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STAR 718; MARCH 1950



Despite being in the right place (rock ‘n’ roll) at the right time (when rock’s sax mania was at its peak), Charlie Singleton did not quite have the right outcome… at least as it pertained to achieving even the fleeting fame of many of his contemporaries.

Some of this may have been circumstantial but largely out of his control, like being on a succession of smaller labels that couldn’t match the promotional capabilities of larger independents, while some of his failure to make a bigger impact could’ve been just due to the randomness of music in general, maybe the audience which had been inudated with blaring saxophone rocking instrumentals just didn’t have room on their personal playlists for one more.

So Charlie Singleton became a minor entity in rock rather than a major player. He wasn’t the first and won’t be the last in that regard.

But then again like everybody who falls short in their quest in life you need to start by looking in the mirror and assessing your own choices along the way, and it’s here, with this follow-up to a fantastic opening act, where Singleton spit the bit and undercut the image he’d been working on building.


Going To Town
It’s been seven months since we first met – and last heard from – Charlie Singleton, an alto sax hot-shot from Kansas City, already a veteran bandleader in New York before he was old enough to vote.

Though influenced by K.C.’s number one sax product, Charlie Parker, this was a new day and a new style of music ruled the roost and as befitting his age he left no doubt he was up for the task with Keep Cool, a gutsy, sweaty rock record that gave no hint of jazz sophistication.

Yet it had been the comparatively lightweight flip side of that, Later For You, which drew more notice around New York and while it’s hard to fathom why Apollo Records hadn’t locked him up long term, Singleton now lands at the far smaller, shorter lived label called Star where… he double crosses us and rethinks his strategy, either under his own volition or at the request of his new label seeking to replicate what they saw as the better – safer – bet.

Camel Walkin’ is not a roaring sax instrumental, nor even an instrumental at that, as inexplicably he’s added vocals to the mix thereby rendering himself to be something of a glorified afterthought on his own sophomore effort.

A Song You’ve Never Heard Before?
In the rock era if you mention a dance called the camel walk you’ll immediately think of James Brown in the late 1960’s who incorporated it into his stage show and name-checked it on records such as the immortal live cut There Was A Time.

That led to a brief resurgence in the dance’s popularity, or at least references to the dance… I’m not sure if kids were actually camel walkin’ themselves at parties. The Ikettes had done a good dance record a few years earlier by this name and a few years later Candi Staton delivers a great line in her classic I’d Rather Be An Old Man’s Sweetheart when dismissing the younger guys her own age who were more interested in camel walking than in paying proper attention to her when they went out together, so I’m assuming it was at least in a lot of people’s repertoire then.

But the dance itself is much older than that, older than even Singleton’s reference to it here, as the dance gained its initial notoriety back in vaudeville in the early 1900’s and by the 1920’s was popular with the flappers in the jazz scene.

That might be your first sign that Camel Walkin’ is destined for trouble. Though James Brown could revive interest in it years later you have to remember he was JAMES BROWN!!!, whereas Charlie Singleton is only Charlie Singleton.

More troubling than the undersized personality of the featured performer though is the structure of the song which is not up to par for 1950 rock, although there are signs that with some hard work there was probably a good tune to be gotten out of this idea but it’s buried beneath far too much old school concepts that make this hopelessly dated.

I don’t mean dated as in 1920’s jazz, or 1906 vaudeville routines, but rather early 1940’s jive, a style which in the context of its era was a lot of fun but outside that era it doesn’t age well as evidenced here when following a tepid musical intro a voice comes in talking in a casual patter that is striving to sound hip and failing quite miserably.

The vocalist is Linwood Sutton but, at least according to the writing credits, the concept and lyrics of Camel Walkin’ come from Singleton himself. They’re the words of somebody who has a vague and mostly inaccurate notion of the scene they’re trying to conjure up, like a would-be gangster getting their lingo by watching Edward G. Robinson movies. Here it’s the jazz hepcat milieu that’s their target but they fall well short of any authenticity.

