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KING 4316; OCTOBER, 1949

 
 

 

The title of this song – and the implication as to its impropriety – poses a reasonable question I suppose… except for one nagging pertinent fact: There are many gravy recipes that call for wine, thereby making the entire premise of this rare vocal turn on an Earl Bostic release something of a misnomer.

But then again by the sounds of this they were too sloshed after their meal to really give a damn.

So pull up a chair, dig in and hand your car keys over to someone who’s fasting and can act as your designated driver.
 

 

Pass That Jive Around
Any way you look at it this is a strange course being served up by Earl Bostic, who was not known for either vocal records or a sense of humor. But then again he’s been veering from one lane to another artistically over the last year or so ever since his first few rock instrumental releases helped to set the entire concept of how it should be properly done into motion and so I guess you can’t say you’re truly surprised if he suddenly swerves in yet another direction while hurtling down the road. So far he’s left his rock pursuits behind at times and gone back to jazz where he originated, then he seemed to head in a more pop direction. Neither of those avenues were very successful and thus when he landed full time at King Records after they snatched him off the underfunded Gotham label he began heading back towards rock once again.

But those efforts have been a far cry from his initial rock sides on Gotham which were hair raising in their intensity. With so many saxophone players having taken up the challenge of surpassing that fury in the twenty some odd months to follow he has yet to respond in kind and try and raise the bar even higher.

We’ve also seen him open his mouth for something other than blowing into his alto sax, as he’d released a vocal record back in June called Earl’s Blues which was a decent attempt to branch out in what he had to offer. This is never a bad idea, for while instrumentals are clearly where horn frontmen are going to earn their bread, one honking song after another over the course of a long night on the bandstand will try anyone’s patience. We’ve seen Big Jay McNeely cut sides with Clifford Blivens singing and a cat named Muddy Water (not Waters, so don’t think you’ve discovered some long forgotten sides by McKinley Morganfield) and later Joan Shaw adorning a few records by Paul Williams with their vocals.

In Bostic’s case this move into singing most likely was a plan of producer Henry Glover, the former trumpeter with Lucky Millinder’s band, who wrote this song. Glover knew the value of diversification, something we’ve preached constantly since we started this endeavor, and with his vast experience I’m sure he understood that without a great vocalist to handle those sides it was probably smarter to use something of a novelty approach when it came to Bostic’s singing efforts. Okay, fair enough, you say, what does he have in mind?

Well, he’s actually got something that’s been on his mind for a long, long time and that’s part of the problem. Though Glover’s songwriting credentials are beyond question, with Who Snuck The Wine In The Gravy he’s a few years behind the curve, not to mention a few steps away from the fundamental rock attitude. This was honestly something more suited to Glover’s old cohort in Millinder’s crew, the affable Bull Moose Jackson who was now a big star himself on King, under Glover’s direction no less.

In Jackson’s hands this would’ve been more amusing, as his personality lent itself to this kind of mildly suggestive but by no means scandalous tale that was all the rage in the pre-rock era. Louis Jordan of course provided the prototype for this kind of song, though usually with more humor AND subversive insight than others who followed in his footsteps showed.

But then again considering Bostic’s fluctuating stylistic pursuits maybe this wasn’t such a bad attempt to make. No, it wouldn’t solidify his credentials with us in the rock world, but it fits in well enough where we’re not going to be blocking his entry to the party… especially if that wine he’s serving his half as potent as he makes it out to be.
 


 
 

Meal Time
Any lighthearted song runs the risk of not being funny enough to earn repeated listens, nor musical enough – if they’re relying mostly on the story for its appeal – to compensate for something that’s only mildly amusing at best.

That’s the case here with Who Snuck The Wine In The Gravy, a vignette that is good enough to listen to every so often but not enough to have you asking for seconds once you’re at the table.

It starts off strong with Bostic blowing a really catchy intro that gets answered, somewhat gratingly, by the other horns, but Earl’s line, as basic as it may be, is something you could easily build an entire song around with that as the primary refrain.

The vocals when they come in are a group effort with Bostic blowing behind them. They employ a semi-chanted rhythm which works well enough, I mean it’s doubtful these guys were great singers so this approach lessens their burden considerably, but it’s hardly invigorating, especially for something trying to qualify in the rock realm.

