No tags :(

Share it

FREEDOM 1518; AUGUST, 1949



When trying to explain the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll in the late 1940’s there’s often a mental roadblock when it comes to people fully grasping the massive shift it signaled. The musical distance from previous genres might not seem quite so apparent when looking back from the present even though at the time it was happening the split was much clearer.

But the cultural rift between the era that preceded rock and the first generation of rockers circa 1947-1949 was evident in every respect and inevitably the younger the artist the wider the gulf became.

The two entities, the musical changes and the cultural outlook that accompanied those changes, fused together to create an entirely new world.


With A Mind Of Long Ago
Three styles of music existed for talented black musicians during most of the 1940’s if you wanted to make records.

There was jazz, requiring the most technical skill and thus had more schooled musicians than most fields. It provided more opportunities to earn a living than most forms of music as it had plenty of stylistic variations to pursue and since most jazz bands were rather large there were plenty of sidemen gigs available. Jazz also had the means for which to achieve some form of mainstream recognition since white audiences had general appreciation of the best black bands, while for black audiences jazz outfits were seen as one of the more classy lifestyles somebody could attain.

Gospel on the other hand was largely ignored by white society but within African-American households it reigned supreme. Gospel music was traditionally more focused on singers than musicians but it provided not only steady income through records that generally sold consistently over time rather than had huge sales peaks, but gospel also had a well-established touring system that brought these singers to welcoming arms in each and every black community, offering a lot more dignity than other musical pursuits.

Then there was the blues, the bedrock of both of the previous styles musically but one without any real chance for mainstream awareness and with far harsher conditions for musicians on the road where they were left to their own devices to traverse the racist climate that existed in the regions where they were most in demand – down south. Yet the blues was, in theory anyway, the easiest road to some sort of professional existence. Musicians were largely self-taught and the bands were small, sometimes consisting of just the singer playing a guitar and accompanied perhaps by one or two others. You might not sell many records, nor even get the chance to cut them, but you could remain a working musician for years subsisting on live gigs in a region that reliably supported you.

But by 1947 things were changing. For one the popularity of jazz was starting to wane. The bands were getting smaller, singers were commanding more of the spotlight while the instrumental side was becoming more and more the realm of the highly acclaimed individual virtuoso rather than merely a stable of consistently solid working musicians.

Plenty of newcomers would still enter the jazz field, attracted by the lingering allure of its glory days, but no longer would it be the dominant musical force of black America.

That left gospel and blues, both of which were seeing their commercial potential rise, and so for many it was a choice between playing for a higher power or for a more earthly need.

But this is precisely when rock ‘n’ roll was born, suddenly offering up and coming black artists a viable fourth option to pursue. Its commercial rise was swift, it had an intrinsic appeal to the younger generation and because it borrowed from all three genres yet belonged to none of them it gave rock both deep roots in the community yet an entirely new persona for each artist to shape for themselves. While musically rock was most connected to jazz it didn’t have the highbrow attitude, the tightly constructed charts or the focus on technical precision in its playing. Vocally it was more gospel derived, with an emphasis on the emotional release, but with decidedly secular, even raunchy, topics. Meanwhile the construction of the songs often had their roots in 12 bar blues but the mindsets of the artists and the audiences were anything but downcast.

Though we’re now almost two years into rock’s lifespan in August 1949, Goree Carter’s She’s Just Old Fashioned might just provide the best example yet to show all facets of where rock came from, and more importantly why it was so radically different than all of them.


Your Greatest Thrill
The possibilities of rock in the commercial realm were still being questioned by many in the independent record field when Goree Carter first entered the picture and because he fit the general description of so many popular blues artists from Texas such as T-Bone Walker and Pee Wee Crayton, vibrant guitarists who could also sing, Freedom Records had initially pushed him to cut blues, as that was seen as the more stable market.

Carter refused, not wanting to follow in the footsteps of others but instead was determined to blaze his own trail and so he turned to rock ‘n’ roll.

For anyone looking for the key ingredient in the rock formula that type of brashly defiant attitude is most definitely IT.

Rock ‘n’ roll is defined by an unquenchable desire for self-identity, an irrepressible confidence that goes with it as well as the utter disdain for those who preach moderation and which scoffs at the belief that the more tried and true forms of the past are suitable for their life in the present.

Not only did Goree Carter embody those beliefs, but he sang about them directly in She’s Just Old Fashioned, leaving no doubt as to what side he was firmly on.

Right from the start he makes his point as bluntly as possible as his guitar rampages in off the starting line with horns in support and the piano bringing up the rear. The herky jerky intro soon morphs into a more streamlined freight train sound with Carter’s guitar out in front tearing up the countryside. When he starts singing he drops the guitar to let the horns start riffing in unison, a simple pattern but it churns along at a steady clip and keeps everything locked in.

