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IMPERIAL 5013; JANUARY, 1948

 
 

 

Here’s a simple little test for all those would-be record company owners out there who think they could run one better than the collection of shysters, con men and thieves that were the universal standard for the position back in the glory days of the independent labels.

Everybody grab a pencil and don’t peak at your neighbor’s quiz for the answers. Alright? Here goes:
 

 
Question For The Day
You are running Imperial Records, a small label in California that’s been in business less than two years and have yet to show any signs of genuine success. Your output consists of records made by a motley collection of derelicts and drifters. Your most prolific artists are such storied names as Harley Luse and Ukrainian sensation Vladimir Niedzielski. You are the proud home to such big selling records as Mademoiselle From Armentieres by square dance caller Lee Bedford Jr. and Adolph Hofner’s The Prune Waltz.

It’s now January 1948 and a recording ban has just begun as ordered by the head of the musician’s union, James Petrillo. This is the second such strike he’s called this decade and the first one lasted multiple years which means that it’s a possibility that you might be unable to cut new material to issue until sometime next decade for all you know.

To ensure that you have a good stockpile of songs by a wide array of artists you recently signed a bunch of local acts from across the musical spectrum including a rough hewn singer/pianist named Charlie “Boogie Woogie” Davis whose music is very much in line with this new sound of rock ‘n’ roll which is already causing a stir in many locations despite it only existing on record since September. In the weeks leading up to the strike Davis cut 16 sides for you and some of them show a good deal of promise.

The first of these records you released in December just before the ban went into effect. It’s been out a total of two, maybe three weeks and with the distribution being somewhat spotty there’s a chance it hasn’t even reached some of the more promising markets that you hope to penetrate with such material.

So here’s your question: When do you release the SECOND single of Charlie “Boogie Woogie” Davis?

a) If the first single becomes a legitimate hit you hold off issuing the second one until the first is just starting to fall off the charts thereby maximizing the exclusive sales window for both releases.

b) If the first record doesn’t show a return after two or three months then put out the second single and double down on your promotion trying to get someone to bite on his potential.

c) Wait six months and hope other companies are beginning to run out of relevant material by then so you can step in and offer up somebody who seemingly is made to capitalize the growing interest in this type of music.

or

d) Send out a second single before anyone even hears the first single and hope that flooding the market with a complete unknown will get you plenty of attention for your utter stupidity… amazing confidence in your artist and then sit back and watch the hits pile up and the money roll in.

Depending on the specific circumstances regarding the reception of the first single, San Quentin Bait, then any of the first three answers might be acceptable. If you answered “d”, congratulations, you are Lew Chudd and you already own Imperial Records!

It’s no wonder poor Charlie Davis was cracking up.
 

You Gotta Fall
Now to be fair, Imperial Records wasn’t a complete failure at this point, some of their country acts had some decent appeal around Texas and they did have Lalo Guerrero, who was the leader in the pachuco movement that celebrated Mexican heritage in song.

Yet the returns they were getting overall were still fairly insignificant and all record companies, large and small, should have the same basic goal which is to maximize the chances for success with each and every artist on your label via your promotional efforts, your targeting certain segments of the audience and your release schedule.

What you don’t do is randomly throw these records out into the market by the handful so that even if one does turn some heads by chance you’ve already diluted your reserve for no reason. Since nobody knew how long this recording ban would go on – and for the record it lasted almost one full year – you need to conserve your resources the best you can.

What we’ll soon start to see is a lot of rock records finally making the charts months after they were initially released, some taking almost a full year to crack the national listings, which only stands to reason because other companies were in fact slowing down their release schedule which gave each release longer to make an impression.

But here’s Imperial Records putting out two singles on someone with absolutely no name recognition within weeks of one another. Davis only had a potential eight singles to issue before they ran out of his sides so basic math tells you that waiting eight to ten weeks between releases would seem to be the prudent move. Keep in mind there are only twenty slots in a jukebox and it’s highly unlikely that anyone running those things will be so benevolent as to waste TWO of them (ten percent!) on a name that would draw blank stares from everyone with a nickel in their hand scanning the titles.

This is just stupid and counterproductive on Chudd’s part and it’s a wonder how he lasted long enough to turn the corner in the industry two years from now when by the looks of things at this stage he really should’ve been selling pencils or laying carpets for a living.

Charlie “Boogie Woogie” Davis would never score a hit, never become a star, never be heard from again as a matter of fact after the sides he cut for Imperial at the end of 1947 were all issued in a mad rush over the period of a couple of months. That information might lead you to think that he was undeserving of any accolades for his work, that his initial signing probably was little more than a hasty decision made more for reasons of convenience than for musical aptitude, a local club performer who was obviously willing to come in and cut a few sides in an admittedly long-shot chance to better his position in the music world.

You may even say that he should be grateful that Chudd gave him a chance and that the impending musician’s strike was the best thing that could’ve happened for someone like him who surely wouldn’t have been given a chance to be heard outside whatever place on Central Avenue he was holding court at for a few weeks or months before disappearing into the night.

