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LONDON 17002; DECEMBER, 1949

 
 

 

Counterfeiting has always been big business, whether we’re talking art forgeries, fake prescription drugs, or in music circles bootlegged records. In 2018 alone it amounted to $1.7 trillion in illegal international revenue.

Some of the knock-off products being peddled are easy to discern at a glance, their cheap packaging and the flimsy quality of the goods sticking out like a sore thumb. Other more sophisticated scams require closer examination and maybe a working knowledge of what specifically to look for in order to tell which items are real and which are merely good imitations.

But other bogus items are only likely to be uncovered by investigators armed with the type of tests that are unavailable to the average consumer. Chances are if you’ve eaten fish or olive oil regularly over time you’ve paid high prices for cheap substitutes of what was advertised. Oh, and those designer sunglasses on your head… yeah, they’re often no different than the ones you’d get off the ten dollar rack in the drugstore.

So what does this have to do with Paul Bascomb, a legitimate tenor sax ace with a long history of quality output, both in the bands of others and more recently on his own? Surely he wasn’t stealing the compositions of others and calling them his own (though in music this was by far the most common form of deception). So just what type of counterfeiting is the amiable sax player with a college degree guilty of anyway?

Well… maybe the biggest crime of all when it comes to rock ‘n’ roll. Though we admit that everyone is innocent until proven guilty there’s a chance that Paul Bascomb isn’t really a rock ‘n’ roller at all!
 

 

One Thing I’m Sure To Miss
I know, I know, this is hardly a Stop The Presses newsflash, especially since we already thoroughly examined Bascomb’s rock ‘n’ roll legitimacy when we met him last year performing with his band under the name of singer Manhattan Paul (who didn’t appear on that side of the record). We decided then that even though he was unquestionably an outsider in the field he proved himself to be more than credible at passing himself off as a rocker and we happily welcomed him on board.

We stand by that claim with no reservations. One listen to his enthusiasm and musical instincts on Rock And Roll should settle the debate that he belonged.

Ahh, but is merely belonging in the conversation enough to give him… to give ANYONE… a lifetime pass as a rock artist, or does everyone, star and also-ran alike, need to keep proving their allegiance each time out in order to keep their membership?

It’s a fair, and somewhat unanswerable, question. Certainly artists are free to jump from one genre to another without having to apply for a transfer or formally request citizenship each time they visit another musical kingdom. One of the great things about music to begin with is the concept of open borders, the idea that you can reside in one land for years and then suddenly cross a river or hop a fence and find yourself in another territory altogether, free to roam around and settle down for as long as you’d like.

It’s not only allowable, it’s actually fairly common. As we’ve seen already jazz expatriates Tiny Grimes and Earl Bostic scored legitimate rock hits in the genre’s first two years. Ivory Joe Hunter was already dabbling in country sounds amidst his rock output. Meanwhile Big Joe Turner had cut the same exact songs in multiple different settings, from blues to jazz to rock, changing their aesthetic feel to suit each one and nobody complained.

This wasn’t just some quirk attributable to the suddenness with which this new form called rock ‘n’ roll developed, drawing in curious outsiders before the rules were fully in place and they could be excluded. No, this genre hopping was a trend that would continue all through the years.

In the future Aretha Franklin’s best selling LP of her entire career would be a gospel album, not a rock album. Bob Dylan and Sam Cooke were the biggest stars of folk music and gospel respectively when they made the leap to rock ‘n’ roll and became even bigger stars as a result. Ray Charles had homes in virtually every single form of American music in his career, from rock to jazz to country and nobody thought twice about questioning his right to explore them all.

Paul Bascomb might not have the name recognition or monumental achievements of any of those artists but he too had extended residencies in more than one type of music, getting his start as a stalwart of jazz in the 1930’s and 1940’s while playing in Erskine Hawkins’ peerless band, but then upon making a go of it on his own he quickly found that jazz’s popularity had already crested and that he might be better off trying to connect in this rowdy thing called rock ‘n’ roll.

So since he was genuine in his attempts and even declared his intentions as blatantly as possible with the title of the song used for his coming out party, why then are we now raising the specter of branding him a fraud, a phony, a charlatan? What deep dark secret of his have we uncovered that would sully his name and disparage his character?

Even if he decided to abandon us in the rock world and go back to jazz, or try his hand with the blues instead, how would be that any different than what a lot of artists, past, present and future, would do at one point or another?

But that’s also not what Bascomb was doing here. Though he’s been incommunicado for more than year which is certainly cause for concern, he’s still clearly aiming to make it in a rock setting with Ain’t Nothin’ Shakin’ and in a way that’s sort of the problem. For somebody like this, whose past credentials already leaves him at risk of being viewed as little more than a well-meaning impostor, Bascomb has to be far more committed in his efforts than is shown here. Applying the surface characteristics of the genre without fully embodying the underlying attitude can be a death knell for your reputation if you aren’t careful.

Well, let’s just say it’s all in how you present your product to the public as to whether it comes across as the real deal or merely a reasonable counterfeit.
 


 
 

Round, Firm And Fully Packed
Let’s begin by stating that each expected component of a rock song, circa 1949, is at least present and accounted for here. There’s the title itself for starters, something casual, even disdainful on the surface, tinged with a little bit of mystery and which is a perfectly appropriate slang term to use without being contrived or hokey as if you were actively trying to court a specific audience in a shallow manner.

The ensuing story isn’t quite what the title suggests, as Bascomb is complaining about the fact that he has nothing shaking in the way of action since his girl left him, but even there he’s not presenting this in a forlorn manner, weeping and crying about being dumped, nor is he averse to talking in coarsely suggestive ways about her oh-so-curvy body. The plot itself may be fairly generic, we get no details about their breakup for example, but there’s enough clever lines to draw your interest and the overall attitude they present is potent enough on its own to be appealing to any proudly degenerate rock fan.

