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MACY’S 5006; JUNE 1950



It’s probably fitting that a guitarist most often associated with blues and rock ‘n’ roll who attended the prestigious New England Conservatory Of Music would be something of an iconoclast in life.

To that end it stands to reason on a song that – when judged strictly by its title – would seem to be all but assured of being an uptempo instrumental is actually the complete opposite of that.

Lester Williams rarely delivered exactly what you bargained for in any of his endeavors which makes this release par for the course.


Things Will Be… Jumping?
Certain words affixed to song titles imply certain elemental things. “Blues” no longer necessarily means it’s a song that fits in the blues genre, but rather that it’s probably going to be a slower paced, somewhat dejected sort of a theme. Conversely any song that has “Boogie” as part of its title is going to be frantic by nature and be tailor made for some kind of dancing, be it while upright or – if you’re lucky – horizontal with your… ah-hem… “dancing partner”.

Though the word “Hop” was certainly nowhere near as common as either of those words in 1950 it’s not hard to read into what it suggests. Like boogie, it calls to mind something face-paced and since the term hadn’t quite evolved into a term to describe a dancing event, IE. “sock hop”, a late 1950’s phenomenon, it was probably not going to have a story built around it and thus be an instrumental.

Shows what we know!

This record is not fast, is not about dancing and has plenty of lyrics to make sure we don’t make the same mistake again.

In many ways this is a let down, because as a pure song title Dowling Street Hop has an intriguing allure to it even if we didn’t know that the boulevard it refers to was at the heart of Houston’s black community in 1950 where all sorts of wild activities were taking place each night.

This song gives us… none of that. No backstage look at the local nightclubs, no sneak peak into the illicit gambling dens or brothels of the Ninth Ward, not even a pulling back of the blinds at a house rent party where somebody in the neighborhood’s wild aunt had a few too many swigs of malt liquor and is in the midst of peeling off her undergarments for cash donations to be stuffed into her size 40DD brassiere currently making the rounds among the eager drunken onlookers.

Nope, nada. Instead this fairly innocuous travelogue asks us to take Williams’ enthusiastic descriptions of the scene as factual even as the backing music paints an entirely different picture as to what awaits us when we head out on the town.


Join The Party
You know you’ve been misled when the intro is comprised of a plaintive piano playing a halting progression that sounds like something the hotel band is doing just to keep busy when the place is mostly empty.

It’s a lonely sound, hardly anything evoking memories of kind of dusk ‘til dawn hedonistic fun that will require an airtight alibi when the sun comes up in the morning.

Instead when Williams comes into the picture he sounds like the guy who got caught before he really got to tie one on and after being dragged back to his apartment by his little woman and was reduced to forlornly looking out the 7th floor window and imagining what was he was missing out on down below. His general assessment of the good times everyone else was sure to be having might be accurate, but his own enthusiasm is nowhere to be found.

But that doesn’t mean there’s not some mild appeal in what we’re hearing, even if it’s not the slam bang action we felt entitled to upon seeing the promise of Dowling Street Hop staring at us from the record label.

Williams’s may be slightly dejected in telling us about the action just out of his reach, but we can get a fairly good sense of things if we let our imaginations fill in the details… after all, these kinds of nocturnal outings are pretty much standard fare regardless of the town they take place in. The names and faces may change but the sights, sounds and giddy bouts of nausea remain surprisingly similar.

He touches upon the basics at least, preparing us for what we might encounter in the loosest sense, from the crowds that fill the hottest spots along the avenue to the dances that you’re going to be dragged into once you get there.

Call this a beginner’s course for those who’ve yet to actually experience any of this for themselves, as he’s trying not to get you too worked up before you hit the street. But while that might act as a prudent pumping of the brakes for the uninitiated, for those of us who’ve already broken the maiden this kind of restrained preview has us wondering when we might ditch ol’ Les and sneak off to some joints that are a lot more lit than the ones he’s detailing here.

Then You Reel And Rock
What we’re keeping a lookout for is the music pulsing out an open door or window, preferably one with gaudy neon signs to announce itself to anyone hard of hearing. We know these guys can play… assuming they’re comprised of at least some of the loose-knit Houston sessionists who anchor rival company Freedom Records house band, The Hep-Cats, and with Williams’ own guitar as an added attraction the musical side of the equation, even if taken at too slow a pace for our hearts to get sufficiently pumping, should be enough to make this a worthwhile excursion.

In the sense of all of the notes being hit properly, the dynamics of the arrangement being well-judged and a few of the individual performances being neatly executed, the results aren’t bad by any means, but then again they aren’t nearly as invigorating as we hoped.

The horns sound nice enough but they have a mournful tone to them, almost as if this were a funeral procession rather than a call to arms for midnight revelers. The piano does the bulk of the work to keep Dowling Street Hop somewhat lively, but even that is rather subdued all things considered, almost as if the booze you’ve been guzzling has made you sleepy rather than uninhibited.

As for Williams, he gets his licks in and they’re sharp, clean and appropriately up front in the arrangement, but even when they get a solo two-thirds of the way through it’s played with such restraint that you feel as if Lester must’ve been wired to some kill-joy switch that would shock him with two thousand volts of electricity if he let himself get carried away.

When the band responds with a mildly frenzied cry after that display you wonder if some beautiful studio receptionist walked by the control room window and they’re reacting to her rather than what Williams’ had just delivered on his guitar.

If this is indeed meant to serve as an advertisement for the type of carousing you can do each night in Houston town, then maybe we ought to drive down to Galveston, or better yet head across the border and hit up New Orleans if we want to have some real kicks.

Up And Down The Line
I don’t want to come across as too harsh on Williams or this record, for neither one is really embarrassing themselves here. This is perfectly listenable and has a good theme, some fairly nice playing and no major mistakes… outside of the title that is.

Had they called this Dowling Street Stroll for example and kept everything else the same, maybe just tossing in a line early on about heading out to check out the action and therefore setting the story up as being told more from the point of view of an observer rather than a participant, I’d bump this up a point to average because it’d meet your basic expectations going into the record.

But by drawing attention to some wilder implications inherent in the title, then Dowling Street Hop is inevitably going to let you down. There’s a further disconnect with the lyrics and the musical atmosphere that never gets reconciled – not even in the instrumental break where they might’ve pulled things together by simply throwing open the doors to one of these clubs and letting the band cut loose to give a glimpse of the untamed environment you’d expect – and as a result you’re left wondering what the fuss is all about.

There’s a saying about truth in advertising that applies here which artists and record companies would be smart to remember.

Though at times you may want to disguise something too racy and offensive with a more innocuous title to keep the fuzz from rounding everybody up on suspicion of having too good a time, when the situation is reversed and the title promises more than the music will deliver, you’re bound to take the blame when we all shuffle back home somewhat dejected for not getting to raise any hell. If that happens Lester then don’t be surprised if the next time we go out for the night we leave you behind.


(Visit the Artist page of Lester Williams for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)