CORAL 65079; JANUARY 1952



For the sake of completeness a Joe Black single is going to at least get cursory attention around here despite the fact that his efforts on Derby Records, both playing piano behind others and on his own instrumentals has been an exercise in frustration as he had a tendency to use only the 12 or so keys on the far right side of the piano.

But when you see who wrote this song – and for that matter who it’s named after – your interest is piqued a little more, for there’s always the hope that when an accomplished saxophonist is involved the results might be worth the time investment.

Imagine your surprise when it’s not either one of them who winds up being the primary reason for listening to it.


Just Bring ‘Em All In, We’ll Sort Them Out Later
The most notable aspect of the rock output of Derby Records was its excessive use of the treble keys on piano on virtually every release, be it vocal or instrumental.

But since saxophonist Freddie Mitchell was the A&R head and bandleader for the company, not to mention the number one star on the label with his sax instrumentals, surely it must’ve been Mitchell who was writing the arrangements and thereby instructing the pianists, which included Joe Black, to try and pierce our eardrums with the excessively tinny sounds.

But when Black began recording his own records that sound was mostly downplayed. He still may have gravitated towards the high end a little more than we’d deem necessary, but it was no longer the dominant facet of his technique.

Well, I hate to turn you off to anything before listening but Budd’s Boogie has a fair amount of right hand plinking and plunking going on here, but the good news is it’s largely buried in the mix to allow the other instruments to get more of the attention.

Maybe that’s to be expected since Budd Johnson, the saxophonist who first gained notice in rock circles playing behind Ruth Brown on Teardrops From My Eyes, was the guy who wrote this, as you could surely tell by the title.

But while Johnson is okay on this, and Freddie Mitchell is here as well in a supporting role, the real star is Jerome Darr, the jazz guitarist who has to fight to make himself heard amidst the massed horn section. Even when he loses that battle in terms of volume, he winds up claiming victory in terms of aesthetic appeal because he’s the one who seems to grasp the basic requirements for rock ‘n’ roll best.

A Jazz Musician’s Guide To Rock
The combination of stylistic elements here is like a blind bartender mixing drinks. We get high pitched horns leftover from the jazz age kicking things off, we have Joe Black’s right hand dominant riffing which allows the track to pick up speed in the first interval followed by deeper horns that are still rooted in sort of a dance band jazz of more recent vintage capped off by Budd Johnson’s solo halfway through.

His tone is a more squealing than honking, but it’s not a bad display of lung power and if it’s situated somewhere between his own jazzier past (Johnson was a prime mover in bop before switching to session work) and the rocking present he finds himself in now, at least he doesn’t give itself over to the wrong one at any point, even if that means he also doesn’t fully commit to the right one either.

I’d hesitate to call it Budd’s Boogie since he’s not actually playing a boogie riff on his horn, nor is Black really laying into that repetitive boogie beat that you expect, but the drummer isn’t letting up and the tempo and overall mood it creates is energetic enough to not get caught up in semantics.

Had the record been nothing but the sounds of the arrangement as described there maybe this would be one of those hybrid records that by 1952 would be less likely to be included in a rock overview than it would have three years earlier. It probably still would’ve slipped in the back door because of Black, Mitchell and Johnson’s connections to rock but even then it wouldn’t be a sure thing.

What makes it an easier inclusion though is Jerome Darr who never gets a moment to himself in the spotlight but whose guitar is omnipresent throughout the record. His harsh early responses to the horns in the intro give way to single-string runs and fills during the two ensuing sections and while it’s largely just adding color to the arrangement rather than contributing to the melody, he utilizes so many different approaches, tones and rhythms that you find yourself increasingly riveted by him, hoping that he’ll knock the others out of the way and go wild.

He never does unfortunately, but his mere presence adds bite to the whole performance that drags the song more firmly into the rock camp. It’s nowhere near enough to transform the record completely and as a result the mismatched stylistic components leaves a more conflicted impression, but that guitar does make you a little more lenient when addressing its shortcomings.

Session Lessons
Let’s face it… it’s doubtful that Coral Records had any idea of what they were aiming at with Joe Black’s records. He had no name recognition to the general public, hadn’t made a significant contribution to anyone else’s rock records and wasn’t even all that notable a talent on his own instrument.

Since Coral was a subsidiary of Decca however and was looking to use it to make inroads into rock ‘n’ roll without tainting the major label’s image you can sort of understand why he was signed – a New York based pianist with some ties to other jazz-derived rock musicians who might give them some non-offensive instrumentals like Budd’s Boogie which… would probably sell all of 15 copies and catch nobody’s attention.

On one hand you can’t blame any of them for not knowing quite what to do to tap into the rock market, but they definitely had the personnel to do so better if they’d have just willingly abandoned their ties to the past.

The flip side, Lonely Evenin’ Blues, gives Darr a much bigger part and he plays just as well with some really stinging lines early on that are bordering on ferocious for a few tantalizing moments.

Sadly the rest of the song is far closer to jazz with Johnson reverting back to his days playing with Earl “Fatha” Hines and while Joe Black gets credit for writing that one, he’s only audible playing incidental fills behind the horns and guitar.

The truth is it’s pretty evident that both of these songs are what will result when you throw a bunch of fairly skilled musicians in a studio and give them three hours to come up with four instrumentals in a style they’re all unsure about.

There’s bound to be something mildly interesting in all of them, but it’s far less likely they’re going to add up to anything truly captivating.


(Visit the Artist page of Joe Black for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)