No tags :(

Share it

DERBY 723; OCTOBER, 1949



When it comes to music creativity can be defined in a few ways but we’ll focus on just two of them today.

The first, and the more widely admired no doubt, is to break entirely new ground in something you do… to go where no man, or woman, has gone before musically. There’s a reason why names like Charlie Parker and James Brown still have such cachet, even among those who aren’t necessarily devoted fans of their music. The fact that they pioneered something which had seemingly never been even contemplated before makes their achievements all the more impressive.

But those types of artists are hard to come by and so the other, far more common, form of creativity is to merely adapt something already conceived by others in a unique way, thereby expanding the possibilities of the style.

If you want to throw in another factor for extra credit in the creativity department you can do so if the artist in question takes advantage of good timing and doesn’t hesitate to capitalize on something the moment it becomes possible, which is what Freddie Mitchell did coming down the stretch in 1949 with both sides of his follow-up to a national hit.

Though he was hardly breaking any new ground with how he was playing, he was adapting the established honking rock sax approach to two holiday themed songs and was doing so just as the timing for it was breaking right. It didn’t wind up getting him hits, somewhat surprisingly, so he’ll just have to settle for commendation here for that small bit of creativity.

…Yeah, I guess you’re right, he would have preferred getting a hit out of it, creativity be damned.

Out With The Old…
So often around here we complain about the boneheaded moves that so many record labels make, even the ones which ultimately became successful have more than their share of missteps along the way, usually the result of being conservative and unimaginative in their releases.

So it’s nice – not to mention kinda rare – to be able to give credit to a company, a small one at that without much historical recognition, for doing something that showed a little bit of sense for a change.

I’ll admit that pairing a Christmas song with a New Year’s song in time for the holidays was hardly re-inventing the wheel but when your biggest… scratch that… when your only star on the label was a saxophone player who released nothing but instrumentals it was hard to have a steady supply of original material that might have the requisite components for a hit.

Yes, Freddie Mitchell knew full well he had to play in a certain style, either aggressive and sort of raunchy, or locked into a mellow seductive groove, but in both cases they required a good song structure and a catchy melody and those could be in short supply when trying to come up with one after another after another to fit the bill.

So by taking advantage of the upcoming holiday season and being the first rock artist to cut a Christmas instrumental, then backing that up on the flip side with another one intended for New Year’s, you’ve fulfilled a few very important conditions in one fell swoop. For starters you’ve released something that has two potential built-in audiences… rock fans first and foremost of course, but also music fans in general who were looking for new innovative takes on a Christmas song.

The other thing you did was make sure that one side of the record didn’t become obsolete come January thereby necessitating replacing the holiday song with something else, wasting a new cut in the process while frustrating those who’d already purchased the original release, as happened last year with both The Orioles and Johnny Otis.

Of course, creative or not, the success or failure of Auld Lang Syne Boogie would still come down to just how appropriate the arrangement was for rock fans, and how celebratory a mood Freddie Mitchell was in while recording it long before the New Year rung in.

Wait ‘Til The Midnight Hour
On the top side of this release, Jingle Bell Boogie, Mitchell was definitely in the Christmas spirit the way he blew up a storm during his solo, sounding as if he were handing out toys to all the little rock ‘n’ roll boys and girls in the neighborhood, but unfortunately the producers… or Mitchell himself since he was also Derby Records A&R man… was far too generous in granting time to pianist Rip Harrington whose playing was decidedly unpolished… and not in an exciting way if you’re thinking that all of rock should be rough around the edges.

Because we have the same musicians playing on the same session with the same overall concept here, and since only the holiday itself has changed, we have to be a little wary of what awaits us. If they’ve carried over the same basic arranging ideas and Mitchell, despite being the credited artist, takes a back seat to a supporting player, then this might be one New Year’s Eve bash we’d turn in early for and just read about the festivities the next day instead.

But if Mitchell is going to be the one leading the cheers as the clock strikes twelve with Auld Lang Syne Boogie then we’ll definitely want to stay up to usher in 1950 with him.


