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CAPITOL-AMERICANA 40103; MARCH, 1948

 
 

 

POPULAR MUSIC CLASSIFIED ADS:

Major record label seeks uninhibited vocalist to fill newly created opening for “Rock ‘n’ Roll Artist”. Must be capable of singing with some semblance of rhythm and be willing to lower their musical standards to fulfill job requirements.

Charles Waterford happened to be reading the paper that day, was bowled over by the position and the chance to secure a contract with a legitimate record company was too good an offer to let pass by without at least sending in his résumé.

When the powers that be at Capitol Records were going through the candidates – surely not a very deep list – they were intrigued by his job history, if not a little frightened by it at the same time.

On one hand Waterford had plenty of experience with classier jazz-blues bands such as Andy Kirk and Jay McShann which showed he was presumably capable of adhering to relatively high musical standards.

On the other hand he had just as much experience singing odes to lesbian sex that would make a street-walker blush, had been known to swear on record during an era when any type of blue language was grounds for incarceration and – perhaps to bolster his chances in his own mind when making his case for this job – his list of references given apparently included a wide array of drunken gamblers, back alley hustlers and assorted moral degenerates.

I guess that’s what’s called building a diverse portfolio.

Somehow, because of this or in spite of it, Crown Prince Waterford got the job, something which surely led the executives at Capitol Records to call their pharmacists for a steady supply of nerve tonic.
 

 
You May Never See My Smilin’ Face Again
Though he’ll get a year’s worth of releases out of his brief tenure with the label Waterford was only allowed in the building just once, cutting a double session in mid-November 1947 which would provide Capitol with eight sides, enough for four singles, before they unceremoniously showed him the door… perhaps tossing him out on the seat of his pants before having the studio fumigated.

But while none of those records resulted in hits they weren’t without their merits if Capitol was indeed serious about jumping into the rock market as it was getting off the ground. The first release, Move Your Hand, Baby was, if anything, the eternal prototype for rock’s blistering hard-charging style for uptempo ravers… but of course, probably to Capitol’s chagrin, it was also a troubling story about sex in which Waterford did not even attempt to conceal his… err… enthusiasm (or another word beginning with “e”).

He followed that up with the top side of this very release, Coal Black Baby which also took things at full-speed and recounted more lusty goings-on than any one at a respectable record company would feel comfortable with. The only good news about this breach of good taste was that Waterford was so out of control that he might’ve been going too fast for anyone listening to actually comprehend the story and lyrics.

Clearly that style was what Waterford did best and even in the past his instinct when approaching any song was always to step on the gas rather than apply the brakes, even in instances when the latter would’ve worked far better, such as on the B-side from his first Capitol release, Weeping Willow Blues, a song that unsuccessfully tried to graft a bluesy opening with a jazzy guitar interlude on a mournful ballad. Despite some fine playing by guitarist Tiny Webb it was not just ill-suited for rock in how much it looked back to past styles in its arrangement, but was also causing Waterford to break out in hives because he couldn’t race ahead as he was prone to do.

Now on Crown Prince Blues he’s once again trying to slow things down and deliver a ballad without his head exploding from all of the pent up energy he’s forced to hold in.

Will this be another case of how it was folly to try and get any self-respecting rocker to tone down the enthusiasm in an effort to show some stylistic diversity, and for Waterford specifically will he wind up hospitalized in his attempt at doing so?
 

Remember One Thing, Baby
One of the things that in theory anyway should always bode well for him is that Waterford wrote all of his own material. You’d think that would mean he’d craft it with his strengths in mind, or at least knowing what he would – and wouldn’t – be able to handle vocally. But as we saw on the last ballad from December he either forgot what he was supposed to do once the red light was on and started bearing down too hard on each line, or he just said “The hell with it, I’m Crown Prince Waterford and I’ll do what I damn well please!

[Though to be fair, if you’ve taken to calling yourself Crown Prince I’m sure that seems like a reasonable assertion to make in ANY situation, so how can we really blame him for living up to his own high opinion of himself?].

Whatever his reasons for helping to sink the first pure ballad they laid down that day things apparently had changed by the time they tackled the next couple of tunes calling for moderation. Maybe it was simply that he was so out of breath after cutting Coal Black Baby in between that he couldn’t rev things up even if he’d wanted to, but the change is definitely for the better and shows that far from being a one-trick pony Waterford actually had some stylistic diversity up his sleeve after all.

Back in 1946 Waterford cut a song called Crown Prince Boogie while he was still with McShann (confusing matters for us in the present is Spotify has THAT song wrongly posted under the “Crown Prince Blues” title). That one, as befitting the “boogie” in its title, was an uptempo proto-rocker which showed how even before rock ‘n’ roll existed Waterford was itching to shake a leg. The backing on it is still relatively jazzy but vocally he’s already looking into the future.
 

 
Now the odd thing is once that future arrived in late 1947 and he decided what the world needed was yet another song attesting to his prowess as a man he dialed the tempo back and came up with a ballad instead, which wouldn’t seem to fit as well in this musical landscape as boogieing would, but when it comes to Waterford that’s all just semantics anyway. Whether fast or slow his ego remained unaffected, as the unambiguously named Crown Prince Blues attests.

