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There are moments in everybody’s life where everything is about to change and yet you’re still uncertain what precisely that change is going to entail. The summer between your last year of junior high and the first year of high school… going off to college… getting engaged to be married… a pregnancy that will result in your first child… buying your first house.

You know the events over the horizon are going to have lasting implications but you can’t quite put them into perspective because you don’t have the first-hand experience needed to understand the full scope of the implications.

Those examples are all pretty obvious ones though, things that you can clearly see coming when you approach them. But there are other transitional moments which arrive without warning and oftentimes their ramifications prove to be bigger than even some of the major events you fully anticipated and assiduously planned for.

For Imperial Records, a company in business three years to date without much tangible success to show for it, their moment of truth was rapidly approaching, the change over the horizon was coming into view as this very record was being released and yet they had no idea what was about to happen.

It’s only in retrospect that we see it was with this release where they marked their farewell to the two year period that resulted in nothing but failed excursions into rock ‘n’ roll just as they were in the process of signing the key figure who would bring them almost nothing but success in that field for the next dozen years.


I’m Gonna Wait On My Sweet Mama
We should probably start off by saying that while it certainly has the appearance of saying “Goodbye To The Old, Hello To The New”, it wasn’t quite so dramatic within the ranks of Imperial Records. By the time all of this was happening the artist who cut this record, Charlie “Boogie Woogie’ Davis, a pianist and singer pulled out of the Los Angeles club scene in late 1947 was actually long gone from the label’s payroll… left to boogie woogie somewhere else.

We won’t be meeting him again after this which is sort of a shame because although he was put in a virtual no-win situation by Imperial Records who were using him as sort of a stop-gap solution to the impending year long recording ban by having him cut as many sides as he could in three marathon sessions in December of ’47, the results of those sessions were at times very good and even when they fell a little short they were rarely without at least a measure of artistic credibility.

He’ll go down in history as little more than an afterthought by most but it could be reasonably argued that he kept the conduit open for Imperial’s association with rock ‘n’ roll until the label could find the key figures to bring that interest to fruition.

In November 1949 that process was now underway, as Imperial’s owner Lew Chudd had offered an executive position to bandleader Dave Bartholomew when Chudd saw him performing in Houston earlier this year and this very month they would formalize that arrangement and Bartholomew would begin to build the company’s impressive roster by stocking it with New Orleans based talent as they moved all-in on rock ‘n’ roll.

So this becomes that transitional moment for one of the iconic post-war independent record companies, the last of the failed early excursions which soon would give way to the first success the label would enjoy.

History tends to focus exclusively on the latter, the headline making breakthroughs that ushered in a new age, perhaps sometimes derisively referring to the litany of commercial failures of the artists who preceded them, but most probably don’t bother to do even that much… instead choosing to ignore altogether those who tried their best to be the ones to put the label – and themselves – on the map, only to fall short and be discarded and forgotten.

But without them Imperial Records might’ve never kept at it to the point where they would be in position to find the artists who’d change their fortunes, and oftentimes it’s those unknown stories that are every bit as interesting, not to mention every bit as vital to study because they tell us where the companies went wrong and subsequently where they had to shore up their tactics in order to do right in the future.

Lastly however – and maybe most importantly – these stories of the also-rans and never-weres involved actual human beings, people with genuine musical skill who usually worked just as hard as their more talented brethren and yet, for a myriad of reasons only some of which centered on skill, they fell by the wayside. Their efforts, as inconsequential as they may have seemed, were still vital in giving this music a deeper roster that would help ensure that it wouldn’t be quite so easy to simply brush aside and ignore its presence forever.

That Honorable Mention ribbon they give for these things might not be worthy of outright celebration but it’s no cause for anyone to be Singing And Crying The Blues about their bad luck in finding an audience at the time either.

So Charlie, before we bid you adieu here’s your chance to at least offer a goodbye to the movement you contributed to in some small way these past two years.


I Ain’t Gonna Run Around
Though it certainly seems we’ve covered quite a lot of records made by Davis – this is our tenth side of his we’ve written about in fact – we actually skipped over quite a few songs of his along the way because they fell outside of the realm of rock ‘n’ roll. In a way it makes for a further bit of evidence that Charlie Davis wasn’t just some musical vagrant who should’ve been happy he got a chance to cut some records due to a few convoluted circumstantial events brought about by an impending recording ban.

The outside genre songs he laid down during this same three week stretch back in late ’47 included everything from big band derived songs (Rainin’ Blues) to off-handed novelty records (Song Of The Sharecropper), all of which were delivered with a fair amount of class and grace.

In other words Davis was actually fairly well-versed in a wide variety of styles as befitting a successful club performer in black Los Angeles who’d have to be able to connect with older rural transplants who might’ve come to the city during the war to work in the munitions factories as well as having to have the ability to give something of value to the younger kids who were now old enough to not have to sneak into these places while sowing their oats and who wanted something more in line with their experiences and outlook.

