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GOTHAM 227; APRIL 1950



It stands to reason that Harry “Fats” Crafton who made his living for a full decade playing mostly rock ‘n’ roll, even writing one of its first genuine anthems in Rock The Joint, could also enjoy the type of music that was popular when he was coming up in the 1940’s… in fact it’d be almost impossible to think he could’ve somehow escaped its influence even had he tried.

Like so many others who came of age over the past decade Louis Jordan loomed large in his musical DNA and hearing Crafton pay homage to the grandfather of rock by re-working one of his old tunes is hardly something that you could call altogether surprising.

But in doing so with such obvious affection for a style that was getting further and further away in the rear view mirror you find yourself asking… is was this what Harry Crafton would’ve been more comfortable doing all along?


Broke And Hungry
In 1950, if for some reason you’d not been following all of the latest trends, hearing this record might not have seemed too alarming. Though it’s out of date for sure it’s not quite hearkening back to 1942 when Louis Jordan had his hit with the original Rusty Dusty Blues.

Yet while there’s a noticeable change in the song’s structure AND arrangement which attempts to modernize it, Crafton only seemed to bring it ahead maybe five years before getting stuck which winds up making this far too reminiscent of the sounds of 1947.

Yeah, that’s better than sounding like a reprise of 1942, but tellingly it’s not close enough to the sounds of 1950 which is the year he has to find an audience for if he wants to score a hit.

The original song by Jordan – quickly covered by Count Basie – was a sparse ballad, bemoaning his lazy woman who sits around all day and expects him to give her whatever she wants. Jordan sings it with a resigned disgust… not mad at her, just bemused by her demands and fed-up with her attitude.

It doesn’t sound as if he’s ready to kick her out, but he’s not above using snide comments to put her in her place and the song has a lot of them that are worth hearing. The key term, and I’m guessing the selling point of the record at the time, is the title itself which is slang for “ass”, but of course they’d be forced to deny that in front of the censors. For 1942 maybe that was pretty risqué but this isn’t 1942 anymore and so Harry Crafton will have to think outside the box to get this suitable for a rock audience.


In that regard we have to give Crafton some credit. He doesn’t completely overhaul it but he does manage to imaginatively re-sequence the entire story, not holding back the “rusty dusty” put-down until the end as Jordan did – sort of a punchline for those who were hip to the term I suppose – but rather Crafton leads off his rendition with that line and then mixes and matches other lyrics to sort of retrofit it in a way, giving it more of an accusatory feeling. (Maybe that explains him getting writing credit for someone else’s eight year old song!)

But while this is a decent idea in theory it needs a more determined singer to pull off this more animated role and his vocals are far too laid back to suffice, both for the attitude Get Off Mama requires now and for a rock act seeking to keep pace with artists who aren’t taking a stroll down memory lane like this with their latest releases.

Any way you look at it this is already facing an uphill climb for relevance.


I Need Some Soles On My Shoes… And Some Soul In My Music
No doubt sensing the prospective problem with using such an outdated blueprint for a current release the biggest – and most important – change Crafton makes is in giving the song a much more uptempo arrangement.

But while he’s got the right idea, even going so far as to re-name it a more aggressive and modern sounding Get Off Mama, he doesn’t take this nearly far enough to be appropriate for rock fans of the next decade. What we get, while faster paced than Jordan’s record, is just as tired as the rest of the performance. It might not be quite as outdated as the lyrical/vocal aspects still are but it can hardly be called very modernistic either.

Because Crafton’s musical credentials as a guitarist far outweighed his vocal abilities regardless of the type of music we’re talking about, you’d naturally expect some stinging guitar in the breaks with plenty of boisterous contributions from his fellow cohorts like pianist Doc Bagby. At least highlight their strengths you know… but instead they keep them mostly under wraps, serving up nothing worth noting and leaving you wondering what other aspects of this record they felt were elevating this performance that would make up for these omissions.

My guess is it’d be the sax which floats around the background with a pretty good tone at times, at least in the lower register, but because it’s not given any clear cut part to play the longer it goes on behind Crafton’s vocals the more it has to improvise which causes it to wander, both melodically and in terms of reaching for a higher range. It’s given nothing but a supporting role and while it does that fairly well – at least compared to everything else here – it helps to keep in mind that there are few supporting roles that make or break a record, then OR now, and this is no exception.

Most shocking of all – at least in terms of targeting your audiences needs – is the fact there’s no solo to be found which is all but standard on a rock song nowadays. No sax solo, no piano solo and alarmingly no guitar solo either. If they were trying to position Crafton as a legitimate artist in his own right rather than simply a behind-the-scenes contributor, then the least you can do is provide a compelling reason to pay attention to him by focusing on what he does best.

On Get Off Mama what he does best is get you off your own rusty dusty to turn this record off and go outside to get some exercise by returning it to the store for your seventy nine cents.


Put You Out Real Soon
Because Crafton would go on to keep putting out good rock records down the road under a variety of guises we have to look at this as more of an unexplained blip on the radar… a non-essential track by someone who was never going to become a star in his own right anyway.

Since his name recognition was already pretty low Get Off Mama wasn’t going to hurt his standing much among rock fans, nor was something this lethargic sounding going to run the risk of drawing a larger contingent of fans who detested rock ‘n’ roll, thus pulling him further away from what he did best.

But the answers to the questions this record raises still are hard to figure out… most importantly why Crafton or Gotham Records figured it was a good idea to look backwards to begin with when music sales are predicated on looking forward.

Even if someone thought that WAS a legitimately good idea it still doesn’t explain why they felt this flat, worn-out performance was a strong enough representation OF that idea to buck the trends of the day.

Unfortunately we’ll be sitting on our rusty dusties for a long long time before anyone can explain that one.


(Visit the Artist page of Harry Crafton for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)