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REGAL 3256; FEBRUARY 1950

 
 

 

The early years of rock have been poorly served in the history books which frequently skip over the “pre-crossover” years entirely for reasons which are often sadly obvious.

As a result of this decades long cultural editing process, generations of rock fans rarely, if ever, knew of the transformative songs and groundbreaking artists that set this whole musical revolution into motion… no matter how popular they’d been in their era, nor how influential their innovations were down the road to the sounds they themselves held dear.

Yet every once in awhile some scavenger rummages around the dark corners of rock’s closet to try and dig up something obscure… possibly to inform people that rock was in fact thriving prior to its invasion into middle America, but more likely they exhume these offbeat records to highlight something quirky and eclectic, often revealing far more about the person publicizing them in the present than telling anything noteworthy about the past.

Of all the records from rock’s first four years that have received some faint glimmer of modern recognition from time to time this is the one which ultimately shows why it’s best to be skeptical of all those who spent years disregarding the overwhelming majority of rock releases from 1947-1950 yet single out something which was neither relevant nor all that good to begin with.
 

 

Let Me Tell You The Step To Do
Rock history books started appearing on the scene in the late 1960’s, the first wave coming mostly from British writers obsessed with American culture that had crossed the Atlantic in their youth, but once the market proved receptive to those efforts the publishing industry (surely holding their noses in the process) began to accept proposals from homegrown writers to trace the music’s history… with often dubious results which mostly whitewashed the true origins of the music for something more palatable to the majority of readers they were targeting.

In 1984 Nick Tosches, a gifted, sometimes undisciplined, writer cursed with a wicked wit he could never fully corral… or want to, published a book called Unsung Heroes Of Rock ‘n’ Roll, a pretty good read all things considered, particularly because unlike most he didn’t shy away from rock’s beginnings.

In the book he examines a handful of larger than life early rock acts such as Wynonie Harris, Big Joe Turner, The Dominoes and The Clovers who nevertheless found themselves cast aside in the ensuing years, giving brief irreverent overviews of their careers. In some instances he talked with artists in question (Roy Brown and Amos Milburn most notably) and in many cases they’re the only real interviews we have of them to draw from.

Of course he manages to toss in a handful of artists with no tangible connection to rock – Nat Cole, Louis Prima and a bunch of renegade country acts – but their stories too are at least interesting and in some cases the subjects themselves equally obscure which makes them worth reading as well even if their inclusion winds up distorting rock’s formative years in the process.

Though Tosches’ self-ironic style is not for everyone at the very least he made the effort to cover this period in some reasonable depth unlike the rest of the writers drawing paychecks for their work and so for that reason alone it’s worth checking out if you haven’t read it.
 


 

Anyway despite what you must be thinking Doc Sausage is NOT featured in the book. At the tail end of it though Tosches includes “A Chronology Of The Coming Of Rock ‘n’ Roll”, the premise of which is wrong, as it presumes rock began in the mid-1950’s and all of this was just preamble, but which does a pretty interesting job highlighting certain milestones, both important and distinctly unimportant along that route.

It’s there that Sausage got three mentions, the first draws attention to him when recounting the endless versions of Rag Mop that came out, calling him “the one and only Doc Sausage”. The second mention is for Sausage Rock, which he erroneously pegs as a May release for 1950 but he doesn’t add any humorous commentary for it as you might expect having gotten through the book in which every page is home to countless puns and half the sentences are dripping with his trademark snark.

But it’s the very last entry in this chronology which draws attention and may have done as much as anything to keep this artist from ever becoming completely forgotten. After detailing 266 different record releases, world events and cultural touchstones dating back to 1945 he closes out the ten year odyssey with this entry dated December 1955: “Fuck it, Doc Sausage figures”, thus wrapping up the story of rock ‘n’ roll’s eventful formation and its move into the mainstream that would subsequently leave all of this older history he’d just spent more than two hundred pages recounting gathering dust.
 


 
 

First You Throw Your Hands Up High
So what of the good Doctor’s self-titled record itself, the song for which he’s ostensibly being celebrated all these years later by those drawn to the vaguely lurid suggestiveness of the title?

Well… don’t get your hopes up.

The majority of Sausage Rock shows how out of touch Doc was when it came to the cultural and musical upheaval taking place, something that can hardly be surprising for an older, decidedly frivolous, artist who ventured into rock ‘n’ roll sensing a golden opportunity to resuscitate his career which now existed primarily as an offbeat second tier club performer.

