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In rock ‘n’ roll there have been a lot of vocal frontmen who also play guitar, as well those who play piano, a few even that are bassists or play the saxophone, and one we’ve met who played vibraphones… but there have been comparatively few who were drummers in addition to be singers.

Even though almost every self-contained rock group had a drummer, their instrumental role sort of interfered with taking lead vocals on stage and – in these days before overdubbing was common – made it equally difficult to record in the studio while sitting behind the kit laying down the beat.

It’s not completely unheard of, as shown here, but still rare enough to be notable. Although after hearing this record it may not be difficult to understand why it happens so infrequently.


Gone Away From Me
Since we’ve already met Earl Forest on both sides of his first release back in June, you may wonder why we’re treating this like an introduction to him rather than a continuation of his burgeoning career.

Well, without forcing you to go back and re-read those, it’s because in that case he was a sideman thrust into the spotlight when Bobby “Blue” Bland, the lead vocalist of The Beale Streeters, hadn’t learned the songs and they needed to salvage the session which is what led to not only Forest stepping to the mic, but also Johnny Ace who with My Song scored the biggest hit of the summer with his first effort.

As a result now Duke Records was realizing just what it had on its hands with these musicians. Bland just saw his first record for the company released – both very good songs in a blues bag which would be his dominant genre over the course of his long career – and of course Ace was now a star who would be the cornerstone of the label for the rest of his all-too-brief life.

Heck, even Rosco Gordon who sometimes sat in with them was now joining the others on Duke Records this month after scoring hits elsewhere for the last year. Of course B.B. King, who more or less had put the group together a year or so ago, was one of the biggest hitmakers in the blues, and while he’d never sign with the label, he DID tour under their affiliated Buffalo Booking Agency for years. Not a bad pedigree, wouldn’t you say?

So it was natural that they let Earl Forest get a more deliberate release than his unplanned debut last spring and in the process they were rewarded for it when Whoopin’ And Hollerin’ became a Top Ten hit in its own right, and though it took until March to crack the listings, it managed to stay there until early May.

With so much success across the board, it wasn’t surprising that The Beale Streeters went their separate ways in short order, each one touring behind their own records and coming into the studio on their own whenever they could in order to cut more material and as such their time together was already drawing to a close.

So this is one of our last chances to hear more or less the full group at once, but unfortunately – hit or not – this isn’t the best advertisement for their competency as a self-contained unit.


Where Shall I Go, What Shall I Do
Let’s cushion the blow of taking this down a few pegs from its hit status by saying there’s a pretty good song here obscured by some bad production and poor instrumental choices.

Maybe neither of those things are too surprising considering that David James Mattis, who copped the writers credit on this (deservedly or not) was a radio station employee, not a record producer… sort of explaining how he’d know what material showed promise without having the slightest idea of how to bring out its best qualities in the studio.

Whoever really wrote it, probably Forest but we don’t know for sure, came up with a durable theme, serviceable melody and decent lyrics even though the Whoopin’ And Hollerin’ is about as misleading a title as you could possibly come up with, as this is anything but upbeat or joyous as that term would suggest.

Instead it finds Forest down in the dumps about his girl leaving him and while the song romps along at a leisurely pace, the mood remains despondent from start to finish. Though hardly an original approach, it’d work well enough if they simply made a few minor adjustments on the floor, namely killing the alto sax player, sticking his body in a closet and letting the tenor take his place playing the bobbing and weaving riff that forms the crucial melodic hook.

The alto sounds so whiny in that role you keep thinking he’s wandering off key, especially because there’s no notable bottom to tether him to something more solid. Though there’s a bass present, along with Forest’s drums playing a slow deliberate stomping beat, it’s still not enough to give it the needed harmonic balance… not when the horns cut through the speakers at such a high pitch and capture your attention whether you want them to or not.

The arrangement is clearly slapped together, choosing the simplest and most repetitive ideas just to give the song some structure, but that means to keep it from dominating the record Forest has to step up as a vocalist, something that is highly unlikely considering singing was a second job for him.

Sure enough his choked semi-spoken vocal never finds a melodic wave to ride and with so many pauses between lines – in fact so many pauses in the MIDST of the lines – it just forces you to focus on those horns and they’re just going to give you a splitting headache.

When Billy Duncan’s tenor comes in for the solo things brighten a little, but the guitar augmenting him is more distracting than exciting. Meanwhile Johnny Ace’s piano gets little more than an atmospheric cameo, even though he too had the ability to offset the more shrill components that wind up sinking the song into the Mississippi River.

By the end of this you not only start wondering how it possibly became a Top Ten hit, but it may even have you questioning how The Beale Streeters, at least in this configuration, got termed a supergroup, as based on what we hear on this record they’d surely lose a battle of the bands competition to a junior high group who only bought their instruments a week ago Thursday.


Now It Makes Me Blue
Normally a record like this… a part-time singer on a new label in a session overseen by a relative novice in the industry… wouldn’t be something that would cause much disappointment, even if the actual recording was just as mediocre as this one is.

But when you have all of these other factors to consider… the big name group that would spawn multiple stars on its own, the hit status of the record itself, along with the fact that Duke Records wouldn’t quickly disappear like so many start-up indie labels would, though in this case the reason it thrived was because Don Robey was already in the process of snatching it away from Mattis with a gun and a grin.

With all of those things on its docket, you’d expect Whoopin’ And Hollerin’ to at least be an average rock record for the day. Instead it’s a missed opportunity at best and a painful experience at worst.

In the end it’s a much better achievement than it is a record, something that at least assures Earl Forest never gets completely wiped out of the history books, while at the same time giving the loose aggregation known as The Beale Streeters a little more official credibility simply for giving its fourth “official” member a nationally charted record.

Of course since it’s one they’d probably like to disown maybe you should take that achievement with a grain of salt… and two aspirin.


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