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SAVOY 719, NOVEMBER, 1949

 
 

 

Rarely in life do people take the time to be grateful of all the truly awful things they DON’T have to deal with.

Whatever your position in the world you tend not to consider the bleaker alternatives. You may not have the biggest home on the block but you probably aren’t contemplating what it would be like to be homeless. If you’re a consistently unexceptional C student in school I’m sure you’re not laying awake nights worried about flunking all of your classes. And if your paycheck isn’t what you’d wish it to be that doesn’t mean you’re constantly reminding yourself that you are X amount of dollars above the poverty line.

In other words, human beings generally think upwards. You don’t think of how much worse off you could be, but rather you dream about how much better off you want to be.
 

 
Time’s A Wasting Or Wasting Time?
So with that in mind as I’m about to make this essay an exception to the rule let me start off by saying that I don’t have any experience with OCD myself. I don’t know anybody who has it and if not for the catchy acronym I probably would have to think for a minute before remembering the official term is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Therefore, like most other things I don’t have to deal with I never was particularly grateful that I’m not afflicted with it. For the record I also don’t have gout, lumbago or whooping cough and obviously won’t have to deal with menopause when I grow old but I haven’t considered the ramifications of any of those either until writing this sentence, and then only in jest.

But (hopefully carefully sidestepping any humor at the expense of someone actually suffering from OCD) I’m beginning to think about just how unbelievably oppressive it must be for people to have to deal with that condition every day of their lives because, as insignificant as this silly website is by comparison, I find that I’m at risk for becoming increasingly obsessive and compulsive about getting each and every rock artist their belated moment in the sun.

I know that I don’t have to do this. The world certainly isn’t going to bemoan the absence of a two thousand word review about a seven decade old record by an obscure artist that few people have ever heard! If nobody’s had the interest in these things which date back to the late 1940’s by now then chances are there isn’t going to be a groundswell of interest in the subject right around the corner.

But I write them anyway.

Yet while writing them, or at least while conceiving of the project TO write about them, I felt pretty confident that I’d be a lot more picky about which singles (and even which artists) that I’d devote a lot of time to. I wasn’t going to skip anything important obviously and the plan was always to cover far, far more than any reasonably sane human being had tried to do before, but I wasn’t going to be pedantic about it and try and get each and every record that falls under the rock banner a spot on these pages.

For some inexplicable reason though that’s exactly what I find myself doing more and more as we go along.

Case in point: Johnny Crawford. Go ahead, look him up on Google or whatever search engine you care to use, I’ll wait for you to come back…
 

 
Oh, you’re back already? Yeah, you’re right, I probably SHOULD’VE told you that this Johnny Crawford is NOT the one who was a child actor who also cut records, though I assumed that you might figure that out when you saw he was born in 1946 and this record came out in 1949. So if you want you can go back to those search engines and exclude him from your results and try again, or you can just stay here and let me tell you that you aren’t going to find much out no matter how you frame the query. Even if you put in the record labels and song titles you’ll only get the bare bones minimum, no pictures of Crawford, no write-up of who he was, where he came from, what his career was like outside of those handful of records.

He’s a mystery more or less and since his records achieved no significance themselves and since we have approximately three billion and one other records to get to before we reach today’s music, if you were looking to exclude one name – just one – from the rolls of rock history for time and space considerations chances are that Johnny Crawford would be one of the most obvious choices to make.

Yet here he is all the same.
 

High As An Elephant’s Eye
Is this obsessive? Probably. Compulsive? Maybe. Alright, alright, “definitely” on both counts, at least for THIS record it is, the reason being that – after all that preamble I wrote – I have to inform you that it actually barely qualifies as rock ‘n’ roll on stylistic grounds.

Had Tall Corn come along in November 1947 instead of November 1949 then its inclusion would be more justified, but now, with all of the wilder excesses rock has made commonplace in the interim, this seems positively archaic at times, a confused, uncertain song that’s like a nervous teenager who can’t decide whether he’s going to accept the party invitation from a cute girl or pretend he’s sick to avoid the risk of being mortally embarrassed if he has to dance with her or something.

Furthermore according to (admittedly spotty) session information Johnny Crawford might not even be ON this record, just his name is (unless he’s contributing something on tenor sax which may have been his instrument if he actually played). That could be one of the reasons he’s so hard to find information on, though he does show up on later efforts we’ll be covering which is the REAL reason this initial record is being reviewed, just to set things up a little and show where Savoy’s head was at when it came to their releases.

So just who was Crawford and why was he getting the headlines on an instrumental if he’s a singer who is obviously not a part of it (and actually on the flip side, which does have vocals, they were delivered by Mickey Cooper)… Well, the answer is, we don’t really know. Crawford cut a few sessions for Savoy which were then released on three different imprints, this one on the parent label, the next on their Regent subsidiary and the last on the wasteland that was Acorn Records, showing their expectations for him were probably falling faster than the stock market on October 29, 1929.

