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KING 4277; FEBRUARY, 1949

 
 

 

Earl Bostic accounted for nine of Gotham Records fourteen releases between mid-1947 and the summer of 1948. Now he and the record label had parted ways, as King Records, who’d been leasing Gotham’s output for wider distribution for the last year, took over his contract in January 1949. From then on the only Gotham releases to come out on Bostic were a handful of tracks left in the can that they’d trickle out over time in an attempt to draw some interest, as his name recognition was far higher than those remaining on their roster which is indicative of their declining fortunes as a company.

Meanwhile Bostic’s star was rising and while he’d never fully be classified a top tier act he would remain a fixture at King – indeed he’d release more records on the label than any artist in their history – for the rest of his life.

But for the time being the question is would King Records, with their finger on the pulse of the record buying public more than Gotham had ever shown, be able to steer Bostic into a reasonably consistent stylistic approach that had widespread commercial potential?

C’mon now, what do YOU think?

If you’ve been following this blog from the beginning and have picked anything up along the way it’s that there was nobody whose output visited as many different musical continents as Earl Bostic. His saxophone case had more luggage labels from every corner of the music world, from jazz to rock and everywhere in between, than any artist we’ve come across with the possible exception of Cousin Joe and Tiny Grimes. Over time King Records would learn that the best approach with Bostic was to let him indulge in whatever tickled his fancy at the moment and pick out the most commercial tracks and aim them at different audiences.

It wasn’t necessarily the best way to build a consistent fan base of course but it worked out in the long run as each constituency had enough records coming out through the years to appeal to their tastes and keep them all reasonably happy: the pop crowd got light supper club material on a semi-regular basis, the hard core jazz nuts got their mind blown every once in awhile, and King Records made sure that he cut enough harder edged sides to qualify him for his rock pension in the future as well, starting with this cut.
 

Around The World And Back Again
You can’t say we didn’t warn you about this Bostic character when we first met him. We referred to him as an iconoclast and we suggested he was something of a musical chemist, someone inclined to follow his muse wherever it led, critics, record labels, fellow musicians or audiences be damned.

We also told you his skill set was arguably higher than saxophonist in rock’s illustrious history, King Curtis aside, but that he resisted issuing records that showed off the full extent of his abilities, as it may give others the opportunity to steal from him by breaking those records down to extract every trick and shred of information they could decipher from the tracks. An unusual fellow to say the least.

So it should come as no surprise that after he showed one and all just how to approach both the flamboyant hell-bells rock instrumental style with his earliest efforts 845 Stomp and Hot Sauce! Boss, then abruptly changed gears and delivered the definitive sultry groove instrumental in rock to date on Temptation, that he would then suddenly decide he’d had enough of rock ‘n’ roll altogether by the spring of ’48. At that point, as was his habit, he simply packed his horn and went out to see what feathers he could ruffle in another musical nest.

Unfortunately – to our ears at least – the direction he headed in throughout the rest of the calendar year was rather unchallenging lightweight pop or jazz-lite material. It’d be one thing if he ventured back into bop and tore some avowed legends to pieces, or if he’d set out to create an entirely new style altogether and perhaps leave earth’s atmosphere in the process, but instead he settled into sort of a musical vacation, one spent lounging by the ocean or sleeping in a hammock in the shade, barely keeping his pulse above that of a corpse while he presumably built his strength up for something more explosive around the corner.

When he did finally return to the fringes of rock with the experimental Disc Jockey’s Nightmare, an early example of the art of live action sampling, it was a case of the idea outstripping the execution. But that also happened to be the last record he issued on Gotham as a contracted artist before having King Records gain control of him and by the looks of it they apparently decided that they needed something commercial from him right out of the gate and so he was forced to acquiesce to their demands.

Whether or not he himself was pleased with this request nobody likely knows, but thankfully he didn’t seem to protest too much because with Blip Boogie he came up with something entirely suited for the increasingly demanding tastes of rock fans while still offering just enough in the way of idiosyncratic touches that could only come from the fevered brain of Earl Bostic.
 

Countdown To Detonation
The first six seconds with its modest churning riff harkening back to a slightly older – but by no means out of date – style you may think, What’s the big deal?. Or at least, why the lengthy build up for something so pedestrian?

But Bostic is someone who has shown in the past that he has a fondness for springing sudden explosions on you and sure enough right around the first bend he gives it to you with both barrels, launching himself out of the rocking chair he was wiling away in for so long with a quick blast to remind you just who you’re dealing with.

