No tags :(

Share it

DECCA 48193; JANUARY 1951



Okay, be honest… how many of you saw THIS coming?

The resurrection of a song by a known musical reprobate long since cast out by the record industry now being recorded by a notable rock saxophonist on his debut for a major label that has previously kept rock ‘n’ roll at arm’s length.

Any one of those occurrences would be a shock, but ALL of them?

No doubt about it, Nineteen Fifty-One is already shaping up to be full of surprises.


Go Ahead, Take A Big Bite
The signing of Charlie Singleton by Decca Records is rather hard to fathom… at least when looking at this side of the record.. For while he’s got obvious talent he’s yet to have hits on the small labels he’s recorded for and with the diminishing commercial returns on sax instrumentals over the past year it’s not as if they were pouncing while the iron was still hot in this regard.

Unlike older musicians who’d found the fountain of youth when rock ‘n’ roll had provided a welcome arena for them to blow like a madman for some quick cash and cheap exploitative hits but could – and would – easily shift back to embrace their previous musical identity when need be, Singleton wasn’t a jazz veteran who might easily be reformed with the proper guidance and admonishments from Decca’s conservative producers. No, Charlie Singleton was a rocker through and through.

Furthermore he was primarily an instrumentalist yet he’s featuring a singer on both sides of this record, one of which is a song that was originally cut none other than Joe Swift, a nasal voiced rock ‘n’ roll hellcat who presumably was shipped out of town on a rail two years ago for his crude performances with orders to the security guards to shoot to kill should he dare show his face again.

If that sounds extreme maybe you can tell me why else would the entire record industry collectively turn their backs on a singer who wrote all his own material and scored a legitimate national hit with his first release back in 1948, a time when the grand total of records that could make that claim was probably less than two dozen.

Alligator Meat was not that hit but was at least memorable for its topic and overall crudity, though it certainly was not helped by Swift’s nasal vocal projection.

So for Singleton to revive the spirit of the dearly departed Joe Swift was – we hope – an intentional provocation of the label whose motives we’ll see later on were far less altruistic than it seems here.

But then again even that’s appropriate, for if you’re going to bite the hand that feeds you then you might as well do it with the powerful jaws of a hungry gator.

Really All Reet
Though perhaps this was considered a throwaway by all involved, Charlie Singleton did manage to update the song to try and appeal a little better to those in this day and age starting with increasing the tempo considerably.

Swift’s original Alligator Meat was very deliberately paced, sort of lurching really, and that allowed him to lay hard into the cadences and give it some rhythmic drive in that way since it wasn’t otherwise providing much. It wasn’t a lively song by any means and he was clearly counting on the theme to be the main selling point.

Singleton turns that game plan on its head here, as he not only takes this at a much faster clip but in doing so he’s drawing some attention away from the lyrics themselves and focusing more on the crisp playing and Freddie Jackson’s calm and confident vocals.

Granted Alligator Meat is still not as lyrically distinctive as Swift had probably imagined it to be when he wrote it, for while it’s not a common culinary dish it’s also not something ridiculously outlandish like dinosaur ribs or dodo bird eggs or something, but with a better vocalist than poor Joe it manages to “sing well”, the patter sounding a lot more natural coming from Jackson who thankfully isn’t trying to push the supposed humor in his reading.

The song comes off better as a result, but the main vocal riff – the repeated emphasis of “alligator” leading into the full title line – was always fairly catchy, this just pulls the rest of the song closer to those high points, but then again how high can it really go when we’re talking about eating reptiles?

As for Jackson’s prominent role we should point out that he never progressed beyond being a band singer, certainly never becoming a singing star on his own despite having a pretty good voice. He’d stay with Singleton awhile – the two would even join veteran tenor sax star Budd Johnson on a session later in the year – and though he handles himself well enough on this he was not the main performer here, not the guy being signed by Decca Records and not the one with his name prominently listed under the title on the label itself.

For that we turn to Charlie Singleton and see whether or not his unexpected contract with such a company would be justified by what he was able to contribute to this record.

Slap It On A Big Piece Of Bread
As we’ve noted in the past when looking at Singleton, he was a bit unusual for a rock band leader in that he was still sticking with the alto sax… at least for a little while longer.

Alto leads, outside of Earl Bostic, were a rarity in rock circles and while Singleton has managed to get some fairly impressive heft out of his lines he’s still carrying a tenor along with him to beef up the sound. In this case it’s Lucky Thompson, a brilliant musician who’d made his bones in swing bands in the 40’s, moved into bebop and later became one of the first notable practitioners on the soprano sax, but during his brief early 1950’s fling with rock he was firmly established on tenor.

The horns as you’d expect are very prominent on Alligator Meat opening with all of them – baritone, trumpet and trombone in addition to Thompson and Singleton – riffing away while Sticks Evans slams the drums behind them to set an invigorating mood.

When Jackson comes in though the horns ease up on their intensity, not only behind him as he sings which would be expected, but curiously they also take things a little easy in the break that follows the vocals.

For starters we get the trumpet playing the lead line with the saxes working in unison to answer it. Then comes the sax solo by Singleton and it’s a good one on both a technical level and a melodic one, but it’s not an insult to his abilities to say the same lines would’ve been better served on a more muscular tenor.

Ironically Swift’s record, weaker overall because of the guy at the microphone, had a slightly more effective sax solo, not because of the quality of the playing (which was fine) but rather because it was the tenor handling it. You just get a more visceral response to that horn and though Singleton resisted making the switch it for awhile longer, by this time next year he’d see the light and trade his alto in for a tenor.

Still, as altoists in rock go, Singleton has thus far made it work and this is really no exception.

Hey Waiter!
Surely this was not what Decca Records had in mind when signing Charlie Singleton to cut them a session, but those are the risks you take when dealing with these rock ‘n’ roll kids… no respect for the venerated traditions of The House That Bing Crosby Built.

Since they were firm believers in covering every potential hit with their biggest stars, I think it’s pretty telling that Bing never laid down a version of Alligator Meat himself. Though don’t believe the rumors that when he heard this coming out of the next studio over he immediately sent back his steak and became a vegetarian. He may have disavowed rock – as Decca would continue to do for a long time, despite these occasional forays into it – but chances are if they thought this had hit potential he’d have been trying to wrap his baritone around its unsavory lines just the same.

The odd thing was that it was Singleton, who should know better, that felt this might have hit potential. I guess that means two years ago he was wasting his nickels on Swift’s original in a jukebox somewhere or maybe, just maybe, it means that Joe Swift was alive and well and still singing for his supper in a club out in the sticks when Singleton came in looking to get out of the cold and get a bite to eat himself.

We can hope anyway.


(Visit the Artist page of Charlie Singleton for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)

Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
Joe Swift (March, 1949)