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REGAL 3233; JULY, 1949

 
 

 

In the annals of early rock history there are a lot of names who are known primarily for just one record. Though sometimes this may be justified when an artist seemingly caught lightning in a bottle and hit upon a sound they could never recreate after that, more often than not the song in question was merely the best of a long string of similar experiments that are deserving of just as much attention when trying to put the era into proper context.

Though you can place equal blame for this historical neglect on people’s lack of interest to this period of rock music, as well as to an absence of genuine curiosity on the part of historians who’ve merely cherry picked titles that seem relevant without having much desire to dig deeper into an artist’s catalog to look for other rewarding discoveries, the fact is what suffers most from this surface skimming is rock ‘n’ roll itself.

The artists get downsized, the story gets narrowed and the music’s legacy consequently gets diminished.

Erline Harris is one of those names who will in fact see her name mentioned from time to time no matter how shallow the study may be. That’s one of the benefits of having her most noteworthy record AND her widely publicized nickname both contain the term “rock & roll”. Things like that are rather difficult to completely ignore no matter how hard you try.

But stopping there and assuming that’s all there is of note in Harris’s musical career would be a grievous mistake, as while her initial song was indeed an important historical marker for the recent music’s development as well as a solid record in its own right, her follow up – that would be this record – was actually even better.
 

 
A New Way Of Lovin’
It was only three months ago that Harris burst onto the scene with Rock And Roll Blues, a very good record that was held back from greatness by the outdated horn section, a common complaint in the early days of rock before bands got a handle on what instruments were best suited for the job.

Though the style as a whole was getting significantly better at whittling the brass down to the more robust tenor and baritone saxes, at least when it came to designating which horns did the heavy lifting in arrangements (something which was fueled by the instrumental craze which made those distinctions perfectly clear), when it came to studio bands backing vocalists the results were more hit and miss.

Their playing on that record was one of the misses in that regard but Harris herself, both the singer and the lyricist, overcame their ill-conceived drunken giddiness and proved herself deserving of being remembered as more than just a footnote in the music’s march to the top.

But in order to really justify her long-term notoriety beyond simply the moniker she and the song were affixed with she’d have to follow it up with something equally noteworthy musically.

A lot has changed in three months however. For starters Harris is no longer on DeLuxe Records, as Syd Nathan of King Records had elbowed the owners of the original rock label – David and Jules Braun – out of the picture entirely when he assumed controlling interest in it and now the Brauns had left DeLuxe behind and started a new label, Regal.

Though they’d lost their most acclaimed artist in the bargain, that being Roy Brown, the Brauns did manage to hold onto the multi-talented Paul Gayten, and three of the scant seven or eight females who plied their trade in rock ‘n’ roll to date, that of Annie Laurie, Chubby Newsom and yes, Erline Harris.

Of the three only Harris would be without a hit on Billboard’s national charts in her career, but now, just two records into that career with Jump And Shout, Harris is proving beyond any doubt that she doesn’t take a back seat to anybody, male or female, when it comes to grasping the primary appeal of rock ‘n’ roll.
 

Came Home Last Night
Gone is the albatross around Harris’s neck in the form of the unwieldy horn section that threatened to undercut all of her overwhelmingly positive attributes on Rock And Roll Blues.

It certainly hadn’t been enough to deep six the record as a whole though, not with Harris’s sassy soulful delivery and the unambiguous lyrics to keep it churning along. But now on Jump And Shout she goes it one better, as everything falls into place when it kicks off with a barrage of saxes and drums, leaving absolutely no doubt as to her commitment as a rocker.

The reshuffling of the horn section, or the outright dismissal of the offending parties in favor of The Johnson Brothers (future session stalwart Plas Johnson, along with his pianist brother Ray), has two transformative effects. The first is that the saxes provide a much deeper tone that adds considerable muscle to the overall sound. It’s a the difference between prancing and strutting, between merely cracking wise and making threats, and between a tripping over your shoelaces and being forcibly knocked to the floor… or off a cliff.

This horn section isn’t going to hesitate to make their presence known in other words.

The other benefit to this change in approach is that it encourages, if not out and out forces, the rest of the band to provide an unrelenting back beat to propel it along to hold up the more explosive horns. Here the drums never let up, whether it’s the snare getting a hyperkinetic workout, the bass getting kicked in the teeth and even the cymbal being smacked around like a delinquent debtor running into his loan shark in a dark alley.

Ray Johnson’s piano adds to the heavy bottom with a rock solid left hand that fills in whatever gaps, not that there’s many, that the drummer leaves open. For all of the praise due the saxes, the rhythm section is really the engine driving this train, making the entire record sound hostile and aggressive, an early example of what would become a rock staple for decades to come.

But Harris is no mere rider on this train, sitting passively in the dining car watching the scenery as it speeds by. She’s the one pouring coal into the engine, stoking it hotter with her full throated cries and opening the throttle with a maniacal grin of her own.
 

What Love Is All About
There’s perhaps a thin line between expressions of ecstatic joy and anarchy but it’s one of the more engaging balancing acts that rock ‘n’ roll has always taken perverse pleasure in trying to carry off.