When Earl puts his sax down and starts to talk, not sing, providing the details of the story it definitely holds your interest and prods you into a few intermittent grins… not laughs, nor even full-fledged smiles, which sort of tells you the limitations the song is working within.

His vocals are delivered in a sort of simpleton tone, not that he’s playing the character as an idiot by any means, but they’re clearly trying to extract some more humor out of the situation by having his voice waver as he recounts how dinner turned into something just short of a drunken orgy.

It’s pretty obvious… okay, it’s as plain as day… that this is basically a re-worked version of a now-four year old song that we’ve talked about at length on these pages before, one which Glover played a big part in since it was cut by Millinder’s outfit when they were fronted by a cat we know well named Wynonie Harris.

The song was a vital pre-rock effort called Who Threw The Whiskey In The Well and it doesn’t take a genius to see the connection to this song, right down to the cadence of the lead line and to be truthful most of the particulars of the story. But the thing is it’s not as GOOD of a story due to the changed setting and circumstances. In “Whiskey” the perpetrator was a church deacon and those unwittingly imbibing in the spiked water were the parishioners who began acting in a devilish manner once the booze hit their system.

In 1945 it was a well-deserved #1 hit, launching Harris’s career in the process. He’d soon go solo leading to the aforementioned Bull Moose Jackson’s career as a singer, as Millinder plucked him out of the horn section as he laid down his tenor sax and sang both sequels to that tune, one under Lucky’s name and the second on his own.

Glover was the guiding hand in those as he is here, but by this point the act has worn thin and when you just have a family sitting around the dinner table getting a bit of a shock by the amount of Sneaky Pete in the gravy they poured over their meat and mashed potatoes, the effect isn’t nearly the same. There’s nothing scandalous about them having a few unexpected snorts at a meal where there probably was already some drinks being served in glasses, nor can there be any real fallout for having had too much. Maybe a few laughs the next week at the expense of whoever was pouring gravy on everything from peas and carrots to the apple pie they had for desert, but otherwise it’s a fairly innocuous dinner party all things considered.
 


 

Sobered Up From The Spell
Like the idea itself the music is not just outdated but also on the tame side whatever era we’re talking about, whether 1949 or even a few years earlier when this model was first unveiled under an alternate guise.

Mostly the problem comes down to the fact that Glover seemed to feel the story was the drawing card and its humor would be enough to carry it. He replicates the hand-clapped backbeat that had been featured in those earlier efforts by other singers, which is always good, the backbeat is obviously a cornerstone of rock and the original song was definitely one of the sources that technique was adapted from when Harris added it to Good Rockin’ Tonight. But it’s certainly not a very slamming beat when delivered by hands rather than drums (which are present, but are only echoing the clapping and not very forcefully at that) and so it winds up only keeping time just enough get you to bob your head along with it.

Being an Earl Bostic track though means the instrumental focus is going to be on the horns in general and his alto in particular. His playing behind the chorus is not very gripping and when its time to solo it’s not Bostic alone who takes it, as you’d expect. Instead it’s all of the horns and while that has the recipe for disaster written all over it, especially with the trumpet taking a major role, this part winds up being by far the most enjoyable aspect of the entire record.

What they’re playing though in the solo isn’t rock, but rather Dixieland, or something replicating a Dixieland feel. Maybe it’s just my affinity for the style itself – not in heavy doses, but it’s usually a gratifying sound when I come across it – that makes it more of a pleasant surprise than an unwelcome intrusion. Yet even I have to admit it doesn’t quite fit.

Well, it fits the song’s arrangement I guess, but that tells you a lot about how the arrangement itself was hardly suited to rock. In the end that crucial misstep pretty much makes the entire question of Who Snuck The Wine In The Gravy moot because you’re not getting even a mild buzz off this wine-infused gravy no matter how much you consume.

That’s the unfortunate aspect of this when you get right down to it. If he was going to allow himself to be steered in a slightly different direction it’d be best if that direction led to more blistering forms of rock that he was so capable of delivering and in the process let everybody at the table get ripped from what he’s playing.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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