Sometimes it’s best not to quibble with misleading titles.

Sure, we could lodge a complaint, maybe seek restitution from Specialty Records who may have violated various Truth In Advertising statutes on the books, but for what purpose? To get our 89 cents back?

Besides, let’s say this case went to trial because the company and musicians involved wanted to defend themselves against the charge of deceiving us in some way. When they call us to the stand, although it might be an irrelevant legal point to make and even get stricken from the record, they’re sure to expose our hypocrisy to the world at large when they ask the simple question: “You’re complaining about getting an unexpectedly GOOD rock instrumental locked into a tight catchy groove instead of a hearing a nasal voiced singer prattle on about his bad fortune in a ponderous blues leaning song?

The lesson here is sometimes it’s best to keep your mouth shut and be just thankful for the blessings you receive in music when you least expect it.


Just Dropping In
The Drops Of Joy… what a great band name. Creative, memorable, even subtly promising fulfillment in the music they’re producing.

Yet on this record, and for the last two years, they haven’t necessarily been the ones producing it, at least in the studio.

After Jimmy Liggins almost met his violent end thanks to an argument that ended in gunfire and he was forced off the road, his original Drops of Joy had no way to make a living and broke up. Some we’ve come across since, like saxophonist Harold Land, while others such as Charlie Ferguson will be prominent on records by The “5” Royales in the coming months.

But when Liggins had fully recovered he put together a new group, giving it the same name, and headed back on the road. Whether they were not as technically skilled as the first bunch, or if Specialty Records simply felt that since they had the top session musicians on the West Coast led by a supremely talented saxophonist in Maxwell Davis who was going to produce the session anyway, why not just let them handle it?

So that’s what Liggins’ recent output has been. Studio aces mixed with a few of his band and, if needed, Jimmy’s own guitar work thrown in.

Since he wrote the instrumental Low Down Blues – and since Davis was hardly about to be conned out of writing credit if he had anything to do with it – we can assume this was something that Liggins and The Drops of Joy had come up with on the bandstand.

If that’s the case you might feel sorry for the usual saxophonist in the group who got sent to the bench… that is until you hear what Davis is laying down and realize that no sax-man worth his mouthpiece was going to complain about being replaced by a living legend.


Stacks Of Sax On Wax
Though he won’t get a lot of solo recordings credited to him over the years, it’s fairly obvious that Maxwell Davis didn’t take full advantage of the opportunities afforded him to cut his own singles. For whatever reason, whether he was rushed into coming up with something on the spur of the moment at the end of somebody else’s session to cut his own tunes, or whether he was just forced into churning out poorly chosen standards, he never seemed to have the right material to stake his claim as one of rock’s most talented artists under his own name.

Technically speaking of course, this being a Jimmy Liggins single, he won’t be able to crow about this one either, but Low Down Blues is exactly the kind of song that Maxwell Davis should have been doing all along, as through this he shows why he was such a great musician without feeling the need to prove it by playing something flashy.

This is an understated gem of a melody as his sax uses plenty of space in between lines so as to not clutter the arrangement, trusting that the locked in rhythm created by piano, drums and guitar is going to hold your attention throughout, leaving Davis to provide the different colors and textures with his playing.

It’s a welcome return to the groove-oriented sides like Long Gone delivered way back in 1948 by Sonny Thompson and Eddie Chamblee, aided by an even richer tone in his horn. The hint of grit in what Davis plays here suggests something vaguely off-color taking place in the shadows as the grinding refrain he delivers just past the thirty second mark isn’t raunchy, nor graphically obscene, but sounds just a little dirty and thus a little more interesting.

Even when the pianist comes to the forefront and takes the song a few steps out of the alley, maybe to check the time underneath the streetlight, there’s Davis beckoning from the darkness.

Meanwhile if all Liggins is doing is just holding down the fort by playing a simple repetitive lick on his guitar he earns his claim for credit here because it puts you in a trance which is what allows the real star, Davis, to have the freedom to bob and weave and take you on a journey of his own making.

You can’t have the blues listening to this and as such it’s hardly low-down, but rather high art… at least as far as airtight rock arrangements go and in our eyes that’s worth all the acclaim as we can heap on him.


Late Night On A Train With A Hipper Crowd
While this track was recorded in early October last year, months before the release of a record which was currently in the process of breaking the long draught which sax-led instrumentals had endured near the top of the charts for the past few years, the two performances seem eerily similar in many ways.

Jimmy Forrest’s Night Train undoubtedly has the easier to follow melodic hook, based as it is off a Duke Ellington song, but while that gets a slight boost for being more memorable as a result of that, it’s hard to say this isn’t as compelling in its own way.

In any event the overall feel of Low Down Blues is the same, the tone of the sax isn’t that far off and the laid back yet strutting attitude of the two cuts is almost interchangeable.

Considering Forest was at best a part-time rocker, at worst a jazz musician who stumbled unwittingly into rock circles with his big hit before sashaying out again, it’d probably be more fitting for someone who would give so much of his career to rock ‘n’ roll behind a laundry list of big names he helped turn into stars if Maxwell Davis had gotten to enjoy some lasting glory for a record that topped the charts as this might have managed with a little more exposure.

Then again, with Jimmy Liggins being the credited artist, we know Davis wasn’t going to get much credit for it even if that had happened.

So while the Forrest hit is at least modernly familiar, frequently re-visited by other artists over the years and easily found for those seeking that kind of seductively catchy musical fix, this far more obscure single provides the same kind of high but is reserved for those who know where to look.


(Visit the Artist page of Jimmy Liggins for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)