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JUBILEE 5062; AUGUST 1951

 
 

 

Periodically in rock history we’ll come across very brief, and very isolated, retro-movements wherein a single artist or maybe a handful at best, consciously try and revive a bygone era or style, often getting some acclaim for it initially until the mass public realizes they could just as easily go buy old records and get their fill of it all at once.

Brian Stetzer made a career of this… two careers actually.

You’d think that with rock just approaching its fourth birthday in a matter of days there’d hardly be any nostalgia for something so recent quite yet, but while it may not have been fully intentional here, we find ourselves encountering a record that calls to mind rock’s first female star… at a time when that first female star was still in her own prime and could not get a record deal despite her track record.

Then again, since this record didn’t stir any interest, maybe that’s not so surprising after all.
 

 

Found Someone To Take Your Place
When meeting Edna McGriff on the flip side of this, her debut single, her age was a big topic… specifically how at 16 she was more attuned to the necessities of rock ‘n’ roll than the record company, ran by an old guy in his forties, or the jazz artist leading the band who was in his late 20’s but obviously whose defining musical education had taken place before rock had reared its beautifully ugly head.

People of those generations had initially viewed the arrival of rock as if it were some alien life form that crash landed on the outskirts of town and after first infiltrating their staid neighborhood quickly moved to take over the entire town. Although they stood to profit off it they were clearly concerned about its ultimate goal which was nothing short of global conquest.

To young Edna McGriff, just entering puberty at the time and probably connecting to music deeply for the first time, rock’s presence was nothing to be alarmed about, just a fact of life for her. “You mean this kind of music didn’t exist at all before this?”, she may have asked incredulously, as one does when they’re twelve years old and think the world only began the day before yesterday.

Over the next few years she took its rise in stride, hearing the music without any preconceived notions and embraced what she liked in the moment, unconcerned that the older gentry were aghast that it was sending their perception of “good” music to the sidelines.

What do you expect though? Most people, regardless of when they were born, tend to relate to the music that appealed to them when they were McGriff’s age and disavow anything “new” that came after that. There are people this very day who rather than be excited about the fact that Kendrick Lamar has just dropped his latest album – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers – are unconcerned about this enormous impact on the current musical landscape, maybe even completely oblivious to it… but that’s hardly surprising.

Music, more than anything else, is humanity’s most current language but those who already learned to speak years before don’t want to hear these new tongues. They can’t be bothered.

Even McGriff, at her tender age, wasn’t immune to looking back, as Note Droppin’ Papa fondly recalls the work of Chubby Newsom who in 1948 became the first female rocker to score a national hit with Hip Shakin’ Mama before going on to deliver a string of saucy records in a similar vein.

Of course McGriff was listening with rapt attention back then, embracing those new sounds with open ears, and whether the vibe of this record was intentional or just subconscious lifting, the similarities are unmistakable. Of course with older musicians on board who didn’t have any knowledge of rock from the late 1940’s, they saw fit to go even further back and unfortunately saddled this with music from their own formative years.

Yesterday vs. today, the cycle continues.
 

Everything That A Good Woman Needs… Well, Not Quite
Right away your first reaction has to be… Not those horns again! Energetic, yet completely out of date. Though it’s that brash introduction where they make their presence known the most, we almost can overlook that because we know they’re bound to drop back when McGriff comes in.

What we can’t overlook quite as easily are their limp riffs behind her once the song gets up to speed. They’re downplayed enough to invite being ignored altogether but the role they inhabit is one that demands a more forceful presence and as a result you curse what they aren’t doing even more than what they are.

Three saxes, two tenors and a baritone, would fix up Note Droppin’ Papa in a hurry by churning under her vocals with purpose, but instead we get lightweight horns playing without any fire and without any deep bottom to balance the track out. When McGriff starts belting out her lines as this goes on, the horns are half asleep.

The arrangement itself wouldn’t even have to be changed much, just different instruments with younger, more passionate musicians so we don’t get stuck with the sickly tenor that IS here and takes a solo which is an embarrassment to the genre. It practically sounds closer to a kazoo in tone than it does a saxophone and rather than lift McGriff up the band pushes her back down.

Luckily she’s not one to take that treatment without fighting back and she lays into the vocals with more intensity from the start, channeling Newsom’s sassy confidence with offhanded ease. She wrote herself a good song too, the concept may be pretty familiar but you have to like the way she frames the entire plot around the fact that her guy left her and was too much of a wuss to tell her face to face and so after one last night of sex he left a note and was long gone by the time she woke up.

For awhile we think she’s playing into the heartbreak aspect of the lyrics, but she knows exactly what she’s doing – she learned from the best after all – and after trying to elicit our sympathy tells us with a devilish smirk that she was crying only as long as it took “to find somebody new”, which by the sounds of it was about a half hour before lunch rolled around.

From there she taunts her ex, mocking him for the cowardly way he left her, while she’s bragging about her new guy – who already has another woman, though probably not for long! – and it doesn’t take much speculation to figure out why McGriff sounds so… fulfilled as she wails away on that last line.
 


 

Didn’t Even Lock The Door
Despite its musical drawbacks there’s a lot here to like. It’s got a grinding vocal with a some rhythm to it and a subject that is straight from the alley.

McGriff’s voice is in fine form, her lyrics are slyly devious at times and the basic story has a plot twist that may not come as shocking, but is still nice to see carried out without any reservations.

Of course Note Droppin’ Papa is hampered by Bennie Green’s jazz aesthetics and that weak-ass sax solo that should be aurally replicating the action behind closed doors and yet instead of tearing clothes off is only tentatively reaching for her hand, sweaty palms and all, throwing cold water on the build up she’d just provided us.

Still, this is definitely recommended and undoubtedly is much more easily accessible than Come Back was even if that one was more technically impressive when it came to her vocals and how they had to fight tooth and nail with the band to control the song, which unlike this didn’t have a more established blueprint to follow.

But that only means that in both cases McGriff outruns her coverage, giving her an impressive two-sided debut using two different approaches. Next time out though, enough with the looking back in her records.

Her nod to the recent past may not be quite as inappropriate as the band who go back even further, but in rock ‘n’ roll you always want to look forward when you’re recording and leave the looking back to the kind of historical overviews we’re doing on these pages.

If they don’t then we’ll be more than happy to ditch all of them and focus on reviewing Kendrick’s album while it’s still hot rather than having to wait another seven or eight decades before we finally get to write about it.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Edna McGriff for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)