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No matter how good Jimmy Liggins has been at his best there’s always the inescapable truth that he is merely a working stiff in the big scheme of things. That’s not an insult, just an realistic observation.

Liggins’ greatest attribute was in maximizing his modest talents – even overachieving on occasion – but even when he was reaching his peak you never got the idea that Liggins was someone who would go to any great lengths to expand his artistry… to take risks and deviate from formula in an attempt to satisfy some inner creative urge.

But while he seemed to have a definite ceiling in what he was capable of that limited his potential, because he was accepting of this fact himself you readily accepted him in return.

So to find out that Jimmy Liggins had it in him to be creatively ambitious is something of a surprise, but then to learn he had this in him from the very start – quite literally – makes it all the more stunning a revelation.

It Riffs And Rocks
The concept of this song is absolutely first rate, but it’s when you consider when it was recorded and how the music he sings about so effectively here was barely known to the world at large at the time that it becomes far more impressive.

In the spring of 1950, still on the long road back from his near fatal shooting, Liggins needed a steady stream of records to keep his name in the public eye and so for the B-side of his last “throwback” material, they reached further back than ever to his first recording session in September 1947, the same month rock ‘n’ roll itself came screaming into the world with Roy Brown’s Good Rocking Tonight.

What’s so amazing about hearing This Song Is Gone mid-way through 1950, a full TWO AND A HALF YEARS after being cut, is how it already seems to have a firm grasp on the future of rock music – its inevitable commercial success, its precise stylistic appeal and its all-consuming cultural swagger. In fact it’s almost frightening how a novice singer/songwriter nailed the most pertinent aspects of rock right out of the gate, before a single rock song had even made a ripple in the national consciousness!

But if his prescience alone is more than enough to turn your head now, what makes this even more intriguing is how uniquely he crafts this, using an odd stop-start rhythm which combined with his semi-spoken delivery (as often the case with him, it was more of a chant than actual singing) makes for a really rewarding experience… whether in 1947 as rock was just getting started, or in 1950 when it had already conquered much of Black America on its way to taking over the world.

Yet as much as we admire the audacity of it all there’s still some shortcomings we have to deal with as we’re once again reminded that even when showing an unusual amount of ambition it was all but certain that Jimmy Liggins was going to be dragged back to earth by his more modest abilities in the talent department.


A Rhythm Beat That Will Send You
The yawning 37 month gap between this song being recorded and when it was released tends to urge restraint when it comes to assessing its flaws when viewed through the context of May 1950’s standards, yet in the real world there are no asterisks being handed out for such cases that allow old songs masquerading as “new” records to be given a break by listeners. As a result though we definitely can understand how and why it falls short in some areas (and can even go so far as to say had this been released “as is” in late 1947 it’d have gotten a higher score) we still can’t let that effect our judgement of it as a 1950 single.

But first the good. The core idea is terrific… Liggins frames That Song Is Gone in such a way to highlight rock’s attributes while describing it in an organic way that somehow manages to avoid the awkward self-consciousness this type of material would seem to invite.

The lyrics early on give us the basic breakdown of rock’s intrinsic appeal, highlighting the rhythm, the riffs, calling out the instrumental flourishes by name and then doubling up on that by letting the saxophones have their own say to emphatically drive the point home.

The declarative way he delivers this, almost as if he’s peddling snake oil on the back of a flatbed truck to a bunch of hicks moved by a fire and brimstone sales pitch, might’ve been an effective way to mask his vocal limitations but it also makes for a more an alluring proposal, one that seems earnest and straightforward enough that you drop your defenses and stop looking for the catch.

Call it salesmanship or hucksterism if you want, they’re essentially the same thing anyway, just with varying levels of integrity attached, but he’s ebullient in his presentation even as the spiel he’s dishing out starts to run a little dry midway through as he can’t find a way to expand on the basic premise that forms the basis of his commercial. The outdated lyrical references found in the second section are probably to be expected considering when it was written, but they can’t help but make this start sounding a little out of touch in the time people got to finally hear it.

You still find him endearing enough not to turn away, but when the music continues to just cycle through the same formula again and again while the lyrical hook (too short to be called a proper chorus) remains unchanged every time it’s sung despite plenty of options to alter it slightly each time through, you can see how the song can’t quite live up to its loftier aspirations.

When Saxes Moan And Trumpets Groan
But despite some aspects that are slightly lacking, there’s other areas where Liggins comes through in fine fashion starting with the simple churning beat behind his vocals which is catchy as can be, grinding away as if in a trance, its herky jerky rhythm inviting you into the room with just a hint of devilment behind the friendly smile at the door.

The Drops Of Joy were always one of the best self-contained bands in rock’s first few years, never knocking you out with their performances maybe, but reliable as can be, especially in live settings where they could be a little more loose in their arrangements. The make-up of the band with their four horns – alto and two tenor saxes, plus a trumpet – reminds us of the jazzier backgrounds all early rock groups featured, but in Harold Land and Charlie Ferguson they had two of the prime figures who helped rock shed the decorum found in earlier styles to create something more appropriate for the changing times.

Though none of their solos on That Song Is Gone are really wild, they’re still pretty efficient in stirring up some legitimate excitement and energy as their tenors each get spots to show off what they can do.

The final run comes closest to getting carried away, pulling up short after tantalizing us briefly with the promise of something even more raucous, but the sheer fact they were being counted on to drive the song down the stretch, taking on more responsibility for establishing the song’s personality than even Liggins’s own vocals which are essentially glorified verbal set-ups for the main musical event, shows the outlook was ahead of its time if nothing else and all journeys need to begin with a first step after all.

That’s why you’d have loved to have seen Specialty Records release this in late 1947 or early 1948 rather than holding it back so long. Liggins had gotten off to such a great start as it was, his first two releases I Can’t Stop It and Cadillac Boogie setting a very high bar for others to try and match, but something like this coming on the heels of those could’ve really cemented his place at the forefront of rock when it first became widely known by the public.

Then again what artist doesn’t curse those missed chances they all seemed to share in one form or another? …Such is life I suppose.


Come On Down To That Solid Stomping Ground
What you take from all of this – especially once you’re aware of the circumstances – is that Jimmy Liggins was utterly sincere in his devotion to the music from the very start. This wasn’t just a case of jumping on a new sound because it proved popular, but rather this was something he actually liked and felt comfortable expressing and wanted to promote to the masses before it was clearly in his best interest to do so.

That it gets so many of the basic components right is a testament to his natural affinity for the music, describing it in a way to pique the interest of those still on the outside looking in, while also delivering on the communal spirit that will welcome them once they decide to give in to their curiosity.

What makes the record so historically important in addition to being artistically visionary is that rock ‘n’ roll was still an unnamed, unproven commodity when he recorded That Song Is Gone. It was seen as crude and undignified by more schooled musicians, denounced by many in the Black Community who were afraid that by openly celebrating music that embraced emotional abandonment of the senses it could further stereotype its listeners, potentially even setting back progress in ever attaining the respect of the white community and achieving social equality.

In spite of those critical dismissals of the music Liggins never wavered in his commitment to rock and so maybe it was fitting this took so long to come out, allowing him to proudly take a victory lap now that its broader acceptance had ultimately proven his instincts to be right.


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