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PEACOCK 1538; NOVEMBER 1950

 
 

 

Mediocrity is usually considered an insult. A way of saying that somebody or something isn’t exceptional.

But in reality most things in life are mediocre. Artists, records… reviews of records by those artists… for if more things was praiseworthy then mediocrity would no longer be the median.

Mediocre simply denotes something is rather ordinary. Most Mondays in mid-September are mediocre unless something special happens, or conversely something awful takes place. The day might have some high points or low points, but it usually averages out and you’re left with an ordinary day.

In this case you’re left with an ordinary record by a mediocre artist. But instead of finding fault with that, it’s about time that gets appreciated some.
 

 

Now We’re Traveling Everywhere
When this project began I never considered how long it would take. I knew it’d never end, simply because they keep releasing new records each week that will eventually be reviewed here, but I just assumed we’d start to make up ground sooner or later.

Obviously that won’t happen.

The reason why it won’t happen is because of Carl Campbell. Or at least those like him. The mediocre artists… those with average talent who get just enough sales to keep them active for awhile, but no real hits and as a result they’re soon forgotten, at least until we unearth each and every side they cut and re-examine it like ancient Mayan art to be placed in a museum surrounded by velvet ropes.

To speed this whole ordeal up and get to the likes of Bo Diddley, The Beach Boys, Barry White, Madonna, Wu-Tang Clan, Katy Perry, ScHoolboy Q and Dua Lipa much faster the easiest thing to do – and probably the choice most people would make themselves – would be to just skip over the mediocre artists altogether, or at the very least include just one or two of their most emblematic songs and leave it at that.

But to do so would pervert the entire idea of trying to show what rock ‘n’ roll was at any given time and from there you can better see how it evolved and to do that you actually need to show the mediocre attempts, the records that met with only mild interest, because that was its current standard as it went along.

Take away that and you’re left knowing half the story… less than half actually.

The reason for this is frankly because Carl Campbell and songs like Traveling On in many ways define rock ‘n’ roll far more than transcendent hits we’ve covered like The Fat Man or Please Send Me Someone To Love.

Because you see those are the aberrations… massively influential and enduring aberrations, but outliers all the same.

This record on the other hand is really the main thoroughfare of rock ‘n’ roll, one with lots of interchangeable traffic whizzing by, all of it a blur, which makes it a rather appropriate title for such a song.
 

I’m Not Choosy
You almost couldn’t find a MORE stereotypical rock record for this era as this seems to contain virtually every aspect of the genre that we’ve become accustomed to so far.

That’s what makes Traveling On such a signpost for this era in general. Starting off with a churning groove from the piano which gets you to move your shoulders and lock into the rhythm right away. It’s not designed to be anything special, but it IS reliable and that’s what matters because there’s no chance to lose the audience before they can get into it.

The horns jump in playing a rolling riff that dominates the arrangement with some steady drums as the piano’s left hand keeping the rhythm going. You might not be overly impressed with any of it individually, but it sticks to that sweet spot and holds your interest just enough to keep you listening.

As for Campbell’s contributions, we know – and mostly accept – his limitations vocally while admiring him for not trying to do too much and expose his shortcomings in the process. The theme is pretty basic but there are some descriptive touches thrown in and it works well to establish his character and a rough plot outline and Campbell’s relatively laid back delivery keeps the focus on the overall sound rather than drawing more attention to him.

The whole thing just churns along steadily, keeping you on familiar ground. The sax solo – Ed Wiley’s tenor, though Henry Hayes’ alto takes the primary job backing Campbell during the bulk of the song – is a little screechy maybe, but it’s not atonal by any means, just rather a roadhouse variety sort of solo where such things were commonplace on bad sound systems amidst a hundred drunken people in a room meant for no more than 75 sober orderly people. It fits the record in other words.

The piano solo in the back half is simple, yet gets the job done by hammering away until your leg starts to twitch involuntarily. When Campbell just starts repeating the same line about having “the traveling blues” as it fades out you half expect to see him drive by your window, throwing you a smile and a friendly wave as he heads into the sunset.
 

Said It Was Okay
Records – and reviews – like this are the ones most likely to be bypassed entirely. Mostly obscure names performing decent but hardly memorable songs that received no interest when new and absolutely no hope for any interest after seventy years have passed.

There’s no buried secrets to be found in their stories, no hidden treasures to be uncovered in listening to them, no surprising revelations you’ll get reading about them.

But Carl Campbell did the job he was paid to do and he did it well enough for it to be a perfectly acceptable rock record for that day and age. Yes, you could easily mistake Traveling On for a number of other similar sounding records at the time, but that in of itself is a story… one that tells you just how widespread this music had become.

Record companies were looking for artists like Carl Campbell to make records like this because there was a thriving market for that very thing. This particular record doesn’t stand out, not because it isn’t well done, but because there were so many others had scaled these same heights at the same time.

But if you’re looking for a record that is emblematic of what rock was in 1950, this does a pretty good job of explaining it. Not nearly the best of what came out this year, but hardly the worst either.

The term “nothing special” can take on a variety of meanings depending on how it’s said. In this case it means rock’s takeover music has progressed to the point where this no longer qualifies as big news… it’s merely par for the course.

In the end – and I mean the end of this entire run to the present day – it might just be that this very record winds up being the one which lands right in the middle of them all.

Mediocrity gets its due at last.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Carl Campbell for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)