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FREEDOM 1506; APRIL, 1949

 
 

 

The record has stopped spinning and the room has taken on an eerie silence… dust and debris fills the air and the resulting scene resembles an Expressionist painting, weirdly detached from reality yet more real than life itself.

You are in the middle of it all, sprawled on the floor, battered and bruised but still in one piece, a little bloodied for your trouble, the deafening sounds of the preceding aural assault still ringing in your ears as you slowly get to your knees and then to your feet.

Surveying the destruction, listening for other signs of life but hearing nothing but your own labored breathing, you unsteadily make your way over to the record player sitting innocuously in the corner, seemingly untouched by the explosion that just took place.

Staring up at you from its surface is the cause of all of this devastation, a harmless looking piece of black shellac affixed with a label reading Goree Carter & His Hep Cats.

They are perpetrators of this vicious attack that resulted in the room – and surely the surrounding landscape for many miles – being completely leveled by its force.

You tentatively reach down and let your fingers gingerly touch its surface, ready to pull back in an instant if the radioactive glowing you swear you witnessed as it played burns your hands, but nothing happens. It’s cool to the touch and not so much as pulsing with any sign of life.

You lift it off the record player and examine it for any damage but find nothing. Turning it over you see that the other side contains different contents than the side which spewed forth this stream of sonic annihilation.

Do you dare?

It’s a risky move but what else could possibly happen after such a powerful detonation as that? What more fire and fury could be housed in this thin fragile platter? Surely if the gates of hell hadn’t already been ripped from their hinges from that previous blast then nothing that followed would be equipped to unleash eternal damnation.

Right?

C’mon now, you dare ask such questions of Goree Carter?
 

 
I’ll Make Everything Alright
Nothing in rock music to date could’ve prepared you for the Atomic Bomb detonation of Rock Awhile. The record not only heralded the arrival of one of rock’s most explosive performers in Goree Carter, but at the same time foretold of the revolutionary changes on the horizon when it came to rock’s shift to the guitar as the primary weapon of its instrumental power.

More amazing still was that it was his first formal session, his true debut record at least in terms of something he had an active hand in choosing and recording. Oh, and he was all of 19 years old when he cut it.

Like it or not the music world was rapidly changing as this new breed of restless young black musicians tired of taking abuse from a world that resented their very existence were now issuing their response… and that response was unapologetic, not to mention loud and unrelenting in its intensity.

It was called rock ‘n’ roll and you could attach whatever sordid meaning those words that you liked, whether sexual or merely carousing, just raucous or out and out rebellious, it mattered little to them, they just wanted to be sure you didn’t miss it.

But how could you? No matter how assiduously the guardians of good taste and white morality in this country tried to keep it locked up it was too powerful to remain confined for long. There was a riot going on and this was its soundtrack.

Carter though wasn’t supposed to be its torchbearer, not if Freedom Records had any say in the matter.

The company was just getting underway a month before this, in March 1949, and as befitting their Houston location, a region with a strong blues presence, they were merely hoping that the highly skilled guitar prodigy would be their answer to T-Bone Walker, currently – and arguably eternally – the most incendiary singer/guitarist in blues who was enjoying his first overwhelming commercial success at this time after years of groundbreaking work that flew somewhat under the radar.

To that end Freedom Records had surreptitiously recorded Carter on what he thought was a warm-up exercise of sorts, something just to see how he sounded, and he chose a blues song, Sweet Old Woman Blues, nothing particularly special as a song or as a performance, nor did he intend it to be. He was just messing around on something that nobody outside of that room was ever going to hear… or so he thought.

Record companies however have the moral rectitude of a politician pushing through an unpopular bill and so they promptly released this song on the backside of a Little Willie Littlefield cut they’d acquired from the defunct Eddie’s Records, also in Houston, and used it as a trial balloon for their label and its distributors as well as to test the waters on Carter’s appeal.

But anyone who heard that offering, whether they liked the results of his blues excursion or not, wasn’t going to be at all prepared for what he himself had in mind when it came to fulfilling his own artistic vision.

