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GOTHAM 196; SEPTEMBER, 1949

 
 

 

It was only a matter of time, wasn’t it? If there’s one thing you know for sure when it comes to the otherwise often incomprehensible decision making of record companies it’s that when a fad becomes a trend and the trend becomes a full-fledged movement then it’s all hands on deck to take advantage of it.

Good news for Harry Crafton then, as he steps from out of the shadows and into the spotlight, as Gotham Records wanted to take advantage of not just one, but TWO recent developments in music. The first has long since passed the trend stage and is now omnipresent in rock ‘n’ roll, and that’s the wild sax antics that have captured so much attention over the past two years.

It’s the other factor though, the growing interest in the electric guitar as a centerpiece of rock ‘n’ roll, something just a few months old at this point, where Gotham Records shows themselves to be a little ahead of the curve.

They didn’t spearhead its ascension by any means but they now become one of the first to spot its increasing presence on the scene and somewhat surprisingly they prove they have enough initiative to try jumping onto that bandwagon before it gets rolling.
 

 
Every Day…
Harry Crafton has made one appearance that we know of, though possibly more, thus far on these pages, as the writer of one of the most immortal songs of 1940’s rock ‘n’ roll. The record was Jimmy Preston’s Rock The Joint which was fast on its way to becoming a national hit and would in time be picked up on by Bill Haley who’d spread the sound of rock ‘n’ roll into white America with a his own version of that song.

That alone means Harry Crafton’s name should never be complete expunged from the history books, but while he might go down in most editions as merely a writer he was also a pretty good singer and an excellent guitarist whose own output as an artist gave Gotham Records another reliable name to take up a spot in their lineup of releases.

Of course we’ve done our fair share of questioning the label that was now giving Crafton his chance and it bears repeating the precarious nature of being a contracted artist in this day and age for small independent record companies whose lights could go dark at any minute should they not sell enough copies of their latest release to pay the electric bill.

Gotham Records had already lost its most potent commercial artist, Earl Bostic, as he was taken away by the mightier King Records who were making a practice of raiding smaller labels for their best acts, either by offering to distribute their product to a wider market (as they did with Sensation Records out of Detroit which enabled them to steal Todd Rhodes), or they’d come to the financial aid of a struggling company and buy a share of the business and then take it over and force the original owners out (as they’ve done with DeLuxe Records which gave King’s Syd Nathan the contract of the estimable Roy Brown).

They hadn’t quite managed to do the same with Gotham, nor would they in the future, but they swiped Bostic from the smaller imprint as soon as he showed promise and it’d be with King that Bostic would remain for the rest of his long career, one of their most consistently strong sellers, particularly in albums as time went on.
 

And Every Night
So Gotham was in a bit of a bind by the summer of 1949, down to just one notable artist in Preston. But one artist, no matter how successful, doesn’t support an entire record company because there’s only so many records of one artist that can be promoted at any given time and a few poor showings in a row might wind up sinking the entire label. Distributors will be less apt to keep pushing your line, retailers will be less willing to take your untested artists, and the name recognition of the label will start to plummet which means fewer consumers will stop on those records when flipping through bins looking for something to shell out their 79 cents for.

So more artists were needed but when they botched the first offerings by their two big signees of last spring when they paired one side by vocalist J.B. Summers with an instrumental side by saxophonist Eddie Woodland, thereby diluting the impact either one might have, they looked as though they weren’t going to be long for this world. Surely if they couldn’t figure out their ass from their elbow they’d quickly go out of business. They then compounded the problems by cutting Woodland loose altogether, costing them a solid, if unspectacular sax player who at least could deliver reasonably competent records in this style. More and more you wondered what idiot was making the decisions there and if he was intentionally sabotaging their chances for some inexplicable reason.

But then things began to turn around as Crafton’s composition Rock The Joint was given to their best artist and Preston turned in a torrid performance, possibly with Crafton himself featured on guitar. The sales were brisk and that kept them from having to sell off their office furniture to stay afloat.

The company furthered their gains by making a number of interconnected moves when they established a house band led by Doc Bagby, a pianist/arranger, and featuring Joe Sewell on saxophone and Crafton on guitar designed to give the label a more uniform musical style. Bagby and Crafton were instructed to write material, both for themselves and others, and were joined in that task by Don Keene, who’d co-written Rock The Joint with the two of them.

Those moves finally gave them the stable nucleus they needed and much like Freedom Records with The Hep-Cats, it’d be on the collective shoulders of this assemblage of talent that Gotham Records would either rise or fall.
 


