DERBY 738; JUNE 1950



Years are a funny thing. We’re now seventy-one years removed from the records we’re currently reviewing, which is a couple lifetimes ago, yet because the music itself forms a connective thread through the music of today, the gap seems somewhat traversable.

The origins of today’s song however was not 1950, but rather 1922. Though that’s just under one hundred years from now, it was only 28 years before Freddie Mitchell cut it as a rock record. For comparison it’d be like someone today reaching back to 1993 to re-do something by Wu-Tang Clan or Pearl Jam.

Of course what makes the distance between 1922 and 1950 seem a lot further is the fact that we’re talking two entirely different styles of music – early jazz vs. early rock – and so, once again, it raises the question of why Mitchell seemed to constantly be looking backwards for material when the idiom he was recording in was barely out of diapers.


Someone’s Waiting For Me
As if those dates weren’t enough to have you start to wonder if Freddie Mitchell wasn’t more intent on paying homage to his parents era of music than to advancing his own career at the time, let me point out that while Isham Jones – a very successful bandleader who also wrote the service anthem You’re In The Army Now during World War I and It Had To Be You, which Dooley Wilson immortalized in Casablanca – had actually written this song way back in 1911 but as sheet music sales were still the dominant form of musical dispersal back then it took him until 1922 to actually record it.


Then, just if you want to really be pedantic about it, the subject matter of On The Alamo referred to the famous battle that took place in 1836… or 114 years before Mitchell added the “Boogie” to the title and rocked the song up for modern consumption.

In other words, “timely” this was most certainly not.

But that’s following a predictable pattern with Mitchell’s output over much of the past year wherein he takes somewhat familiar melodies, mostly older standards, and attempts to convert them – or subvert them if you happen to prefer the stately originals – into something more uncouth for the rock market who certainly has no obligatory reverence for that source material.


Love’s Dream Is Over
Though Mitchell may not have had much respect for older milieus by adapting them for rock instrumentals, upon hearing the start of this adaption we have to ask if Freddie had any respect for rock ‘n’ roll either because once again he sees fit to degrade his own record with excessive piano which practically seems to be the lead instrument on this record.

Yes, we realize the trebly piano interludes are fast becoming his trademark, but that’s hardly a good thing to be known for. Their tinny, clinky sound is intentionally grating, non-melodic and is completely lacking any resonance making it excruciating to hear for any length of time and here it lasts an interminable forty seconds… just enough time to run next door to buy a sledge hammer and come back to smash the jukebox that’s playing it to pieces.

If there was a line at the checkout counter of the hardware store though and it took you 45 seconds to come back then your money on that sledge hammer will have been wasted, for that’s when Mitchell finally comes along and does his best to turn On The Alamo Boogie into a pretty fair rocker.

On many of his earliest recordings Mitchell hadn’t quite given himself over to the more muscular image of the saxophone and was pulling up short on a lot of his performances, but now he seems to have figured out that the more gritty his own lines are, the more you’ll be inclined to tolerate that gawd-awful piano just to get to the point where Mitchell will blow up a storm.

He doesn’t disappoint here, playing in short bursts that sound as if his chest is wrapped in chains but which he’s trying to break free of by expending as much force as he can. Meanwhile the other horns – and yes, even the piano which is now thankfully shifting its focus leftward on the keyboard – are adding to the controlled ruckus and it’s approaching something that most rock fans will appreciate.

Until the ensuing middle section that is, when he lets the piano annoy us some more by taking listeners back on a monotonous tour of the last eight keys on the right, plinking away without any shame whatsoever.


Wander To And Fro
And so it goes. At just one point during this second unwelcome forty-five second interlude does even the faintest trace of a melody become apparent before quickly vanishing again and you find yourself warning other customers in the joint to stand back as you heft your sledgehammer, ready to send Wurlitzer or Seeburg parts flying in every conceivable direction.

But before you can heft it to your shoulder to begin the merciful destruction of the apparatus that’s playing this song and tormenting everyone within earshot Mitchell rides back in again, sax blaring, stopping you in your tracks once more by giving us the kind of full-throated riffs that we want.

Not only are his lines far tougher sounding of course, but they’re also reasonably melodic, at least enough to give some identity to On The Alamo Boogie and finally get your bearings on the song.

Of course even though by now the record is almost over, we’re wise enough to know that we’re not done being tortured by that piano which returns for the coda and because we’re aware that this means we’re nearly done with this nonsense without having to face prosecution for destruction of property (and hopefully will be able to get a refund for our unused sledgehammer) we can consider ourselves lucky that our eardrums are still intact.

Whatever generosity we want to show to Mitchell himself for delivering some pretty good playing during his stand-alone spots, we have to remind ourselves that for more than half of the three minute run time we were subjected to something which the Geneva Convention outlawed as being cruel and unusual punishment for captive war prisoners, and so our patience with this bunch has reached its end.

The Long Weary Day
Back at the real Battle Of The Alamo the Mexican forces under General Santa Anna besieged the defenders of the mission for thirteen days, killing approximately 257 American troops within.

That fate could’ve easily been avoided however if Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett and Buck Travis had at their dispersal a piano and somebody among them was brave enough to incessantly pound away on the treble keys until their own ears bled in the hopes the onrushing forces would be repelled by the aggravating sounds emanating from the adobe structures they were encamped in.

Of course, had Freddie Mitchell been there blowing his saxophone (without the “aid” of any accompanying pianist) the opposing troops would’ve surely dropped their weapons and started dancing to On The Alamo Boogie and thus not just rock history, but American history itself, would’ve been much different.

As it was though “Remember the Alamo!” became a rallying cry after news of the staunch defense in the face of overwhelming odds reached the American public, but had they been asked to remember the record that bears its name the response would’ve surely been – Santa Anna can have it!


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