Sailors routinely name their boats after beautiful women (occasionally maybe even their wives) as did pilots during World War Two. It’s a harmless tribute that gives notice to those admiring the name… if not the woman… that they’re somewhat creative.

Unfortunately the same could not always be said of record companies in the era of rock instrumentals when picking out names for songs which were lacking lyrics from which to draw their titles.

As a result these records were not adorned with the name of some silver screen siren, a statuesque stripper or even their own sweet sister Sadie, but rather with the names of a bunch of middle aged men on the periphery of the music industry who might do the company some good.

Which is why Maxie Waxie Silverman, a Washington DC record store owner, gets his second notable rock instrumental named in his honor.


Back To The Record Shop
Since we already delved into Silverman’s story on the aforementioned Waxie Maxie by Paul Williams from the summer of 1948 – which I know you’ll all eagerly go back and read to bring yourselves up to date – we don’t have to get into that again here other than to say Silverman’s prominence in the nation’s capital made courting favors with him a matter of course for those in the business.

Because Atlantic Records’s founder Ahmet Ertegun had grown up in D.C. while his father was the Turkish ambassador to the United States in the 1930’s and early ’40’s, Ahmet had first hand knowledge of Silverman’s store – The Quality Radio Repair Shop – and accumulated much of his own vast collection going through the racks there. Silverman also invested in Ertegun’s first failed record company a few years back and now that Ahmet’s second effort was becoming a success it was Silverman who also acted as sort of a talent scout/tipster for Atlantic around the region.

With all that backstory I suppose you could claim this was a little more justified than some of the blatant payola-themed titles bestowed on radio disc jockey’s even though it hardly was an innocent noble tribute either. But as song titles go Waxie Maxie Boogie has a fairly good ring to it.

The title aside though the real story of this record has nothing to do with Silverman, and for that matter it has less to do with Frank Culley than you might expect, because there’s another figure whose name doesn’t appear on the label who should receive a lion’s share of the attention for what the record has to offer.

Sax Man Meet Piano Man
By this stage of the game we know that Frank Culley was a good sax player with a natural feel for rock ‘n’ roll as opposed to being a jazz convert whose heart wasn’t always in what he was playing, but now he was sharing the stage with another of Atlantic’s many unsung heroes of their early days.

It’s not the first time we’ve met Harry “Piano Man” Van Walls, who was (as his nickname attests) a piano player for the studio band as well as a songwriter and de facto arranger, but this is where it starts to become clear how vital he was in helping to shift Atlantic’s focus more towards boisterous rock over the next year or so. Because Culley frequently doubled as a session player himself for other artists on the label the two of them worked together a lot and on this song they proved their mettle as collaborators right off the bat.

Waxie Maxie Boogie features Vann Walls up front at the very start (Vann was his last name – with two n’s and Walls was his stepfather’s name, but the first n was often dropped to match the Piano Man moniker on labels), bashing away on the keys, almost bordering on an atonal sort of sound but keeping it tethered to the melody that will follow.

When the horn comes in Vann Walls buckles down and the two instruments leave you uncertain as to which is going to be the focal point of the record. Initially it’s unquestionably the piano in command of the track as Culley is playing a clear supporting role echoing the barrelhouse workout on the keys without directly challenging it. But as it goes on listen to how the two subtly switch roles midway through this early stretch, not with some sudden clunky transition but rather the piano slowly eases back and the sax inches forward, all done so smoothly that you barely notice it until along the way you realize Culley is now out in front.

But once he gets there that’s when the problems arise for he’s playing something completely out of place for a rock song, a quasi-bop concept that transitions into supper club jazz… a little more forceful maybe but no more inventive. It’s almost as if he was testing out ideas in real time and this is one that definitely doesn’t work, making you question their goals heading into this.

Yet as soon as you’re about to beg for Vann Walls to return and put Frank out of his pretentious misery Culley picks up the energy just before the one minute mark and starts blowing with a little more ragged enthusiasm, trying to remind you of why he was dubbed “Floorshow” in the first place. It’s not the most dynamic we’ve heard him play by any means, in fact it’s a little sloppy to tell the truth, but it’s got the right idea and when he hands the baton back to Vann Walls the record is at least back on track.

Hang On Tight
Whether or not what follows makes it a great record is up for debate… very mild debate I’ll grant you because they’re too unfocused in their playing to approach greatness, but they’re really good down the stretch playing with a loose freewheeling attitude, each of them determined to add to the cacophony while nimbly avoiding stepping on one another’s feet.

The space they give one another in such tight quarters is the best technical attribute of Waxie Maxie Boogie as they – and the drummer who stands out in his own right – come close to colliding with their parts yet somehow avoid knocking each other over in a heap. This is certainly a testament to Vann Wall’s arranging ability for while this is designed to sound as if it’s all off-the-cuff, and does a good job in conveying that feel, it’s far too perfectly timed for that to be the case.

Vann Wall’s assault on the treble keys that segued into the second half are bruising while Culley’s increasingly unhinged responses send this over the top. By the two-thirds mark they’re hitting on all cylinders, the band shouting encouragement as they’ve somehow miraculously found a fairly strong melody along the way to hang their hats on.

Throughout this bedlam the piano and drums are anchoring the rhythm and the general mood is one of joyous abandon. Even when Culley reaches for notes he can’t quite grip tightly and it comes perilously close to spiraling out of control they manage to cling to the wheel and keep it on course.

Almost in spite of itself the song holds together to the very end, their skill as musicians admittedly getting almost lost in the din but certainly making a strong impression for their rambunctious approach alone.

Carry On
We have no idea of what Max Silverman thought of such boisterous shrieking and honking done in his honor, or if his record shop, which had been a bastion for the jazz aficionado in prior years, would even want such noise being played there and potentially scaring the more cultivated clientele away, but if nothing else it at least served notice that Frank Culley was betting heavily on rock ‘n’ roll, even if Atlantic Records still required further convincing to double down on the wager across the board.

Waxie Maxie Boogie therefore makes for a good place holder in their journey… a confirmation of their earlier intent, a reminder of what they were capable of, and a sign that with a little more fine tuning they might just become major players in the game after all.

Of course, they could’ve accomplished all of this had they instead named it after that elusive stripper or someone’s sister too, but the details of such a song’s origins would probably prove harder to definitively pin down, so in the long run I suppose this was easier for all of us.


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