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DERBY 765; JULY 1951



The unfortunate reality of the independent record business in the early 1950’s was that success with one artist was not enough to sustain a label for too long.

Distributors needed a steady stream of releases that were sure to draw interest in order to keep paying for them and with Derby Records their track record outside of Freddie Mitchell’s instrumentals was rather spotty.

Their big signing last year, Jimmy Preston, seemed poised to alleviate that but he abruptly retired and gave up music for the ministry of all things after just a few releases and so the company, unable to secure the services of a potential star outside of Mitchell did the next best thing… they paired him with a succession of vocalists and hoped his name recognition would get them stocked on jukeboxes, giving the singers the platform necessary to establish their own names for the future.

Needless to say it didn’t quite work out that way.


Before I Get Too Old
This is the second of two releases credited in part to Sarah “Fatwoman” Dean… hardly the type of moniker that did her any favors.

While she’s certainly a capable singer, able to ride the rhythm and convey a fair amount of knowledge regarding the sexual subject matter she’s offering, her rough voice has textures that makes her sound as if her best days were just in the rear view mirror for a style as young and forward thinking as rock ‘n’ roll.

Still, if you WERE to give a few vocal sides on Freddie Mitchell records to someone, she’s not the worst choice because it’s unlikely she’d be able to carry a record – and a successful career – on her own shoulders.

I Got Your Boogie is a generic rocker that starts off with its weakest attributes, a slow vocal lead-in that finds Dean setting up the story in a contrived fashion before launching into the uptempo meat of the song that certainly sounds much better but never really coalesces into something meaningful.

Part of the problem is those by-the-numbers lyrics which are little more than a series of exclamations of the title line buffeted by extremely rudimentary set-ups. The “boogie” she refers to are a stand in for something anatomical, that’s the implication at least, but while we can think of one particular term that fits, it’s not made explicit enough to do the song much good.

Dean is complaining about her man leaving and in retaliation is serving herself up to any guy who wanders by as a form of payback – hardly the most effective act of retribution but certainly one with some familiarity to rock music fans – but the problem is the declarations are themselves so vague that there’s nothing behind her threats to make you care one way or another.

Nothing that is but Freddie Mitchell’s saxophone, which is the song’s redeeming factor.


I’m Going To Meet You As Soon As I Can
Of all of rock’s sax stars of its first four years, Mitchell has had the most screen time as it were, releasing scores of instrumental singles as well as backing – with and without credit – on other singers records.

Yet his performances, while containing impressive runs in almost all of them, were often done in by bad material with conflicting aims.

His own singles frequently mined the Great American Songbook looking for familiar melodies which he then tried “rocking” up, but that’s a creative dead-end and one they’ve long since exhausted anyway.

He’s been better served in this role, backing someone whose vocals frame the record allowing Mitchell to pick and choose his spots and unleash solos with unabashed fury before handing it back to the singer.

His saxophone in these concentrated doses gets him away from the dueling responsibilities of maintaining the melody and delivering the fire and so when Dean steps aside, I Got Your Boogie takes off giving him an explosive showpiece for his saxophone.

Honking over drums, hand claps and riffing horns, Mitchell is really good for the bulk of this playing short bursts of notes, all of them combining to emphasize rhythm over everything else. It’s a the musical equivalent of hitting the heavy bag in the gym, one fierce punch after another without any jabs or dancing around.

Dean’s work is made easier by their presence because they’re dropping the hammer during their time on stage, but in a way her ability to make an impact in her own right is made harder by their appearance because Dean’s greatest natural attribute is her own vocal power which can’t help but seem a little less potent against their display.


There’s Nothing You Can Do
The two sides recorded by Sarah Dean shows she was never going to become a star in her own right, which may be why they dropped her so quick, but it also shows that she understood the requirements of rock enough to be a valuable tool in their Swiss Army knife of artists.

Whether stepping in for the occasional vocal on a record credited to Freddie Mitchell, as I Got Your Boogie was, or if they gave her a release under her own name as they’d done last winter with Long Lean Daddy, she at least gave them some options which in 1951 was something Derby Records definitely needed to stay viable.

This may be nothing special, but it’s also nothing to be ashamed of for Mitchell or Dean or the record company itself.

Average rock records are still valuable in any era after all, not only are they the standard against which all else is judged but they’re also the thing that keeps you in business. Too few and you’re selling off your office furniture to pay the rent… so having too many is never enough.


(Visit the Artist page of Sarah Dean as well as Freddie Mitchell for the complete archive of their respective records reviewed to date)