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LONDON 17013; MAY 1950

 
 

 

 

Just when the artist who seemed to have presaged the rock revolution in early 1947 with his ideas if not his execution began to finally get up to speed musically a few years later by abandoning his jazzier inclinations, he finds himself somewhat adrift commercially, now stuck on the remote outpost of a British record label’s U.S. imprint where one of his worthier efforts turns out to be one of his rarest releases.

No wonder Joe Lutcher would soon give up music altogether and turn to religion… a man’s got to have something to believe in when his dreams continually turn to ashes before his eyes.
 

 

You’re Goin’ Nowhere
The career of Joe Lutcher is, any way you look at it, a decidedly strange one. A passable alto sax player who’d done some time with Nat Cole, then struck out on his own and formed a jazz-based small combo that was too late, or too quirky (or both) to make any headway in that field, he quickly stumbled upon an untested concept of emphasizing the aspects of music that had previously been underdeveloped in most genres.

It was nascent rock ‘n’ roll – hell, he even helped to brand it with the mid-1947 cut Rockin’ Boogie – but as we’ve detailed when first meeting him on the minor hit follow-up Shuffle Woogie, the components were just a little bit off to be out in front of the ensuing rock movement.

He spent the next two years scrambling to catch up, adding elements only after other far more talented artists had done so already, but even then he seemed incapable of ever getting ahead of the curve, always remaining just a few paces behind. By the time his contract with Modern Records came to an end in early 1950 the writing was on the wall, his prospects for stardom were growing dimmer and thus his opportunities were growing slimmer.

Joe Lutcher was now forced to actively seek out record companies, hoping to entice them into giving him a shot, hoping all the while that the resulting release might re-ignite some interest in his work to get him a long term deal somewhere else.

Thus he landed at London Records (the American arm of the U.K.’s enduring Decca label) which briefly at the mid-point of the Twentieth Century thought that Black American music including some rock ‘n’ roll might be their ticket to success. Unfortunately most of the acts they signed were either second rate talents or artists barely on the fringes of rock and thus unable to really make a definitive statement to help establish the company in this community.

Yet Joe Lutcher, though he may have perfectly embodied that description of a modest but dispensable act, wound up showing that the tank was far from dry with Cool Down, but as seemed to be his lot in life, it never got widely distributed enough to succeed or fail on its own merits.
 

Cool Down My Friend
Though there are plenty of vocals on this record, essentially they’re used for framework and as a merely another rhythmic device, as this is an instrumental in all but name… and a pretty good one at that.

It’s still not anything groundbreaking, but at the very least Cool Down is arguably the record where Lutcher seemed to commit to confining his musical approach primarily to rock rather than continually trying to merge it with slightly jazzier concepts as befitting his musical upbringing. As such it’s more aggressive than whimsical and gives off a very palpable sense of electricity at times.

Structurally this is rather basic. The instruments are being used for specific purposes which remain stubbornly unchanged during the course of the record, from the light piano and distant higher horns behind the singing (which is just the title line chanted repetitiously but in the process gives it a greater beat than the mild drums) before the song takes off during the soloing spots that break things up.

But it’s not the horns that take on that role as you might, but rather it’s the guitar, which is played with an intensity and focus that makes it stand out. Each of the soloing spots switch things up enough to keep your interest and the tone manages to remain clean without ever losing its snarling edge. It’s legitimately invigorating to hear and you wish that Lutcher had been able to come up with this approach a few years back, if he had then he might not be largely forgotten today.

As for the rest of the song it’s nowhere near as captivating, mostly because it’s leaning too heavily on those monotonous vocals… not just repeating the title a whopping eleven times in a row, but also reprising that after each and every solo. It’s only the last three “cool downs” each time through that they even alter the cadence of it slightly, so halfway through the record your eyes are spinning, waiting for the next guitar solo to break the spell.
 

Ain’t You Never Been Schooled?
This limited vision when it comes to arranging remains Joe Lutcher’s Achilles Heel, as he’s constantly got some progressive ideas that get done in by his more conservative nature. What makes it all the more frustrating here is that it would’ve been relatively easy to fix had he just broadened his horizons a little more.

He’s got the instruments in the band to break things up with and he could’ve taken a number of simple approaches to do so effectively. Perhaps the easiest would’ve been to cut the number of times they repeat Cool Down in half each time around but keep the length the same by responding to those words with various horn blasts, piano riffs, guitar lines and drum rolls. The quick bursts would’ve lent itself to keeping the energy from flagging and you’d have gotten a chance to let each band member get a bigger role without risking having them overplay their parts.

Another avenue they could’ve pursued would’ve been to have one of them, presumably Lutcher himself, answer the others vocally with a different interjection after they tell him to cool down. This might’ve been a little trickier – to come up with enough two word answers that make sense – (”Who me?”… “Says who?”… “How come?”… “No way!”) but even if they did that just one of the three times they cycle through this long ordeal it’d have added at least some character to the song.

The other way a different tact might’ve worked would’ve been to cut out the middle “verses” and just extend the solo, albeit probably using a tenor sax to trade off with the guitar. This would’ve made it more of a straight forward instrumental, letting the extended break get increasingly wild before… well, you know, cooling it back down again.

In that form the the singing still would’ve book-ended the song, but you’d have more flexibility within the meat of it to keep things jumping. Instead you’re left to grit your teeth and tolerate the extended vocal passages just to get to another scintillating guitar solo.
 


 

Heating Up Or Cooling Off?
Obviously this record came and went without any notice – either at the time or in the years since – and Joe Lutcher remained largely on the outside looking in when it came to establishing himself as a reliable rock artist.

Lutcher’s curse that he was creative enough to think outside the box but not determined enough to push it even further. His modest success also meant that he could maintain a working band with some skilled musicians and be able to keep getting record deals – even a short-lived one like this – without quite having the fear of seeing his career end because of a total lack of interest. But fear is a great motivator and if that sudden prospect of being completely shunned had happened maybe it’d have sparked the kind of creative desperation that might’ve helped to break him out of his self-imposed box.

As it is though Cool Down stands as one of his better records because of one very specific aspect, that guitar, which he nevertheless failed to fully capitalize on. So while this is definitely good it still remains less than it could be… than it SHOULD be… because the other parts are so shortsighted.

It’s now getting to the point where any hope for Lutcher to take a giant leap forward is gone and all we can reasonably wish for is that in his ensuing downward spiral he’s got enough glimmers of creativity left in him to make his slow demise more interesting to observe from a distance as the end draws inevitably closer.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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