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IMPERIAL 5026; JUNE, 1948

 
 

 

One look at the title of this record probably elicits a lot of potential accusations readers may have upon seeing yet another record by Charlie “Boogie Woogie” Davis, a singer and pianist who was hardly a notable presence in rock history but who is a steady presence on these pages thanks to an overeager record company who has now released four singles on him in a matter of weeks, spanning late April to early June 1948.

You might be joining me in telling that iconic label that they had a lot of nerve to flood the market with his work, thereby killing the chance that any one of those singles would have enough room to find an audience and advance his career.

OR… since we’ve now stated that exact same point four times in the blink of an eye while you get impatient waiting for something new to read, you might instead be telling US that we sure got a lot of nerve making you wade through all of this yet again.

Either way, you’re not wrong.
 

 

Repeating Yourself
Once upon a time in distant past during the last years of the heyday of broadcast television, there was a program on the ABC network called Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?. This was an American version of a popular British show, which I suppose only proves that both countries have more than their fare share of fools to be watching such tripe.

But watch they did. When the program debuted in the fall of 1999 ABC was in last place among the networks and desperately in need of something – ANYTHING – to pull it out of the basement. That’s when they put their money on a game show of all things, a format that hadn’t been truly successful in American prime time since the 1950’s! What brought it down back then was the quiz show scandals wherein the public found out through Congressional inquiries that certain contestants had been given the answers and coached to make the drama of their wins and losses more compelling to viewers.

Because of the fallout over that organized subterfuge game shows since that time had been almost exclusively the realm of daytime television schedules catering to lonely shut-ins, while they were joined by a handful of early evening programs like Wheel Of Fortune which apparently were granted federally protected status sometime around 1869 and therefore were unable to ever be legally removed from the airwaves.

In other word the chances of this gambit actually working was almost non-existent, but ABC had no other options and so they put it on hoping for the best. Of course it promptly took off. Three episodes a week aired, one on Tuesdays, one on Thursdays and one on Sundays and in the year-end rankings they held the Number One, Number Two and Number Three spots respectively.

Thanks to this one show ABC was now the top network on the air and the next season they decided they basically didn’t need any other programming whatsoever, putting episodes on five nights a week in primetime, adding Wednesday and Friday to the docket. But while the show was still incredibly popular (ranking 3rd, 4th, 8th, 11th and 19th) they’d overextended themselves and the novelty started wearing off. Since the program was contingent on the suspense over the outcome there was no value in re-runs, so all of the episodes had to be first-run. That also meant no syndication package to earn money on the back end by selling old shows to cable or local outlets.

Sensing the tide turning ABC cut back to just two episodes for the third season but the party was over and neither cracked the Top Twenty in the ratings and was canceled at the end of the year, one of the more incredible rises and falls of a runaway hit show in TV history.

Why bring this up now, in 1948, before television had even reached every corner of America?

Well, because Imperial Records seemed to have the same outlook a half century before ABC TV came up with the idea, for just like the network did down the road Imperial decided to focus virtually their entire schedule on selling just one product every single week. Unlike the game show at the turn of the century however Imperial Records never reached the same heights with their risky bet.

In fact, they didn’t reach any heights at all as poor Charlie “Boogie Woogie” Davis will bitterly attest.
 


 
 

Listen While I Tell You Just What’s On My Mind
Though undoubtedly running a record label is just hard as operating a website, maybe even slightly more complex I’ll begrudgingly admit, there’s a few basic rules of thumb that any idiot, myself included, should know going into either endeavor.

When operating a website chronicling rock history one song at a time in lengthy reviews it helps to be able to write in full sentences while having a fair grasp of the English language, a knowledge OF that history you’re writing about and to have access to the songs in question. Seems rather obvious doesn’t it?

Now when it comes to the latter point that doesn’t mean every single record I’d like to review is something that can be easily found, especially when during this stretch we’re talking about music recorded seven full decades in the past that in many cases failed to sell more than a few hundred copies by companies that we no longer even in business by the start of the 1950’s. But aside from a handful of cuts we’re still hoping to get our hands on we’re off to a pretty good start when it comes to our coverage at the very least, as pretty much anything and everything under the rock banner here is being examined.

Please though, hold your applause, there’s nothing altogether praiseworthy about that. It should be standard operating procedure for any website like this, not something to be congratulated for actually achieving.

There are similar requirements for running a record label that are pretty straightforward and don’t fall under the “DUH!” category such as finding good artists and good songs to record. The first of which should be amazingly simple: Give the records the best chance at succeeding, otherwise why bother releasing them.

Yet as basic as that edict sounds it’s shocking how many companies fail to follow that rule.

Imperial Records, we’ve stated before, was just getting into this side of the musical spectrum after first trying country music and Spanish language records which kept them afloat but seemed to have limited potential for really breaking them out in the market. Even country music which was starting to undergo a commercial uptick didn’t have a lot of indie labels that were able to sustain their entire business by focusing on this field. As it was the major labels may not have devoted a lot of their resources to country music but were able to dominate the market thanks to rounding up the best talent.

