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MACY’S 5014; NOVEMBER 1950



We just got done celebrating the return of the sax instrumental during a long strech in which its frequency on the release rolls had dropped precipitously compared to the first few years in rock.

Though the praise for the record itself was somewhat measured, the enthusiasm for its appearance might’ve come across as overkill to some who haven’t sensed there was any imminent risk of that style of music vanishing completely.

After all it hasn’t been completely absent from the scene these past eleven months even if it wasn’t quite as ubiquitous a presence as it had been as recently as last year.

But a closer look at the records that the major sax stars have released in 1950 shows that companies were moving away from these honking free-for-alls by frequently issuing records by their saxophonists with a vocalist on them in an effort to make the records somewhat more distinctive and accessible.

Whether this was a smart business move or an overreaction to a minor sales slump, the fact remains that for the time being not even a horn as mighty as Joe Houston was going to be left to blow alone.


Why’d You Have To Do Me So Wrong?
Despite what you might think the pairing of Houston with a Lois Butler was not one conceived by Macy’s Recordings. In truth Butler was a regular in the stage show of Houston and so it’s only natural that he’d want to feature her on one of his records, if only to have an original song for her to sing in live performances.

But her presence on record does fit the narrative of rock circa 1950 where there wasn’t quite the same appetite for back to back instrumentals on a single release. Rock’s original horn practitioner Paul Williams had issued What’s Happening with Connie Allen on vocals back in March that was quite good, but that same month Al Sears had joined with The Jive Bombers for 125th Street, New York that the vocalists proceeded to all but ruin with their convoluted so-called “singing”.

Eddie Chamblee introduced us to the underrated Danny Overbea who handled the vocal on Every Shut Eye Ain’t Sleep, while Hal Singer brought Sam Theard on board to sing Rock Around The Clock and earlier this month Frank Culley joined forces with Arlene Talley on Little Miss Blues.

Do you sense a trend going on here?

The writing was on the wall it seemed, instrumentals were alright for a change of pace maybe but vocals were were it was it if you wanted to score consistent hits.

This was bad news for guys like Joe Houston for while Butler was a member of his group, he surely knew that if they did score a hit it’d be the singer, not the bandleader and horn player, who’d get the publicity and acclaim.

So maybe it stands to reason that Pretty Dad-Dee was something that was designed to be good, but not TOO good and thereby allowed Houston to avoid being upstaged by a mere employee under his command.

I Wouldn’t Mind It Baby
Naturally the first sounds you hear are horns, sort of lazily moaning over some piano accents laid down by Houston’s wife, Marian McKinley. It’s a standard opening for a lot of songs, though not one necessarily associated with an aspiring saxophone madman.

But then again, Joe Houston’s saxophone is not the featured star of this record and for most of the run time the horns are just repeating that soothing riff, slow and steady, while Lois Butler sings in a somewhat strained but pleasing voice.

Though there was another Lois Butler singing at the time with such tunes as Summer Serenade from 1946, she’s clearly not the same one unless that one was bleached and hung out to dry in the wind before entering the studio. This Butler has a fair amount of grit and soul in her voice, a little strident maybe in her tone, but with a firm grasp of the style required to sell Pretty Dad-Dee.

Aside from the unique and clever spelling of the title phrase, the song’s lyrics are fairly predictable. Butler is bemoaning the absence of her good-looking man, critical of how he dumped her, yet clearly still hoping to get him back.

But this isn’t a plea for reconciliation as much as it’s a laundry list of her hurt feelings, the details of which are hardly necessary for anyone who’s listened to these kind of songs before. The story is broad and generic, the details are mostly lacking and the emotion is taken off the middle shelf at the spurned lover store, on sale this week for $1.68.

Yet Butler manages to sell it with reasonable skill. We never doubt that she’s hurting, yet she doesn’t try and draw undue attention to herself by overdoing the emotions. She’s holding it together to save face, yet allowing the cracks to show just enough to draw a modicum of sympathy for her plight.

It’s going to be referred to most likely as a journeywoman performance because there’s no distinct personality she brings to the table, even as she hits all of the necessary markers to make it work. That’s not quite her fault though, for while she handles it admirably there’s simply no room in the song’s construction for her to stretch out any.

More surprising however is there’s no room for Joe Houston to stretch out either.

I Was Really Good To You
Right around the corner we’re going to see the shift of the sax from being the unquestioned stars of their own records to the most prominent supporting act in the vocal record sweepstakes.

On the whole it was a good decision the rock world collectively made, for while a great instrumental could indeed be a sight to behold, the requirements of coming up with a distinctive melody, good riffs and a wild solo in the confines of two and a half minutes on a record meant for repeated play – and then repeat that formula for four or five singles (eight to ten sides) per year – was a lot to ask of musicians.

By contrast when they got to add a few riffs behind some singers and then cut loose for a mid-song instrumental break, they could put all of their energy and creativity into those brief moments in the spotlight and transform a record in the process.

Pretty Dad-Dee doesn’t do any of those things, which shows you they still hadn’t quite figured out how well the two elements could compliment one another, but they do at least manage to smoothly incorporate Houston and his fellow horns into the song without stepping on Butler’s toes in the process.

Frankly though, you’d LIKE to see Houston stomp on her feet a little here, as after awhile the song’s gently swaying melody becomes slightly monotonous with nothing to break it up. Butler herself would benefit from a taking a breather, not so much to let her rest, but to make her re-appearance that much more impactful following a grinding solo.

Instead Houston lays back, providing just the same unceasing melody. It’s a nice sound on the whole but by the time it all winds down you’ve grown just a little weary of it.

You’ll Realize What You Did To Me
This wasn’t anything that was going to make any of them stars, but nor was it going to dissuade someone from checking them out in the future either.

Lois Butler acquits herself well enough to be a pleasant addition to the vocal talent pool, especially since rock needs all of the female performers it can get in order to help balance out the gender inequity that exists at the time.

Joe Houston doesn’t get a chance to shine as we might’ve liked but at least he shows he’s willing and able to be a complimentary piece without bruising his ego.

More than anything Pretty Dad-Dee is exactly the kind of B-side that works well for what they’re all trying to do, artists and record labels alike. It spreads the wealth among the individual members of Houston’s band, it diversifies their sound and it ultimately doesn’t upstage the star performer’s better effort on the A-side.

But maybe the best sign it gives us is that during a time when other prominent (mostly older) sax stars might be re-thinking their commitment to rock now that the instrumental boom has died down and are considering shifting back to a more respectable style of music like jazz, Joe Houston, the young gun on the scene, shows that he’s in this game for the long haul and with all of the changes on the horizon, the more guys like him sticking with rock ‘n’ roll, the better.


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