After three years of being alternately intrigued by Eddie Chamblee’s musical direction, confused by it and sometimes frustrated with it when he seems stubbornly oblivious to our depraved need for crude honking, we finally get a record which – while hardly extraordinary by any means – is at least determined to conform to rock’s basic outline for sax instrumentals.

Whoever Lucy is and whatever her relationship to Eddie may be, we’re glad she came along when she did to convince him to act like a degenerate rocker and sincerely hope she wasn’t imperiled in any way as a result of his startling transformation into such a disreputable figure.


Cutting Loose
Of course now that we’ve congratulated him… or them… for this change in his approach we probably should say that it’s going to be in vain because the type of raw gritty playing Eddie Chamblee finally exhibits here is no longer in vogue, at least when it comes to the types of rock records to make the charts.

Rock’s first two and a half years, from mid 1947 through the end of 1949, had been the most fertile period for instrumentals in rock’s long history for a variety of reasons, the most obvious of which was they were just easy to do. You had a lot of jazz expatriates playing music they didn’t always respect and so by exaggerating the noise and frantic unhinged nature of rock they were sort of mocking it even as the audience was taking it seriously.

There was also the fact that as 1947 was drawing to a close you had an impending recording ban looming which would curtail sessions for the bulk of 1948 and it made sense to stockpile as many songs as possible to get through that drought and it was easier to do so when you didn’t have to spend time writing lyrics and cutting vocals but instead could let musicians basically improvise. When more and more of them stormed the charts the dye was cast.

By 1949 the craze was in full swing and more sax madmen came out of the woodwork to take advantage of it, but the problem of course was when you’ve heard one manic squealing sax peeling the paint off the studio walls you heard them all and audiences began to grow tired of them – as did many of the musicians most likely – and so since we hit the new decade the rock instrumentals have been in decline.

That may not be a good sign for Sweet Lucy but to her credit – and Chamblee’s I suppose – they don’t let that stop them from acting like it was the heady days of early 1949 when he starts off honking and doesn’t let up.

It sure wasn’t his preferred method of musical communication but he shows he had no problem submitting to this more crazed approach and that’s often half the battle in making these records work.


Not Too Sweet
The first few notes – a trade off between Chamblee and the other horns – is a little too structured, or at least not quite played with the fervor as you’d hope, but when Eddie himself gets his chance to put his stamp on it as the intro gives way to the meat of the song he leaves no doubt his mind is in the gutter, musically speaking at least.

His tone is brawny and uncouth, his lines are short and to the point, grabbing you by the… well, fill in a body part of your own choosing for this analogy… and once he’s got you in his grasp he doesn’t let go and try and “pretty it up”.

It’s not technically impressive in the way he’s used to and certainly isn’t melodic and yet the lack of those two elements is why Sweet Lucy works as well as it does. With only a handful of instruments in the mix the record has very few moving parts to get in the way and all of them have been given very simple roles to fulfill along with strict instructions not to try and add anything more than that on their own.

The other horns are tasked with grinding out a basic groove and sticking to it no matter how limiting it probably seems to veteran musicians. It’s not that the groove itself is even all that compelling but it’s definitely serviceable and because it focuses on maintaining that groove the simplicity actually works to its advantage.

Chamblee’s parts on the other hand come across almost as stream of consciousness from somebody with attention deficit disorder… all over the place. Yet because he maintains the same basic mindset during the entire record – never once trying to prove he can play with any class, sophistication or even a faint understanding of music theory – it comes across well even if the isolated riffs don’t always fit together. It never attempts to build to any peaks before winding back down again as jazz – and even much of rock – specialized in. Instead it’s a lot of brief flurries of action, apropos of nothing, before moving on to another spastic burst of sounds largely unrelated to the first.

In spite of this dichotomy in the arrangement the two horn parts work well in tandem, giving you a monotonous groove that you can focus on while Chamblee tries to distract you by acting up over it, or if you prefer you can concentrate on what he’s delivering while the other horns’ presence becomes merely background noise that keeps it all grounded.

Is any of this particularly noteworthy or special? Of course not, but it’s welcome all the same, if only because we get a skilled saxophonist who contributed mightily to rock’s instrumentals with Sonny Thompson with a far different approach, showing that he can make the grade in another fashion… one which was now slowly falling out of favor but which still had its loyalists in the audience.


I’ll Be Sweeter Tomorrow
A lot of the focus around here – inevitably I suppose – is on an individual record’s chances of becoming a hit, or at least singling out those which are deserving of that stature. Of course we also hand out praise for artists who raise the bar, advance the ball and get ahead of the curve… none of which this record achieves.

So failing to excel in those criteria it might appear Sweet Lucy would be facing an uphill climb for respect, but instead it gets credit for something else. That adherence to a throwback sound, albeit to the fairly recent past in rock rather than an older pre-rock mindset that we rail against so often, makes it welcome on a rapidly changing scene and so we’re able to appreciate it precisely because it reminds us of what we instinctively gravitated towards as rock was first getting its footing.

A year ago something like this wouldn’t have stood out at all and two years ago it’d have been a welcome sight for different reasons than it is now. Then it would’ve been another brick in the wall rock was busy building, but by this stage of the game rock was starting to construct entire neighborhoods inside those walls and had little time or interest in revisiting the perimeters.

That’s what makes this record a little more enjoyable than it might’ve been in other circumstances. It’s still close enough stylistically to the sounds of today so that it doesn’t seem out of date, yet because it’s no longer the dominant sound of the day it reminds us of just how far we’ve come in such a short time.


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