That versatility made him an asset as a live performer in those types of places but may have hampered him a little when trying to establish a dominant image to record buyers who’d never see him on stage since each record contained something slightly different than the last time we’ve heard him. Yet it’s telling that more than any other style it was the still nascent rock sounds he seemed most drawn towards and in spite of having a jazz-based bandleader in Jake Porter working alongside him (as well as cutting his OWN singles for the label) the results of their rock excursions were entirely credible and sometimes exceedingly good.

Singing And Crying The Blues isn’t one of the better sides, but it’s not among the worst either and in fact has plenty in the way of vocal charm to give it some character. Say what you will about his limitations as an artist but Davis was unquestionably an engaging performer who exhibited a genuine joy in making music and even on something as laid back as this song that quality comes through quite clearly.

My Mind’s All In A Whirl
Unfortunately the band is responsible for keeping this in the slow lane with Porter’s trumpet leading the way in a subdued manner. It may fit the song’s motif and Porter seems less inclined to let his horn get away from him as so many other trumpeters have done when shoe-horned into a rock setting, but it can’t help but lower your interest some because it’s so restrained, meaning whatever winsome qualities this contains will have to be conveyed somewhat stealthily rather than hand-delivered to you in a more overt fashion.

Davis for his part is positioning this in a unique way. Singing And Crying The Blues is certainly not a ballad, though it has a very deliberate pace to much of it, but even when he steps on the gas a little it never goes beyond “spry” in its feel and so it occupies an uneasy middle ground, leaning one way then the other without giving over to either inclination.

Lyrically he’s equally ambiguous about it all, the theme is unquestionably downbeat as he’s despondent over his love leaving him yet he’s telling this to the girl herself in a manner that suggests something of a private joke between them. More than just hinting at emotional resiliency on his part as you might expect, he’s almost approaching whimsy in how he delivers this, as if he’s acknowledging to her that it was never going to work out between them but that’s no reason why they can’t still be friends, or occasional lovers even.

None of this is explicitly stated in the words mind you, but rather merely vaguely implied by his delivery. He’s got a mild smirk as he sings, a buoyant tone in his voice, a glimmer in his eye. She may have left him but she didn’t leave him without hope. Whether that means hope of reconciliation or more likely simply a generalized hopeful nature in life that he was never in danger of losing no matter who he’s dating or sleeping with.

That’s the kind of optimism that is hard to dismiss. His half-conversational tone is surprisingly effective in raising Singing And Crying The Blues above its mundane trappings.

But even with Davis turning on the charm the song’s limitations are evident and maybe even, if you wanted to ignore his best work on things such as 17 Million $ Baby, something this quirky provided evidence of why it was inevitable as to why Davis would be left behind once the rosters expanded and the rock movement became more focused.

There was no way something this mild had the kind of legs to make it up the ladder of the increasingly competitive rock stage, particularly when the most potent help it needed – the saxophone – was relegated to a supporting role in the arrangement. But the sax does manage to slip in a nice refrain early on which hints at something that would become more prominent down the road before it eases back a few moments later and loses what makes it distinctive here.

Likewise the genuine urgency the sax displays in the solo just before the two minute mark not only doesn’t last long enough to satiate our needs but then its lingering memory gets undercut by Davis’s most aimless vocal passage which follows, instilling it with a nonchalance that gives the distinct impression that he’s not taking the performance itself as seriously as he should.

If he’s not going to put up more of a struggle to convince somebody involved that he deserves another chance then why should we protest his exile that is all but imminent once this record comes to a stop?

Never Meant To Put Me Down
The answer to that question of course is Davis had no choice in when this two year old record was issued. Had it been his first or second single released rather than his last we wouldn’t have been comparing it to the best sides of his that came out at a later date, nor would it fare badly when matched up with most of what the rest of the rock world was issuing in the winter and spring of 1948.

But the fact that this has been sitting on the bench so long, waiting and watching as rock rapidly got its feet under it and began to make significant strides commercially and artistically, means something like Singing And Crying The Blues was going to be seriously over-matched when it finally did get into the game.

Again, that’s not Davis’s fault at all, but he’s the one left to pay the price for it all the same.

With each evolutionary step the previous wave of scattershot artists from different walks of the music world would be purged after their attempts proved stillborn in order to make room for a new generation of hopefuls representing a slightly different cultural background. It was nothing personal mind you, just business.

Records like this, taken from the earliest days of the genre’s life, were by now little more than the bricks that made up rock’s foundation, half buried under the soil, sturdy enough to hold what’s been built on top of them in the years since, but not the thing that will draw your attention when the house that sits upon these records is gleaming in the sunshine, bright colors adorning its sides, windows washed and door wide open to invite new artists and audiences inside.

But every house that’s built needs something underneath ground level, whether it’s the cement used for the basement or even the dirt used to fill in the open space that had to be dug out to put that basement in place to begin with. If you remove any of that material then the house that rises above it won’t last long.

That might not be much consolation for the forgotten artists of rock’s initial days who never got the see the view from the top floor as the music took over the world in the 1950’s, but in the end they can claim with some measure of pride that they helped to put that house up when the only thing there at the time was a vacant lot.

Goodbye, Charlie, and rest assured your work wasn’t all in vain.


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