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In music contracts seem made to be broken, or at least challenged, and while Todd Rhodes attempts to wriggle free of his contractual obligations to Sensation Records hadn’t proved fruitful in the court of law, he was able to fulfill those requirements in ways that Sensation probably didn’t approve of, namely by cutting records featuring a number of guest stars who took the lead role while Rhodes, the guy actually under contract, merely provided the support.

Sensation certainly had every right to be annoyed by this end-around move on Rhodes’ part, but if they were bothered by the musical results of these excursions that’s where they were out of line, because it was the addition of these outside figures which made for the best releases of the final year of Todd Rhodes’ tenure with the label.


Search The North
We’ve met Emitt Slay the first time he and Rhodes shared a release, with Slay getting lead artist billing which may very well have been Sensation’s way of sticking it to Rhodes for his antics for all we know.

Regardless of the reasons though, Slay had definitely earned that right on Beulah, a solid record featuring his enthusiastic vocals and really strong guitar work which was his main claim to fame.

Rhodes wasn’t merely an afterthought on that record however, as he contributed a good enough arrangement with his Toddlers which accentuated the strengths of Slay and made it a better than average rock record for its day… in fact, better than a lot of Rhodes’s recent efforts including the B-side of that release, Brenda, which was pure pop drivel.

Unfortunately the same can’t be said about Looky Ploot which suffers from subpar contributions from every one of the participants starting with the inane title right through to the outdated arrangement. In spite of that there are still a few things that at least merit some attention which allows this to have some historical value.

Who knows, since Sensation was losing Rhodes after this single hit the market anyway – and they gave it to Modern Records in a one-off distribution deal, mirroring what they’d done back in 1948 with all of John Lee Hooker’s records, perhaps to stick it to King, knowing that Rhodes was headed there next – it’d make sense that they’d want to put out the weakest of his recent material since they wouldn’t have to worry about any long term sales drop if it was met with widespread indifference.

Maybe they even took some spiteful solace in the fact that he was headed out the door looking slightly disheveled carrying a cardboard suitcase to the train depot before hopping a ride out of town.

A Different Style For Every Case
The energy of the intro can’t be questioned but the method with which they try and achieve this is well behind the curve as the horns are locked into a pattern that would sound more at home back in 1946 when Rhodes was still earning his living playing local clubs before Sensation signed him and got him back in the studio for the first time since the early 1930’s when he was a member of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers.

Truthfully, had Looky Ploot come out in 1946 or ’47 it wouldn’t have been a bad record, certainly not something that sticks out like a sore thumb as it does in rock ‘n’ roll circa 1950, as those horns are growing grey whiskers with how they attack the song.

Well, mostly let’s say, because the sax solo by Louie Stephens is pretty decent… hardly cutting edge but it’s got enough brawn to get the job done and it just so happens to come in immediately following the one aspect of this record which would’ve been dramatically out of place a few years earlier – Slay’s ferocious guitar.


Sets The Pace
Because the guitar’s presence in rock music at this stage of the game has been very sporadic the sighting of someone like Slay who plays with a focused intensity that jumps out at you there’s always going to be an inclination to react strongly to hearing it.

For those of more recent vintages who’ve lived their entire lives in a guitar-oriented reality Slay’s white hot licks will be something that may even vault this into the “recommended” category of records for this year.

For those actually LIVING in that year who are not altogether used to such sounds bleeding out of their speakers they might’ve been alarmed by the intensity of his playing and certainly wouldn’t have been wrong to say that it clashes a bit with the old fashioned horn riffs behind it.

But taken in isolation, whether then or in the years since, it remains the redeeming feature of this entire affair if for no other reason than it’s what the star does best. Any time you have someone as talented as Emitt Slay showing off you’re at least assured of hearing something he’s putting his heart and soul into which is more than can be said for the rather confusing story.

Looky Ploot, which Slay wrote, is described as physical (?) attribute belonging to his girlfriend… I think. This might mean some body part – your guess is as good as mine though I sincerely doubt any of us would be choosing elbows, thumbs and medial collateral ligaments – or it could be he’s referring to her actions themselves in using these parts.

Without getting the strange euphemism we’re forced to substitute a word of our own but each likely choice we come up with and plug in winds up being refuted – or made even more confusing – by the next line where it’s used differently. As such we give up on it and just hope the vocal enthusiasm doesn’t let up.

It doesn’t, but it also doesn’t elevate this much higher in the big scheme of things. The band’s chanting of the title is hardly exciting or sensible and while Slay handles the lead well enough, he’s not making enough sense to really care that he sounds excited about this mysterious topic.


Draw A Crowd
In the end I don’t anybody involved really cared much about this record’s fate and so why should we.

Rhodes clearly was just counting the days until he could be welcomed to a larger label where he’d spend the last full decade of his career. Slay was probably just happy to get some label credit for his song and maybe turn a few heads with his guitar playing so he could forge a career of his own rather than riding someone else’s coattails.

As for Sensation Records, though they had to be upset that their primary breadwinner was leaving, thereby placing their company on life support, the success or failure of Looky Ploot wasn’t going to stave that eventuality off so they were ready to wash their hands of the lot of them.

Still, while it’s not an altogether seamless record aesthetically, it does manage to show where Rhodes and company came from, while also showing why the future would belong more to guys like Slay.

But other than for research purposes there’s usually not much of a market for records that act as something of a fulcrum between musical eras since those kinds of thing are ill-suited to be a rallying cry to get a party started. For Rhodes and Sensation the party was winding down anyway so it was time to get out the brooms and sweep up the mess they left behind.


(Visit the Artist pages of Emitt Slay as well as Todd Rhodes for the complete archives of their respective records reviewed to date)