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SUPREME 1535; AUGUST, 1949


Here’s a question to consider: Is it even remotely possible to be surprised by a stylistic curveball delivered by a relatively new artist who’ve yet to establish much of a track record as to the type of music they specialize in?

Probably not.

In the case of Eddie Williams and his inconsiderately named Brown Buddies the answer would be “definitely not” provided of course you knew the track records of the two key figures in the band and their musical backgrounds which were somewhat removed from rock.

So why then are we interested in a record that takes them further away from the rock field than we’re usually comfortable even considering for inclusion around here?

Well, because up until now Eddie Williams And His Brown Buddies had been positioning themselves far outside of their cocktail blues upbringing and carving out a decent sideline as a rock group and now that they’ve hedged their bets with this we’d like to know why.

Now you can say that it was only done for a B-side and therefore it was something of a throwaway track, not a conscious effort to move in another direction as a whole and I suppose that’s fair argument. You could also say that when in a rush for a song to finish a session this was something they could do in their sleep and so it made sense in that way as well. After all, who really cares what they did if it was never intended to be the focal point of this release?

Fair enough. But all of those points become moot when it was this compromised track with which they scored their one and only national hit and thus rendered their unquestioned rock efforts that led up to it a mere footnote in their story.


Went Away And Left Me This Morning
To bring everybody up to speed about this quartet who recently arrived on the rock scene, their leader Eddie Williams was the bass player in Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers, the pre-eminent cocktail blues outfit of the day. That group had defined that popular urbane style for much of the 1940’s but had recently lost its lead singer and pianist Charles Brown who went out on his own and scored one of the biggest hits of the decade in the same classy uptown style with Trouble Blues, a record that actually was just ending its run at the top of the charts after an impressive fourteen week stay as this was released.

Because Moore’s group had been in a little bit of disarray following Brown’s departure last winter Williams had put together this group to explore a different type of music as a side project. Along with guitarist Mitchell “Tiny” Webb and drummer Ellis Walsh the group employed pianist, singer and songwriter Floyd Dixon as their frontman. Just twenty years old Dixon was already shaping up to be one of the more versatile artists on the scene as he was cutting solo records for Modern that sort of skirted the edges of the Charles Brown (and thus Moore’s Three Blazers) cocktail blues milieu, albeit with a slightly more rural bent to them, scoring one hit already and with another just about to break through.

Therefore it’d be reasonable to assume that when they all got together they’d head in the same direction, one long proven to have commercial appeal and one they were all eminently comfortable playing. Instead they tried their hand in something far more daring – rock ‘n’ roll. But it was an odd type of rock ‘n’ roll to say the least, one that was decidedly quirky and even a little exotic on such cuts as Blues In Cuba.

You couldn’t even rightly call it a hybrid sound because it wasn’t drawing from anything immediately recognizable, let alone combining two easily identifiable styles, but no matter, for whatever you called it the sound was mildly alluring and certainly admirable in its attempt to carve out their own distinct musical niche. Whether that niche wound up moving more towards the accepted rock sounds and got embraced there was still up in the air to a degree, but it fit best in that genre for a variety of reasons and because it was so far removed from the long established and unchanging parameters of cocktail blues, the obvious field to slot them in otherwise, it made their inclusion in rock all the more sensible.

So maybe the fact that the A-side of this release, Red Head ‘N’ Cadillac was their most unquestioned rock offering it made the decision to include something that veered in a different direction was a fairly harmless move to make.

But when Broken Hearted wound up superseding the rock track in the public’s mind it immediately altered the group’s image and essentially ended their run as viable ambitious rockers.

The credit, or the blame if you prefer, for that sudden stylistic shift therefore falls on this otherwise innocuous song which makes it historically relevant in rock’s story, even if it falls on the farthest edge of the rock territory… that is, if it even slips into the country at all.

Won’t You Call Me Long Distance
Cocktail blues, for those not familiar with it or uncertain of its parameters, has a very hazy aura to its sound. The term comes from the higher class establishments it was most suited for, places where the men wore suits and ties and the ladies were in fancy dresses. It might not be an elegant white tie and tails joint with valet parking, but it wasn’t a seedy dive next to the waterfront either. You could be reasonably assured of having hors d’oeuvres that came along with drinks which were served by waiters in elegant glasses, not beer in bottles and a fistful of peanuts that you got for yourself at the bar.

Musically the instruments were played lightly, almost suggested if you can imagine that, rather than emphatically stated with any real purpose. The piano was the lead but it mostly just toyed with the melody, while the guitar was jazzy and clean but detached in its playing, all while the bass thrummed away unobtrusively in the distance. Most of the time there are no drums used at all, or if they’re allowed in the room they add only discreet rhythm and no semblance of a back-beat that might risk stirring up trouble. It was a mellow atmosphere all around.

