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SUPREME 1546; NOVEMBER, 1949

 
 


Yesterday the focus of our review was the ongoing stylistic uncertainty of Eddie Williams’s group as they attempted to navigate a fractured musical landscape by simultaneously trying to reach rock listeners while also not forsaking the cocktail blues, rural blues and jazzy-pop fields which had longer track records if not quite the current commercial clout as rock ‘n’ roll.

Needless to say that task is about as difficult as it sounds and so their output was bound to be conflicted.

But even that narrative can’t possibly explain what specific constituency they were trying to reach with this song which comes completely out of left field… or maybe more accurately, comes out of the desolate windswept range of the old west.

Typical subject matter for rock records this most assuredly is not.
 

 

Stepping In A Hole
By all accounts Floyd Dixon, the pianist and lead singer of Eddie Williams & His Brown Buddies who was just out of his teens, was just sort of going along with the others when his career started taking off. He’d befriended a guy named Mark Hurley, a single white male in his fifties who fancied himself as something of a musician’s confidant. Hurley wrote some songs, played a few instruments like the banjo, and were it not for the fact that none of those whom he was ever acquainted with said a bad word about him the inference would be that he was using them or being used by them for something untoward.

Yet peculiar though the circumstances might be on the surface, sometime around 1943 or ’44 Hurley took Dixon in when he needed a place to stay in his mid-teens, paid him three dollars a day to practice piano and encouraged him to hone his voice and his songwriting, believing in the kid before the kid believed in himself.

Hurley was also friendly with Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers, considerably older than Dixon and already making a name for themselves with their records, but just as they were at their commercial and critical peak in the late 1940’s the group split over Moore’s less-than forthright business dealings with the others when it came to things like songwriting royalties, a say in their recording contracts and receiving public credit for their roles.

Charles Brown, the Three Blazers’ singer, pianist and primary songwriter who had gotten little or no recognition for those tasks with guitarist Moore billed as the headliner, went out on his own in 1949 and scored huge hits right away on his way to a long and successful career as a solo star. Eddie Williams, the group’s bassist, left as well but wasn’t quite as equipped to score without a vocalist. Enter Mark Hurley who brought in Floyd Dixon and paired the two of them up with guitarist Tiny Webb and drummer Ellis Walsh to form The Brown Buddies.

Ironically considering the lingering sting of the lack of credit he’d received in Moore’s group, this new outfit had Williams’s name out in front, thereby relegating Dixon, who was the clear star of the unit, to a similar life in the shadows. But the easygoing Floyd didn’t protest even as his own friends didn’t believe he was the singer when they’d scored a hit record because his name wasn’t listed as the lead artist.

Dixon also deferred to others when it came to signing their contract with Supreme Records which was to last for a year, giving them plenty of time to establish themselves and their music, which of course they did. But because the music they released in that time cast such a wide net it meant that in spite of their positive early returns there was no clear course to follow going forward. Should they stick to rock exclusively? If so you’d turn your back on a lot of those from across party lines who accounted for the success of Broken Hearted, a bluesier effort that resulted in their one national hit. But were you to actively pursue that style instead at the expense of everything else then the growing strength of the rock contingency in black music circles could render you an afterthought before long.

So rather than make that choice, or any choice at all, on Prairie Dog Hole they do none of the above and instead try their hand at country music… or at least someone’s rather odd interpretation of country music, somewhat out of focus as if seen through a cracked lens.
 

A Lot Of Trottin’ To Do
Though the curious musical choices of this group has made for some interesting listening experiences – and even provided a good first hand account of the still unsettled terrain of popular music in 1949 before all of the stylistic molds fully hardened – the story of Eddie Williams & His Brown Buddies hasn’t been easy to write about, nor as much fun to delve into as most other artists we’ve covered.

That’s not to say their story isn’t necessary to fill in the pages of rock’s early history but their career has been one of the more convoluted musically we’ve come across and as a result it’s been one of the most frustrating to try and get a handle on and make some sense out.

Basically it boils down to this: They were merely biding time. They had no big picture plan with their output, it was just a way to stay active, keep your name out there and maybe get a few bucks and draw some attention in the hopes something BIG came along.

Williams apparently wasn’t the most determined of figures either and according to Dixon he preferred drinking his Ballentine beer more than practicing, writing, mapping out a career course or holding up his end of the unwritten social contract all bands essentially have with one another to be responsible. He was a great bassist but someone for whom dreaming big took the place of working hard to achieve those dreams and not surprisingly after this group – with his name on it, no less – broke up in early 1950 he went back to Johnny Moore and played with the revised version of Three Blazers with various other pianist/singers.

Others such as… Floyd Dixon, who amicably slid into the vacant piano stool left behind by Charles Brown for awhile even though that was thwarting his own budding career as a solo artist, but as we said earlier he was also someone for whom personal ambition took a back seat to merely going along with the crowd.

Because of the utter lack of personal and professional drive they had, seeming to lack that fanatical determination to make the most of their careers in the brief window they were afforded, they remained directionless almost by design and this oddball piece, written by the aforementioned Mark Hurley (as was the flip You Need Me Now) made you wonder if this was a put-on or an actual stab at bending a few ears from yet another small distant segment of the broader market.

