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Usually artists who have a very short and commercially insignificant run in rock ‘n’ roll are relegated to the musty basement of history, stuffed in a cardboard box that’s soon covered with mildew and crammed into some dank dusty shelf where their brief careers are rarely if ever exhumed for closer study.

In some ways this might be the case for Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis too, at least when it comes to examining his rock output which accounted for very little of his long fruitful career spanning four decades, less than one year of which (late summer 1948 to early summer 1949) was taken up by rock and even during that period it wasn’t his sole focus.

Since Davis was still waiting for his first real widespread acclaim as a musician he found himself surveying the two paths open to him at the time and it’s not surprising that he would try his hand at rock ‘n’ roll. What’s harder to figure is that after immediately proving he could handle it with relative ease he gave up on it so quickly and quickly turned his attention back to jazz where he’d remain more or less for the rest of his career.

Yet there’s nothing about this record that would give you the impression that he was about to abandon rock ‘n’ roll for another musical flame.


Crossing The Tracks
As mentioned our first time meeting Davis back in late August with the credible Leapin’ On Lenox, the record company the song was named for was something of a smoke and mirrors job by a larger outfit called Remington which had yet another label, Continental which provided the majority of the releases for Lenox… (didja get all that? There’ll be a quiz later so better commit it to memory).

Anyway, with a recording ban wiping out new (legal) sessions for the duration of 1948 the powers-that-be at Remington decided to start a new label (Lenox) and use old Continental masters as their main output but at the same time sneak in a few newly recorded sides in violation of the musician’s strike and push those records hardest since they were new and presumably up to date musically with the latest trends that other companies would be hard-pressed to match if they were sticking to using material cut at the tail end of 1947.

Among the hottest trends in the summer of ’48 of course was rock instrumentals that featured honking tenor saxophones and so Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis was in prime position to capitalize on that, provided he consented to lower himself musically from loftier jazz ideals to the alley-dwelling rock style that was so popular.

That he would, though not everything he cut for them that August was rock, in fact there were only two sides that unquestionably fell within its borders, but even the other sides were straddling the fence a little bit, certainly far more than most respected jazz musicians would care to compromise their integrity for the sake of a potential commercial bonanza.

Though they all missed out on the commercial bonanza part (artist and record company alike), as slightly nefarious plans go this one wasn’t too bad. They already had distributors in place from their other labels and certainly possessed the know-how when it came to running sessions and handling the printing, shipping and promotional side of the business to hit the ground running. Therefore with just a couple of capable artists on board that were relatively unknown to audiences to try and build some interest in they had a decent upside with very little downside.

Thus Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis – up and coming jazz musician, respected for his abilities, veteran of a few hot bands and a handful of sides under his own name before this – finds himself drafted into the rock ‘n’ roll corps for a clandestine session and… whaddaya know… actually comes away with something pretty good.


Haven You Got Another Name?
Oftentimes when it comes to naming rock instrumentals the job falls to the record company itself, either as a way to curry favor with a disc jockey by naming it after them, or just to try and use the one aspect they have some control over to increase the chances for the song’s success by coming up with something that jumps out at you on a jukebox or in a record store. Ravin’ At The Haven certainly qualifies in that regard but here’s one instance where I don’t think it was Lenox Records who were responsible for its name.

The reason is Davis’s initial records made the year before came out on a small label called Haven Records and that almost certainly has to be the source of it which would indicate Davis himself thought the title was a good one. But since he was no longer ON Haven Records it’d be kind of hard explaining to another company why they should promote his last employer, so I’m guessing he kept quiet about it and hoped they wouldn’t ask. I guess it’s kind of like a new parent naming their newborn infant after an ex-flame… maybe you really DO like the name but you aren’t going to be anxious to tell your spouse where you got it from.

But considering that his first release with this company was named in similar fashion – Leapin’ On Lenox – it’s not as if it were a novel idea.

Far more important however is the sounds produced on that record, whatever name they stick on it, and here, even more than on that first go-round with this brand of music, Davis and his cohorts seem to grasp the essential requirements of rock and are more determined to deliver on them, although Lockjaw himself is clearly the one best suited for the job as the others are willing but not quite as able to carry out the assignment on their instruments.

It starts off strong as Davis blows a brief emphatic hook as the piano provides the exclamation points at the end of each line but then both of them settle down a little too willingly so Davis can try and establish a melodic base to work from. It’s not inappropriate, either musically or structurally, and they reprise that more powerful stop-time hook from the intro before long, but it’s also not making much of an impression beyond that sudden jarring introduction.

This is always the risk you have when you’re trying to target the loins (or the feet I suppose if you want to pretend the grinding these songs elicit is being performed fully clothed on the dance floor rather than in the bedroom or in the alley behind the barn) rather than targeting the creative centers of the mind and imagination that jazz tends to focus on. You need a really greasy hook to get listeners in the groove and without that you’re going to have to rapidly work up a lot more of a sweat than this is showing the first fifty seconds or so.

But then without warning they make a quick left turn and come up with something so simple that it’s perfect for their needs… “simply perfect” if you want to be cloy about it.

That “something” is handclaps.

See, I told you it was simple. Now here’s why it’s also perfect.


