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DECCA 48199; FEBRUARY 1951



Sure… why not?

Sometimes around here we get a little generous in our looks at certain artists who may not quite be perfect fits in the rock narrative. That trend has sort of slacked off recently as the lines of demarcation between rock ‘n’ roll and everything else becomes ever more clear the further into the music’s lifespan we get, but there’s still an urge to be as thorough as possible when it comes to chronicling everything that qualifies in the genre.

This record on its own probably wouldn’t make the cut… not that it’s bad or anything, or even too far outside the musical parameters, but rather it’s a generic instrumental that could reasonably fit in rock, but also blues or jazz if you wanted to stretch a point.

It’s the standard definition of pleasantly non-essential.

But it also happens to be done by someone we haven’t heard from in a long time and whose one and only appearance on these pages marked a subtly important moment in rock’s evolution… so if for no other reason to give an update on his whereabouts, we present the modest return of Doles Dickens.


Back Room Deals
Way back in the summer of 1949 a bass player signed to Decca Records with the unusual name of Doles Dickens covered a song by rock saxophonist Wild Bill Moore called Rock And Roll.

The fact that someone on a major label was covering a song making some noise in another market was hardly surprising, that’s what the major companies specialized in after all. But it was the TYPE of song that made the decision to cover it more meaningful.

Though Decca had in fact released rock songs of their own already, the company itself was clearly oblivious to the changes going on in black music at the time even as Cousin Joe and Albennie Jones were actively moving in that direction on their label.

Dickens cutting Rock And Roll a year and a half later though was a different kettle of fish however if for no other reason than Decca now seemed to be openly acknowledging rock ‘n’ roll itself by deeming this a promising song to record, therefore making the mere presence of this single fairly significant despite it being mostly underwhelming otherwise.

Who knows, had it succeeded commercially maybe they would’ve moved into rock wholeheartedly and perhaps even managed to re-direct it towards something more “manageable”, IE. watered down for easier exploitation. But to no one’s surprise the single came and went without much notice and if not for the rather obvious title itself adorning the label it’s doubtful many people in the years since would’ve even have known it existed.

But Dickens was not just randomly selected by the company for this thankless task, he was someone with a natural inclination for rock styles and even if he was never destined to be a major component in the field due more to a generational rift than a musical one.

So here we are again with him a year and a half later, still on Decca, still not much more than a minor figure in their company, but maybe hoping Blues In The Back Room will have just enough appeal to the rock crowd to give his stagnating career the shot in the arm it so desperately needs.

Mood Piece… Or Mood: Peace And Quiet
So… the record itself.


It’s okay, I guess. Serviceable. Well constructed and ably played. Suited for rock consumers who are in search of a lazy mild instrumental groove as a way to pass time or perhaps to pass out to.

For those reasons Blues In The Back Room is a halfway decent choice for establishing atmosphere. But it’s a mild atmosphere, like something you might hear on your way into a more rousing party rather than a song that will be playing at the party itself.

Essentially this is following the Sonny Thompson playbook in that it features a piano laying down a melody – albeit it a much busier one than ol’ Sonny ever tried – while the sax blows a repetitive line over it, all just churning along at a moderate pace until it works its way into your consciousness.

I suppose it’s effective in that regard, never transfixing enough to seek out on its own but never boring enough to turn off either. Maybe when you’re a bass player – a stand-up bassist no less – you go for these sorts of tunes because it plays into what you do well which is just hold your ground musically over the course of an entire song.

As such there’s no elaborate parts, so wild solos… in fact, no solos at all, which is frankly a mistake, as a more soulful tenor sax getting twelve or sixteen bars mid-way through before returning to this steady groove might’ve put this over better, but you can’t find too much to complain about otherwise even if you’d also struggle to find something to really praise about it either.

Considering the pianist is the one with the majority of the focus on him, and that it’s his left hand more than Dickens even who is emphasizing the bass line, you can see how this was more or less just a throwaway rather than something they were actively pursuing to revive their stagnant career.

Alone Again Or… Not Quite Yet
Not surprisingly Decca Records put their stock in the boring vocal side, a version of Irving Berlin’s All Alone which is interesting only in that it’s practically half whispered, kind of like they were worried about waking somebody up.

My guess the engineer was dozing off after finally convincing the secretary go out with him the night before which wound up with him out sixty five bucks for which he got just a kiss on the cheek outside her apartment door.

As for Doles Dickens, though Blues In The Back Room is hardly any more invigorating than the engineer’s date, he’s just glad he got another recording session, his first in over a year. But if this is the best he can do he can’t expect many more.

He’s not quite done yet though, he’ll try his luck one more time and make a more overt effort to court rock listeners in the process, but as could probably be inferred by the lack of enthusiasm for this otherwise modest place holder, he’ll fare no better in his efforts to be considered a rock act and wind up moving into session work which is probably what he was best suited for all the while.


(Visit the Artist page of Doles Dickens for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)