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DECCA 48170; AUGUST 1950

 
 

 

One of the more difficult decisions when starting this project a few years back was how lenient we’d be when it came to including artists on the fringes of rock.

Obviously this is rock history and thus there are no outside genre songs that will be reviewed, otherwise it invalidates the entire premise while painting an inaccurate picture of the very subject we’re trying to tell.

But the borders of musical genres are sometimes marked only by a line in the sand rather than separated by a vast expanse of ocean so there are artists who often step on both sides of those borders from one release to the next.

Cecil Gant was just such a figure and his late 1940’s sides were among those records that could’ve been left out if you wanted to rigidly enforce the territorial claims. But ultimately it was decided that when possible his sometimes conflicted allegiances would be given airing here, not because those records were altogether vital to rock’s ongoing evolution, but rather because it was important to show his journey since we knew what was coming from him down the road had no choice but to make the cut.

Well now that we’re down that road the records coming along over the next few months are the ones which ultimately justified his inclusion from the very start.
 

 

‘Til Four O’Clock
As with so many records that Cecil Gant put out over his career (this the first we’re looking at under his Gunter Lee Carr alias he used), this is another that is more inspiration than perspiration. As we’ve mentioned so many times before when discussing his approach to music he tended to reduce the art of songwriting down to its barest essentials… something you and I would probably refer to more accurately as “improvising”.

Yet he when he had a good idea and let his imagination go the results were often pretty good and though this record isn’t nearly as strong as it could’ve become had he put more time into crafting a full narrative to frame the primary message, that primary message itself is an important one which shows just how widespread rock ‘n’ roll already was in the black community, long before white listeners had any idea it existed.

The fact this was cut for a major record label whose audience was largely those white listeners makes it ironic of course, but Decca had a good track record over the past dozen years when it came to producing quality black artists from Louis Jordan to Sister Rosetta Tharpe and The Ink Spots, but as the rock era was upon them they began to stumble.

That somebody as unpredictable and inconsistent as Gant was viewed as perhaps their best option was hardly reassuring, yet at least it showed they were trying to address the problem in a way that made sense based on their past experiences.

Gant had shown he could play uptempo boogies just fine and though his voice was more of a weather-beaten croak than a streamlined cry, he possessed the right attitude to pull this kind of thing off. If they could just work up a song that left no doubt as to its aims they figured they’d see what the prospects were for this music pretty quickly.

Hence We’re Gonna Rock, a song title that’s about as unambiguous as possible with a performance that is enthusiastic at its best, yet limited by the usual things Gant’s records are limited by, namely his inability to see an idea through to the end and fix its flaws through more painstaking methods than he was ever comfortable doing.
 


 
 

Come On In!
The opening which finds Gant pounding the bass keys on the piano before adding a right hand trilling pattern sounds a lot like what Jerry Lee Lewis would use to kick off so many of his records seven and eight years down the road… a little less flamboyant certainly, for one thing there’s no glissandos that The Killer nearly took out a patent on, but it’s got the same basic drive to it and gets this off to a good start.

When the vocals come in you have two distinct elements that seem almost to contradict each other which you quickly have to reconcile if you’re to get much out of this. The first is that Gant’s singing voice sounds as if it’s coming from some grizzled old-timer (for the record he was 36, admittedly older than most rockers, but he sounds as if he were 76), but the words he’s singing are the types of things that someone barely in their twenties would be delivering… ”We’re gonna rock, we’re gonna roll”, repeated multiple times before switching up the verbs just to let it go on a little longer.

In other words the message of We’re Gonna Rock is absolutely perfect – it’s simple, direct and embedded in the title so that it can’t possibly be overlooked – and the attitude he sings this with confirms that intent pretty clearly, yet the messenger might not be the person who can best convince you of it.

Right from the start Gant’s strengths and weaknesses as an artist mingle together indiscriminately. The lyrics are rudimentary to say the least. There’s no story to speak of, not even a really great line in the midst of rather ordinary ones. In fact there’s hardly any actual lyrics at all. He starts telling about his girl Sally Lou but then can’t figure out what he wants to say and so inexplicably he just leaves the poor girl hanging mid-sentence. Other than that brief flash we only really get the title repeated over and over and one of two equally generic lines to finish the sentiment each time through.

Had he put some genuine effort into this, using that basic framework but then crafting something worthwhile… if not a story per say, at least worked out a deeper theme… you could’ve had a much better record. Instead, like almost all of Gant’s sides, it was tossed off the top of his head as the tapes rolled, the idea probably lifted from Wild Bill Moore’s 1948 hit We’re Gonna Rock, which though an instrumental did have a similar chanting of the title line, but the instrumentation is so different that the similarities end there.
 

I Got It, I Got It
Within that minimalist approach however this record still presented the basic precept behind much of rock music’s mindset in a nutshell. People getting together to have a good time in ways that weren’t likely to be promoted by the community leaders, much of it centered around music, drinking and dancing that if done right would probably lead to sex of some kind, even that was just dry humping in the shadows while the music played to give you an excuse to cop of a feel and get each other off.

Gant indicates this is happening without actually signaling that it is to those – like Decca Records – who wouldn’t necessarily pick up on it on their own. But Gant had played thousands of places like the one his scant few lyrics describe and knew the requirements at delivering these songs was quite simple – find a groove and stick to it, then offer a release in the instrumental break.

That’s where this little ditty makes its mark and yet at the same time shows where they were still at odds about how to best convey this atmosphere.

When Gant is pounding away on the keys this almost transcends its limitations. The intro and the bulk of the first minute feature him out front quite well, but in the first break he calls out to “Hambone”, the guitarist who lays down a very solid but atypical guitar solo for rock ‘n’ roll.

I say “atypical” even though in 1950 there’s really no “typical” guitar break that has been codified by artists, record labels or audiences yet. It’s still largely a secondary instrument in the genre and though Goree Carter has basically established what will eventually become the blueprint for much of what follows, it hadn’t been widely picked up on yet and so each record that featured the instrument prominently differed greatly in what sounds and textures they produced.

Here the playing itself is good with some nice single string runs, but the energy is a little lacking by design. It’s probably a little bluesier sound than is advisable for a song entitled We’re Gonna Rock and as a result when Gant comes back in as you think things will get back on a more appropriate track. Yet while his playing is nothing if not energetic it’s almost chaotic at first before settling into a more sustainable groove.

Essentially this is the risk-reward dichotomy of freewheeling improvisation. Some things hit and some things miss and this record splits it down the middle.
 

Save My Soul
Everything you needed to know about Cecil Gant, Decca Records and the increasing commercial appeal of a previously neglected market can be summed up in this release.

For Gant he was willing to cut what you wanted, when you wanted, provided he got paid up front. He’d do his best to give you something usable but it just wasn’t in his nature to dedicate himself to doing much more than that.

For the major record labels like Decca, rock ‘n’ roll was something that was piquing their curiosity as a potential secondary market, yet wasn’t something they had much hope of understanding. If they lucked out and got a genuine groundbreaking hit, great, they’d keep at it, but if not they’d quickly turn their attention elsewhere.

As for that market itself, the driving force behind both Gant and Decca’s more assertive moves in this direction, they were ultimately the ones who’d determine its success. Far from being easily pacified with compromised efforts like We’re Gonna Rock, they were smart enough, disciplined enough and demanding enough to insist on a more authentic effort than what they delivered here.

Unfortunately it’d be awhile until the major labels came around on that idea by which time Cecil Gant would be long gone from this world.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Cecil Gant for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)