DERBY 721; OCTOBER 1949

 
 

 

Well this is certainly unexpected… not to mention confounding, frustrating and downright confusing.

The idea that small start-up independent record companies would seek to expand their output from their decidedly limited talent roster by simply assigning releases to different members of their studio band, thereby making it seem as if they had more artists under contract, is common enough to not be worth noting in normal circumstances… but this isn’t quite a normal circumstance.

For while pianist Joe Black was busy stinking up saxophonist Freddie Mitchell’s instrumentals with his incessant one-finger treble-key concertos on piano, here, on a record credited to Black, he lets Mitchell blow up a storm without interference.

Whoever was responsible for delegating which record bore which artist’s name for Derby Records obviously didn’t bother listening to it.
 

 

The Sideliner
This was the third of three releases under the name Joe Black Orchestra, which is a not only misleading but also detrimental because it’s doubtful fans of this kind of music were going to be swayed into purchasing anything credited to an orchestra.

Then again the kind of music exhibited here – rough and rowdy rock ‘n’ roll – wasn’t entirely what Black and company were up to when it came to their earlier releases, including two songs trying to take advantage of a calypso trend that wouldn’t fully reach its mainstream peak for another six or seven years when Harry Belafonte turned it into a national craze.

Freddie Mitchell had also cut a song during this period with the same goal and that fared no better than the two sides credited to Black, but what WAS having some commercial success was Mitchell’s rock efforts and so it was hardly surprising that they’d try jumping on board that train with something under Joe Black’s name.

Seeing as how they were the same musicians playing on all of these sides, no matter who got the lead artist designation, it hardly mattered… except for one thing. Whereas on some of Mitchell’s cuts Black was extremely prominent plunking away on the last dozen keys on the right hand side of the piano, on The Mainliner he practically sits out entirely… a good thing for your peace of mind, let me assure you.

But considering that with more room to run wild Mitchell turns in his best performances to date, the fact that they didn’t use it to promote his career rather than one of his sidemen is downright baffling because this might’ve vaulted Freddie Mitchell into the upper echelon of rock’s growing number of sax playing madmen.
 

The Main Event
They waste no time jumping into the fast lane on this, the sax blasting from the speakers at a pace that seems far too rushed to make much sense to anyone.

Because of this all-out attack it sounds more like a warm-up exercise than a proper song… something to limber up your fingers, expand your lungs and get your heart pumping. You can guess why they named it The Mainliner because it sounds as if they were injecting undiluted caffeine directly into their veins.

But while the playing is fairly impressive from a sheer athletic point of view, it’s a little too frantic to be easily accessible as a record. This is more appropriate as a live cut leading into the break at a club on a Friday night, sending the patrons into a frenzy that will tire them out, get them to hit the bar for another round of drinks to quench their thirst, then after the intermission the band can come back on for their last set knowing that the crowd will be revived enough to stick with them until closing.

As a standalone record played on a jukebox at four o’clock on a Thursday afternoon it’s the musical equivalent of being thrown from an airplane without a parachute… sure it can be an adrenaline rush as you’re plummeting to your death but there’s no easing into those kind of things, nor is there much chance for an encore after that kind of performance.
 


 

All Down The Line
Though it’s hardly the easiest song to get acclimated to that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot to admire in it, starting with the fact that unlike on a lot of his own sides, Mitchell doesn’t seem to be burdened by any musical inhibitions.

This kind of manic freewheeling playing wherein he’s seemingly trying to hit each and every note under the sun in a compressed time-frame, is the epitome of the mindset behind much of rock ‘n’ roll mayhem.

In a lot of ways it’s supposed to come across as off-putting to outsiders, something so wild, so intense and so disrespectful for the usual approach to music that it immediately separates those who hear it into two camps. Those who recoil in terror at such gaudy displays and indignantly claim this is just offensive noise are the kind who you don’t want around influencing your choices to begin with.

The other constituency however are drawn to such ostentatious songs as The Mainliner because it is so unrelenting. Mitchell never lets up here, going from one torrid riff to another. A few work better than others – for awhile he sounds like bees have gotten into his britches and he follows that up with some gasping lines as if he got stung too often – but then he recovers his composure (such as it is) and resumes a blasting away like mad.

Notably absent from this is any sign of an intelligible arrangement, meaning the other musicians are merely hanging on for dear life, not contributing anything sensible. The drummer is the most active, delivering little more than spastic assaults on the cymbals and snare, while Black – the guy who somehow can’t seem to find any key to the left of middle C on the piano in normal circumstances – contributes a steady, though largely drowned out, bass-line on the 88’s.

It’s not so much a proper song as it is a case of Mitchell telling the others to follow the best they can because he’s not stopping for anything.
 

End Of The Line
There’s not much more analysis that can be offered here. Clearly this was inspired by the likes of Big Jay McNeely and other anarchists of rock over the past year who turned their saxophones into “shock and awe” weapons and got great responses, but the difference is the records that worked in that style had far more structure and discipline than is shown here.

Unlike those efforts The Mainliner has no set up, no give and take, no melodic thread, no rhythmic diversity, no pause in the action and offers absolutely no chance to even comprehend what’s going on. You’re dropped into a tornado, jolted by an earthquake, drenched in a tidal wave and then thrown back on shore in the midst of a hurricane and expected to calmly get to your feet when it’s over and walk away without a care in the world.

Even in rock ‘n’ roll that’s a lot to ask of someone’s nervous system.

Yet because it’s so uncompromising in its attempts at shaking you up with an onslaught of sound it winds up being almost admirable just the same. The precise methods being used certainly could use some better judgement, but if they could somehow harness the attitude shown here it would go a long way in making them more vital in rock’s ongoing evolution.

As it was though they’d go their separate ways right after this, with Black getting replaced in Mitchell’s band by Art Sims before eventually resurfacing on his own with Coral Records in a few years time… aided once again by a moonlighting Freddie Mitchell.

Nothing either one would do – together or apart – would match this for sheer audacity, but at least whenever they’re being criticized for taking things easy on other records you can always point back to this musical maelstrom to show that they weren’t always so demure.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Freddie Mitchell for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)