KING 4434; FEBRUARY 1951



We’re at the point in Joe Thomas’s rock career where we know – and surely he knows as well – that he’s never going to truly fit in, but like the professional he was he’d do his best to play the part, give the audience more or less what they’ve come to expect in their rock instrumentals without really striving to do more than that.

All of which is to say that while you’d probably never be completely disappointed by these offerings by the former jazz sax stalwart, you’d also rarely be fully satisfied by them either.

If it’s any consolation to you, Joe Thomas was never going to be fully satisfied with them himself.


Have A Seat
Though their enduring status was somewhat overshadowed by the ensuing success of Atlantic Records (and inexplicably Sun Records as well when it comes to receiving historical credit in the 1950’s) there can be little debating that King Records was easily the greatest company in the early rock landscape.

They had the most hits, the biggest artists and cast the widest net. When you take into account their subsidiary labels, Federal and DeLuxe, the gap between them and everybody else through about 1956 becomes all that much greater.

What’s interesting about their game plan, and why they were so consistently successful, is how they seemed to have such a clear vision which everybody on the roster stuck to more or less. Unlike Atlantic during these years who often seemed completely unsure of what to do with their artists stylistically resulting in some wildly divergent sounds being tried, King managed to get them all pointed in the same direction from the start.

Joe Thomas is the perfect case in point. He was one of many jazz veterans who was enlisted to provide rock records for the company and though he had to be somewhat conflicted about his task he didn’t seem to openly revolt against the assignment, nor did he try sneaking in more sophisticated playing to remind listeners he was better than the material he was recording.

As a result songs like Sittin’ Around are fully compatible in rock circles even if they aren’t raising the bar for this kind of record in the process. He did his job, cashed his check and presumably looked to his live gigs as being his primary outlet for playing the type of music he preferred.

Records like this were merely what paid the bills.


Musical Chairs
The record employs a rare “fade in” technique that suggests it had an intro that they felt was extraneous and needed a way to cut it while not sounding too abrupt. The effect is a good one though as it gives the appearance of opening the doors to a performance already underway and as you walk into the club or studio the sound is already enveloping you with no need to first get your bearings.

Once you’re seated however the music sort of takes on the role of providing atmosphere rather than insisting you focus on it intently. As a song it has the requisite components to get the job done – a mildly insistent rhythmic base, a fairly engaging melody, overlapping parts for the horns to play off one another and a decent solo for Thomas to stretch out with – but none of those elements is particularly notable on their own.

Sittin’ Around is a by the numbers record that has been constructed by musicians who know exactly the effect this kind of arrangement will have regardless of the style they’re playing.

Though it’s obviously a horn driven performance they still need something else to offset that sound and shift your gaze from time to time without handing over too much time for another instrument to solo. Thus they have the pianist Kelly Owens keeping busy in the background with his own separate parts, his playing never moving artificially to the forefront but still becoming noticeable each time the horns pause in what they’re playing.

You also need rhythm for dancing of course, or just finger popping on the sidelines if you’re a wallflower, and so Bazeley Perry’s drumming is intentionally rudimentary, making sure that beat is emphasized so you can follow it without allowing it to ever overwhelm the other instruments in the process.

As for Thomas he’s got to have support so he’s not left to carry the entire load of the melody himself and so you have Johnny Grimes’ trombone and Orrington Hall’s baritone sax bolstering the main riff alongside him. Then when Thomas steps out for his solo the others keep playing another riff behind him as a counterpoint, giving the record a much fuller sound.

All of this falls under Songwriting and Arranging 101. It’s not hard to conceive by any means, but requires an attention to detail and commitment by the musicians to be satisfied with their roles, as basic as they are. It’s not the individual performances that are key to this working, it’s the ensemble churning along together.

They do this and they do it well… or at least well enough to suffice in the ever shrinking market for rock sax instrumentals.

Sit Back And Relax
There are times when referring to somebody, or the thing they’re doing, as merely “professional” seems like a backhanded compliment. Essentially you’re giving credit to their reliability while at the same time kind of dismissing their talents.

A professional is dependable but boring, whereas a virtuoso might occasionally overreach but they’ll always be interesting and frequently exciting.

Maybe that definition does describe Joe Thomas pretty well but the definition also underrates the value of professionalism in the studio where getting good releasable material with no fuss is the key to a record company’s efficiency.

In other words you don’t want your musicians, engineers and producers just Sittin’ Around while your mercurial star tries to get the inspiration to attempt to capture lightning in a bottle.

With so many artists on the label it wasn’t up to Joe Thomas to do much more than release a couple of halfway decent singles a year that would give King Records some modest sales with an occasional random hit thrown in all of which merely served as an additional calling card for the type of music the company specialized in.

You may not get many runaway smashes this way, but you rarely get something entirely worthless either. Just tell them what you expected out of them, print up the labels and get out of their way and let them do their job.


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