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FREEDOM 1522; OCTOBER, 1949

 
 

 

Gambling is a fool’s errand. A silly pursuit designed to prey upon man’s belief that they are just a little bit smarter than the “experts” and thus can profit by their knowledge.

But wagering on the outcome of an event of which you are not otherwise an active participant and thus have no hand in determining the results is unhealthy for your bank account. All of those so-called experts touting which games to pick on a Sunday are back at work the NEXT Sunday doing the same thing for a much smaller salary than they’d earn had they successfully bet that amount on the games they were picking.

Yet in spite of this gambling is such a popular activity that they’ve built entire cities to support it, as anyone who has been to the theme park otherwise known as Las Vegas well knows. But while you’re laying down your chips at the table sure you’re about to fleece the house ask yourself when the last time you heard of a casino that went bankrupt.

In fact the gambling industry in America is such a robust money-maker that when Native American tribes began to get the right to operate casinos they finally began to get a measure of revenge on the country that stole their land in the first place. That they’ve been able to do this by luring the descendants of those who broke every treaty signed in good faith before the ink was dry into their shiny dens of inequity so these pale faced suckers can drop their coins into slot machines and sidle up to the roulette wheel to blow their kids college funds on games of chance is a particularly appropriate twist of fate.

So let this be a public service announcement to convince any wayward readers thinking they have a sure bet in front of them to instead take that hard-earned dough and sock it away someplace safe, stuff it in a mattress, bury it in the backyard or invest in an apple orchard… or start a lucrative music website like this one.

But don’t gamble it away on something fraught with uncertainty even if it looks like a can’t miss proposition… like say the odds of Goree Carter becoming a rock superstar.

Well… hold on a minute now… what are the odds you’ll give me for that bet? Four to one? Really? Are you sure? That good?! I would’ve thought it’d be an even money proposition, I mean have you HEARD this kid’s first few records?

You know what, forget everything I just said about the pitfalls of gambling, I’ll take that bet and clean up at those odds. Seriously, how can Goree Carter NOT become a rock star? This is as sure a thing as you’ll ever find.
 

 

One More Chance
If you were drafting artists for a ten year plan in rock ‘n’ roll in 1949 there aren’t many guys you’d choose ahead of Goree Carter. He was a “can’t miss” prospect if ever there was one.

In a style of music that valued youthful outlooks, musically and culturally, the 19 year old Carter fit the bill in every way.

Rock had already shown a tendency to reward artists who wrote their own material, unlike older forms of music which solicited compositions from established songwriters, and Carter was highly skilled in that area, crafting songs that were lyrically memorable and musically advanced. But that wasn’t his only talent, not by a long shot, as he was a very solid singer and without question the most explosively high-octane guitarist you could possibly find.

Now granted the guitar wasn’t the centerpiece of rock ‘n’ roll as it’d become ten years or so down the road, but if you were looking for an instrument that at least had the potential to compete with the tenor sax in terms of generating excitement then the electric guitar was your best option, especially in the hands of someone like Carter who coaxed the most dazzlingly brilliant sounds from its six strings imaginable. Fiery and fluid, abrasive and soothing, Carter’s playing covered all of the bases, pulling you in with a mesmerizing quality that was sure to win fast converts to its incendiary power.

But strangely it hadn’t happened yet.

We’ve run down the possible reasons for this lack of verifiable commercial returns thus far, starting with the fact that Freedom Records from his hometown of Houston, Texas was new to the scene, inexperienced in the mass production, distribution and promotion of their product, things which had nothing to do with Carter. It certainly wasn’t HIS fault if his records might not be easily found in stores or in jukeboxes in Cleveland, San Francisco or Altoona.

That reasoning made perfect sense too… until Freedom scored a hit this summer with a much less original sounding country blues song by L.C. Williams.

So we dig deeper to figure out why Carter’s records weren’t meeting with even enough regional success to make the local territorial charts for Texas and the Gulf Coast region in Cash Box magazine.

Maybe the answer is the most obvious one – his records were just TOO advanced, too unusual to be met with instant gratification. Sure, for those of us coming of age in this century who’ve heard all of the big name guitar gods who followed him in the decades to come – from Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley to Dick Dale and Jimi Hendrix… Jimmy Page and Eddie Hazel to Eddie Van Halen and Mark Knopfler, Prince to Slash… the list goes on and on and on – we know when we’re hearing genius on the instrument. But back in 1949 when that sound was new and untested how could the public possibly be expected to grasp the sounds of the 1950’s and beyond before the sun had even set on the 1940’s?

But then we say to ourselves – were they DEAF? You don’t have to be a pilot to understand the conceptual difference between the prop propeller airplanes that were now giving way to the jet age that was simultaneously dawning at the mid-century mark. Likewise you may be used to pianos and horns but when somebody like Carter comes along and plays the guitar with such electricity that hearing it is like sticking your hand into a live socket how can you NOT notice?

