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IMPERIAL 5033; DECEMBER, 1948

 
 

 
Usually when it comes to trying to come up with a good comparison for trying to put an artist’s career into perspective over the course of rock history it’s a fairly easy process. You can start with something simple like the number of hits they had or the length of their commercial success and find a decent corollary.

For example The Animals and The Marvelettes make for a striking parallel, each were a notable 60’s group who launched their careers with a #1 hit and though neither quite matched that high afterwards both notched two more Top Ten hits on their way to compiling almost the same career results from a commercial standpoint, with the girls besting the boys in total charted records by a small margin.

Failing that method you can try to locate someone who had similar résumés such as journeymen who made brief stops with a wide array of labels over their careers. In due time we’ll see quite a few fitting that criteria starting with Clarence Samuels, who’ve already met a couple of times, and Tommy Ridgley, who we’ll soon meet, each one coming out of the fertile New Orleans scene. Both singers failed to have a commercial payoff along the way yet they never failed to get someone else to give them another shot at breaking through, each of them landing a surprising amount of chances over ten or fifteen years.

But it’ll probably be a long time before we see anyone who fits the description of Charlie “Boogie Woogie” Davis, who was virtually a complete unknown club act in L.A. prior to being signed to Imperial Records in late 1947 where he then churned out almost two dozen songs in a month giving the label enough records to release for two full years… but after that flurry of activity they never recorded him again and nothing from that output became a hit – though some were really good – and consequently he was never heard from again.
 

 

Look Out There, Man, That’s Me!
What Charlie Davis thought of all of this isn’t known. Whether he found this golden opportunity suddenly thrust upon him out of the blue to be a godsend and the answer to all of his prayers and whether he was hurt by the sting of rejection when just as suddenly his calls to the company went unanswered in the immediate aftermath of this whirlwind activity is one of the mysteries of life, right up there Stonehenge and Kylie Jenner becoming a billionaire with no discernible talents.

What we DO know is that Imperial Records were eager to bring whoever they could find on short notice into the studio in the waning days of 1947 in a desperate attempt to get as much material down before the recording ban hit at midnight New Year’s Eve and we also know they were able to keep churning out Davis’s singles one after another for the rest of the decade, by which time the ban was over, the company was in no better shape than it had been prior to his arrival, and were scuffling along until a fortuitous turn of events not only made them relevant in the marketplace but an actual leading light in rock ‘n’ roll for more than a dozen years.

Charlie Davis was long since forgotten by then.

If anybody is deserving of a second look it’s Davis and since he wasn’t able to get one in life when it might’ve helped his floundering career, then he might as well enjoy whatever light we can try and shine on him from the distance of seventy years into the future in the hopes that the beam isn’t so dim that he remains hidden away in the shadows forever.
 


 

Come Up And See Me Sometime
Of course this isn’t exactly the easiest of tasks even with the best of intentions. Imperial Records, though better chronicled historically than a lot of the labels we’ve covered to date, wasn’t exactly rolling in dough when these sides were first issued and though they were fairly aggressive in their initial promotion of Davis, taking out ads for his first few releases, complete with photos of his smiling mug so we have some sense of who we’re dealing with, once those records failed to make much headway with listeners they cut back on their spending probably treated the rest of his releases as tax write-offs.

Normally this isn’t too much of an obstacle for our job here, but while the actual reviewing of the record itself isn’t impacted by their lack of publicity, it does make for a rather difficult task when it comes to getting the release date accurate.

In other words, though we’re slotting this in December it may have been on the market way back in September… and if it sold as poorly as the rest of his output that would mean there was a good chance that you wouldn’t have been able to locate a copy of this by New Year’s because the records would’ve been shipped back to Imperial, or melted down to make new records or used as target practice at the skeet shooting range.

So let me explain…

There are a number of sources we can use as rough starting points for determining a release date of records that were put out long before anyone we knew was even born. Assuming that there’s no detailed paperwork left behind by the companies themselves (and there never is FWIW) we turn to the pages of the two trade papers for music at the time, Billboard and Cash Box, both of which were aimed at those who distributed and stocked records in jukeboxes and stores as well as the disc jockeys who played them on the radio. They acted as guides to know what was coming out, what was worth their time and what had the potential to make them money.

Each magazine reviewed records for this purpose but while their reviews for the big records on major labels were done promptly, to coincide with their release there was a much greater lag-time for smaller independent labels. This could be because the magazines didn’t feel they’d have much interest for their clientele and thus waited until they had some free space to devote to them, or just as likely because the smaller independent companies themselves were lax in sending copies to be reviewed, possibly because they wanted to wait to see if there was any action on it before risking a bad review or something.

Who knows what the problem was, but the gist of it is there was often delays of MONTHS between the date a rock record hit the market and when it was reviewed as we saw with Dave’s Boogie Woogie back in December 1947 and not reviewed until May 1948!

So we then turn to the other form of accurately pegging a release date, namely the company’s advertising of those records.

Now we’ve already said Imperial had basically given up on selling more than a dozen copies of Davis’s releases so we know there won’t be any ads taken out on HIS behalf, but what about his labelmates?
 

Gimme Your Number And I’ll Call
Though all of the private eye movies and TV series make the detective profession seem a lot more glamorous, the essence of the job is basically following leads and that’s the case here as well, though I have to admit the lack of alluring femme fatales, wild gun battles and white-knuckle car chases was a bit of a let down.

