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SAVOY 691; APRIL, 1949



Going on the assumption that a record label who was launching the career of their newest signee might want to make a great first impression we were happy to see that Savoy Records had done that very thing with “Kansas City Jimmy” Smith, introducing him as a performer who was ideally suited for the brand of primal rock ‘n’ roll that was already giving the music the unsavory reputation it has had ever since.

But it wasn’t THAT song which we praised yesterday that had been their choice for the public unveiling… it was today’s song, the intended A-side.

Though the attitude contained within was much the same the end results were decidedly different and once again raises serious questions as to the decision making capabilities of those responsible for putting out the records we’d ultimately hear.


I’ve Got A Reservation
Based on what we’ve heard of Smith’s recordings we know he was fairly limited stylistically and so we’ll admit there probably wasn’t much chance of pairing an uptempo cut with a ballad to show two sides of their new artist. Though this is indeed a little less frantic than what’s found on the far more impressive song that adorns the other side, that also means there’s less chance for Smith to let his own excitement carry the ball while having his vocal weaknesses drowned out by the clamor of the anonymous musicians on board for the ride.

Whoever it is though at least brought a full component of horns to the party and shows them off right away on Saturday Nite, a song that started off with a decent premise for a rock record and then basically left it at that, so in the end it’s still little more than an outline for a more robust song.

But those horns get things off on the right foot with each one of the saxes and a trumpet getting a brief spot to itself in a fairly inventive intro. Next on the docket is establishing the all important beat which is set here by both drums and hand-claps which it maintains without cease for the entire record, save for a brief vocal bridge when they drop out to let Jimmy have the floor to himself.

Though that’s a pretty reliable game plan on paper and the basic attitude the backing musicians embrace throughout this song is fulfilling their basic duty of keeping things moving, there’s the little matter of having the right vocalist to sell the song and in this regard Kansas City Jimmy never finds his comfort zone.

In truth Jimmy sounds nervous and unsure of himself, especially in the first stanza when he can’t seem to get a firm grip on the melody as his pitch is wavering and his confidence quickly eroding as he went along. Surely you think this must’ve been not just the first song they recorded that day, but the first take of the first song, yet it would appear that it was actually the last of them.

Who knows, maybe he was worn out from the three hour session, or it could be he’s lost because there’s no discernible melody to be found while he sings since the track is either shorn of other musicians outside the rhythm section (the horns sitting this section out) or they’re mic’d so poorly that you can’t hear them. I know there’s a piano in there somewhere but it might as well be in another room for all its heard on the track. Had they brought that to the forefront it might’ve bolstered Jimmy’s vocals which at this point need all the help they can get.

Though his singing is the obvious weak point here the lyrics themselves are decent enough I suppose as they lay out what his plans for the evening are in generic terms. However it soon becomes obvious that the story – and for that matter Smith’s presence here – are really just to serve as a way to give the song some structure and maybe a point of reference for those who might seek it out on a jukebox somewhere as he kicks it off by declaring it’s Saturday night and he’s going to a party.

By the sounds of it though the party already started before he left his pad as he downed whatever bottles of hard stuff he had laying around to get in the mood for the festivities and quickly passed the point of sobriety which makes his contributions to this Saturday Nite detrimental at worst and only irrelevant at best.

It’s a shame too because if this song were the only evidence as to Jimmy’s vocal talents then maybe you could understand him being shipped off to Kansas City, especially if there’s a vocal instructor there capable of teaching him the intricacies of proper breath control and modulation since those appear to be his greatest obstacles.

Luckily the band behind him can at least play but the real question is will what they play be enough to salvage this wayward night on the town?

We’re Gonna Rock This Way
We know what the formula is for trying to establish an uninhibited late night party atmosphere in rock to this stage and it almost always involves saxophones (booze and sex are probably involved too, though maybe not always in the studio… more updates as they become available).

With so many horns on board you half expect ones ill-suited to the needs of rock ‘n’ roll to elbow their way to the front of the stage at some point and with the trumpet already heard at the beginning, albeit briefly, you’re dreading it taking over the proceedings as so many of them did.

But not here. This is indeed intended to be something of a sax-fueled orgy, though it doesn’t really strip naked to achieve those goals which sort of defeats the purpose.

The first solo has a bit of stage fright if you want to keep the analogy created in bad taste going a little longer, as it starts off rather hesitantly, blowing a few notes, pausing, then starting again. Eventually it gets its nerve up and becomes a bit more lively, if repetitive, but just as you’re starting to get into it the others take over. We get two honks from the baritone in the lowest range before heading to higher ground and taking a more confident solo for itself but none of this is really stretching out the way they should in order to wrest control of the song.

Jimmy’s return on vocals doesn’t improve matters much and if he’s better the second time around it’s only because we got used to the bitter taste from our first bite of him. As a result we’re waiting for those horns to come back again just to cleanse our palette and when they get a second solo… or should I say when they return for the coda… it’s with all of the horns in unison much like on the intro and this winds up being the best part of Saturday Nite… (the record that is, not the night itself)… and since it comes as the song is winding down that should tell you all you need to know about the merits of the record.

But some Saturday nights… or nites as it were… are like that, the party turns out to be a dud, you head to some bar for drinks and find it’s not your type of crowd and then are overcharged besides. Yet as long as you’re with some friends to joke about it with then you can’t call it a total loss and if nothing else it’ll give you some stories to use in the future when comparing it other underwhelming misadventures down the road.

I’m Going To Stick Around
The real question with of course is why Savoy chose Saturday Nite as the A-side to his first release when it’s arguably the worst thing he did, vocally for sure and musically as well simply because it didn’t give the band enough latitude to pull Kansas City Jimmy out of the morass of his own making

If you were the type to read the label – and overlooking the Kansas City Jimmy moniker which suggested a bluesman of an older vintage – you saw this was the plug side and either deposited your nickel in a jukebox or plunked down the 79 cents to buy the record you’d have been less than enthused hearing the results. But even that comes with an important caveat, namely the fact that the one thing this record, this band and this singer WEREN’T lacking was the proper enthusiasm that made rock ‘n’ roll music so different and exciting throughout its history, especially at this point in 1949 when it was no sure thing that this brand of unruly commotion was going to be allowed to continue without having the record companies peddling this stuff being condemned by the board of health or something.

Maybe Kansas City Jimmy didn’t have it in him vocally to be a star – though if you happened to hear the B-side first, or had the patience to flip this one over to sample the exemplary Cheatin’ Women next, you’d be pleasantly surprised – but the sheer fact that someone like this existed and was out there in the wilderness waiting to be signed to a label to create a racket in the name of rock ‘n’ roll meant that there might even be some more unruly sorts from whence he came, ones with better technique and more impressive pipes to boot.

If you were optimistic enough to believe that and keep plowing through the occasional misfires that come along in the hopes of finding some gems, then brother, have I got some good news for you in the coming months!


(Visit the Artist page of Kansas City Jimmy for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)