CORAL 65089; APRIL 1952



Giving a commercial showcase to a pre-pubescent guitar ace on one side of a single released under your own name is the kind of generous act that is obviously designed to entice the music gods into granting you a hit of your own down the road.

But before they’re willing to consider that kind of deal, the music gods need to see if Eddie Chamblee can still “bring it” as a rocking sax star.

If he can, maybe they can work something out… if not, then it’s just possible he handed away one coveted side of a single for nothing.


Made Of Wood
Well, let’s just say that the music gods weren’t going to consent and turn THIS into a hit, even a minor one.

Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with it mind you, it’s just a little pedestrian is all. Then again, the rock sax instrumentals have mostly cooled off in the last few years when it comes to pyrotechnics and the ones that have ramped it up, like the brilliant Blow, Blow, Blow by the king of the honkers, Big Jay McNeely, inexplicably fell on deaf ears. So maybe Eddie Chamblee – never much of a mad-man on the instrument to begin with – was wise to soft peddle this after all.

It didn’t help. Wooden Soldiers Swing turned nobody’s head, but on the other hand it didn’t serve to remove Chamblee from consideration for a future resurgence, as was always the fear when it came to ex-jazz guys who had experienced a draught in sales after rock’s golden years for sax instrumentals had passed.

But while this doesn’t have that magic formula that ensures someone wanting to just keep it on repeat, the components themselves actually aren’t that far off as it’s got a good arrangement with plenty of diverse sounds to keep your attention.

It starts off with a stuttering sax line that sounds almost like you stirred up a hornets nest, but the hornets were a little groggy. The guitar of Sir Walter Scott jumps in to add tasty little fills before Chamblee takes the lead while the rest of the horns, including a prominent trombone, toss in their two cents behind him.

That’s all well and good on paper but Chamblee isn’t adding enough ferocity to his playing. His tone is a little light and every time you think he’s going to bear down more to send this into overdrive he pulls back instead. Meanwhile the other horns aren’t quite snapping off their lines to spur him on and Scott’s guitar, though clear and crisp, doesn’t have the snarl or bite it needs either.

In other words it’s a well conceived song and nicely played – technically that is – but not properly played to really connect.

Take the same song, inject some testosterone into their veins and you might’ve really had something here.


Go Down Swinging
So much of rock ‘n’ roll is found not in the notes but in the attitude those notes are played with. Punk rock was nothing BUT attitude, sometimes a totally artificial attitude, yet it worked because the listener bought into it.

Rock doesn’t have to be played with a sneer obviously, but when you have a fairly spry instrumental like Wooden Soldiers Swing where it’s built around a few catchy riffs, some interesting back and forth between sax and guitar, and a generally tight arrangement then the difference between something modest and unassuming like this, and a record that compels you to get out of your seat and onto the dance floor – or out into the alley for a rumble if you prefer – comes down to the mindset of the musicians while they’re playing.

Here they’re focused on technical precision, not creating a scene.

Flash forward six years and imagine Link Wray’s classic Rumble played straight. Same melody, same instrumental lineup, but if he didn’t try and play the guitar as if it was strung with barbed wire, then it’d be completely forgettable. In fact, as a song it might not even be as good as this one, but as a record it’s infinitively better because of the attitude with which it’s played.

Dick Dale did roughly the same thing with Miserlou a few years later as the hyper-fast double-picking reverb drenched sound turned an exotic song with plenty of rather mild precedents into something that seemed frantic and menacing.

Eddie Chamblee, mild-mannered guy that he is, might be the last guy you’d think would try anything daring like that, but looks can be deceiving, especially in an era when few rock fans knew what any of these guys looked like. Had he just played this with a harsher metallic tone, forced the drummer to emphasize the backbeat more and had Scott twist the strings as if he were ringing a chicken’s neck, well then the lead sheet wouldn’t have to be changed at all, yet the record would be utterly transformed.

Instead he took it easy and only managed to come away with a fairly pleasant instrumental, one that was going to be playing anonymously in the background as you went to get some punch at the dance rather than one that was going to end with punches at the same dance.

Unless you’re the guy on the receiving end of that punch, you’d rather hear the latter version.

In fact, come to think of it, you still might rather hear the more aggressive sounding rendition of this even if you were the one getting jumped by a mob of riled up rock fans…

After all your jaw will heal and some blood trickling out of your nose might get you some sympathy from the girls… besides, even laying on your back with birdies flying around your head the music would be sure to distract you from the pain.


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