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MERCURY 8183; MAY 1950



The term “jam session” is so well-known that it’s hard to imagine a time when it wasn’t used to describe the type of informal gathering of musicians collectively improvising around a loose structure and seeing how far they could take it.

It’s widely believed to have first entered the popular lexicon sometime during the 1920’s when white and black jazz musicians, barred from appearing together in clubs due to segregation, would meet after their gigs were over to play together and as such “jam session” is still considered largely a jazz term, though all other genres of music have used it to describe the same type of casual off-the-cuff performance.

Rock ‘n’ roll, thanks to its far more unruly image and less adherence to complex written charts, would seem to be the ideal breeding ground for that kind of improvisational give and take, but because rock was far more reliant on the single than jazz was the constraints of 2-3 minute record with identifiable verse-chorus-verse structures actually made it more rare.

When budding major label Mercury made the trek down to New Orleans in late summer 1949 (or early 1950, the date is disputed) to try and get a foothold in the ever more popular rock market their producers probably didn’t have much in the way of first-hand know-how and so they essentially stood back and let the local musicians work out their own parts, building the songs from the ground up on the studio floor. Because those musicians also just happened to be some of the best in all of rock looking to flex their muscles in these types of informal jam sessions, you had the potential for some magic to be made.



We Like To Boogie Too
They were dubbed, on record anyway, George Miller & His Mid-Driffs but it was less a fully formed unit and more a thrown together group of able musicians drawn from all over the region, many of whom we’ve met countless times around here on other artists records.

Jack Scott was the guitarist and frequent arranger for Paul Gayten and the husband of current hitmaker Jewel King… Lee Allen was a rising tenor sax star who’d become a staple of Dave Bartholomew’s band while Leroy “Batman” Rankins had made his name and reputation as the anchor of Roy Brown’s Mighty Mighty Men… Meanwhile Miller himself was a bass player who never got much acclaim, in large part because the bass itself was just not that recognizable an instrument in an arrangement, no matter how important it was. But while he may not have gone on to greater things it’s nice that Miller at least got his name on a few records to prevent him from fading into obscurity.

Because of the artist credit – a backing band rather than a self-contained group with a vocalist – it’s surprising in a way to discover that this is not an instrumental at all. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s exactly “vocal record” either per say, though technically speaking the singing has both a chorus and a solitary verse used twice during the proceedings, so it certainly qualifies as one no matter how strictly you want to parse that term.

But regardless of how it’s classified Boogie’s The Thing is built around an extended instrumental jam that is tied together with enthusiastic vocal choruses taken by the band as a whole with the skimpy verse merely acting as a lead-in for the chorus.

The singing is good though, the group vocals sounds boisterous without appearing ragged and the solo vocal on that lead-in line – by Theard Johnson of all people, who redeems himself after his desultory showing on Lost Love earlier this month – featuring a nice mid-range breathy tenor that makes a strong impression. Had they given him more to do and extended the song another half minute to accommodate him further then this might be vying for an even higher score, but what’s here is plenty good enough to hit the green numbers.

The reason for this lofty appraisal however isn’t the singing but the playing because there’s little doubt the focal point of the entire record is the work of the musicians who take hold of this song and push it to the breaking point with a nonchalant confidence that is energizing to listen to.


Makes You Feel Like Dancin’
Piano and drums kick it off, trading brief riffs with the horns before the vocal refrain sets the scene in an extremely succinct manner. You’re actually surprised the singing takes up as much of the first minute as it does because even behind the voices the band is rhythmically churning like a well-oiled machine, their varied parts meshing with ease, each one contributing to the surging momentum which makes it seem as if it’s constantly speeding up even though the pace remains fixed at the same rate they began.

When the instrumental break ensues it takes on the appearance of a jailbreak, the piano springing the door and the saxophone bursting out into the blinding sunlight, honking away before the piano comes back and gets dizzy trying to figure out which way he should make a break for it before the guards open fire.

By the sounds of it though they’ve either overwhelmed those guards or else they’ve thrown down their weapons and are joining in the fun as the vocals return, giving us a much needed sense of direction again without letting up on the energy. Only when they start winding down, slowing the vocal refrain for a big finish, does your heart rate get back to normal.

Of course when you break it down like that the more rigid structure of Boogie’s The Thing becomes apparent and you realize the jam session effect was due as much to the frantic nature of the playing and the way the parts overlapped rather than had transitions carved out for each of them to enter and exit.

An neat arranging trick in other words, though considering the circumstances of the recording session it’s still an even money bet that they whipped this up on the spot using pretty basic components they all were familiar with, unless of course more of them worked together on the bandstand than we assume and this was replicated from a set closer before the first intermission where it was sure to be a consistent crowd-pleaser.

If that was the case it’d be no less impressive, albeit for slightly different reasons. Usually those wild end-of-the-night showcases need to be experienced in person while surrounded by other drunken patrons willing to lose their minds, as these types of songs usually tend to be too shambolic to translate to wax without losing a lot in the translation.

But this holds up brilliantly, maintaining its fervent energy while streamlining the individual components to make sure it all fits into a three minute record. This does that and more, making it feel like the musical equivalent of holding onto a live wire and letting the electricity course through your veins.

Sets Your Soul On Fire
Any doubt that New Orleans was still the hub of rock ‘n’ roll now that its appeal had spread nationally had to be eradicated with yet another scorching single from a bunch of local virtuosos who were not even a formal group and wouldn’t record together as a unit – either under this name nor behind others – again.

But while many of the individual talents involved would have their names reverberate throughout the next decade or so of rock, the collectively named George Miller & The Mid-Driffs shouldn’t be forgotten altogether, or merely cast aside as some makeshift studio band that circumstance brought together, for if you were looking for a song to remind you of the power of rock ‘n’ roll at the dawn of the Fifties then you can’t go wrong with Boogie’s The Thing.

Whether it was the result of a more organized creative process or if Mercury Records simply got lucky and captured them letting loose without putting much thought into it beforehand, the results speak for themselves.

If it was something of a jam session, a cutting contest between genres, the rockers just threw down the gauntlet and they’d be awaiting the reply from the jazz cats who never turned down a challenge.

Unfortunately that scenario is left to your imagination, but what was left of this on tape is more than enough to suffice.


(Visit the Artist page of George Miller & His Mid-Driffs for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)