The clues we have to work with in this case however are the same type you’d find in any halfway decent whodunit starting with the obvious – the numbers of Imperial Records single releases surrounding Davis’s You Fine And Healthy Thing on Imperial 5033.

We were able to pinpoint the last few releases of his thanks to some accompanying ads the company placed when they came out. 17 Million $ Baby (Imperial 5019) had one in the May 1st issue of Cash Box which went to press the final week of April, thereby giving us an April release date. Two more singles followed on its heels without ads, but then the fourth in that sequence, You Sure Gotta Lotta Nerve (Imperial 5026) had an ad appear in the June 7th edition of that same magazine, hence we were able to correctly place the other of Davis’s records that were slotted between those in Imperial’s numbering system sometime in May.

Pretty basic stuff. His next release Boogie In The Morning b/w Baby Can’t We Get Along on Imperial 5029, had no ads – and we haven’t even found the record to hear it, which is why it didn’t get reviewed – but we can safely say it came out sometime in summer because of the subsequent releases they put out on other artists starting with Imperial 5030, a song not helping us by being called “33” (as if we needed MORE numbers to confuse us!) by Poison Gardner, which was featured in an ad the last week of September.

That was followed by an ad for Lloyd Glenn’s Joymaker’s Boogie on Imperial 5031 which appeared in the October 2nd issue (meaning it was released in late September, since that’s when the issue went to press). Keep in mind that record companies want to promote the records as soon as they hit the market in these cases, so that gives us the best possible clue as to their release. If a record starts to sell big then they’ll keep advertising for weeks, if not months, but they aren’t buying ad space a month or two after a record came out if it’s flat-lined in the marketplace.

So with that said now we look at the Imperial 5000 line and see that Jake Porter, who had his own releases while also playing trumpet for Davis, was next in line with 5032 with Dorothea followed by this very record on 5033. That would indicate it PROBABLY was released either at the same time, or maybe the next month… even two months later if they were spreading out their releases, making it November at the latest. Yet we’re putting this in December… so what gives?

Well, neither of those records, Porter’s or this one by Davis, got the benefit of an ad, but they DID get reviewed by both Billboard and Cash Box magazines… in February, 1949!

So what are the possibilities here? Well if you went by the review dates it’d mean this came out in early 1949. But we’ve already told you that the trade papers lagged behind in their reviews for indie labels by weeks, if not months. We DO however know the next Davis release, and others in that range of Imperial’s numbering system, came out in March of 1949 (again, thanks to ads) and there’s not many releases in between, so in the end we split the difference between early fall and the dead of winter and in doing so… probably got it wrong anyway and therefore we’ve satisfied absolutely nobody!

But who said this gig was easy? Truthfully your guess is as good as mine. Maybe that’s why I’m not a private eye. I guess Humphrey Bogart can rest easy then… although Bogie was around back when these records came out and I didn’t see him solve this one either.
 

Just How Fine Can You Be?
Now what about the record itself? Ya know, the reason for us being here?

Well, if you’ve read any of the previous Davis reviews you pretty much know what to expect from him, although just to punish us for this extended indulgence into our own methods of operations he takes a slight unexpected left turn on this one.

But they’re on firm ground with the usual blaring horns that kick it off in rousing fashion, heavy on the higher tones, before we get the one bit that is new to us – a spoken exchange between he and a member of the band acting a little clownish over a fine woman they happen to see. It’s crude, as you’d expect, and not quite as funny as they’re hoping, but it’s humorous enough to tolerate and it at least provides further evidence that they came to their record sessions with plenty of different ideas to try out if nothing else.

Davis essentially angles his buddy off from hitting on this girl so he can do it instead, and as a result You Fine And Healthy Thing is a succession of compliments delivered to her as she probably flees through downtown Los Angeles, darting in and out of traffic or trying to find some store she can duck into that they won’t be able – or willing – to follow, like a jewelry store or some other place that sells things they can’t afford.

The lyrics aren’t much – and the chorus is even less so, as they repeat the words “You’re fine” in tandem far too much before concluding the line, but they do all of this with admirable enthusiasm and while they’re clearly making nuisances of themselves at least they aren’t grabbing her by the wrist and pulling her into a dark alley to have their way with her. In fact, they seem to realize they have no shot with her and are more intent on amusing themselves than making a genuine play for someone who won’t give them the time of day for their troubles.

The sax solo is equally crude, which unlike being crude when propositioning a female is actually welcome on a rock record even though Porter’s trumpet intrudes on the action, much like Davis’s buddy had done when it comes to hitting on the girl, but as happened when Davis re-took the reins vocally, so too does the saxophone which brings this back into our comfort zone.

None of this is going to result in anything – not a hit for Davis or Imperial, nor a date for Charlie and his pal – but it’s relatively harmless fun in both cases (unless you’re the girl that is, in which case let’s hope she’s carrying mace, or if that wasn’t available back then, a blackjack to ward off these goons). What works here is their overall enthusiasm and the structural risks they take in order for this to be noticed.

That it WASN’T noticed is par for the course, but then we’ve laid out in plenty of detail how his best sides were similarly ignored, as were the records of his labelmates that Imperial actually went the extra mile to promote, so while Charlie Davis has plenty to complain about in how randomly Imperial issued his material, in this case its failure might have been more that the girl in question, as well as the listener, had better things to do with their time.

Thankfully if you’re one of the three or four people who made it to the end of this review, the same can’t be said of you and we’re grateful you didn’t have anything better to do with YOUR time.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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