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DECCA 48229; AUGUST 1951



Expectations based on pre-existing perceptions are entirely natural, yet ultimately flawed because they don’t take into account such things as free will and creative progress.

Case in point: Yesterday Jimmy “Baby Face” Lewis, a young, multi-talented rock artist on a renowned independent label whose top side of that release had been his best all-around work to date, released a dreadful pop-aspiring song as the B-side to that single… letting down everyone who hoped his upward trajectory would continue.

Today on the other hand we are reintroduced to the unlikely character, Doles Dickens, an older bassist and bandleader on a stodgy major label who had been opportunistically attempting to pass muster as a rock act for awhile, releasing a couple of songs over the past few years which make clear their desperate attempts at musical relevance with their rather obvious titles and themes.

Naturally today he manages to upend the low expectations you have for such shameless practices through sheer hard work and some admirable focus.


Like We Never Have Rolled Before
One thing about musicians that tends to get overlooked or underrated when discussing stylistic categorizing… a talented musician CAN adapt to effectively play styles outside their personal preferences.

Usually the reason they don’t do so with anything approaching legitimacy comes down to two factors – a lack of exposure to the music in its purest form which results in uncertainty over how to best achieve their goals and a nagging self-consciousness in their performances that subverts the technical know-how they need to pull it off capably.

If you’re condescending towards the musical requirements of rock you’ll look like more of a fool than if you lose your inhibitions and go along with the program for fun.

Doles Dickens may have initially been coaxed or even forced into hopping on the rock bandwagon by Decca Records, trying to capitalize on what the company surely hoped would be a short-lived fad, but he never looked down upon this assignment, cursing with frustration over what his stalled career had come to.

Granted he may not have fully understood what he was supposed to do, but he never embarrassed himself in his attempts and while it should be obvious that he was never going to actually break through commercially and become a genuine rock star, with Gonna Rock This Morning he at least shows what someone willing to give themselves over to the music was capable of.

Of course, just because Doles Dickens has gotten his head above water in rock with this track doesn’t mean every major label should haul some aging veteran out of deep freeze and try to latch on to rock ‘n’ roll, but if they do let’s hope they approach with the same genuine enthusiasm that he and the band do here.

Gonna Rock My Baby
There’s little question that the songwriters – Charles Singleton (not the saxophonist) and Joe Thomas (not the saxophonist either) – were hedging their bets by carefully crafting a pastiche of rock down to the smallest detail. They do a fairly good job with it too – establishing a strong rhythmic drive with multi-layered instrumental parts while coming up with lyrics that are more about establishing a communal atmosphere than telling an actual story.

So the lack of a plot to Gonna Rock This Morning isn’t much of a detriment considering what it ostensibly is about… partying, sex, decadence, take your pick. Essentially it’s a call to arms for the morally dubious audience that make up rock’s primary constituency and you wonder what Decca executives thought about sanctioning such behavior, but I suppose where record sales are concerned they figured it was worth trading in their principles for a couple of jukebox spins.

It may not be the original definition of selling your soul for rock ‘n’ roll, but why quibble?

Gregory though surely doesn’t sound as if HE needed to be convinced to whoop it up like this, as thankfully there’s no awkward compromise surrounding his vocals. Not only is he gung-ho about his task here, he doesn’t ease off on the inferences of what he’s singing, making sure the meaning cuts through the rather ambiguous lyrics. He’s a little too theatrical at times – and the band members answering him are in slightly over their heads – but none of it comes across as artificial, just over-exuberant if anything.

While his role is vital in terms of establishing the record’s credibility, the band are the ones who have to pull out all of the stops to convince you they’re serious. Any let-up in energy, any outdated passage, any out of place instrument and the whole house of cards they’re establishing will come tumbling down.


Rock ‘n’ Roll, Shake & Hold
Though this is a pretty straight-forward record with no real surprises, they’re clearly aware of how to build excitement in an organic fashion.

The first section is about establishing the basics – a piano boogie played by Clarence Harmon while Dickens locks down the rhythm on bass. There’s only faint shading being done by the other instruments during these first thirty seconds, their presence suggested more than declared to make sure sure their arrival in the spotlight later on will have a greater impact.

When Gonna Rock This Morning switches into overdrive with Gregory’s rambunctious “chorus”, the guitar eases into the forefront, still not cutting loose but giving you another sound to get comfortable with. The action settles down again but now you’re aware that something else is lurking around the corner.

Fifty seconds in they go for broke. Louis Judge takes a rousing sax solo while Jimmy Crawford bashes away on the drums. Though this section is invigorating they purposefully aren’t trying to blow up the recording console because we’re not even halfway through the record, so when Judge steps aside Sam Hendricks moves in to take his place, playing sharp stinging guitar lines that lend some tension to the overall performance while at the same time allowing the energy to dissipate so Gregory isn’t overwhelmed when he returns after a second, shorter, refrain by Judge on tenor.

From here on out they’re coasting home… not in a bad way that implies creative laziness, but rather in a way that tells us they’ve built up enough momentum that they don’t need to stomp on the gas to get where they’re going. Gregory steers it home with confidence as the band guards his flanks, a tight ensemble proving they were no mere interlopers here after all.

Rock Some More
Surely after such a spirited performance where the singer and band made no fatal mistakes they – and maybe you too – might be expecting us to celebrate their achievement, shooting off fireworks and bestowing bright green numbers on their effort.

We could… but it’d be an overreaction brought about by those aforementioned expectations.

Because we never anticipated Doles Dickens making everything click on a rock record, no matter how sincere he was in his attempts, it’s easy to get carried away when he manages to turn Gonna Rock This Morning into a solid entry into the music’s catalog. But by the middle of 1951 this sort of thing is de rigor.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s quite good, the instrumental break could even justify it being bumped up a point, but front to back it’s still hardly anything to make you stop in your tracks. If it wasn’t for the unlikely artist and label you may not even notice it if this came up on shuffle on a playlist of the better rock releases for the year.

The bar keeps being raised in other words.

When Dickens first tried his hand at rock ‘n’ roll back in 1949 – and did an admirable enough job all things considered – you’d have been floored to know he was capable of a record like this, but in the last two years so many others have shown what artists are can do when they lose their inhibitions and jump into the fray without worrying about where they’ll land that we should take his ascent to this level in stride.

Yes, it’s a surprise that someone from another era and another style of music was comfortable enough to do so, but just doing so, even with a fair amount of panache, no longer is worth writing home about.


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