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LONDON 17013; MAY 1950

 
 

 

Forever resigned to the hinterlands of rock ‘n’ roll by virtue of his quirky style that even at its best seemed to be a half step behind the curve, Joe Lutcher nevertheless had some verifiable success along the way which proved enough of an incentive to keep plugging away, hoping to gain a more consistent foothold in the public’s consciousness even as his opportunities to do so began to dwindle.

But as is often the case, rather than explore new ideas Lutcher fell back on revisiting the old concepts that had proved to be worthwhile in the past, thereby all but ensuring that he never would catch up to the rapidly advancing narrative of rock as a whole, even if by doing so he managed to sustain just enough interest in his work to keep up this cycle of stagnation until his time on the national stage was through.
 

 

Stayed And Stayed
Though it can’t rightly be called a “sequel” because the previous year’s hit Mardi Gras didn’t contain a proper story (IE. characters, plot, conflict, resolution) to be continued, that pedantic adherence to terminology is about the only thing that keeps this record from being termed a sequel because this is not in any way disguising its intent to lure in the same listeners with the same subject and musical formula.

But because that original song had merely been a colorful description of the annual Lenten event that overtakes New Orleans each winter, it’s merely the theme that gets exhumed here, leaving it up to Lutcher to simply come up with different scenes to highlight in this song. So maybe the better term for Jumpin’ At The Mardi Gras is to call it a “reimagining”.

Naturally that sort of creative desperation doesn’t bode well for this record, for rarely do artists with such shallow intent manage to even live up to the first go-round of the idea, let alone show they can improve upon and surpass the original.

Yet Joe Lutcher somehow manages to do just that with this record, aided by much fiercer instrumental backing, a less clunky structure and more universal lyrical commentary that are less reliant on actually focusing on the specifics of Mardi Gras itself, as the first record had done, and more concerned with just throwing open the doors and letting the party take care of itself.
 

Everybody’s Talkin’ ‘Bout…
The growing popularity of the rhumba during this era is something we’ve only briefly touched upon despite it running through a lot of the songs we’ve come across over the past few years. Unlike rock however, which was still confined exclusively to Black America, the rhumba had made inroads into middle-American pop circles… still treated as something of a novelty perhaps, but an intriguing and enjoyable one for people looking for a little spicier musical dish than the crooners and big band jazz leftovers were churning out.

Though essentially a catch-all marketing term widely used in America to describe various strains of Latin rhythm music of the 1930’s through the 1950’s, it originated around a Cuban ballroom style exemplified by the early 1930’s hit The Peanut Vendor by Don Azpiazu with its jittery percussive rhythm. Over time congas were added to emphasize that quality some more giving most Latin music that achieved mainstream acceptance a similar feel that fell under the heading of the Rhumba Craze.

Its spread grew to be pretty wide as in the late 1940’s faint elements of Rhumba were found in such rock hits as Joe Swift’s That’s Your Last Boogie and Dee Williams’ Bongo Blues while others like Earl Bostic’s Earl’s Rumboogie used the now popular term as a selling point of the record rather than an actual description of the music contained on that record.

But the one region where the Rhumba unquestionably came into play the most was New Orleans which due to its location was far more attuned to the musical trends of the Caribbean islands (and vice versa) than more inland locales. Professor Longhair’s music was heavily influenced by Rhumba ideals, and both Paul Gayten and especially Dave Bartholomew frequently took bits and pieces from it to flavor their productions.

Joe Lutcher was also from Louisiana originally, though he moved away after becoming a professional musician, yet he became one of the more ardent champions of incorporating Rhumba music into his brand of rock ‘n’ roll, doing so with varying degrees of success – artistically and commercially – until Mardi Gras had given him his biggest hit to date and so as much as it was the topic which he recycled here on Jumpin’ At The Mardi Gras, the bigger story was the underlying musical connections to the Rhumba which is what powered both records from the start.
 


