KING 4385; AUGUST 1950



As as been pointed out numerous times around here the titles for instrumental records in early rock were among their primary selling points.

The use of various culinary dishes unique to black culture was a method of conveying to audiences at a glance that these songs were meant for them, while songs with more suggestive titles were designed to be alluring enough on their own to elicit the curiosity of those who might still be unsure of giving them a try.

But the risk you ran when doing so was potentially diluting the effectiveness of those forms of benign advertising whenever the content of those records failed to live up to the expectations their titles promised.


Take Out Your Carving Knives
Whatever style of music Joe Thomas played, you were at least assured of getting a professional job. Though a jazz titan from his days with Jimmie Lunceford before the revered bandleader’s untimely death, Thomas had rebounded by cutting a series of rock instrumentals that made every effort to comply with the cruder musical standards of the genre.

Despite his ability to honk and snort, doing so probably ran contrary to his nature and so while Thomas gave it his all he still required the proper guidance to ensure he followed the game plan laid out for him by King Records.

Yet in spite of his general compliance with this new approach we know that he probably would’ve preferred taking it easy, playing something milder and more respectful… like say Blue Shadows which adorns the flip side of this release.

Maybe that’s what he should’ve been allowed to pursue all along, unburdened by a record label’s expectations for hits in this decidedly foreign realm. Yet as always Thomas soldiered on, giving in to their demands while still attempting to salvage some dignity from his ventures into the seedier side of music.

With Raw Meat he needn’t have worried much about doing any permanent damage to his reputation, for aside from the rather explicit image conjured up by the name itself Thomas plays in restrained fashion throughout… much too restrained as a matter of fact, at least for whipping rock fans into a frenzy.

Though it’s a well constructed song with a nice simple progression that acts as an easily identifiable hook that will stick in your mind, it’s also just a pleasant stroll through the park, not a romp through the alleys as we’ve come to expect, especially with the word “raw” seared into our brain getting us to envision something snarling, drooling and panting like a wild animal that’s just been caged after an epic struggle.

Instead with this we just get a tame house cat looking for a sunny spot to lay down in.


If taking this record for what it IS, rather than what its title implies, or what we hoped it would be, there’s not much to really criticize.

Thomas’s tone is superb, sort of a warm, slightly buzzed effect, and his grasp of the melody is strong enough that he can lay back behind the beat just enough to increase the tension without ever risking losing his way.

The band is playing discreetly behind him with only the drums catching your ear with their simple back beat that benefits primarily from being well-mic’d and placed up front in the mix. None of them however are doing a thing to spur him on to be more lively, instead just choosing to stick close to the vest and not do anything to stand out or even change the tempo. We get no shift in their approach because the song itself doesn’t allow for it, this is locked into an arrangement that never deviates from the first second to the last.

Yet in spite of that Raw Meat isn’t something that would be more fitting for his past life as a jazz act, nor is it trying to be excessively mannered like a pop tune. Though you can hardly say it’s working up enough of a sweat to be a rocker either, the basic groove fits better in this field than anywhere else and his lack of pretension in what he plays further suggests he’s not looking to impress anyone with his musical breeding.

It’s just that as rock instrumentals go this is intentionally unobtrusive, making it more suited for the early hours of an all night dance where the ties are still fastened properly and there’s more milling about by the entrance as your buddies and their dates come in than there is actual dancing or getting busy in the dark after swilling the booze you smuggled in under the nose of the chaperones.

It’s a time killing record in other words… acceptable enough to not take you completely out of the mood you’re seeking, but not gripping enough to get you INTO that mood without some extracurricular assistance.


Cold Beef
The question we always have to ask whenever Joe Thomas, or those like him who’ve been imported from other lands, delivers a record that doesn’t pass muster is an obvious one… does this mean they’re turning their backs on us in the rock community, or at the very least easing away from us slowly so they can return to someplace that’s more comfortable for their personal tastes?

Mmm, it could be I suppose… I mean it’s certainly not out of the question you’ll have to admit.

After all, Thomas didn’t voluntarily sign up for this gig, not for the long haul anyway, so his commitment to rock was conditional to begin with and Raw Meat hardly sounds like he’s planning to renew his membership. But then again because it doesn’t give the impression that he’s handing in his resignation either, we can’t really tell for sure what he’s thinking, leaving it an open-ended question that will only be answered in time.

Maybe it’s just a slight misstep… more devoted rock acts than he have slipped up from time to time, so with that said we probably shouldn’t read too much into this and hope he can rebound with something more suitable next time around.

Admittedly though with this kind of suggestive title staring us in the face its shortcomings become a little harder to ignore. Perhaps if they’d named the song after a vegetable instead it would’ve made this cold dish a little easier to swallow.


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