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MIRACLE 150; DECEMBER, 1949

 
 

 

One of the most important questions the music industry has to continually ask itself is what type of records are needed in order to extract the maximum interest from the masses.

Because it’s never a question that has a single unchanging answer the process of deciding what gets made and what gets released is something that will determine the fate of each label as much as anything. Starting trends is always preferable to trying to keep up with established trends which itself is far better than falling behind trends, or worse still, never getting within hailing distance of trends no matter how old and stale they may be.

The smaller independent companies that succeeded in rock’s first few decades did so because they managed to keep up with the times, but even so there was never a moment’s rest. As soon as you thought you had a handle on what sounds were most marketable that market would invariably shift and you’d be at risk for never catching back up again… as Miracle Records was painfully learning throughout 1949.
 

 

Don’t Believe In Miracles
Sorry if this is a spoiler for any reader but at a certain point you have to assume that the potential audience for the story has had plenty of time to learn what happens in the end and when it comes to the fate of record companies from the 1940’s we’ve long since reached that point, so here’s final plot twist that is about to occur… Miracle Records would cease operations in early 1950, just a few weeks after this release in fact.

The reason why we bring it up here is because this will mark one of our final chances to try and determine what the hell happened over the course of two years that saw the biggest hit in rock ‘n’ roll for all of 1948 appear on the Miracle label, one of two #1 hits they scored that year, only to have their fortunes sink so low a year later that they were unable to continue and had to sell off their holdings to King Records just to pay off their creditors.

Was it some risky foolhardy venture into an untested style of music that proved to be their downfall? The loss of their biggest stars leaving them with a depleted roster of has-beens and never-weres? Maybe it was some outside entanglement, a legal mess or problems with distributors, which depleted the company’s resources and rendered them unable to stay financially solvent?

No, it was none of those things.

So what WAS to blame for Miracle Records precipitous downfall in a matter of months when it appeared to all who had their pulse on the industry that they might be in the race for the long haul?

Basically it comes down to what we laid out in the intro… a bad reading of the musical landscape going forward.

Now to be honest there WERE other considerations at play here, including the fact they never were able to bolster their roster with any viable artists beyond their big three of bluesman Memphis Slim and two rock instrumentalists, pianist Sonny Thompson and saxophonist Eddie Chamblee. The mere fact that the latter two weren’t originally deemed to be much more than sidemen when the company was starting out and only saw their instrumentals (collectively and individually) get released and promoted heavily because of the recording ban that put a crimp in the ability of every company to cut new sides as time went on, probably tells you that Miracle Records were more lucky than good to begin with and shouldn’t be counted on to keep that hot streak going when their luck ran out.

But many a record company began by getting a lucky break and the ones who took advantage of the opportunities presented by that one turn of good fortune are the ones we remember.

Miracle Records on the other hand got lucky and scored with a girl far out of their league one fateful night and figured they had it made. They believed they were now in the big-time and could relax and enjoy the fruits of their labor.

But while they were basking in the post-coital glow in the darkened room, lady luck quietly got out of their bed, put her clothes back on and gathered her things while Miracle Records dozed peacefully a few feet away and without so much as glancing back over her shoulder she walked out the unlocked door and never returned. She didn’t even leave a note behind.

So allow us to step in and write that parting shot for their benefit:
 

Dear Whateveryournameis,

Thanks for the tumble last night. Just because I left before you woke up don’t think I didn’t have a good time last night, I did, but during our brief fling I could tell you weren’t smart enough for a long term relationship.

You need to understand that I’m in high demand and if I’m gonna hand out luck to random fellas I need to know they have the brains to know what to do with it.

You have a nice personality and weren’t bad company but you clearly didn’t have enough experience where it matters to be worth the investment. Don’t take it personally, although if we run into each other in public, pretend you don’t know me.

xoxo
 

Long Gone Indeed
Miracle Records opened its eyes up sometime the next morning, looked around, saw no such note explaining what happened, and realized their good fortune had left under cover of darkness.

Rather than get dressed and go out and do something about it, refusing to accept this downturn without a fight, they were already resigned to the outcome. Sighing, they put the bed pillows against the wall, leaned back, smoked a few cigarettes probably (remember, this was 1949 when everybody smoked, which is also why everybody was dead by 1965) and with a wry half smile figured they’d had it coming. Deep down they knew they weren’t in her league to begin with and this was the inevitable result of that brief liaison with providence.

That’s what they get for thinking it would last.