Eddy Arnold, who was on his way to having the most successful year in any field of music ever in 1948, was on RCA-Victor, while the next huge star on the horizon Hank Williams would be on aspiring major label MGM. Capitol Records had Jimmy Wakely (who had come from another major, Decca), where he often was paired with pop vocalist Margaret Whiting, showing that they were thinking of this as sort of “rural pop” in commercial potential if not musical style. They also had country guitar legend Merle Travis and had scored the biggest crossover hit the year before with Tex Williams’ Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette). Bob Willis & His Texas Playboys were big stars on Columbia and Red Foley meanwhile was scoring huge hits for Decca.

So while indie labels could have success with country music, as King Records did, even they had seen the benefit of focusing just as much of their output on black music styles, specifically this up and coming rock ‘n’ roll. Therefore Imperial’s move to do the same last year was a wise one, except for one thing… they needed artists.

To cut to the chase, since we’ve gone over this before, they signed a few local L.A. acts including teenage pianist Dick Lewis and slightly older club musician Charlie Davis to give them enough material to try and establish them in this field as well as to get them through what was shaping up to be a long recording ban that meant the songs they cut in late 1947 would have to be judiciously released in order to last awhile.

Which is where they screwed things up royally!
 

Just Help Yourself
Four Charlie “Boogie Woogie” Davis records in about five or six weeks, if that. Eight songs from his output gone in a flash. It still boggles the mind how they could be so stupid, especially since they didn’t have an unlimited amount of material by a wide array of artists in the vault to fall back on once these came and went. At least by holding some back you could delude yourself into thinking each one coming out next month had the potential to be a hit and therefore have some optimism going into the next quarter, but this boneheaded strategy of throwing everything onto the market in rapid succession was career sabotage in the making.

Which is a shame because once again Davis is pretty good on You Sure Gotta Lotta Nerve.

The song is hardly groundbreaking or even very distinctive, just another rampaging boogie if you want to look at it with an abundance of cynicism, but he does this sort of thing well which is what matters most. It’s also to his credit that he never merely recycles the exact same components from one record to the next, there’s always something a little different in the arrangement to make each one stand out and though the lyrics may be fairly generic in their topics they usually have some good lines thrown in to give them a bit more character and this record is no exception.

A strong left hand – itself a change from the last time out on Boogie Woogie Baby where his left was largely kept a bay – sets a good bottom to start this off before the horns come in with a riff of their own to get it churning.

When Davis’s voice comes in it’s got to bring some gravity to the track because the arrangement is relying more on the higher register horns with Jake Porter’s trumpet at the forefront to carry the primary musical load here, specifically behind the verses. Though that’s rarely our first choice for the ideal accompaniment in a rock song we at least have to acknowledge that they’ve shown a willingness to mix things up from one song to the next and it’s the different textures here which set it apart from the previous release, so from the standpoint of diversity we can’t complain too much, at least in theory.

As for the thematic content of the song Davis is criticizing his girl for not being grateful for all he’s done for her after she announces that she’s now on the make for other guys. He’s more annoyed than angry, as at least he’s not threatening her with bodily harm or anything, but he sounds disgusted by these latest developments and probably is being just as critical of himself deep down for having put up with her self-centered behavior for so long.

The first stanza is just setting up the story and is nothing we haven’t heard before but after the instrumental break he dives into the detail-rich backstory with one of the better examples of someone’s slothful behavior we’ve encountered so far, one which involves can openers, beans and his woman in bed.

Don’t get your hopes TOO high, it’s nothing perverted, but it is worth a smile at least and shows there’s some effort going into painting a vivid picture of who he’s dealing with that is the source of his exasperation.
 

Won’t Be Home ‘Til Late
Better still is the aforementioned instrumental break, for while the backing music to the vocals was too reliant on a slightly outdated mindset the sax solo which divides the record in half is the record’s musical highlight.

Though it’s not anything that is going to compete with the best interludes we’ve heard in rock so far, it at least shows they had a firm grasp on the sounds that worked best in these sections and as such it features a good tone that grounds You Sure Gotta Lotta Nerve and adds plenty of energy by the conclusion as it starts riffing harder and faster leading up to Davis’s return.

Considering they cut all of these sides, almost twenty of them all told, in just three sessions last December, they were surprisingly accurate in their choices, not to mention diverse in their repertoire as we’ve sidestepped one single and a bunch of B-sides that were aiming for more pop acceptance, giving them a much broader reach than had they done nothing but boogie until they dropped.

But on the rockers they have the basic concept down pat and show enough variety to keep things interesting from song to song. Davis has got the voice to pull most of the material off well and when he needs to take over on piano he does that fine too. The horn section is undoubtedly skilled and even when they lean too far backwards it’s usually for creative reasons, not because they can’t handle the cruder aspects that rock is relying on. Just the mere fact that they had a sense of all of this before there was much in the way of commercial returns to rely on when mapping their own course tells you that they were well-equipped for the requirements of the job.

Too bad we can’t say the same about their record label.

There’s a saying that used to be relevant back when music was released on that format which went: “I hate to sound like a broken record”, which referred to repeating yourself when handing out advice. Unfortunately that saying applies to us here as well when it comes to talking about Imperial Records’ lackluster start in the rock field.

But if you think you’re tired of reading about the same thing every time you come across a Charlie Davis review here, imagine being Davis himself at the time and having to deal with the same fatal flaws of his employer who were seemingly treating his output as merely a way to experiment with their overall business plan while his own career ground to a premature halt.

A lotta nerve indeed.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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