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At times like these it helps to remember that vanilla has been the most popular flavor of ice cream since cows went into business for themselves years ago, and that more people during the mid-2000’s watched such tripe as CSI and Dancing With The Stars than ever saw an episode of something brilliant like Deadwood, or that somehow the NFL remains more popular than the NBA… and maybe most inexplicably of all we need to keep in mind that worthless stains on the Internet such as Facebook manage to get more visitors per day than Spontaneous Lunacy.

I know, it’s shocking isn’t it? Oh well, there’s no accounting for taste as they say.

The point of sharing these examples is not merely to show that most people are barely sentient beings devoid of more stringent standards and with a tendency towards tribal behavior in an attempt to fit in, but rather that the more forward-thinking any product or pursuit is the fewer people there are who are able to intuitively grasp its charms.

Don’t worry, your very presence here means you are one who does… unless of course you also watch Dancing With The Stars, follow the NFL religiously and are bouncing from here to Facebook when you’re halfway through skimming this review… in which case you are a vanilla ice cream eating cretin…

But I digress.

So what brought about this little rant at the start of an otherwise normal record review? Simple – of the two sides of Regent 1009 the better song, which we covered yesterday, didn’t seem to stir people’s interest back in late 1949 and early 1950, while this side – a perfectly decent instrumental in its own right but hardly up to matching it in any way – became a minor hit.

I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising though since it’s always far easier to find success in this world by appealing to the moderate tastes of the unwashed masses than it is to expect enough people to raise their standards to appreciate more advanced forms of music, sports, television programs, frozen dairy products… or websites.


Opening Your Billfold
Trying to uncover details about the life and career of Johnny Crawford has been a frustrating work in progress. A tenor saxophonist who may have come from jazz and whose bandmates later turned up playing behind uptown bluesman Jimmy Witherspoon in the 1950’s, while Crawford will make a future appearance – and get label co-credit – playing with our old friend Smilin’ Smokey Lynn, their résumés are otherwise hard to come by.

This is made all the more frustrating owing to the fact that a child actor by the same name who was quite popular playing Chuck Connors’ kid on Gunsmoke later had the audacity to become a singer himself and therefore dominate search engines no matter what extra information you put in outside of some of the song titles themselves, which means OUR Johnny Crawford is all but lost to time.

Assuming they all DID come from jazz background, as so many early rock musicians had (although probably without much notable success otherwise they’d be easier to find reference to) it’s not hard to see why they followed this well-worn route once they saw their chances to connect in an ever-shrinking jazz market were getting slimmer by the day. By turning to rock music with its emphasis on noisy saxes it provided them with perhaps their best bet to try and keep their careers going a little longer.

It worked too, at least to a degree, for in Crawford’s case he wound up with a small hit – regional charts only mind you – as Sawbuck made the Top Ten in Newark, NJ, which may have been more due to Savoy Records (Regent’s parent label) being the biggest fish in that particular pond with enough pull to get it listed, but it also scored in North Carolina cracking those charts the same week.

That might not seem like too big of a deal but it’s still better than most artists were able to do. Oddly enough though it didn’t help Crawford get many more releases which means we’re still left largely in the dark about his life and career, but it’s good to at least be able to report that Crawford earned his small hit the hard way… even if it wasn’t his best performance, nor even the best song on that single.

Lay Your Money Down
When it comes to determining a hit, the audience usually doesn’t know or care which is the designated A-side of a record, that’s the company itself trying to guess which has more commercial potential and then pushing it through whatever promotional tools and/or bribery they have at their disposal. Oftentimes however the song they chose will be rejected in favor of the B-side upon which the record label will abruptly start promoting that instead and acting as though they knew all along it’d be the hit.

Not so here. Sawbuck was the A-side and was the one being pushed in print ads from the start and as it began to show a strong return the ads focused even more on it, relegating the flip to an afterthought.

That part, I suppose, is understandable. Ride the hot hand. But the more pertinent question to ask is why they originally thought this song would be the better bet for success when evaluating the two side by side.

They were right of course, though let’s not give them too much credit, they had a fifty-fifty shot if they chose it blindfolded after all and maybe they were banking on the general populace being far more cautious and timid in their musical appreciation than we’d like to believe about our rock fan fore-bearers.

