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ARISTOCRAT 402; NOVEMBER, 1947

 
 

 


Who comprised the ranks of rock ‘n’ roll’s earliest days has been one of the more interesting aspects of the reviews thus far on Spontaneous Lunacy. The ambitious youngsters like Roy Brown, The Ravens and Amos Milburn who are striving to make names for themselves are of course the groundbreakers and the trendsetters who would take this music and quickly establish it as the voice of this up and coming generation. But they were joined along the way by older artists such as Cousin Joe, Tiny Bradshaw, Albennie Jones and Paul Williams who were talented and versatile enough to make a go of it in this realm as well and brought plenty of different elements to the table that helped expand the overall rock palette considerably.

Then there were those who found themselves almost thrust into the mix by mere circumstance, artists certainly capable of adapting their strengths to what was being put down in this field but not entirely sure they wanted to. In some cases, like with Wynonie Harris, it’d turn out to be a perfect fit and once shown of the style’s viability as a whole there was no looking back. For others though it was more a marriage of convenience, a brief association destined not to last.

Though the time spent by some of these artists on the periphery of rock ‘n’ roll was decidedly short lived that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worthwhile. If nothing else their mere presence alone gave a little bit more legitimacy to the entire affair, the sense that this musical mongrel child wasn’t destined to be an outcast as long as enough artists were willing to at least give this thing a shot.

Maybe most importantly though was the fact that when some of these more experienced and professional musicians couldn’t quite cut the mustard as rockers it showed just what it would take of others coming along who were contemplating throwing their hat into the ring if they wanted to compete here.
 

Change Your No Good Ways
Jump Jackson probably knew right away, if he even gave it much thought, that he was just biding his time in this neighborhood.

Born Armond Jackson in New Orleans he gained a reputation there as a solid drummer, recording a few non-descript sides for Specialty in 1946, eventually making his way to Chicago where he worked in clubs around town and through that hooked up with Aristocrat Records as it was just getting started. Once there, although reputedly more comfortable in swing styles, he arranged sessions for a veritable who’s who of future blues giants, from Muddy Waters to Sunnyland Slim, in effect helping to create the soon to be legendary Chicago blues sound (for which of course he gets no credit), while putting his drumming skills to good use behind any one who needed them.

He also had brought with him saxophone master Tom Archia, whom we’ll be meeting very soon down the road whose presence will help shape the label’s early sound. The band was versatile, capable of laying down tracks in a wide variety of styles which certainly helped a company filled with novices that at least needed someone in the studio who knew what they were doing.

If those were Jackson’s sole contributions to Aristocrat it’d be enough to have his name remembered fondly by those in the know, but the label decided to show their appreciation in a more lasting manner by giving him some releases under his own name of which this was the most notable.
 

Been Hearing You Sing That Jive Too Long
Though Hey Pretty Mama was released under Jackson’s name it’s Benny Kelly who handles the lead vocals on this by the numbers pastiche of the early rock style. All of the basic and by now somewhat familiar components are present and accounted for, but it comes off as being just too far outside of their comfort zone to really work.

It’s doubtful anyone from Jackson on down had much in the way of expectations for this. If they were being completely honest with themselves this was surely viewed by all involved as merely a placeholder of sorts, a record that may get Jackson and Kelly a bit more recognition around town but its main reason for existence was probably more to give Aristocrat something to push and get the company’s sea legs under them when it came to pressing, distributing and collecting for their product. But rather than simply go through the motions Jackson and crew at least put some legitimate effort into this, even striving for something mildly notable here.

They don’t quite succeed, largely due to the ongoing conflict in approach that plagued so many caught between eras and styles but it’s interesting all the same just to see where they went astray.

Truthfully though if you’ve been following rock’s story thus far it wouldn’t be too hard to guess. When in doubt… start with the horn section!
 

You’ve Got To Move
Instrumentally it’s still leaning towards yesterday’s music as frequently was prone to happening in rock’s first few months. Those horns – Johnny Morton most prominently on trumpet, with Sax Mallard on alto sax, Archia and Sugarman Penigar on tenors – remain rooted in a somewhat trite arrangement, lacking any vitality or excitement until the solo and even then it has to compete with the other horns.

