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GOTHAM 194; AUGUST, 1949

 
 

 

How often in life do you get a chance to say goodbye to someone you know you’ll never see again?

Most times when we bid someone adieu it’s with the reasonable expectation that we’ll run into them again down the road. In that sense most goodbyes aren’t goodbye at all, but rather just a “see you later”.

In fact those times where you are fully aware that it is the last time you’ll see somebody the goodbyes that follow aren’t something that are to be enjoyed at all but rather something done with a heavy heart and a sense of impending loss.

When it comes to music though, at least for somewhat marginal artists, there’s always the very real possibility that each record might be their last. We don’t think of it at the time though because when we hear it they’re still very much in the present… the record COULD be a success conceivably and that COULD result in another session, another release, another chance.

But inevitably those chances run out. In some cases… in this case… it ran out before we got to even know the artist in question and so for Eddie Woodland his goodbye came just after we first said hello.
 

 

The Curious Case Of The Querulous Record Company
One of the secondary focal points of this project is how the various record companies, mostly small independent upstarts trying desperately to carve out a small niche in the market, will navigate the musical terrain. The labels that will ultimately succeed are thus far not exactly doing so hot. Atlantic Records only recently has seen an influx of new artists with hit-making potential after more than a year of struggling to stay afloat. Aristocrat Records, which soon will be taken over by its employee Leonard Chess and re-named after him, has been constantly selling its own best artists short with bewildering decisions as to their releases. Specialty Records has similarly shown no real sense of having what it takes to make it in the business as of yet.

All of them however will eventually be major players in the rock market and so when looking back at their early missteps it’s with a sense of wonder that they were able to pull themselves out of the morass.

Gotham Records won’t ever rise to the level of those labels however and so it would seem as if their mistakes are more costly even though they would stick around on the scene for quite awhile without fully breaking through. What makes this hard to fathom is that their early success is much more notable than the aforementioned labels AND their roster during the past two years wasn’t without the types of artists to vault them even higher if they’d only had a better sense of how to run a company.

Case in point: The sudden rise and fall of Eddie Woodland.
 


 

Back in May a local saxophonist who’d drawn some notice around town had been signed with a reasonable amount of fanfare and expectation by the Philadelphia label who hoped he might be capable of replacing their now departed sax star, Earl Bostic in the rock instrumental sweepstakes. Woodland wasn’t in Bostic’s class as a musician, but then again few were. Yet he was certainly more than capable of delivering some solid work on the horn and considering the sax instrumental was still one of the dominant sounds in rock heading down the stretch in 1949 it stood to reason that they’d keep him around, even if his initial sides came up short commercially.

Yet Gotham made a series of boneheaded moves regarding Woodland, starting by issuing his first side, Jumpin’ With Pio, on a split credit release with vocalist J. B. Summers last month. Not only did this deprive both artists of the chance to have the spotlight entirely to themselves with their first releases it also cut down on the number of opportunities Gotham Records themselves would have to score a hit.

When they finally realized this a month later they pulled back that single, Gotham 186, and split the artists up, re-issuing the Summers vocal side from that release, Stranger In Town, with a new B-side Back Door Mama, which is what they should’ve done to begin with. That left Woodland with his half of that original release to be put back out with a new song to back it, one called Snap Case.

But it was too little, too late, as the promotional dollars (if there were any) along with the distribution efforts had already run their course, so these new sides came and went without notice.

A bad break for the artists but not a fatal one. J. B. Summers would be back in studio cutting new tracks and getting a series of later releases in the hopes of breaking him through.

Eddie Woodland wasn’t so lucky. This regurgitated offering would turn out to be his final release… not just on Gotham Records, who inexplicably cut him loose, but also his final record as an artist on any label, his career over almost as soon as it began.
 

Just In Case
There must be a good reason for this, you might be saying. Maybe his deal only called for one session… no, that’s ridiculous, for even if there WERE an actual written contract (a big if) it’s not as if he took a better offer from another label and left when it was up. If Gotham had wanted more releases by Woodland they could’ve gotten them simply by giving him the $42 or whatever piddling amount the going rate was for a session at the time for him to come back in to cut some more tracks.

So that would lead you to believe maybe that Woodland himself had a change of heart about playing rock ‘n’ roll and decided to head into jazz. Okay, not an unreasonable desire perhaps, plenty of rock horn players were frustrated jazz-expatriates who yearned to get paid to play a more sophisticated brand of music, but there’s no evidence that Woodland did so, or had the unquestioned ability to succeed in that realm if he had wanted to. Besides, record contracts were what would enable you to showcase your skills to the broadest audience and you could always simply play with more of jazzy bent the next time out in hopes of attracting the interest of a big band in need of a sax player or a nightclub looking for someone to lead the house band.

