KING 4460; JUNE 1951



The further we get into rock ‘n’ roll’s lifespan the harder it is to remain relevant for those who began in other styles who only made the transition to rock out of commercial necessity in the first place.

A few years ago guys like saxophonist Joe Thomas was someone rock needed to diversify its output, ensure it had at least a modicum of professionalism to its name and – at least in some industry people’s eyes – to give the entire style some artistic legitimacy.

But by now rock has all of that without an ex-jazzman who may have been respectful of rock’s requirements and always put forth a decent effort, but whose musical heart would always lay somewhere else.

Yet in a way he’d backed himself into a corner by his association with this uncouth brand of music and so he couldn’t very easily return to whence he came and expect to find a waiting audience eager to welcome him back into their warm embrace.

So for better or worse Joe Thomas had little choice but stick to rock ‘n’ roll even if at times it seemed as if he was the only one in his band who was convinced of this course of action.


If I Was Free To Do The Things I Might
The saying “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” was probably invented by a musician facing similarly split loyalties, for while Joe Thomas had the résumé to make him an attractive signee for any respectable record label, he was not going to be a best seller in this day and age unless he made some concessions to modern market realities.

Having scored with a few rock instrumentals in 1949 and ’50, he had little choice but to cut more of them so those who bought the earlier ones would get what they’d come to expect out of him and so King Records could justify keeping him on their roster.

So Joe Thomas more or less gave them what they wanted with Jumpin’ Joe and hoped that’d be enough to placate the label as well as stir enough interest in his newer, younger and more demanding audience to keep him employed.

Yet at the same time he made attempts to bring back into the fold the older audience he felt more comfortable with by cutting songs like If I Could Be With You (One Hour Tonight), a treacly ballad sung by Joe to the aging couples who rarely stay out past nine o’clock at night. Despite his sincere reading of it and the pleasant voice he displays it’s a good bet that his now dominant audience will take it off the record player before even getting to his somewhat sultry sax solo which is the only thing that would hold even the slightest bit of musical interest to that crowd.

But this side, the one actually intended for them, might have the same problem, for while it is indeed more rousing in general than the vocal turn, it too has a troubling relationship to past styles that threatens to curtail Joe Thomas’s recording career before he even realizes what happened.

I Want You To Know, I Wouldn’t Go
Let’s start with what’s wrong with this for the rock fan’s aesthetics.

The opening horn riff, while spry and bouncy, is lacking muscle and grit. It’s lightweight and disposable in a rock setting, never establishing a grinding riff to act as the underpinning of the entire song. Their tinny sound is grating and almost demeaning to those who never experienced the jazz revolution, as it seems to be saying that THIS was good music and the stuff we, the rock fanatics, prefer is somehow not worth their time to play.

Thomas’s first appearance on saxophone barely helps matters. His horn itself – a tenor – is the most capable instrument of the bunch and certainly it possesses a much better tone than the others for rock settings, but he’s following their lead when it comes to how ineffectually he puts it across. He’s hinting at what’s expected of him by us, but not really delivering on that promise. He’s the striptease act who keeps the feather boa in the all the right (wrong?) places, obscuring what you came to see.

Though he does get a little heated the more he goes on, it’s still just a glorified jazz solo, not a down and dirty rock performance at this stage of the game and already we’re growing restless.

When the non-rock horns, trumpets and trombones, start in you’re ready to get up and hit the streets in search of something more exciting, like a car accident, a mugging or a even a rousing game of checkers in front of the local barbershop.

More than halfway through we’ve gotten virtually nothing to suit our needs. Whether any of it suited the needs of the jazz fans he’d left behind isn’t clear either, but needless to say at this point we’re including this record more as a musical obituary to Thomas as a rock act and even then only out of a sense of obligation and completeness.

But luckily for us they called it Jumpin’ Joe for a reason and that reason is when Thomas returns he’s determined to earn his rock ‘n’ roll stripes with his most torrid playing yet.

He starts off in low gear but with a nice thick tone and he gradually ramps it up and starts blasting away in rapid fire back and forth with the other horns until he’s leaving vapor trails behind him. For thirty seconds he’s as unhinged as he can be and while the pattern he’s playing is painstakingly simple it gets the job done because of the fiery passion he’s displaying, almost as if he’d envisioned his career sputtering to a halt and was determined to prevent that at all costs.

Though one section of one song isn’t enough to vault him back into the upper echelon of rockers, it is enough to prevent his eviction from the premises awhile longer and instill in you some – surely exaggerated – hope that he might yet turn things around once he drops the dead weight of an in over their heads jazz outfit he has working behind him.


I’m Telling You True
It’s never easy to watch somebody eminently qualified to do a job that no longer exists… or at least one that is no longer in demand.

Like the fate of blacksmiths when cars replaced horse and buggies or printing press operators as the digital revolution took hold, Joe Thomas is a jazzman in a rock ‘n’ roll world trying valiantly to keep his union card all while surely realizing it’s a losing battle.

While he himself may be able to keep making the grade as his best moments on Jumpin’ Joe proves, as long as he harbors any desire to revisit his past when his preferred style of music was still in vogue, and as long as he insists on bringing along musicians who – unlike him – look down on the entire concept of rock ‘n’ roll, his days are certainly numbered.

He deserves better than that… but then again, eventually everybody’s time is up and why should he be any different?

Though his late flurry here tells us that he may not be ready to stop jumpin’ quite yet, we know all too well that the clock is ticking on him and time is running out.


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