No tags :(

Share it




When it comes to music – good music at least – very few artists follow predictable and sensible game plans.

I suppose we should be glad about that, after all it’d be pretty boring if every record that came out barely deviated any from the one that preceded it. In fact if you want to posit a reason why rock ‘n’ roll made such remarkable headway in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s you could easily make the argument that mainstream pop music was rigidly sticking to formula for the most part, thereby providing few listeners any real incentives for passionately following the Hit Parade.

Rock ‘n’ roll of course not only broke radically from previous styles when it came along in late 1947 but in the time since then had made consistent and often totally unexpected stylistic leaps every few months and left others scrambling to either catch up or to come up with something new of their own that was equally appealing to try and counter those moves and keep ahead of the pack.

Edgar Hayes & His Stardusters were seemingly doing just that, particularly on the flip side of this release, as they’ve shed their jazz inclinations as befitting their backgrounds as members in good standing of that fraternity, and have not only thoroughly embraced rock ‘n’ roll but have managed to unlock the key to incorporating a sizzling lead guitar into the formula.

We all know how the rock story progresses over the next decade, with the guitar gradually asserting itself more and more into the spotlight until eventually by the tail end of the 1950’s it manages to push aside the tenor sax which unquestionably has been the dominant instrument in rock to date. The two sounds vied with one another for years and managed to co-exist peacefully enough, defining the mid-1950’s rock sound, but by around 1958 or so the guitar will firmly take over. The stage only being so big and two soloing instruments were one too many for most acts to have, especially once more self-contained bands started popping up, eliminating the need for a lot of session musicians.

There’ll still be certain huge styles of rock, particularly black styles such as soul and Motown and much later on rap, which will not give themselves over fully to the guitar revolution, but the dominant mainstream image of rock will for about a thirty year stretch revolve around the guitar.

Teddy Bunn, the jazz guitar veteran who played with an edgy ferocity and was a featured part of pianist Edgar Hayes’s group here, never got much, if any, of the credit for helping to show how the instrument could fit in rock arrangements, but make no mistake about it, he provided a crucial blueprint that others began picking up on in short order and which would soon start shaping the sound of tomorrow.

Early Sunday Morning
So that’s what you probably are expecting to hear more of today with the other side of their second single after a long layoff that spanned most of the 1940’s, during which time they’d gone from fairly well acclaimed jazz musicians, separately that is, to being unable to find recording work forcing them to throw in together on the West Coast where they re-invented their sound playing clubs and waiting for a call to cut some tracks.

When that time finally came in late 1948 rock ‘n’ roll was the sound of the day and they left no doubt that it was their calling in life with a hit right out of the gate with Fat Meat ‘N’ Greens, a song still showing up on various regional charts across the country when they next appeared lending stellar support behind vocalist Clifford Blivens on Achin’ Heart Boogie. That was followed immediately by another record on their own with the flip side of today’s record, a scintillating ensemble instrumental called Edgar’s Boogie.

Since the formula for all of those efforts were cut from the same musical cloth it seemed almost certain that they’d decided along the way that this approach was their best bet for success and certainly with their debut having proven that to be the case nobody would think it wise to deviate from that. In other words they’d be predictable. If their creativity was lagging the material might even be little more than a shameless re-working of that initial prototype which considering all they went through just to get back into a recording studio after such a long hiatus wouldn’t be something we could very well hold against them.

But as we said to open this review, rock ‘n’ roll is hardly the place to look for predictability.

So it is with Sunday Mornin’ Blues, a curveball of rather dramatic proportions when assessing their last two – or even three if you count the work cut with Blivens – outings.

Now I’m pretty sure if you HAVE been following along to their story, maybe even went elsewhere to find some of their earlier work in other fields from the 1930’s, you’re probably assuming the worst. You wouldn’t be going out on a limb very far to expect that they were heading back towards the jazz realm, thereby refuting, almost betraying in a way, their brilliant forays into rock they’ve made thus far in 1949.

It would hardly be a shock for musicians with twenty years of experience – twenty years BEFORE rock even existed it should be pointed out – to feel more comfortable playing what they’d specialized in for the majority of that time. You may even surmise that they’d been coaxed into playing something suitable for rock in order to secure their contract with Exclusive Records who surely were seeking a hit in a modernly popular style and so Hayes and company acquiesced and gave them that hit and now had the leverage to insist on something a bit more their style, even if that style was outdated and no longer commercially viable in comparison with rock.

Well, think again. Not only did Sunday Mornin’ Blues chart in multiple regions across the country, from Los Angeles to Chicago, but it didn’t bring them back to jazz either. In fact, we’re not sure WHERE it fits most comfortably, because what this song shows is that the group themselves were skilled enough to carry off anything, including something with as many musical elements as this.


Meet Them At The Station
Just to be clear, the inclusion of this song on the roll call of rock releases for 1949 is by no means a charity case, nor is it a truly awkward fit, immediately seeming out of place and something that you’d think was merely added because of their other sides giving them their musical green card as it were to be counted as rockers.

