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SAVOY 5560, MARCH, 1949



The primary reason for having a “secret weapon” is fairly obvious – to conceal the threat that you pose to somebody whom you intend harm in some way, often brought about by their overconfidence in their ability to beat you.

This usage isn’t related to that term however so just forget I said it.

The other definition of a secret weapon is when it refers to those whose success is often attributable to somebody ELSE… someone not always credited or not promoted as the primary figure in that success.

In most cases they aren’t exactly “secret”, as in unknown, but rather they’re simply not the focal point of the team in question allowing them to slip under the radar in a sense and thus seem as though they’re a secret weapon, someone known more to true aficionados of that outfit – be it a sports team or a band – than the general public.

But when it comes to selling records is it even advantageous to HAVE a secret weapon, especially when the lead artist is a complete unknown and the secret weapon isn’t so secret to the audience who’d be most likely to buy that record?

Those are the questions Savoy Records were asking themselves in the winter of 1949 when they had a hit-maker in their midst who was also appearing on the records of other artists in a role that generally went unrecognized.


Like Falling Down
Saxophonist Hal Singer was already a veteran presence in the studio for his work with a few hit-makers in rock, from Wynonie Harris to The X-Rays, but who was coaxed into recording his own singles in this field last June and walked away with a #1 hit when Cornbread topped the charts in the early fall.

Yet becoming an overnight star didn’t equate to becoming rich, especially in rock music in the late 1940’s. In fact other than perhaps receiving leader scale – not a sure thing because the June 1948 session was cut on the sly because of the ongoing recording ban instituted by the very union he belonged to – Hal Singer probably didn’t receive much more for recording a huge hit than he’d gotten for playing anonymously behind others, whether those records were huge hits themselves (Wynonie Harris’s Good Rockin’ Tonight) or total obscurities (Big Maybelle’s Too Tight Mama).

So any questions as to why he’d continue cutting sessions for union scale are thereby answered – that’s how he earned his living.

But there was one huge difference Savoy Records had to take into consideration since they had him under contract to do with him as they saw fit and that was how to best capitalize on his newfound name recognition when he was merely playing behind other artists in the studio as a sessionist. Since the records they were cutting were aimed at the same audience he’d just conquered it would stand to reason his presence would be a major selling point for these records being done by other lesser known acts.

Yet here’s where we run into a rather unique but obvious problem… just how do you take advantage of that?

Singer was now a bigger name than virtually all of the featured performers he was asked to play behind which gave Savoy a few options, but none without potential drawbacks. The simplest choice to make was merely to treat the results as nothing more than what they would’ve had he not scored hits on his own, which meant just put them out under the primary artist’s name and hope that Singer’s musical contributions – uncredited on the label though they might be – would be good enough to help to propel them into the national consciousness. That’s what they did in December on The X-Rays I’ll Always Be In Love With You and they got a Top Ten hit with it, but that method still left a lot to chance and got them no immediate dividend on his reputation when it came to guaranteeing a certain minimum amount of sales.

Option number two was to issue them under Singer’s name and give a vocal designation credit to whomever was handling that role. It was something Savoy had already done with its primary sax star, Paul Williams back in 1947 when he had two releases, or at least B-sides, which featured a different vocalist on each (Way Late and Come With Me Baby) and while the singing took the majority of the playing time on those songs, they were still credited to Williams.

But Savoy went with what was behind door number three, first issuing it on their little used 5500 series line and splitting the credit on the label, giving the singer, the mostly obscure Chicago Davis (who wasn’t from Chicago, but rather New York) the bigger font size and yet making sure Hal Singer’s name was also displayed on I Feel So Good.

Though we’ve had our fun mocking many of Herman Lubinsky’s decisions when it comes to running Savoy, this time it might’ve actually been a decent choice for him to make even though it didn’t turn out to be in the long run.