The good news right off the bat is that Mitchell is front and center blowing the familiar drunken anthem lustily and sounding as if he’s already been celebrating long before we rolled into the party. He’s not beating around the bush either, trying to build up slowly before cutting loose, he’s at full throttle right away which gets everybody within earshot in the right mood before the ball drops at midnight.

Unfortunately midnight winds up coming slightly early this year, as in Harrington once again takes over for the middle section and shows off his inability to master more than simplistic ham-fisted keyboard bashing technique.

Usually the Derby pianist is Joe Black, who in fact gets his own release this month as lead artist, so maybe Harrington was just a fill-in, or even a non de plume Black used to disguise his involvement, something which he’d further ensure by playing as if he’d slammed his hands in a car door and his fingers all had splints on them so he couldn’t flex his knuckles and play with more grace and lightness of touch.

Whatever the case Harrington is simply pounding the keys rather than actually generating excitement, as if he believes the harshness with which you hit the ivories turns something into rock all by itself. We know, even if he doesn’t, that it’s the rhythm you have while playing that gets things rocking and Harrington has none.

But again the idea of splitting the duties is a strong one on paper, since it’s an awful lot to ask of Mitchell to play non-stop from start to finish, but they’re hamstrung by enlisting the wrong man to handle the job. Imagine in Harrington’s place the likes of Amos Milburn, Little Willie Littlefield or Ivory Joe Hunter who were all tearing up the charts around this time… or perhaps Paul Gayten, Sonny Thompson or Devonia Williams. In any of their hands this could’ve been really well done, keeping the melody intact while adding lots of harmonic textures and enough showy flourishes to make it stand out.

In Harrington’s hands however it sounds like the typical two finger technique at work… the notes may be struck in the right order but that’s all you can say. He does improve towards the end of his solo, lightening up on his heavy handed technique, but he’s sticking so far to the extreme right side of the keyboard that he’s eliminating the richer sounding notes from the equation altogether. On a song like this, with such a simple melody, that’s not a smart move.

When The Hangover Hits
That of course is the other elephant in the room – the fact that as a song Auld Lang Syne Boogie is extremely limited, whether they boogie or not while playing it.

Think about when you hear this being sung on those street corners in frigid New York as the seconds tick down to midnight, or some barroom when you’re jammed in with your crew as the clock strikes twelve, probably wishing you’d had another drink or two to numb your senses by the first refrain, or even while watching a movie that takes place on New Year’s Eve that has the entire crowd singing it… Now ask yourself this: How long does the singing actually last?

Not long. About thirty seconds usually, hardly ever more than a minute. From the opening line which already sounds as if it you’ve reached the mid-way point of the song – “Should old acquaintance be forgot”… – to the final “drink a cup of kindness…” the whole thing is rather condensed. It’s not so much a full song as it is a few refrains.

Because of that there’s no variations within for a musician to expand upon and still retain the melodic line. That’s why Mitchell needed to have an even bigger role here, one which allows him to depart from the safe ground of the sing-along sections everyone knows so well and create something on his own to embellish it, even if it’s just ramping up the enthusiasm by playing some repetitive honk and squeal routine until the roof is about to explode. Then he can turn it over to Harrington to re-establish the familiar melody before Mitchell comes back to relieve him of those duties as well and take it to the finish.

If they’d taken that route Auld Lang Syne Boogie might’ve worked pretty well. As it is, while what Mitchell plays is good, you could easily cut this song down by thirty seconds, chopping the section from 1:20 to 1:50, if not excising another twenty two seconds and launch back into things at the 2:12 mark, and have a much more solid record. But three minutes is too long for such a slight composition. If you had to wait three whole minutes to give your sweetie a kiss when the New Year rings in you’d probably skip it altogether.

But even though neither side of this record is all it could be, that doesn’t mean that what’s here isn’t worthy of the festivities associated with the holidays. Mitchell’s parts are better than anything he’s shown to date and proves he has the ability to hang with the stars in the rock sax brigade. He could find himself some better sidemen but that’s what New Year’s Resolutions are for I guess.

Apply within.


(Visit the Artist page of Freddie Mitchell for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)