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CAPITOL 40137; NOVEMBER, 1948

 
 

 

Let’s face it, this marriage of convenience was never going to fully work out for either of them. Everybody enters into these whirlwind relationships with lots of hope and the best intentions but one look at the couple and their incompatibility becomes glaring.

He was an incorrigible roustabout prone to bragging about his sexual conquests in a loud voice that meant you could never keep the windows open in your neighborhood no matter how hot it was, while they… yes “they”… were a young, but classy record label already accepted into the upper echelon of companies who certainly didn’t want their reputation sullied by inviting him to any society balls.

And so the brief year long association between Charles “Crown Prince” Waterford and Capitol Records has now reached it’s predictable conclusion.

Divorce.
 

 
If You Live By The Sword You’ll Die By The Same
This is undoubtedly one of those cases where both parties held no grudges against each other and simply wanted to move on. It was a tenuous partnership from the very beginning as Capitol attempted to move into the fledgling rock ‘n’ roll field hoping to expand its potential market without taking into account just who they were enlisting in their efforts, namely a brazen showman with a one-track mind.

They both tried their best to make it work, with Waterford attempting to harness his uncontrollable urges – vocally and otherwise – as much as he could, but it was folly. Once in front of a microphone he was largely unable to resist the impulse to cut loose for all he was worth. Meanwhile Capitol took his irrepressible nature into account from the start, giving him every opportunity to scream and shout like a wild man on half of his output while merely insisting he tone it down for the other half of his recordings.

Sometimes the results were quite good, and they were almost always interesting at the very least, but no matter what concessions each side made to appease the other it wasn’t going to ever be enough. Waterford blanched when he was forced to tone his delivery down for the ballads and Capitol cringed when he boasted about his bedroom prowess with the ladies.

Though each of them would go their separate ways, doing their best to act as though their breakup – and even their brief relationship – was no big deal, the fact is it undoubtedly affected them both.

Capitol Records quickly joined the other three major labels – Columbia, Decca and RCA-Victor – in their widespread dismissal and outright rejection of rock ‘n’ roll after this, strenuously avoiding having anything to do with this uncultured music and the riff-raff who made up its audience… at least until it became self-defeating to continue doing so. By then, the mid-1950’s, it was too late to credibly latch onto it in any serious way and so they made due by grabbing a handful of artists, promoting them heavily to not embarrass themselves by having these acts fail, all while hoping it was going to die out in a hurry and let them get back to recording quality music.

They might’ve kept this haughty attitude forever if not for lucking into two acts in the 1960’s which revived their fortunes, as The Beach Boys and The Beatles became their biggest sellers and rendered their anti-rock position utterly pointless.

As for the other party in this separation, Crown Prince Waterford did his best to act unaffected by his dismissal in keeping with his outwardly confident attitude that was befitting self-proclaimed royalty, but even while he signed a contract with the top independent label, King (surely something he saw as inevitable for him), he had to feel the sting of going from a major label with all of the prestige that went with it to being no better than competing for a spot on King Records junior varsity squad, well behind its established rock hitmakers with little chance for advancement.

So how did it end for Waterford and Capitol? Was it something specific he did… or they didn’t didn’t do… in their efforts to make this mismatched coupling succeed? Or was it merely the cold hard truth that two disparate entities were bound to fall apart eventually?
 

Right Now I’ve Got Other Plans
Let’s not beat around the bush any longer than we already have, the decision to cut ties with Waterford was made long before P.I. Blues came out, marking his final release with the label.

His signing to begin with had been largely conditional. In late 1947 they knew something was brewing in black music circles that their then-current roster, including Nat “King” Cole, were aesthetically, if not ethically, unable to deliver. Since they were in the process of trying to establish a subsidiary label, Capitol-Americana, to cover the less high-brow styles of music they figured Waterford, with his fairly notable pedigree from working with Andy Kirk and Jay McShann, was a low-risk bet to make to add to that roster.

They inked him to a year long pact, had him cut a double session in November 1947, giving them enough material for four singles (and to sustain them through the upcoming recording ban), and if they struck gold along the way they’d have both the funding and name recognition to match any counter offer from another label to keep him under wraps.

Conversely if it all sank without a trace – or if the higher-ups in the company reacted with terror at seeing him streaking through the dining room naked while chasing a saucy little waitress and screaming unintelligibly – then they could dump him in the nearest river and nobody would miss him.