Have You Heard Some Old News?
Ever since Wynonie Harris scored the first Number One hit in rock history a few months earlier with his version of Good Rockin’ Tonight the die has been cast. The energy needed to really sell a rock record doesn’t necessarily have to come exclusively from frantic playing, wild shouting or other ribald stunts that start off by pushing the limits of musical decorum before having to go even further into the abyss for a suitable payoff. What they can do instead is keep things locked into a groove that suggests such a jump is imminent and then by constantly applying that pressure build anticipation for the slightly more controlled mayhem that follows.

On the Harris record the handclaps helped deliver this goal and in the process added a crucial component that most of rock would eventually pick up on which was the importance of establishing a backbeat.

The other thing it does on Ravin’ At The Haven is force the rest of the band to drop out leaving Davis to carry this section instrumentally by himself. Now it’s not that the other musicians were stinking up the joint prior to this, but they weren’t exactly pressing the action either and since they’re the ones clapping rhythmically, setting up a solid – and simple – beat, it allows Davis to do as he wishes without having to take their playing into consideration and thankfully for us what he wishes is to get down and dirty.

Right from the first notes of this section he’s like a musical dragon, blowing fire with his sax in short scalding bursts. His tone coarsens, the intensity mounts, he’s taking aim at whatever comes wandering into his line of vision and he’s leaving them scorched where they stand.

He’s judicious though in his playing, showing remarkable restraint in not trying to cram TOO much into this part to justify the stand-alone spot. In fact at one point he almost seems to be gathering his thoughts (or his breath) as we get a brief respite where the only sound we hear are those insistent clapping hands warning us that there’s still more fury to come.

…And Some New Sounds?
When he starts up again it’s with the same deliberate pace but now there’s an exit being planned, one which soon finds the others picking up their instruments again, the drummer being first to do so as he takes over the beat just enough to let the rest return to their primary duties as well. They all come roaring out of that segment with renewed purpose, none more so than Davis himself who now lets things fly, the piano adding to the rudimentary rhythm and the track locking back in to the group approach.

It’s really done quite well, an enjoyable record throughout, but here’s where we have to report that despite the stellar arranging and committed intensity of the playing Davis never quite takes this over the top as we’d hoped he’d do by the end. Instead they circle back around to replicate the stop-time opening and though they close things out nicely, they leave us just about a half a block from our destination and our rendezvous with musical depravity.

Such is the risk one takes when letting a jazz musician lead the way, but we’re not complaining. Though we might not get off on this completely, Ravin’ At The Haven still brings us to the edge of the the seedier environs that we crave, if not fully across the tracks we’re at least at the railroad crossing the tracks run through by the time they wrap things up and though we’ll have to go further ourselves on foot it’s not hard to find where we’re headed from here.

Of course there were still those who avoid going anywhere NEAR such locations – such as the reviewers at Billboard who claim this gets nowhere and then praise the jazzier flip side (though curiously they give them both the same score) by saying “they play more seriously” on that one – but that’s fine by us. Not only don’t we want them intruding on our party with their neatly pressed suits and noses in the air, but we’ll take the backhanded compliment of the other side they think is classier than what’s shown here as a reaffirmation of everything we like about this record which mercifully remains off-limits to those coming from more cultured backgrounds.

Traversing The Continental Divide
The aftermath of all of this is probably not that surprising however. When the recording ban came to an end in early December it made the rigmarole of this other label rather pointless and so Lenox released the rest of their sides – pushing them well into 1949, especially the gospel sides by our friends The Dixieaires (gospel traditionally didn’t have robust initial sales like more popular styles, but would sell consistently for much longer periods), while concentrating their business plans for the future on other labels and projects.

Oddly enough though it seemed as if the two Lockjaw Davis sides, both featuring rock songs as their drawing cards remember, were among their more successful releases, at least that’s what their publicist told Billboard in March for the Music Notes section of the magazine. The fact that this was four months after the record had been issued and therefore wasn’t a new release they were plugging suggests it was probably true, especially since they had no other Davis records in the vault to put out next and capitalize on whatever interest that mention might’ve gotten for them.

Even though the label was folding shop that didn’t mean they couldn’t have used him on Continental Records in the future, or just keep the Lenox line running if they managed to re-sign him to a longer deal, but instead he was already on the move again, backing his brother Carl on Savoy and then cutting alongside Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson on King while getting a release of his own on that label as well that certainly suggested he might continue with rock awhile longer.

But it wasn’t to be, for despite showing good aptitude for rocking he was already beginning to set his sights elsewhere musically speaking as well. Whether this was because he genuinely preferred jazz to rock, or if he still felt that jazz provided more opportunities than rock would, be it recording or on the bandstand, isn’t known.

Maybe he never gave it much thought at all. He could’ve looked at all of this as merely a sign of professional adaptability. When called upon to do so he would cut the kind of records whoever was paying for the session asked of him, but then he would go right out and do as he pleased when he was the one calling the shots.

If that was indeed the case Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis did fine in the long run with that approach of course, but we can’t help but wonder what might’ve happened if Ravin’ At The Haven had become a big hit, giving him more immediate dividends from rock than he’d gotten so far from jazz and in the process forced him to reconsider the direction in which he’d ultimately travel.

Even though that wasn’t the case, we’re more than happy he dropped in on us for just a little while. In the end he’s earned his spot in rock’s history, however brief that visit may have been.


(Visit the Artist page of Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)