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FREEDOM 1533; APRIL 1950



The good thing about life is that you don’t always have to be defined by your limitations provided you work hard to overcome them, or failing that, if you look to find other areas in which you can excel.

For Clarence Samuels however, if he wanted to remain in music – unless of course he was prepared to take up the tuba or glockenspiel rather than sing – he almost had no choice but to let the vocal limitations he was saddled with define him each time he opened his mouth.


Plenty Of Room
“Wait a minute”, some of you who read yesterday’s glowing review of his best record to date – Lost My Head – are surely saying, “didn’t Samuels prove that those limitations COULD be overcome?”

Well yes, temporarily they could be anyway, but because that record was such an anomaly stylistically it wasn’t something he’d be wise to try and replicate very often, especially on the flip side of the same single, even though it HAD been miles ahead of most everything else he’d done.

Let’s face it, for the most part a rock singer like Clarence Samuels had two primary avenues to head down – the emotional ballad, for which his lack of subtly and booming baritone were hardly well suited, or the uptempo ravers that he seemed more inclined to pursue and which, on the surface anyway, he appeared to be more likely to handle comfortably since they’d allow his boisterous enthusiasm make up for what he lacked in refinement.

But while he was certainly capable of delivering those types of songs with some good-natured panache he was never going to be able to really impress you with them because of his predilection for removing the breaks, finding the biggest hill and hurtling down it at full speed all while simply hoping no one was daft enough to get in his way.

So unless he was being tutored by a vocal coach on the side and learned to hold back in his projection, dial down the power and be willing to take a back seat to the band every now and then it was doubtful that he was ever going to be able to progress much as an artist. But then why would he think to do those things when that hard-charging approach is what got him noticed in the first place and allowed him to get gigs long before he had a record contract?

Had he bothered asking that last question – and then bothered to listen to the explanation for why he was able to achieve some early success in clubs – he might’ve grasped the fact that on stage you could benefit from having an out-sized personality because of the setting itself, a room full of drunken roustabouts who were acting pretty ostentatious themselves… but on a record those same attributes had a tendency to be a hindrance as Low Top Inn reminds us all too well.

Dance And Swing And Sing Out Loud
Maybe it’s fitting for such a reckless sort as he that the first sounds we hear are the musical equivalent of an alarm going off – a shrill and piercing trumpet which kicks off this song about getting drunk with your buddies in startling fashion.

Although the same far too brassy trumpet that opened the other side seemed similarly out of place at first, it quickly became apparent that it was well chosen for the unusual song which followed.

On Low Top Inn however that’s definitely not the case, as the instrument was undoubtedly chosen for this song simply to be heard over Samuels bellowing vocals just around the bend.

Luckily the piano which jumps in next has the right idea, playing a simple rhythmic boogie to ground things somewhat but that also quickly gets drowned out by Samuels who charges in with his pants on fire as usual, too exuberant for his own good, mistaking volume for excitement and not giving the song room to build up to a payoff but rather trying to get a payoff with each and every line.

Now a cursory glance at the lyrics might cause you think this could be justified, as the story is little more than a call to arms for his drinking pals to join him at the beer joint referenced in the title. Surely at a place calling itself The Low Top Inn you’re probably going to wind up sounding a lot like Samuels does here – loud and obnoxious and completely unaware that you sound loud and obnoxious to everyone else.

Okay, maybe so, but if this disreputable character called you up out of the blue inviting you out for drinks and he ALREADY sounded half in the bag would you still be so eager to go? Remember, drunken behavior is usually only amusing when you’re drunk too and if you were stone cold sober starting out then Samuels is the kind of guy you’d probably want to steer clear of because it’s an even money bet he’ll get his lights punched out within ten minutes. At the very least he’s gonna draw harsh stares from everybody in the place, might get you thrown out of the cab on the way there in fact, and as for trying to converse with any attractive females making the rounds themselves, about the only ones you’re likely to attract with this boor riding shotgun for you is the gal who reeks of whiskey, cigarettes and a lifetime of bad decisions.

All of which is too bad because had Samuels merely eased down the volume and had even a vague understanding of dynamics – that is, starting off in first gear until you set up the story, then keeping it in second gear during the descriptive verses before shifting to third gear for the choruses, back down to second for the subsequent verses and then, if you have a willing and able band behind you, maybe you can put in fourth gear down the homestretch and really cut loose – then this might not be such a bad night out at that.


Have A Good Time
As we well know lyrical odes to gin mills and dive bars are hardly going to be very erudite no matter who’s writing them, but they don’t really need to be that insightful as long as they’re somewhat clever and packed with a few notable visual details.

To that end Low Top Inn is at least fairly effective. There’s nothing altogether memorable about any of it mind you, but it’s at least a well-drawn outline of the kind of rolling parties these outings have a tendency to become before everyone passes out in a gutter or is thrown in the can for disturbing the peace.

Samuels is hitting all of the expected highlights of the evening, from the eager anticipation in the first stanza to the music and dancing that’s going to ensue when they arrive. He then recounts past glories, if you can call them that, at other places they’ve frequented, all of which is celebrated by group vocals in the chanted choruses as the band join in the fun.

In other words, although it’s almost a by-the-numbers rundown of this type of drunken bender they don’t step wrong in its descriptive accuracy along the way and there’s even a few moments – such as other clubs asking them to come back (though this is surely creative license, as I think any club wanting to stay in business would lock their doors if they saw them even contemplating making a return visit) – when Samuels shows a bit of creative inspiration in how it’s phrased.

Unfortunately for much of the time, with all the lusty singing and carrying on taking place, the band is just trying not to be knocked over and trampled underfoot and as a result there’s nothing really going on behind them to elevate the proceedings any.

It’s only during the instrumental break that The Hep-Cats are able to have enough room to show their comfort in such settings as we get a Conrad Johnson sax solo that manages to contribute to the atmosphere without having to stick dynamite into the horn to do so. His part is animated but still under control, something Samuels may have actually been taking notes on for in the final chorus that soon follows he actually does ease off the gas enough to give it a mellower feel. You just wish he’d thought of that earlier and in the process maybe have been able to turn this record from a slight miss in terms of execution into a slight artistic victory on the ledger.

Ask Us To Come Back
No matter what route they ultimately took – rambunctious excess or calculated restraint – there was still a very definite limit to what songs of this nature and singers of this ilk were capable of pulling off even in the best of circumstances.

I suppose we can at least admire the gung-ho attitude Clarence Samuels shows on Low Top Inn even as we cringe at his inability to properly judge how it should be dispensed.

It’s understandable that he wants to convey the good-time he’s having and hopes that by gregariously asking you to join in you’ll be swept up by that excitement yourself and in turn maybe give his records a few more spins. Better yet he’d love for you stop by whatever local club he happens to be appearing at next weekend.

But since it’s NOT a club you’ll be hearing him in, where this type of boisterous atmosphere would be par for the course, he needs a more measured approach to win you over on record. Without that ability to tone things down just a little he winds up undercutting his chances to make a better impression and in the end that means he’s destined once again to be defined by his own glaring limitations.


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