DERBY 747; SEPTEMBER 1950

 
 

 

If once is a whim, twice is a trend and three times is a habit, what does that make Freddie Mitchell’s tendency to go to the music graveyard with his saxophone in one hand and a shovel in the other, digging up the decomposing corpses of ancient songs and trying to play Dr. Frankenstein and breathe new life into them?

What’s the head count now? Four hundred and twelve times is it?

No, it only seems that many, but we’re definitely headed towards triple figures if he hangs around the recording scene long enough.

Here’s another one dating back to the 1920’s that he valiantly tries to make relevant for the 1950’s and somehow, as unlikely as it seems, gamely succeeds at doing just that.

Hey, practice makes perfect I guess.
 

 

The Joy I Never Knew
I’m going out on a limb to say that the majority of rock fans in 1950 were not intimately familiar with the recording career of Ben Pollack And His Central Park Orchestra who issued the first rendition of this song back in 1929. The song however had been quite popular and was only twenty-one years old when Freddie Mitchell tackled it.

Of course similiarly I doubt in 1971 many rock fans were aware of Freddie Mitchell either and at least he’d been playing the same genre of music as the likes of Marvin Gaye, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin and Sly & The Family Stone who were among the dominant rock acts of that year, so this neglect of the past is not era-specific by any means, just generational… as in each generation wants to look forward, not backwards.

But for those who cared to learn about it – then or now – Louise had appeared in the film Innocents Of Paris and Pollack’s rendition featured a young Benny Goodman on clarinet so it was hardly an historically irrelevant song by any means.

Of course as was the custom then – and really until rock changed things in the fifties – the song had a litany of cover versions come out that year with everyone from the biggest star of the day Paul Whiteman issuing a take on it that was sung by Bing Crosby who was still in his band, to lesser lights such as Sam Lanin… in case you want to round out your own collection.

The movie itself was one of the first musicals (remember, “soundies” had only just started being produced a short time earlier) and the on screen rendition of the song was performed by Maurice Chevalier, who was launching his American film career after being a massive success on stage in Europe for years.

A cocaine addict upon his early success in France, Chevalier had learned English while a Prisoner Of War in Germany during World War One which gave him a huge advantage in the years to come when he was able to perform in Great Britain and America and upon his arrival on the big screen he was twice nominated for Academy Awards.

Chevalier’s career would still be going strong into the late 1960’s and so it wasn’t far-fetched to think it might be revived in a totally different style by a rock sax player with a thing for older music.

Nobody though would’ve likely guessed just how much Freddie Mitchell would rev it up in his attempts to make it suitable for these modern times.
 

Just To See And Hear You
Not surprisingly the record starts out with the same modest style of the earliest renditions, horns softly blowing and – this being a Freddie Mitchell record – that tinny piano adding accent notes.

But once the faint melody is established Mitchell comes in acting like a drunken longshoreman crashing a tea party.

That’s hardly a BAD thing however, though I’m not sure Chevalier would approve of how Mitchell is romping through the song without any respect for the lilting qualities the tune had always received in other people’s hands.

The melody remains theoretically intact but it’s jacked up to the extreme which means that those who are fond of Louise and expect her to be the same dainty maiden they were familiar with in years gone by are in for a rude awakening. You can certainly question the wisdom of upending the song this way, because why go to the trouble of picking out recognizable tunes if you’re going to make them unrecognizable… even offensive… to its legions of fans?

Then again, that’s what rock ‘n’ roll is SUPPOSED to do, run roughshod through the Great American Songbook, tearing up the lawn, doing doughnuts in the parking lot and creating a racket when everybody over the age of 35 is trying to get a good night’s sleep.

Mitchell ensures that there’ll be a lot of bleary eyes come morning with the way he’s assaulting this, his saxophone making the aural equivalent of obscene gestures as he and the band essentially mock the standards that the adult world held in such high regard.

From the midway point on he’s just grinding away, the pungent aura of sex seeping from his horn as the rhythm section is just as guilty as Mitchell is with their incessant pounding. Stodgy critics may get lightheaded at the sight of wanton degradation but for those of us who questioned his grasp on rock’s requirements it finally seems he’s beginning to understand what this job actually entails and that means he isn’t here to faithfully replicate the music they’re borrowing, but rather to hijack it for their own illicit needs.

It only took them about fifteen months to figure it out, but hey, better late than never!
 

Seems To Repeat What I Felt At The Start
This is precisely why you learn not to give up on talented people in life. It may take awhile for them to buckle down and apply themselves, but eventually they come around.

During Freddie Mitchell’s first year as a featured performer he seemed unable to learn from his early mistakes. He played well at times within each song but he gave far too much of the responsibility for selling those songs to bandmates who were clearly incapable of carrying a record.

On top of that he kept digging through the pages of history to find recognizable titles with the assumption that their familiarity would mean something to this younger generation he was being asked to appeal to.

Occasionally it worked and he got some regional hits out of it which made it all the more likely he’d never find reason to deviate from that path and we’d be left bitching about the same problems each and every time out.

Well, though we still can complain about some of his worse habits that are proving to be tough to shake, he’s clearly starting to understand the audience he’s playing for. Louise follows in the footsteps of a handful of other records in which he’s increasingly allowed himself to be be more ostentatious – even crude – in his playing while scaling back on the overt connections to past performing styles.

It’s still no guarantee that he’ll be willing or able to keep this up, and let us be the first to say that a few more original songs would allow us to see where his own instincts might take him, but for now, as long as he keeps trying to offend the old guard instead of pander to them, we have no complaints.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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