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DELUXE 3219; APRIL, 1949

 
 

 

Things hadn’t seemed too promising for Clarence Samuels’s recording career when we first met him back in December 1947. Oh, don’t get me wrong, the performances themselves weren’t bad, that wasn’t the problem, but rather it was the artistic subterfuge he was forced to perpetrate in order to cut those records which sort of curtailed any chance for him being able to create a distinctive musical persona and carve out a niche for himself in the process.

Yet you could argue that it was his being in the right place (New Orleans) at the right time (just as Roy Brown, his former stage partner, hit with the first rock record) that enabled him to secure his own recording contract with Aristocrat Records in the first place, even though that meant he’d have to cut Brown’s songs so the label’s A&R chief could then take him to California and pass him off as Roy to clean up on a barnstorming tour.

Needless to say it wasn’t the best plan all things considered.

But while he may not have had the most advantageous launch to his career, now that he was allowed to stand on his own two feet he could at least finally start to try and establish the name Clarence Samuels and see where that might take him.
 

 

Everything Is Free
We should’ve known it was just a matter of time before Samuels wound up at DeLuxe Records but this was not the same DeLuxe that had set all of this into motion a year and a half ago.

So let’s backtrack…

In 1947 Clarence Samuels was 25 years old and was the emcee and primary entertainer at the Down Beat Club in New Orleans where he met up with Roy Brown. The two created an act known as The Blues Twins (though they never performed on stage together, but rather did separate sets each night), which was extremely popular and packed the club to the rafters. Of course we know what happened next. Brown’s song Good Rocking Tonight became the fuse that lit the rock ‘n’ roll explosion and Samuels was left singing to a half empty house when Brown departed once his song became a huge local hit.

Samuels later claimed he couldn’t understand why DeLuxe wanted Brown and not him, but one listen to the two of them and the reasons become all too apparent. Brown had a dynamic tenor voice with lots of range and emotional shadings, whereas Samuels had a strident baritone with limited nuance and touch. Yet you can also see why Samuels was considered a good live performer, after all with a few belts in you on a Friday or Saturday night when you’re out with a sweetheart or your buddies the type of no-holds barred singing that Samuels specialized in was bound to get a reaction. When he cut loose heaven help anyone who got in his way.

When Brown’s song began to make waves newly formed Aristocrat Records from Chicago came down looking for unsigned talent in New Orleans and naturally Clarence Samuels was the beneficiary of that. They cut four songs with him, two of which were covers of Roy Brown tunes, and then tried passing Samuels off as Roy Brown on a tour of California which almost resulted in Samuels being killed. All of this is told in much greater depth, and far more colorfully, in the review for his version of Lollypop Mama.

Anyway, those records didn’t do much and after decent efforts for Down Beat Records in 1948 went nowhere either Samuels retreated back to New Orleans, tail between his legs, probably bitter over the whirlwind of events that had taken place and how the fickle hand of fate seemed to have passed over him in favor of Roy Brown.

But in the two years that followed there were other changes afoot. First off rock ‘n’ roll proved to be far more than just a shortlived fad and Brown remained one of its biggest stars. He still recorded for DeLuxe but DeLuxe was no longer owned by Jules and David Braun, the New Jersey brothers who’d made such a huge investment in New Orleans music, first signing Paul Gayten and Annie Laurie before they even had Brown in the fold, then following that up by inking Dave Bartholomew, Smiley Lewis, Chubby Newsom and Eddie Gorman to contracts as well.

Finding they had the same financial difficulties as most small labels – an inability to get payments due them from distributors and thus forced to deplete their existing cash to print up new records to send to those same delinquent distributors just to get them in stores – the brothers turned to King Records and agreed to sell half the stake in the label to Syd Nathan.

Nathan promptly used his ownership share to force the Brauns out so he could get his hands on Roy Brown… the hottest act in rock, but the other New Orleans artists on the label, many of whom already had hits of their own, while those who didn’t wound up having long and extremely successful careers down the road, saw their contracts about to expire. Maybe Nathan figured he’d be able to re-sign them with no problem but he apparently underestimated their personal loyalty to the Brauns and so one by one they defected to the new Regal Records that the Brauns had started after being shown the door by Syd Nathan.