Collectively they dominate the record’s sound and Morton’s trumpet, not the more exuberant saxes which would soon go on to define rock ‘n’ roll, takes the third instrumental break much to its detriment, almost singlehandedly ruining whatever positive mood it was trying to build. Only the saxes playing a churning riff below it manage to redeem it even a little.

Hurley Ramey’s electric guitar manages to break things up some when it gets featured but throughout it all Jackson’s drumming is barely audible, just playing a basic shuffle and adding little of note. Had he taken a more forceful role it would’ve gone a long way in changing the overall impression of this and maybe gotten the others to add some muscle to their own approach. Instead he’s content to lay back thus allowing the outdated horns to dominate and dampen the mood.

But then there’s Kelly’s vocal to consider, particularly the vibrant call and response between him and the band, all of which sounds as if it could fit on another record, one looking towards tomorrow instead of being chained to yesterday. It’s the best thing this has going for it by a long shot. The strutting confidence he imparts is nothing out of the ordinary as early rock goes but he handles it admirably all the same. Maybe it’s a commitment generated more out of professionalism than conviction in the material but it still conveys the proper enthusiasm the record calls for and he doesn’t seem to feel at all self-conscious in delivering it as others who were faced with these same choices at the time often did.
 

You’ve Lost Your Home
Under normal circumstances records like this are the ones most dismissible in the long run. Not so awful as to be memorable for all the wrong reasons yet there’s nothing about it that makes you sit up and take notice either. Even the general skill of the musicians (Archia, Mallard and Penigar were all top flight talents) is obscured by the outdated arrangement and while Kelly’s role is competent it really only stands out by comparison to what falls short. It’s not awful, certainly not unlistenable, but unless you’re really listening hard you likely won’t notice it even playing, which is hardly saying much for it.

But ultimately its real historical value is that it’s a record which is emblematic of its specific era, and by that I mean the specific months in mid-to-late-1947 when the musical tectonic plates were shifting rapidly, and that alone is worth plenty just to put the whole era in proper context.

All of the myriad of options presented to artists are accounted for within, both yesterday’s and tomorrow’s. That Jackson and company aren’t quite sure which to choose for themselves, what to emphasize and what to discard, is a problem that needs to be sorted out by everyone involved in making records at this stage. Those decisions, both right and wrong, will be what will shape the future and while we like to celebrate the ones who chose what turned out to be the right decisions we can’t forget, and in fact need to study, those who chose wrong as well if only to understand how slight those differences actually were at times and to see how big of an impact they ended up making in determining rock’s successful direction.

Jackson’s choices – or the choices of the others involved – didn’t pan out here and he’d go on to be largely forgotten as a result. He did stay in music – more notably as the owner of a booking agency that was pretty successful, though as late as 1954 he was still headlining clubs in Chicago with his band (as the flyer at right confirms) – but if he WAS destined to be forgotten by the general public his missteps certainly weren’t forgotten by those who followed, as records like this provided a blueprint for others to study down the road in hopes of sidestepping some of its fatal flaws. The horn section here, or at least the three sax players, all took careful notes and clearly learned from their mistakes, as their improved approach on sessions over the next few months helped propel a lot of those subsequent records to notoriety and even, in one case anyway, immortality.

In the end the ingredients Jackson used on Hey Pretty Mama were measured poorly, as if he was worried some of the stronger flavors would be too much to handle and thus he cut down on their potency. But let the record show he at least grabbed some what was needed off the shelf to make this concoction work in the future and its recipe was thus able to be adjusted by others who benefitted from the experience.

So yes, it’ll be done better soon enough by many others to come along, and no, Jackson won’t figure into rock’s story from here on in, but this was at least a productive failure. That may not sound like much but at this stage these types of valuable learning experiences could be hard to come by and so they did their part, however small, to ensure that somebody benefitted from this in the long run, even if it wasn’t Jump Jackson himself.
 

SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Jump Jackson for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)