Likewise the label itself reacted to their two big rock hits, Thompson’s Long Gone and Late Freight, and knew they’d merely fallen ass-backwards into them and hoped the lingering memory of those would be worth a few more months of decent sales.

That’s what they got… but that’s ALL they got. A few more minor Thompson hits that didn’t do anything to build on his earlier explorations and then by simultaneously focusing on Eddie Chamblee, the other major component from those first efforts, they got a hit out of him last spring as well with Back Street.

Now, as the year winds down, their inspiration has long since left them and as is becoming increasingly obvious their aspirations apparently have too. It’s only a matter of time before someone comes along to put them out of their misery.
 


 

Down Will Come Cradle, Eddie And All
If you want to mark the precise moment where their eventual failure became a certainty rather than merely a probability you need to look no further than July 1949 when Cradle Rock was cut.

It’s been a year and a half since they’d recorded those groundbreaking hits and a full year since the last of those really big hits got released. In the time since then they’ve had only a few sessions which produced even fewer strong ideas. The mellow groove-laden sound that had stormed the charts throughout 1948 has given way to an even more aggressive sound in the subsequent months, particularly on the saxophone, and yet Eddie Chamblee is still playing as if it were late 1947 or early 1948.

That’s not a BAD sound, we certainly enjoyed it back then and still find it mildly appealing now, but it’s not the kind of thing that is going to turn the company around and remind everyone why they might be worth giving another chance.

Its title is about the only thing that really shows much creativity here, a shallow attempt to connect it to the dominant image the music is enjoying as we speak, but maybe we should focus less on the “rock” half of that title and more on the “cradle” because it’s so mellow as to put us to sleep.

It starts off with a nice mild riff, though when played so demurely it’s hard to call it “churning”, though that’s clearly the intent. But while not striking in its aggression it’s at least melodic enough to hold our interest and hope that once it gives way to the meat of the song this will merely be a bit of intentional misdirection, the calm before the storm, that leads into something far more exciting.

But if we know Eddie Chamblee at all, and by this point how can we not, we shouldn’t be at all surprised when nothing more exhilarating follows. The band is tight, almost certainly this is our old friends The Sharps And Flats who did so much behind Thompson on his best sides working with Chamblee, and so there’s plenty of deft interplay. We get what sounds like light bongo work on the drums and guitarist Arvin Garrett chips in with some really nice, though subtle, licks early on before getting a little too light and airy and as a result he starts to float off, disappearing into the clouds the longer things go on.

Chamblee is always at risk to follow them into the stratosphere but he manages to stay grounded with a few weightier passages, digging deeper for a grittier sound a third of the way through – and answered with some of Garrett’s best lines it should be added – but he too seems to lose himself in the dreamy ethereal vibe they’re giving off and rather than jolt himself, the band and us back into something more solid, he’s content to leave the earth’s gravitational pull altogether by song’s end… drifting along, bothering no one.
 

The Bough Breaks
That’s probably the best way to describe this record, and for that matter Chamblee’s stab at becoming a headliner in rock circles, both of which he gives up without much of a fight.

If it’s possible to sense a person’s mood in the music they play Eddie Chamblee comes across as the definition of acquiescent in Cradle Rock. Though honestly it’s more likely that it’s not his mood in the moment that’s being reflected here but rather his musical persona as a whole.

This was who he was, a talented artist whose personality was subservient rather than dominant. There’s a reason why he worked so well alongside Thompson on Long Gone and why his own efforts, where he was the one forced to carry most of the responsibility, were comparatively underwhelming. It also explains why that even as he continued to cut records as a solo act in rock for the next few years on various labels he also sought work as a sideman for more established acts in all fields of music, retreating to where he was always more comfortable, out of the spotlight.

In the 1950’s when he worked alongside – and later married – childhood friend Dinah Washington it was she who wore the pants in the family, not to mention on the bandstand and in the studio, something that became obvious when he continued to lead her band even after they divorced and she moved on to another guy.

Contrary to what some might think this passive disposition doesn’t make Eddie Chamblee a pathetic figure in life or in music – frustrating maybe, but not someone to be pitied. It does however make his output less compelling as a whole.

This song is his life in a nutshell… He plays well but never demands to be noticed. He does what’s asked of him without insisting on others doing as he wants. He fits in without standing out. Yet he carries on in the face of it all, in exultation and disappointment alike… persevering, surviving, just quietly existing.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Eddie Chamblee for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)