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PEACOCK 1575, JUNE 1951



A year ago we marked the midway point of 1950 with a review that was partly tongue-in-cheek and partly an honest to goodness musical analysis of a commercially released record by Billy Wright.

Or should I say a commercial released on record by Billy Wright.

Disc jockey Zenas Sears had gotten local hero Wright, now a national star, to cut a full length original song for his radio show’s primary sponsor and then played it incessantly on the air, so much so that the record actually topped the charts in Atlanta.

Now they’re at it again, not the same artist or disc jockey… nor even the same beer… but instead we find Gatemouth Brown singing the praises of a local beer in his own home market of Houston on a record that also was sold to the public.

Since we’ve reached the midway point of the calendar year for 1951, it’s a perfect time to pause for another word from our sponsor.


The Finest Brew From Maine To Mexico
When one of America’s most famous and eccentric millionaires, Howard Hughes, did something, he rarely went halfway and so in the early 1930’s while in Texas he was apparently a little thirsty and couldn’t find anything to his liking so he started a brewery and was sipping a cold one by the time lunch rolled around.

Or something like that.

He did in fact launch Gulf Brewing Company in 1933 and, as with all of his endeavors, he went all out to make it worthwhile, hiring the man whose beer had won the grand prize at an international conference of brewers, Frank Brogniez, to create a signature beer, naming it after the honor he’d had bestowed upon him… Grand Prize Beer.

The company produced a traditional lager beer but also a Pale Dry variety which is what Gatemouth Brown was enlisted to sing about.

Like Hughes before him, Brown did not go halfway with some off-the-cuff little ditty. Instead he took his lead from Billy Wright and crafted a full length song to celebrate the best selling beer in all of Texas.

Actually he did Wright one better and made it a two-part epic called Pale Dry Boogie, something that surely would take longer to listen to than it would to drain a Pale Dry while the record spun.

But that that’s good news for you, as it just gives you time to crack open another one when we flip the record over to hear Part Two.

Everybody’s Now Drinkin’
Peacock Records also went all out on the production of this, with a full horn section in addition to the rhythm section, plus Brown’s own snarling guitar.

The structure of the song is sturdy enough on its own with a rousing fanfare-like horn intro as Brown then comes in admitting “You may be wonderin’…” why he’s singing about a beer? Nope, we know that. He either got a free supply or more likely Don Robey did for his Peacock Lounge nightclub.

Brown’s lyrics are remarkably well-constructed for a commercial, weaving in slogans, taglines and all sorts of promotional hype in a way that make most radio commercial jingle-writers seem like the talentless hacks they are.

Pale Dry Boogie is an actual song, make no mistake about it, and if there’s no real plot to it, outside of getting plastered, it doesn’t suffer from the lack of any grand story because Gatemouth wisely doesn’t repeat himself while telling you about the benefits of drinking this brand, which would only draw attention to the shameless ploy it really is. Instead he forces you to listen to each line, all of which stand up to scrutiny while they play, even if you aren’t yet half in the bag.

Most of it of course is just snake-oil pitching in the oldest tradition, albeit for a reputable product, but Brown sells it all with genuine conviction as the band rolls along smoothly behind him.

When his guitar moves into the spotlight his solo is tight, if a little aimless, but reasonably effective and while the rollicking piano, discreet drum fills and the riffing horns frequently seem on the verge of going off the rails they manage to stay within their lane… at least until the early part of the pianist’s solo where he’s smashing the keys around without much direction, but even then he pulls it together by switching to a lighter approach on the treble keys

They close out the first half with a spoken word plug for Part Two but you surely don’t expect it to be even more tightly constructed musically than the first part since we’re fairly certain they were sampling the booze during the session, but somehow that’s exactly what you get.


A Fast Growin’ Favorite In Each And Every Town
The second half benefits from an even more streamlined focus as there’s no need here to really set up the sale, the belief being you’re already buying it after Part One… if not already drinking it.

As a result Pale Dry Boogie can now just consolidate their gains with a long laser-focused instrumental passage bracketed by a few direct pitches for the brew itself.

Here’s where the band excels, the the instruments merging together seamlessly with overlapping parts led by Brown’s guitar toning down the volume to play a compact boogie riff that sounds almost like a horn, showing Gate’s willingness to lay low and provide an ominous backdrop to everything else going on.

The piano is right in the pocket the whole time, the drums kick it back to begin each new line, while the horns are slipping in and out of the arrangement with precision runs of their own, none of them taking the lead but all of them getting in their two cents worth.

Even the lyrics that frame all this show no sign of ad-libbed sloppiness, as Brown is still hawking the beer with the keen eye of a natural story teller and the wholehearted commitment of a stockholder.

Going in you almost expect a lazy hackneyed throwaway to come from something this mercenary, but Brown manages to come away with a two-sided record that was every bit as good as any “regular” record and if all it earned him was a bottle opener or a key-chain with the Grand Prize logo emblazoned on it, they should have their liquor license pulled.

All Of You Wise People Better Learn The Natural Score
Flipping through the pages of magazines from 1951 you were apt to see all sorts of pop singers plugging everything from razor blades to cigarettes in print ads which required them to do nothing more than smile for the cameras while holding a product, all while getting paid handsomely for letting these companies use their name and likeness.

Rock artists had no such luxury. First off there were no big corporations willing to use black faces in ads unless it was Aunt Jemima syrup or Uncle Ben’s rice and unlike their white singing counterparts, the likes of Billy Wright and now Gatemouth Brown had to actually WORK for their sponsors, writing songs that somehow managed to sell the product in a way that didn’t sound forced and artificial, then sing them on a record that would – if successful – possibly take away from having people spin their normally released sides.

Yet not only haven’t they complained, but they’ve come up with material that’s good enough for audiences to not even mind the fact that ads are now intruding on your musical enjoyment.

If Grand Prize Beer hadn’t gone out of business in 1963, there’s little doubt that anyone listening to Pale Dry Boogie today would at least be inclined to order one the next time they were at a Houston bar.

To that end, even if the company HAD paid Brown with something more than a six pack it’s pretty obvious the company would’ve gotten more than their money’s worth out of this ad.


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