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Artists like Cecil Gant were like corks floating in an ocean… someone who was content to simply flow with the tide.

Whatever type of music you asked him to do, or whichever he saw the most commercial potential in at the moment, he’d gladly record. Though conceivably this versatility meant he’d be welcome in a lot of different realms it also meant that you could probably leave him out of all of them just as easily if you wanted to close ranks and confine your scope to just pure rockers in this case.

But since we DID include him maybe you were wondering by this point, having now entered into the third year of rock’s story without Gant doing much of anything to distinguish himself, if we were merely being generous to somebody who was otherwise in danger of being left out of almost every 20th Century music overview, regardless of genre.

The answer to that however is no… though up until now we’d have been hard pressed to really convince any doubters this was true. But with this release, and some more to follow, the case for Cecil Gant being forever enshrined with the rest of the motley crew of rock artists becomes far easier to make.


Your Old Home Town
In all of our prior Cecil Gant reviews we’ve tried to explain how this vagabond musician had parlayed his initial hit from way back in 1944, I Wonder, a sentimental ballad that struck a chord in wartime America, into career with no lack of recording opportunities on a wide array of labels all hoping to catch that elusive lightning in a bottle a second time.

Thus far it hasn’t really happened – nor would it again – though he did score a few minor hits and was usually a better bet for consistent, if still relatively modest, sales than a complete unknown.

We’ve also tried to lay out that Gant was most undisciplined in both his music and his personal life, choosing to ad-lib his way through many recording sessions with a bottle of booze on his piano, from which he liberally imbibed throughout the recording process, serving as his primary “inspiration”.

Needless to say this didn’t always make for the best quality records. But in spite of these personal foibles Gant was an excellent pianist with good melodic instincts and a knack for coming up with just enough of a decent song to satisfy the label without ever producing much in the way of lasting value, therefore dooming him to a transient existence, cutting records for cash for whichever company was in need of a few sides without very lofty expectations.

The latest company to take a chance on Gant was Imperial Records which had just turned the corner from being little more than a struggling independent label in Los Angeles and was now just seeing its fortunes start to turn thanks to owner Lew Chudd hiring Dave Bartholomew to oversee the company’s assertive move into New Orleans rock ‘n’ roll.

But when Imperial stuffed a fistful of crumpled bills into Gant’s hands in exchange for a quick session that commercial turnaround hadn’t yet taken place and so they were still viewed as exactly the kind of label that Gant had always relied on to give him a shot… and I don’t mean a shot of whiskey, although I wouldn’t be surprised if that was part of the bargain he struck.

Usually these excursions would result in a few usable, though hardly impressive, songs that would just be used to fill a hole on a release schedule, but not so here. With When You Left Me, Baby the long untapped potential of Cecil Gant as a rock artist finally – and improbably – came busting out, full flower.

Out Of The City
The key to Gant’s quest for credibility as rock artist was always found first and foremost in his boogie piano, something he was entirely comfortable with if only because it was the kind of attention getting display that would serve him well in a club or at a session where flashy energy could frequently be used to mask a decided lack of craftsmanship in other areas.

It’s not that he wasn’t capable of writing excellent songs with probing lyrics and a solid storyline, but rather that doing so took more effort than Gant usually wanted to exert on the job and as a result he frequently fell back on the cruder boogies that would impress people in the moment even when it left producers with somewhat redundant material to try and shape into marketable records.

Yet rock ‘n’ roll thrived on flashy instrumental prowess, the more energetic the better, and so you can see why this type of music provided Gant with plenty of opportunities at a time when his brand of laconic gravelly voiced ballads – such as the flip-side You’ll Be Sorry – were having a tougher time finding an audience.

But to date most of Gant’s enthusiastic boogie performances on record were rather skimpy in concept and slapdash in their arrangements, as he’d offer up a spoken intro to give it a little identity before tearing loose for awhile. Though well played they were largely interchangeable and hardly noteworthy on their own, but on When You Left Me, Baby he seems to finally have figured out that it takes more than just some fleet fingers pounding away on the keyboards to create something more distinct… such as some lyrics that can tell a story and stitch together the record between solos.

