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PEACOCK 1600, JULY 1952



Generally speaking songs that straddle eras, let alone styles, are more difficult to rate in the context of their release.

What sounds slightly of date could steer people away from it in 1952 because it reminds them of what they’ve willingly cast aside… or conversely it could be a comforting link to the recent past that’s reassuring for somebody who was beginning to feel left behind by the current trends in music.

The same is true for what sounds cutting edge, if not even futuristic, wherein somebody might gravitate towards that because it’s unexpected for the day, while others simply aren’t prepared for what this hints at and discard it for those reasons.

Chances are though few people will instinctively like both aspects and even when moving beyond that generational divide you find this also incorporates horn-driven rock and guitar-oriented blues boogie it becomes quite clear that while you might have a record that contains something for everybody, or it might be a record that is too disparate to fully connect with anybody.


Remember Every Man Don’t Have To Be No Fool
When Peacock Records began it was so that Don Robey could promote his artist, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, whom he watched bring the house down at his Peacock Lounge in Houston.

Not surprisingly Brown’s early records were the backbone of the Peacock label… not quite his only artist, but his only viable one for awhile.

But not any more.

He’s recently gotten hits – regional more than national – from Willie Mae Thornton and Marie Adams and next month he will forcibly take over Duke Records from David Mattis out of Memphis which will give him access to even bigger budding stars, Johnny Ace, Earl Forest and Bobby “Blue” Bland.

In such company a hybrid artist like Brown could easily get lost in the shuffle and Baby Take It Easy definitely runs that risk as there’s not much out there that you’d compare it to. The bluesy elements are offset by the rocking aspects while the old school intro and the new breed attitude are at odds.

When any genre is starting out and still finding its footing these kind of scattershot attempts where you want to see what might stick to the wall are more likely to make an impact, but when the genre has solidified itself already and found a massive audience it stands to reason that songs this unfocused will increasingly seem out of step if you’re not careful.

But then again, knowing how adamant Gatemouth Brown was about resisting any and all genre designations throughout his career, who could honestly say they were surprised by this turn of events?


Just Play It Cool
Since he himself won’t deign to be labeled, let’s try and at least break down the DNA to see just how wide he was spreading himself in these attempts to never conform to stylistic expectations.

For those who insist on classifying Gatemouth Brown as a bluesman through and through, the guitar work he displays here will be your first piece of evidence, particularly during the solo. Yet when he’s playing behind the horns it veers away from a contemporary blues approach, and prefers to be seen as an overamped distortion of the style. Almost perverting the idiom for kicks.

But the horns when they’re playing in unison are pure rock ‘n’ roll and they’ve got plenty of support from the drums in case anyone wants to dispute the claim. There’s really nothing else to call them, blowing up a storm to get you on the floor, honking, squealing and carrying on. Yet at the beginning of the solo, as well as the answering lines they use when the sax does start acting up later in the break, are much more jazzy… not completely, but certainly harkening back to that formula.

The piano, at least when it’s merely carrying the rhythm, fits in the rock mold too, but when it gets its brief standalone spot that’s when it reverts back to a pre-rock mindset, albeit one not belonging to blues or jazz per say, but rather a 40’s transitional era piece.

In other words, like a grandmother’s stew bubbling on the stove, Baby Take It Easy has a little bit of this, a little bit of that, nothing carefully measured and with no recipe written down to follow. It’s almost as if Brown told the band to try and follow along and if worse came to worse just hang on for dear life and trust he’d get you home safely.

In that regard it’s enjoyable enough, but a little unsettling. You tend to want to know where you’re going and this is kind of like being blindfolded and spun in circles awhile before speeding around in a car while facing backwards. Your sense of direction, and thus your sense of order and balance, are upended.

It’s not completely chaotic by any means, but this is a song better suited for a roadhouse on the edge of town than a record to be played at a party or on a jukebox. The environment it suggests is taking it a little further outside your comfort zone, as tends to happen when music hints at a generational divide, or a socioeconomic one, which manifests itself in the musical cues it calls up while the singing and lyrics offer no definitive statement as to where it belongs either.

Still a frantic good time for the most part, but one that requires you to get your bearings after it ends and you head outside, dizzy and disoriented, not sure of where you’re going, and definitely not sure of where you’ve just been.


You Still Say You Love Me, But I’m Wise To You
In an alternate universe the diverse skills of Gatemouth Brown would’ve led to a decade’s worth of consistent hits and acclaim.

He was a good songwriter, great guitarist, very capable singer and a dynamic showman. He had diverse influences and was capable of incorporating different stylistic touches into his performances.

His problem, as it turns out, was that he insisted on doing so in almost all of his songs, giving them no distinct identity other than being “typical Gatemouth Brown records”.

Baby Take It Easy epitomizes that. Rather than say to himself that on THIS song he was going to play up just one dominant trait, dropping, or at least downplaying the others, if not trying to alter them to suit the main aspect he wanted to focus on, he stubbornly lets them all frolic together, elbowing each other out of the way and making it seem a lot messier than it had to be.

He could’ve turned this into a pure rock song by adjusting the piano and droning massed horns at one juncture and subtly changing the guitar tone and had a real winner. He also could’ve created a blues classic by stripping the horns, or dialing them down, and emphasizing the piano and bass rhythm, simplifying the arrangement while playing up the guitar.

But by not yielding at all to the demands of one over the other he creates a song that elicits enough curious interest from both camps, without allowing either one to claim it for themselves.

That may sound democratic of him but in many ways it’s the equivalent of musical gridlock and from this point forward that will often be the case when it comes to Brown… a nonconformist to the end.


(Visit the Artist page of Gatemouth Brown for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)