But as awkward and stilted as the spoken intro is it’s not nearly as bad as the singing that follows. Not only does Sutton have a nasal tone without much resonance, his instincts are wretched. He’s got the most basic melody to follow and yet he can barely stay on track, his voice wobbling with uncertainty and at risk for falling out of step at every turn.

In his defense maybe that was because he was anticipating – or dreading if he was smart – the gibberish capper to that first stanza, a collection of randomly assigned vowels and consonants designed to convey hip wordless patter but which only makes him sound completely illiterate.

When the band chips in with a chanted group vocal they manage to stay in key and in rhythm, neither of which should be cause for celebration on a commercially released record, yet here it comes across as a major achievement which tells you all you need to know about the quality of this effort.


Nothing To It
So naturally since they fail quite miserably in the vocal department – and since this is in fact a record being issued under the name of the saxophonist who was so good his first time out – we expect to find the musical side of the equation, or at least the sax solos themselves, to be the redeeming feature of this. Maybe they won’t be enough on their own to rescue Camel Walkin’ from its own worst features but it might at least be able to distract you long enough from those badly conceived vocals to leave a somewhat better impression of the entire record.

Think again.

Though Singleton is hardly playing as badly as Sutton was singing, he’s also not doing nearly enough to convince you his heart is in this. For starters he’s still sticking with the alto sax, a much less powerful horn than the tenor that rock relies on, but since he managed to play it with the appropriate fire on Keep Cool that tells you he’s more than capable of delivering the necessary fireworks if he puts his mind to it.

Instead he just sort of wanders around aimlessly during his brief solo. He’s playing lines that might’ve been acceptable had they been delivered with more bite but here they’re just taking up space. Not only isn’t he adding anything of interest, but it’s almost as if he’s standing around with a clueless look on his face wondering what people are clamoring for.

The second solo after those group chants is much better but is still hampered by the flimsy tone of the alto. He’s blowing harder now but rather than go deeper in register to emphasize the power he’s sticking to the mid-notes which have a reedy sound. John Godfrey on drums is trying to kick him in the ass a bit to keep the energy high, but there’s only so much he can do without putting his foot through the bass drum to get his attention.

Had they simply used the two solo spots of Camel Walkin’ to cut loose, stoking the fire so the track itself was scalding, then you could see how they might’ve thought this had a chance. Of course Sutton would have to be replaced, but the band’s singing, such as it is, could’ve worked better had the support bolstered its image rather than detracted from it.

Of course the lyrics themselves, the final element in any song, probably would’ve rendered even that course of action a failure because they too are out of step with rock, too orderly and structured to convince you they’re actually as excited as they claim and without anything even suggesting there’s mayhem imminent you’d have no hesitation to walk out on them – with or without a camel in tow – and have no fear of missing something.

Until I Fall Down
A lot of times we attempt to lay blame on outside agitators, which in rock music’s case during this period usually means incompetent record company executives who can’t see the writing on the wall when it comes to gauging the market properly.

In a lot of cases that’s entirely justified and surely Star Records who were in business just about a year, late 1949 to late 1950, with no notable records to their credit, that would be the likely bet when trying to find who was at fault for a misfire like this.

But in the case of Camel Walkin’ I don’t think you need to look much further than Charlie Singleton himself. After all it wasn’t as if the owner of the company or any of its employees could write and arrange music so that job was left to Singleton. He was the guy who’d been hired and he was the one who brought in an unnecessary and ill-equipped singer to take the spotlight on his own sophomore effort and then to top it all off this awkward mess is what he came up with to try and advance his career!

It’s enough to have us question his intent if not his sanity.

As stated there’s potentially a good record here, at least the concept of talking up a dance with some group vocal chants to give it a ritualistic communal vibe topped off by two sax solos to get everybody on their feet, but it was all delivered in a half-assed way with little conviction and no originality or sense of identity.

The wrong song at the wrong time in other words.


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