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DERBY 741; JULY 1950



It’s been a bit of a struggle to try and figure out the mindset behind the records of Freddie Mitchell since joining rock’s front line in the spring of 1949.

Over the ensuing 14 months he released a ton of singles, the early ones being largely self-penned which showed some good playing instincts at times but were generally hampered by a lack of conviction in what he was doing.

Then, possibly because he was unable to come up with enough new material to ensure a steady stream of releases, he began adapting older standards from pop and jazz mostly, toughening them up to a degree with some grittier sax solos and attaching the word “boogie” to their titles to indicate they were for rock audiences rather than those more familiar with the songs from their past incarnations.

Though each of these approaches occasionally paid dividends, the lack of imagination in both cases when it came to arrangements and overall musical vision has relegated Mitchell to the second tier of sax stars… and sometimes he’s lucky to even make the cut for the junior varsity squad, something this moldy ten year old song will do nothing to change.


Summer Swoon
If July wasn’t such a fallow month for new rock releases in 1950 it’s likely we’d be skipping over this entirely but since we have relatively few singles on our agenda this gets thrown into the fray to fill out the bill as it were.

But that doesn’t mean we have to enjoy it… after all, we’ve covered in painstaking detail – and I DO mean “pain” – Freddie Mitchell’s missteps over the past few months with so many new singles of his pouring onto the market, so we can cut to the chase with this one and spare you from having to hear us curse Art Sims’ tone-deaf piano teacher yet again.

Music Makers Boogie comes from the unlikely source of Harry James, the acclaimed leader one of the premier big bands of the late 1930’s and early 1940’s… well, I should say unlikely source for rock in general maybe, but not for Freddie Mitchell who once again deemed it appropriate to dip back into that era for source material, a sometimes inspired, but more often tiresome, habit that runs the risk of severing his connection to rock even if he’s generally pretty determined to play with the needed fire to keep this in our preferred stylistic boundaries.

The problem with this song is that Mitchell largely sticks to James’ original model and considering that it had come out in 1941 in a different musical genre it’s not too hard to see how this was going to fail to stir any passion with a modern audience.

Recipe For An Old Fashioned
Truthfully in both renditions the song’s weaknesses are equally apparent. It’s got a catchy melody in that it’s easy to latch onto and know where it’s going, but that melody is no more than mildly pleasant at best with a prancing sort of gait to it that has no real energy behind it.

Though suitable for 1941 where this sort of thing was de rigor – hitting #9 on the charts then – it was hardly going to work in 1950 rock circles without a major face-lift.

Unfortunately they don’t give it one… the song starts off with remarkably the same mood, pace and even sound as the nine year old track they took it from, though the one thing they add is Sims’s unwelcome piano, but I suppose you can say that since it’s the only thing showing much of a pulse you can’t complain about his presence in the manner we usually would whenever he shows up.

If it followed that template the whole way through we’d be ready to call Mitchell a man out of time and relegate him to the pile of decaying musical carcasses who couldn’t make the transition to a new era, but thankfully when he gets his chance to shake up the proceedings he does so fairly well, giving Music Makers Boogie an injection of testosterone it so desperately needed.

On the James record the extended solos were traded off between various horns, from James’s trumpet to the different saxophones, all peppy but lacking any real power in either their tone or their approach. Mitchell on the other hand actually delivers some power, or at least strains to do so with a tone that is nicely positioned halfway between screeching and gritty, giving the song a resonance it seemed altogether incapable of just moments earlier.

It’s hardly riveting stuff compared to the best rock sax solos we’ve heard over the years but at least it’s being adapted for this style. If it goes on a little longer than it should, since Mitchell is incapable of coming up with enough variations on the theme to warrant its length, he does manage to gain strength again after a lull to make it preferable to the alternative which would be to hand the reins back over to a group that sounds uncomfortable admitting that the 1940’s have given way to the 1950’s.


Lazy Summer Days
Of course tolerance and acceptance are two radically different concepts and it’s here that we can comfortably take aim at Freddie Mitchell’s limited aims when it comes to arranging.

In many ways adapting a song, especially one without pesky details like lyrics and singing to get in the way, should enable a really creative musician to radically alter its image by coming up with an arrangement that maintains just the basic melody as a foundation before throwing in all sorts of different components to show off your own creativity.

That might not always work but at least it provides an insight into the artist’s thought process if nothing else.

Music Makers Boogie ostensibly does that too, but what it reveals is Mitchell’s thought process is focused entirely on simplicity and efficiency, hardly the most admirable qualities on a rock act’s résumé.

Had they taken that drowsy lilting progression and shaken it up by using it as the staid representation of the past, then had Mitchell come storming in to violently overthrow it with crashing drums and a pianist whose left hand was not completely immobile, that could’ve been something interesting, especially if they wrought their destruction in brief appearances, say 12 or 16 bars, before being ushered out by management as the dainty playing resumes, almost unaware of their intrusion.

Do that three times and you’d at least have a record that was attempting to say something about the changing times, but as it is, they only thing they’re saying is they’re only just becoming aware of these changes taking place and are still unsure how they feel about them.

The only small sign of their creative urges comes towards the end of Music Makers Boogie where they theatrically extend the short pauses found in the James original and turn them into dramatic full-stops before starting up again, three times in fact over the last minute.

The problem with this is that it’s done so effectively that you’re sure to think the record is over and walk out of the room before it resumes. Of course that also might be the best thing about it as you get to shave about 40 seconds of playing time off the song.

Other than that however the song just goes through the motions, adding just enough rock textures with Mitchell’s sax to let them into the room, but not doing nearly enough to go beyond that to make us care that they’re here.


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