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DERBY 737; APRIL 1950



“By the numbers” is a term that means simply taking the usual means to achieve a certain goal, yet more often than not, especially when referencing a song, it takes on a far more critical meaning.

Though the goal of records is to sell them and therefore using the same methods that have worked in the past makes reasonable sense on paper, the flaw in that approach is that to the audience records are hardly interchangeable “product”. The listener views music as an art form that gives them something unique that they can’t get elsewhere. That means not only does each artist need to bring something different to the table to distance them from every other artist on the market, but they also need to make sure that each release is sufficiently different from the last one they issued as well so they don’t become stagnant or redundant.

At times Freddie Mitchell seems that he’s not merely eschewing creativity, which is bad enough, but that he’s settling into conformity, which in rock circles can be unforgivable.


Once More Around The Block
We probably don’t need to give more than a passing run-down of what you’ll hear when you cue this record up because nothing has changed. Tinkly piano, mild droning horns that want to suggest riffing without actually committing to it wholeheartedly, all of which sets a fairly tepid base for which Freddie Mitchell can come in and act as the hero for being just a little more rambunctious in his soloing.

If that was indeed the goal for their repetitive game plans on all these records it doesn’t say much about Mitchell’s confidence in his own playing if he has to resort to letting his band look bad so he can look good by comparison.

Boogie Blues follows that generic script to the letter. Originally a somewhat slinky big band jazz record cut by drummer Gene Krupa, its best attributes – relatively speaking that is – were the lyrics and sly delivery of vocalist Anita O’Day, which of course are eliminated in Mitchell’s instrumental version. The fact that the Krupa record featured the kind of blaring group horns of the previous era also makes it out of step with rock ‘n’ roll and since it hardly had a noteworthy melody and not even any lively drum work to make it recognizable you wonder why Mitchell thought this of all things would be appropriate in 1950.

When you cue the record up your assessment quickly proves to be an accurate one as they start off in uninspired fashion. If anything Mitchell went too far in the other direction by toning this down to the extreme, giving the impression of a small supper clubs orchestra the way these horns gently sway to the stock charts they’ve been given. Unless you can get the waiter’s attention and get a few cocktails into you quickly, you’re ready to gather your coat and hat and head to to door before the first refrain.

But then here comes Mitchell, riding in on his trusty steed, a cardboard smile plastered on his face like a B-movie cowboy coming into town to save the day by blowing his tenor sax as the stuntmen dutifully fall to the ground at each honk he throws their way.

No, it’s hardly very original, nor very convincing, but as Mitchell goes along and his tone coarsens ever so slightly followed by a second horn taking the reins, or just him doing double duty in a different role, you start to be won over ever so slightly and at least will wait until dinner is served before complaining to the management.


Going Through The Motions
Say what you will about his sometimes conservative choices, but Mitchell’s a good enough saxophonist where you actually want to hear him succeed based on merit.

If he wanted to there’s little doubt he could honk, squeal and wail with suitable conviction and get you to believe he was unleashing his inner most emotional fury, but for whatever reason he holds back, giving just enough of what the audience craves to satiate their milder demands while never going over the top to see if he can create a more rabid response.

But because he surrounds himself with musicians even more timid than he there’s always the belief he’s better than he is, and here Mitchell gives that misleading perception once again with the second soloing break after the two minute mark which seems almost violent by contrast to what preceded it.

Now that he’s honking with more authority there’s even the chance you might start grooving your shoulders or twitching your leg if you let yourself get carried away… until you realize that if you were to put him on stage with some of rock’s most fervent honkers while he was serving up this weak sauce he’d be blown off the stage entirely.

Therein lies the dilemma when trying to make sense of not just this record but all of Freddie Mitchell’s output. Boogie Blues is merely competent, but not galvanizing… appropriate for rock without ever hoping to define it… or to go back to the original premise here it’s conformist, not creative. How on earth are you expected to respond to that sort of mentality?

Should you just be grateful that they haven’t turned their back on rock ‘n’ roll for something more cultured, thereby confirming rock’s growing stature in the music world in 1950 by sticking with it? Is it fair to criticize them for being consistently acceptable simply because you want them to be occasionally incredible? Do you credit them for meeting their rather modest goals or do you skewer them for not aiming higher to start with?

I’m not really sure to tell you the truth. I can’t bring myself to praise a record for being “blandly satisfactory”, yet it’s hard to call it worthless garbage when there are no missteps in its playing nor even wildly inappropriate instrumental passages in its arrangement.

Instead it just sort of is “there”, unobtrusive but not irredeemable.


In the end songs like this, and perhaps artists like this, are oddly just striving to not really be noticed.

For those of us on the outside looking in however, raised on stories of those who relentlessly sought stardom from the moment they first got into music, it’s odd to confront someone who clearly is not hoping to set the world on fire. With Boogie Blues he certainly doesn’t have to worry about that, for this record would be unable to even create a spark, much less ignite a blazing inferno.

Unlike most rock ‘n’ rollers whose unquenchable desire for fame and glory is their primary motivation, Freddie Mitchell has an entirely different mindset… he understands the downside to striving for greatness is that if he tried too hard to do something to stir your passions there’s a much greater risk of falling flat on his face.

So instead he’s made a Faustian bargain with his career – let him stick around, draw a paycheck and get some polite applause every now and then and he’ll promise not to distract you from who you really came to listen to.

Okay, Freddie, as long as we know where we both stand we’ll let you be.


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