No tags :(

Share it

OKEH 6869; MARCH 1952



Whenever somebody bursts onto the scene and rockets up the charts right out of the gate with multiple hits in a short span the question we always need to ask ourselves is whether or not they have it in them to keep it up.

Granted that’s a speculative proposition, but if looked at from a very specific angle – does this artist have a limited style that will quickly grow tedious or are they making a big stylistic leap forward that may re-shape the musical landscape? – you might be able to predict their future.

But not always, for there’s always Larry Darnell who embodied both of those things. When he first appeared on the scene he was decidedly different in his melodramatic presentation which also introduced the mid-song recitation to rock ‘n’ roll and yet as innovative as it was there may have been no place to take it once listeners absorbed the differences in presentation.


Don’t Like To Fuss
Maybe the follow up question to ask would be how good could Larry Darnell have been with the right material that provided a better stylistic direction?

In his favor is obviously is his voice. Supple, expressive and – despite what we’ve seen most of the time thus far – pretty versatile.

Stacked against him has been the constant recycling of the same approach, emotional ballads that get constantly undercut by overtly pop production techniques. The blame for this falls on Howard Biggs and Joe Thomas, talented in their own right but increasingly out of touch with rock’s evolving boundaries. This is hardly surprising because of their ages and backgrounds, though of course Biggs was vital in launching The Ravens rock career.

With Darnell’s success on his first three songs on two singles – all ballads – under Paul Gayten’s direction the template was set and Darnell wasn’t given much opportunity to spread his wings after that. Once Biggs and Thomas took over, first on Regal and then heading with him to OKeh, the songs became increasingly laced with pop touches.

The flip side of this, Darlin’, is sickeningly pop in its arrangement with horns sounding as if they were made from porcelain while Darnell’s dainty vocals wraps that production in a bow… which promptly strangles the record and leaves it dying on the floor.

If that’s the way they see him you’re all but ready to give up on Larry Darnell, another victim of class envy rearing its ugly head in rock ‘n’ roll, with record companies and their minions eying the larger prize of pop acceptance that won’t come no matter how much they cater to those tastes.

But with Boogie-Oogie heading in a much different direction, Biggs and Thomas were either beginning to grasp the reality of the situation as their attempts to break Darnell into this supposedly more respectable field was failing miserably, as he’d scored no hits in a long while, or maybe they actually came to see the light and realized that taking advantage of his versatility that also tapped into the more exciting brand of rock they’d largely dismissed, might actually pay off.

It didn’t, at least not commercially, but this record at least gives us hope going forward that Larry Darnell might not be so easily discarded after all.

Both Day And Night
Any time producers change the formula to this extent the risk is if the song didn’t become a hit OKeh Records might think that it was the uptempo style they used here that was at fault rather than the fact the song is silly and sophomoric lyrically and its failure to connect could be placed at the feet of those who came up with it rather than who sang it.

Yet in spite of its compositional shortcomings, there’s still something modestly charming in the attempt which is basically one long boast about the insatiable sexual appetite of a girl – or rather many different girls – that manages to throw in shoutouts to a bunch of Southeast locales where Darnell’s past records had done particularly well, an obvious way to draw regional interest in the song.

Basically though it’s just the same chorus being repeated ad nauseum, changing up the location and the adjoining rhyme to close it out, while lacking any verses or bridge… an interesting structural idea which doesn’t exactly fail to achieve its goals even if it was fairly repetitive by design.

Darnell delivers the goods vocally even though he’s got little to work with in terms of having an opportunity to modify his approach along the way. He can’t change up his tone, alter his inflections or emit different emotional textures to these lines so instead he subtly speeds up his pace as it goes along, as if he’s getting more aroused just talking about it. Though it’s hardly very complex, it works well enough so that you don’t tune out what he’s saying altogether.

Even so, Darnell isn’t the main attraction on Boogie-Oogie, the band is and it’s here Biggs, who handled the arrangement, earns more of our respect.

The Cash Box review called this a “rhythmic rocker” and that description is pretty accurate as the star of the show here is really Ellis Larkins on piano playing a consistent boogie that is the purring engine which really drives the song. Boogies aren’t hard to play by any means but they do require the genuine enthusiasm of the guy sitting behind the keys to come off effectively, as everything here has to work off that hypnotic pattern for it to make an impression and carry the rest of the musicians along with him.

Where you fear it might go wrong is in the voluminous horn section – seven of the all told, consisting of a trombone, two trumpets, two alto saxes and two tenors – which surely seems like overkill. Not surprisingly the tonal qualities in the group parts early on are not raunchy enough to really captivate you, but the odd humming the deeper horns employ behind the vocals is quite interesting even if their contributions are easy to miss at a glance. But the saving grace are the two solos by the tenors – Count Hastings and Budd Johnson perhaps each taking one – both of which are very good with the second one really cutting loose while the drums get bashed behind it.

Though there are plenty of ways this record could’ve been made even better – a quick drum flourish in the turnarounds, an eight bar two fisted piano solo leading into one of the tenor spots, obviously more inventive and diverse lyrics – but considering we’re used to getting sappy mush delivered by Darnell a lot of the time, this is still a welcome change of pace.


Good To Me
You’d think perhaps with the regional R&B Charts now starting to show an increase in “adult” tunes and artists – pop singers, jazz vets and urban blues aces – in the listings than they had been getting over the past two or three years, it might help someone like Larry Darnell, but that wasn’t the case this time out as perhaps he’d fallen too far off the radar of the general public to elicit the attention of either constituency.

It’s a good time though to note that the changing chart composition may very well be simply a case of them polling outlets with a more mature demographic, as we know the trade papers were not only reporting the hot records as a service to distributors and jukebox ops to give them an indication of what to stock, but also were responding to the needs – and vanity – of the record companies whose ad revenue they required to keep the presses running.

If the bigger companies that were used to getting the lion’s share of attention before rock cut into their business complained, the editors may look to appease them by not focusing quite as much on those sources which had a much younger clientele.

OKeh Records, a subsidiary of Columbia let’s not forget, would’ve been one who’d been supportive of that change, but if so Boogie-Oogie wasn’t a beneficiary of any behind the scenes manipulation.

Truthfully if it HAD landed on a bunch of charts you’d have reason to suspect their veracity, for while this is certainly a good record that’s reasonably enjoyable, the effusiveness of any praise is largely contingent on it simply being a lot more appealing than hearing Darnell try and win over the old ladies with sappy asexual ballads time after time.

Still, while not a major accomplishment, it’s at least a minor victory in staving off irrelevance awhile longer.


(Visit the Artist page of Larry Darnell for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)