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It’s taken us almost two whole years to get through nearly six hundred sides that comprised the rock releases of 1950 as this song closes the book on that momentous year for rock ‘n’ roll as it solidified itself as the dominant form of black music in America a little less than three years after the genre debuted.

We’ve met some major figures for the first time this year – Fats Domino, Professor Longhair and Mel Walker in the first few months, Margie Day, Sylvia Vanderpool, The Four Buddies and The Dominoes down the home stretch. We’ve been introduced to some artists like Kitty Stevenson who seemed poised to go on to great things which somehow never quite panned out, while others like The Clovers appeared destined to be instantly forgotten and yet before long they will set the rock world on its ear.

Sometimes you can tell instantly what’s in store for someone, other times you have no idea. To that end we’ve seen older artists like Smiley Lewis and Tiny Bradshaw make well-received comebacks and yet at the same time watched as talented younger acts like Goree Carter and Andrew Tibbs fade from the scene before their time.

All of these ebbs and flows are par for the course though, it’s the nature of any creative endeavor, some rise, others fall while the ground underneath them all constantly shifts and remains as unpredictable as ever.

Perhaps the only absolute certainty in all of this is however is the fact that sooner or later we’ll be bidding everybody who was once a big part of the story of rock’s evolution a bittersweet farewell.

Maybe it’s only fitting then that we close out 1950 with our last look at Joe Lutcher, the guy who predicted the rock revolution before almost anyone else and stuck around just long enough to see the music take on a life of its own.


I’m Going Back Home
In the spring of 1947 when Joe Lutcher was the latest signee to Specialty Records, he argued with the company’s owner Art Rupe over the direction he wanted to pursue. Though he lost that battle he hinted at what was to follow in the coming months with the presciently titled Rockin’ Boogie, a song that came and went with little interest at the time.

Seems like only yesterday, doesn’t it? Well, maybe not.

Before long Lutcher had left Specialty for Capitol Records where his sister Nellie was a rising star in another style altogether and he was able to score a hit with the innocuous No Name Boogie which in turn led Rupe to re-issue Rockin’ Boogie to take advantage of the attention centered around this new brand of music and it got him a belated hit on that somewhat pre-historic vision.

But since that point Joe Lutcher has been struggling to keep pace. Still tied to an older concept when it came to the role horns played in this music, not blessed with the best singing voice and shifting his focus to guitar tracks before that instrument fully took hold, all while jumping from one label to another which robbed him of any consistent promotion, Lutcher was like a frustrated inventor who saw the possibilities of tomorrow while constantly remaining grounded by the recent past.

With sporadic sales and his best sides drawing no interest while the demographic for rock artists and audiences got ever more youthful, the 32 year old Lutcher took one final look around and decided the hell with it, I’m Cuttin’ Out.

Of course to show how focused rock fans were on the latest sounds and biggest stars, when he left the scene it’s safe to say that hardly anybody even noticed.

I Made My Reservation
A record like this – modest and unassuming – is hardly the best way for Joe Lutcher to say goodbye but it’s also altogether appropriate for somebody who always was a few steps away from finding a consistent sweet spot in rock’s broad palette.

Most of the things we’ve bemoaned about his artistry – or lack thereof – over the past three years are still largely evident here… the fact he’s unwilling to let the horns blast away, the fact he’s a sleepy conversational singer rather than a soulful crooner or a flamboyant shouter, the fact his song topics are about smaller slices of life situations rather than larger universal experiences.

Yet I’m Cuttin’ Out does most of those things with a fair amount of grace and charm, giving Lutcher the kind of low key setting he was most comfortable exploring.

The riffing horns and spry piano that opens this suggests the record might be a little more energetic than it turns out, but when Lutcher’s alto comes in playing a winding melody rather than double down on the heavier riff you know that he’s going to be taking things easy and you have to readjust your thinking.

His vocals don’t start until nearly a minute in and not only confirm this restrained approach but if anything they turn the intensity down even more, as his singing is remarkably unemotional, telling us he’s had enough and is heading back home… from what he doesn’t say, but here in the present we can fill in the blanks when it comes to his career prospects even though it’s doubtful he was writing specifically about that at the time.

More than anything this is the sound of genial resignation, somebody who has no fight left in them and no fire still burning within to be stoked, someone who’s lost all hope that they are still in control of their own destiny. It’s not meant to be sad exactly, but it can’t help but feel a little melancholy when you know what was to follow for Lutcher himself.

Even when he tweaks his delivery coming out of the instrumental break it’s more of a whimsical indulgence than a passionate plea for reconsideration. The whole record seems as if it is the final manifesto of somebody looking to set sail and get shipwrecked on a deserted island.


I Know I’ll Never Have To Roam
Musically speaking this is also an appropriate send off to the often frustrating Joe Lutcher style. Though over the past year or so he’s shored up his weaknesses and started accentuating better, or at least more intriguing, aspects of his arrangements, when you get right down to it he was still somebody who fell back far too often on his musical upbringing even when he otherwise had the foresight to correctly predict some changes on the horizon.

On I’m Cuttin’ Out his tendency to stick too closely to the sounds of yesterday is apparent in the reliance on the trumpet to set the primary mood. Granted that’s an instrument often used to express regret and wistful sorrow but Lutcher’s lyrics aren’t expressing those sentiments even if the bigger picture that comes with knowing the extenuating circumstances may suggest otherwise.

His more recent emphasis on the guitar which has highlighted some of his best sides is downplayed here, though there’s still vestiges of it buried in the mix, getting some nice accent notes during the piano and horn dominated break without it being emphasized.

The saxophones are keeping this grounded well enough to not complain too much about its otherwise wandering spirit. The baritone is anchoring the bottom end, the tenor is providing some muscle while Joe’s alto during the breaks adds the bewitching qualities he was known for, those alien melodic touches that made it seem he should be playing in a tent surrounded by a harem of exotic beauties in a desert somewhere.

None of this is commercial for the rock scene of 1950 of course, but it’s hardly impossible to categorize either. You know he’s a rock act, you just can’t remember when you’ve heard a rock act quite like him before… and now you won’t get to hear one like him again.

I Don’t Care What You Say And I Don’t Care What You Do
Nineteen Fifty has seen rock’s tectonic plates shifting under it yet again with the sax instrumentals that had dominated the last few years being placed on the back burner while the vocal group sides are about to open the floodgates to set the pace for the next half dozen years.

We’ve heard the old school mentalities of jazz-bred musicians getting excised from recordings and watched while artists who represented kind of a hybrid sound from the recent past either adapt fully to rock’s ground rules or retreat to older styles and leave this leaner, more muscular brand of rock ‘n’ roll to the up and coming generation.

In that environment it was hard to envision Joe Lutcher carrying on much longer without transforming his sound more radically than he seemed willing to or capable of. In that sense I’m Cuttin’ Out represents one final look back at what once was before looking forward to what will be.

He may never have been one of rock’s brightest stars but he was a constant presence and a welcome sight, if only because he kept trying to find his niche. He never really did but in the end he stayed true to himself and that’s never anything to be ashamed of.

Rock never has time to say goodbye to those who can’t keep up and so his absence may not be noticed by many but around here he’ll be missed all the same.


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