The first solo belongs surprisingly to Sam Williams’ tenor sax rather than Carter himself. Or maybe it’s not so surprising when you consider that rock ‘n’ roll was overwhelmingly horn driven at this point. Regardless Williams gets to flex his muscles over a long (50 seconds) break during which he repeatedly shifts gears, changes tones and winds his way around the relentless backing. Just when you think he’s about to hand it off he leaps into another progression complete with crude honks and the excitement is palpable.

But finally Carter gets his chance to match this fury with licks of his own and as always he doesn’t disappoint. His single string lines are played as sharp and precise as ever, their stinging tone cutting deep and yet retaining an intoxicating melodic flavor, whether launching a volley of staccato notes or drawing them out until they envelop you completely.

Here you get a full minute of rock’s greatest guitarist of his era stretching out and showing why in just a few years this sound would be ubiquitous in rock circles… it simply offered too many exhilarating possibilities for the sound to be kept under wraps for long. While he may have been surpassed by others in the long run, Carter was the one who established virtually all of the precedents everyone else followed and while this isn’t even his best work it’s his most prolonged showcase on record and that’s reason enough for celebration.


Everybody Knows It Baby
All of that is perfectly indicative of rock’s musical concoction that drew from jazz, yet stood apart thanks to the instrumental interplay and the loose ragged feel, but it’s still only one piece to the puzzle. The other half of the track is just as important and perhaps even more revealing.

Carter’s vocals are a little bit more nasal than usual here, maybe he had a cold or it was hay fever season, but his exuberance couldn’t be stifled. He doesn’t have a gospel tone, there’s no melisma in his delivery and few (if any) of the more overt tricks of that trade are present, but the spirit he sings with is so unbridled that the connection is obvious. He’s in full celebratory mode throughout this, but instead of singing the praises of a spiritual deity passed down through the ages he’s declaring his allegiance to a thoroughly modern viewpoint of life in an earthly realm.

She’s Just Old Fashioned has a definite target but it’s not a woman as you’d expect from the title. Not exactly. It’s yesterday’s thinking which is drawing Carter’s ire, specifically the musical motifs of the past.

He’s criticizing the blues by name, using it as one of many reasons for him to dump his girl who acts, dresses and thinks in a manner that no longer cuts it in today’s world. The funny thing is though most people of the time would probably think nothing wrong with the girl’s choices in life. Maybe her “high-buttoned shoes” would draw a few sideways glances as she walked down the street, but her rules of decorum were still widely in fashion in the late 1940’s.

Girls were taught to have a reserved public persona so as not to draw attention to themselves, a demure attitude was stressed to keep the hounds at bay and should you get friendly with a member of the opposite sex in spite of this there were very definite limits to a girl’s willingness to get intimate if you wanted to keep your good name intact.

But all of those are the traits of the pre-war mindset to Carter’s way of thinking. Yes, he’s horny and probably just wants to get laid, but his broader outlook is apparent in the way he frames the issue. He’s not pleading with her to let him get to second base, but rather is telling her that she has to be more excited about experiencing life in general if she wants to be with him.

When he he cracks, “You get your greatest thrill from singing the blues” as a snide put-down it’s a telling bit of insight as to just what the teenage rock ‘n’ roll mindset was shaping up to be. This most definitely ISN’T the blues. It’s far too impatient and rambunctious for that, even if you didn’t notice the new way the band was attributed on the record label, “His Rocking Rhythm Orchestra”. As if you needed them to tell you that.

Everything here is taken at breakneck speed as if to outrun the devil who for centuries had shackled them all to the ground. That was why people sang the blues, it was a way to endure through life’s hardships. That was also why people sang gospel, to envision an afterlife with none of the sorrows and miseries of this world.

But now it was why this generation was singing rock ‘n’ roll, to forcibly fight back against oppression, to take control of your own destiny and unleash all of the pent up angusih, hostility and repressed desires that had built up for generations.


Just Didn’t Learn The Score
Goree Carter was shedding all vestiges of the blues with an overdose of pure narcotic rock ‘n’ roll. It was choice that those just a few years older would never have made and yet for those coming of age now, who saw the blues as a form of musical servitude, rock ‘n’ roll offered the path to freedom.

This is a standard right of passage when coming of age for everyone. Deciding which road of life to follow. Often its first steps are filled with uncertainty and one has a tendency to look back over their shoulder thinking of what they’re leaving behind. You hope you make the right choices in life and make it safely to the other side. Sadly not all do.

Carter might not have reached the glory on the other side but he deserved to. Ultimately he made the right decision – right for his talents, right for the generation he represented and right for the future direction of music as a whole. While he didn’t become a household name with his efforts he made the road for those who followed a little easier to navigate and for that he deserves to be celebrated.

She’s Just Old Fashioned is a perfect record in every way but one, its commercial reception. As a result guys like Goree Carter were not always stars and we know all too well that artists who fail to make the grade as hit-makers at the time are too often forgotten and go to their graves filled with bitterness. But they’re trailblazers any way you look at it and in the end they matter just as much as those who reaped the benefits of what they wrought.

Or at least they should.


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