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GOTHAM 160; APRIL, 1948

 

Reissued as KING 4214

 
 

 

Rock ‘n’ roll has always been defined, in part, by its rivalries. The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones. Punk vs. Disco. Nas vs. Jay-Z. More tragically Pac vs. Biggie.

These (and many lesser) rivalries are oftentimes more about the fan base of the respective combatants than any legitimate animosity between the artists but it makes for good copy and – unfortunately – childish playground battles are as much a part of rock ‘n’ roll as drugs, groupies and record companies ripping off an artist of their royalties and so tales of these rivalries endure.

With Wynonie Harris now scoring big with his version of Good Rockin’ Tonight we have our first major throw down between rock stars, as Roy Brown, the originator of Good Rocking Tonight and of rock itself, will battle with Harris over the next few years for the right to be called the king of the rock hill.

But there’s been another struggle for supremacy in the rock kingdom that pre-dates Harris’s recent emergence, one which may not have quite the long-lasting impact of those two heavyweights, but in truth it was actually two non-singing musicians who kicked off the competitive rivalry aspect of rock ‘n’ roll as 1947 was flipping the calendar to 1948.

We’re talking of course about Paul Williams and Earl Bostic. Rock’s twin sax pillars.
 

I Can’t Resist
Even as more horn players enter into the hit making sweepstakes seemingly every month it’s shaping up to be a two man race amongst saxophone revolutionaries to see which one will define the dominant instrumental styles of rock’s first full year. Getting off the line quicker, both in terms of releases and commercial reception, was Paul Williams, whose Hastings Street Bounce kicked off the craze back in October, 1947, while its follow-up Thirty-Five Thirty had the distinction of being the first official sax instrumental record to chart nationally in Billboard magazine as the New Year rang in.

Yet the other contender for the throne, Earl Bostic, was already well ahead of Williams when it came to virtuosity, unleashing a frantic workout on 845 Stomp, a record that was far beyond the more mild offerings of Williams and then bolstering that approach with Hot Sauce! – Boss. Bostic however only got regional recognition for his records and so, at this point anyway, when looking up at the scoreboard it was Williams who was out in front even as Earl was gaining on him.

As winter turned to spring it appeared that each of them might merely stick with a distinctive persona and let it become their calling card, milking it for all its worth, even as both surely knew that lack of versatility would eventually be their death-knell. But thankfully neither one did. Williams perhaps could feel Bostic breathing down his neck and stepped up his game to match Earl’s heat with The Twister, a rip-roaring two-sided track that showed a different side of Williams’ talents and re-established him as the betting favorite.

At the same time Bostic did an about face himself and cut something that was a bit less reliant on his earlier histrionics and settled perfectly into “the groove”, which as we’ve just seen with Sonny Thompson and Eddie Chamblee on Long Gone, was poised to act as the other half of the sax mania that swept rock ‘n’ roll as 1948 rolled on.

Paul, he seemed to be saying, I’ll see your bet and raise you.

Stick around, the game is heating up.
 

Leading Me On
Bostic was playing for smaller stakes in a way, as he was still recording for Gotham Records, a less prominent label from New York, but he soon began having his sides leased by King Records from Cincinnati, a larger independent whose ambition was evident in their going after the brass ring by signing up bigger names with longer track records and in their reaching out more and more for the type of records that were starting to make waves rather than being content with sticking only with what had gotten them this far in the industry to begin with.

Temptation is what put Bostic on the charts and validated his move towards a more commercial music after his departure from the more critically acclaimed jazz circles. On the surface the song itself seems rather a safe choice – a well known standard, one Bing Crosby (who else?) scored with back in the thirties and something everybody still knew in the mainstream pop marketplace. Yet the song attracted a plethora of rock artists to it over the next two decades with everyone from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins to The Everly Brothers taking a whack at it with mostly interesting results, its strong melody proving to be quite adaptable for various far-out experimental approaches.

Credit Bostic with that adventurism too as he shows right away that this is no moldy artifact he’s exhuming, hoping to pacify the gray haired constituency that determined what records made Your Hit Parade before their eight o’clock bedtimes. In his hands Bostic turns this into a sensuous seductive groove, appropriate for the (obviously discarded) lyrics I guess, but which Crosby didn’t even hint at in his interpretation, sounding as if he was singing to the woman who caught his eye and stirred his loins long after she sashayed on by and he’s left alone, able to voice his desires out loud only because she’s no longer within earshot and thus won’t shoot his scrawny ass down.

Bostic on the other hand wasted no time as she passed by, reaching out and grabbing her by the wrist, smiling at her as only those who know they have no reason to worry about rejection can do, and soon they’re grinding against one another as they retreat to the alley for a quickie. No words are exchanged, no money changes hands, this is just two people in heat satisfying their urges in the most base way imaginable.

