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APOLLO 422; MAY 1950



For a thirty year old artist on the periphery of rock to begin with who signed his first recording contract with a label that had no real experience in this brand of music either, the chances for commercial – let alone artistic – success had looked mighty slim.

Yet Eddie Mack beat those odds a few months later with a record that seemed to sum up the basic musical and cultural mindset that stood rock apart from the jazzy blues background he emerged from.

So the follow-up release to that hit was naturally going to take on greater importance in his still evolving career, needing at least to confirm that his last effort wasn’t merely an anomaly.

Which is why Apollo’s decision to reach back to their very first session with him from October of 1949 for both sides of this single was fraught with peril for the artist and label alike, putting all of their recent advances in serous jeopardy if this turned out to be woefully behind the curve.


If You Come Back To Me Baby
Record companies are cheap by nature and as such few of them were comfortable wasting any material on which they were forced to actually hand over money to the union protected musicians to record in the first place ($42 a man for three hours in case you were wondering).

Because of this institutional stinginess they rarely saw fit to shelve anything they committed to lacquer, let alone toss it out altogether… even after a later session with the same artist may have rendered that what was left of that initial output to be rather old hat by comparison.

Fortunately for Apollo Records Heart Throbbing Blues was the remaining track in their vault which comes closest to the unbridled rock sound that Eddie Mack had shown us with the excellent Hoot And Holler Saturday Night and so while Bess Berman’s motives in releasing this surely were simply to get a tangible return on the $105 her company paid out for cutting the song, if nothing else it didn’t necessarily set Mack’s career back any in the process.

But whether such a record could advance his career was an entirely other matter.


Love You At Daybreak
Kicking off with a sultry sax intro leading into Mack’s speaker-piercing bellow before he eases back on the intensity for the verses, the song grabs your attention right away. For a virtual novice in the studio he’s got no shortage of confidence, but as mentioned in past reviews he’s using techniques perfected by Wynonie Harris – the loud start to each line before toning it down for the follow through – without having either the power or the rakish charm of Harris.

For a mere knock-off however Heart Throbbing Blues is hardly third rate stuff (second rate maybe), as the song and the arrangement puts Mack in a position to be shown in the best light, giving him a way to project confidence even while he’s essentially begging a woman for her hand, all while the band takes some of the pressure off his still limited vocal arsenal.

In spite of those limitations however Mack is still pretty appealing here, his full-throated roars are powerful enough to give the song a jolt every time they’re used and when he sings in a more normal tone of voice he shows he’s got good command and a strong sense of dynamics, not to mention an understanding of the emotional qualities he’s supposed to be delivering, though I suppose the latter stands to reason since he co-wrote it and was probably entirely responsible for the lyrics.

It’s a good workmanlike performance in other words, nothing special, but nothing that falls short of our expectations either. No, as a composition it’s nowhere near as good as his last record, but it still works well enough to make us believe that Eddie Mack might be sticking around for while as a minor star in an ever widening galaxy of rock luminaries.

In The Evening When The Sun Goes Down
Though few people at the time buying or listening to these records were aware of it, the Apollo releases weren’t just providing a constant measuring stick for the progression of the credited lead artist, but also for the backing unit who were being entrusted to lead these singers into a rock landscape which they themselves had little familiarity either.

Bobby Smith’s credentials as a musician were never in doubt, but as we’ve talked about at length already the differences between his jazz upbringing in Coleman Hawkins’ band and the less structured role the band he was now leading had to provide behind rock artists was something that relied far more on intuitive senses than learned technique.

Yet this was proving to be Smith’s greatest asset, for he seemed to have little ego and no sense of visible disdain for this music and as a result he didn’t waver on what he was offering up in support. The backing for Heart Throbbing Blues is suitably aggressive for rock while still retaining the cohesiveness of a jazz arrangement.

It helps that he’s got three peerless sax players at his disposal, himself of course on alto, Willis Jackson on tenor and Heywood Henry on baritone, all of whom are locked in from the word go and with a modestly used trumpet and trombone filling out their ranks, the song doesn’t lack for firepower.

Jackson’s transitional lines on tenor are the anchor to the verses and when in the second stanza those are replaced with the full horn section it’s something of a let-down even though structurally it makes a little more sense to keep the arrangement from getting stale and predictable.

What’s not quite as defensible is that such a move would appear to be setting up a strong solo in the break by Jackson, pulling him back earlier so that he’d be more effective coming in for a standalone spot, but instead they turn that solo over to Duke Anderson’s piano which is a curious move as it drains the energy that Mack was building and tries injecting a contemplative vibe in its place.

Sonically it almost works, balancing the track more than a rousing sax would’ve done, but there’s no reason why they couldn’t have used Anderson as a lead in to Jackson instead and either let Gator moan on his sax if they wanted to keep it relatively subdued, or let him get increasingly impassioned if they felt that Mack’s return required a more dramatic ramping up of the energy.

It’s still reasonably effective, certainly not a detriment to the song, but it also doesn’t elevate it enough to make up for the entire record being rather predictable by design.


The Sky Is Awful Dark Above
Record labels like Apollo were in a tricky position when it came to navigating the changing musical terrain as the Nineteen-Fifties dawned and so their rather short-sighted hopes for Eddie Mack were at least somewhat understandable.

He’d been signed initially just to give them the means for breaking into the rock field, something which had to be considered a long-shot since he had no experience in this style of music any more than they did.

But when they got lucky with his second release it revealed their lack of preparation for such a turn of events because they hadn’t tied him up in a longer deal, hadn’t invested enough in developing him as an artist (IE. cutting numerous sessions to let him and the band work up enough material to see what worked best) and now were left trying to patch together a single to take advantage of their success.

By choosing Heart Throbbing Blues they were making the best of a bad situation as it was modestly suitable but hardly the most desirable move when it came to firmly establishing him as a headliner in rock.

Maybe this was just the realities of the day, where artists like Mack would earn far more in the short term by touring off the strength of his recent hit than by holing up in the studio writing and recording new material, while Apollo on the other hand was merely trying to wring every last penny out of him from they’d already paid out.

But while this record will at least suffice, everybody involved would’ve been far better off if they took the time to ask themselves what the best route to long-term viability would’ve been instead of warming up a plate of leftovers and calling it a new meal.


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