Either way it has no chance.
 

Their Stunts So Bold
Let’s start off the musical review segment on a positive note – it’s certainly a unique song as written. There’s a genuine story that was cinematic in a sense even if it was a one-reel B-movie western type of cinema.

Prairie Dog Hole starts off with the clippety-clop of hooves (okay, someone slapping their thighs rhythmically to masquerade as horses) to simulate the activity on the prairie the song depicts. It’s similar, though far less elaborate, to the gimmick-strewn production of the massive Frankie Laine hit Mule Train but this was cut before that scored – though it may have just been issued – so it might not have been directly inspired by it, but you can at least see why in the fall of 1949 Supreme Records deemed this a good choice for a single. Of course they didn’t have much else to choose from either, so chances are it’d have gotten released one way or another anyway.

I’m guessing it was Hurley himself doing the awkward spoken intro in a faux hillbilly voice, which tries to set the scene of being out on the range even more heavy handedly. It’s as stilted and vaugely insulting as you’d expect but at the very least it’s strange enough to keep you glued to the speakers to see what might follow.

Floyd Dixon comes in, nasal passages as stuffy as ever – must be hay fever season in the dust strewn Texas wilderness – and recounts a truly tragic story that starts off with the death of his horse, which had to be put down because it ”stepped in a prairie dog hole”, thereby breaking its leg.

Dixon is broken up over this cruel turn of events – actually, since we don’t hear anything of them before this fact is revealed we can’t rightly say it’s a TURN of events, but rather the main event of the entire song – but whatever is to come, no matter how poignant they make it, no matter how creative the tale, we’re already sick to our stomachs if we’ve got any humanity in us. Granted horses do suffer such fates and though it sounds gruesome the alternative – trying to set the leg and keep a few thousand pounds of horse from using it as it heals – is not going to be effective. Hence putting the horse down is the only sensible thing to do in such a situation.

But that doesn’t make us want to hear a SONG about it!

As Dixon goes on he fills in the details about the cowboy and his horse giving us a real sense of the bond the two shared. It’s filled with nice touches and Dixon delivers it in a way that sounds authentic. But because it’s so believable anyone who’s had any kind of pet who died is either cringing or sobbing by now and so you anxiously await the instrumental passage to stave off a full-blown emotional breakdown.

During the break Tiny Webb’s guitar and Dixon’s piano play well off one another, giving this some tentative country sensibility without being heavy-handed about it. Had they inserted fiddles or a steel guitar, or put tacks on the piano hammers, then you’d have every right to complain they were being gratuitous in their attempts to connect it with a different genre’s sensibilities, but this is just discreet enough in what they do to merely suggest it without hitting you over the head with it in the process.

But since the track isn’t what you’d call eye-catching (EAR catching???) it’s not going to draw focus away from the sorrowful tale Dixon is weaving that awaits us when he returns. Sure enough we have to hear about the poor bereaved cowboy having to haul the empty saddle, the bridle, spurs, etc. back with him after shooting his four-legged friend in the head on the trail, left to be eaten by buzzards.

Needless to say this isn’t the song to put your kids to sleep with… or adults to sleep with for that matter.
 

Tight And Cold
I’ll be kind and say that the topic is unusual and thus has more creativity involved than your average run-of-the-mill song from any genre of the day. Furthermore if it’s possible to do such a thing respectfully then Prairie Dog Hole – though a tearjerker – isn’t out and out exploitative in that regard.

But it’s also not the type of song that could reasonably be expected to become a hit because it’s something that no one would really want to hear often unless they were sadists.

As this review is being written in mid-2019 the news has been filled with stories emanating from the Santa Anita Park in California where 29 horses have died on the track in just over five months of racing, an abhorrent figure that has drawn renewed calls for the track to be shut down.

Though from time to time here on Spontaneous Lunacy we’ve included horse racing metaphors in our reviews because it seems a good way to delineate the competitive action of record releases and artist careers, the truth is I’m not a horse racing guy. Never been to one, never cared to go. As an athlete though I understand injuries are part of the game but the difference of course is the human athlete is a willing participant, not someone being saddled up to fulfill the fantasies of wealthy breeders and mint julep swilling racing fans (do they drink mint juleps all the time, or just at the Kentucky Derby?) who pump them full of drugs to get the most out of them before their time is up, quite literally.

But while injuries are a part of sport, injuries shouldn’t be made into sport, or into records, and while Eddie Williams And His Brown Buddies are far less guilty than those whose actions have resulted in the deaths of so many otherwise healthy animals, the fact is whatever reaction the group were HOPING to get from Prairie Dog Hole, be it enjoyment or just simply admiration for their songcraft or musicianship, the reaction they’re more likely to get is revulsion and sadness. That’s not a winning combination in any field.

As for the solution to horse racing deaths, there’s an easy one we’ll offer up here at no extra charge. For each death of a horse the owner gets put down with it in the same manner at the same time, no exceptions. I’m willing to bet that the races would stop after the first duel execution was carried out.

The thing is, at least in the macabre song these guys offer up, Floyd Dixon’s greiving owner probably would’ve welcomed that fate for himself after losing his trusted steed because life wasn’t worth living for him anymore. It’s doubtful a horse’s owner at the track would say the same.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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