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DECCA 48200; FEBRUARY 1951



A lot can happen in the span of three weeks. Economies and nations can collapse. Legacies can be made. The world could end.

Heading into 1951 Cecil Gant was enjoying something of a revival in his career that had started with a bang during World War Two when he released one of the most popular records of the era but was frustratingly inconsistent thereafter due to personal neglect and professional wandering.

The rock era helped him regain some traction, not that he was always the most comfortable fit in the genre stylistically, but rather that with more record labels seeking experienced artists who could reasonably qualify as rock ‘n’ rollers he was never in short supply of willing suitors among record companies.

On January 19th he recorded a session for Decca in Nashville which produced this record, his most explicit rocker to date.

Just seventeen days later, on February 4th while still in Nashville, Cecil Gant died at the age of 37.


Ashes To Ashes…
Though no death, especially one occurring so young, deserves to be made light of, the fact is it was rather remarkable that Cecil Gant lived as long as he did subsisting mainly on alcohol for nourishment while spending his waking hours playing music for whatever fee he could charge so he’d have enough to refill his bottle and spend the rest on prostitutes.

In many ways he became the first official victim of the rock lifestyle.

But the truth is Gant was headed down that road before rock ‘n’ roll even existed, as he’d been thrust into a stardom he was unprepared for in the mid-1940’s after wowing the crowd at a War Bond rally when he asked to sing a song and one thing leading to another saw his debut record, I Wonder, became a #1 hit and a favorite of servicemen who themselves were wondering what their sweethearts were doing stateside while they were a half a world away.

A number of hits followed over the next year but it was quickly obvious he was not your typical artist, someone who was carefully crafting songs and polishing them in the studio. Instead he’d come in with no material prepared, open a bottle and sit alone at the piano and sing whatever came to mind. If you didn’t get it on tape the first time through there’d be no second chance because he’d ad-libbed them all as he went.

But while his methods were hardly recommended, lingering name recognition had allowed him to stay active and make a living on the club scene and do reasonably well for whichever company gave him a few bucks for some songs, most often local Nashville label Bullet, even if those records themselves rarely contained much more than boozy charm and the last glowing embers of whatever smoldering natural talent he still had.

…Dust To Dust
But things were looking up over the past year as Dot Records launched in his home state in the summer of 1950 and they needed another name artist to give them some sides they naturally turned to Gant who gave them a minor regional hit out of it.

Meanwhile at practically the same time major label Decca Records saw that this infernal rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t going away any time soon as they’d hoped and so they too brought him in hoping the veteran artist would be more controllable than the younger stars of the idiom.

His initial effort for them We’re Gonna Rock gave notice to the industry that the company was indeed throwing their hat in this particular ring and it did well enough – as did his Christmas release, Hello Santa Claus – to bring him back for another session when they heard a new record starting to make waves as the New Year rang in.

Rock Little Baby was a cover song, albeit with the last word changed to suit the differing gender of the one singing it. Eunice Davis had released the original back in December as Rock Little Daddy in a romping performance that would be a sizable hit across the country throughout the winter and spring and which quickly established her as someone to keep an eye on going forward.

Decca Records knew that Gant was more than able to deliver musically what they were after yet had serious deficiencies in coming up with song concepts and lyrics with any depth. As a result they had to seek out songs written – and performed – by others to give him a solid foundation to build off and immediately saw Davis’s song as perfect for their needs and hastily brought him in to cover it… something that also played into their normal approach for ALL music, where the mainstream industry covered anything showing any promise (the flip, Shotgun Boogie, was a Tennessee Ernie Ford tune that was rapidly climbing the country charts).

Though this practice means these songs are bound to lose a little something in the translation, we have plenty of different elements at play to focus on beyond just the gender switch, meaning that while it certainly is a cover record, it almost sounds like one from an alternate dimension.


Send Me With Rock ‘n’ Roll
Gant’s heavy left hand kicks this off as you would expect, his piano laying down the emphatic rhythm but quickly he’s joined by a guitar which brings an unexpected wrinkle to the proceedings. Whereas Davis had Freddie Mitchell’s saxophone as the primary accompaniment – even being credited to him as the artist in a lot of the regional charts! – this is a much different sound, one decidedly more ominous in nature.

That suits Cecil Gant just fine too, because with his gravelly croak he’s going to have a hard enough time expressing the rapturous joy that Eunice Davis did and so this arrangement plays into his natural persona. He’s got a lecherous tint to his voice, beckoning the girl to give him what he wants in a way that’s juuuuussssst laid back enough where it’s acceptable. If he were a little more insistent using this tone of voice you might want to stay indoors and keep the doors locked if he’s around.

But he never pushes too hard and as a result there’s a bit more charm in what he’s saying and as he gets more worked up heading into the mid-way point you get used to the voice and take it at face value.

From there Rock Little Baby is essentially a series of musical showpieces offset by a few vocals. We already got a good dose of Gant’s piano early, his right hand trilling which lightens the darker mood that his vocals implied, then after another vocal section the guitar takes over playing a slow, almost vibrating solo that at the tail end almost slips a country feel into it in the way it reverberates, which is hardly surprising since it was being played by Grady Martin who made his name in that realm.

The final solo brings them both together, Gant out in front to start before the guitar eases in and ties them together nicely. While this is nowhere near as explosive as Davis’s record, it’s got an undeniable charm all its own and as it trails off into the fade we hear Gant wearily repeating the words “Rock ‘n’ Roll” almost as if he’s already gone and looking down from above at what he left behind.

Rockin’ And Reelin’ Can’t Be Bad
Even had he lived, Cecil Gant was always going to be rock’s eccentric uncle showing up unannounced with a bit of a buzz on, an impish smile and an air of misplaced hope that he might we fully welcome at the party.

With his hangdog expression and his sheepish sincerity you’d reluctantly let him in, hoping he didn’t embarrass you (and that he’d stand downwind from whoever there you were hoping to impress) but once he found his way to a piano and sat down and began playing he was always going to be just good enough – just amiable enough really – to win you over.

But even so he was always a relic from another time which might explain why when the major labels like Decca had trouble finding or cultivating young artists who were rockers through and through, not just now but well into the future, they turned out to be the best place for a guy like Cecil Gant.

By compensating for his lack of discipline in ways indie labels couldn’t always do and finding him quality material like Rock Little Baby, they brought out the best in him and allowed him to not only leave this earth with some dignity, but in this case also let him go out with a winner.

Though always a rock artist more by circumstance than intent, Cecil Gant tried hard to fit in and through sheer perseverance he did himself – and rock – proud in the end.


(Visit the Artist page of Cecil Gant for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)

Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
Eunice Davis (with Freddie Mitchell) (December, 1950)