No, Sunday Mornin’ Blues qualifies on its own accord, even if it’s not exactly occupying the center of the rock universe in a musical sense. But it’s plainly obvious that it wouldn’t fit comfortably in either jazz or blues, the two other genres that might be able to lay some claim to it. What this shows is that the tree of rock ‘n’ roll has some gnarled and tangled roots and occasionally you’ll trip over one if you go into the forest looking for records to dig up.

But of course that’s a GOOD thing, so without any further ado let’s get to the record and explain its oddly mismatched parts that somehow create a working piece of music all the same.

The way this kicks off you expect more of the same when it comes to their musical bag of tricks. Hayes’s piano plays a light riff, sticking more to the right hand treble keys than the heavy left hand bass line of past efforts, but you recognize the technique all the same.

In addition you get a subdued dose of Bunn’s slithering electric guitar winding its way around the melody, lending a vaguely sinister feel to the song as it gets up to speed. Yes, it’s a slower pace than we’ve encountered with them with less emphasis on the bottom of the arrangement, but we’re always saying around these parts that diversity of material is a good thing and if they want to play with some more subtlety and discretion, slow the tempo down and ease off on the pressure, that’s fine. It may not be wind up being our first choice for which button to push on the jukebox when scanning their records, but it’ll work well to balance their material which should only make the heavier sides stand out all the more.

But what we DON’T expect, and in fact are taken aback by altogether, is hearing soothing, almost hypnotic vocals springing up!

Both of their records released under their own names were instrumentals featuring the interplay between Hayes’s piano and Bunn’s guitar. One was slow and seductive and the other was fast paced and more insistent. Yet we had no reason to think any of them could sing, or would want to for that matter, since they seemed to be doing fine without any vocals.

They certainly had no trouble backing Blivens whose voice may have left a little something to be desired, though his enthusiasm made up for it, but THIS is just completely out of left field. The voices – that’s voices plural, so I assume it’s the band themselves – harmonize quite nicely on a simply refrain, Yesssssssssssssss…. Sunday Mornnnnnnnn-ing, providing a soothing sound, light and airy, a perfect sound FOR a lazy Sunday morning as the spring weather heats up outside.

Okay, so maybe this will wind up being another instrumental after all, just one with a vocal refrain as a set-up and maybe an occasional interlude to ground it. Nothing fancy, just a lyrical marker to let you know what it is you’re hearing.

But no, they don’t stop there. Oh no, not by a long shot. This is a vocal record through and through. The group vocals drop out and Hayes (presumably) takes the lead as he tells the story of his girl returning from some distant town.


Coming Home
Bunn naturally makes his presence known, weaving his magic in and around the vocal, then when the first stanza ends he takes the spotlight and plays a long, drawn out solo, slow and effectively mesmerizing but not quite riveting and certainly played with a lighter touch than what we’ve come to expect.

The vocal returns to share another shred of information – and shred is the only word for it, as this clearly is a cliff notes lyric, imparting just the barest essentials when it comes to a plot which focuses only on his expectations of seeing her again without delving into why she went away in the first place.

But the truth is it doesn’t really need any more information to captivate us. Yes, a few details would certainly flesh it out a lot and give us some sense of the guy’s state of mind beyond the hopeful anticipation in his voice, but our curiosity in this case is probably based more on what we’ve seen and heard from other artists facing similar storylines, from Annie Laurie on Annie’s Blues to Jimmy Liggins on Homecoming Blues where certain elements of the backstory were hinted at and led us to think the real story must be even more salacious or interesting than they were letting on.

Not so on Sunday Mornin’ Blues. I’m not saying the pertinent facts behind their separation wouldn’t be helpful to know, but they aren’t at all necessary because they’re not presenting it in a way where they matter much – to the narrator himself and therefore to us as neutral observers as well.

Whatever caused them to be apart, whether for a week or a year, he doesn’t seem to be concerned over it in the least. He mentions she’s anxious to see him too, but beyond that there’s no evidence that what led to their not seeing one another was anything beyond logistics.

All of this is reaffirmed by the group vocals that return in the closing, repeating the title phrase over and over, lulling you into complete acquiescence. Whatever the deeper story may be you’ll never know it because they’ll never reveal it and you’ll never think to ask. You’ll just bob your head in rhythm to the sounds, mesmerized into following along with a smile. It’s nothing daring and contains nothing to stir your passions as you’ve come to expect with them, but it’s so enchanting all the same that you’d never try and resist its mellow charms and only the most contrarian of sorts would even think about clamoring for something more explosive.

This is case of Edgar Hayes and His Stardusters winning you over, not by force or by unleashing a torrent of sound that breaks down your defenses but by merely playing with effortless skill and a light touch, giving you a song that tantalizes you more than anything.

You can sense some jazzy elements in there without being able to pick them out. You think it might reveal some more bluesy elements as well, but it never fully does. So if you find yourself thinking after it ends that it also went a bit light on the rock elements, well, you’re probably right. Certainly it did compared to the flip side and the other two records with their involvement that we’ve reviewed, but I don’t think you’ll wind up caring much that this was conveyed with such a deft touch.

Sometimes that’s the best way to get you to sit up and pay attention.


(Visit the Artist page of Edgar Hayes And His Stardusters for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)