That’s what this record is built upon and this is who it’s intended for – an audience whose collective imagination can easily visualize what the gritty, sultry mood of the music suggests.

It just sounds dirty by Bostic’s intent, even if he wouldn’t be found guilty of anything obscene in a court of law. The melody remains intact but with a bump and grind aesthetic added to it. The dainty politeness of its origins are stripped away along with their clothes.
 

 
 

It Would Be Thrilling
It opens nicely enough with vibes setting the scene before their eyes meet as she comes into view from down the block, her dark brown skin catching the glinting sun just right, her hips swaying seductively while her eyes are alive with the power of someone who knows just what those hips are doing to all the guys she passes, most of whom just stare awestruck before nervously looking away, afraid to be noticed staring at her. Yet when she gets to Bostic on the corner he’s not intimidated in the least by her beauty.

His saxophone states his intent from the first notes, aroused but in full control of himself. If anything the horn smirks at her and she immediately looks him up and down as he stands his ground, not backing down as the timid nervous men always do when the best looking bombshell on the block makes eye contact just to put them in their place and send them crawling back to a corner. But Earl’s got confidence she notes to herself, so she moves closer with a faintly interested smile on her lips, determined to make him blink first.

Bostic doesn’t bat an eye, trilling a circular pattern as Shep Shepard’s thudding drums are all that give away the rising excitement in these two cool customers.

The girl’s suitably impressed. The looks she’s thrown him would’ve knocked most guys to their knees, yet he hasn’t flinched. Furthermore, he hasn’t overplayed his hand like so many of the cockier braggarts she knows all too well would’ve, trying to instinctively show-off to catch her attention, thereby letting on that they’re covering up their own insecurity with mere bluster.

But not this guy. He’s content to groove in one spot, eyes locked on her like a magnet and he’s going to hold that confident gaze until she’s the one to crumble.

At around a minute in, as he’s turning up the heat of his playing, she feels herself getting flustered, her cool demeanor cracking, her palms getting sweaty and her panties becoming wet. Bostic smiles slowly, waits another beat for the anticipation to build within her even more… THEN takes her hand, strongly but not forcefully, the power fully shifted from her to him and off they go into the night.

We listen to their getting it on (hey, don’t gimme that disapproving look… they put it on RECORD for us to listen after all!) and by the sounds of it, as Bostic’s sax heats up over the latter half of the record, neither one of them is going unfulfilled.

I suppose I’ll stop now before I have to hose anybody down, but you get the idea of where it’s headed. It’s not dirty, just evocative, and therefore what you see in your own mind when you listen is your own business.
 


 

We’ll Never Part
We’ve touched upon what set rock ‘n’ roll apart from the music around it and the more proper cultural standards of the day many times here on Spontaneous Lunacy. We’ve talked at length about the position black America was dealing with in the late 1940’s, how the advances of the war years in terms of opportunities led to heightened expectations for even more advances to come. We’ve examined the generational shift that accompanies this where the older crowd who were resigned to life on the margins is replaced by one which is trying to assert itself into sharing equally in the so-called land of opportunity.

It’s still a tenuous proposition, one that sadly wouldn’t pay off nearly as profoundly nor nearly as quick as all involved hoped it would, but the determination was there all the same. The inner belief that the world was going to change and they’d be the ones to change it manifests itself in the cultural markers they gravitated towards.

On the surface an instrumental, especially one like Temptation drawn as it was from the very bedrock of the culture that was intent on keeping things as they were, wouldn’t seem like it was representative of this, yet rock ‘n’ roll didn’t play by normal rules. The cockiness of its artists and the swagger they engendered in their audience reveled in such audacious moves.

One of the most important facets of rock was always how arrogant it was in what it reached for. It acted in a way that seemed to disdain incremental advances and instead looked to transform things around it in one fell swoop. Here it offers a bold repudiation of the “be seen but not heard” mentality that had existed for far too long in society. Of “staying in your place”, eyes averted, never revealing too much emotion, doing nothing that could be used against you or misinterpreted and cause you to be singled out for increased scrutiny. This mindset forced upon previous generations had resulted in an ingrained systematic belief that you could never insist upon anything but instead had to graciously accept whatever meager scraps were offered from the table of life.

Rock upended that table by not hiding its desires, but flaunting and celebrating them instead. It did so in ways in which even those at the top of society’s ladder didn’t dare. The mainstream music of the day was discreet and mild whereas rock ‘n’ roll was anything but. It demanded loudly what other styles only allowed themselves to silently wish for.
 

 

That Earl Bostic would dare to do so with a song that had defined that pre-war prim and proper outlook, a stagnant world where righteousness was supposedly conferred onto white property owning males with any traces of ethnicity scrubbed clean by divine intervention on behalf of the accepted order of things, and promptly drag that song back into the carnal origins of life itself was both perverse and ingenious.

And entirely welcome.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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