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Knowing what we know now about how rock ‘n’ roll would soon take over the music world it’s comical to look back and see how the major record companies resisted it so strenuously for so long.

It was almost as if they felt by ignoring it they could will it out of existence.

Maybe they should’ve asked the blacksmiths, buggy manufacturers and horse breeders who railed against the invention of the automobile for cutting in on their business a half century earlier how that plan worked out for them in the long run.

When the major labels DID sign rock artists, or those who were diverse enough to competently give them some rock songs if called on, it was still being done without any real conviction, preferring signing versatile musicians rather than potential stars and then doing little to push the records they wound up making.

To no one’s surprise when these failed to elicit interest it only served to confirm the companies low opinion of rock ‘n’ roll, giving them yet another excuse to start ignoring it again.


If You Don’t Watch Out You’ll Wind Up Broke
Though he’s being billed here as Charles Norris (And His Guitar), this is the same Chuck Norris who has been one of the top West Coast session musicians, appearing on a number of hits that came out on Los Angeles based labels on such artists from Floyd Dixon to Amos Milburn, often under the direction of Maxwell Davis.

Norris had gotten an occasional release of his own along the way but seemed perfectly content with the steady pressure-free work environment of studio work. Since the guitar was still not rock’s primary instrument the possibility of building a career as a featured act had even less of an assurance of long term success than had he been a blues act or jazz musician where the guitar played a larger role.

But then again it didn’t really take much time out of his schedule to cut a single session for a label like Mercury if he wasn’t reliant on touring off the releases as most artists were, so in late December 1950 he, along with the aforementioned Davis and the “other veterans” who were part-time sessionists who Mercury signed to cut a few sides under their own name.

One was Peppy Prince, who frankly only slipped into the roll call here in the past because The Hollywood Flames were backing him on a cut. The other however has a slightly better résumé as our old friend Big Jim Wynn, one of the forerunners of the rock sax style, makes his return after a prolonged absence.

However while all of them, Norris included, are fine musicians, and Hey Everybody is a decent enough song, it wasn’t any of them who should’ve been Mercury’s focus when it came to the group assembled in the studio that day.

That’s because there was someone else in the room whose presence there went unnoticed by Mercury execs as playing piano in just his second professional session – although this was the first record he was on to see release – was 19 year old Jesse Belvin, the most naturally gifted singer-songwriter to come out of Los Angeles until Brian Wilson came along more than a decade later.

In a business where finding untapped talent before anyone else is one of the keys to success none of the stuffed shirts in the control room asked Belvin to open his mouth.

No wonder Mercury Records were such failures in rock ‘n’ roll.

This Ain’t No Joke
As for the record itself that all of these people cut that day… well, it’s not bad, though it’s also not anything with hit potential, which sort of tells you all you need to know about Mercury’s lowered sights.

Though Chuck Norris was a great guitarist (too urbane for blues, too raw for jazz, but a perfect fit for rock), he was also a serviceable singer… but serviceable and marketable of course are two entirely different things and so while Hey Everybody doesn’t suffer from having his vocals play a major role, the record isn’t elevated by his singing either.

As you’d expect with the quality of musicians however we get a solid arrangement starting with Norris’s slightly distorted guitar leading into horns and choppy piano before he comes in to deliver a rather perfunctory verbal warning that unfortunately doesn’t really lead anywhere.

In other words this is an instrumental dressed up with a few vocal lines to make it more distinctive, a good idea in theory I suppose, but unless you plan on really tearing it up musically then it’s just sort of sitting there, pleasant but underwhelming.

Now the musicianship itself is fine. The prancing horns buttressed by Belvin’s piano and some accent notes by Norris that opens things is inviting enough and the first solo by Davis might be a little light in tone, though well played and gets more heated as it goes, but is hardly riveting for such a saxophone titan.

It transitions into Norris’s solo and while what he’s playing sounds good it’s far too sparse to command your attention. In essence he’s still acting as though he’s in a supporting role rather than the featured attraction and that mentality more than anything is his downfall. Had he ramped up the pace, ripped through some scintillating lines and made more impressive runs, bent strings or even just found a catchy riff instead of playing meandering progressions, then this could’ve been a nice showcase for him. Instead it’s almost incidental by nature.

The second solo is better with Davis’s improvising over Wynn’s steady riff while Norris throws in some more searing lines in response, but there’s nothing that’s going to stick in your head after it ends and for a song that relies primarily on instrumental prowess it’s obvious that’s not going to cut it.


Be Careful With Your Money Or You’ll Put Out The Fire
You know what Mercury was thinking here – let’s do a quick session, get our four cuts to put out two singles in the hopes of getting distributors in the rock market to pick up our line. A way to pave the road in case they want to venture into this territory again.

The problem is this isn’t a strong enough record – a potential HIT in other words – to convince anybody to take yet another chance on Mercury.

In fact had this been released on Aladdin, a label with bona fide rock credentials which Norris would soon cut another single for, chances are the distributors would carry it simply because they didn’t want to piss off the Messner Brothers who might find someone else to distribute their Amos Milburn records in the future.

So while Hey Everybody is nothing any of the participants should be ashamed of – it being a solid, unpretentious, if unambitious, rock single – the record is notable mostly for those side issues… the company’s complete lack of understanding of the market and the presence of some big name sidemen including a future star who was just starting to get experience in the studios which would soon become his home away from home for the next ten years.

It’s hard to even call this a missed opportunity… certainly it isn’t for Norris who at least got paid leader scale for once, or Belvin who needed the reps… but considering Mercury wasn’t serious about pursuing this music in a concerted fashion this winds up just being another historical curiosity.

Something nice to stumble across, but little more.


(Visit the Artist page of Chuck Norris for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)