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KING 4310; SEPTEMBER, 1949

 
 

 

In a career dating back at least four years so far, before rock ‘n’ roll even reared its head, the delightfully named Crown Prince Waterford has managed to offend virtually everybody under the sun on record at one point or another along the way.

Whether it was his delightful odes to lesbians that ruffled the feathers of the morality police, or his own sexual proclivities which sometimes verged on date rape by the sound of it, Waterford was always one step away from ecstasy and one step away from being locked up for his transgressions against common decency.

With that track record firmly established you might’ve been surprised to find that he mellowed out a lot on the flip side of this record, but let’s be honest… you didn’t REALLY expect the perpetually animated Crown Prince Waterford to keep his notoriously impolite enthusiasm under wraps for long did you?
 

 
Unfortunately this one’s not all fun and games, which kind of puts a damper on making jokes about “his majesty” as is so often the case around here when his records pop up. In this case we’re dealing with dueling themes that both have to be addressed in the course of the review. The contents of the record – how it sounds, how its played, how its sung – is usually the primary focus of all reviews and for most I’m sure that’s the most important aspect of what’s on the page.

But on Pow Wow Boogie we have another issue that can’t be so easily mentioned only in passing before getting down to the nitty gritty of the song itself, and that’s the abominably racist content of the song in how it resigns all Native Americans to caricature. Since that’s the elephant in the room it makes no sense to try and sidestep it, or dance around it, so we might as well dive in that end first and get it over with.

Call it a refresher course on cultural behavior.
 

Sky High
The usual defense of such odious language from a prior era when such things were never questioned is – ”Well, it was another time” – something designed to to let the accused off the hook without holding them accountable for being rude, insensitive and unfunny to boot.

It’s a weak-minded defense usually offered up by people who don’t want to have to delve into the plethora of reasons why it is so bothersome in the first place because they’d rather not confront their own prejudices and would like to pretend that words don’t really matter even though we are a species who have supposedly risen to the top of the evolutionary ladder precisely because of our mastery of language. Of course another reason why that response is so common is because it’s the easy way out and God knows human beings always look for the easiest road to follow if the opportunity presents itself.

Making all of this more difficult is this default response is one we could easily use here and nobody would likely question it… and let’s face it, many who just want to talk music would probably prefer if we took this approach.

But that wouldn’t be the right answer.

For starters pointing out era-related differences as an excuse for questionable decisions is really only applicable when it comes to something essentially meaningless – taste-based things in other words. Like if we good-naturedly mocked those who are much older than us for wearing wide collared print shirts and impossibly garish pants in the 1970’s.

You wore THAT? In PUBLIC?!?!? Where people could SEE you?!?!?

That tactic is also what allows us to make note of stylistic changes in music, how we can justify singling out early rock songs that leaned heavily on the trumpet-centric arrangements which were carried over from the preceding generation and pointing out why they were so out of place in the less mannered rock era, where tenor saxophones knocked the trumpeters off the stage to claim room for themselves.

In those instances we’ve criticized the musicians and producers for being slow to catch on to the changes around them but we’ve couched it by saying it was emblematic of the times to not fully trust what those changes were until others had proven their effectiveness commercially as well as aesthetically.

The slack we cut them for being reluctant to adapt to this shift back in 1947-1948 however has tightened considerably in 1949. Now if you release a record with outdated horn charts it’s not going to be met with quite the same resigned shrug of the shoulders and the weary, ”Those were the times unfortunately… what can you do about it?” attitude we showed earlier in rock’s trajectory. At this juncture those same missteps are being met with much harsher criticism and their scores are being penalized for looking backwards rather than keeping with the evolving times.

But you can’t treat fashion or mere musical shifts in what’s considered acceptable in the same way that you treat basic human decency. The concepts that humanity claims to aspire to – Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you – date back a lot farther than 1949 after all. It’s referred to as the Golden Rule too, so it’s not as if anyone can claim it was hidden in the small print of whatever document on how to behave they were reading.

Besides nowhere in any code of ethics worth the paper it was written on would you be able to condone songs like Pow Wow Boogie, which reduces the entire Native American culture to crude stereotypes designed for cheap exploitative laughs.
 


 

Hang Out To Dry
Now we enter into argument Number Two regarding the critiquing of various distasteful subjects, the one that people frustrated by being called out for thinking this type of thing is okay usually resort to with an increasingly obstinate tone, and that’s the idiotic belief that if it wasn’t clearly intended by its creators – Waterford and King Records in this case – to be a crude commentary on the targets themselves, in other words they weren’t looking to offend, then you need to give them something of a pass.

The response to this way of thinking is mercifully succinct: Bullshit!

Certainly there’s an appreciable difference in somebody viciously attacking another culture out of anger and hatred and someone who is merely cluelessly insensitive for using a topic in a song that otherwise is fairly innocuous. That’s more the case here, so you might say we shouldn’t do more than just mention that the stereotypes themselves are off-putting and then get right to the review itself.

The reason why we don’t do that is simple: Because those who aren’t being stereotyped don’t have any right to say what those who ARE being stereotyped should feel offended by and take personally.

Disagree? Okay, if someone uses a series of vile reprehensible slurs referring to your mother, wife, sister or daughter and then follow it up by saying, “Lighten up, don’t take it so seriously, I was just kidding around”, I doubt that will stop you from wanting to tear the person’s head off.

