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IMPERIAL 5024; MAY, 1948



Whenever starting a large project, like say running a record company or maybe writing a music blog on the history of rock ‘n’ roll, at a certain point you have to take a step back and gauge your progress. What’s working, what’s not, what can be improved and what can’t.

It’s the last part that is most frustrating. Realizing that certain aspects of the job are more or less set in stone causes you some sleepless nights as you try in vain to figure out a creative way around such an obstacle.

With this project there’s one in particular that is sort of inconvenient but it’s tied in with the overall concept which is the aspect that works best, namely spotlighting each record individually. That’s something you don’t want to mess with since it’s the very thing that allows a much more thorough look at all of these artists, not to mention the record labels, the musicians, the songwriters, producers, dee-jays and the even theoretically the guy boxing those records up and loading them on a truck.

But the one glitch in that process is redundancy. Rather than just state something once in a single large overview of the topic, we run into the same artists, labels, etc. dozens upon dozens of times and since their story is an ongoing one we have to repeat certain information a lot so you don’t have to go back and re-read the earlier ones each time in order to get caught up.

This has certainly been the case with Charlie “Boogie Woogie” Davis, an L.A. club performer signed in 1947 by Imperial Records who had him record nearly twenty songs in three December sessions and then issued the results one after another after another over the next few months, flooding the market and rendering his career stillborn.

Because Imperial’s idiotic decisions play such a large role in Davis’s story not only does this mean you’ll get the same regurgitated information over and over, but more importantly for Davis it meant that he never got the chance to see any ONE of those records gradually find an audience which would then eagerly anticipate the next release months later.

If Imperial Records had taken a step back as 1948 got underway and reassessed their strategy not only might it have given Davis a better chance at building a career it might’ve saved you from having to read the same ol’ shit about how another record company was torpedoing their own artists through gross incompetence.


All Night Long
Just how ridiculous was Imperial’s release schedule, you ask? Try this on for size: In the span of about six weeks, from the third week of April to the first week in June, Charlie Davis had four singles released.

The question that leads to of course is WHY?

The answer they’d give I’m sure is because they were a company with very few black artists at the time and their distributors needed regular orders to be filled to earn their commission otherwise they might not be distributing for them much longer. But anyone with half a brain, maybe even an eighth of a brain, can see the futility in this plan…

Davis wasn’t a known entity. There was no demand for those records based on name recognition. The industry was in the midst of what would wind up being a year long recording ban which meant most labels were conserving their releases so as not to run out of product. But lastly, and what turned out to have the most impact on their fortunes, because there was less music coming out, and since in time most of that music that WAS coming out had been recorded months earlier, there was great opportunity for artists who otherwise might fly under the radar to gradually get a good record noticed if it continued to get pushed by distributors over time.

This is what happened to Joe Lutcher’s Rockin’ Boogie, a hybrid record which came out last spring, months before Roy Brown and the first rock record burst from the womb in September. Thanks to the obvious connotative title and the fact that Lutcher at his next stop with Capitol would further explore those early experiments shown on Rockin’ Boogie, it meant that record was able to slip onto the national charts this past winter, nearly a year after it was released. More recently Andrew Tibbs’ I Feel Like Crying that just was released this same month, in May 1948, wouldn’t hit the national listings until January 22 1949!!!

Now those might be the more extreme examples but if you look at a lot of the rock hits of 1948 their initial release date was well in the rear view mirror when they either FIRST landed on the charts (Todd Rhodes Blues For The Red Boy) or when they eventually left those charts after months of constant play (Sonny Thompson’s Long Gone) and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why.

Rock was a new sound that captivated a younger audience who instinctively sought out more of the same, but because there wasn’t yet a lot of it and since most of artists who were exploring this style hadn’t been around for long they had to do some digging to find like-minded records. That can take awhile and it helps if those records are still in stores or on jukeboxes to BE found months later. Then, once they located one that fit the bill, they kept listening to it for months on end because there still wasn’t a consistent stream of new artists and new singles in that vein coming out to replace the older hits.

Imperial Records had in their midst someone in Charlie Davis who had the potential to score some legitimate hits of his own but he needed time to get noticed, to build some word of mouth for one of his records and then to allow the distributors to work the record and get it stocked in more jukes and hope it caught on.

But because they tossed them all out onto the market with no forethought whatsoever some pretty good records like Boogie Woogie Baby got lost in the shuffle meaning nobody won… not Charlie Davis, whose recording career ended with those 1947 sessions… not Imperial Records, who had to endure another year of poor sales and no market presence before turning things around as the 1950’s dawned… and certainly not you – or those like you who were around back then that is – the budding rock fan who found themselves with one less artist to consider who might otherwise have proven to be a worthy addition to the wild new scene that was springing up.


Fine And Strong
Considering that it was the name plastered on all of those records – Charlie “Boogie Woogie” Davis – as well as the featured selling point in the handful of trade paper ads that Imperial bought to promote these releases, one would think that they might want to carve a bit more space out for THIS record even if they just threw all of the rest of them out onto the market together with little care.