Harris for the most stays on the side of the former, her declarations of (obviously sexual) fulfillment from her fella aren’t crude in terms of language or even suggestiveness, and while singing she doesn’t veer too close to losing control of her emotions. She’s definitely aroused though, incredibly horny actually, as her man left the night before for some unstated reason and her anticipation for his re-arrival borders on desperate yearning.

Harris’s initial statements – ”I’m gonna jump, I’m gonna shout!” – that launch the song after the rousing instrumental intro begin with hearty enthusiasm but not outright glee, but it’s quickly evident that she’s fighting a losing battle trying to keep her emotions in check. The reason for this, one of many reasons actually, is that in addition to the hellraising band behind her she’s being answered vocally by a female chorus that seems bound and determined to undermine her self-restraint.

This is the second time we’ve seen this used to great effect and because of the realities of the era when it came to doling out official credit we can’t be sure who is responsible, both the singers themselves and whoever arranged and produced it. Based on strong circumstantial evidence however it is most likely Paul Gayten handling the latter chores. Back when all of these characters were still on DeLuxe we heard the first case of a female vocal backing group on a rock record on Eddie Gorman’s Telephone Blues and the results were similarly impressive. This duplicates that approach and since Gayten WAS credited then as the pianist and bandleader and since he’d go on to have a long career as a producer, chances are he was already doing so on DeLuxe and then when he headed to Regal as well.

As for who the singers themselves are we still don’t know. We speculated it might’ve been the other New Orleans based female headlining artists (Chubby Newsom, Annie Laurie) chipping in but then again it could be someone else altogether. Whoever they are their presence here on Jump And Shout is no less galvanizing on the featured artist’s enthusiasm. Harris gets increasingly worked up as this goes along until she rips away the more controlled façade – and that’s only comparatively more controlled it should be stated – that she’d been struggling to uphold when she gets to the first verse and admits she doesn’t even KNOW what love is all about.

It sounds as if she’s got a pretty good idea on the subject though even if she didn’t learn it in a textbook.

All of this is conveyed by her vocal passion, sometimes using vague, even non-descriptive, allusions to the type of response this guy generates in her, but getting across the meaning of what she’s describing in ways that should need no anatomical references for anyone outside of a monastery.

But while she definitely has ramped up the energy and urgency in her vocal delivery from last time out – and that was hardly lacking in those areas even then – where she’s sent over the moon is by the equally dynamic playing of the musicians behind her who give every indication that they too are looking forward to whatever sultry, steamy assignations with their own sexual partners they have planned… presumably just moments after laying their instruments down by the sound of it.

If Harris is merely suggestive in what she’s verbally describing, the same can’t be said about the band, who are the ones wholeheartedly endorsing anarchy here.

They stay reasonably under control while she’s singing, but the second she steps aside they cut loose with an unholy gleam in their eye, ripping off some of the most unhinged instrumental breaks we’ve seen. Harris’s doesn’t shyly wait her turn to make a reappearance either, she’s lustily shouting encouragement on the microphone, getting down and dirty on the studio floor even if all of them kept their clothes on during the session.

If the goal of records like this is to paint a picture in the listener’s mind as to the wild goings-on taking place in the song, then mission accomplished. This is one scene that is so vivid you’re apt to come out of listening to it by yourself with lipstick somehow smeared on your cheek, booze splashed on your shirt and someone’s phone number scribbled on a piece of paper stuffed in your pocket.
 

When My Baby Comes Back Home
If somebody is looking to downplay Erline Harris’s role in rock’s momentous early years by passing her off as an opportunist for the obvious use of the movement’s name their case wouldn’t be that strong once you heard the first record she cut earlier in the year, but their case would be absolutely obliterated once you heard THIS record.

Jump And Shout may be generic by nature, there’s nothing particularly inventive here, nothing groundbreaking to hang your hat on, nor something which spearheaded a creative or commercial leap, but as a statement of intent… as an example of the passions rock itself stirred in its artists and its audience… this is hard to beat.

Call it another strong candidate for rock ‘n’ roll’s State Of The Union Address for 1949. A stage that is getting mighty crowded perhaps, but which only shows how wide the sound was spreading and how deep it was impacting the black music world who had embraced all of this mayhem from the start.
 

 

Make no mistake about it, rock ‘n’ roll was here to stay and if Erline Harris would only get fleeting tangential credit for its takeover of the world that was hardly her fault. Regal Records was just launching, there was still some apparent reluctance to promote female artists as being just as debauched as the fellas and of course in historical terms those who’d go on to chronicle rock ‘n’ roll down the road didn’t hear the music from this particular era of rock firsthand or bother talking to those who did.

But even so it’d be almost impossible not to envision the reaction something like Jump And Shout would elicit in a steamy club full of eager degenerates at a rock ‘n’ roll orgy where this kind of unbridled passion wasn’t something to be treated with wide-eyed wonder, but rather something to be shared in by everyone involved.

Lose your inhibitions, lose your mind while you’re at it, but after indulging in something this primal it won’t be what you’ll lose that will be remembered, it will be what you gained by giving in to the urge to jump and shout along with her yourself.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Erline “Rock And Roll” Harris for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)