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MANOR 1137; SEPTEMBER, 1948

 
 

 

We’re now a full year into the life of rock ‘n’ roll music. Who at the outset thought it’d last even this long?

The birth back in September 1947, with proud papa Roy Brown holding the screaming infant as pictures were snapped, was certainly a memorable and exciting event and as with every newborn (real or metaphorical) you can’t wait to watch as the child develops before your eyes. But for most outside the circle of immediate friends and families these are events that take place without much fanfare.

Oh sure, the baby’s first Christmas is announced on a card you get in the mail, much like rock’s first chart hit was announced in the trade papers. The baptism is also a big event, just as the first rock song to hit the top of the charts tends to be, but then for the most part it’s back to business as usual.

The milestones of a child’s first year are thrilling for those closest to them, but they’re rather personal events all the same. “Yes, yes, it’s nice that your little one rolled over all by themselves, wonderful! I’ll have to tell the missus”, you say with forced enthusiasm while your eyes roll imperceptibly at the proud mother who just spent five minutes gushing about their little one’s supposedly “big” accomplishment.

I guess you just had to be there.

So no matter how delighted people were to hear about the birth and to celebrate a few ceremonious firsts, eventually the novelty wears off and there are long stretches where no news is sought out by those who seemed so genuinely happy at the baby shower or who sent a congratulatory telegram for the birth itself (this WAS 1947 we’re talking about mind you, and somehow congratulatory texts doesn’t have quite the same ring to it).

The toddler’s day to day advances, their growing recognition of familiar faces, their novel reactions to new sights and sounds, their incremental progress towards their eventual independence is appreciated mostly by those who are in the trenches with the little goober, those who’ve been spit up upon, who’ve gotten up in the middle of the night for another 3AM feeding, who’ve changed more diapers than they ever thought possible. For the rest of society… well, the most feedback you usually get from them is the surprised reactions at “how fast they’re growing” when someone sees the baby for the first time in five or six months.

But on their first birthday you get to put the precocious little tyke back in the spotlight for a day and maybe take in some loot in the process.

So here we are at rock ‘n’ roll’s first birthday party. Cake and ice cream will be served shortly, just make sure to drop off your present before grabbing a piece, then sit down and we’ll show you all 3,428 pictures of them while telling you about every ear infection, lost bootie and possible sign of awareness that the tiny celebrant knows exactly what’s going on already and is reveling in all the attention.
 

 
I’m Crazy ‘Bout My Baby
Of all the invited guests to the kid’s first blowout bash none brought a more appropriate gift than Paul Bascomb.

That in of itself must be rather surprising, as Bascomb may very well have been the last to make the cut on the invite list when whittling it down to a manageable number. A distant relation to the family perhaps, maybe a second cousin or an uncle through a parent’s subsequent marriage, he was something of an afterthought at such family gatherings, but maybe one of the older relatives urged the parents to “let him come too… it’ll make him feel good”.

The image of him as a distant relative is entirely appropriate for Bascomb, who for years was a sax player who’d been in the trenches with The Bama State Collegians, a jazz-based outfit led by Erskine Hawkins which also featured Paul’s brother Dud on trumpet. Though never a star during that time Paul was still a good guy to have on hand, a skilled player with experience who also spent a few years with Count Basie and for the most part seemed content to be in the background.

But in mid-decade he embarked on his own band-leading career, trying to make a name for himself independent of the larger name outfits he worked for. Nothing much came of it though and by 1947 he was kind of wandering about, not scuffling exactly, but just going nowhere special. Then with the recording ban looming a few more opportunities presented themselves and afforded some pretty good musicians who otherwise hadn’t been in demand lately, to cut some sides for companies desperate for material to get them through the work stoppage, however long it lasted. Lots of names took advantage of those chances, but few really capitalized on them like he did.

That Bascomb chose to venture out into a bit more risqué musical territory at this point is both refreshingly daring and somewhat understandable. Surely he knew what the audiences he was used to playing in front of enjoyed to hear and he was well versed in what professional standards were accepted there and this was anything BUT that!

This kind of gaudy display was downright alien for the type of high class joints he was used to, something that would lead to charges of drunkenness, intentional sabotage or outright insanity should he dare play something like Rock And Roll in those demure settings. Yet many’s the quiet unassuming sort who, under the right circumstances (maybe a few drinks on vacation far away from their disapproving family), shows off a rowdier side of them few knew they had in them.

And so, his ear to the ground, aware of the onrushing storm brewing in music Bascomb adopted the moniker Manhattan Paul, whether to distinguish himself more to boost his appeal or to adopt an alias for such wild shenanigans, and let loose on a primordial slice of rock ‘n’ roll excitement which wound up celebrating its first anniversary when released.

Let the party begin!
 

Rock Every Day
And exciting is really the only word to describe it, starting off in high gear with a furious piano-led intro that’s quickly joined by the horns and intermittent and timely chiming guitar chords that have the effect of sticking your finger into a live electric socket. Eighteen seconds in and you’re already out of breath, possibly even keeled over.

Then comes Paul roaring into the picture, proving to be a fine vocalist with a hearty voice, good control and a genuine commitment to the subject matter, something that a good many jazz-rooted musicians refused to do when called on to join in the growing ruckus.

By the sound of Bascomb’s wholehearted enthusiasm and vibrant energy you’d never guess that this was someone who’d been playing professionally since the mid-1930’s and who was already in his late thirties himself.

