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IMPERIAL 5019; APRIL, 1948

 
 

 
With only a few more records to go before we get to the 1950’s we’re going to take some time to add in a few 1940’s songs we either overlooked or intentionally avoided for various reasons when first covering this ground. It won’t take long and hopefully will paint a more vivid picture of the first era of rock as we head into the second era in the next week or two.
 

 

Generally speaking I don’t like to quote other historical commentators on these pages. It’s nothing personal mind you, there’s no professional rivalry I’m stoking by ignoring most of their writing, it’s just that with any original thesis you’re better served if your assertions stand or fall on their own merits.

But you also have to be open-minded enough to see the potential value in occasionally yielding the floor to someone else who’s made pretty declarative statements on the topic at hand, especially if you’re not appropriating their entire premise to build your own case but rather simply using it as a starting point for a new discussion.

So for this single we refer back to a reviewer by the name of Timothy (no last name given) who wrote in a text identified only by numbers, in this case 6:10 (maybe that was the time of day he came up with this thought), the following unequivocal statement:

“For the love of money is the root of all evil”.

It has a certain ring to it, I have to admit.

I’m pretty sure Timmy was writing these types of erudite musings on his own blog well before Charlie “Boogie Woogie” Davis was recording for Imperial Records at the tail end of 1947, but upon hearing Davis’s latest single you’d be excused for checking the publication date of Tim’s prescient thoughts because what he wrote very well could serve as the description of this record.
 

 

My Baby’s Time Ain’t Long
This is the third Charlie Davis single we’ve reviewed in rapid succession and truth be told we actually skipped the one he released a short time before this because both sides were too far away from rock’s borders to qualify, as is the B-side of this record for that matter, Ain’t No Better For You.

Considering Imperial’s rather questionable release schedule to date, cutting double sessions with artists and then rush-releasing all of the sides one after another before moving on to someone else, I suppose we should commend them in a way for attempting to broaden the appeal of someone like Davis by having him (or letting him, if it were his own desire to mix up his material) aim for a slightly different audience than the one he seemed most intent on appealing to with the succession of storming rockers he was churning out.

But the fact of the matter is, admirable in intent or not, the more traditional sides like Going To L.A. (with musical elements of jazz mixed together with an ineffective jump blues vocal style) on Imperial 5016, or the novelty gimmickry of its flip, The Traffic Is Terrific, weren’t going to find many takers as 1948 progressed. By this time in mid-spring we’ve already seen a string of rock records start hitting the charts, lots of really strong regional hits along with a handful of national smashes that are rapidly transforming the black music scene. The jivey stuff that Davis was trying to keep a hand in on those other sides was being cast aside in favor of the hard driving workouts he favored where he could let his energy out on the keys while wailing away vocally.

Davis might not be capable of a lot of subtlety and even at his best so far there was invariably something about each performance, whether him or the supporting cast, which was just a bit off in their execution, but it was clear his instincts for this style were strong. With a little bit of nurturing, a better game plan by Imperial when it came to spreading out his releases, and maybe another round of sessions to let him try and shore up his deficiencies by which time he should have a better grasp of the type of material that other artists were connecting with in this field, he could make a go of this. Who knows, he might even turn into a welcome presence on the scene, not a top shelf star by any means, he was too limited for that, but someone who could be counted on to deliver consistently solid performances that filled a specific stylistic need.

It probably doesn’t take a clairvoyant to guess that wouldn’t be the case. Those two sessions back in December were all Davis got, but I’m sure he wasn’t surprised. A club performer who had been granted the opportunity to cut some tracks for a struggling independent label who were in desperate need of a rash of material to be able to withstand an imminent, and possibly prolonged, recording ban Davis knew better than most his chance at the big time was fleeting… which is probably why on 17 Million $ Baby he’s already working on a Plan B to ensure his long term security.
 

Everything I Crave
Before we get started we should probably mention the title, or rather the spelling of it, because it’s pretty inventive for 1947.

Instead of going with the more proper Seventeen Million Dollar Baby (as it I’m sure most people will write it in search engines, hence my using it here so they can find us) they chose to go with the numerical “17” and the “$” symbol as opposed to the words they represent, making it seem as if it’s a 1987 track from Prince rather than something from forty years earlier.

You’ll no doubt claim that this decision had as much to do with the limited space allotted for the title on the label itself as it did with anyone’s creative whimsy and I won’t argue that was probably the genesis of the idea, but regardless of the reason behind it the unusual look of it definitely makes the record stand out at a glance and for an unknown artist on a label that has no real presence in the industry, that obviously can’t hurt getting it a little attention on a jukebox.

But apparently it was very little, because this didn’t make much of a ripple commercially which is a shame because 17 Million $ Baby actually has a lot going for it… provided you aren’t friends with the subject of the song itself whose days are apparently numbered.

Davis’s piano leads this off in fairly strong fashion before the horns join in and while their construction still hearkens back to the pre-rock era – too many playing in unison – their energy at least matches Davis and so you settle in to see where they take you.

We know it’s going to be about a woman obviously and the only question is whether he’s referring to her as being worth that much as a girlfriend, as in “I wouldn’t take seventeen million bucks for her”, or if perhaps he paid that much for her on one of those dates for charity auctions, which would be quite the tax write off for one dinner for two and some dancing.