But as of yet they hadn’t and we’re sad to say that nothing about that would change with She’s My Best Bet, another mind-blowing record by somebody ten years ahead of his time.
 
 

 

I Thought That Was Understood
The song starts as if it had been launched from a howitzer. It’s at full speed from the first notes played and by the sounds of it they’re trying to outrace the devil who’s behind them in some souped up hot rod mashing the gas pedal to catch them and bring their brand of music back to hell with him where critics were already certain it had escaped from two years earlier.

Carter’s guitar and Conrad Johnson’s alto sax, not the tenor quite yet (though hold on, it’s coming) are neck and neck on the intro, flying down the track side by side but elbowing each other out of the way at the same time, like brothers trying to be the first to get to the presents under the tree on Christmas morning.

They trade off, each one spitting out notes at a furious pace, but keeping it succinct before Carter hands off the entire load to the sax which temporarily slows thing down – at least by comparison. But that also grounds it, giving it a sturdier and safer platform for Carter the singer to launch himself from as he dives headlong into the meat of the song.

The lyrics are brief and to the point yet within that tight frame lies a work of art, though pointedly it’s not of the art gallery variety, roped off under carefully positioned lighting to show off its brush strokes. Instead this is street art, bold and brash graffiti that adorns the sides of buildings in every city worth its reputation, presenting crude but powerful images that become all the more vital by the conditions under which it was made.

Carter’s words fly off his tongue in a rapid fire delivery that nevertheless remains easy to hear and understand… not just every word but the underlying nuance of his meanings. The story line of She’s My Best Bet is simple but brutally effective. Flipping the usual narrative on its head – the one which normally finds the singer pleading with his girl who is about to leave him – Carter comes out guns blazing, coldly dropping his girlfriend who has done nothing wrong and worships him unconditionally, simply because he feels he has to. He admits he loves her but never let her know it, which seems like the excuse most of the guys in rock who’ve already been dumped offer in their defense, but here Goree is the proactive one who initiates the breakup.

What he’s trying to get across to her is that he’s somebody who simply CAN’T be tied down, there’s too much life to live, too many places to see, things to do, other girls to defile… he’s restless, not because he thinks he can do better, as he repeats the title line she remains his best bet (for happiness, for long-term security, for good sex and good meals or as an alibi for his transgressions, take your pick), but like any kid just entering adulthood who can always take the safe route and settle down with their hometown sweetheart knows, there’s a nagging itch to do no such thing. It’s a view that only those at that age can fully grasp, when you’re consumed by an insatiable urge to take the risks that can only be met at this stage of life when you’re overflowing with confidence and never bother to look before you leap because you’ve yet to land on the hard ground on the way down from that leap.

That’s Goree Carter the character IN this song and that’s sure as hell Goree Carter the artist who created this song. Someone who never looked before he leaped.
 

Please Have Mercy
When Carter unleashes his guitar in the break it’s like a switchblade pulled in an alley fight, the effect is chilling. His playing is sharp and deadly, drawing out his notes in deliberate fashion at first before slashing you to pieces as he goes along. Listening to it you feel the need to check yourself for wounds, something which is compounded when Sam Williams and his muscular tenor sax comes along as the reinforcement.

Battered and bruised, heart pounding, blood pumping, you throw your hands up crying for mercy.

She’s My Best Bet is rock ‘n’ roll as a combat sport. Carter’s electric guitar wages war with Williams’s saxophone as the two dominant soloing instruments of rock’s first decade try and settle the dispute as to which is destined to carry rock to the mountaintop. By the time the record concludes Williams might win out, his playing becoming more unhinged than Carter allowed himself to be, and sure enough over the next few years the sax would flex its muscles more and take a huge lead, but Carter, had he been smart, would’ve still laid his money on the guitar and come out ahead in the long run.

Considering Goree Carter’s been criminally ignored for his own contributions to rock’s evolution by most so-called historians it’d have been his best shot at retribution, cleaning up with the bookies and pocketing the dough, since you and I both know he sure as hell never got paid for what he did so well either.

He didn’t here get paid here either, at least not with the hit he so rightly deserved.

They always say never buck the odds and at the time this came out the odds were firmly on the side of the saxophone to keep its hold on rock ‘n’ roll forever. But no less than Damon Runyon, the most colorful raconteur of gamblers and criminal riff-raff of the Twentieth Century said, “The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet”.

Hearing this record I’ll second Runyon’s opinion and as such I’d like to double down on my wager that Goree Carter, who once again shows that he was both the swiftest and the strongest of rock artists in many ways, will win out in the long run. Maybe it’ll only be in the afterlife but somewhere, someway, his talent will have to eventually pay off in green dollars and gold records if there’s any justice in the world.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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