No tags :(

Share it




Considering that rock ‘n’ roll music has been around since way back in 1947 – seventy-two years and counting as this is written – it’s hardly surprising that along the way there have been a number of rivalries between artists over the years.

Usually these are more about those artists fan-bases arguing over the respective merits of their favorite acts rather than any animosity the artists themselves have, but you have to admit it does make for some interesting debates to say the least.

Beatles or Rolling Stones? Led Zeppelin or The Who? Michael Jackson or Prince? 2Pac or Biggie?

While those names are among the biggest in rock history and their competitive histories – real or imagined – with one another the stuff of legend, the same probably can’t be said for Chris Powell and Jimmy Preston.

In fact, if you were to ask rock fans if they even knew both artists résumés enough to make an accurate assessment of their careers you’d get more blank stares than anything else… not just in 2020 but probably before the 1950’s were even over.

Yet more than most fictitious rivalries these two Philadelphia club performers turned unlikely rock ‘n’ rollers actually had good reason to be competitive… even hostile towards one another. Though they never came to blows – as far as we know – their stories are forever intertwined because of their similar origins and their catalog of songs which overlapped one another in ways that had to leave them both slightly uneasy with each other’s mere presence.


That Crazy Rhythm
In many ways Powell, a singer/drummer, and Preston, a singer and saxophonist, were mirror images of one another in that both had come out of the Philadelphia club scene in recent years when they were drafted into the growing rock movement.

I say “drafted into” because I’m not entirely convinced that either one of them would’ve turned to it voluntarily under normal circumstances.

It’s hard to envision either of these guys tearing up The City Of Brotherly Love with primal rock ‘n’ roll before they’d signed their first recording contracts a few months apart. But because rock’s popularity was steadily rising and because neither of these artists had a well-established name or had been pursuing another style wholeheartedly – and let’s face it, because record companies want to jump on trends while they’re hot with whomever is available and is willing to try what’s asked of them – both Preston and Powell became rock acts by default.

What nobody could’ve foreseen after their tentative starts however was how rapidly they both progressed until they’d soon achieved complete artistic credibility as rockers. For one of these acts to make the grade was unlikely enough, but for both of them to be fully committed to rock so soon after they made the transition to this style of music defied the laws of probability.

Taking all of that into account it’s hardly surprising they’d be measuring themselves against one another, sizing each other up to see which was more authentic. Normally such things would remain unspoken but their “rivalry”, such as it were, went public as the result of a collaboration when Powell’s saxophonist, Danny Turner, sat in with Preston’s crew to add some more muscle to their horn section on a session that included Jimmy’s career defining song, Rock The Joint, the record which ensures his name will never be completely erased from the rock history books.

When Turner then brought that song and the arrangement back to Powell who proceeded to up the ante and cut an even more exhilarating take on Rock The Joint it had the effect of throwing down the musical gauntlet, and though it failed to match Preston’s original on the charts the cover version probably surpassed it in sheer maniacal energy.

Now they’re at it again with both groups turning in renditions of the same song and once again on Swingin’ In The Groove Preston has his work cut out for him just to keep pace and not get gunned down in the process by his more aggressive rivals.

Let’s Get Together
The last time around we know who copied whom, but this time out the details are a little more murky.

The song itself dates back quite a few years to when its author Tiny Grimes performed it in a “soundie” (a short musical number filmed for theaters in 1944… the birth of music videos essentially), but other than that he never officially recorded it.

Grimes, in case you’ve forgotten, was now employed by none other than Gotham Records whose biggest artist was none other than Jimmy Preston. So the obvious inference you might draw from that association is that Grimes, who was also writing material for other Gotham acts like Harry Crafton and The Dixieaires, gave this five year old tune to Jimmy Preston and if Danny Turner were still sitting in with Preston when they recorded it would’ve been natural for him to also bring this one back to Powell as well, the only difference being this time they just happened to get their version of Swingin’ In The Groove on the market first.

But the other possibility is that Preston hadn’t known of it until Powell’s record came out and sensing an opportunity to capitalize on a good song – and feeling turnabout was fair play after Powell had tried to undercut his big record – Jimmy hastily cut his own version of Swingin’ In The Groove and trusted his growing national acclaim would help it to win out in the commercial sweepstakes.


Feelin’ Fine And Happy
The horns that open this are following the song’s instructions to the letter as they’re in the groove from the beginning – full bodied and to the point, the anchor of the song from start to finish. Even when they’re churning away behind Preston’s vocal when he comes in they remain utterly distinctive while resisting the urge to draw undue attention to what they’re laying down.

The baritone is especially welcome here, its presence giving Swingin’ In The Groove a consistently strong bottom with a minimum of notes used to achieve that, a lesson in economy that should be studied by any musician who’s feeling their part in the arrangement is too small to make a difference.

The other instruments are massed together establishing the all-important rhythm, though it’s really the drummer alone who carries the ball until the first sax solo when the bassist becomes more prominent. Meanwhile those horns are working together in exquisite fashion, each one contributing something of value without hogging the spotlight.

Usually these multi-horn extended breaks means they stand in line and wait their turn, but not here as they trade-off in rapid back and forth exchanges and even when someone else gets the main role the others are still blasting away behind them only to switch positions when the next horn gets out front. All of it, every honk, squeal and toot, fits into the larger aesthetic perfectly and it might just wind up being the best example of truly democratic horn work we’ve seen in rock to date.

With all that going for him the only thing Jimmy Preston, a reformed alto sax player himself, needs to do is not drop the ball with his vocals and they’ll be home free.


Come On All You Cats
To save you the suspense… no Preston doesn’t fumble his chance, but then again he doesn’t take the ball and really run with it, at least not enough to live up to the standard that Powell established a month ago.

On that record Chris was whooping it up like a man possessed with off-the-cuff asides to the band and the listener alike, a concept that always risks coming off as a contrived but in his hands it seemed completely authentic.

Preston on the other hand, while singing the same lyrics that are advocating the same boisterous good time, doesn’t sound quite as… how can I put this… “plastered” as the genial Powell.

Whereas Chris was wearing the proverbial lampshade on his head through his rendition, he somehow remained completely in control of his senses while urging everyone within earshot to imbibe along with him, Preston comes across as a more responsible host by comparison.

Don’t get me wrong, Preston is still enjoying himself but he’s more reserved in how he shows it, almost hinting at self-consciousness. He does a decent job at masking it most of the the time but by never fully cutting loose – and with much more minimal vocal support by the other Prestonians – he’s fighting an uphill battle.

As a result although this Swingin’ In The Groove is a party you’ll definitely have some fun at, the one Powell hosted is the one you’ll be talking about with irrepressible grins and a faraway look in your eye ten years down the road when you’re left to reminisce with your buddies when none of your wives let you out of the house on Saturday nights once you have jobs, kids and responsibilities.

Until then however, enjoy whichever of these parties that you attend but if you happen to go to Preston’s and find yourself standing awkwardly next to him outside the bathroom door, both of you waiting your turn to relieve yourself someplace other than the potted fern in the corner and are looking to make small talk, just thank him for opening his home up to you and all of your reprobate friends who are busily trashing it in their delirium and compliment him for his last couple of big hit records to get him feeling better about this supposed competition with Powell.

But WHATEVER you do, if he tells you that the party is wrapping up soon because it’s almost midnight, don’t tell him that you’re going to head over to Chris’s place to raise hell until dawn… I don’t think Jimmy really wants to hear he’s been beaten out by that chunky moon-faced drummer from down the street yet again.


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

Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
Chris Powell & The Five Blue Flames (December, 1949)