This same month thanks to a moment of serendipity Frank “Floorshow” Culley played a crucial role in a new group’s first single for Atlantic Records which would have enormous influence over the next decade, changing the entire character of rock vocal group records which previously had never thought to include saxophone solos, preferring instead to have much more discreet accompaniment.

The addition of the wild sax solo gave these songs galvanic energy, boosting their popularity and would help to define the entire style forever after.

Here, on his own single, rather than look forward, break new ground or even keep up with the status quo when it comes to rock instrumentals he, or rather his band, are glancing back over their shoulder ever so slightly at what the world was leaving behind.


Fertilizing The Ground
It’s never the best idea to be possessive of a musician’s artistic output, demanding fealty to the style you prefer, getting angry whenever they deviate from that path to pursue something outside your own tastes.

Artists need to satisfy their own muse or else everything they release is going to be slightly hollow as they’ll be merely filling a role somebody else conceived.

Besides, that’s how you find just who among them are genuine in their belief in the music you DO love. An occasional foray into something different is hardly indicating a break-up is imminent, but repeated violations of rock’s exclusively clause means you probably should be looking elsewhere for your musical fix.

Frank Culley may not be quite in the latter category but he also wasn’t strictly tied to rock ‘n’ roll, despite the fact it’s where he made his name.

Like a lot of people in this field at the time he seemed to want to prove he could play “better” music than the honking refrains the rock was founded on and the flip side of this, a laid back rendition of Cole Porter’s I’ve Got You Under My Skin exemplifies this. It’s a slightly exotic performance, caressing the familiar melody with nice rat-a-tat drumming by jazz great Connie Kay and while there’s a few moments where the trumpet and trombone intrude a little too much, overall it’s an effective mood piece, a perfect fit in your swanky bachelor pad playlist.

But it’s clearly not rock ‘n’ roll.

Culley-Flower on the other hand is a rock performance, although because he’s playing with the same jazz-based musicians it too has somewhat compromised intent.

By now though, with so many of the saxophone brigade having pulled back from the far edge of sanity that their earlier works had always been in danger of crossing, we’ll take what we can get.

Crop Dusting
Structurally this song can’t help but reveal its connection to past styles. Though it’s not anywhere near as rigid in the pop standard found on the flip side, nor as democratic when it comes to letting each instrument get their own extended platform to show off their wares as a pure jazz cut would be, it still resembles both of those approaches in its thinking.

The opening refrain is what you’d call “peppy”… in fact I think that’s how that word was originally coined, to describe this very performance during those opening twenty seconds or so as the horns trade back and forth, bouncing along in jolly fashion, Culley’s sax taking the main part while being answered by that trumpet and trombone played by Wallace Wilson and Phatz Morris respectively.

When Culley steps out front and plays forcefully things pick up. He’s delivering a solid repetitive riff while the other horns answer appropriately. But then just as soon as he’s gotten your attention he drops it again by reverting to a milder approach and your expectations sink.

He’s never completely shying away from that gravelly tone that is a rock trademark for the most part and even some of the more eccentric backing patterns the others play are interesting – that shimmering call to arms piece the trumpet plays where it sounds as if it’s coming from miles away is certainly unique – but there’s no consistency in their tactics.

The best part of the record is probably the title itself, Culley-Flower being a creative play on words that is clearly designed to further established Frank Culley’s name and reputation. The problem is he’s going to get a reputation as an unstable schizophrenic because this song can’t choose a lane and stick to it for long.

At its best, when Culley lets rip a few times or grinds away with that across the tracks vibe he does so well, it comes close to living up to what you as a rock fan is after. The rest of the time, while it never turns its back on you entirely, it leaves you hanging because all the time you know that the right notes, the right attitude, the right image are within reach but they simply aren’t extending their arms far enough to grasp it.

Fresh Produce On The Market
There’s nothing really off-putting about any of this. It’s well played, flows alright, has no unwelcome interludes where another instrument comes in playing a grating atonal passage, and there’s a confidence to it that helps make the conflicting ideas seem less indecisive and more experimental, for whatever that’s worth.

But while on a non-genre purely musical level I’d be willing to bump it up a point for these characteristics, when we’re focused strictly on how well it fits into the rock setting of 1951 it can’t help but be penalized for those same things.

Culley-Flower is a rock song as filtered through a jazz backdrop, a decision not necessarily caused by a distaste for the comparatively limited sound of rock but rather a natural desire to stretch beyond that a little, especially when the artist finds himself in the company of musicians who were more at home in this other neighborhood.

But while we can respect the effort it doesn’t change the fact that the requirements for THIS neighborhood are a little more stringent. Maybe more sophisticated musicians think it’s beneath them, maybe the technical qualities are a lot less pronounced, but if it were so easy to rock effectively then why haven’t more been able to consistently master it and stick with it every time out?

Look back at yesterday’s standards of class all you want, Floorshow, but keep in mind the ones paying the bills are looking to define tomorrow with these records and this one just isn’t going to cut it.


(Visit the Artist page of Frank Culley for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)