No tags :(

Share it

DERBY 755; MARCH 1951



One of the few certainties in rock ‘n’ roll is that artists may come and artists may go but the music keeps rolling on.

That can be a sobering thought however as at one moment somebody truly matters, their records set the pace of the entire movement and establish benchmarks which will stand the test of time and then sometimes in the blink of an eye they just fade away, soon to be replaced by the next big thing.

Though it’s inevitable for every single artist we’ll meet, usually their departure from the scene is rather gradual… a string of records with declining commercial returns which leads to them getting only sporadic releases brought about by their inability to secure long term recording contracts eventually resulting in just a few random sightings on the club circuit before disappearing altogether.

But this was different, for Jimmy Preston who was still riding the wave of his latest hit was the first major rock act to simply retire while flush with success and walk away from music forever.


If You Want To Have A Ball Just Run With Me
Some artists just grow on you over time, their qualities which may have seemed modest at first gradually took shape until you looked up one day and were startled by how far they’d come.

Jimmy Preston might as well be the poster boy for that experience. Forever remembered for Rock The Joint, a song that far outlived him thanks in part to Bill Haley’s rendition still to come, the enduring recognition for that record obscured the fact that Preston had a lot more to offer along the way.

He didn’t shape up as being a potential star when he first appeared back in late 1948, an amiable club musician with professorial looks, a fairly nondescript voice who was just a passable alto sax player, he was Gotham Records’ surely futile attempt at recruiting a local Philadelphia act to serve as their entry in the growing rock sweepstakes.

Yet each time out he seemed to get better and better, his songs became more focused, his performances grew in confidence while his band showed they fully understood the requirements of rock. He scored his first big hit with Hucklebuck Daddy in the spring of 1949 and that summer hit big with their eternal masterpiece.

Over the next year and a half they’ve released one good record after another, scoring their biggest national hit with a rousing cover of Oh Babe this past fall after moving to Derby Records and now suddenly it was… over?!?!

Just like that?

Yup, just like that.

Because nobody thought to ever interview Jimmy Preston in the years after his abrupt departure from rock, all we’re left with is speculation based on the slim facts as we know them. He became a preacher, presumably soon after he gave up music though we don’t know if his religious beliefs began to conflict with his singing about the decedent lifestyles his self-penned songs were describing.

But listening to his final released side, Roll, Roll, Roll, you’d never know Jimmy Preston was anything other than an enthusiastic and fully committed member of the rock brigade… in fact, by the sounds of it he was embodying that disreputable character more than ever with this one.

As Long As There Was Action He’d Stay And Play
By now you now what you’re getting from Jimmy Preston – a good-natured but nasally vocalist with a tight band behind him. As for the content, though he’s pushed boundaries before he’s never gone quite so far as he does here… in fact, this reads like a shooting script for a movie in many ways.

Roll, Roll, Roll is the quaint story of a ladies man named Willie whose wife takes umbrage at him playing around on her and starts a war over his indiscretions that wind up with plenty of drinking, a wild party, some fisticuffs between the rival females which somehow ends up with Willie landing in jail.

Let’s recount the action for those who tuned in late, shall we? It seems that after his spouse sees another woman named Sadie in Willie’s Cadillac outside a bar the spurned wife reacts with the appropriate fury, hunting them down and upon confronting them at a house party the fireworks commence. They brawl and some dirty rat called the cops who sent a goon squad to come to haul poor Willie off to the hoosegow, though on what charges they don’t say.

Now he’s far from innocent in this, but there’s a difference between being thrown out of the house, which he deserves, and being thrown in the pen, which he probably doesn’t, although maybe he felt it was safer in there for the time being.

Preston navigates all this drama as a neutral third party but it’s clear he didn’t hear about this sordid tale second hand, he was in the midst of it himself, though hopefully keeping his nose clean, and like most people recounting such tales he takes relish in putting it across as colorfully as possible.

The lines about Willie calling Sadie, his girlfriend-on-the-side, to ask her to bail him out and having her turn him down – not even answering, just “sending word” – because Willie’s wife gave her two black eyes in the scuffle that led to this is priceless and the twist at the end that finds the two women burying the hatchet while Willie rots in a cell for ninety days as they hit the town together without him shows just how well crafted this was.

No wonder Jimmy Preston became a preacher, he saw there was a huge market of sinners out there and since he was a rocker in good standing, he probably knew half of them personally.


Stompin’ And Rockin’ ‘Til Broad Daylight
There’s little doubt this idea stemmed from Big Jay McNeely’s Road House Boogie, which itself led more famously to Louis Jordan’s Saturday Night Fish Fry, as they all used the same structure right down to a similar chorus – this one more succinct than the others, but with the same basic message.

But McNeely’s record was now almost two years old and you’d have liked to have seen some updating of the arrangement to better reflect the changes that have occurred within rock during that time, as the current crew of Prestonians could’ve brought more of an aggressive biting nature to their accompaniment to emphasize the battle musically a little better. We do get a nice sax solo that packs a lot of power in lines while the other horns are churning behind it, but when it returns to the vocals there’s a definite departure from that attitude which makes it seem like it was something almost independent of the rest of the song.

Though none of them might have thought Roll, Roll, Roll would be Preston’s musical epitaph when recording it, the fact that it’s a slight throwback to sounds that were now just growing more distant in the rear view mirror by 1951 is oddly fitting in a way, as that 1949/50 style of rock was where Preston had made his mark and though he surely was capable of keeping pace with the new breed coming along, if he was going to go out, then he might as well stick with what he does well…

And he does this well, which of course is why it’s so sad to see him go.

The Joint Was Crazy
Artists are under no obligation to keep playing music for our benefit, just as we’re under no obligation to keep listening if they fail to keep enticing us, but we know from experience that most artists will play the string out until the very end, sometimes well past the last stop they should’ve gotten off at.

So you have to hand it to Preston for leaving the party three hours too soon rather than a minute too late.

Maybe Roll, Roll, Roll with its feet in the recent past let him know the scene was changing faster than he could keep up and so he decided to leave on his own terms. Or perhaps he was just tired of dealing with life on the road while trying to keep a band together and receiving little more than piddling royalty payments as his compensation.

Though we’re sad to see him go, there’s another way to look at this which might ease the sudden loss of one of rock’s more underrated early stars.

Considering all of the rock acts we’re going to meet over the years who grow bitter and frustrated with diminishing returns after a similarly heady start to their careers and who finally wind up playing county fairs and casinos where all they do is regurgitate those hits ad nauseum until they die, it’d be nice to think of Jimmy Preston just kicking back as he grew older and enjoying the rest of his life instead of demeaning himself and cheapening his legacy by trying in vain to recapture past glories long after the expiration date for his brand of rock ‘n’ roll had passed.

Always leave them wanting more.

Well done Jimmy, it’s been a pleasure to know you.


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