All of which leaves the most likely scenario to explain his sudden departure from the company and the record scene itself, which is he must not have been very good and so Gotham wasn’t about to keep issuing badly played records with no chance for commercial returns.

Except that wasn’t the case at all. While Jumpin’ With Pio certainly wasn’t a groundbreaking record in any way, nor a superlative performance that would leave listeners in wide-eyed wonder upon hearing it, Woodland still handled his business quite well on the record. It was a good, solid, perfectly average rock instrumental for the time. There’s hardly any shame in that and considering that a LOT of the instrumental hits to date have been aesthetically rather average and that plenty of records that were far better failed to chart, there’s no reason why Gotham shouldn’t have been perfectly satisfied with an honest effort that contained the requisite attributes that in many cases would result in a top seller. If not that time, then the next time out or the time after that.

Eventually they might have to cut bait and move on but not just three months after bringing him on board with such promise and not when Snap Case, his second released side, showed he absolutely had what it took to hold his own in the saxophone battles of rock’s early days.
 

Open And Shut Case
Maybe I shouldn’t have said “absolutely” when referring to this because I don’t know for certain if the record as released DID show that, since I haven’t heard it. But I HAVE heard an alternate take, cut at the same session, which was released in the CD era and which is available on Spotify for you to hear as well (unfortunately an all too common practice that early CD compilers often seemed to fall prey to, apparently thinking that offering up something OTHER than the original release, as opposed to “in addition to” the original record was a perfectly legitimate move to make… I can’t explain it either, maybe people back in the 1990’s were all on drugs).

Anyway that version of Snap Case, which surely can’t be that much different than the master take, fits the bill just fine.
 

 
 

Woodland’s skill set isn’t in question, or shouldn’t be rather, as he shows he not only can blow with reasonable power but also with a lightness of touch, a strong melodic flavor AND ample creativity.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that the record is anything that’s going to set the world on fire, even the still somewhat smaller insular world of rock ‘n’ roll, but it’s got enough going for it that you’d be happy to hear it even alongside the more rousing recent tracks in the same milieu such as Frank Culley’s Floorshow, Charlie Singleton’s Keep Cool and Paul Williams, the original rock sax star, on Free Dice.

This isn’t better than those records by any means, but there are better, or at least more interesting, ideas to be found within this if you look close.
 

Case In Point
It starts off very nicely with an elongated clarion call from Woodland before the drums fall in behind him and the main thrust of the song begins. The first minute is tight with a very coherent melodic structure, everything working together, predictable in a way but effective for what these songs need to do to create interest. It’s not explosive or obscene, nor is it a slow burn seductive groove, but it’s suitable for the juke joints in its straightforward approach. Woodland plays with a fair amount of self-assurance, confident in the direction he’s headed.

But where he’s headed veers off track after that first minute as he begins to cut loose with flightier passages and it’s here that he’s both slightly betraying his rock instincts and rock audience for that matter, yet also where he’s showing that he’s got more skills and creative urges than usually get shown in the more rudimentary instrumentals.

Surprisingly he’s not injecting too many airy tones and “sweet” jazz attributes that have marred other artists attempts at being more acceptable to the older bastion of listener, but rather it’s the fact that he jumps from one to another and never sticks with one course.

Taken alone some of his choices are very interesting. His quick drop in tone and then the curling rise that follows takes on an elephantine quality, like a cartoon pachyderm calling to his mate. He seems to lift certain passages from other songs, or at least hints of them, but never fully quotes anything to be held responsible. Furthermore he’s playing in a higher register than we’d like which makes them stand out too much in comparison to the deeper honking of his better moments, ones which he continues to occasionally toss in from time to time over the second minute which comprises the weakest stretch of the record.

But even so there are moments which are sublime in their attempts to come up with something different. Most notable is how at the two minute mark he somehow thinks to replicate a plucked bass note with his horn. It’s unique, inventive and shows a sense of whimsy that is admirable.

While he closes things out with a pretty standard refrain and never comes close to doing anything that threatens the standards of decency of the day by honking too low or squealing too high, Snap Case nevertheless shows itself to be slightly more than just a standard run-of-the-mill instrumental.
 

Case Closed
It may never rise above average in how it all comes together, but it’s definitely not an average attempt in any case. In other words Woodland’s not mailing this in by any means. He’s thinking on his feet and is largely successful in nailing each part. If they don’t all mesh together perfectly and he looses his way to a degree, he’s not so far off course that he’s lost in no man’s land.

At the very least Eddie Woodland has shown that he’s perfectly capable of contributing something of value to rock ‘n’ roll and for a record company consisting of just one hitmaker in Jimmy Preston and who were currently running low on viable candidates for adding to that tally, it’s inexplicable that they wouldn’t have recognized that a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush and kept Woodland around longer, especially when those potential birds in the bush they craved weren’t about to come to roost at Gotham Records either.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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