This is especially true when the ridicule is an ongoing way to denigrate other people who – due to circumstances which were set and enforced by the offending parties themselves – are essentially powerless to fight back.

Here are the basic facts regarding this particular subject matter: Native Americans were used as living cartoon characters across popular culture for more than a century. On stage, on screen, over the airwaves and on record they were constantly reduced to interchangeable one-note caricatures. White America refused to present them with dignity or depth, they were there only to serve a simplistic purpose for a story – either as savage warriors to be bravely defeated by “heroic” settlers… or primitive tribes who were grateful for benevolent assistance from the “virtuous” Anglo-Saxon communities that resigned them to margins of an encroaching society… or they were merely offered up as objects of humor, their customs, their language, their culture whittled down to a few easily understood references to tepees, peace pipes and pow-wows which then could be condescendingly mocked by people who would be outraged if the same thing they were guilty of was done to THEIR beliefs and way of life instead.

Which brings us back to the figure left standing in the middle of this collision of morality and music, decency and dollars, right and wrong… none other than Crown Prince Waterford. A singer whose entire career was always teetering on the brink of bad taste, yet whose affability always managed to take some of the onus off his questionable decisions.
 

I Sure Like To Watch Her Walk
When analyzing the song in question from a distance how do we factor in all of which we just laid out and at the same time try and look at it from the perspective of a generation who were completely oblivious to the ramifications of their monstrous racism and general insensitivity?

I’m sure the Crown Prince himself would admit that while Pow Wow Boogie is in poor taste, he’d surely claim that it’s not really so bad because he’s offering up compliments to his new squeeze, who happens to be the Native American girl at the center of this song. It’s also pretty obvious that Waterford, like so many others in mid-Twentieth Century America, simply viewed the topic to be a harmless way to present these stereotypes in an engaging, albeit buffoonish, way. Everyone listening would have no trouble understanding the shallow references to Native American life.

From the tom-tom pattern that opens it to the nonsensical mashup of every widely known Indian word, regardless of it being appropriate for the story line, this is about as juvenile and simplistic as you’d expect.

For starters he refers to his girl as his “papoose”, a Narraganset word which refers to a young child, something that further implicates Waterford in one of his more typical crimes against nature, namely his predilection for females that should remain off-limits for moral and legal reasons. So aside from being merely impervious to the feelings of all indigenous people for using their images in a mocking way, he’s now basically admitting to pedophilia along with it.

Way to go, Crown Prince… I can see you’re hoping you’ll be saved by the diplomatic immunity your made up title demands!

As uncomfortable as THAT detail is however, it’s by no means the worst of his lyrical choices, as he drags every single recognizable trope through the proverbial mud, just looking for any way to inject a familiar term to this song about… you guessed it… sex.

Among the more colorful ones are “Wiggle in the wigwam”, ”Go fishin’ in her canoe” and ”Smoke my pipe of peace”, all of which could get him five to ten years in the pen for statutory rape.

He delivers all of this with his usual gregarious panache, oblivious to the moral standards he’s trampling all over. Though it’s the same enthusiastic persona we’ve modestly praised in the past, once you put it in the context of what he’s actually saying it becomes unsettling even without taking into account the cultural slights that are added into the mix.
 


 

Drink Fire Water
But this is STILL the type of song – horniness with a smile – that best suits Waterford the artist and as such the band knows how to frame this properly for the most part. Their dual horn lines are complimenting one another as well as giving the Crown Prince a suitable vehicle to ride in his quest to push the pace.

For the majority of the vocals the band is churning with precision and as long as you don’t pay too much attention to what he’s singing you may even find yourself bobbing your head along without realizing it.

Unfortunately when he stops singing, thereby allowing us the opportunity to not have to wrestle with the implications of his lyrical broadsides, the band suddenly trips over their own two feet and comes up with… wait for it now… a trumpet solo! Yeah, that’s right, one of THOSE abominations on top of everything else. For good measure they quickly repeat this mistake, albeit with an alto sax solo in the second break, further derailing any musical momentum Pow Wow Boogie might otherwise have claimed.

Ahh, but this is most welcome for us here in the Twenty-First Century, or have you forgotten our knock against outdated arrangements earlier in this review? It sure as hell wasn’t getting a pass on the rest of this stuff but this musical misstep allows us to more thoroughly dismiss this entire record without having the entire reason for its panning focused on its regrettable content.

But either way this isn’t the type of review we like to have to print, nor is it one that people like to read I’m sure, but that makes it all the more important to write, if only to make sure there are consequences for being so stupid to cut this in the first place… even if those consequences are just a panning on a website.

Pow Wow Boogie was an easy target though, for in the end, no matter which aspect of the song you focus most on, there’s nothing about this record to recommend. It’s both poorly arranged and entirely inappropriate in its content, even though I’m sure Waterford viewed it as nothing more than a silly joke of a song not intended to disparage anybody.

But even if we were to take him at his word and grant him a conditional pardon it’s a sure thing that when he claimed “Please believe me, we are happy living in Indian Nation!”, he wasn’t speaking for those who had to endure yet another thoughtless series of jibes from an ignorant musical court jester like him.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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