CORAL 65051; APRIL 1951

 
 

 

In the singles era, especially the time of honking sax workouts, the prospect of releasing two similar sounding instrumentals on a record wasn’t always the best bet for maximizing your commercial potential.

Granted if one side was a surefire smash it didn’t matter what you put on the other side, but if you were just offering up workmanlike efforts than getting two songs with the same components, both lacking vocals, was something that jukebox operators might shy away from.

So if you were a smart and well-rounded musician you’d try and come up with something a little different to make both sides stand out.

Few people would have called pianist Joe Black well-rounded in the past based on his extremely limited technique on the records of others, but once again he surprises you here by avoiding the noise altogether and playing something more suited for a quiet lullaby as you turn in for the night.

Even rockers have to sleep presumably.
 

 

Peace And Quiet Comes With A Price
While undistinguished session pianist Joe Black did not get writing credit for the more traditional sax-oriented top side, Fish Grease Boogie – that went to producer Teddy Reig, whether or not he contributed an actual note, just the title or was simply rewarded for holding the loaded pistol at Black’s head so he would avoid the extreme treble keys he was known to favor at the expense of everything else – the results of that song were pretty good.

Nothing great, but perfectly suited for the ten o’clock hour at the local dance hall when everybody there was getting loaded and had plenty of energy to burn off.

But on this side, as evidenced by the title, Sleepy Time Creep, the focus has shifted ahead a couple of hours, maybe 1 AM or later, when the adrenaline has finally worn off and the downside of the booze everyone consumed in prodigious quantities has set in as the night is winding down.

To his credit Black wrote this one and while it is atypical of your usual rock instrumental and thus might not have the more shallow appeal of the top side, this one is actually be more creative all things considered.

It’s not just the late night vibe it gives off which sets it apart, but it’s also because of how they go about it, using the same instruments that were so full of pep before to slowly lull you into dreamland with a remarkably natural transition from the dance floor to the bedroom without being too aware of the route it took to get you there.
 

The Still Of The Night
This is a subtle record by design, one centered on discretion rather than ostentatious playing and which features Black taking a much larger role here than on the flip where he was basically a sideman with his name out front.

That’s not to say the saxophone doesn’t play a big role in Sleepy Time Creep, it definitely does, but Black’s setting the early mood with a nimble stroll across the keys in the extended intro, sketching out the melodic guardrails before giving way to a very subdued horn.

Here’s where your willingness to accept and embrace different sounds and approaches than the prototypical sax game plan is paramount to your enjoyment of music as a creative art, because Freddie Mitchell is playing so tentatively that it sounds as if he’d recently consumed a few sleeping pills but was valiantly struggling to fend them off to get through the last set of the evening.

It’s hardly a hit sound for rock, but it’s an undeniably pleasant sound for a rock fan whose been up all night getting their kicks and need a way to unwind before passing out… still wanting the sound of music in their ears but knowing they can’t take anything more energetic than this and still have any hope of falling asleep before dawn.

As lethargic as the sax is it manages to maintain the melodic forward momentum just enough to keep us hooked. Even when it seems to be running out of steam at the end of the first section the effect winds up working beautifully, giving the impression of someone unable to keep their eyes open before his friends lend him a hand.

On cue the other horns relieve him of his duties with a little more energy before making the transition to the second standalone spot by Black who shows he is much more adroit than so many of his one and two finger trifles in the past. If it’s possible to play a piano softly and yet still have the notes resonate he’s definitely found the way.

Is the melody itself strong enough to exist on its own, without the sounds of the notes lingering in your ears? Probably not, or at least it’d take a lot of listens before you could confidently hum it to yourself three days later, but you WILL remember the ambiance it creates even if the specifics begin to fade from your memory. Since that also happens to be more or less what happens to most of your dreams after you awake, whether this was intentional or not it really is rather fitting.
 

Once Upon A Dream
When you do wake from your slumber you’ll find this is a strange record to try and evaluate. On one hand this is completely outside the primary avenue for rock instrumentals. Even the slower records that have connected to date have far more of a groove to them than this does and yet it’s clearly not a song meant for another genre, pop or jazz or anything of the sort.

Sleepy Time Creep is a mood piece of the highest order, not a record for showing off your chops, but rather it’s one to put you a very specific mental state, sort of positioning you between your conscious state and your subconscious and it works really well in that regard.

It’s hard NOT to reward that feat because it’s not as simple to do as it seems, not just the lightness of touch required in the actual playing, but the decision to ease back on things this much all while knowing that it’s not a commercial sound, not a song to satisfy the crowds at a club and probably not something that will be appreciated by everyone who may encounter it.

That takes some guts to do, especially if you’re Joe Black and you’re getting the chance to cut records under your own name for the first time in over a year.

It may not have universal appeal but sometimes those are the records that are more fun to champion. While in many respects songs like this would seem to run counter to a lot of what rock was built on everyone has to unwind every now and then and this was made for just such a job.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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