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FREEDOM 1533; APRIL 1950

 
 

 

Well THIS is sure interesting, isn’t it?

Normally of course a failed single by a marginal talent on an under performing record label would hardly stoke anybody’s curiosity, but in this particular case anyone who’s followed the rapid advancement of rock ‘n’ roll music since its start in mid-1947 has to be aware that Clarence Samuels, who was never shy to remind you that he was present in the room when it came kicking and screaming into the world, has been resentful at the lack of credit he’s been granted for his role in its delivery.

Yet each chance he’s gotten to take his fate into his own hands and prove to us why he’s deserving of more respect he’s failed do more than just tread water creatively. Now as rock continues to grow far beyond what he originally was able to contribute, chances were he’d wind up sinking back into obscurity, embittered by his lack of success and increasingly delusional about his own artistic shortcomings.

So imagine our surprise in finding him attempting to diversify his standard attack and come up with something that, while perhaps too unique to take a lead role in rock’s evolving image, is nevertheless creative enough to believe that maybe Clarence Samuels shouldn’t be written off entirely just yet.
 

 

Somebody Else I Found
The roll call of weaknesses in Clarence Samuels performing style have been well documented – he had a harsh, strident voice with little ability to temper its most extreme attributes… he was an inconsistent songwriter with limited nuance and perspective… and he seemed unwilling or unable to acknowledge how poorly he fared when trying to match deliveries with guys whose talents put him to shame, stubbornly trying to slug it out with them in a losing battle for relevance.

As rock’s approach began to evolve he continued to stick with a losing game plan that was fast becoming outdated. But while we may take him to task for not adapting to the style that rock now embraced, the main objection to much of his work lay equally in his failure to offer up a bolder alternative to that style, one that takes advantage of his own quirks and makes them work in his favor.

Until now that is.

What makes Lost My Head such an intriguing record in his catalog is that Samuels finally creates something distinctive, almost alarmingly so, which might have made it less immediately appealing to those listeners used to records more tailored to their established tastes, but which has the ability to stand out on first listen and grab your attention because of how it breaks from rock’s recent traditions without reverting back to something far more out of place and dated.

It’s a NEW sound, not necessarily an altogether commercially promising sound maybe, but one that at least shows that there were more avenues to explore in rock for those willing enough – or desperate enough – to break from precedent. Whatever we think of his shortcomings up to this point, that kind of innovative thinking should never be dismissed out of hand no matter how late it was in showing itself.
 


 
 

Left Me Here To Suffer
The first sounds slicing through the speakers are those of a trumpet, which as anyone even remotely familiar with rock’s struggle to excise the vestiges of that horn from the old jazz playbook that many studio musicians had memorized in years past is all but a warning to steer clear of the record that follows if you like your rock sounding modern and aggressive.

True enough the horn, while not quite as grating as it had a tendency to be on other records, still is alarming in this setting, giving the impression that we’re not about to encounter anything of value, at least from our distinct musical perspective as rock fans. When we hear what sounds like either a baritone sax with a head cold or a tuba(!) sounding almost circus-like in its capper to these lines we fear the worst even as the effect is oddly charming in a way.

Once Samuels comes in all of your fears – of which there were many, especially considering his reputation – begin to vanish. For starters he’s actually modulating his vocals, something he could never seem to do at other times when he was prone to barrel ahead at full speed with no regard for life, limb or eardrums.

On Lost My Head though he’s completely measured, singing waltz-time lines that are downright disarming in nature and with his resonant baritone come across as almost stately sounding.

Clarence Samuels?!?!?!? REALLY?!?!?

Yup, I can’t believe it either, but as it goes on you’re won over by him and you even find yourself being pulled in by the odd arrangement, one which almost mocks him in a way, like this was a visual routine put to music by the manner in which they frame the song.

