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When we first met the wonderfully named Crown Prince Waterford a few months earlier on our journey it was mentioned in passing that Waterford had a fairly extensive résumé in a variety of styles with a handful of notable names ranging from Andy Kirk’s 12 Clouds Of Joy to Jay McShann, and that he’d worked at various times with such luminaries as pianist Pete Johnson and guitarist Charlie Christian as sidemen. Indeed it was Johnson who fueled the exhilarating Move Your Hand, Baby back in December, with Waterford riding the tidal wave of enthusiasm it generated to great effect.

But what went unsaid in that review, though it’s been touched upon with other artists covered thus far, is that rock ‘n’ roll’s rise afforded a good many artists with solid credentials but relatively limited commercial success a second chance at glory after missing out on it with their first efforts in other styles.

For these figures like Albennie Jones, Tiny Bradshaw and The Treniers, the attributes they best personified had always been just a bit out of step with the dominant musical motifs of the times and they either were forced to keep their more adventuresome instincts under wraps so as not to upset the general order of things, or they tried shoehorning their own unique personas into ill-fitting styles while backed by largely unsympathetic bands (as solid as the participants themselves might be as musicians), more often than not resulting in mismatched goals that to a large degree completely derailed the potency of their output.

Add Crown Prince Waterford to the list of those who were somewhat adrift stylistically until rock ‘n’ roll offered him salvation.

I Shine Like Diamonds, She Shines Like Klondike Gold
If you find mention of Waterford’s legacy these days it mostly will refer to him as a blues singer, primarily because of a few shallow surface attributes which should be fairly evident (race, the specific era, etc.). But Waterford was far too rambunctious a personality to ever be a comfortable fit as a bluesman. His vocals consistently jump in ways that would be repressed in that other idiom. Unlike the blues his outlook is never downcast, his mindset never defeatist, his worldview is never limited.

That’s not to disparage the blues as a backwards thinking music by any means, but rather to show the inherent differences the two genres have which forever keeps them on separate sides of the fence. The blues are, at their core, just that – the blues. An honest reflection of the bleaker side of life – the downtrodden, the loveless, the scorned, the ones caught up in struggles too powerful to overcome. These travails are often faced with stoic determination but ultimately the character presented will not prevail and they, and the listener, know and expect this, indeed they come to rely on it.

The mindset of the black community in the era the blues rose to prominence is what shaped that perspective as it was music with which to endure the indignities of being seen as second class citizens (if that) for those resigned to this fate. But not surprisingly once that mindset changed with a younger generation who’d begun to taste some fruits not available to those who came before them and thus viewed life with more optimism and with the determination to not remain down on the bottom rungs of society’s ladder, the blues began to lose its role as the voice of that community. As Isaac Hayes who came of age during this era said, “I was taught to be ashamed of the blues… that was miles away from where we wanted to be”.

Rock ‘n’ roll’s emergence in the late 1940’s reflected the improved outlook of the next generation with the music representing a celebration of life, a rallying cry for freedom, a call to arms for breaking off the shackles that those forces attempt to put on you. Whereas blues faithfully recounts oppression, decrying it maybe, but ultimately accepting it, rock actively fights against it, either directly in the form of protest or by merely refusing to remain silent, humble and unseen. As such the DNA of the two styles of music is much further apart than is often asserted and it does both genres a disservice to claim otherwise.

Though older than many first generation rock artists Crown Prince Waterford was always a rocker at heart because he fully embraced the aesthetics on which rock was built, musically and culturally. He’s brash, he’s restless, he’s determined to enjoy life and its more gaudy attributes, and he’s not the least bit reluctant to express these feelings as boisterously as possible every single chance he gets.

As befitting that definition the egotistically dubbed Crown Prince sets out to do just that on Coal Black Baby, a vigorously wild celebration of carnal love, pure and simple.

Sends You To Your Soul
The word that best describes it is crude, though not in terms of his delivery, for this is no backwoods affair, but lyrically speaking it’s clear that he’s concerned purely with her looks and her ability in the sack, though here too its crudity is more in its focus, not any salacious details.

He has no time, or need, for taking things slow or sugar-coating it to ease you into revealing his desires. He’s not waxing poetic about the way the light shines off her hair at 9:32 in the morning, or how the scent of her lilac perfume fills his nostrils and then travels right to his soul as she walks by him in the evening when she comes in the apartment.

All those things MIGHT happen, but he’s far too busy anticipating what’s going to happen when night falls, the lights go out and the neighbors are forced to shut their windows if they expect to get any sleep.

Yeah, it’s about sex again… were you really expecting something different?

So it’s with that mindset that Waterford simply dives right in to the rapturous expressions of lust and assumes you’ll eagerly join him and to hell with you if you don’t.