Though the story here is hardly groundbreaking it really doesn’t have to be to serve its purpose. Gant just takes a familiar theme – a guy recounting a breakup – and simply hits all of the expected plot points to give it some structure and familiarity. His voice is as raspy as ever but the harsh qualities of it seem to lend some gravity to the sentiments, as if he’s been up all night drinking while stewing over his lost love. Since chances are he WAS up all night drinking, girl or no girl, he at least was in the right frame of mind when sitting down and waiting for the producer to call the first take.

Whatever his inspiration may have been, real or imagined, he manages to offer up some pretty good details too, nothing Shakespearean about it maybe but he does more than just give a bare bones account with no color added. Yet the benefit of having a fairly solid story is primarily so we don’t find fault with it while focusing on the musical side of the equation which is where this really earns its plaudits.


Hey Now!
On one hand it’s fair to call the sound contained on this record somewhat generic. On the other hand however it’s entirely justified to say that this sound became generic in the first place because it was so potent whenever it was used over the past few years as rock ‘n’ roll was taking off.

If the main goal of most uptempo rock songs was to whip up the energy of those in the room listening, be it at a club where bands performed live and needed the audience to leave their seats and jump on the dance floor to grind away, or if it was in the privacy of someone’s own home where they put the record on to lift their spirits up, the methods used to achieve this were pretty straightforward.

Start with a relentless rhythm, one that hits the floor running and never lets up, getting you to twist your hips, pop your fingers and bob your head along. Then accentuate that by adding churning horns so the mood of it is bright and preferably, depending on which saxophones are enlisted, somewhat dirty by nature.

Then top it off with some melodic embellishment courtesy of a piano or guitar, giving it a memorable hook or something to at least give the impression that this is progressing somewhere rather than just spinning its wheels in place.

When You Left Me, Baby checks off all of those boxes like clockwork, the rhythm being hammered home by the drums and Gant’s left hand, the horns acting in lockstep with them to give it a vibrant sound while an electric guitar chips in with accent notes that act as a constant jolt as it roars along. Meanwhile Cecil’s right hand delivers the coup de grâce by furiously bashing away during the solo, getting even the most arthritic knees to start to bend, shimmy and shake while the horns keep spurring him on.

He shifts down the keys for the next interlude which is less frantic but perhaps more direct, hitting you in the gut as he thrashes about in musical ecstasy. If the overarching criticism of rock ‘n’ roll through the years is that it is indulgent visceral music with little redeeming qualities beyond its ability to stir the loins and create pandemonium, then this is probably not the record to play if you want to refute that charge.

But if you view those qualities as some of rock’s BEST traits, then by all means cue this one up and then hang on tight, because it validates the idea that rock ‘n’ roll exists to help you find an outlet for the primal urges that all sentient beings have in life this will ensure that you have a ball while doing so before being locked up for your deviancy.

I Wrote You A Letter
The ironic part of Cecil Gant finally tapping into his inner rock beast that had been largely laying dormant inside him for so long was that it may have come just a little too late to really capitalize on it.

Not that rock itself was in any danger of disappearing, or even being toned down, as we all know it was growing ever more powerful by the day, but rather Gant’s sudden embrace of it came too late for HIM because rock as a whole, and Imperial Records in particular, now had younger, more reliable and disciplined artists in tow – Fats Domino first and foremost – who would take this music to the next plateau creatively and commercially.

For someone like Gant, a veteran on the music scene without the overarching ambition of up and coming acts, nor the personal discipline to capitalize on any attention this may get him, time was running out. By now the next generation of musicians had already picked up on it and were blazing new trails and had no need for an older disheveled character like Cecil Gant to show them the way any longer.

Had When You Left Me, Baby come out two years earlier maybe his fate would’ve been different, if not commercially than at least in terms of recognition, but regardless of it being just a few years too late to get him any real acclaim, the record itself is among his best and can stand with almost anything coming out in rock circles at this time.

As such it served as belated evidence that while Cecil Gant might not have had the temperament and professionalism to sustain a long career as a rock star he definitely had what it took musically to leave his mark on rock ‘n’ roll and in the end that’s still what matters most.


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