But no, this is far less benevolent than that, as Davis is not ashamed to admit as he tells us that he’s so fond of his girlfriend because she’s rich as Rockefeller and soon to be just as dead (John D. Rockefeller passed away in 1937 ten years before this record was cut, at the age of 97… apparently he didn’t want to kick the bucket until he brokered a deal to buy heaven from its founder).

The lyrics are obviously the drawing card for this and Charlie is positively gleeful that she’s got “one foot in the grave” and is looking forward to her imminent departure so he’ll inherent her money and then he won’t have to work anymore. Needless to say it’s humorously crass, not quite offensive and as a result not quite side-splittingly funny either (strange how those two things often go hand in hand, isn’t it?), as apparently he’s not quite looking to hasten her demise to get his hands on her bankbook a little earlier, for which I suppose we can be thankful.

But it IS plenty of fun nonetheless, as he barrels along oblivious to the standards of common decency he’s in the process of obliterating with every joyful declaration about his future wealth.
 


 
 

Ain’t I Lucky?
Though there are certainly some instrumental choices that hold this back from making an even bigger impact, at least the attitude of the musicians are appropriate considering the demented grim reaper scenario they’re helping to contribute to with their rollicking rhythm and horns blasting throughout the track.

By the sounds of it Davis has already tapped into the vault to spend some of those funds gotten from his soon-to-be dearly departed 17 Million $ Baby so he can get a head start on some good times with his buddies as heading into the break he tosses off a casual “Jump?… Jump!” as if he’s both asking the question and answering it himself with a satisfied shrug and then they all start to cut loose even more.

The saxophone does its job during this stretch with a pretty solid solo, short though it may be, though it’s buttressed by the other horns which drag it down slightly. We don’t know who the tenor was played by but to our rock-centric ears he’s the best part of the brass section and when they close the record out – with Davis’s muttering to himself greedily about how “her time ain’t long” – and the other horns led by Jake Porter’s trumpet take control we have to remind ourselves that had this been cut just a year later chances are they’d have been the supporting act in the arrangement while the tenor handled the lead.

All things considered though it’s hardly off-putting and for the first half of 1948 this is still on the positive side of the ledger overall when it comes to arrangements. Granted their tone might be a little weak due to the higher range horns being out in front but they keep their parts concise and rhythmic enough to never let the energy lag. If we want to second guess them a little bit we’d ask why they didn’t let Davis, who’s shown a fair amount of ability as a pianist (his nickname was “Boogie Woogie” after all), take a solo alongside the tenor sax to extend the instrumental break and add some variety to the track in the process, but it’s hardly lacking without it.

Of course we’ll remind you that as we immerse ourselves in the musical decadence contained within we’re trying our best to remain neutral observers to the even more decedent “plot”, which while not criminal in nature is a little macabre as we’re asked to take visceral pleasure in the demise of another – presumably innocent – human being for the benefit of one man’s long term financial security.

But because he wisely doesn’t give her a chance to make a plea for our sympathy we tend to be on his side of things, looking forward to endless parties with all expenses paid, even though when you stop to think about it you can’t help but feel like vultures sitting on a branch overlooking a battlefield and silently picking out the choicest meals from among the bloody carcasses scattered across the plains.

But hey, what’s a little necrophilia amongst friends and fellow rock ‘n’ roll fans?
 

I Don’t Have To Work
It should go without saying that there are obvious rules of decorum that must be followed by humanity as a whole if we want to live in a civilized society and in that regard Charlie Davis is pushing the envelope to its limits by openly lusting after his older sickly woman’s hefty bankroll for laughs while whooping it up at a musical party like this.

Ye old critic Timothy was indeed right when pinpointing the all-consuming desire for money to be the root of all evil if this is the kind of public display it elicits in people.

But money also makes the world go round and is something everyone desires to make their lives a little easier. As a random example pulled out of thin air let me say that for those so inclined to hand some of that green stuff over for some good advice you can get all of these Charlie “Boogie Woogie” Davis cuts, plus equally rousing sides from a wide swath of contemporary artists – some we’re covering such as Jimmy Liggins and Calvin Boze and others who contributed greatly to the roots of rock ‘n’ roll such as Roy Milton, alongside obscure but no less fun acts like Poison Gardner – by clicking the links on this page for the four disc collection Rare West Coast Jump ‘N’ Jive, which is remarkably inexpensive for 101 songs with good liner notes to boot, and we’ll happily take our small cut of the sale.

Of course we won’t be jumping around singing about it, nor will any of those buying it be in any danger of croaking as a direct result of your wise purchase, for we’re pretty sure Davis’s 17 Million $ Baby had already passed on before this collection was released, but the underlying avarice in making that pitch for your dough is not that far removed from the more drastic events he sings about when you get right down to it.

We all want that long green.

Is there a way to reconcile this materialistic bent shared by artist and consumer? Sure there is, after all rock ‘n’ roll has been called evil from the very beginning by those who prefer singing the praises of the virtuous, but while undoubtedly that’s a better route for finding some indeterminate reward in the great hereafter, if the playlist in heaven is as boring as the music listened to by the saints on earth we’ll happily take the fun found in rock ‘n’ roll and the money that goes with it and just hope we can use it buy our way out of whatever eternal damnation it lands us in when our own time comes.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Charlie “Boogie Woogie” Davis for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)