The song starts off with a warm sounding tenor sax playing lines that are hardly invigorating let alone incendiary, yet many a great rocker had similarly inauspicious beginnings and so you hold back judgement until you hear more definitive proof as to their qualifications, even if your skepticism has already begun to rise.

Once Doc himself enters the picture you’re ready to throw the whole lot of them out with yesterday’s trash because he sounds as if he hasn’t seen the light of day since the days when the latest battle of the Pacific fleet dominated the nation’s headlines in World War Two.

In other words nothing Doc Sausage says or does will convince you that he’s even heard of rock ‘n’ roll music, let alone knows how to sing it. This is nothing more than a mild rendition of a generic tune fit for the bandstand of a low rent jazz club in the forties. Serviceable maybe, certainly not musically repellent in any way, but also not anything you’d walk even two minutes out of your way to hear.

Sausage’s vocal tone is so relaxed during this that you assume he’s either lost all enthusiasm for the gig and is looking for an early release from his contract, or maybe his brother-in-law owns the club and therefore his job is secure. Either way though he’s just going through the motions – there’s no vigor in his delivery, no sense of excitement in what he tells you, no joy in getting to sing for money on record, something he’s been presumably longing to do again ever since Decca Records dropped him from their artist rolls years earlier.

Of course what he’s singing may have something to do with his lack of passion for the task at hand because this is about as bland a theme as he could possibly have given himself, probably done to ensure he didn’t choose the wrong stylistic direction in which to head. By keeping this squarely in the middle of the road he’s assuming he won’t wind up in the gutter.

What he didn’t take into account though is every other person speeding past him and flipping him off as they go by.
 


 

Start Rockin’?
So is this somewhat hyped record going to face the ignominy of being deemed a total and colossal failure in every regard, thereby reducing Doc Sausage’s cult figure image in some circles to be nothing more than a fraudulent con job?

Not quite.

There are two mildly redeeming qualities within this mostly outdated uninspired record which render Sausage Rock to be at least worth one or two spins, if only to see how it fits into the historical context of the era.

The first is the emphasis on the word “rock” itself, showing that even with a forty year old past-his-prime-that-never-was at the helm the word already held an almost mystical allure, a talisman deemed capable of convincing the tribesmen – and women – who were listening that this was in fact a mighty rocker at its core and they should be suitably respectful of it for that reason alone.

Now granted the way in which they use “rock” as a command during this is indeed applicable in the most authentic of venues with a crowd full of delinquents ready to lose control of their senses, so they nailed that aspect – and only that aspect – in the lyrics. It may even convey just enough of a feeling of liberation to suggest he might be able to satisfy those who are seeking musical rebellion, but of course to do that he needs lots of help from his band.

This is the other area where the song earns just enough credibility to get itself included on a bunch of compilation albums highlighting rock’s sax fury of the late 40’s and early 50’s.

Earl Johnson might not be the most proficient saxophonist we’ve encountered by a long shot but he basically understands his role and attempts to carry it out with reasonable efficiency. His solo starting at the 48 second mark is where the song begins to pick up. It’s not necessarily a head-turning performance but with the raucous party-like shouts in the background it stands in great contrast to what preceded it – and a lot of what follows too when he dials down the intensity a little too much, handing things over to a guitarist who plays with skill but no real spark.

Is any of that enough to save this? No, but when the guitar and sax engages a few rousing – though all too brief – back and forth exchanges a little later on it’ll at least keep this from the dreaded red numbers we hand out for the most feeble rock records and at this point that has to be considered a moral victory by Sausage who knows full well he’s a single complaint away from losing his medical (and musical) license in our neighborhood.
 


 

Fuck It!
It’s almost assured that whenever people go skimming the surface of a really deep ocean looking for something flashy that catches the eye at a glance you’re not going to end up with something worthwhile.

But that doesn’t mean these types of shallow dives can’t have some benefit to the more serious excavation of the rock ‘n’ roll waters, if only because records like Sausage Rock can bring people into the fold by piquing their curiosity.

As long as those intrepid explorers are able to get over being let down by this cheap dish and if they have the patience, the time and the interest to really dig deeper into rock history it’s safe to say that while they may have started off eating sausages they soon will wind up dining on sirloin steak.

Yeah, I know most won’t take the time to even unfold their napkin, but I guess if you were lured into researching early rock by the smell of ground up leftover parts swept off the butcher’s floor there wasn’t much hope for you to begin with, just like there wasn’t much hope for a leftover novelty jive performer like Doc Sausage either.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Doc Sausage for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)