In other words Ain’t Nothin’ Shakin’ was surely conceived in the right frame of mind to connect with rock audiences and that ongoing commitment to rock ‘n’ roll on Bascomb’s part, despite not having enough verifiable commercial success with it in the past to make that decision a foregone conclusion, is something we have to commend.

So now we come to the performance side of the equation which is where the kudos aren’t going to be as forthcoming.

Again, there’s a definite INTENT to apply basic rock ‘n’ roll standards to the presentation, but it’s just that their means for doing so reveal something that hadn’t been apparent on the full-throttled Rock And Roll where each part was hitting on all cylinders, and that’s the inescapable fact that these guys were far more comfortable using attributes of other, older, forms of music to suggest boisterous excitement.

Let’s start with the horns, the segment of the band at this stage in rock’s evolution that has often proved to be the make or break component of a record’s efforts to convince you that it belongs in the rock realm. On Ain’t Nothin’ Shakin’ we have a mixed bag. WHAT they’re playing, the lead sax ripping off a winding riff over the other horns who use more compact riffs on the intro, is suitable for our purposes. Likewise the instrumental break features Paul’s strong tenor playing with enough fire and focus to be accepted. It’s hardly the most explosive thing we’ve heard to date but it’s certainly not betraying the essential precepts of rock’s sax-driven approach to find fault.

The OTHER horns however are far more suspect. They thankfully don’t take the lead in the arrangement but they’re omnipresent in the background and their high end tones and their excessively clipped precision gives away their more formal backgrounds in other types of music. They’re tame house-cats from a jazz neighborhood trying to fit in with the ferocious panthers from the rock jungle and I think we all know how that usually turns out. Try as they might they’re not convincing even though they’re attacking their parts with the right mindset.
 

My Love Comes Down
This is the first we’ve heard Bascomb handle a vocal and while singing was always secondary to his sax playing on his résumé he’ll show himself in the future to be more than passable when it comes to delivering the goods.

Here too he clearly knows what he’s expected to do but he’s never fully believable doing it. As always he has the enthusiasm down pat and he’s not at all self-conscious about delivering these lines in this manner, but as commendable as his effort may be it’s pretty clear he’s just not the right fit for the part. A lot of this is due to the fact he’s lacking the type of deeper register needed and so he comes off as someone you’re not taking as seriously causing you to view the entire record with a little more skepticism.

We know when we’re watching Fred MacMurray in some lighthearted comedy movie like Father Was A Fullback or raising chickens in The Egg And I that MacMurray is just acting the part. This is especially true if we saw him as the scheming doomed insurance agent Walter Neff in the noir classic Double Indemnity a few years earlier, where his character was as different as night and day to the family comedies about farming and football. But because he’s such a good actor he’s able to portray each of those vastly different roles believably and so we buy into his characters while watching him on the screen even though we know none of them are his real persona in everyday life.

But if you were to cast someone else in those parts, someone who was not quite as versatile, or more pointedly if you were to cast MacMurray as the eight year old girl in Father Was A Fullback instead of Natalie Wood, or as one of the baby chicks in The Egg And I your ability to fully give yourself over to the film would be severely challenged by the improbability of it all.

Bascomb however is no Fred MacMurray and isn’t about to win any Academy Awards for his performance on Ain’t Nothin’ Shakin’, mostly due to an inability to make you forget who he really was and where he came from musically. His voice just isn’t commanding enough to project these sentiments in a way that will do them justice. While it’s true that people with all sorts of vocal tones can express a wide range of emotions in their speech – a girl with a high mousy voice can get angry and curse up a storm, and a booming resonant voiced giant of a man can be soft and sweet when wooing a girl – the same can’t be said for effectively singing those same feelings in a song where the voice and the meaning have to mesh better in order to really feel it as a listener.
 

Meat On The Bones
Let’s get back to the counterfeiting examples that opened this review and close things out by saying that for a lot of people buying something which isn’t exactly what it purports to be isn’t that big a deal. So you get a DVD-ROM reprint of a movie instead of one made by the studio… if the film is the same, no scenes are cut, the print is of a high enough quality, you probably won’t complain, especially if you got a film that was otherwise unavailable, or something for a lot cheaper than the official release.

A fake wristwatch that only appears at a glance to be a Rolex still will have the desired effect of impressing those who are shallow enough to be impressed by an expensive watch, while still allowing you to not have to take out a second mortgage on your house just to be able to tell time.

With music the authenticity of the artist is largely in the eye of the beholder anyway and if Paul Bascomb wasn’t a rocker through and through he also wasn’t a cynical exploiter of rock either. His heart was in the right place and while at times the materials he was using might wind up being a little sub-par, that wasn’t insurmountable for its enjoyment as long as you weren’t overpaying for his records or something.

Let’s face it, Bascomb was never going to be among the leaders of the rock brigade no matter how hard he worked at it, but the mere fact he’d stick with it more or less for years to come was a sign he didn’t look down on this style of music at all and considering his more erudite background made him unlikely to have anything nice to even say about rock ‘n’ roll, let alone partake in it, his overall presence spoke well of its legitimacy as a worthwhile music.

Yes, you might have a disconcerting feeling at times while listening to Ain’t Nothin’ Shakin’, getting the sense that it was merely a fairly high quality replica of rock rather than the pure undistilled essence itself, but mixed in with a few dozen other rock songs from 1949 it certainly won’t be out of place and in the end that’s all that really matters.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Manhattan Paul (Bascomb) for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)