Sometimes when listening to these tracks which are now seventy years old and counting there’s a tendency to almost be able to read their minds and guess what they were thinking when they recorded them, as artists, session musicians and record label execs alike tried navigating a musical landscape they didn’t quite fully grasp yet in the hopes of delivering something suitable for this booming market.

Naturally with continued uncertainty in the direction they should be heading the results are bound to be somewhat hit or miss, and while Frank Culley was doing a better job than many when it came to finding the right sound on the majority of his records that still didn’t mean each decision was so clear cut.


Peas And Rice
You can’t really fault Atlantic for putting out this modest offering on the back of a more appropriate – and superior – cut aimed squarely at rock ears, but its release does raise plenty of questions which sadly remain unanswerable unless one of you breaks into Atlantic’s tape vault and makes off with the scads of unreleased sides that Culley recorded throughout 1949… (Miss Meal Cramp; Let Her Roll; Coffee Girlall intriguing titles that hint at dual meanings) but which for one reason or another never saw the light of day.

The reason we’d like to hear them, aside from the fact that Frank Culley has proven himself to be a damn good sax player, is so that we could compare what ultimately got shelved with the songs like this that got released instead. Hop ‘N’ Twist, though a good title and a halfway decent effort all things considered, is a record which suffers from conflicting stylistic attributes that never fully reconcile themselves and listening to it you almost get the idea this was by design.

Culley had gotten his nickname, “Floorshow”, by being the kind of energetic showman rock would catapult to fame but while he definitely proves that rep was well earned here those scintillating attributes are actually only on display for part of the time on this track showing the Atlantic brain trust were still unsure of just how hard to push their musicians into rock ‘n’ roll even after so many positive returns.

So maybe the best way to describe this one is as an ensemble record featuring Frank Culley more than a “Frank Culley record”.

Hop To It
It all kicks off with piano and soft, almost sleepy, sax lines before picking up the pace slightly but not the excitement or the power. When Culley enters the picture just short of a minute in his first notes are exactly the kind of full-bodied sound we want to hear but even that slacks off over the next few bars. He’s still playing well, and there’s a few passages that you wish he explored more, but it’s rather aimless.

Before long Vann Walls comes along to take the most prominent solo, hammering the ivories at both end of the keyboard, energetic but not quite captivating. There are plenty of shouts in the background trying to convince you that they’re really cutting loose in the studio but it’s a mirage as anyone with genuine experience in this realm can tell. The playing is too calculated, the riffs are too straightforward, the climax is too blatantly telegraphed for it to be truly authentic.

When Culley returns his playing is intriguing more than invigorating, a nice surprise maybe and one which had he focused on from the start might’ve made this really alluring, sort of a mood piece for a late night after not seeing much action in your night on the town. Even though this is hardly hit material we’re talking about here, it’s definitely something that you could get into if they explored it further, giving you a colorful backdrop to a thousand and one nocturnal stories that anyone with an active imagination could spin for themselves.

Instead we get no such thing, not because Culley and company decide to switch things up, but rather because they run out of time… or out of ideas… and thus Hop ‘N’ Twist abruptly fades out, the silence in this case being more damning because it cut short the best stretch of playing they’d given us. Like being abruptly called home before the night is over, we’re left feeling unfulfilled and still craving more when the lights go out.


That’s A Twist
The creative arts, film, television, books and music in particular, are an inexact science by nature, yet one that many of its creators or benefactors try and boil down to scientific formula.

The thinking is that by assessing the components of what worked in the past and then trying to conform your new creation to that old model you’ll be more likely to meet with widespread approval. Of course it rarely works and the reason it doesn’t is because the creativity is being confined by that strict adherence to structure.

All of the aspects of Hop ‘N’ Twist work well enough in theory but it’s the execution that lets it down. It’s a record of mismatched parts crammed together and made to fit just well enough to keep your interest but not enough to demand that interest.

In trying to hedge their bets by combining different stylistic attributes… a little bit of honking madness mixed with more restrained jazzy structure… plenty of flashing horns combined with long interludes of other instruments… feints to showcase a wild spirit followed by sounds to elicit a contemplative mood… they wind up with no real message to impart, no definitive statement to make, no unshakable connection to offer listeners.

Take some risks Floorshow – hot or cool, loud or quiet, revved up or laid back, it’s your choice – but pick just one of those each time out, then build upon it to come up with something new and exciting… or something unique and a little beguiling. The pieces are all there, but it just takes a little more focus than this to be remembered.


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