Or something like that.

Since none of his first three releases stirred any interest this last record was just clearing out the inventory before winter came. Chalk it up to a failed experiment and write it off on your corporate taxes. But since Waterford hadn’t known this was going to be his swan song when he cut it one full year earlier he gives it his all and though it’s surely completely concidental its theme is oddly appropriate, even a little bittersweet, for the record to serve as his send off.
 


 

I Swear I’ll Be Hard To Find
Keeping with their well-conceived plan to pair an uptempo track with something more downbeat P.I. Blues perfectly fits the description of the latter, this time around receiving no push-back from Waterford himself who on previous efforts seemed to strain mightily at the mere thought he was expected to keep his bravado under wraps.

On this however he seems fully committed to the concept and carries out his end of the bargain without protest. It helps that he’s given himself one of his better compositions with which to do so and as Maxwell Davis’s mournful saxophone leads this off backed by only the sparse piano fills of Pete Johnson, we meet a humbled Crown Prince Waterford for the first, and perhaps the last, time.

Since usually Waterford’s lyrics are either a way for him to brag about his attractiveness to the ladies or finds him substituting fairly shallow sentiment for deeper emotion, the fact that here he addresses some very adult concerns in a straight-forward fashion is a little hard to believe. We keep thinking he’ll upend his lament with some inappropriate boast or an unexpected punchline.

But no, this is a pretty honest depiction of life on the margins, worrying about failing to meet car payments and rent, a few lighthearted ultimatums thrown in as much to save face as he unloads his burdens to his wife or girlfriend as they are done for actual laughs, the picture he paints is something so many in the rock audience knew first hand.

Even when he tells his girl to put her clothes on there’s no attempt to turn it into a sexual joke. He only occasionally, and briefly, rises into a more declarative voice but this too isn’t done to show off his pipes, or to replace the morose attitude he’s taken on with something more exuberant to show us he’s still the same Crown Prince who perpetually thinks he’s on top of the world, but rather it’s his despair bubbling up in an attempt to overwhelm him, something which he then stifles in a way that appears to take all of his might.

Truthfully, I didn’t think he had it in him to be this convincing in a role other than as a man escaping the forced celibacy of prolonged solitary confinement who finds his way to a cathouse at happy hour when all romps in the bedroom are half price.

But on P.I. Blues he nearly gets me to shed a tear and drop a few coins in the cup he’s sure to be holding for handouts.
 

Don’t Know When I’ve Had Enough
As effective as it may in what it attempts to do however, it’s still a bit of an awkward fit in rock ‘n’ roll, though it probably doesn’t belong anywhere else either for that matter. Johnson and Davis’s work behind him keeps this locked into a pace barely above a dirge, which while appropriate isn’t something that will excite rock fans any more than the stark reality Waterford himself is presenting.

As such P.I. Blues is more something to be admired from a distance rather than celebrated up close, which come to think of it is probably why Waterford was always so reluctant to dial things down like this, even though he finally shows how effective he can be when he does so. He’s not without some of his more frequent flaws however including an uncertain opening which has him trying to corral his vocals and hit the right mood while staying in tune. It takes awhile for him to get his legs under him but from there on in he’s quite good, save for him completely butchering the pronunciation of the word “sword”, emphasizing the “w” far more than is advisable.

But on the whole he delivers his best low-key performance we’ve heard from him yet what this ultimately shows is that Capitol Records did indeed have the right man for the job all along. He might not have been someone who could churn out hits left and right – though his first record, Move Your Hand, Baby, was every bit as worthy as the hits by other rockers which followed – but he was a reasonably talented artist when steered in the right direction.

Maybe you’d have to keep both hands on the controls longer and grip the wheel tighter when he was taking you for a ride, but it’d pay off creatively in the long, even if it’d fall short commercially.

But of course unlike the independent labels who could be satisfied, even ecstatic, with more limited returns, for a major label who were surely not giving him a break because they felt he was giving voice to a cultural perspective that needed to be heard, the only thing that mattered was the bottom line. If they weren’t going to get legitimate hits out of their association with this music from across the tracks then they’d just as soon leave it to others to mine while they turned their attention back to the blue-bloods and the gray haired tastes they were accustomed to.

It’ll be awhile before Capitol Records makes more than a cameo appearance in rock ‘n’ roll but while Crown Prince Waterford’s best efforts couldn’t change that fact, in the end he earned his money for them all the same.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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