Not only is Boogie Woogie Baby essentially the template for the Davis musical persona, a calling card that featured “Boogie Woogie” in its very title, but it’s also one of his most well-rounded performances in which he proves that, while not without his weaknesses, Charlie Davis’s strengths were more than good enough to carry the day.

Surprisingly his piano playing that kicks this off isn’t the hard two-fisted boogie you expect. In fact he’s sticking mostly to the treble keys during this stretch rather than hammering the bass notes that usually form the anchor of virtually any piano boogie worth its name. But while that switch throws you at first he’s playing really well and it’s not as if boogie pianists aren’t known for working those higher notes over in addition to the more emphatic left hand they usually show.

But regardless of the tactics used the song is locked in a groove from the start thanks to a circular horn riff and a group vocal that lays down the theme in a way that clears up any confusion. Davis comes in after a slightly under-powered horn solo with a strong, confident delivery spitting out lyrics that are unambiguous in nature, describing the girl who’s the focal point of all of this excitement with blunt, but not quite crude, praise for her… “skills”.

We don’t need to inquire what those skills are because one listen to Davis’s vocal enthusiasm and we know full well what he’s talking about. Birds do it… bees do it… but apparently neither do it quite like this girl does it because Davis is about to bust a gasket as he tells us of her prowess in the bedroom.

On past records we’ve reviewed, and those we didn’t which fell outside of rock, we could see that Davis possessed a powerful voice but one which he frequently tempered for the sake of the songs in question. On some like I Know What It’s All About, he used a semi-spoken delivery, more conversational in nature, and on others such as Old Time Blues he let it rip but would occasionally rush a line or pull up at the end of others as if he felt he might be at risk for going overboard.

But here his intent is to go overboard and take you with him. This is the most self-assured we’ve heard him, not just perfectly embodying the character, who is clearly in need of hosing down, but also going all-out to make sure that the excitement of the record itself never wavers. He knows the material is fairly generic and the difference between it working well and falling short will come down largely to how he sells this and so he’s not holding anything back. His enthusiasm picks up the more he goes along and even when he has to downshift on the second reading of the title in the first chorus for melodic purposes he changes his voice to give it a more humorous shading, laying on the lecherousness which makes it a highlight rather than a letdown.

It’s a joyous record in every way as he’s taking obvious delight in pretending to infer that it’s dancing, not sex, that he means, yet he’s grinning throughout it making sure that nobody but the most sheltered listener will buy that explanation. At every turn Davis is fully committed, even his shout-outs to the band aren’t forced, and in rock ‘n’ roll hearing an artist who is holding nothing back is often the single most important element in ensuring a rapturous response.

Let It Roll!
Of course it helps a great deal if the band backing that artist is doing the same and here the band matches him all the way down the line.

We don’t have a full session sheet for these cuts and can only confirm with any certainty one member of the unit, that being trumpeter Jake Porter, a great musician and surely the arranger of these sides whether or not he was credited as such. Yet it’s not Porter who takes the lead role behind Davis as he’s done a few times along the way, some when it was called for in the more jazzy-pop sides we’ve bypassed, but sometimes when it was ill-advised for the rock sides they were trying to master. Instead, while he’s definitely present in the overall clamor, he hands the reins over to the saxophones which is the tool that rock is busy carving out its place in the music world with as we speak.

There are three saxes found on Boogie Woogie Baby and one is probably altoist Eddie Hale who wrote some of these sides. Who the others are we don’t know, but it’s the tenor which gets the lead and doesn’t disappoint in the least, laying down a solo in the first break that throws more fuel on the fire as the drums clatter away behind him amidst the exuberant cries of delight in the studio… or in the bedroom, we can’t be sure and it’s better to let your imagination run wild.

The second solo after another vocal burst from Davis switches things up as the alto takes the lead with Porter riding shotgun and while the higher range horns are typically less useful in rock arrangements they’ve smartly been given a unique role here which is to start off loud and gradually wind down, softening their lines and perhaps backing away slightly from the microphones to suggest they’re growing sonically faint, like a radio signal that’s fading late at night. Or maybe more appropriately for the theme, like you’d hear the party getting more and more distant as you ran from the chaotic scene out the back door once you caught wind of the law arriving out front.

The effect is pretty good, certainly fairly inventive if nothing else, and provides an interesting closing to a record that was previously in danger of flying off the turntable if they kept up the breakneck pace they hit upon midway through.

Just How It Goes
In the end Davis probably got tracked down by the bloodhounds while hiding in a barn somewhere and was locked up on some bogus charge while the other band members were hauled in as material witnesses, but the girl in question refused to identify them in the line-up and so the charges were dropped with an ominous warning to find some other way to spend their off-hours.

After laying low for a few weeks they simply moved the festivities to another house on the outskirts of town and partied deep into the night. Unfortunately by then Imperial Records had lost interest and didn’t record the carousing taking place at those later bashes and when the recording ban lifted at the end of the year there were new artists waiting in the wings to take rock to the next stage of its development.

That’s the way it goes sometimes, both in life and in the record biz, but hopefully Charlie Davis and his girl were too busy still boogieing in the dark to notice the train to the promised land of commercial success and musical immortality had pulled out of the station without him.


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