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REGENT 1011; JANUARY, 1950

 
 

 

Almost a full year after this song was cut and after releasing his first sides under an entirely different name, Savoy Records throws this oddball record out into the wilderness in the dead of winter on their subsidiary label, Regent, hoping for, but surely not expecting, anything to come of it.

By now they had bigger fish to fry and these one-off signings of vagabond club acts were no longer really necessary to keep a company afloat. The music that not long ago had been seen as an uncertain – even risky – bet had paid off in gold records over the past year and consequently made such artists like “King” Carl Davis expendable.

Disappointed, but hardly surprised, poor Carl was heard muttering to himself, “This is a fine way to treat royalty!”
 

 

Turned The Lock
Since it’s been so long since we met him last here’s a brief refresher course before we’re reintroduced to his highness.

Carl Davis – King Karl in this case – was the brother of saxophonist Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis who had released his own forays into the outskirts of rock just this past fall but who would turn his back on this style for a long career as a lynch-pin of jazz over the next few decades.

Eddie’s name remains pretty well-known among music fans but brother Carl wasn’t so lucky. I suppose you could say that the former was helped by having such a memorable nickname as “Lockjaw” while Carl was hampered by having his records, including the pretty decent I Feel So Good, come out under the aforementioned Chicago Davis moniker – though he wasn’t FROM Chicago – and now months later getting his last release as King Karl, robbing him of even a consistent moniker for people to remember.

Carl may not have had even half the talent of his sibling but he was an enthusiastic vocalist and by all accounts a flamboyant showman, his shtick being to appear as a preacher on stage singing decidedly inappropriate rock ‘n’ roll. Because the humor and the inherent shock value of that gimmick wouldn’t translate to wax without the accompanying visuals he was left to try and win you over with just his vocal prowess.

Whether he was the one who sensed that might not be quite enough, or Savoy was hesitant to bring him back for a second session without some reinforcements, he was joined on Sure Like To Run by his brother Eddie who, appropriately for the occasion, leaves behind all of his jazzier inclinations and consents to give Carl… err… his majesty… the kind of low-down gut bucket support an exiled King needs to rally the rock ‘n’ roll monarchy to support his claim to the throne.
 


 
 

Here Comes You!
Because Eddie consented to try his own hand in rock ‘n’ roll, however marginally, for Lenox Records with two modest singles – Leapin’ On Lenox and Ravin’ At The Haven – we not only get to wrap up Carl’s career (reportedly he would pass away far too young soon after these were released) but also tie a bow on Lockjaw’s attempts at fitting into a style that he was more than capable of excelling at if he so chose.

That he DIDN’T choose to might be telling – as in he thought rock was beneath him, like many other jazz cats did – or merely that he preferred jazz without feeling the need to look down on rock.

I think the latter is probably the case because he did what he needed to do when it came to establishing a solid rock sound when called upon, but it’s probably just as likely that he was doing so out of a sense of professional obligation rather than a genuine love of the grittier sounds of rock at its most uncouth.

To wit: He did record a few more sides with Carl taking vocals but, unlike when Carl was the credited artist, these were done on Eddie’s turf stylistically, forcing Carl to adapt to a more mannered approach in those instances.

That’s not the case however with Carl’s own Sure Like To Run which is a good – if fairly simple – prototype for the kind of rock song that never really went away over the years… a romping tale that makes no real attempt to hook us with a deep story but rather just gives us some familiar set pieces and then asks us to hang on while he runs wild.

Interestingly however, rather than highlighting a rambunctious energy to rope you in he’s using some vaguely off-color suggestiveness to pique your interest instead which is conveyed not by what he’s saying as much as how he’s saying it.

The plot, such as it is, centers around a shady character… a roustabout to use a more colorful term… someone who is always in the middle of some shenanigans, be it cheating with someone’s little woman or starting fights at ballgames, but who never winds up sticking around once the shit hits the proverbial fan.