Besides it’s not as if this is a bad record or anything, it’s actually fairly solid all around, kicking off with a sprightly circular horn riff, which a few grating notes aside gets things moving nicely. Crawford comes in – presumably it’s him – with a droning note that sounds like a cow in some distress (probably bemoaning the fact that more of her customers will be eating that vanilla ice cream forcing her to work more) before Johnny pulls things together and starts riffing away.

It’s nothing memorable, just a basic groove and none too deep at that, but it’s effective as backdrop music for whatever wayward social event you might be at. This isn’t the song that’ll make anybody lose their senses while you’re there but it’s also not the one that will cause everyone to sit down or use this time to go outside to get some air either.

The other horns jump back in to revive their earlier refrain which is still just as spry as before, though sounding a little high without the baritone adding much, but the energy never lags and so you don’t mind too much. The arrangement is simple, straightforward and even manages by the end to let the pianist, who’d been laying down a very basic rhythm throughout, get a brief moment to improvise as it heads off into the sunset.

You could do worse than listening to something this elemental when looking for your kicks in rock as the Nineteen-Forties drew to a close.

Cutting Wood
So having studied three songs laid down by Johnny Crawford and his mob what can we say for sure about them? Their records have run the gamut from pretty bad to very good and now this, which is decidedly average though as we always remind you that’s not a criticism at all.

Which is the “true” them? Furthermore, do they themselves know the difference between the good, the bad and the pleasantly mediocre?

My guess is no they don’t. It would seem by their collective output that they were merely spitballing ideas and seeing which ones might stick to the wall. Had it been any one of the three they’d have taken it and probably forged ahead with that approach had they kept recording. Maybe the fact it was Sawbuck which won the commercial sweepstakes, a suitable record for rock but not pushing the envelope at all, is why they really weren’t heard from again.

Yes, it probably meant they would stick with this brand of music longer than had it been the somewhat execrable Tall Corn which hit, which might’ve sent them back into the realm of the musically damned, but then again had the best side they came up with, Red Cap Shuffle, scored instead I suppose their later efforts would’ve been more aggressive but for some reason I have no real confidence they would have been able to catch lightning in a bottle a second time.

In other words they were reasonably skilled and efficient working musicians, capable of playing most anything from mild to wild but with no overriding urge to make music they felt deep down in their souls. To them – and I’m just guessing here based on the scant amount of evidence we have – music was their job, not their passion.

I know that’s a rough thing to imply with no real proof other than a handful of oddly disparate records but for those who had a very strong musical vision the desire to express THAT side of you, whatever it was, would often be too powerful to contain. It’d have to come out. But to be so amenable in what they played gives the impression that Crawford and his cohorts were just as unsure of what they wanted to do as they were about what an audience would want to hear. In this case they happened to meet and they got a minor hit, but considering their past experience lay somewhere else and their future employment took them in a different direction entirely, that’s the sign of people looking to survive in music, not thrive in it.

I’ll Give You Half A Sawbuck For It
Is that anything to be ashamed of? No, not really. You gotta put food on the table as they say and since these guys, or some of them at least, managed to show up on records cut a decade apart it did mean they ate enough to keep at it and that’s commendable I guess.

But that also explains why information on Johnny Crawford is so hard to find today and why despite having one really good record to his credit with the other side of this he’s not an important figure in the big scheme of things when it comes to rock history.

Sometimes it’s better to be so driven that you fail spectacularly trying to realize your unique vision because at least then you’ve left behind something worth digging up in the future. When you make a perfectly average record like Sawbuck you’ll find that those ten bucks you earned for it doesn’t last very long.

Then again, they keep finding more pseudo-celebrities to embarrass themselves Dancing With The Stars and no matter how many football players wind up brain damaged the NFL still has plenty of people wasting away their Sundays in the fall getting fat on the couch watching them play. I guess that’s why so many in life are content to lick vanilla ice cream cones while mindlessly scrolling through Facebook too and not caring in the least that they’re purging your personal information to sell because you’ve already voluntarily sold them your soul.

The lesson learned for today is mediocrity may be cheap and endless but unlike those other examples at least with a song that fits that description like this one does it helps that you can dance to it for awhile.


(Visit the Artist page of Johnny Crawford for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)