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APOLLO 414; NOVEMBER, 1949

 
 

 

Versatility is hardly ever a bad thing to possess, especially if you’re a musician or a singer. It was especially useful to have in the late 1940’s when musical styles that had seemed certain to endure were falling out of favor and new, far different, brands of music were aggressively taking their place.

For awhile the old forms still clung to the belief that this new thing called rock ‘n’ roll was just a fad, or maybe a bad dream, something which would fade into the mist as all bad dreams did once you woke up. But this kind of music was no nightmare that would be over when the sun rose in the morning, it was here to stay and as a result the sounds that had dominated the market for the past decade or two were on their last legs commercially as 1950 inched ever closer.

For an up and coming singer who’d grown up in a world in which those older styles weren’t yet old, but who reached the stage as the new music was asserting itself, he’d conceivably have it in him to handle both should the situation arise.

For Eddie Mack the situation did indeed arise and in the span of a few weeks he tackled both of them, but not surprisingly it was in the latter where he’d find his greatest success.
 

 

Back In Time
His birth name was Mack Edmunson (or Edmondson as it’s frequently been written since) but he rearranged it to come up with the more easily remembered Eddie Mack and after leaving Texas where he was born in 1920 he drew notice in New York at the Baby Grand Club singing in a jazz-blues style that reigned throughout the 1940’s.

But in spite of his promise as a vocalist club work was all that Mack had achieved as the Forties drew to a close and that style was meeting with diminishing returns for all but the already established big names from yesteryear… guys like Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson.

Vinson had risen to fame in the mid-1940’s working as a vocalist in the band of trumpeter Cootie Williams, a former Duke Ellington sideman who combined his jazz background with an uptown “club” blues style. Vinson went out on his own a few years later leaving Williams’s commercial fortunes on the wane, something exacerbated with the onrushing tide of rock ‘n’ roll.

By 1949, though still widely respected, Williams was searching for something that might revive his fortunes. Even with the onslaught of rock which threatened to make obsolete anything deemed old hat, Vinson was still a viable artist. Though he’d had just one really huge record since leaving Williams, a double sided hit from 1947 that saw the top side land at #1, that was still more recent than anything Williams had scored with and so Cootie’s thoughts centered on his old partner.

(Vinson by now was ALSO longing for past glories, as he notched his final hit this month, November, 1949, with Somebody Done Stole My Cherry Red an “answer” record to a huge hit he’d had back in 1944… with Cootie Williams!).

Of course the ideal solution for both Williams and Vinson might’ve been to reunite, but it was probably never broached because Vinson would earn far more money by continuing to lead his own band on the road as a headliner. Actually the only real solution wasn’t feasible unless one of them invented time travel because 1949 was a far different musical landscape than 1944, or even 1947 for that matter.

But that doesn’t stop artists who are left relying on hope and luck to boost their flagging commercial potency, and so if Cootie Williams couldn’t get Vinson back he’d do the next best thing in his mind, namely find someone who could reasonably replicate Vinson’s style.

Someone like Eddie Mack.
 

 

A Tale Of Two Eras: Part One
Since this isn’t a Cootie Williams review, we can cut to the chase. Williams brought Mack into the studio in September to cut sides for Mercury Records, including ironically enough a remake of one of the sides he’d first done with Vinson five years earlier. Maybe that was just to see how closely Mack could sound like the departed star without venturing into parody. He did alright, dropping Cleanhead’s distinctive squawk but otherwise maintaining enough similarity in their vocal tones to serve as a capable substitute.

They released only one single with Williams of course getting the lead artist credit, though Mack got the “Vocal By…” designation, but even that wasn’t with irony, as one side he was credited as Eddie Mack while the other saw him listed under his real name Mack Edmundson. Oh well, this wasn’t where his future lay anyway.

Right after that he signed as a solo artist with Apollo Records and went into the studio working with a band under the auspices of Bobby Smith, a cornerstone of Erskine Hawkins group, another jazz stalwart, who’d been put in charge of Apollo’s sessions and used many sidemen from the Hawkins band.

As such these first sides sort of were emblematic of the split that was dividing the past styles as typified by the Hawkins school of music and the future as embodied by rock ‘n’ roll, but then again everyone’s gotta start somewhere. For Eddie Mack his first move would be to shed the qualities he’d been asked to put on display behind Williams, and probably which he’d been utilizing in the clubs for years prior to that.

Kind Lovin’ Daddy probably isn’t going to be anyone’s idea of a cutting edge rock song for late 1949, but it’s a step in the right direction and its success showed that while the generation coming of age were headed firmly in a rock direction, there were still others who, like Mack himself maybe, was caught between eras.

In the category of the former, that would be the jazz-rooted sound of the past, the accompaniment here is far too structured in those old school techniques with its grouped horns on the intro and behind the verses. It’s got a shrill brassy shimmer to it that immediately distances it from rock and presents Mack – who hasn’t even shown his face or opened his mouth yet – with a far more difficult task in winning us over.

When he does come in though he’s doing his best. There doesn’t seem to be too much conflict in his intent here, which is notable because it means that he’s got his sights set firmly in the direction of rock ‘n’ roll. His voice is strong, a little rough sounding but admirably self-assured as he’s pinpointed those attributes as the ones he’ll need to focus on in order to be convincing in this field. It’s definitely a leap up in intensity from his pre-rock sides cut only weeks before where he fell into line with the standards of Williams’s brand of music.