There’s plenty of terms for guys like this, “an alligator mouth with a hummingbird’s ass” being a popular one, but Davis puts his tendency to start fleeing once trouble starts in a pretty succinct way in the song’s vocal hook:

You sure like to run (x 3)
With your shirttails sailing in the morning breeze

It’s a put-down of course, but one done with a sense of bemusement rather than anger or even disapproval. He’s mocking the guy yet he’d probably gladly hang out with him again the next day after Carl and his buddies mocked him good-naturedly for his cowardly antics the night before.

The scene they set is only intended to elicit a grin not provide any high-minded dissertation on the subject of model behavior and with Carl’s cracked voice, which always sounds as if his drink went down the wrong pipe, it’s hardly the kind of thing that anybody, the listener, the record label or Carl himself, is apt to take too seriously.

Besides, he knows that in these kinds of tussles he’s describing it always helps to have your stronger brother in tow to have your back should someone not see the humor in the situation.
 


 

Covers More Ground
The music comes out of the starting blocks full of energy, as you’d expect, but without much muscle behind it, at least at first with the piano and cymbals sounding more jittery than tough, something not helped much by the subdued horns which fall in soon after.

They’re probably more concerned with pacing, which is spry, than with power, which is lacking, maybe so as not to overwhelm the weak tones of Carl when he comes along, but it doesn’t quite shake that skittish feeling it creates, which might be by design if they were framing Sure Like To Run from the perspective of the guy on the run rather than Carl’s narrator. Even if that were the case however it still needs something more emphatic to get us fully involved, be it a bass drum punctuation or a snarling lick by a guitar if not a few crude honks by the saxes.

After riding shotgun with Carl during the verses, checking each corner we pass for the expected sax solos, we finally get one but it’s something of a mixed bag at first thanks to Shifty Henry getting the first of the two spotlighted parts. He’s not a bad musician but then again it’s not his brother whose career opportunities are at stake here and so he might not quite play with the same urgency as someone more involved in the outcome. Twice he misses notes and though he picks up towards the end of his run it’s inevitable that when he hands off to Lockjaw he’s going to be left in the dust.

Sure enough Eddie’s playing with some genuine fury here. His tone is thicker, his aggression is more apparent and his sense of rhythm is more attuned. Henry answers him, raising his own game in the process as they get into an inspired back and forth routine, making it the best stretch of the record, reaching for – if never quite attaining – transcendence.

Even so, while the concept is fine the arrangement needed more oomph to really hit home. The piano is probably the most focused of all of them, keeping things accelerating as if he were the one being chased by an offended third party in the story, but it’s Lockjaw who brings the only wallop and as good as that part becomes you realize while listening that the total package could – and should – be even better.
 


 

You Were Long, Long, Gone
Clearly this was not something the brain trust at Savoy/Regent thought had much potential as they dumped it onto the market just to clear room on their shelves. By this point Carl Davis was gone from their ranks, while Eddie Davis had never been under contract to begin with, so this was seen as nothing more than filler for their release schedule as they geared up the Regent line for the overflow of material coming out of Johnny Otis’s sessions on the West Coast.

But in spite of the record falling short of what it might’ve been, and even in spite of it not aiming all that high to begin with, there’s something modestly charming about Sure Like To Run that makes it just good enough to be worth a few spins.

Generic though it is they have the right mindset with this, knowing that their best bet is to highlight the tenor sax while framing it with some implied naughtiness that allows the listener to read into it what they want. Not very ambitious maybe but not a bad game plan if you’re just going for something serviceable.
 

King Karl certainly doesn’t earn his crown here, far from it, but he’s more than simply a court jester too.

Maybe if he and his brother took a couple of months and really tried crafting an image to take advantage of their respective strengths and fine-tuned some material along the way they might’ve turned Carl into a reliable artist, someone who may never have risen far above the bottom of the bill, but who would’ve at least always had work, opening for bigger acts and letting his good-natured enthusiasm and spirit compensate for his shortcomings in the talent department.

That sounds like criticism, I know, but considering all of the rock acts who fail to get even that much out of their time in the spotlight, it might’ve made for a career that would’ve kept Carl Davis running without having to tuck in his shirttails all the time.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of King Karl for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)
 

(See also the Artist page of Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)