 
 

Shakes All Over
If they were looking for a sign they’d made a wise decision on who to entrust their fortunes to when it came to musical output Roly Poly Mama leaves no doubt they found the right man.

Crafton’s nickname was “Fats” or “Fat Man”, which wasn’t all that uncommon then in rock. Clifford Blivens was known as “Fat Man”, though we’ve yet to see any pictures of him to confirm his girth, and of course some guy named Domino would be along soon with plenty of hits and plenty of pictures to show he lived up to his billing as well.

Harry Crafton, from the looks of it anyway, wasn’t that hefty a man. Broad shouldered maybe, but hardly unusually so. Yet that’s what he was dubbed which leads us to wonder if it wasn’t his OWN frame that got him that moniker, but rather his choice in ladies. As in he liked his girls who filled out their dress a little more than most. He’d return to this topic again on another song he wrote but here we get our first hint as to his chubby chasing preferences (and we don’t mean Chubby Newsom, though if she also revved his motor who could blame him?).

The record is the epitome of wholehearted lustful enthusiasm, even before Crafton himself enters the picture, as Sewell kicks things off with an exuberant sax refrain that sets the mood perfectly for Harry’s eager ode to a shapely lass.

Crafton’s voice isn’t really distinctive but it’s malleable enough to fit in whatever mode the song calls for. Here it’s obviously horniness, but of a somewhat asexual manner. He might indeed be hoping to undress her later but that’s not the focus of his excitement here. He’s just declaring to the world his predilection for ample sized girls.

He informs us with a smile that he particularly likes the way she wobbles trying to remain upright, admittedly not an easy feat for a girl just five foot tall who weighs three hundred pounds. Yet he’s not making fun of her for not saying no at the dinner table more often, in fact he’s probably asking her if she wants seconds or thirds and ordering another round of deserts for her.

While it’s meant to be humorous, it’s not intended to be funny, if you appreciate the difference. Funny lines will make you laugh on their own, at least the first time you hear them. Humorous songs by comparison aren’t out for one-time laughs as much as they’re aiming for long term smiles. It’s the scenario itself that’s meant to be amusing, a lighthearted look at love from a different perspective, or at maybe the same perspective but with much different tastes exhibited.

Of course, the “humor” of this comes at the expense of those who did conform to society’s standards of beauty, which makes it somewhat troubling even though Harry himself doesn’t abide the notion that overweight girls are somehow unappealing. Let it be said for the record here that if a girl carries herself with confidence, no matter her skirt size, that’s going to be a lot more attractive than somebody much thinner who is unsure of herself.

Crafton seems to believe this too, as the girl he’s focused on has no inhibitions about the fact that when she walks “the meat’s wobblin’ on the bone”. Judging by the trail of awestruck men she’s leaving in her wake apparently he’s not the only one either.
 

 

My Love Comes Tumbling Down
One of those we know feels the same about this Roly Poly Mama is saxophonist Joe Sewell, who fills his plate at this all you can eat musical buffet by playing a grinding riff behind Crafton on the verses, then lets loose during the break as Crafton screams with delight in the background buttressed by hand claps to keep everything in high gear.

Crafton’s guitar is noticeably muted however. You hear that he’s keeping time with it, you definitely make out the strings being strummed at the very end, but he’s not doing anything more than that. I suppose it makes sense in a way as there’s not much room left on the table with Sewell’s sax serving as the main course, but considering that Crafton was no slouch on the instrument and with rock increasingly featuring that sound added to the mix, if he’d been given just a brief spot to unleash a few licks in before the sax took over in the break it’d have really set this off.

As it is though Roly Poly Mama hardly in danger of putting you to sleep. It starts off in high gear and doesn’t slow down at any traffic light, stop sign or dangerous curve in the road. It’s certainly a one-note performance all around, a sax fueled stomper in which Crafton nearly loses his breath trying to keep up, but it never gets boring, never sounds monotonous, never loses its simple appeal.
 

 

This was a perfect fit for the era, both as a record in the larger scheme of things, and for Gotham Records as well, reaffirming their commitment to rock ‘n’ roll in the most unambiguous way possible.

No, it wasn’t going to be a hit, for as much as it would be noticed blaring out of any jukebox, nothing specific stood out about it, placing it in the upper echelon of the generic rockers of the day without crossing into the “you have to hear this!” category that the best records managed to do.

But as for establishing a persona, both musical and amorously, this unquestionably did that. Just one month after making a name for himself behind the scenes, Harry Crafton is starting to make one for himself on the big stage now as well. One more musical degenerate with nothing to lose.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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