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REGENT 1020; JUNE 1950



The story of session musicians, sidemen and largely anonymous band members is one of rock history’s biggest blind spots.

It’s not that all of them have been roundly ignored over the years but the few who’ve managed to earn some widespread name recognition generally are either considered an instrumental virtuoso – usually on an instrument and in a style that has a fervent cult of followers – or they double as key songwriters on a string of classics and thus get attention through those means as well.

For the other 98% though, the historical mentions are few and far between and usually just made in passing when covering the music of someone they played alongside.

Regrettably we’re guilty of that around here too, for our previous references to saxophonist Harold Land were limited to a few brief mentions of what he played on the records of Jimmy Liggins… and even there, while complimentary in our remarks, the focus was still on the main artist, not a talented sideman.

So this is an effort to remedy that in some small way by letting him get the spotlight in a review of a record which came out under his own name. But far from simply being a form of guilt-ridden compensation to Land’s memory at best, or a sympathetic handout at worst, the record itself more than justifies its inclusion… though just not for the reasons a casual observer might expect.


Landing Place
When Jimmy Liggins was nearly killed on stage in a shooting in the spring of 1949 it abruptly put an end to The Drops Of Joy, one of the better self-contained bands of the 1940’s rock scene, forced to break up and pursue other jobs while Liggins underwent a year long convalescence.

Harold Land along with Charlie Ferguson had formed the heart of The Drops Of Joy, their dueling saxophones defining that group’s sound, and thus helping to define early rock’s sound which was ironic considering both of them were initially more attuned to jazz.

In fact now that his stint with Liggins was over, Land would increasingly move into jazz circles – to great acclaim – but during this time he was still in a state of transition while trying to figure out a) what he wanted to pursue musically, b) what types of music someone would pay him to record and c) if those two things were compatible or mutually exclusive.

With San Diego Bounce he’s sort of aiming for compatibility, bringing some jazz aesthetics to something that at times is more fit for the roadhouse.

It’s not always the best idea to merge these two divergent strands of music, for jazziacs aren’t the most tolerant people when it comes to dance floor workouts and rock fans tend not to appreciate the more cerebral aspects of the jazz playbook, but Land is talented enough – and in this instance his goals in bringing them together are modest enough – where it won’t offend anyone.

But whether that means it’ll excite anyone is also up for debate.

Harold In The Land Of Rock.. Steady Now, Steady
Since Harold Land’s previous mentions on these pages were largely made in passing when focusing on somebody else it’s probably best to start with some brief background on the man himself to get people situated… and explain the title of the record.

Land was born in Texas in 1928 but moved to San Diego when he was five. In high school he started playing the saxophone and was a fast learner as just about two years later he was playing professionally with Liggins.

Though he was a jazz fan through and through he credited his time in a rock band with giving him the foundation for his later more intricate excursions. When Land was left to fend for himself after the shooting he quickly signed with Savoy and within the month cut four tracks for them in Los Angeles with fellow Liggins sideman and longtime Land associate, drummer Leon Petties (the two had played together in Houston before joining the band).

Savoy of course had a deep jazz pedigree but had been at the forefront of the rock movement since Paul Williams, another jazz-reared saxman, made the switch to the more roughneck style in 1947, so they were likely viewing Land in much the same way, someone who could bring elements of both styles into his output.

On cuts like the label promoting Swingin’ On Savoy the jazz side was heavily featured while the more slyly named Outlandish he leaned more into a hybrid sound. That one didn’t see release on a single unfortunately but even if it had been it may not have been included here since we’re struggling to get through the 1950 release rolls in two calendar years as it is!

So why then did we choose THIS side, you ask? Couldn’t we put it aside too, thank Harold Land for his service with Liggins and tell any readers to be sure to check out his later 50’s albums like the impeccably titled Harold In The Land Of Jazz and sort of leave it at that?

Well, although the primary goal around here is to show what rock was at the moment we’re focused on, we also try to give some insight into what it would later become and that’s where San Diego Bounce makes its mark.