Musically the intro is distinctive, as the guitar and bass double up, almost hinting at the below the belt desires to follow. Oddly enough the drums are the track’s weakest point, relentlessly riding the cymbal for much of the time, when a more stomping assertive backbeat, which seems only natural to do if the drummer is taking cues from the lyrics and vocal delivery, would’ve driven this into uncharted territory.

As such the arrangement remains rather unfocused, loose-limbed, even ragged, which has its appeal I suppose, but also has its limitations which quickly become very evident. Without a more tightly honed structure the burden of conveying the mood falls mostly to Waterford, who while certainly up for the task at hand isn’t quite disciplined enough to control it.


Any Woman Grins In Your Face Ain’t No Friend Of You
Whereas last time out he vied with Pete Johnson for star billing, here Waterford has taken charge, which is a dangerous proposition for all involved – band, record company and listener.

On Move Your Hand, Baby Johnson elevated everything he touched, pushing Waterford to match him, which he largely did, but in the process Johnson also kept a tight leash on him by giving the song a framework to adhere to. But here Johnson is just a passenger himself as Waterford forcibly seizes control and Pete is thereby resigned to merely keeping pace lest he be left behind by the Crown Prince altogether.

Johnson’s not quite an innocent bystander however as he gets a romping solo a third of the way in which absolutely kicks ass and shows why he was as revered as he was, and his interplay with the otherwise sparse drums, brief as it is, adds a nice spark. The guitar solo that follows the first piano break is nimble, but odd in a way, sounding almost muted, like an acoustic solo that’s been amped up or more likely an electric solo turned down, but it does at least keep things moving.

As if two instrumental solos in a row weren’t enough they’re followed by a sax solo which pushes the pace even more. While all of this may seem exciting in concept in reality it’s too much, like a hyper-active four year old high on a sugar rush. There’s no contrast, no gradual anticipation, or no let up for that matter to allow you to get your bearings. When Waterford comes back in he just opens up the throttle as the engine tears down the track at a frightening clip.

The lyrics become superfluous now as it’s every man for himself in a race for the finish line. Not surprisingly Crown Prince is frantic by this point, almost out of control at times, as he very nearly runs away from any semblance of a melody the further along he gets. It’s not so much a record as an adrenaline shot to the heart, but whether you need – or want – that particular medical procedure done is another story.

If nothing else you have to admire the attitude shown here, the exuberance he has going balls out with absolutely no regard for decorum, structure or for that matter sanity, but the result is more manic than inspired. It’s a drunken enthusiasm which in the moment it’s happening feels real and somehow meaningful but when you sober up you realize was ill-conceived and certainly overdone.

Coal Black Baby thus becomes a record that relies more than anything on the setting in which it’s being heard. If placed in the middle of a playlist that gets more boisterous as the party rages on, the clamor of your buddies getting louder as they get more inebriated, and the inhibitions of the girls getting lowered as they do as well, then the record will be entirely appropriate, even welcome. But played in an otherwise quiet room, or on headphones as you tune out the world around you, your reaction will probably be far different.

It’s never going to be off-putting no matter the circumstances, it’s simply too wild not to be admired in some sense, but while it has a sound designed to wake the dead it probably isn’t going to rouse you into jumping out of your chair and heading out to tear things up around town on a lazy afternoon.

Stripped of the right context such a record belongs in to work the components sound somewhat forced, even faintly artificial and staged, though it’s doubtful that they were. Yet unless we’re immersed in it ourselves – or something comparable – there’s going to be a bit of a disconnect that weakens its energy, and since energy is all it has going for it that’s going to be a detriment to our enjoyment in the final analysis.


I Got To Go
Expressing this type of sheer excitement on record is always going to be a tricky balance to maintain, as things do tend to go off the rails pretty quickly no matter how disciplined you may be. For someone like Crown Prince Waterford, who seems to have spent a lifetime clinging onto the side of the fastest moving mode of transportation he could find, that’s quite the sobering thought. He’s not the type of conductor to pull back on the throttle, but rather the one who will be pouring more coal onto the fire to get it moving even faster.

Here everybody – the musicians and certainly the listener – are simply thrown into an empty boxcar already travelling at breakneck speed with absolutely no idea where you’re headed or why. Are you chasing someone, or being chased… by the law… a lynch mob… an irate old man after catching you in bed with his under aged daughter?

You never know, the record started out in high gear and simply went up from there, robbing it of the proper build up to set the course for your hell-bent ride. Exhilarating though it may be at times, you hang on not necessarily because you’re having a ball as much as you’re simply afraid to let go and wind up crushed underneath the churning steel wheels as it hurtles down the track.

When Pete Johnson was wearing the conductor’s hat he was able to keep Waterford reined in just enough while still getting up plenty of speed to outrun the devil himself. When the roles are reversed however it turns out the devil is in the driver’s seat as Waterford takes them all over the edge of the gorge when the tracks come to an end, screaming maniacally all the way down.


(Visit the Artist page of Crown Prince Waterford for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)