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DERBY 752; DECEMBER 1950

 
 

 

As we come down the final stretch – the final week in fact – of rock releases for 1950, we still have some surprises in store, such the welcome arrival of not one, but TWO new female vocalists on the scene.

That they both recorded for the same record label only adds to the surprise, but after learning that bit of information what isn’t at all surprising is that Derby Records managed to screw both of them over by releasing their debuts on the same single, giving one side to each artist.

Oh well, the more things change the more record companies stay the same… stupid and shortsighted!
 

 

That Makes Me Mad
The story of how Eunice Davis, already thirty years old and still trying to get into music through bringing her songs to publishers and singing at The Apollo Theater’s legendary Wednesday night amateur contest (where she also worked as an usherette to be around show biz), got to make her recording debut is a typically frustrating one.

She had met Freddie Mitchell who had been churning out one instrumental after another for Derby Records, most of which sold well, but he knew – even if the record company didn’t – that he had to expand his repertoire to keep on top. Mitchell told Davis to write some songs and they’d take them to Derby and cut them together.

That’s where they ran into trouble in the form of Larry Newton, the brain-dead owner of the label who balked at messing with Mitchell’s stale formula of reviving old standards and “rocking them up”.

Never mind the fact that Mitchell was running out of songs – they’d issued approximately 3,527 of them over the past year already – or the fact they all started sounding alike after awhile. Never mind the fact that with so many Freddie Mitchell releases it meant the entire label was reliant on just one artist to carry them and if interest in him waned the entire business would go down in flames. Newton, like most stupid people, was also stubborn and couldn’t admit his business approach was entirely wrong.

Further souring Newton on Davis was the fact she wanted to actually be PAID for her work, an affront that no self-respecting record executive would take lying down, so he refused to let her cut anything. Only when she showed up at a session for Sarah Dean that Mitchell was playing on did she get her chance simply because Dean didn’t have enough songs and they needed something else to be able to issue a single.

In spite of this it still took three hours of Mitchell and Derby employee Phil Rose berating Newton to give her a chance that the son of a bitch finally relented. After coming up with a quick head arrangement they promptly cut the dazzling Rock Little Daddy in just one take.

Hearing it Newton was now so impressed that he immediately tried to force her to sell him the song rights and in the process cost himself a potential star when she flatly refused.

Yes, just another example of how the record industry – and music in general – survived in spite of the very people who controlled it.

But it thrived because of singers like Eunice Davis.
 


 

Made Me Squeal
With its title directly referencing not just the brand of music itself but also the secondary sexual euphemism that inspired it and lyrics that double down on that topic, this has all the hallmarks of a hit, provided Davis can deliver it effectively and Mitchell’s band can sidestep their tendency at replicating a particularly shaky arrangement they’ve fallen in love with on their own singles where the tinny piano carries as much weight as Mitchell’s lusty saxophone.

Thankfully Rock Little Daddy manages to do that, although hearing the piano kick this off – albeit a few keys down the scale from their usual approach – makes you a little uneasy at first.

Once Davis comes in though your fears subside as the horns behind her are laying down a multi-layered rhythm and the drums and bass are firmly in her corner, thereby making the piano the odd man out or forcing it to come back into the fold.

But make no mistake about it, Davis is the show here, her voice is strong, if a little shrill, and her exuberant delivery leaves no question as to what she’s describing when she tells us in no uncertain terms about her man’s bedroom skills. Though the lyrics technically avoid any X-rated descriptions of endowment, sexual positions or specific techniques, everything else is laid pretty bare.

She – and the band driving the point home aurally – hammer away on the title line, the word “rock” being bolstered by a crackling drum kick while her voice on that word comes from deep within her gut, selling the true meaning to all but the most dense listener. If that alone wasn’t enough to tip you off then the rest of the lyrics are pretty unambiguous themselves, as she gleefully leads into the title line from various angles, each one making sure that there’s no way to misinterpret any of it.

She even goes so far as to say that anything that makes her feel this good “can’t be bad”, thereby offering a preemptive response to those who think ladies shouldn’t enjoy carnal acts, or if they do they shouldn’t talk about them in public like this.

Compare this to Patti Page’s All My Love, a song that would soon top the charts, ostensibly about the same thing, yet listening to it you’d swear that the most she and her man have done together is hold hands…maybe given her a kiss on the cheek in a well lit public place, lest there be any rumors started over their relationship.

By contrast Davis is getting it on with her fella in the dark each night and giving everyone who plays this record a chance to be a voyeur. Indiscreet it’s not, but then again if it offends you that’s what pop music and Patti Page are for.
 

Rock Me In Rhythm And Satisfy My Soul
Though Mitchell’s band is naturally going to take a back seat to Eunice Davis on this record, not only because she’s in top form, but also because… well, because she’s the one getting her rocks off, not them, their job is simply to provide appropriate support for her trysts.

That means keep the noise up to make sure no landlord or hotel manager hears the sexual commotion and knocks the door down to put a stop to it. If the band can also provide some appropriate grinding rhythms to help suggest what is going on behind those closed doors, all the better.

We know Mitchell himself is capable of this, but there are times on his own records where he’s forced to abdicate that role to others who’ve proven less willing to fulfill this need. On Rock Little Daddy it’s more of a unified effort for the first minute and remains effective even if it doesn’t manage to raise the bar any. The churning horns are good and the drums are crisp but there’s not quite enough of a dirty vibe being given off while they do it.

Their clothes haven’t been torn off yet to use a rather obvious analogy.

When Mitchell steps into the forefront though he’s unbuttoning his drawers from the start, giving us a slowly building strip-tease performance, his intensity rising as he goes… maybe taking too much satisfaction in the teasing aspect rather than the stripping part of the bargain, but it works well enough, if only to keep the focus more on Davis who jumps back in with fervor after his solo.

The drums now are just taking over, bashing away with the kind of uninhibited bad taste that non-rock audiences find offensive on general principle. Naturally that’s just what the arrangement needs to drive the point home. As Davis wails away down the stretch without any embarrassment over the indecent subject matter she gives notice that the void left by Chubby Newsom’s premature departure from the scene as rock’s resident female seductress is going to be capably filled as long as she has anything to say about it.
 


 

Send Me With Rock ‘n’ Roll
It’s that last part of the equation of course that’s always uncertain when it comes to the record game. Companies like Derby were in over their head because they were being operated by dimwitted people with no musical inclinations. To them it mattered not what was on these records as long as they sold enough to keep them in the black.

Taking creative chances in the studio was perceived risky, so that was largely discouraged. Artistic independence was viewed as revolutionary and so it was squashed. As a result long term commercial solvency was dubious which is why so many of these labels that seemed to have the right personnel wound up sabotaging their own chance at sustained success with terrible decisions.

By all rights Eunice Davis should’ve become a cornerstone for Derby Records and Rock Little Daddy should’ve been paired up with a second side of hers, even if it had to be pushed back a few weeks, rather than sticking this on the flip of another artist altogether.

With her releasing a new single every few months they could’ve alternated their big releases – Mitchell being the other – so there was always something worthwhile on the market. Instead they did what so many other companies did, looked a gift horse in the mouth and spit the bit (to mix equine metaphors).

But Eunice Davis, though she won’t be long for the company, would leave her mark for others down the road and ultimately that’s what matters most, the artists and the records they make, not the idiots they’re stuck recording for.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Eunice Davis as well as Freddie Mitchell for the complete archive of their respective records reviewed to date)