On Rock Awhile which was cut at his first true session where the material was written and chosen by Goree Carter himself, he looked at the faces on the other side of the glass who were counting on him to fit their outdated preconceptions of who and what he should be for their shortsighted needs and promptly stuck dynamite in the studio’s console and then smiled at them as he calmly lit the fuse.

The ensuing record blew Freedom’s well-laid plans all to hell.
 

 
 

Can’t Believe It Baby
With the shrapnel still flying, he laid down another cut that took the trappings of the blues and twisted them for his own purposes. Back Home Blues is not the blues, despite what it title may lead you to believe, but a perversion of it. A distorted reversal of its themes centered on a woman who has left our hero, which normally would be cause for a hand-wringing lament mining the depth of his sorrow and his inability to go on, and flips it to present her returning to him.

Naturally he’s glad and to be honest even a little humble when expressing surprise that she’d indeed come back to his arms. We don’t know what led to her leaving him in the first place, nor do we care in this instance because her departure isn’t the story as much as her sudden and inexplicable about face is.

But Carter is just as flummoxed by this change of heart as we are. He plays the self-effacing role to the hilt, telling her that he “almost died” when she left.

But he didn’t of course, die that is, and though he certainly sounds sincere there’s a chance he’s just covering up for the fact he’s really been entertaining a different young lady each night since she’s gone. He seems slightly edgy in his proclamations of love to his estranged sweetheart, not at all excited at being caught off guard by her return and elated at the chance to start over with her, but rather he comes across as nervous about the implications on his current situation, whatever that may be.

This is all conjecture but you get the idea something else is going on as he tries covering his uneasiness the best he can, maybe furtively glancing at the clock as it creeps closer to the time when his new party doll will be arriving with a bottle of booze, some records to play and absolutely no curfew to adhere to or inhibitions to get around in their activities.

Goree is backpedaling as he speaks now, thinking on his feet. He’s seeing this woman come back in his life, unexpected and uninvited, if not entirely unwelcome, and now he’s got to make decisions on the fly about how to handle it. This clearly wasn’t what he had in mind to do this evening and so he stalls.

He promises her he’ll do his best to keep her satisfied and hopes that will be satisfactory, that there’ll be no questions of what he’s been up to, no discussion of long term plans, no going down to the train station to get the rest of her luggage that’s now sitting in a locker.

Yet whatever his true feelings on the subject, whether he’s actually happy or just putting up a front, the one reaction that is completely authentic is the fact he’s surprised. That’s the question he keeps returning to, the thing that has him the most puzzled – why she DID come back home?

But we know why.

She came back because of the way he wields his big long… guitar.
 

 

‘Til Your Well Runs Dry
That’s what the record makes perfectly clear each time he rips off another brief explosive run, twisting the strings, gnarling them is more like it, possessed with an otherworldly passion that expresses itself in the most primal way imaginable.

It’s also what upends the entire thematic premise of Back Home Blues, not only removing it from the blues idiom musically (despite the blues using guitars far more prominently than other forms of music), but especially in its dazed incredulous perspective that she would return to him. This split between what he’s saying and how he’s saying it, or playing it rather, is somewhat disconcerting and that rift makes it a weaker SONG. But arguably it makes a better form of self-expression.

The emotions he wrings out of the guitar aren’t aligned with the words he’s soothingly telling her. These are harsh fierce declarations, not reassuring whispers of love and devotion. This sound isn’t one of reconciliation but of independence.

This music is not looking back contentedly at once was, but looking forward impatiently at what might be.
 


 

Maybe it can simply be explained this way: The man who this woman left was tied to the past and as such there was no future in the relationship itself. She departed for the most basic reason of all – self-survival. Staying with him and his old mindset – the mindset embodied by Freedom Records choices for him – was like a form of indentured servitude, so she looked elsewhere to find something more liberating in life.

She found it… or rather HE found it when she left and then she found out that he’d found it and she came back to claim it for herself.

But by now he doesn’t need her. He’s got the power in his hands, literally as well as figuratively, as long as he keeps wielding that guitar and playing rock ‘n’ roll.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Goree Carter for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)