In this go-round the entire narrative is coming from a rather odd position for a ballad, since generally speaking those are usually rather contrite if there’s been a break-up as there has been here. But in this case Waterford – though he remains notably subdued throughout – isn’t altogether sad, nor is he remorseful over his part in their fizzled romance, instead he’s playing a game of “I told you so”, perfectly keeping within his image as a boastful show-off who’s mostly enamored with himself.

It seems he and this young lady had a falling out, over what he pointedly doesn’t tell us, but he’s almost taking pity on her for being so unfortunate as to lose somebody as special as he clearly feels himself to be. He’s not exactly admonishing her in a condescending way as you might expect a narcissist to do, but rather he’s trying to absolve himself from any blame.

We could’ve been together today
If you had just listened to me
You listened to your signifying free high friends
You wouldn’t listen to me

What’s funny about this of course is the very real likelihood that she doesn’t WANT to be with him and is GLAD this relationship is over. I mean, how much fun could it have been for her to bow and call him “Your highness” every time she entered a room, which I’m sure he insisted upon by the sound of it. If not literally, then at least in terms of the reverence he expected her to show for him.

Like most delusional souls he’s oblivious to all of this which makes the song even more enjoyable, especially because he’s so damn sincere when delivering it!

That’s his real ace in the hole here, unintentional though I’m sure it was. He legitimately expects your sympathy and – to his credit – is doing his damnedest to earn it by how he puts this over. His voice, even when it takes on a slightly impatient whine as if he wants to speed this faux mea culpa up a little but knows he can’t, is surprisingly mellow and quite effective in doing so.

If you didn’t understand a word of the English language you’d definitely have his back if you were told it was a song about his beloved leaving him high and dry. You’d volunteer to be a character witness based on his vocal tone alone, which would normally indicate that he’s rather successful in what he’s attempting to do. But of course we DO understand English and so it all comes across as comical… endearingly so however, because thanks to his self-justified demeanor he’s actually mocking himself with what he says, even if he has absolutely no idea this is the case.

But how could you not laugh at his semi-spoken assertion:

Well I’ve been mistreated and I don’t feel welcome
Well I’ll believe I’ll go back home
.

Umm, yeah, Prince, that’s kind of what this girl has been hoping you’d do all along.
 

This Is No Time For Pretty Patter
The reason why when listening you aren’t laughing out loud at his delusional attitude is because of the somber accompaniment of the musicians which is perfectly understated and earnest in aiding his cause.

I’m tempted to say they were having a laugh at his expense, but I’m not sure they had enough time to actually work something out to that end so they just played it straight, as if he really DID have legitimate grievances. Only after his dialogue showed him to be quite full of himself did an alternative narrative with their playing become plausible. But this too is effective at making the song come off as well as it does.

We still don’t side with Waterford in his indignation over losing this girl, if anything we want to find her and offer her our congratulations for dumping such a conceited jerk, but the band’s mournful tone is entirely appropriate for the self-inflicted death of the Crown Prince’s out-sized ego.

Maxwell Davis’s horn lines aren’t in any way obtrusive, they’re kept fairly low in the mix and never rise to the level of equaling the more robust vocals Waterford delivers, but they’re omnipresent, filling in each and every gap with sometimes whimsical “responses” to his claims.

You almost get a sense of the horn expressing doubt or laughter at certain points, like it was a muted voice rather than an instrument. Think of the Charlie Brown TV cartoons where all adults “speak” in non-language – “Wah, wah…” and how just the tone of those responses change to reflect all sorts of implied innuendo.

That’s what Davis does here and it adds even more character to the twisted tale that Waterford attempts to spin.

The others are fairly discreet in their choices, Pete Johnson’s piano is the only other prominent instrument we hear and he’s keeping a fairly low profile (maybe the others, not wanting to be called as witnesses, stepped outside so they couldn’t be roped into providing testimony at a later date).

But all of this does set a compelling scene, if not an altogether riveting one and Crown Prince Blues sounds really good, even if what you find under the surface is incompatible with the theme itself, not to mention all of the details.
 


 

Denied And Forsaken
Honestly, I was beginning to think Crown Prince Waterford didn’t have it in him to tone down his voice enough to stay under control for an entire song, but he does so with relative poise, all things considered.

But surpassing expectations which were already very low is not quite the same thing as delivering a song that deserved to be a hit record, especially in a field that was still grappling with how to best define its own parameters, particularly when it comes to how to approach balladry and still have it qualify under the larger rock umbrella. Though Crown Prince Blues certainly SOUNDS good it’s got few if any of the other qualifications that you’d want to see catch on if you had a vested interest in having rock ‘n’ roll succeed.

I’m sure the feeling within Capitol Records was much the same. They were probably okay with how this turned out, all while hoping nobody who was already critical of them for daring to venture into such a swampy morass as rock ‘n’ roll would parse the lyrics to find out what a boorish cad this Crown Prince Waterford really was.

As for us, as much as we enjoyed listening to him whine about the perceived injustice of having lost a girl with enough common sense to see through his bullshit, it’s not something that rock ‘n’ roll would be eager to replicate in the future, making this more of an interesting curio for the artist rather than an essential track in rock’s ongoing evolution.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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