That he then slows things back down to repeat that first groove is just him being contrarian I guess because the rest of the track keeps building layer upon layer until it’s straining at the seams. He and the other horns trade off and if you want to criticize his compatriots for being a little more restrained in the big band fashion they undoubtedly all were veterans of, that’s okay because you’re not here for them are you? No, you’re here for Bostic who pushes them with increasing passion as this steams ahead.

Forty-five seconds into the proceedings we hit the next plateau, Bostic digging deeper and coarsening his tone, pulling the others up to his level to ensure they give him the solid footing he’ll need for each subsequent leap. Their urgency becomes more palpable once his becomes more apparent.
 


 

In the past he’s been the only horn on some of his records but here he has a full brigade behind him which allows him to not have to carry the whole load on his shoulders, an approach which had often resulted in a more chaotic sound. Nobody could pull off chaotic quite like Earl but it wasn’t always for the betterment of the song, as for each time it made the record sound more frenzied and exciting there’d be another time where you’d get dizzy trying to keep up, no matter how technically impressive his torrid displays may be.

Here that’s not an issue as the rest of the horns are the ones assigned to playing the basic riff in lockstep over the piano, bass and drums which are more than holding their own in the arrangement even as none get so much as a few seconds to shine in the spotlight. That’s because Bostic is hogging it for himself, though that’s hardly a criticism. At the 1:25 mark after a relatively subdued grooving pattern in the forefront, Bostic takes off again, playing the same three note refrain with increasing intensity until it sounds like an army stampeding downhill.

Each brief break that follows, the next coming at around a minute and fifty seconds in, allows you to get your bearings before he comes roaring out of the smoke with another bombardment. At 2:15 he’s reaching both the apex of the song and the extremes of the horn, squealing notes that somehow never lose sight of their tone nor the control needed to keep it sounding reasonably sane as opposed to merely a form of anarchy set to music.

Yet there’s the backing musicians keeping things tethered to the ground so even when he hits the NEXT high points, now reaching for the dog whistle notes, you never feel as if you’ve lost all sensibility. It all feels like a natural progression from where you started, although if you think back you’re left wondering just how you got so far away from those humble beginnings so fast.
 

Okay, You Can Exhale Now
Any way you look at it this is an impressive feat of musicianship, but as for this type of manic performance being put in captivity on wax for repeated spins in a more sedate environment, well, that’s another question.

Blip Boogie is unquestionably a better performance than it is a record simply because the intent of the song is to build excitement, something which is done far better in live settings… when standing, not sitting… when drinking copious amounts of booze, not sipping at a soft drink… when surrounded by fellow degenerates looking to lose their inhibitions, not when relaxing alone alongside a record player or some contraption yet to be invented in 1949 with which you’re listening to this today.

In the analytical evaluation there’s no doubt it still raises your heart rate but the communal nature required to send that heart rate into the danger zone is going to be conspicuously absent. As scintillating a workout as it is there’s no environmental stimuli to leave you in need of medical attention as there’d be at the end of a midnight set on a Friday night in some dingy club where Bostic would be sure to get carried out on the surviving crowd’s shoulders after letting rip with such a capper to the night’s festivities.

In those circumstances you all might wind up sharing his jail cell for disturbing the peace and moral corruption, or whatever flimsy charges law enforcement dreams up to stop this sort of thing from spreading too wide and overthrowing society, but until the high it elicited wore off it wouldn’t matter what police brutality they inflicted upon you for your communal transgressions it’s doubtful you’d feel a thing.

But as much as we’d like to experience the song in such a setting – minus the cops breaking up the party of course – we’re forced to consider this under a much different set of ground rules, for even back then there were only so many bandstands Bostic could appear on and since this was being sold as a record, not a live performance, it had to be appreciated on the sterile confines of shellac and that’d be a little tougher to do.

Not impossible. Not by a long shot. This could wake the dead and heal the lame with just a little conviction by the listener, but it’s not a sure thing to be on the list of your favorite records because it simply is too unhinged to ever be listened to WITHOUT being in the right frame of mind.

When you ARE in the right frame of mind however, sharing it enthusiastically with decidedly immoral company, then every note chosen is ideal for its intention and will have you thinking it is played to perfection. The arrangement starts of deceptively simple, doesn’t change a lick throughout it, yet by the end reveals itself to be sturdy enough to hold even Bostic’s fury without wavering.

Maybe without a more memorable hook, without a lingering impression other than sheer exhaustion, without another soloist of any kind, let alone one who is able to match him and offer a competing inducement of their own, you might say Blip Boogie falls short of true greatness. Okay, maybe it does, but not by much. What it succeeds in doing though is serving as yet another piece of evidence as to Earl Bostic’s unchallenged supremacy as a sax virtuoso and after such a long wait that’s more than good enough for our needs.

It’s nice to have you back, Earl.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Earl Bostic for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)