But if you think that then you haven’t quite grasped the power that something like rock ‘n’ roll has over artists who play it with conviction. Because while Crack Up may not surpass in quality the first rock releases to hit the charts, be it regional OR national, to date, it’s perfectly in line stylistically with what is starting to make some noise and really not that far off from matching many of them in terms of modest enjoyment.
 


 

Snatch And Scratch
Davis’s piano sets the pace playing sort of a modified boogie as this kicks off, soon joined by drums and horns, an alto sax to be specific which has sort of a snake-charmer mentality to it, the lines winding around and around, spiraling upwards – not quite coarse enough to be erotic, yet a little too suggestive to be completely innocent.

The lead-in lasts a full minute before we hear Charlie open his mouth to sing but it really doesn’t seem so long because the music has been progressing as it went along rather than sticking to just a simple boogie formula and so when the vocals start we’re already on board.

He’s back to carrying the boogie behind him on the keyboard and so the singing has to follow that basic line, which truthfully isn’t such a bad idea since Davis has a strong declarative voice but not one with an abundance of refinement or nuance.

The words he’s singing are similarly direct, taking to task a girl who apparently did him wrong, as he’s essentially telling her – and therefore us as well – that she’s a no-good succubus of some sort. His tone would suggest he’s not exactly angry at her, more displeased than anything, but he seems convinced that she’s going to get karmic retribution soon for her transgressions and that brings him some satisfaction that’s clearly evident in his tone which bubbles over with eager anticipation at times.

The lines themselves are fairly colorful even if they don’t bother explaining much, such as how he knows this girl to begin with. I’m guessing they were a couple and she cheated on him but I’m really basing that assumption on a thousand and one other songs that have explored similar grievances, but then again it could be she cheated him out of a raffle prize at the community center or maybe she didn’t return the garden tools he lent her last spring and then sold them at a yard sale.

Whatever the reason for his complaints we don’t take them to be much more than a man muttering to himself in frustration like a younger version of Mr. Magoo. But that being said Davis is fairly good in this role, quite entertaining even, but hardly revealing anything of value beyond just the adrenaline fueled cadences of his singing which remains catchy throughout Crack Up.

As for the music that he’s sharing the record with… well, that’s another story altogether.
 

Make You Mend Your Ways
Not only am I running out of clever ways to remind you of the ways in which the trumpet torments us as rock fans in these early days when it was still used far too often since it was a carryover from the musical styles that immediately preceded rock, but I’m also at risk of using up even boring and redundant ways to get that point across.

The problem isn’t going away any time soon so it’s best you get used to the criticism of the instrument and fully grasp the reasons why it fails to connect when used in abundance – the bleating higher tones and the lack of any resonance to give it a rhythmic bottom, the way it conveys flair yet not urgency, the fact that so many trumpet solos have no clear cut structure to them, no end game beyond improvisation.

All of those inherent drawbacks to the instrument are present and accounted for here when Davis steps aside and hands things over to the trumpeter who wanders around aimlessly for thirty interminable seconds, single-handedly knocking off a point if not two from the score just for being woefully out of place and not having the good sense to realize it and cut his part short.

We’re not claiming the trumpeter is a bad musician who can’t play the right notes, but rather the right notes for THIS song are not found in the trumpet’s range. It’s like trying to put wings on a turtle or shoes on a worm, there’s no point to what he’s playing because it doesn’t mesh with what the REST of them are playing. Like taking a wrong turn and winding up in a completely different country, Crack Up is an appropriate title for just such an endeavor, as that’s precisely what listeners who were digging the bulk of this song will be doing when it deviates from the course it had been on.

Naturally when the trumpet exits the song picks up again but the continuum has been broken, you’ve lost your grip on the proceedings and though Davis manages to pull everything together before the closing well enough to not feel as though you’ve wasted three minutes of your life, you’re not altogether confident in your reaction to what works well anymore because of the nagging memory of what didn’t work at all.
 

You’ll Hear The Angels Call
What makes the decision of Imperial Records to release this so soon after his debut even more galling is the fact that even with its self-inflicted flaws there’s still enough vocal exuberance from Davis to get you interested in what he’s laying down.

Now granted, if the company had held back Crack Up until March the trumpets wouldn’t have been any MORE fitting in the rock landscape then, but maybe the increasing scarcity of more advanced records in the style would at least make what is pretty good about this stand out a little more.

It’s doubtful it’d have become a hit then either, and didn’t really deserve to be one for that matter, but when trying to get Charlie Davis known the best thing you could do would be to hope that as other labels began to run out of the best sides they’d stored up, Davis’s modest charms would seem more fitting against the second rate leftovers from mssrs. Brown, Harris, Milburn and Williams.

That might not sound too ambitious but since the alternative is to be roundly ignored by issuing one record after another before rock ‘n’ roll itself had much of a chance to get firmly established it makes far more sense not to rush Davis’s career to the mortuary before you actually have to.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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