No tags :(

Share it

PEACOCK 1508, MARCH 1950



At its inception the musical foundations of rock ‘n’ roll barely acknowledged the guitar as being anything more than a mild supplementary addition to the rhythm section, gently easing it aside and insisting that it be content with taking a largely insignificant role.

But like rock itself the guitar, or those who played it, weren’t willing to remain confined to the margins and were increasingly demanding to be heard one way or another.



We Pledged To Stand Together
This is another record which was released out of sequence, which makes you wonder why record companies even bothered putting numbers on their labels to begin with.

Chances are Don Robey had scheduled four singles right out of the box for Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, the guitar-playing genre hopping artist he’d discovered two years earlier at his Peacock Club in Houston, and had the records printed up, numbered and ready to ship before realizing that it wasn’t the smartest thing to do to flood the market with an unknown entity, especially when his company had not yet built up any reputation of its own to beg, bribe or threaten distributors and jukebox ops into taking them, so he held this one back while releasing other artists whose releases fell after Peacock 1508.

All of this makes it very misleading and frustrating for those of us in the future who like to pretend we can count to impress the girls, but I digress…

At least you can see however why Robey had been so anxious to spread Gatemouth Brown’s name when starting up his company, for while none of the initial handful of sides had “surefire hit” written on them, most of these performances were good enough to be worth some listens, foremost among them It Can Never Be That Way, which stands out thanks to the presence of his biting guitar which is still a somewhat alien sound to a rock audience who are far more used to hearing wailing saxes and pounding pianos blasting out of the speakers.


Life Ain’t The Way You Make It
The rapid fire jagged riff that Brown opens the track with grabs your attention with a welcome forcefulness. It may alarm those not expecting to hear the instrument taking on such a role, but there’s no way it can be ignored at any rate and that gives Gatemouth the perfect launching pad to win us over with the rest of what he has to offer.

Much of that which follows has the ability to do just that starting with a really catchy vocal patter which accentuates the rise and fall of the melody as its strongest attribute. It gives you the sense you’ve heard this before, maybe not It Can Never Be That Way specifically, but rather a song that sounds much like it.

That vague familiarity works to his advantage, not only making the song easy to follow along to, but also getting you to concentrate on it more to try and unravel its source. But the closer you listen the more you start to forget that aspect of it entirely and begin to concentrate on the story he’s spinning which packs a lot of character into a plot that gets right to the point.

The basic rundown is simple enough – Gatemouth is devoted to his wife but feels he’s putting up with more than he bargained for because of her insistence on having her entire family live with them, causing him no shortage of daily grief as he opines, “Your mother is drinking my whiskey and your sister is sleeping in my bed!”

His vocal tone throughout this harangue is exasperated but still under control. You can almost see him shaking his head in frustration at each new ordeal that pops up and yet he’s not mad at her, just in search of some reassurance that their relationship is strong enough to endure these hardships and if not maybe she’d be willing to make a few concessions and kick her no account kinfolk to the curb so they can have the house to themselves for once.

The lyrics may be fairly succinct but they paint a very colorful scene and Brown’s delivery is spot on, showing him to be a good enough actor to embody the requisite state of mind for the topic to really come to life. It’s got enough wit to make you smile, plenty of small details to make it believable and has a perspective that is relatable to allow most listeners to sympathize with his plight.

What it doesn’t quite have at times though is the musical discipline to pull it all together.

Are You Standing By Me?
The majority of the backing track here is pretty predictable but entirely fitting. That guitar opening is the only real startling moment in the arrangement for the first minute and considering Brown is a guitarist you can’t really call it surprising, but rather it’s just not yet common in rock which is what makes it draw your notice.

Remember, Brown was still vacillating between styles with his material, the flip side of this for instance – I’ve Been Mistreated – was much more firmly in the blues idiom with its slower pace and downtrodden vocal and since the guitar was the primary accompanying instrument of the blues… and considering how Texas was a blues hotbed commercially… you’d think he’d be inclined to pursue that style almost exclusively.

But Brown was adamant that he not be confined to any one genre and so he continued cutting rock tracks which broadened the possibilities of this brand of music thanks to the presence of that guitar, helping to diversify the typical arrangements in the process.

That’s what happens here as after that explosive intro It Can Never Be That Way settles into a much more typical rock attack with piano establishing the rhythm and horns adding the melodic touches, the two working well in tandem even if they aren’t taking any chances with what they play. Besides, the focal point is Brown’s vocals and the instruments don’t intrude on those at all, merely support him with reliable self-assurance.

The first instrumental break is where things start to unravel a bit however. Somewhat predictably the tenor sax is being called on to provide the solo – a safe choice for sure – and after a shaky start what it gives us is fairly solid. It’s nothing great mind you but nothing to detract from the song either.

Drive Me Out Of My Head
But during the saxophone’s spot there’s an unwelcome addition for you to contend with… namely Brown himself whose guitar is adding these completely unnecessary scratchy accent notes on his guitar which serves more as distraction than anything else. They’re a series of quick hits that hijacks the melody the sax is trying to create while not doing anything to add to it, nor to establish a counter rhythm.

Truthfully what it sounds like is a recording of a teenager who just got his first guitar trying to play along to a record and failing miserably.

Things get a little better – as well as a whole lot worse – in the next instrumental interlude where it’s Brown who steps into the spotlight. Some of his fleet-fingered runs are pretty impressive, showing a nice ringing tone while sustaining the notes enough to let the melody linger in your head awhile.

Suddenly without warning though he starts flailing away with no rhyme or reason, the first few notes sounding ahead of their time in some ways, almost veering into atonal distortion, but from there he has no idea of where to take it and instead of reining things in he opens them up and in the process the solo goes right down the drain in an incomprehensible swirl of confusing directionless sounds.

Prior to that It Can Never Be That Way had been shaping up to be his best chance at breaking through as a rocker and while his diversions are relatively brief they are impossible to ignore and when he wraps things up with a “normal” little riff – which sounds fine and completely appropriate – it only makes his temporary insanity leading up to that all the more maddening.

You certainly like to see some experimentation in an artist, but someone – be it the producer, the label owner or the artist himself – has to be a better judge of what is acceptable for a commercial single and in 1950 this isn’t it.


I Can’t Support Them All
Countless times in these reviews we’ve railed against the collective failure of artists and producers to realize how incompatible the trumpet was to rock in the manner with which the instrument had been played for years in jazz settings. Gradually people learned it was an albatross around the necks of otherwise strong records and it began to be phased out, re-thought or at least de-emphasized for the betterment of all involved.

The guitar faces a much different problem in that it had no real ill-suited precedents to rid itself of and so those who played it were working with a blank slate and had to figure out which techniques rock favored.

For the most part Gatemouth Brown had a pretty good grasp of it so far and even on It Can Never Be That Way he offered up some stellar runs that would soon form the cornerstone of rock guitar.

But in trying to take things too far he wound up undercutting the best song and vocal performance he’s given us to date. It’s still good enough to recommend, but now that recommendation comes with an asterisk.

It’s doubtful that enough creative minds at other outposts in rock heard this and were dissuaded from prominently featuring the guitar in their songs as a result, but had Brown just been a little more judicious in his choices the rest of this was strong enough to become a hit and maybe help the guitar’s cause in taking a larger role in rock rather than holding those chances down for awhile longer.


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