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What is it about a Saturday night that makes it so much different than any other night of the week? Is it just that for most it is the only night which is smack dab in the middle of two days of leisure, a once a week respite from the burdens of responsibility?

That’d be the sensible answer, as people are always looking to relax from the daily grind of school or work. Friday nights run the risk of having you be too tired from your workday that led into it, while a Sunday may find you well rested heading into your last night of the weekend but you know you have to take it easy just the same since you can’t be too worse for the wear on Monday morning when you’re back on the job.

But Saturday is different, you’ve had a full twenty four hours to rest up before you head out for the evening and, just as importantly, you’ll be getting another twenty four hours to recover from whatever misbegotten adventures you enjoy while you’re out on the town.

Rock ‘n’ roll is hardly a music designed for the seemingly endless gauntlet that takes you from Monday through Friday, nor is it the sound to fill your day of rest on Sunday. But if any music can cover each and every aspect of the hell-raising of a typical Saturday night then rock ‘n’ roll is surely it.


Who? What? Where? When?
Gotham Records had in their midst a very solid studio band led by pianist Doc Bagby but featuring multiple people capable of drawing acclaim for their musicianship, which meant that with a roster that was in need of more artists they’d be amenable to putting out records on their collective work under a variety of names.

This one gets credited as a Doc Bagby release even though he’s sort of in the background on both sides, one of which – the A-side no less – is also credited to some character named Tiny Tim for butchering Amos Milburn’s excellent In The Middle Of The Night.

Surprisingly, Timothy Fair – who doesn’t look “tiny” anymore than guitarist Harry Crafton looked fat – had plenty of opportunity to showcase his foggy emotionless voice to multiple projects revolving around Gotham Records studio band, as he later fronted Crafton’s first rendition of The Craftones a year after this.

Anyway on THIS side, Tim thankfully bows out altogether and lets Crafton’s guitar get the spotlight for the instrumental Saturday Night Boogie, in the process helping to bring that still neglected instrument to the forefront of rock ‘n’ roll.


Saturday Night Is Alright For Guitar Workouts
The credit for this single is particularly inexplicable because if Doc Bagby is anywhere in the studio it must be just to conduct the orchestra, like a rock ‘n’ roll Leopold Stokowski, for essentially this is just a two-man duet between Crafton’s guitar and whoever is playing saxophone, possibly Joe Sewell.

Because we haven’t had too many guitar-led instrumentals in rock to date it allows Crafton a chance to show what the instrument is capable of and to some extent he does just that. He’s boldly assertive from the word “go”, tearing into this like a ravenous dog. The boogie progressions are certainly effective in setting the pace and he’s able to effortlessly shift from that to whatever explosive run he needs to exhibit to justify his role as the focal point. Those are what are designed to rivet your attention and that’s what’s going to have to carry most of the load on Saturday Night Boogie.

But is the electric guitar designed for this? Or more pointedly, has the electric guitar’s strengths and weaknesses over the course of extended soloing in rock ‘n’ roll been properly assessed yet as of late summer 1949?

The answer to that is no. While many of Crafton’s solos are good and all of them are well-played, they tend to overwhelm you because they come one after another. If you jump into the track at any point from thirty seconds in when he starts his attack to about the 1:53 mark when he finally eases off, and listen for ten or fifteen seconds at a time you’ll probably come away raving about him.

It’s not that all of what he plays is very difficult but all of it is exciting because he goes at each one full-tilt, sounding as if he’s on the edge of his seat for the entire ride. But at a certain point you either have to jump off that edge or fall back into your seat because that’s how things are supposed to work – build-up leads to pay-off. Here there are no pay-offs, just repeated build-ups. The riffs themselves may change in admirable fashion but without any variations in the sound itself you just get numb to it after awhile. That’s where you need a Bagby to take over on piano, or a drummer to throw in a head rattling break… or – since apparently the sax player was the only other one allowed near a microphone – where you need the horn to forcibly take control for awhile.

Theoretically the sax player might have been willing to do so, but if so, he sure wasn’t able to do it with any real skill.


Monday Morning Sounds For A Saturday Night
We do eventually get a chance to study the saxophonist’s abilities because in the tail stretch he IS allowed to take the lead. But even though we just got done complaining about the one-sidedness of this arrangement, after hearing what the sax has to offer we’re already hoping that Crafton changes his mind about abdicating his spot and jumps back into the lead.

The sax is underpowered at best, asthmatic at worst. It sounds like a boy trying to do a man’s job, or rather an alto trying to do a tenor’s job and the results are disheartening.

It’s not just the closing solo that’s the problem though, it’s the fact that throughout this the sax is blowing a counterpoint which is weak and ineffectual. It’s good that there’s something for the guitar to play off I suppose, and the idea of using a sax is an astute one from the standpoint of properly assessing the rock landscape of the time, but HOW it’s being played on Saturday Night Boogie is more of a hindrance than a help.

There’s no body to any of the passages, it’s thin and wheezy and not very melodic to boot. It seems to fade in and out of the mix and when he finally does get his chance to solo it sounds like a sick sheep as he bleats rather than honks and squeals, turning what could’ve been a solid duet into something you wished was a one-man band even though we’ve already said the electric guitar wasn’t quite ready for that responsibility yet.

Back To The Old Drawing Board
There’s certainly enough of what Crafton does here to make this work just enough to be interesting, if only as an early prototype of what would follow down the road when artists and producers figured out how to best utilize an instrument that was still feeling its way in the dark at this point.

But as a record that has to stand on its own Saturday Night Boogie mostly winds up just seeming irrelevant, a missed opportunity for the instrument to shine amidst a stronger arrangement.

This would be easy enough to fix if you were so inclined… get a better sax player, or a second sax, be it a more robust tenor or a baritone to give it some heft. Wake Bagby up and tell him to take the boogie progressions on the keyboards to free Crafton up to make a more dramatic entrance a third of the way through, then tell him to back off and let the saxophone with bigger balls take over for the mid-song solo before Crafton returned to get a second spot to himself after which they could duel their way down the home stretch, the sound of yesterday and today vying with the sound of tomorrow.

Instead this Saturday night excursion is one that found them hitting all of the dead clubs in town, then when they decided to go somewhere else a little more jumping they stepped outside and found it raining so they hopped in a cab and headed home instead. They’ll now have to suffer through an interminable week before they can taste freedom again next Saturday night… just as the guitar will have to wait awhile before getting another shot at a starring role in rock.


(Visit the Artist page of Harry Crafton for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)