Just like that Paul Gayten and Annie Laurie were gone, so too was Chubby Newsom, and for whatever reason Nathan didn’t pursue Dave Bartholomew and Smiley Lewis who didn’t go to Regal like the others but months later would both wind up on Imperial Records.

So now all of these machinations had netted Syd Nathan one superstar in Roy Brown and a lot of empty spots to fill in the DeLuxe Records artist roster.

Maybe not surprisingly Nathan thought it might be wise to dig up the taproot that had produced this initial flow of talent and scour the Crescent City for someone the Brauns might’ve overlooked so that he could now restock the label. It probably wasn’t a coincidence (and if it was, it was a fittingly ironic coincidence) that the first one he landed was Roy Brown’s former partner at The Downbeat Club, none other than Clarence Samuels.
 

Daddy Is Really On
There’s no word on what Roy Brown thought about his label giving Samuels a contract – who remember had taken two of his songs and passed them off as his own, then did the same on live shows until it nearly cost him his life – but it’s doubtful Brown had any say in the matter.

There’s also no indication what Samuels felt about signing with the company that Brown had essentially built into a growing force and where he’d once again be in Roy’s formidable shadow. But a record deal was a record deal and he probably figured if one of the songs – preferably original songs, not a Roy Brown hand-me-down this time – could draw some interest maybe Clarence Samuels could make up for lost time and actually start to compete with Brown rather than merely be forced to imitate him.

But as we’ve said Samuels had plenty of deficiencies as a singer and so for his lone session – cut in Cincinnati, where King Records was located, not in New Orleans, meaning not with New Orleans musicians to back him – they were smart to try to at least focus on his strengths as a live act where he had more success in the past and hope that it translated to wax.

Jumping At The Jubilee is a musical advertisement for a party, pure and simple. There’s nothing fancy about it, nor does there really have to be, it just requires Samuels to hit his marks, keep his enthusiasm from running away with him so it doesn’t overwhelm things and at the very least modulate his voice so he doesn’t come off as a raving lunatic bellowing at one volume.

We’re grateful that he does most of those things here. Of course someone decided that it’d be a good idea to throw some amateur carny pitch in at the beginning via a spoken word exchange between an anonymous shill and Samuels, asking the singer what’s going on to which Clarence replies, in an over-enunciated yet fairly confident voice, that they’re “rehearsing” for the jubilee, then without so much as a moment’s hesitation launches into the song.

It certainly isn’t the smoothest of transitions and they’d have been wise to edit that hokey intro out altogether once they heard it on the playback, but maybe they were banking on the fact that Samuels as a locally known MC might draw some interest from the New Orleans market who’d recognize him for that role. I know, that’s hardly anything to bet on but record companies were run by those who often couldn’t tell the difference between inspiration and indigestion stirring inside them so we’ll let that pass without too much complaint as long as the song which follows holds its own.
 


 

All I’ve Got
The term jubilee means many things to many people, from a simple designation of an important anniversary to the Biblical definition involving land rights and freedom from debts and enslavement to take place every 49 years.

Both of those definitions apply to how it’s used in African-American culture where initially a Jubilee celebrated the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863 before later becoming a catch-all term that was used for all important social gatherings.

There’s nothing particularly solemn about the festivities that Samuels sings so lustily about here. No word on any civic responsibilities or the undertaking of a profound cultural movement for the betterment of society. No, those things may in fact have been discussed at the organizational meeting that resulted in this jubilee taking place, but it’s obvious that nobody told Clarence Samuels, or if they did he realized that it was necessary to stir up plenty of fun and excitement to ensure the proper turnout.

As exuberant as Samuels is as a performer, someone whose first step is usually taken at full sprint, he’s also prone to running right out of his shoes if he’s not too careful. He manages to avoid that by sticking with a pretty tightly structured lyrical cadence which allows him just enough room to build his intensity before he has to circle back to start the next line.

