No tags :(

Share it




Two years ago a local Philadelphia club act showed up at Gotham Records in the label’s attempt to keep pace in the growing rock ‘n’ roll market and one look at them told you that it was hardly a sure bet that they would succeed.

Yet here we are, just shy of their second anniversary with the company, and Jimmy Preston and His Prestonians have proven to be virtually the equal of any cornerstone act on any label.

But this is the end of the line for the unexpectedly good pairing between the two entities as Preston will not re-sign with the company and soon be headed elsewhere, leaving a chasm in Gotham Records that they will never quite be able to fill.


Gonna Start When The Sun Goes Down
Charting the unlikely artistic blossoming of Jimmy Preston has been one of the more satisfying things to witness in rock’s first few years, as he seemed to possess none of the required attributes for rock stardom.

He wasn’t a virtuoso on alto sax and mostly left the playing to his various tenor horns… he had an odd nasal singing voice, lacking both power and subtlety in his delivery which would seem to make him relatively unsuited for the two most prevalent types of songs rock thrived on commercially… and to top it off he looked more like an insurance salesman (or a basset hound in glasses) and thus he wasn’t someone who’d be likely to elicit screams from the female patrons at live shows.

Yet he overcame all of those deficiencies with hard work and by being an astute judge of trends which led him to choose perfect topics with which to craft some very good songs while letting the band constantly raise the stakes with their frantic playing behind him.

In spite of this there was always the feeling that it wouldn’t quite last, that he was more lucky than good. But as he once again proves on Let’s Hang Out Tonight there’s a stubborn tenacity to their playing that always seems to win out in the end and makes this one last feather in the cap for rock’s most successful underdog.


Turn On The Music And Start In To Rock
The start of this, with its massed horns playing in tight formations – over a whole lot of cymbals no less – gives this a throwback jazzy feel at first, something it never completely shakes, but the more rock-oriented elements start making their presence known soon enough with the rhythm picking up and the shouts and screams behind them let you know just where they want this situated.

Though it has far more lyrics than the flip side, which was essentially an instrumental with brief vocal cries, this is not quite your typical vocal record because it’s clear it was designed as an instrumental showcase.

The structure is such that Preston is merely setting up each instrumental interlude with various call to arms declarations, all of which are pretty good (if fairly generic), before he steps back and lets each member get a chance to shine.

After the extended intro which gets progressively hotter, with some sizzling guitar licks thrown in at the tail end of it, we get Preston’s first lines which are surprisingly subdued as he’s answering the band in a back and forth exchange. But once that set-up is established then Jimmy ramps up the intensity and generates some genuine excitement leading into the first break.

The tenor sax is first on the docket for Let’s Hang Out Tonight and as he calls out for him to “Blow Benny” we get future jazz great Benny Golson showing that had he wanted to he could’ve been perfectly comfortable honking up a storm for screaming maniacs in the rock kingdom for as long as he wanted.

Surely if he’d done so there’d have been a lot less critical acclaim for his work, so ultimately it may have been a wise move for him to migrate to jazz where he’d earn plenty of respect working with Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie and other luminaries over the years, but if he ever craved driving audiences wild and having women throwing underwear his way then this kind of workout was sure to get the job done.

It never goes overboard, never resorts to honks, squeals and blowing so hard you run out of oxygen, but it’s also never lacking for action either as it’s full of stops and starts, stuttering and climbing the scale before winding back down in total control, finding satisfying notes to hold in the midst of the mayhem. Meanwhile the other horns are making a suitable racket of their own and letting you feel the exhilaration of the spectacle itself while retaining a sense that it was well planned and had a final destination in sight all along.

‘Til The Party Starts
With the backbeat now thumping impressively Preston returns to introduce the next relatively new member of The Prestonians, guitarist Bill Jennings who had impressed in limited time earlier and now gets to follow Golson with a solo of his own.

It’s not as long or involve as the sax solo, but then again it’s 1950 not 1958, so essentially its job here is to keep the flow intact while offering a new sonic texture to give it a different feel and give the listeners the idea that rather than just making a lot of buoyant noise that the record is progressing in some way.

Jennings’ lines are smooth with a clean tone that hinted at his future as a top jazz musician, but he plays with a controlled aggression, wringing notes out and then letting them hang in space to resonate before launching into the next bunch, all of which creates a nice tension during his short stint in the spotlight.

By the time Preston throws in an off-the-cuff comment, Let’s Hang Out Tonight has left behind its more organized mindset it began with and has started descending into the frantic “anything goes” mentality that rock burned like nitro fuel on these kind of records.

Preston himself may have been little more than the ringleader, the carny huckster at the flap of the tent drawing the crowd in, but that he’s so comfortable doing so in order to show off his band speaks well of him as a leader as he’s long since proved his own worth and is now trying to boost up the reputation of this new batch of musicians who’ve fallen into a life of decedent musical pursuits that rock ‘n’ roll tantalizingly offers to wayward youth of each generation.


Listen To Your Homeboy
After such a strong run of singles there probably wasn’t anything Gotham could’ve done to retain Preston’s services if he was bound and determined to test the waters of free agency. His commercial potential was at its peak and in those situations the grass is always greener – as is the money – on the other side of the fence, so why wouldn’t he let himself be courted by others heaping praise on him while promising him the world.

But in Gotham’s defense it’s doubtful they’d done anything to make his leaving a foregone conclusion either. He’d simply had a standard two year deal, one signed when he was an unproven club act whose background had given no indication that he could be anything more than a stop-gap artist as the label tried to find something to meet the demands of the growing rock ‘n’ roll constituency in the black community in the late 1940’s.

That he proved to be all of that and then some was one of those unexpected turn of events that record labels dream of.

We can criticize Gotham for not building up their roster around him better to cushion the blow of losing him, as well as to get them more sales to be able to match any offer he might receive from a competitor, but I’m sure they felt fairly confident after listening to the organized clamor of Let’s Hang Out Tonight that this was a marriage that both parties would want to see go on forever.

Preston had never been held back from exploring the wilder sounds that made some label’s cringe, and in turn Gotham had never gotten anything from their star that was merely him going through the motions. They seemed made for each other.

Everything ends eventually however I suppose and if you’re going to bid farewell to one another sooner or later then this isn’t a bad final note to end such a satisfying partnership on.


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