 

So Much Fun
Though undeniably it’s the rhythm which is the dominant underpinning of this song, the driving force of its catchiness and the arguably the pinnacle of Lutcher’s fascination with the form, all of which are performed with a greater degree of skill and efficiency than he’s shown in the past, that’s only one reason why this record succeeds where others have failed.

For starters Lutcher has given the song a perspective that is slightly less reliant on the listener having any concrete awareness of the events surrounding the Mardi Gras, essentially using that term merely as a jumping off point for greater name recognition to boost its commercial appeal after the last hit.

Once it gets going – after an admittedly boppish piano-based intro that gives little indication of what is to follow – Jumpin’ At The Mardi Gras puts the focus is on simply having a good time, no matter the place, no matter the time of year and no matter the “excuse” you’d have for throwing a party.

Structurally this resembles Louis Jordan’s monster hit from the year before Saturday Night Fish Fry, which as readers here know was taken largely from Big Jay McNeely’s rock record Road House Boogie with its descriptive roll call of events centering around a house party, but the scenes Lutcher paints are just as colorful and if his delivery is a bit odd – never much of a singer, he sort of chants the lyrics in a sing-songy nasal patter – it’s definitely infectious enough to keep your interest up.

But what sets this record apart from everything else Lutcher has done to this point is the absolutely hellacious tenor saxophone work, wisely taking Lutcher, an alto player, out of the mix and as such the change in intensity makes this jump out of the speakers.

It’s helped by the fact that rather than just one extended solo, as was the case with most rock songs, this breaks the vocal stanzas up with short, but still explosive, sax interludes, essentially taking the place of a sung chorus. Each time the sax roars in at full throttle it sounds like a jet whizzing through your living room, startling the dog, frightening the baby and sending you diving for cover behind the couch.

Even with Joe’s more laid back tone framing it, the record is vibrant and alive thanks to the sax, putting you on the edge of your seat then slamming you back against the wall each time it appears, elevating what should by all rights have been a disposable entity into something surprisingly provocative and gripping.
 


 

Didn’t Go To Bed
At last Joe Lutcher seems to have caught on to what made rock ‘n’ roll so electrifying… in spite of himself perhaps. This is the most exciting record of his career, if not quite the most original, and once again shows that he was never short of ideas, he just usually lacked the focus to bring them to bear at times.

Give him credit in this case though for seeing it through, for there was certainly no reason to think that Jumpin’ At The Mardi Gras would work – a follow-up record to one that was quirky and unusual which it shamelessly references – has all the earmarks of a disaster, especially when the artist in question has yet to effectively harness even his best ideas in a way that makes them consistently palatable.

Yet in a weird way by combining his ongoing enchantment with Rhumba and the more visceral elements of sax based rock decadence and topping it off with a lyric that could be appreciated as much for the genial good time it presented in leiu of any intricacies of plot, this managed to surpass anybody’s reasonable expectations of quality, giving us something that Joe Lutcher had seemed incapable of ever achieving – a no frills rocker.

It didn’t help of course. Either audiences had the same skeptical trepidation regarding Lutcher’s creativty as we did, or it was done in by his lack of an established reputation from which to build sales and spins upon, this came and went without much notice. Decades later the title would be used on a CD of his work (the one pictured at the top of the review in leiu of an elusive label scan) yet fail to include the song it was named after since it was cut for another label!

(For those interested the two compilations pictured above have it – one focusing on the brief early 50’s flirtation London Records had with some intriguing fringe rock acts, the other being a hefty four disc set called Rhumba Blues which gathers some stylistically like-minded attempts by various artists and which is a good bargain for the amount of music contained).

Say what you will about Lutcher’s shortcomings – and we certainly have – but the admirable thing about him has always been his continued efforts to overcome his own weaknesses. Sometimes those efforts have been in vain or have come a little too late to change his fate, but you have to hand it to someone who never gives up trying. After hearing this, we’re glad he kept at it.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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