The story would be hard pressed to surpass the impact of the delivery itself but shockingly it more than lives up to anyone’s expectations giving us a fairly standard set-up of a guy who’s depressed because his girl left, offering the usual mixture of disbelief and sorrow without examining his own role in her departure. But then after the decidedly off-kilter instrumental break Samuel returns and raises the stakes by taking the fallout of their split to the extreme – her murder – all of which he recounts in the same sad sack manner from behind bars.

Rather than coming across as an angry vengeful killer, which as a record certainly wouldn’t be much fun to dance to, he’s comically pitiful which somehow takes the edge off. You seem to get that this is a sketch routine rather than incident to report to the authorities. He’s not proud at his actions, nor is he laughing at her fate, or even remorseful for his overreaction which caused all of this in the first place, but instead he remains firmly in character, the hang-dog expression peering through the jailhouse bars never leaving his face.

It’s a tremendous acting job on his part, especially if you think of this record as a cartoon which is really what it would be ideally suited for, and if so then you’ll have no lingering guilt over having enjoyed it so much.
 

Feel So Low Down
But even if you were to find fault with the violent scenario he lays out and not be completely appeased by either his mournful demeanor OR his ultimate fate – locked up and awaiting execution – there’s still some solace to be found in the fun the band has with his plight.

This is Samuels first appearance with Freedom Records which is an ideal place for anyone looking to stretch out and find themselves creatively. Though their commercial track record may be limited, their artistic standards are higher than most labels and they have the best self-contained session band in all of rock to bolster his chances, capable of burning the speakers to cinders with aggression or easing back and making balladry that’s fraught with tension.

Here though they give us something completely different than what we’ve come to expect from them, the aforementioned semi-comical trappings which wouldn’t seem to be a good bet for someone still envisioning himself a headliner, and they manage to pull off even this bizarre approach with aplomb.

The longer Lost My Head plays out, the more sense it starts to make. That quasi-jazzy introduction provides the elegant set-up that makes the story to follow more effective than it would be had they doubted their creative instincts and instead taken a more typical rock approach and had a piano pounding or saxes wailing or guitar stinging to let you know the TYPE of record it was because they were afraid they’d lose you otherwise.

To be honest they almost DID lose us, but then again it shouldn’t be hard to at least sit through a three minute record all the way through to the end just once to find out how it turns out, should it?

As Samuels unfolds his tale of woe the band is both supporting him – Conrad Johnson’s alto softly buffeting his vocal lines – as well as acting as the Greek Chorus, from the lower horns flatulent retorts to the drums echoing punctuation following Samuels’ admission of his crime. If not for the slightly TOO eccentric instrumental break in which a horn tries sounding drunken and strangled, maybe literally, for a stretch, this would have to be considered among the more creative backing track we’ve encountered.

Of course, it’s also so atypical that it might require more than just that one listen to fully appreciate and with Samuels’ lack of name recognition among the general public that was probably asking a little too much. But if enough people had the patience to give it a few spins you could definitely see this being a small quirky hit because it’s so engaging… so distinctive… such cockeyed FUN… that it’s hard to resist its charms.
 

Tell All Who Call…
We’ve been pretty harsh on Clarence Samuels since we met him back in 1947 when he tried capitalizing on his former partner Roy Brown’s notoriety by cutting the same songs and passing them off as his own creations, setting him up to be little more than a disgruntled minor act… a mere footnote in a larger story.

While there have been times where the wild tales associated with his career have been thoroughly entertaining, and even times when his own original material has certainly been adequate, he’s mostly been an example of somebody who failed to realize the difference between what was modestly good and what was disturbingly bad and because he lacked the talent to compensate for the latter he’s rather easily dismissed.

Yet Lost My Head shows precisely why you can’t completely give up on people in life, that sometimes, maybe due largely to fortunate circumstances, maybe just sheer improbable luck, maybe even to a glimmer of heretofore unrecognized skill lurking under the surface, they might just be capable of surprising you.

This might not be anything he could replicate again, nor might it even be a good idea to TRY and recapture something this offbeat, but in the spring of 1950, long after we should’ve given up on him, Clarence Samuels proves that persistence can in fact pay off in the end.

Who’d a thunk it?
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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