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KING 4328; DECEMBER, 1949

 
 


Trying to get a handle on the career of Earl Bostic is kind of like trying to catch a fish with your bare hands. You might see it clearly as it swims by, think you have a bead on it but as soon as your hand hits the water it disappears and all you have is a wet arm.

But it didn’t have to be this way, for along with Paul Williams back in late 1947 it was Earl Bostic who helped to introduce the sax instrumental to rock ‘n’ roll in its formative days. Though both had success, Bostic scoring big regional hits right out of the gate followed a few months later by a national Top Ten hit, and had tons of influence on the emergence of the style itself, neither of these men were exactly prototypical case studies simply because of their choice of horns. Whereas the majority of those who followed in their wake and scored big in rock were tenor players, Williams primarily held court on the baritone while Bostic played alto.

The difference between them in the long run however was that Williams stuck largely to rock ‘n’ roll. Though some of his records eased up on the intensity more than is recommended he seemed fairly content to ply his trade in this rough new frontier, even after his recording opportunities diminished in time he remained a regular on the multi-artist live rock shows of the mid-1950’s, leading the touring band playing behind a myriad of other performers.

Bostic on the other hand, arguably the most technically skilled of all saxophonists in the biz, never stuck to any one style for very long. Highly regarded in jazz before entering rock ‘n’ roll he’d split his time in both fields, not to mention bringing the instrument more into the pop realm by cutting more full length albums than virtually any sax player of his day, interpreting all sorts of material in all sorts of ways.

But that versatility, while admirable in theory, wreaked havoc on his long term reputation as no fan base of any genre felt comfortable claiming him for themselves. He’d reel off a handful of great performances in one style, then abandon it for months at a time to focus on something else, losing the interest of those who had just embraced him in the process.

By the end of 1949 as the saxophone was at its ascendancy in rock which is when he should’ve been arguably among the biggest stars in its galaxy had he stuck with it more consistently, Earl Bostic was struggling to even get noticed again.
 

 

On That Day I’ll Say
As has been mentioned before when talking about the enigmatic sax man, none of this seemed to really affect Bostic’s attitude. He was something of a musical savant, someone for whom the only thing that really mattered was the act of playing itself, not the reception to that playing. Once he’d established himself, secured a record contract and was able to sell enough consistently to not be at risk for losing his gig, he just focused on whatever muse he had at the time, trends and styles be damned.

To be fair he was quite successful at this all things considered. He might not have had as many hits as he could’ve had he concentrated on courting one specific audience but he sold a lot of records over the years (singles, EP’s and LP’s alike) and was a steady draw on the road where his reputation on the bandstand was unmatched. It was said he never displayed all of his tricks on a record for fear other artists would be able to rigorously analyze it and steal his ideas, but on stage he’d cut anyone to pieces.

That being said though his records were still generally solid enough to impress and thanks to his name recognition where people didn’t have to know his latest record to know it was a sax instrumental he was a favorite of the jukebox trade because people knew they’d be good for either dancing or as an omnipresent background for whatever rowdy clientele might be gathered in one of those joints.

But was that good enough for HIM? For his satisfaction as a performer, knowing that his records were being jitterbugged to at greasy spoon dives? Wasn’t that sort of an ignominious fate for somebody as prodigiously talented as Earl Bostic?

Apparently not, because here he is again, slumming if you will with Nay! Nay! Go Way… Not slumming in rock ‘n’ roll per say, but rather slumming in run-of-mill rock ‘n’ roll that wasn’t going to do him any favors.
 


 

It Took Me A Long Long Time To Get Me Some Gold Again
In the past we’ve seen Bostic try and… well, let’s be kind and say compromise by adding some vocals to the mix on some songs so he wasn’t just churning out one sax solo after another and maybe that way he’d also be able to better distinguish what was meant for the rock crowd by giving them a bare bones story with them in mind.

But it didn’t work aesthetically on Who Snuck The Wine In The Gravy back in the fall and it doesn’t work any better now as winter arrives. But as we said he’d get into these quirky unexpected experimental phases and it’d dominate his thinking for awhile and you were stuck with it until he lost interest and moved on to something else. Let’s just say he can’t move on fast enough from this convoluted idea.

The problem can be boiled down to two very minor things. The lyrics suck and the band members can’t sing. Other than that everything’s fine.

Nay! Nay! Go Way has a title that makes it sound like a dippy novelty tune, something derived from a nursery rhyme which for all we know they may have thought was appropriate for the rock crowd’s immature audience. Needless to say it’s not. Besides, there’s hardly any story to this, it’s rather like being dropped into the middle of an argument… that is if you were listening to only half of it because the person was snidely telling his ex-girlfriend off over the phone when you walked in.

That’s precisely when, if you have any sense, you’ll pretend to have left your car engine running and excuse yourself for a moment to go take care of it… then jump in and drive off.

The fact that these guys aren’t singers by trade doesn’t help either of course. They’re chanting, not singing and their voices are too thin and nondescript for even that task, especially since they’re barely one step above lethargic in their delivery.

