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GOTHAM 186; JULY, 1949

 
 

 

The more interested you are in music the more you wish record labels were run by people who actually understood what they were doing sometimes. Sadly that’s rarely the case in this walk of life.

Why is this, you wonder. It’s not an unreasonable expectation to think that your auto mechanic can tell the difference between a carburetor and a salami sandwich without referring to the manual. You’d like to believe that the carpenter building your house knows which end of the hammer to pound nails with. Surely you hope the doctor taking out your appendix doesn’t remove your kidney instead.

But in the record business those running the operation are often the least qualified to do so it seems, as they make more boneheaded decisions than would seem possible when there are only twenty four hours in a day. Unfortunately the ones who suffer most are the artists who made the mistake of entrusting their careers to such clueless nitwits in the first place.
 

 

Record execs will certainly squawk at being characterized as incompetent fools blundering their way through life and argue that predicting a market’s whims isn’t the easiest thing to do. They’ll also say that trying to choose which songs should be released and which should be shelved is a far more difficult task when the artists have no track record to go on, as is the case with the focus of today’s review, saxophonist Eddie Woodland.

Okay, fair enough. We’re not trying to claim record companies need to be clairvoyant in all of their decisions and it’s even understandable if occasionally a really good song gets relegated to a B-side or if when chasing a recent trend you choose weaker material for release simply because it adheres to a proven commercial formula.

We get that.

What we don’t get, nor do we excuse, are the decisions which torpedo your OWN commercial interests and in the process intentionally confuse listeners as to who or what they’re hearing.

Such is the case with Gotham 186 where one side is a scintillating vocal performance by J.B. Summers and the other side, this one, is an instrumental by saxophonist Eddie Woodland on which Summers doesn’t even appear.
 

Can’t Anybody Get Things Right?
When Gotham Records in Philadelphia signed local singer J.B. Summers and saxophonist Eddie Woodland in the spring of 1949 they paired them up in the studio that May since Summers would of course need some musicians behind him unless he wanted to sing acapella. It proved to be a fortuitous match, as Woodland’s strong but not ostentatious playing was an ideal compliment for the more exuberant Summers, letting the singer get the lion’s share of the spotlight on Stranger In Town while Woodland kept him grounded just enough so it didn’t spiral out of control.

But the session itself had been intended for Woodland and so he cut some instrumentals as Summers sat those out.

The decision that followed should’ve been easy of course – take the two Eddie Woodland instrumentals and put those together for one single, then take the two J.B. Summers vocals and put those together for another single. Two records for two artists.

Instead they took one of each, slapped them together and called it a day. So much for either J.B. Summers or Eddie Woodland getting a release to themselves!

Initially we’d left the Woodland side out of the roll call of reviews here, not because we wanted to, but rather due to yet ANOTHER idiotic record business decision, this one not having to do with Gotham Records which went out of business 65 years ago.

Instead it was the decision of Collectables, a reissue company which, for all of the vintage rock sides they’ve exhumed from the vaults and presented for modern ears in the CD era and for which they should be commended, has to go down as the worst such company of all time due to their impossibly cheap standards, particularly in the 1990’s when much of this stuff first appeared.

Generally speaking their remastering was atrocious, their liner notes abysmal and in this case their song selection was bewildering. Since Eddie Woodland only cut two sides under his own name in his entire career there’s obviously not enough to fill out a compact disc. So they paired his two cuts with two of fellow Philly based sax player Danny Turner on a disc devoted to yet another sax player named Count “Red” Hastings, whose ten songs make up the majority of the 1990 release.

All well and good, a sensible decision to get more songs out there… except for one problem. Instead of using the released versions of Woodland’s two songs they used alternate takes! They did the same for Turner as well, so that means you can’t actually hear the original versions as you would’ve in 1949 and since there’s not exactly a demand in this day and age for those obscure records it’s not as if anyone else is going to come along and put them out. I realize that was now almost thirty years ago but I assume they had electricity back then and so they weren’t compiling this in the dark and therefore could’ve grabbed the right takes.

Furthermore the CD had more than enough room to include both versions of the songs if you were bound and determined to include the alternate cuts and while that might’ve been seen as excessive by some, at least it would’ve made sure the original records were available somewhere. But no, that’d be too easy, too sensible, too intelligent and as we’ve said the record industry – then and in the years since – is the home of morons.
 