But in order to really score with a rock audience Mack would have to push things even further, forcibly pulling the band along with him which is not easy for someone who’d barely gotten his feet wet in the studio scene by this point.
 


 
 

Just Try Me And You’ll See
Mack’s job would be made easier with a really solid song to sink his teeth into, but while the theme of a virile man boasting about his virtues is a widely accepted one in rock circles (just ask Wynonie Harris if you doubt me), unfortunately Kind Loving Daddy is somewhat generic by nature.

The Harris comparison is a good one because for the rest of his career Mack would sort of be slotted as a poor man’s Wynonie Harris. He was not quite an imitator like H-Bomb Ferguson would be down the road, but Mack generally employed the same basic approach as Harris – full throated singing with a built-in swagger. The difference is with Wynonie the swagger was no act, that was who he was on and off stage… if anything on record it was actually toned down some from the X-rated real life exploits which made Harris such a legend.

The kind of image that Harris presented to the world was a tough act to follow of course and so mere mortals like Eddie Mack had to be content to simply play the role of the big man on the block with a taste for the hard stuff and more than his share of the ladies. Kind Loving Daddy attempts to convince us of his prowess in that regard and he attacks it with a strong voice that utilizes a mighty roar at the start of most lines, a technique cribbed from Harris, but with the forcefulness dialed down ever so much.

His performance as a whole is very solid, easily the best aspect of the record, but he’d be helped considerably if the lyrics weren’t so run-of-the-mill. They touch upon the aspects we’ve come to expect – a cocky guy hitting on a girl by insulting the guy she’s seeing, expecting that his self-serving boasts would win her over.

Truthfully that doesn’t seem to be a formula destined for success, but I’ll leave the assessment of their effectiveness to the gender its targeting and simply say that there isn’t anything surprising about what he’s saying and leave it at that.

Since we can’t find fault with his effort and the lyrics are at least passable for the type of song this is, we come back to the backing musicians and their commitment to making sure this doesn’t veer off track too far.
 

A Tale Of Two Eras: Part Deux
At its worst the arrangement is not only a couple years out of date but even if it were 1946 or ’47 it wouldn’t have been a first rate arrangement even then. The main riffs carried by the full horn section are nondescript. They’re playing with the right energy, we’ll grant them that much, but it’s just that what they’re playing is relatively uninspired. It’s the difference between being simply designed to imply enthusiasm and being hellbent on releasing that enthusiasm by playing as if you couldn’t hold it in.

Unfortunately they chose the former.

Now toss in the fact that the horns themselves are all wrong, with the usual suspects of the higher range instruments taking the lead, and you can see why this sounds like an ill-chosen group being asked to reasonably recreate the rousing spectacle of a real rock outfit rather than sounding like the real thing.

So that’s where this gets its demerits. Now onto the good stuff.

At its best Kind Loving Daddy is aided by two instruments which will always grant them a place at the rock ‘n’ roll table if played correctly. For starters there’s a sax solo that sounds as if it has at least working knowledge with rock records of the past year or so, as it starts off really strong in the first break, playing a gritty deep tone before starting to lose its way ever so much with a flutter tone and some more whimsical runs, but at least it’s the right instrument in the proper role, and the drums behind it are the right accent piece for it.

Better still, or at least even more removed from the big band sound, is the electric guitar which first makes its presence known early on, right before that sax solo in fact, with a few harsh riffs buried in the mix.

After the sax gives way to Mack for another verse the guitar steps up for the second instrumental break of the night and it too starts off on its best foot, ripping off a couple of notes with a nice rough, coarse sound before settling back into something more modest, both in aggression and tone. By the time it cedes the floor to the larger horn section again you realize the best parts are over and done with and while they wouldn’t elevate this to the top of the heap in rock at this late date, they at least keep this from falling too far behind.
 


 

I’m Here To Set You Free
The really fascinating part of this particular record, and the story of the men associated with it, is studying the change in both their thinking and their approaches in trying to remain relevant.

Though a newcomer to the recording scene Mack was nearing thirty years old and his background suggested he was not going to be a candidate for making anything more than a halfhearted effort to conform to rock ‘n’ roll. Yet maybe because he was untested he was more open to the changes already well underway.

The musicians who’d made their names playing with the great Hawkins were a bit more set in their ways and while they were certainly up for trying to give this rock-styled song a reasonable shot to see if it worked, their approach to musical arrangements had been established in another era, one which would have to be thoroughly rejected and disowned to fully convert to this bawdier style.

The rift wasn’t intentional, it had nothing to do with snobbishness or disdain for what they were being called upon to do, but rather it simply had to do with reverting back to the mean. People tend to fall back on what they’re most comfortable doing in life and for artists like Bobby Smith and his cohorts from a slightly earlier generation who found themselves asked to make the transition to rock ‘n’ roll backing something as ragged in conception as Kind Loving Daddy their minds might’ve gotten on board but their bodies lagged behind.

Eddie Mack had less to lose by looking ahead rather than holding back and so he was the one who’d have to take the bull by the horns and allow his stylistic versatility to work in his favor by jumping into the rock arena with both feet. Though the record didn’t quite stick the landing thanks to the slightly outdated arrangement, the leap made by Mack himself was a good sign of things to come moving forward.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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