Along those lines the vocalists in cocktail blues motifs were seemingly singing from a dream state of mind, commenting on events without necessarily being emotionally attached to them, as if they were a reflection of the artist’s subconscious rather than yanked directly from their heart and soul. The mood of the songs was generally somber but not distraught, mostly melancholy ruminations on life, love and loss.

Yet in spite of its downbeat nature it was a highly pleasing sound, one that found favor with fans of both jazz and pop, and was ironically much further away from the dominant blues styles of the day in spite of what its terminology might otherwise suggest.

Broken Hearted is not cocktail blues, but rather it’s country blues as interpreted by cocktail blues artists which makes it a weird hybrid that fits comfortably in neither realm, nor for that matter within the dominant rock parameters either.

So what’s the story?

Well, it seems that when they were in the midst of their session someone at Supreme Records, perhaps unaccustomed to the quirkier sides they’d heard so far, or maybe looking for something with a much more clear-cut stylistic definition to latch onto, asked them if they had something that might qualify as “down home blues”.

Seeing as how that rural sounding music had a smaller, though fairly reliable, audience for it, this probably isn’t the musical betrayal we’d normally make it out to be. After all, Supreme was in the business of selling records and it made sense to pair up something that leaned one way with something that leaned in another direction altogether. Hell, we’re preaching that very thing around here all the time, although usually it’s imploring labels to stick a ballad on the backside of an uptempo song, or an instrumental cut on the flip of a vocal number. But whatever, a dustier sounding cut to offset a sleek modern tune is the same in principle I suppose. What does it really matter as long as the ahead-of-its-time rocker gets the exposure it deserves.

So Floyd Dixon just happened to have a song – in his pocket! – that songwriter John Hogg (the cousin of popular bluesman Smokey Hogg) had given him and so he pulled it out, they ran it down just one time with the tapes rolling, obviously not thinking much of its chances by the sound of it, and Al Patrick, owner of the label, pronounced it good enough and they moved on to something else.

Little did any of them know it’d be their biggest seller and the song for which they’d forever be associated with.


Gone To Stay
The record is defined by the disparate musical moods of the band’s more cocktail blues approach and Dixon’s attempts to follow instructions and deliver it with a “down home” feel. His own piano however is taking sides with the cocktail blues mindsets of the others, playing discreet fills and pulling Broken Hearted off the front porch of the smokehouse and into the nightclub in the city further down the road.

Dixon’s extremely nasal – almost nasally clogged – lead is drawn out and somewhat caricatured, expressing grief in an exaggerated manner that replaces the normally cool detached – and smooth – vocals the form usually relied on. That in of itself I guess takes this just far enough away from the urbane cocktail blues to render its ultimate classification a toss-up, but Dixon sounds as if he is just offering up a possible direction they might pursue that can be better worked out with a few more takes.

The track itself is stark and barren, which makes sense considering the circumstances of its recording. The rhythm section is subdued, while Dixon’s piano tosses in those fills which are anything but down home in nature, and so it’s left to Tiny Webb to contribute the muted guitar fills and a clear toned dreamy solo that hints at both competing styles simultaneously without ever fully choosing sides. Throughout it all the pace is languid, the sentiments are morose and the excitement is decidedly lacking… intentionally so.

It’s played well enough to be satisfied with what you hear… these guys were adaptable to whatever was thrown their way… but it can’t help but sound somewhat comatose. Because it’s doubtful any of them were fully invested in the song, maybe not out of any disdain for the material itself but rather simply because they hadn’t anticipated recording it and were only running through it for those in the booth to hear, it’s not distinctive enough to make much of an impression, certainly not for those who expected something to match the unbridled rocker sitting on the top side.

Even if this was the brand of music you preferred in general there’s nothing particularly vital in its presentation which renders its ultimate commercial reception all the more baffling.

There’s something to be said for being creatively open to all forms of music, but around these parts where we’re specifically trying to tell the story of rock ‘n’ roll and nothing BUT rock, songs like this are confusing diversions we uncomfortably have to address every so often when an interesting but unorthodox act who’d seemed committed to rock before this suddenly – for whatever reason – decides to throw us a curveball.

So yes, let the record show that Broken Hearted was indeed a hit, but the rock enthusiast that I am would like to think that when assessing its sales it was really Red Head ‘N’ Cadillac on the other side which the audience was seeking all along and the trade papers merely credited the wrong tune.


(Visit the Artist page of Eddie Williams & His Brown Buddies for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)

Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
Joe Morris (December, 1949)