I Can Hardly Stand Still
Some people are destined for lifelong anonymity and Chicago Davis – though it may not have been his intent – was going to be one, at least in the music kingdom. He was the brother of soon-to-be famous saxophonist Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis”, and maybe seeing the benefit of having a distinctive nickname the man born Carl Davis went by a variety of names on record in his brief career, including King Carl. Maybe one of the reasons he didn’t last long was because these shifting appellations made it hard to build any following. Then again even if he’d stuck to his given name it’s more than likely that in time he’d have been reduced to a footnote anyway and not just because his output wasn’t very successful.

Though he couldn’t have known it at the time Davis’s legacy, such as it is, has been further hampered because there was a very famous Carl Davis in music who worked in… you guessed it, Chicago! The legendary producer who oversaw much of the city’s soul scene throughout the 1960’s including countless hits by Gene Chandler, Major Lance, The Chi-Lites, Barbara Acklin, et. all, has had no shortage of things written about him, so anyone searching for the singer of the late 1940’s would give up after a few dozen mentions of somebody else entirely.

Now if you eliminate the name “Carl” from your search and stick with the one adorning this specific release you’ll get a lot of pages on another singer from Chicago, Tyrone Davis, who had some great records in the late 1960’s and 1970’s that we should be covering any day now… any year???… well, maybe thirty or forty years down the road if we don’t sidetracked.

All of which means that Chicago Davis, whoever he was, gets lost in the shuffle. Part of the problem why he never made a name for himself may be because he wasn’t afforded much chance to do so as Savoy didn’t seem to really push this guy very hard, giving him just one this release under this name and a few under other names with brother Eddie taking Singer’s place before he faded into the dark of night.

So remember when we just said we’d give Lubinsky some credit for trying to build a career for Davis while at the same time using Singer’s role on the record to give it a better chance at commercial success? Well, here’s where we take back those kudos because if your commitment to Davis was so shallow as to not even give him a second release then it would’ve been far smarter to give Singer the lead credit here and just reduce Davis’s contributions to a secondary mention if not exclude him from the label altogether.

Besides, one listen to I Feel So Good and it becomes obvious that the reason why Davis is claiming to feel so good is because he’s got Hal Singer backing him on this which elevates what would’ve otherwise been a pretty nondescript record into one that’s definitely worth hearing.

Everybody Looks Twice
Let’s start with Davis and the structure of the song itself before moving on to the main event because they each warrant mention on their own for different reasons.

I Feel So Good is one of those songs that sounds eminently familiar even if you’ve never heard the record itself before, though in fact you have heard it before, just under other names.

This song is one of the widely used “standard structures” that are frequently used by singers of this era to craft something that sounds polished because the framework is so sturdy from being recycled to death. Go back to Jump Jackson’s 1947 release Hey Pretty Mama that we covered back in the earliest days of this project and you’ll hear the same basic tune under a different name with slightly different accompaniment. Stick around a few years and you’ll hear it again plenty of times under new titles with different things being emphasized instrumentally.

You might think we’d frown upon this behavior, criticizing the lack of originality not to mention how they were skirting copyright laws with their loose-limbed adaption of someone else’s original concept back in the caveman days when this was first committed to whatever prehistoric wax they used back then, but truthfully we could care less. By now this kind of song was basically in the public domain and available for any intrepid artist to try and make it their own by affixing some new lyrics to it and stamping it with a healthy dose of their personality.

Chicago Davis really doesn’t offer much in either regard here. The lyrics are perfunctory, a series of exclamations that are modestly colorful but hardly inspiring or memorable. He’s doing little more than expressing joy over his girlfriend’s admirable qualities but it’s done in broad terms and without the kind of unrestrained enthusiasm we’ve come to expect from these kind of odes… or maybe it IS enthusiasm but we can’t tell for sure because of his emphysema, or something close to that affliction anyway. His voice is strained after the first stanza and he has no idea how to project a song from his diaphragm when singing – he might not even HAVE a diaphragm come to think of it – and so his throat is overtaxed and he winds up practically squawking some of the lines and gasping for breath at the same time.

