DERBY 739; JULY 1950



I’m afraid I owe Freddie Mitchell an apology and rather than waste time and beat around the bush, kicking the ground awkwardly while hemming and hawing, stammering a little before blurting out a mumbled “i’msorryfreddie” in the hopes that will suffice, I’m going to be up front about it and devote the entire introduction of this review to issuing a very public act of contrition.

For months now we’ve seriously questioned… even ridiculed… his choice of material. Even as we’ve occasionally praised the aesthetic results we’ve found plenty of fault with the basic concept of plundering the Great American Songbook for moldy standards in lieu of original material.

I mean why bother being a rock artist in the first place if you’re going to merely revive older songs from other musical genres already out of date? Don’t look back at what was left behind just because you think those time-tested compositions are stronger musically than anything you could come up with.

Have some faith in yourself, Freddie! Put pen to paper and sketch something out. You obviously know how to play and you’re in the instrumental racket, so there’s no need to even come up with lyrics which cuts your job in half!

…But now that he HAS done just that and contributed a song that came from his own imagination, something he may very well have agonized over for weeks on end and is now offering it up for our approval we can only say… Oh how we wish you didn’t!

Sorry, Freddie, we were wrong. You should let somebody else write your stuff after all.

My bad.


Fish Stories
There are two problems surrounding this record, only one of which is Freddie Mitchell’s fault.

The first is that he is essentially Derby Records only viable artist and since they presumably want to remain in business they’ve forced him to come out with a new single every other day it seems… this is in fact his fifth release of year already and he’s got another coming out later this same month, meaning he’ll have three records issued in just six weeks!

Though he can’t be blamed for that I’m getting tired of writing about him frankly… which leads to the second problem, which IS his fault.

All of his arrangements are remarkably similar, no matter their source.

Things always start with a tinkly piano that sticks to the high end of treble keys played with stiff-fingered oafishness, a sound so grating that it was soon adapted by various rogue nations as their primary form of torture for captured prisoners.

Then, assuming that listeners haven’t yanked the power cord from the jukebox or stabbed their eardrums with an ice pick to put them out of their misery, Mitchell comes along with his sax in an attempt to redeem the records.

Very often he’s able to do so but usually not without an unwelcome return of the pianist to remind us of what hell awaits us after we’re dead and gone if we don’t follow the golden rule, eat all of our vegetables and help little old ladies across the street while we’re here on earth.

Because he sticks to that formula like fly paper the success or failure of those records often comes down to the underlying appeal of the melody itself, which obviously explains his predilection for familiar chestnuts.

But what is so inexplicable about Fish Market Boogie, a song he himself had a hand in writing, isn’t just that it follows the same game plan in the arrangement, but that he gives it such a wandering, sometimes torturous melody… and then plays much of it as if he stuck the mouthpiece to his sax up his nostril instead and was blowing the horn that way just for a delightful change of pace!


Low Tide
When listening to this record you’d be excused for thinking it was some kid taking piano lessons screwing around when he thought he was home alone.

The first full minute of Fish Market Boogie features nothing BUT the piano, trying our patience as usual.

The opening is at least tolerable as the left hand’s somewhat drowsy boogie riff is setting a rhythm that has a faint pulse, but the right hand is doing its best to cut off the circulation and snuff out the glimmer of life it shows by prancing around the treble keys. The longer this goes on the more successful its murderous attempts become and before long we’re looking for someone in the room to record the time of death. I put it at 22 seconds myself, but maybe your brain waves will still show some life for a little longer… but if so, I don’t envy you.

Once we pass the one minute mark the horns finally come in, as if they realized they wouldn’t get paid if they couldn’t prove they were actually present in the room, but they’re playing with a big band derived sheen to them.

Mitchell changes that when he enters next, but we wish the big band slammed the door in his face because he’s blowing aimlessly, tonelessly and excruciatingly when it comes to us maintaining our sanity.

Thankfully (and to show how far we’ve sunk, I literally can not believe I’m writing this) we’re rescued by… the same piano we just pilloried.

I know, take slow deep breaths and remain calm, it’ll all be over soon, I promise!

Whether it’s the relief of having a worse irritant removed, or if Art Sims is simply playing a more appropriate – or discreet – passage than he’d started with, the fact is we’d probably be grateful for anything that took us closer to the end of this so-called record.

In that spirit we have the best stretch of an otherwise interminable experience as the full horn brigade – yes, those same out of place big band devotees we also complained about earlier – return for a lusty finish, blowing with genuine passion and a full-bodied tone that is quite good and reminds us, and hopefully them, that this was a rock record after all and should’ve been treated as such from the start rather than have embarrassed themselves with whatever it is they were doing instead.


Dead Fish
Maybe it’s the frequency of his releases that is making our heads spin, and surely the repetitiveness in the arrangements isn’t helping his cause when it comes to being more tolerant of his shortcomings, but as we keep saying Mitchell knows how to play and play well for rock ‘n’ roll, yet he all too frequently undercuts his own cause with these directionless jams.

When things break right we applaud him and hope that he’ll learn his lesson and will give us more of the same, but instead he usually reverts back to his terribly flawed concepts and promptly sinks whatever momentum he’d hoped to build.

At this point it’s gotten so frustrating that we won’t even bother reviewing the equally clueless flip side, this one a cover of the big-band standard co-written by legendary powerhouses Benny Goodman and Lionel Hampton which Mitchell re-cast as Till Tom Boogie, other than to say that the same wayward path he started down on the side we just reviewed is where he continues to head on that one as well, making this by far the worst single of his career to date.

Yet as insufferable as Fish Market Boogie is, we haven’t given up on Mitchell. We know he’s capable of much more than what he shows here, even though by now we’re reasonably sure he’ll never take the giant leap we’ve been holding our breath for and take his place alongside the top sax madmen on the rock scene.

Instead, all we want out of him now is just a little mercy when it comes to his releases… maybe spread them out a little more so we have time to recover from a particularly misguided one, or perhaps take a page from The Orioles who after ruining far too many records with agonizingly repetitive missteps of their own at least have the common decency to set aside their bad instincts every so often and pour all of their best ideas into the remaining few sides which get us singing their praises again and claiming the many duds we had to wade through to get to the gems may just have been worth it in the end to hear them at their best.

The bar has therefore been lowered for you, Freddie… now do us a favor and try not to trip over it again.


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