trying to paddle against the current, reduced to taking smaller gigs as time went on with fewer recording opportunities, until they hawked their horns and began growing vegetables for a living, or they could try and adapt, something made conceivably easier – at least in terms of connecting with an audience – simply because their reputations hadn’t yet been made and cast their image in stone.

So first Boze began to try his hand at becoming a poor man’s Louis Jordan, by far the most popular black artist of the 1940’s whose witty humorous songs and streamlined jumping sound laid the groundwork for rock ‘n’ roll. But while that might’ve held him in good stead on the bandstand for the next couple years, he only got one opportunity to cut a record and then went four years before another chance came his way.

By this time, August 1949, even Jordan was running out of steam, his days as the top star in black music would be over within a few months. In its place, as I’m sure you’ve all heard (or read around here perhaps) was rock ‘n’ roll, a more aggressive form of music that had found a huge audience with the post-War generation coming of age who pushed back against the social restrictions previous black musical styles had been forced to accept. Since generational splits rarely are decided in favor of the older establishment, Boze, and those like him still hoping for a thriving career as a recording artist, had no choice but to adjust their thinking yet again.
 

Such A Grand Old Feeling
When he landed at Aladdin in mid-1949 the rock world was hardly hospitable to trumpet players. Anyone reading virtually any review on this site that prominently features a trumpet knows how unwieldy they could be if left unfettered in the arrangement, having a tendency to dominate a record’s sonic texture with their shrill uppper register tones and clipped playing techniques. The saxophone, particularly the tenor, was where the money was in rock ‘n’ roll, their lower, rougher and more expressive sounds were far better for suggesting all sorts of untoward activities going on in the shadows where rock thrived.

Furthermore Boze’s vocal style which as stated had been modeled closely on Louis Jordan wasn’t going to cut it in rock ‘n’ roll, as the flip side of this record, Working With My Baby, shows all too well. It’s a good record, very good in fact, but it’s out of date with current sensibilities, standing as something of a last testament to the slowly dying Jordan-era rather than being a clarion call for rock’s increasing dominance.

So what did Aladdin Records have in mind when signing Boze, who despite his age and experience was still largely untested as a commercial entity? Were they thinking that they could draw a few stray fans from an earlier mindset who still had enough clout to give Jordan a huge #1 hit this fall (albeit one which was based on a rock song), or were they merely placing a small wager on a talented artist still ostensibly willing to do what it took in order to break into the big time, hoping he’d be able to convincingly change his tactics on the fly and in the process give the label at least one more artist to throw into the rock ring and hope for the best?

With Satisfied they sort of do both, although probably to off-set it from the Jordan-esque flip side he heads more firmly in the rock direction.

Of course that’s not the impression you get when the record starts with a throwback horn intro that probably has you cursing the fact you’ve gotten this far only to be told this isn’t the kind of music you’re going to be interested in. But stick with it because once the song gets its feet under it then things start moving in the right direction.
 

As Long As You’re Beside Me
The first sign of modernism comes in the form of the hand-clapped back beat. Granted it’s nothing too rousing but the rhythm it sets is exactly what the song needs to keep it in a steady groove and allow Boze to strut over it knowing he at least has firm footing beneath him.

Unfortunately Boze isn’t a great singer, merely serviceable. In fact if you stop this track at any point during his vocals and take a break (eat a sandwich, vacuum the rug, open your mail), then come back and start it up again from the same spot you’ll think he’s utterly lost for the next five or ten seconds until finally the shape of the melody begins to become visible again and you see he’s got a tenuous grip on it after all.

It probably doesn’t help that the theme of the song is contentment. Now there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being content, in fact that’s preferable to most of the alternatives in life when you get right down to it, but when it comes to what makes for an exciting rock song “contentment” is probably no higher than 2,859th on the depth chart of potential subjects to sing about.

The lyrics are fairly mundane, even considering the rather bland topic, though Boze does his best to inject some life into them, particularly about one third of the way through when he makes a leap in key to rave about the girl and how happy she makes him no matter what else he’s facing in life. It’s also got a decent call and response section after the horn break that gives it a little more enthusiasm down the stretch but basically the lyrics and the delivery are both merely holding their own and nothing more.

That’s why the presence of Maxwell Davis on saxophone is so vital to making Satisfied work as well as it does. Obviously he was Aladdin’s not-so-secret weapon, both as a producer but also as their ace horn player who knew exactly how to bring out whatever attributes were most needed for a given track. If it was a down and out tale he was working on, then his saxophone could emit tremendous sympathy playing smokey low mournful tones. If it was a party the song was describing then Davis was the one standing on the table with a lampshade on his head – figuratively I assure you – blowing up a storm.

Here he needs to take it easy somewhat because chances are they weren’t quite sure they should go all-in on trying to transform Boze into a full-throated rocker, so he eases back on the pyrotechnics somewhat, but still manages to create a buzzy vibe to it with his solo, hitting some well timed high notes while otherwise riffing away with just enough force to convince you that Boze belongs in the rock world after all.
 

I Guess You Know I Wouldn’t Go
Don’t get me wrong, this is still behind the curve for 1949 and Boze himself is going to have to do more than this to win you over completely and keep him on the guest list for the next shindig you throw, but at least it’s got the right frame of mind and there’s no derision found in any of them for what they’re compelled to play in order to get a chance to stay on the scene awhile longer.

Satisfied doesn’t completely satisfy the demands of the rock fan as we head down the stretch of the 1940’s, but considering that on the surface Boze probably had more affinity for the music of the mid-1940’s, if not even earlier in the decade, he does a good job suggesting otherwise.

What’s so interesting about this – aside from the baffling questions about the labeling – is how it allows us to see what was going through the minds of musicians and record companies who were faced with a shifting reality when it came to what sold. Whereas the safe bet, one surely pushed by the major labels and other guardians of good taste, would be to keep Boze sticking to the Jordan prototype, Maxwell Davis and Aladdin Records were smart enough to know that while that might suffice in the waning days of 1949 it probably wouldn’t cut it once we moved into 1950 and beyond.

Rather than fight against that, hoping to somehow stop musical progress in its tracks, they instead embraced that future and headed down the road rock ‘n’ roll laid out before them to seek some form of musical and commercial satisfaction… (now if only they can all learn to count!).
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Calvin Boze for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)