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DECCA 48175; OCTOBER 1950



When meeting artists for the first time on this already long and winding journey through rock history, there have been countless occasions where they came to us from entirely different musical genres, oftentimes where they had verifiable success before changing tastes forced them to look elsewhere to keep their careers afloat.

At other times artists started off performing rock ‘n’ roll only to find they may be better suited, either stylistically or for commercial purposes, to pursue another form of music and soon moved on to try their luck in other fields entirely.

Then there are some like today’s artist, Harold Burrage, who stuck with rock ‘n’ roll throughout his entire fifteen year career, but within that broad classification he managed to explore a vast array of rock subgenres that gave him lots of wide-ranging credibility while resulting in surprisingly little actual success.

Those usually tend to be the most interesting artists to delve into and here’s where his story begins.


The Gold Standard
The first thing you (probably) noticed was the record label… Decca, one of the major companies whose association with rock ‘n’ roll thus far has mainly consisted of older performers who they’d had under contract when rock began (Albennie Jones, Cousin Joe, Doles Dickens) who of their own volition shifted their style a little to allow them be housed as rock acts… even if Decca themselves would have staunchly opposed such a designation.

The rest of the company’s releases that have fallen under the rock banner came about through similar circumstances, veteran artists who once were considered blues (Cecil Gant) or jazz (Joe Morris) but had turned to rock when recording for other labels and continued to do so once they joined Decca even as the label were probably more inclined to continue to insist they were still representative of their past musical associations.

Even a group like The Blenders, conceived as a Ravens imitator, were clearly toning down their image from their debut on National Records to better fit the classier aspirations of the major label snobs.

So in many ways the signing of Harold Burrage was a form of outright capitulation to the realities of a marketplace that Decca was at risk for losing entirely the longer they remained resistant to rock ‘n’ roll.

Needless to say however this one release did nothing to change their outlook permanently, especially when it failed to find an audience. But that’s the landscape 19 year old singer/pianist Harold Burrage found himself as he entered the recording studio with Hi-Yo in tow, a song that Decca marketed as a novelty (of course they did!) rather than admit their resistance to this kind of music might not be tenable in the long term.

Where’s The Silver?
With blaring horns playing a tight energetic riff the song hits you between the eyes from the moment the needle drops. This is a good thing because once the vocal hook follows you wish the horns would knock them out of the way.

That’s the crux of the problem with what otherwise might be a decent record… the selling point is by far its weakest attribute.

The song’s official title is simply Hi-Yo, but in many places it’s referred to as Hi-Yo Silver, since that’s what’s actually being sung. It’s taken rather obviously from The Lone Ranger which had been a popular radio show since 1933 and in 1949 made the move to television where it immediately became ABC’s most watched program.

The thing is the owners of that character were very protective of its image and so Decca’s lawyers undoubtedly advised them to shorten the title to try and escape notice from the program’s legal team. Unfortunately for Harold Burrage it also meant the record escaped notice among those likely to give it a spin because of its tangentially related subject. So much for built-in promotion.

Truthfully the kids who were fans of the show would be disappointed in the record because it has nothing whatsoever to do with the famous cowboy hero and everything to do with a flashy modern hep-cat looking for sexual action which clearly means we’re in store for a much different definition of “riding”… which frankly is the song’s greatest attribute for degenerate rockers such as us.

But even with that strong and rather blatant undercurrent it’s a conflicted record because of how it’s trying to straddle the fence between a send-up of another image and a down and dirty sexcapade for a record company which doesn’t approve of such smutty things. As a result we never get the orgy we’re led to believe is right around the next bend but we also don’t get a suitable substitute that might be funny or exciting in its own right.

On top of that the answering vocals that form the bulk of the chorus are particularly grating, sounding as they do as if they’re coming from old men whose necks are being squeezed by ties (which is probably true). At least we can say that Burrage’s own delivery is alright, singing with an intentionally breathy manner to suggest heated anticipation for what is to come. But if we never actually get to the “something else” it all may be in vain unless the band can add some juice of their own.

Jump Into The Saddle
You know this is a Decca Records production when you see the credits for the band accompanying Burrage on his debut… Horace Henderson and His Orchestra.

Though Horace was in many people’s eyes the more skilled of the famed Henderson brothers, it was Fletcher Henderson who became the star, though Fletcher’s jazz band were using lots of Horace’s arrangements along the way.

That’s not to downgrade Fletcher Henderson who remains one of the most important bandleaders of the idiom, but merely to point out that Horace had credentials to match a luminous figure such as his sibling.

What he did NOT have however was a clear grasp on the intricacies of molding a really effective rock song because Hi-Yo sounds exactly like what it was – a jazz musician’s modest interpretation of rock ‘n’ roll made for a company who clearly preferred the former to the latter and thus he knew on which side his bread was buttered.

It’s a very sparse arrangement at least, which considering the usual ways in which jazz oriented bandleaders tend to over-stuff rock records with far too many horns playing ostentatious charts is probably a good thing. Keep it simple.

Henderson does that, but maybe a little TOO simple as most of the instruments are held in reserved for the lion’s share of the recording. Though he does get a nice clattering quirky drum sound here from George Reed, it’s not anything resembling a steady pounding beat and Henderson’s own piano is merely tossing in melodic hints, not actual riffs to stick in your mind.

The one semi-experimental aspect of this record comes in the middle when you expect another straight-forward stop-time vocal when the instruments drop out momentarily but instead we’re hit with a full-on sudden stop. As in dead air for a long long time, something that may work well on the bandstand when the audience can see with their own eyes that the musicians didn’t drop dead or run out the back door, but on record it doesn’t work at all. Even the arrival of Arthur Edwards’ bass solo to pick up the slack after some uneasy moments of silence is too soft and low to convince you this was a good idea.

The horn solo gets things back on track okay as Riley Hampton’s tenor is playing fairly well while being answered by Walter Leonard (or vice versa), but it’s hardly exciting and certainly doesn’t match either the suggestiveness of the actual lyrics OR the image of somebody riding a galloping horse to stop the bad guys that you might otherwise be inclined to believe this was somehow chronicling.

Though you can’t say there was so much as a single bad note played, you also can’t say that anything after that rousing intro was worth remembering once it ends.

From Over The Track
While it’s somewhat promising (in theory anyway) that Decca Records wasn’t firmly sticking to their rock prohibition mindset, it’s also pretty telling that if they were going to consent to delve into it for purely commercial reasons they were going to insist upon it conforming more to their musical standards… which is another way of saying they were going to water it down and try passing it off as something of a harmless novelty.

Hi-Yo suffers from both of those aims, its musical kick being reduced to a mere nudge and its true off-color spirit being somewhat obscured by its gimmicky trappings. Burrage, while effective in taking on this persona and delivery, doesn’t show the strength of his voice that he’d be known for down the road and as a teenager surrounded by studio veterans you can see why he wasn’t more assertive.

As a first effort though – for both him and the nose-in-the-air company – it’s not too bad, but what bothers you as a listener is you know how easily it could’ve become much much better.


(Visit the Artist page of Harold Burrage for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)