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ALADDIN 3081; MARCH 1951



As promised, for anyone who shies away from having to use their brains to contemplate what an artist actually has to say within their songs, we present a record that has no lyrics whatsoever.

They call these “instrumentals” I’m told and while this wasn’t one of the important ones to come along, it still gives us a pretty good glimpse at a great musician and some well-heeled studio cohorts on a song that brings together past, present and future when it comes to the instruments rock featured in these kinds of tunes.


Recruiting Dentists For Game Fowl And Other Tales Of The Music Trade
Nowadays instrumentals on the charts are as rare as hen’s teeth but once upon a time they were all the rage.

Jazz and big band music had tons of them when that music ruled the airwaves and bandstands from coast to coast and even when those outfits incorporated vocalists they were usually relegated to warbling a single “refrain” mid-way through the song.

In time of course that all changed, first with the crooners led by Bing Crosby who was never going to take a back seat to an guy with a clarinet or bassoon in his hands, then with the lessening commercial prominence of jazz on the hit parade which assured that those previously plump instrumental birds all got their choppers extracted to give way to something with more flavors to offer the public.

Songs with vocalists allowed you to sing along to the record, to feel a more personal connection to the music coming out of your speakers thanks to the human voice attached to it and… despite what lyric-resentful critics might claim… to actually get a story to consider in the bargain, not to mention an easier way to remember which record it was you liked (hey, this IS a business after all).

But instrumental records didn’t disappear overnight by any means. In 1950 The Third Man Theme was one of the biggest records of the year and later in 1951 Leroy Anderson’s Blue Tango will be a smash in its own right.

Instrumentals were also what helped to establish rock ‘n’ roll as a commercial force in 1948 and 1949 with the honking saxophones of Hal Singer, Paul Williams, Wild Bill Moore and Big Jay McNeely, among others, all scoring big, showing this noisy uncouth music could stir excitement in listeners and enough sales or jukebox spins to make it worthwhile for record companies.

But as we’ve covered, over the past year or so the sax instrumental seemed to have run its course. They’re still out there, still sell moderately well, but they’ve been replaced on the charts by a wider array of rock vocal records of all kinds.

As the saxophone increasingly became positioned more as a supporting instrument, the electric guitar was itching to take its place in the front of arrangements, though there still weren’t many playing this kind of music in the right way to make that happen.

One who was however was Chuck Norris, even if he was the textbook definition of a sessionist, content to stay in the background on other people’s songs. Yet in late 1950 and early 1951 he was given the chance – by two record labels no less, Mercury and Aladdin – to cut some records under his own name including the appropriately named Rockin’ After Hours, a song that was both rockin’ AND was sort of cut after hours, or rather after his primary job wrapped up for the day.

It may not result in a flood of guitar instrumentals in rock being released just yet, but its presence was at least a sign of the growing importance he and those like him would play in rock’s future sonic developments.


Invasion Of The Saxuitar
If you’ve liked the musical contributions of the studio band behind Amos Milburn recently – and why wouldn’t you? – then you’re bound to like this offering by Chuck Norris who played guitar on those tracks.

Not JUST because of Norris though, but rather the entire crew is carried over to this led by saxophonist Maxwell Davis who gets not quite an equal place in the song, but a very prominent one all the same, which is what ties this strongly to the past – and current – rock sounds, while Norris chips in with what is going to be more ubiquitous in years to come.

As if you had to be told with Davis in charge, they blend really well together on Rockin’ After Hours as the slow lurching intro by Norris on guitar is accented by the horns while the drums and piano toss in their two cents worth behind them.

The horns keep up that simple riff while Norris jumps out front to play some broken single-string melody early on that is a little hypnotic when played slow before he steps up the pace leading into the harsher boogie riff that finds the drums kicking him in the ass while they transition to Davis’s first sax interlude, a squalling elongated note that settles down into a more melodic pattern before they trade off again.

That’s the real star of the performance, the arrangement which never lets either one of them overstay their welcome, giving you just enough of their tones and textures to keep you interested before handing off to the other before you can grow tired of what you hear.

The pace alternates deftly between sort of lazy and energized… falling behind and then running to catch up, a neat trick that never lets you settle into routine.

The second guitar boogie stretch is the same as the first, albeit with even more emphatic drumming, but Davis follows it up with a higher pitched squeal. From there it’s Norris’s chance to stretch out, playing a winding and slightly longer single string solo before closing with a more subdued variation on that earlier boogie.

It does its job at any rate, giving you something that’s melodic enough to keep you satisfied if you’re in a laid back frame of mind, yet invigorating enough to also serve as a credible addition to a livelier atmosphere. Whichever approach you prefer the other doesn’t ever feel as though its intruding.


An Hour Here And An Hour There
You wonder if Chuck Norris ever gave much thought to going out on his own full-time, leaving the studio jobs to others and touring the country playing his own songs with his own band and cutting his own records as his primary pursuit.

While that’s almost always the desire of talented musicians in Norris’s case it might not have been the best move. The guitar was still best suited to being part of a larger ensemble, especially for somebody whose singing was hardly going to make him a star. Furthermore by concentrating on session work he got to scratch a lot of different creative itches, from bluesier material to jazzier stuff and the rock sides where he got to show just how potent this instrument might be in that setting.

The fact he wouldn’t really get to bask in the glow of its eventual rise to the cleanup position in the rock lineup is one of those unfortunate quirks of life, due more to bad timing than anything else, but while he was here he contributed greatly to its rising stock.

Besides, he still got the occasional opportunity to see what he could do on his own with things like Rockin’ After Dark and while it’s almost certainly a case of Aladdin Records simply rewarding a loyal, dependable figure who toiled behind the scenes for them, it was no mere charitable handout by them, something to use as a tax write off or to fill an otherwise empty slot in the release schedule.

This wasn’t a hit, probably had no chance of being a hit, but since it’d only be another twenty years or so that rock instrumentals were still commercially viable enough to merit releases as singles, it’s nice that we get one featuring Chuck Norris playing guitar well before most in the field realized how prescient the sounds he brought to the table here would be in short order.


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