The odd thing is though the two sessions were cut only a month apart and there’s a fair amount of turnover in personnel during that time. Four of the musicians remain the same – Jimmy Harris on trumpet, Clyde Dunn on baritone sax, Henry McDode on piano and Charles Johnson playing whatever it is the Charles Johnsons of the world play – but the rhythm section was completely overhauled and on this side (cut ironically enough considering the Black Monday reference above, on October 29th 1949, twenty years to the day after the start of The Great Depression), they have guitarist Tiny Webb, a frequent session ace and member of Eddie Williams’s Brown Buddies, sitting in with them.

All of which tells me that Crawford wasn’t some hot prospect but maybe a moonlighting jazz cat whose primary style of music was no longer as viable so he looked elsewhere, or perhaps he was merely a frontman for a local band on the Los Angeles club scene that was spotted by Ralph Bass and signed to the label as Bass tried build his role as Savoy’s West Coast A&R man quickly and efficiently, knowing the cost to payout ratio of taking a chance with a lot of artists was relatively low. At the same time he struck gold with Johnny Otis and so two sessions done with Crawford that amounted to nothing hardly mattered much simply because they weren’t that big of investment. If they hit, great, if not, they’d all move on… which is precisely what happened.

But at this point that ultimate fate was as of yet unknown and so it’s with that perspective that we take a look at his first release to see what chance Johnny Crawford had to beat those odds and become a star. Yet it doesn’t take us very long before we can report that, based on this record alone, they probably could’ve saved everybody the time and effort because there’s not much here worth our interest… unless of course we were obsessively compulsive when it came to covering everything under the sun in rock history.
 

A Corny Concerto
The rolling horns that kick this off are a little unusual for the rock scene by this point though they have a few interesting moments scattered in if you look carefully enough. They work as one with multiple horns playing the main riff, but they also each have an independent role within it as a few break off to play responses off that main riff, and one, Dunn’s baritone, even comes up with a good melodic line (that unfortunately is nearly buried in the arrangement) when they switch to a brighter tone in the second section.

But simply being interesting is not the same as being compelling and this is where Tall Corn already starts to lose us. There’s no gripping hook to be found, something which is desperately needed because the playing itself is lacking a more explosive sound. At this point in the rock story you almost have to have one or the other and while they’re trying for the former, they’re falling well short of their goal.

Thus it falls to the other instruments to pick up the slack and in Tiny Webb we know there’s somebody capable of doing just that, yet sadly he’s also playing with his hands tied together behind his back – not literally, that’d be worth hearing just for the flexibility required for the feat itself – but he’s not given nearly enough to do. When he does make his presence known it’s with licks that are merely answering someone else’s work. You keep your ear tuned for them and when they show up, even if it’s just one note played a few times in a row mid-way through by the horns, you take notice but it’s hardly anything that’d be worth singling out on a better record.

By now we’re resigned to the fact that this is lacking both a coherent melody and exciting playing and so we’re left to try and pick through the debris in hopes of finding something to keep our attention. There’s not much here to choose from but I’d say Dunn’s baritone comes closest to living up to those lowered expectations, if only because it’s not the normal horn we focus on and as a result it stands out more, especially playing off of Harris’s trumpet.

Now granted the solo isn’t much. He doesn’t hold the lines long enough so it sounds as if he’s out of breath and it’s not because what he’s playing is too taxing for there’s not much power shown in his delivery, but the tone at least is somewhat pleasant and gives us the impression that at least one of the band was comfortable with the idea of cutting a rock record. Yet because this composition wasn’t designed to highlight that aspect enough it doesn’t wind up amounting to much.

Sure enough when the other horns take over for the ineffectual bleating group closing you are left scratching your head as to why they’d chose to sign these guys in the first place and then give the label credit to the one figure whose presence was apparently deemed non-essential by all involved.
 

Corn Meal
I know, I know, you don’t have to tell me, this record in the end WAS something we easily could’ve avoided. You’re absolutely right. Its presence at the time didn’t make a ripple in the evolution of rock and yet wasn’t so painfully outdated that it might even make for a good contrast to where the music was headed.

Instead Tall Corn is just the equivalent of an empty husk, picked clean by the crows before the corn had a chance to be harvested. Its presence here doesn’t give us any real insight as to Savoy Records plans for the near future, nor does it reveal anything about the artist whose name was featured as the ringleader of this outfit which itself might be half-established band/half guns-for-hire.

About the only thing this review tells us – though keep in mind I’m not a psychologist and thus am not making a professional diagnosis here – is that its inclusion is a troubling indication of how difficult it can be when trying to be thorough and complete without falling into the trap of being obsessive compulsive in the process.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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