Running Wild In This Old Town
Because of that we here were going to bypass Woodland’s sides altogether since we can’t hear the actual records we were tasked with reviewing. But obviously we reconsidered on the theory that it’s doubtful the alternate takes were completely different than the ones which were issued and since the records do factor in to the larger story of rock that is taking place it becomes important to touch upon them with some reasonable depth rather than mentioning them merely in passing.

Mostly though we’re including them because it just didn’t seem fair to penalize poor Eddie Woodland a third time for the mistakes of two utterly idiotic companies that couldn’t tell their ass from their elbow even though their heads were lodged firmly in the first of those body parts and thus they wouldn’t have had to look very far to locate it.

So Jumpin’ With Pio gets a reprieve of sorts and though the musical analysis is of an alternate take we hope that nobody minds.
 
 

 
 
It’s not as if this is a charity case though, as Eddie Woodland makes clear right away, charging off the line and ripping through some raunchy progressions that leaves no doubt he belongs in the conversation for notable rock sax players, despite his limited output.

Though the inspiration wanes a little following that driving intro, he recovers nicely after his weakest 20 second stretch and continues with his uninhibited display of honking as others in the studio who don’t have their hands full of instruments clap along and shout encouragement (who knows, maybe Summers SHOULD’VE gotten credit for this after all!).

As enthusiastic as it’s played by everybody the song doesn’t have any real structure however and contains a few unfortunate missteps along the way when Woodland tries to drop down for some offensive lows which will undoubtedly have you reaching for air freshener as you anticipate a foul smell that is sure to follow.

It doesn’t of course, this isn’t a scratch and sniff record after all, but he’s hardly out for the count after that slip, as once more Woodland pulls himself back off the canvas and barrels along with admirable determination. The backing musicians never let up which gives Jumpin’ With Pio the only real continuity it can claim, but it’s fairly obvious that this is less a song and more of an exercise in losing your inhibitions. Like so many other instrumentals of this vintage it seems meant for a club in the wee hours of the morning when the patrons are getting testy with one another after being confined for so long and a fight may break out at the slightest provocation.

Were that the case Woodland could launch into this with reasonable certainty that the restless crowd would forget their beef with their neighbor and start tearing it up on the dance floor, whooping and hollering, spilling as much of their drinks as they’re consuming and in the end everybody who doesn’t drop dead from overexertion would go home feeling pretty happy.
 

Lost In The Wood(land)s
Whether or not any of this meant that it was hit material in the summer of 1949 is another question.

It isn’t. But that’s not to say it didn’t contain the necessary ingredients to be a hit, because in that regard it certainly did. There’s enough in Jumpin’ With Pio as it is to make for a solid record but the problem was this was Eddie Woodland’s very first recording session and he was still unsure of how to put those ingredients together, toss out the few that soured the taste, and tighten the record up, giving it a more distinctive structure in between the rousing build up and increasingly wild conclusion.

These aren’t major issues to figure out, they’re relatively simple adjustments that would come with experience, but of course we know that he’d never get the chance to try again and that’s where we come back to Gotham Records dropping the ball.
 


 

The standard recording session then was four songs in three hours, but on this date Woodland only got the chance to deliver two songs of his own because he was also enlisted to back someone else for two songs. When Gotham tried splitting both Summers and Woodland’s sides to get two releases on each of them all it did was confuse people.

They then compounded their mistake by quickly taking the remaining sides from the shelf next month and re-issuing these already released songs with those new B-sides giving them each a record comprised solely of their own material, something they should’ve done from the get-go, but by then what’s the point? If it hadn’t sold enough in the first month when it was newly stocked in stores, when whatever promotional push they’d given it had been used up, what was going to change a month later? By then the smarter thing to do would be to just keep forging ahead with the original plan and give Woodland a second release – split with Summers again – in the fall.

But Woodland wasn’t so fortunate and so once that second side is exhausted on a release that had probably already been relegated to the discount bin his recording career would screech to a halt.

Maybe Eddie Woodland wasn’t destined to be a star in the hyper-competitive field of saxophone playing wild men in rock but he at least deserved the chance to compete on fairly level ground. Instead he was forced to watch his own record company act as though THEY were the ones entering the studio for the first time and with them fumbling the ball it meant that in the blink of an eye his opportunity had passed him by.

Eddie, you deserved better than this, but in the record industry I suppose that goes without saying.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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