Before long we’re going to get into some of first significant foreign contributions to the lexicon with the emergence of the Jamaican styles of rock… that would be ska, rocksteady and eventually reggae… and when we do that’s where this otherwise obscure Harold Land instrumental will come back into play.

Coxsone’s Shuffle
One of the key figures in reggae’s rise was disc jockey Clement “Coxsone” Dodd who brought the “sound system” to prominence in the mid-1950’s wherein you’d sell tickets, drinks and food at a club while playing records to attract people looking to dance, meet up with other music fans and generally hang-out in an environment geared towards the same cultural sensibilities.

Like all of the variants of this practice which followed in other parts of the world – Northern Soul Scene in Great Britain, the discotheque clubs of the 1970’s and the early hip-hop battles in the parks and streets of New York – the key was getting records that set the right mood and were rare enough to create some intrigue as well as to help forge dee-jay’s musical identity.

For Dodd, who’d later go on to be one of the immortal producers on the Jamaican music scene, his signature tune being played at these events was San Diego Bounce by Harold Land… so much so that it became widely known as Coxsone’s Shuffle.

And you probably thought it’d be 1958 or so before we got to delve into this vibrant strain of rock ‘n’ roll!

Anyway, Land’s song perfectly suited the atmosphere Dodd was creating… a laid back rhythm with more emphatic interjections along the way and a meandering melody played by his glassy hollow sounding tenor that would become a trademark of Jamaican sax, particularly the immortal Roland Alphonso who frequently worked with Dodd dating back to their first sessions in 1956.

So anyway… the song.

The other horns blast one note intermittently during the extended set-up of San Diego Bounce letting Land establish the melody in between their quick bursts. He’s the definition of mellow during this stretch, residing comfortably in the mid-to-low range of his horn and using a very smoky tone which gives it a 1 AM feel, where the remaining patrons at the bar are just now making their sordid connections after the more respectable customers have headed off to bed.

In spite of this ambiance it’s hardly a dangerous aura he’s giving off… in fact it’s got a lazy feel to it, melodically pleasant but nothing more. The horn bursts by the others are the only thing that get your heart pumping until Land starts to pick up the intensity the second time through the cycle before he switches to his first real solo which is a little slinky, a little whimsical, and a little fuzzy, sort of like the musical equivalent of the last round of drinks or a draw from a joint as they start to take effect.

It’s being supplemented by steady hand-claps accenting the rhythm without quite pushing it onto the dance floor. Even though it’s not a sweaty workout there’s a definite communal vibe to it all, though it comes across as something best suited for the moments where everybody comes in off the street and gets their bearings, a way to ease you in to what follows rather than act as the galvanizing highlight.

Land’s lines throughout this are well-judged and creative without being showy. The best aspect of his playing is how it seems to always be leading somewhere even if that never really comes to fruition with a rousing climax. It’s got a sense of order in its concept in other words, coolly efficient and suitable for many different scenes.


Another Land
When this came out a full year year after it was cut (leading you to wonder what took so long) there was hardly a thriving market for it. The sax instrumental craze in rock had peaked in 1949 and although it was far from dead by now it was definitely on the wane.

Furthermore these types of mid-tempo tracks – more melodic than groove-based – weren’t something that would turn heads in most cases for there was no searing playing to make your ears pop and no relentless rhythm to lock you in and put you under their spell. Instead San Diego Bounce was something much more subtle which required repeated spins in the right environment to let it work its way under your skin and in the summer of 1950 there weren’t many places where that was likely.

Of course it seemed equally unlikely that a few years down the road another place – in another country no less – would provide those perfect environmental conditions to allow this record to flourish, but when it did the effects were pretty far reaching, not just in terms of miles but also styles.

By that point Harold Land was settling into his most sustained stretch of musical fulfillment elsewhere, albeit as a jazz artist, and was probably unaware, if not unconcerned, that this track from his first solo endeavor was in the process of forming a vital link between two enduring brands of rock ‘n’ roll. For us however that alone makes it significant as more pieces of this elaborate musical evolution fall into place in unexpected ways.