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SAVOY 855; JULY 1952



Here in America we’re forced to learn in school about old white men called The Founding Fathers.

These men wore powdered wigs with ribbons and ponytails and silk stockings every day out in public but apparently that kind of perversion was okay back then because today’s wild-eyed facist politicians haven’t banned learning about them… yet.

Anyway, one of these guys – who rumor has it had wooden teeth and liked destroying private property by chopping down other people’s trees – was named George Washington and he later became a big-to-do in the Army where he went on sightseeing boat tours across frozen rivers in the off-season to get lower rates I suppose, and then got a cushy job as the first President of the country and forced them to pay his salary in dollar bills and quarters with his own face on them. Talk about an ego!

As you can tell we learned a lot of impressive feats about the estimable Mr. Washington but all those boring lessons seemed to leave one thing out… maybe the most interesting thing about him in fact… and that was he sang lead on a rock record more than a hundred and fifty years after he died!

I don’t know about you, but that seems a helluva lot more impressive than being the Father Of The Country even if the record isn’t all that great.


Full Of Bad Tricks
“What would you do if you were Herman Lubinsky?” is not a question most of us would ever want to answer… though “toss myself into a moat full of starving crocodiles” is probably the most common answer.

But this question refers specifically to what would do if you were him right after losing the artist who basically propelled Savoy Records to the upper echelon of rock labels in 1950 and ’51 but now in 1952 saw that artist, Johnny Otis, leave to go to Mercury Records and take his entire outfit with him.

Keep in mind that because Otis’s crew was so deep in terms of talented musicians and singers, and Otis himself was so prolific as a writer, bandleader and de facto producer, that losing him was akin to another label losing a half dozen artists, as Savoy and their subsidiary Regent had released a whopping 30 different singles by their conglomerate which accounted for just over half of their total rock output during his two year stretch with the label.

Savoy would never fully recover from his loss.

But Lubinsky had a number of unreleased sides by Johnny and crew still collecting dust which is why we asked the question… what would YOU do if you were him and might get a hit or two if you released them, or at least earn better sales than you would with a lot of the artists whom were left on the roster, but which would also reward Otis who you surely viewed as a traitor, especially now that he helped Mel Walker to wriggle out of his contract with you to join him at Mercury.

Well, sales are sales I guess, and so when that duo showed their commercial potency might still be intact with their first Mercury release since joining up again, Lubinsky put out the excellent Gonna Take A Train in a hope to make some money off the name recognition alone.

Truthfully as good as it was it probably didn’t have much chance to be a hit, but it was the clear plug side and so – just perhaps – ol’ Herm decided to sort of mock his departed star by choosing the woefully out of date It Ain’t The Beauty featuring his trombone player, (and the former Virginia statesman himself), George Washington on vocals.

That’s one way to get back at Johnny Otis I suppose.


Dead On Arrival
We’re mentioned countless times when reviewing a Johnny Otis track that he’d come up in the big band era and despite his vital importance in helping to put rock ‘n’ roll on the map, he – like most people actually – had an unquenchable fetish for the music he first grew to love, even as, like most good artists, he’d largely put those tastes aside to ensure his own commercial relevance.

Not that he was a phony or anything, but time moves on and artists more than most know this and are open-minded enough to accept it and creative enough to take advantage of it. From time to time however, especially once you’ve established your viability as a modern act, you may give in to your urge to go back in time, which is precisely what this song tries to do.

Actually it succeeds in doing just that, but in the process fails miserably at connecting with rock sensibilities. In fact, this might just be the one record we cover that has no justifiable claim to be called rock other than the name on the record, but it’s obviously not ever going to get a public mention somewhere else and is a good way to show Savoy’s problem when they couldn’t adaquately replace Otis on their roster and how they too began to revert more to past styles with smaller and older fan bases… not that It Ain’t The Beauty was the impetus for that.

As for why it sounds so anachronistic the horns are pure big band jazz – light, peppy and engendering no primal response in whoever might be listening who considers themselves “current”. It’s 1942 music in a 1952 world.

Washington’s vocals only exacerbate this. There’s an impulse to call them “mellow”, but mellow at least conveys an actual deeply held point of view, be it flippant nonchalance or a druggy disdain. But Washington’s performance, like a lot of bad music from the era he’s channeling, is hollow plastic tubing personified. There’s no emotion anywhere to be found and it’s only his brief spoken word interlude that shows any personality.

Lyrically It Ain’t The Beauty fits the bill in what it’s aiming for when it comes to recreating a bygone musical era, presenting a somewhat neutral view on the rules of attraction, never clever enough, biting enough, cynical enough or interesting enough to overcome the passive presentation of blandly inoffensive views.

Melodically though… well, let’s just say you’ve heard this tune somewhere before and will hear it again, as Chuck Willis basically took the existing framework, muscled it up and came out with Wrong Lake To Catch A Fish, a much more creative take on the same basic thing and more importantly one suited for rock ‘n’ roll without need for a disclaimer.

But then again, we know that Johnny Otis wasn’t exactly trying for that response with this. He was taking advantage of his enviable track record cranking out hits for Savoy which resulted in ample studio time and that in turn allowed him to keep his hand in something he wistfully recalled from his own formative years… kind of like Paul McCartney doing a rockabilly track to fulfill his childhood fantasies even when it had no chance to be warmly received in the present.

Harmless, but hardly worth all of these words to say it’s completely non-essential… to Otis’s legacy or to Savoy’s attempt to eek out another ripple of sales from their former cornerstone artist. In a neutral context it’s not quite as bad as our score indicates, but we can’t turn the clock back to a time when this would pass muster – in a world where rock hadn’t been born yet – just to give it even a middling grade.


The Truth Of The Matter…
Since we like to wrap up the life stories of artists we won’t be seeing front and center again whenever we get the chance, we should tell you that after he chose not to run for a third term as President, George Washington went back to Virginia where he made and sold whiskey to make ends meet.

As far as we know he didn’t sing lead on any more songs, other than when he sampled too much of his latest batch of booze and serenaded Martha around Mount Vernon wearing only his breeches until he mercifully passed out.

Not surprisingly with that kind of debauched behavior he didn’t last long, warbling his final tune in December 1799.

In the end, considering what else is on his career résumé, a pointless song like It Ain’t The Beauty probably isn’t what George Washington should be remembered for, but who are we kidding? It’s obviously his defining moment on record and as a result the legacy he’s stuck with whether you like it or not.

Frankly, since he DIDN’T actually wear a wig like most of his peers, but rather powered his OWN hair and wore it in a way to imitate those who did wear wigs… and because his teeth were not carved from the cherry tree he never chopped down, but instead were made out of metal, ivory or literally stolen from his slaves mouths… maybe he SHOULD want a boring song from a hundred and fifty years after his death to be his defining moment for the history books after all.

At least then we could all just ignore it like listeners did in 1952 and we wouldn’t have had to waste our time studying his life in order to get out of the fourth grade.


(Visit the Artist page of Johnny Otis for the complete archive of hs records reviewed to date)