Meanwhile the lyrics, such as they are, require some hint of derision to put them across properly and yet because they’re also not actors they can’t pull this off either. As a result the story falls flat. You have no interest in what happens between this guy and his former flame, you get no backstory to find out what went down that led to this, and you hear no angry retorts by the girl being dumped to add a little excitement to the proceedings. The guys themselves don’t even get off a wicked line or two criticizing her for some indiscretion. It’s not a story so much as a newspaper blurb.

All of which means that once again it’s up to Earl Bostic to rescue this, which let’s face it if he really wanted to do he would’ve just told the others to shut their yaps and he’d have cut a storming instrumental.
 


 

Now I’m About To Win
Though he’s hardly given much support behind him, an incidental piano, drums and handclaps for the most part, Earl Bostic still has the ability to inject even the most rudimentary track with something worth the price of admission. He does that here to a degree, blowing brief, repetitive, but insistent runs in between each vocal line. However there’s not much chance for him to really go wild in the main body of the song due to the vocal arrangement which takes up the bulk of it, as Bostic is only supplying responses which naturally are the only thing worth hearing.

When they stop singing and he starts honking that’s when your hopes rise… but not for long. While Bostic’s not doing anything wrong, he’s also not doing anything great. Unlike the earlier lines in between the vocals where his tone was gritty and strong, on the solo he moves up to the alto’s more comfortable range which has a lighter feel than what this calls for considering the song’s accusatory theme. He also sounds a bit like he’s taken a step back from the microphone so the sound isn’t in your face but instead feels almost fleeting. Imagine him on the dock playing as your boat sets sail and you’ll get the idea… he’s getting further away and harder to hear while you’re getting seasick.

The only good aspect of the singing was that it prevented the brass section outside of Bostic himself from using their horns. But now that their vocalizing has ceased they pick up those horns and start to play while Bostic solos on top of them. They’re only playing a unobtrusive rhythmic figure and it doesn’t last long, but it’s certainly not adding anything of value and I get the impression that they all thought it would which could be why Bostic sort of lays back during his stand-alone spot.

If that were all we had an issue with we still might be able to largely dismiss it but of course any time you start to relax and think you’ve made it through the rough stretch things will invariably go from bad to worse… especially when there are trumpets involved.

Yeah, as if we needed to tell you that.

The bane of so many rock misfires in these years winds up rearing its ugly head here as well, because when they start up singing again their voices aren’t the only things squawking in a grating tone, as now the trumpet takes over for Bostic, who is inexplicably absent from his own record. I’m guessing he’s either is joining them singing or if he’s smart he’s slipped out the back door and is halfway to the bus depot already to get out of town before the posse comes after him for this offense to good taste.

By this stage of rock’s history we know full well the trumpet has been the death knell for even some good records and since Nay! Nay! Go Way was anything BUT good to start with, this is where we watch them all swirl down the drain together. At least by the sound of it the trumpeter sounds as if he’s in as much pain as we are from listening to him and so when the record mercifully ends we’ll toss some dirt on his casket and head to the after-party for some hors d’oeuvres.

Rest In Peace… and quiet!
 


 

I Know I’ll See You Again
Ideally a reviewer – or any listener for that matter – should have no emotional investment in the records they’re tasked with analyzing, but sometimes that’s easier said than done. I think it goes without saying that we want ALL records we encounter to be good, even when we know going in that many of them won’t be. But we accept that because it makes those which are superior stand out all the more.

It’s the same thing with the artists themselves. We don’t have the same realistic high hopes for everyone of course but we sincerely hope that each one will surprise us. If some mediocre hack that will be gone from the scene in a blink of an eye delivers a dud we can easily shrug it off and maybe even find some laughs in critiquing it. If that same artist surprises us and pulls a rabbit out of the hat we’re often elated by what might only rise to being an average, or slightly above average record as our enthusiasm gets the best of us.

But it’s a different story entirely for someone we know is a great artist, who’s shown us what they’re capable of and who has the ability to deliver nothing but above average records for years on end if they put their mind to it. When THEY let us down we feel the disappointment all the more and then when they keep spinning their wheels, making similar mistakes each time out and seem oblivious to the fact they ARE mistakes then we throw our hands up in frustration.

Earl Bostic will be around a long time and he’ll redeem himself plenty before we’re done. It’s also not as if he himself stunk up the joint on this, as his early playing was by far the best aspect of Nay! Nay! Go Way, but the more he relies on others the less able he is to turn water into wine. Bostic brings this up just enough to keep it from being completely worthless but in every other way, from the concept itself to the arrangement, the vocals and the other instruments, are all drastically subpar. Not just subpar but almost condescending towards rock’s attitude as a whole.

Yet because Bostic himself is not SO bad that we can gleefully rip it to shreds and hand out the lowest score possible to call attention to it this winds up being the kind of record that just gets lost in the shuffle – eternally insignificant and thus ignored.

That the record itself is ignored is no big loss of course, but ignoring the causes for its failure is something which will allow those failures to be repeated again. This where someone needed to use the words of this song to get the point across and tell those responsible for its shortcomings to simply “Go away!”.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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