This device may have the effect of keeping him on a tight leash but it also subverts his inclination towards boisterous self-expression, so while it might be a necessary trade off it also puts a limit on just how dynamic he can be.

His singing however is pretty good, his voice robust and full of character and winsome charm. The lyrics of Jumping At The Jubilee may help in that regard as it presents him as… well, probably as just the type of guy he actually was in real life, someone who didn’t always have much but was good natured and always looked on the bright side of things, as he does here, lightly mocking his own meager belongings which he stores in a dilapidated trunk but who isn’t self-conscious about his lack of material goods.

The lines aren’t anything special but they also aren’t insipid generalities either so you’re at least listening carefully to his description of the event that has him so excited to attend – in Hollywood no less! (Clarence, who wrote this himself, apparently wasn’t above thinking big).

There is some cleverness to be found however, specifically how he leads into the mid-song sax break by calling attention to it in the flow of the lyrics, alerting us that “Daddy is really on” and then instructing us to “Stand up, be quiet and dig that cat with the horn”. That he does this so naturally is a testament to his instincts as a performer and if the sax solo that follows is underwhelming that’s hardly Samuels fault.

The trumpet solo that comes right on its heels of course makes the sax solo that preceded it seem like highlight instead of a letdown and so now poor Clarence, thanks to being undercut by the band, has a considerable hole to climb out of down the stretch.
 

Have A Real Good Time
Considering that the first half of the song had Samuels deliver each line with the same flow, both accelerating and downshifting in the same fashion on each one, something which was starting to wear thin even with his ebullient good cheer, what are the chances that he can shift gears in a different way now?

Probably not all that great you’d think, but right away he throws us for an unexpected loop with what sounds like a spontaneous ad-lib – calling out to a girl named Lucy, who presumably we haven’t met before, unless it was her all along that he was singing this to and we the record listeners simply overheard it all – but the effect, while short-lived, is galvanizing.

I don’t mean it completely alters you perception of Samuels the performer or of the merits of Jumping At The Jubilee as a song, but it gives the record a desperately needed wrinkle to keep from growing stale. Though he quickly returns to the same up and down manner of delivery that he had before, you’ve been taken out of your… or is that HIS… comfort zone just enough to keep you guessing.

He needs more moments like that to get him up to par here but he’s not far off and if you like your rock songs sounding like they were cut amidst a party at full swing than he’s going to be someone you won’t mind inviting to more of those parties along the way.
 

Jump Off
After just a few appearances by the erstwhile club act turned recording artist we’ve pretty much figured out Clarence Samuels strengths and weaknesses and aren’t expecting a lot out of him. If he can get a few songs like Jumping At The Jubilee to give him a reasonable platform from which to strut his stuff, shouting with a voice made to rattle the ice cubes in every drink on the bar and keeping everybody’s shoulders grooving and feet moving for as long as he’s on stage, then he’ll at least have earned his keep.

He’ll never be more than a second tier act, maybe not even that, but for short bursts anyway he serves a definite purpose. In his old gig at the clubs he’d do a song or two, banter with the band and the guests and introduce the other acts, a gregarious host to a night of revelry. On multi-act rock shows where he’s sure to be outclassed in head to head competition with most of the artists on the bill he’d still be valuable just as someone to break up the set, where following someone more low key, like say fellow local act turned star Larry Darnell who specialized in ballads, Samuels would come on and get the energy back up before handing it off to someone to tear the house down with an emotionally cathartic weeper or a sax duel that might burn the stage to cinders.

Of course there were others in the rock kingdom who served the same purpose but with much higher returns on the investment, Wynonie Harris step to the front of the line if you please. But it never hurts to have more than one guy who can at least carry out those duties in a pinch and if nothing else Clarence Samuels would never have to be asked twice to do his part to keep them jumping at every jubilee in town.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Clarence Samuels for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)