REGENT 1036; MARCH 1951



When we talk about artists needing variety in their material it’s usually not so that they’ll have a greater opportunity for getting hits with something different from their usual fare.

In fact, that’s probably unlikely. Artists tend to appeal to audiences mostly for one or two specific approaches which is one reason why record companies never want to deviate from successful formulas.

But by shaking things up artists get to stay fresh, to scratch a creative itch, to try out new ideas and maybe let different members of their band have some time in the spotlight. Best of all though it keeps the artist’s catalog from becoming boring and predictable.

Johnny Otis had released a lot of instrumentals over the years to showcase his top notch band but hadn’t gotten a hit with one… until this winter that is. Not surprisingly the record company immediately went back in the vaults to pull another instrumental out of mothballs in hopes of replicating that success.

It didn’t, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth the time to bring this to the public’s attention.


A Night On The Town
Back when this side was cut – way back in November 1949 at their very first session with Savoy – Johnny Otis was well-known in music circles, had played on a few hits from a wide variety of artists, yet had no hits under his own name.

That would soon come of course… as starting in January 1950 there was hardly a week that went by when there wasn’t at least one Johnny Otis record on the charts whether sung by The Robins, Little Esther or Mel Walker, or some combination of them.

But no instrumentals cracked those listings until Mambo Boogie this very month and while it was definitely hoping to capitalize on the endlessly percolating fascination with the mambo which lasted over half dozen years without ever fully becoming a runaway craze, that record was still a solid rock performance at its core.

So with that success unfolding in front of their eyes, and with the defection of Little Esther to Federal Records as the year commenced weighing on their minds as well, the mighty Otis combine which ruled the charts over the past year might be in need of a new angle to keep the sales and jukebox spins going strong and so why not release another instrumental?

Having had no new cuts to feature they combed through their leftover tracks and found Hangover Blues, a song that was not nearly as accessible as the current hit with its easy-going rolling boogie, but which was more powerful in other ways.

Whether that’d be enough to get a hit was somewhat dubious, but if nothing else it provided fans with more evidence as to this group’s musical prowess, Otis’s arranging skills and most importantly kept their records from getting stale.


Gimme A Drink… Make It A Double
The electric guitar was still a ways off from being the dominant lead instrument in rock in 1951 but its presence was becoming more common each month it seemed.

But whenever a new song, like Rocket 88, brought that sound more attention, it was worth reminding people that far from being a new discovery, there’d always been guitarists who were pushing the boundaries on what was acceptable. Foremost among these musical revolutionaries was Pete Lewis who may have done more than anyone else the last year or two when it came to getting the instrument into the forefront of rock arrangements.

Hangover Blues puts him front and center as this kicks off, snarling like a rabid dog in response to the single note horn blasts in the lead-in to the song. Once it’s got your attention (and fearful respect) it eases off the attack and instead slowly unwinds the tension while piano, drums and horns add different flavors to the drink.

When it dials things back even more it’s not even Lewis’s guitar that holds your interest as much as it is the rubbery bass notes on a second guitar played by Gene Phillips which is an entirely new sound texture to be presented to us, almost cartoon-like in its exaggerated elasticity but mesmerizing in the few notes it produces.

Though the guitar never ceases to be present, the horns take on a greater prominence as it goes on with the saxes ruling over the middle section with a slow smoky toned passage that puts you under in a way that suggests where these guys got the hangover in the first place.

But before you succumb to its effects the guitar returns for some thrashing lines that roust you from your drunken torpor before yielding to Don Johnson’s braying jazzy trumpet while Lewis continues to attack the guitar strings as if they were trying in vain to tie him down.

For a song that is mostly a series of somewhat discordant solos there’s enough melodic invention to keep it from being indulgent even if it’s a long ways from being a commercial record… now or in the future for that matter.


Navigating Bed Spins And Avoiding The Technicolor Yawn
As with drinking to excess, there’s a time and place for things like this.

These aren’t fancy drinks with umbrellas in them that taste like candy in a glass, the first few going down easy before they hit you between the eyes, by which time it’s too late.

Songs like Hangover Blues make their intention known right out of the bottle. They’re the hard stuff that scorches your throat going down and the casual listener is going to steer clear of them for the most part.

But while the effects of these things can leave you with a whopping headache the next morning, they also leave you with a fleeting memory of good times from the night before and that often is enough to lure a few unsuspecting teetotalers in the audience into giving these things a try down the road, wondering if they’re as potent as their reputation suggests.

They can be, but as a public service announcement for those seeking to enjoy the night out while minimizing the hangover, always take the Advil before you go to bed while guzzling plenty of Gatorade rather than putting away another round as you hit the hay.

The same is true comes to the music. Playing these kinds of harsher records without respite can waylay you if you’re not careful, so mix in a few mellower instrumentals or a vocal group record and let those sounds be what you hear before you pass out, otherwise you’re gonna end up with your face in the toilet at 3:15 AM as Pete Lewis’s guitar comes up for an encore.


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