Quite the contrary in fact, as he sounds like someone who just reached legal drinking age and was taken out for a night on the town by his slightly older buddies and is so astonished to come face to face with the vibrant sights and sounds they encounter (and by that I mean of course the multitude of fine women with tight skirts and loose morals) that he can hardly contain himself.

She’s got big brown eyes and dew drop lips
Great big thighs and tantalizing hips
She loves to rock ‘n’ roll

You can almost see his excitement as it swells below his belt and the thing about it is, he doesn’t care if you DO see!

It’s rather infrequent in life that someone who finds themselves in such a situation, be it a similar real life experience or a musical one, is so carried away that they not only lose their inhibitions completely, but are fully AWARE that they are creating a scene, possibly even being laughed at by others for their enthusiasm, including sometimes their own buddies who find their actions so amusing, yet are too enraptured by the moment to give a damn.

So what if they make a fool of themselves, they’re going to enjoy this moment because it’s something they can’t conceive might actually happen again in their lifetime.

Bascomb doesn’t quite go so far as to make a fool of himself because he and his cohorts are too talented to run off the rails uncontrollably, as evidenced by their quirky key change that shouldn’t work but somehow does in the second stanza which attests to their musical know-how.

But throughout all of this they let themselves get carried away, helpless to resist joining in the fun and the give and take between them all, both instrumentally and vocally, is infectious.
 

Roll Every Night
Okay, okay, you’re telling yourself, these guys are indeed putting on a good show, selling this tawdry smut with reasonable conviction, either for the paycheck or for a lark, but surely they can’t MEAN it!

A reasonable assumption to be sure. In the late 1940’s the line of demarcation between the so-called classy styles of pop and jazz and the musically illiterate styles of blues, hillbilly and now rock ‘n’ roll was pretty clear. The distance between the two worlds was like the difference between a Chateau Lafite Rothschild and a bottle of five dollar hooch. One goes down smooth and easy and is savored over by those with discriminating palettes while the other was swilled from a paper bag and got you high as a kite.

So the question a musician asks when heading into the studio is: Does one want elegance… or the hard stuff?

In 1948, despite the growing demand for the hard stuff from the fringes of society, elegance was still king and so it’s hard to imagine that seasoned professionals in a style pretty far removed from this with enough legitimate success on their résumés and who are highly respected serious musicians would lower themselves to such depths unless it IS a bad joke.

Having that attitude causes you to look for signs this was either a temporary lack of judgment or an elaborate put-on. Right off you focus on the horns, always the first instrument to betray the intent of an artist on the fence, and sure enough the massed refrain after the barrelhouse piano opening seems a little TOO well-heeled to be convincing. They’re no juke joint honkers, their tight structure gives them away in that regard and so your skepticism as to their legitimacy rises.

And what of those fills the piano plays mid-way through? Aren’t they just a bit too delicate?

Now they’ve got you starting to doubt the authenticity of all this! Thinking that while this might not be a send-up of the rock style, at least it’s a compromised attempt at latching onto a mere fad by musicians who are too good to play bad.

The sax solo may just well convince you of this too. It starts off full of lusty enthusiasm but soon shifts to a more restrained under control passage that’s too orderly to be called a “riff”. You’re convinced you’ve uncovered their crass attempt at fooling you with something beneath your standards. Elitist that you are and satisfied with your assertions that this was never to be taken seriously you lift your nose and look disdainfully down on the whole raucous affair, unmoved by their apparent willingness to consume swill such as this for a few lousy bucks.

Ahhh, go $&@* yourself!
 

My Head Goes ‘Round And ‘Round
Rock ‘n’ roll’s primary musical attributes aren’t found in the band’s skill level, or lack thereof, but rather in their commitment to the attitude this music embodies.

Despite its apparent simplicity that commitment is not an easy thing to fake, and is nearly impossible to replicate by mere effort alone. You can’t convince someone to like something they’re playing. They either genuinely DO like what they’re doing, or they simply go through the motions. Some with more skill than others which makes their lack of real pleasure in it less glaring, but if they don’t feel it deep down they can’t ever get you to believe otherwise.

Here they have no such problem because it IS genuine. When Bascomb cries out – to himself no less – “Take it Paul!” before the sax solo it just highlights the sheer improbability of this whole affair and why this type of music, and this type of freedom it represented, was so intoxicating for everyone who encountered it with an open mind.

Rock And Roll, the song and the music it’s named after, was crude and basic and the lyrics were crass and one-dimensional, but they were also liberating.

The band’s repetitive enthusiastic chant of “Roll, roll, roll, roll” coming out of the break typifies that mindset and sells this as authentic right down the line.
 


 

All those involved are now caught up in the spirit. The sober jazz cats sitting coolly on the sidelines, nursing their lone drink and peering through dark shades at the hubbub may scoff at the wild cacophony these guys are creating out on the floor, but if you look around at the drunken revelers who are having a blast along with Paul and his friends you’ll see something else of note.

Every last one of them, blaring out the refrain “Everybody ROCK! ROLL! ROCK! ROLL!” are too juiced to care what you think, too busy having fun to notice your placid demeanor in the corner, as you’re trying desperately to keep up a front of mannered – pretentious – aloofness.

You’ve become irrelevant to THEIR good time.

The reserved proper musicians with their ties fastened tightly, shoes impeccably shined and not a hair out of place, emotionally repressed and refusing with every fiber of their being to give into that nagging itch to snap their fingers along with the beat, are surely going home by themselves when the show is over.

Paul, along with the rest of the crowd who are not too ashamed to shed their inhibitions, are all getting laid tonight.

Rock and roll indeed.
 
 
SPONTANTEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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