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APOLLO 422; MAY 1950



The schism in styles epitomized by the clash between the jazzier recent past and rocking sounds of today was finally coming to an end by mid-1950, at least when it came to the former trying to pass muster in appealing to the latter’s growing fan base, but every so often a song like this still managed to slip through the defenses.

In Eddie Mack’s case it wasn’t entirely his fault, as this was the last of the tracks left over from his first Apollo session back in October 1949 when he himself was just beginning to make the jump from the old to the new.

As such this marks the moment when that new approach was still momentarily locked in a struggle with the old school music he was being saddled with and whichever side came out on top would likely determine his own future direction.


Rocks Me Late At Night
To be fair because this session was in essence a trial run for the entire Apollo Records game plan going forward, seeing whether not just Eddie Mack was capable of being a convincing rocker, but also newly installed overseer of the studio band, saxophonist Bobby Smith who was making the transition from jazz to the styles that were now more popular, you can at least understand their attempts to bridge the gap between those brands of music without necessarily crossing that bridge to plant their flag firmly on the other side.

That being said however it’s rare in any form of music that such compromised tactics and halfhearted aims succeed and so the relative shortcomings of How About That aren’t hard to pinpoint when all is said and done.

The problem here comes down to Smith’s arrangement. It’s a perfectly fine arrangement for a few years back, one in which all of the parts are well drawn and efficiently carried out with stellar musicianship, but in the era we’re in now – and in this type of music they’re trying to fit into – those ideals are just out of place.

The horns are downright alarming when they start braying to open this up. They’re lively, sure, but to a rock fan they sound like an alarm going off telling you the joint is about to be raided by the fuzz and based on that introduction you’re entirely justified in feeling spooked by how the arrangement is shaping up.

Luckily Eddie Mack, though a novice with rock himself at this point, is far more astute about what he’s expected to deliver and his voice has got the right amount of rough hewn textures to it to almost distract you from his supporting cast once he starts laying into the song.

It helps that what he’s singing is almost inconsequential provided that he delivers his lines with lusty enthusiasm. You certainly aren’t missing anything insightful if you pay only passing interest in the lyrics as this is just another nondescript love letter… more like a “lust letter” actually… to an unnamed female who Mack has his eye on.

By the sounds of it though he’s got no shot at her which could explain why he’s reduced to sort of yelling hollow promises from across the street to catch her attention… though the more likely reason he doesn’t have her, or any other girl for that matter, is because he’s the kind of guy who thinks that yelling hollow promises to a girl in public is a good idea in the first place.

Since all the females with any self-esteem promptly scatter when they hear him bellowing in their direction we’re free to sit back and watch him making a spectacle of himself for our amusement.


So Far Away
Though the premise of the song is rather shallow, the longer it goes on the more you’re being won over by Mack’s irrepressible enthusiasm. He’s got a good voice and enviable projection which means rather than being forced to carry him, as I’m sure they were expecting to do, now the band has to keep up with him instead and hope to match his energy.

In that regard they’re not quite as successful, though they definitely seem to try and meet the challenge part-way through the record. Until then though the horn charts are the biggest offender when it comes to meeting the song’s requirements as their type of flashy accompaniment was a staple in classier brands of uptempo music which went out of style in cutting edge brands of music soon after rock reared its head a few years back.

But in the second stanza the horns drop out and Leroy Kirkland’s guitar takes their place which tightens up the production, shifting the focus more to Mack while providing a more suggestive musical thread to accent the mild lechery of the lyrics. The piano and drums that are supplying the rhythm throughout this are consistent in their approach but lacking the kind of presence to give it the stomping beat How About That really requires.

Where things pick up however is in the break when Mack verbally urges on the saxophones – Smith who gets things started on alto before handing off to Willis Jackson who rips off a fairly convincing tenor solo – all of which gives this a much more free-spirited flair, not quite bordering on anarchy by any means, but at least telling you that you didn’t wander into the wrong place after all.

Then again when the horns re-appear at the forefront of the arrangement to provide the capper to Mack’s most declarative vocal lines after the break they revert back to that old fashioned unison blaring and you realize that this is one record that just can’t shake its conflicted mindset no matter how hard it tries.


I’ll Know Where I’m At
If you take this for what it was – a transitional experiment – you’ll probably be a little more forgiving when it comes to criticizing the missteps. As often is the case when trying to change horses in midstream of a career (or something like that), people have to actually witness the failure of sticking to an old formula before realizing that they need to try something else.

Taking into account when this was cut makes their missteps perfectly understandable. It was the last gasp of an older musical outlook hoping to fit into a new world. But when the best part of the song proved to be the newer outlook provided by Eddie Mack’s no-holds barred vocals their future course was set.

Unfortunately for all of them the audience who’d hear this record in the spring of 1950 would have no clue as to the context of how and why it was recorded. To them that debate over style had already been definitively settled… not just in the overall music scene, but with Eddie Mack’s previous record, Hoot And Holler Saturday Night, which had been cut two months after this one and yet released to great acclaim five months before this came out.

Though it’s unfair to say that How About That was a step backwards thanks to those circumstances, it appeared to serve as proof that Eddie Mack had already peaked for those wagering on his chances at long term musical survival.

Mack would no doubt quibble with that assessment, but even knowing the chronology involved it’s still hard to shake the idea that he was existing on borrowed time… a willing participant in a movement that was getting along just fine without him.


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