CORAL 65051; APRIL 1951



In a competitive field such as the record business where companies need reliable artists who will fit into the prevailing sounds of the day and get them consistent sales, the labels are hamstrung by the fact that most potential signees come from two broad categories – totally unproven amateurs looking for their first break or grizzled veterans whose best days are behind them or who are barely competent journeymen looking for yet another chance.

Occasionally you manage to get somebody big who is seeking a better deal when their contracts are up, but those artists are few and far between and require a lot more money up front than most penny pinching labels are willing to shell out.

Coral Records, being a subsidiary of major label Decca, probably DID have enough bucks to throw around to get somebody big but since the people at Decca already viewed rock ‘n’ roll as a blight on music despite its popularity it’s doubtful they were going to be okaying a hefty chunk of change for some artist they never heard of and didn’t understand.

Which meant they were forced to go with one final and very cheap option… finding a sideman who played on a number of hits for a different artist who might be willing to take a small handout to get a few releases under their own name.

Unfortunately for Coral Records they didn’t pay too close attention to the contributions Joe Black had made on those hits or else they might’ve just put a Help Wanted ad in the local papers and accepted whoever answered it and tried building them up as a star instead.


Skillet Drippings
We’ve had the misfortune of talking far too much about pianist Joe Black already on these pages every time we meet Freddie Mitchell and considering the latter was virtually keeping Derby Records afloat with his sax instrumentals we’ve almost run out of ways to criticize the aforementioned Mr. Black.

While Mitchell began his own rock career as a talented musician imported from big band jazz who had to learn the requirements of rock on the job, he eventually came to understand its necessities and has made himself a mostly welcome presence on the scene.

However he has terrible taste in sidemen.

Black was just one of a string of pianists who have blighted these records with a tinny one-fingered solo approach that is fine for a lazy eight year old bristling at taking piano lessons when they could be outside raising hell with their delinquent friends in the neighborhood, but which are completely ill-suited for professional recording sessions where the resulting songs are going to be expected to draw interest based on their musicality and skillful playing.

But then again maybe that shows it wasn’t Black himself who was at fault for this, but rather Mitchell who was the guilty party since every pianist who was associated with him including Art Sims and the great Harry Van Walls all were playing variations on this rather limited theme. Maybe Black was a secret virtuoso with untold ability just waiting for a chance like Fish Grease Boogie to use his other nine fingers and show the world what he could do.

Yeah… that’s probably the case… in fact I’m sure of it. Coral Records knew exactly what they were doing when they signed Joe Black and are about to reap the benefits of their incredible foresight.


Neither Fish Nor Fowl… And Not Foul Either!
Well, who would’ve seen this coming?

Not only is this not a train wreck filled with gawdawful tonal offenses but it’s actually fairly well put together.

So much for my sarcasm and derision.

But surprising though the outcome is, a lot of that surprise centers on just underestimating the person whose name adorns the label based on factors which may have been out of his control at Derby. For while it’s not verified, the belief is that this is in fact Mitchell and company moonlighting… “helping out” is the term they’d use to sidestep exclusivity clauses in their contracts. Therefore it stands to reason that they’d want to hide the similarities to their Derby output to avoid being brought up on charges for appropriating Mitchell’s horn.

We probably have to credit veteran rock producer Teddy Reig, who surely didn’t write this as credited but certainly may have shaped it (remember he was the one who convinced Paul Williams to switch to baritone and start honking way back in 1947 on Savoy which kicked off the rock sax instrumental craze), for realizing that hammering away on the farthest keys on the right side of a piano hardly qualifies as music and so thankfully they’ve changed their entire approach on Fish Grease Boogie to make it a more engaging total product.

The fact is while Black is the credited artist, he’s not the centerpiece here, the sax is, though Black’s role is offering far more support than he usually does thanks to utilizing a few more keys than normal. The intro is energetic enough, the melodic underpinning is agreeable and while he does still lean towards the higher notes he’s not so far out that he’s annoying dogs with the extreme pitch as he often does.

But Black doesn’t get any solos, which we’ll still say is a benefit to the record despite his slightly better playing overall here. Instead we get the horns riffing away on what is clearly just a fairly generic dance floor workout… solid if unpretentious.

Mitchell is not quite as full-bodied as usual (in an effort to disguise himself no doubt), but he’s delivering the appropriate grinding rhythm while the other horns keep things churning along. The arrangement doesn’t look far beyond those instruments however, which is unfortunate, because had they remembered the drums, bass or Black’s left hand you could’ve made this a lot better by creating the kind of deep undertow that sets off the extremes on the other end, but all in all this isn’t going to be the record that clears the dance floor by any means.

It’s also nice that it seems to be more of an original than anything Mitchell had a say in, although there’s a brief snippet where they seem to borrow from “Take Me Out To The Ballgame”… the lead into the part “and it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out…”, but that could be just coincidence because it’s definitely not played up much at all.

While this is nothing to get really worked up about by any means, you can’t help but feel some satisfaction in hearing it simply because it shows Joe Black is not the ham-fisted hack we made him out to be.

Something To Tide You Over
Faint praise still technically qualifies as praise and since the instrumental record sweepstakes has a lot fewer entrants than it did just a year or two ago any sign that it was being carried out with a reasonable amount of competency was better than having it disappear altogether.

If you had no idea who Joe Black was in 1951 – and to be honest, unless you were Mrs. Black and sleeping alongside him every night, why WOULD you know who he was or what he did for a living before? – maybe the only thing about Fish Grease Boogie that would be intriguing to you is the rather stanky title which at least shows that Coral Records weren’t letting the higher-ups at Decca have veto power over how they were selling such things.

But since we DO have a long history with Black’s shortcomings, the results of this come as something of a pleasant surprise. That might not boost the grade any, it’s still just an average rock instrumental after all, but considering the trepidation we had going in this has to be chalked up as a modest victory in his ledger.


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