Yet with a better voice, or a better voice instructor early on in life, he might’ve done something worthwhile with this because he shows he definitely knows how to tackle the song rhythmically, as he never loses the melody, keeps the accents on the right beats and generally speaking seems to know where he’s headed even if he’s breaking down along the way.

It might not stand out as much because the backing singers are even less disciplined than he is, echoing his vocals on the chorus in a decidedly uneven and unprofessional manner. It sounds as if they were merely hangers-on enlisted into service, a few females and a male can be picked out, none of them accomplished singers and at times painfully aware of it as they occasionally wander off-mic and alternately sing too loud and not loud enough depending on how self-conscious they feel at the moment. Yet their presence here is still somewhat welcome if only to add to the somewhat chaotic spirit I Feel So Good needs to deliver in order to set up the main attraction – the saxophone of Hal Singer.

Foam At The Mouth
If any of this build-up over Singer’s appearance has led you to think he must be out of this world on this song, delivering a knock-down, drag-out performance destined to set the bar even higher for the tenor sax going forward, my apologies. He’s NOT tearing the roof off the joint, nor even rattling the walls much, but he is delivering the proper attitude this requires to connect with rock fans and to compensate for Davis’s technical shortcomings… heck, in some ways he’s even making those shortcomings sound like a credible component of this type of rock song because of how it all fits together so well.

The horn bursts that open the record are handled by the trumpet and don’t give much indication of what’s in store, vocally or instrumentally. But when Davis starts singing that’s when Hal Singer makes his presence known and lends some much needed class to the proceedings with a very subtle counterpoint that you have to really listen for but once you recognize what he’s doing then it stands out. It’s a musician’s lick, something you start focusing on because they sound so good in relation to the basic simplicity of the rest of the arrangement with backbeat carried by drums and hand claps while the bass pops into view every so often to give it a deeper bottom.

The first half of the solo that follows which forms the intended highlight of the record contains both horns, trumpet and sax, each playing their own lines which sort of alternate but also sort of overlap. It’s effective however in making sure the former doesn’t get too much leeway in taking I Feel So Good in a direction that none of us would feel good about heading, while the latter is tasked with keeping things tethered to the ground for awhile.

That doesn’t last though as Singer is going to have to earn his pay, meager though it was, and earn his label credit to boot, which he more or less does, turning in a good solo that is noisy without being deafening, raucous without being frenzied and stimulating without being out of control and in the process upending the basic rhythmic qualities of the song that are so enduring.

As a standalone piece it might seem more exciting than within the context of the record but that’s probably a sign that it’s a good fit. You appreciate what Singer is serving up because it’s not so heavy-handed that it overwhelms everything else. It basically is a highlight that also manages to keep the rest of the record in check, balancing everything out in a way that comes across as natural and totally appropriate. Not the best we’ve heard Singer by any means, but worthy of his good name.


Stop Right There!
No matter who this was credited to there wasn’t much chance of it becoming a lasting hit. Not only was the song itself far too reminiscent of other roadhouse approved songs – past, present and future – but the vocal delivery contained within was more suited to those roadhouses than for a record that would have to be listened to repeatedly for weeks on end in order to achieve hit status.

But that doesn’t mean I Feel So Good wasn’t a record that should be skipped over altogether either. We keep trying to point out that in the long run a musical genre isn’t defined by the absolute best they have to offer, nor are they resigned to being stuck with the impressions made by the worst sides they put out, but instead rock will succeed or fail on the basis of its average output.

But averages can go up or down and so it helps to have those like Hal Singer who has the ability to lift songs that might be treading water without his presence and allow them to float. A rising tide lifts all boats in other words.

The fact that someone totally obscure like Chicago Davis who has plenty of deficiencies as a singer to contend with can release a record that is enjoyable to listen to is perhaps the best indication that rock ‘n’ roll is on the right track, even if a not-so-secret weapon was required to make sure it met everyone’s expectations.


(Visit the Artist page of Chicago Davis for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)

(See also the Artist page of Hal Singer for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)