Sympathy is an interesting emotion in that we feel for those who are undergoing some sort of trauma even though we ourselves are not in any way affected by it directly.

Psychologically though it makes sense as we tend to view it as a precautionary measure in that we fear that someday we might be facing something similar ourselves and when that time comes we don’t want to look around and find nobody cares about our miserable fate, so by offering sympathy to someone else, then down the road somebody might do the same for us.

Here’s a perfect example of that in real time… an artist whose opportunities to record were very few who is getting a full review of a decidedly non-essential song… and truthfully one that is on the farthest reaches of rock to begin with.

Why? Because Fats Noel is all but forgotten as it is and when the only thing he’s plausibly remembered for is the flip side of this, we’d like to show that there was more to him musically than an out of control singer in over his head in sexual matters.

Sympathy in this case is just another way of saying that none of us want a one-line obituary when the time comes.


Lost In The Clamor
Just because we’re sympathetic to his struggle to be remembered doesn’t mean we’re going overboard and trying to claim Fats Noel was some lost giant of rock ‘n’ roll, someone worthy of all the praise we can heap on him.

Besides, we’ve done that a few times already for similarly neglected figures… Albennie Jones, Andrew Tibbs, Erline Harris, Goree Carter, Margie Day. It can’t hurt, but it rarely seems to help much, does it?

To maintain credibility though you have to remain objective in your assessment of an artist’s abilities and be ruthlessly fair when it comes to evaluating their output and in that regard Fats Noel is certainly not going to vault very high on anyone’s list of early rock acts.

Yet that doesn’t mean the surface impressions of him which are largely centered around the somewhat atypical Ride Daddy Ride, a record more far more notorious than it is great, can’t be fleshed out by examining the rest of his work and trying to come to a more honest appraisal of Noel the artist.

Feelin’ The Blues gives us that chance because it is so radically different than the rocket-fueled vocal ode to sex on the other side of this single. Whereas that song started out at full speed and then stepped on the gas as they went, this side keeps everything in second gear, allowing you to get a better idea of the playing abilities of the musicians.

Without the frantic commotion they featured elsewhere there’s nowhere for them to hide here and probably is more indicative of Noel’s true musical DNA.


Slow And Easy
Unlike a lot of rock songs of this period, the blues in the title is not merely a convenient – yet stylistically non-applicable – choice of words. This one actually DOES have strong blues elements in the extended piano part that opens the record.

As played by Bill Spooner it is slow, meditative and perfectly at home in any number of blues motifs – country blues, urban blues, cocktail blues or Delta blues. Put a crackling guitar and harmonica over it and you get one image, but put a crooned elegant vocal on top and you get something entirely different even though the piano itself wouldn’t have to change a note.

With Alfred Matthews’ deceptively loping backing it, the otherwise unadorned track seems like the kind of thing you’d hear in some waterfront bar in a black and white movie where Robert Mitchum is drinking whiskey straight and smoking three cigarettes at a time, eying a blonde who walked in with a man who probably has fifteen minutes more to live.

The music isn’t giving away the plot mind you, just lulling you into a false sense of security.

If that were all it had to offer then Feelin’ The Blues wouldn’t be much more than an atmospheric afterthought, nor would it have much business in a history of rock ‘n’ roll account, but since the credited artist hasn’t even appeared yet, we know that this will soon change.

Fats Noel, a saxophonist by trade, despite what his amped up vocal on the flip suggested, comes wandering in out of the fog exactly midway through, his horn taking on the same laid-back, almost comatose attitude of the bass to start with.

It too is more concerned with establishing mood than calling attention to itself, but the tonal shift from keys to sax, the added melodic elements it brings and the slight shift in dynamics along the way as he bears down on some notes and eases off others, gives this decidedly more character than had it remained strictly a piano exercise.

All of it has an understated groove to it… nothing remotely close to the best sides of Sonny Thompson maybe, but it uses the same basic concept which is to get the listener to relax so the music will escort you away into a hazy netherworld pitched midway between dreams and reality.

Maybe it’s hardly worth the trip in the end, but while you’re drifting off under its spell you probably won’t be raising any complaints about the meandering ride they’re taking you on which tells you that, as modest as their aims were, they succeeded.

Two Sides To Every Story
This is a record that can be looked at from multiple angles, each valid unto themselves but not painting a full picture unless you take them all into account.

It’s really cohesive and well played, yet decidedly unambitious and not all that difficult technically.

It’s got a nice casual groove that is easy to slide into a rock playlist, yet it’s also got a stylistic flexibility that allows you to put it into other genres and say the same thing.

Each of those perspectives have to be considered making Feelin’ The Blues something that bolsters Fats Noel’s artistic credibility while at the same time not doing a lot to give him an artistic singularity that all great acts have.

Because it’s not intended to be much more than a mood piece, and one where the rock elements are downplayed for much of the time, we can’t even give it full credit for what it does effectively since we’re more interested in what it does effectively for rock ‘n’ roll audiences whose tastes they have to appeal to.

But Fats Noel earns our sympathy as an artist nevertheless because like anyone he deserves to have the full scope of his work taken into account rather than just one admittedly ear-catching moment.

While this subdued effort is hardly the kind of thing that will make you forget the more ostentatious flip side, it IS something that will hopefully encourage you to see that he had another side to his musical persona that had some modest value in its own right.


(Visit the Artist page of Fats Noel for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)