Independent record companies of the 1940’s and 50’s always had a pretty clear cut path to solvency… focus on the areas of music, and the markets that music appealed to, which were neglected by the major companies.

Find an unfilled niche and fill it.

With the advent of rock ‘n’ roll in 1947 what had previously been a small and steady, but relatively stagnant market got a shot of adrenaline and the indie labels began their methodical climb up the ladder in the record industry by focusing increasingly on rock music.

To take advantage of this newfound opportunity however they needed promising artists, original songs, a sympathetic producer and good organizational mindset, but they also needed a studio band, or bandleader at least, who was fully tapped into rock ‘n’ roll.

Someone like Charlie Singleton.


A Breeze Blowing
Despite some good records out of the gate – this was just the second release ever for the company – Atlas Records did not make much of an impact on the music world, but it definitely wasn’t for lack of skill in this department.

They chose right when they picked the 21 year old saxophonist Charlie Singleton to head up their studio unit when they opened their doors in late 1951.

Singleton was already something of a veteran rocker having released the scalding Keep Cool when he was a mere teenager only to see further opportunities limited or compromised by the expectations of such companies as Decca who only wanted him to approximate rock ‘n’ roll with subpar material to get their foot in the door without besmirching their own reputation in the process.

But now he’s got more or less free reign at Atlas and in addition to backing the explosive H-Bomb Ferguson on his first single for the company, Singleton is getting his chance to strut his stuff on Gone With The Wind, a record that makes no bones about its stylistic place in the universe.

With a long grinding note that sounds practically distorted coming out of the speakers Singleton quickly settles into an easy going groove to set the mood. This is standard issue rock sax instrumental stuff, which is not a criticism at all but a compliment, especially since these kinds of records which were once so prolific have become much more since we entered the Fifties.

Here the goal is not to recreate a pop standard by throwing a heated interlude in the middle like Freddie Mitchell had made his name on, nor was it a wild free-for-all from start to finish like Big Jay McNeely had risen to fame doing, but rather this was a concentrated dose of sultry blowing designed for dancing without collapsing in a heap when it was over, or maybe pulling a muscle and having to be helped to the sidelines.

To his credit and to Atlas’s relief, he accomplishes that goal with relative ease.


Batten Down The Hatches
Everything about the record is well judged… from the subtle electric guitar underpinning the melody with accent notes and compact little riffs to the way in which the song is broken into sections that almost sound self-contained, allowing Singleton to offer different approaches in each one, giving the record a feel of progressing towards something rather than running around in circles.

He abandons that addictive early groove in the mid-section during which he gradually cuts loose and gets things pumping before handing things over to other horns who carry the third section themselves, easing things closer to that first groove without merely replicating it.

Throughout it all we get more instruments adding their textures to the arrangement including a trombone which gets only a few notes to dart into the spotlight, but makes the most of them as it slides – pardon the pun – the song back towards where it began to close things out.

Gone With The Wind is hardly overly ambitious, but it’s a long way from being simplistic too. There are overlapping and interlocking parts galore, the rhythm is never downplayed and the melody is catchy enough without being grating on the senses.

Singleton’s tone throughout this never wavers, never veers too close to jazz or pop, but nor does he try and artificially create a stir by dropping into the lower register for shock appeal as might’ve been expected a few years earlier in rock’s evolution. He knows exactly what he’s doing and carries it all out efficiently and with a clear destination in mind and gets us there in one piece.

You may not be knocked out by the record enough to request it by name, but at the kind of social circles rock was inhabiting this was exactly the kind of backdrop the music was expected to provide and makes a good case for Atlas Records being a label where you’d be able to find it.


Wind Damage
Though the song itself is easy enough to hear in the modern era, at the time it came out that may not have been the case.

There are no signs of the record label for this release online, no sales of vintage 78’s out there and Atlas Records may very well have limited their output to the East Coast early on to not overextend themselves with a bunch of singles that went nowhere.

Of course that’s hardly a recipe for success as a company, but you can hardly blame them for being cautious, for 1951 isn’t 1948 or ‘49 when saxophones were all the rage in rock and so Gone With The Wind probably would’ve had an uphill climb to be universally embraced by fans even had it been widely available.

But while that’s an interesting subplot to all of these releases, since big commercial returns most often dictate future stylistic trends, it’s not the dominant focus around here where we’re more concerned with what artists are doing to meet the current trends and to try and influence what’s still to come.

This may not be at the forefront of either of those things, but it’s firmly within the mainstream of the style for the day and when you’re a record label trying to make your case that you belong on the public’s radar, a quality record like this gets them off to a good start.


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