Tags

No tags :(

Share it

LONDON 17002; DECEMBER, 1949

 
 

 

As to the question posed by the title of this record, although I wasn’t around to to hear the exchange between Sam and his friend Paul Bascomb, allow me to venture a few guesses as to exactly what Sam said.

Are you sure this is rock ‘n’ roll and not some jazzman’s interpretation of it, Paul?

So tell me how someone from Alabama like you wound up on an American imprint of a British label anyway?

Did you see that girl by the bar? I think she wants me.

What do your jazz friends think of you slumming in rock ‘n’ roll? Have they stopped talking to you altogether yet or do they think you’re just putting everybody on?

Do you think I should walk over there and ask for her number?

Tell the truth, have you ever even been to Great Britain?

So what are your plans for New Year’s Eve, Manhattan Paul? Are you taking Miss. Staten Island out on the town?

If you ask me rock isn’t the best move for you to make if you’re really serious about quitting jazz… the next big thing is polka music. Trust me on this. They love it in Chicago and it’s absolutely huge in Milwaukee… I’m tellin’ ya, it’ll open up the entire Midwest market for you.

Do you have change for a dollar? I need to go feed the meter.

So if the rock fans don’t go for this record are you going to finally get out of music and open up that bait and tackle shop back home like you talked about on that fishing trip we took last year? You know, there’s lots of money in worms…

C’mon, seriously, Paul, tell me the truth… do you think that girl by the bar is interested in me or not?
 

 

We might not be able to answer ALL of Sam’s questions, but if he happened to say any of these things we’ll give it our best shot.
 

Got To Have Some Fun
The ongoing debate for any veteran artist trying their hand in rock ‘n’ roll in hopes of a commercial (and to a lesser extent, creative) revival in the late 1940’s was a relatively simple one – How long do you stick with it if the returns on it are ambiguous at best?

With each new single you release in THIS realm you’re sure to alienate the remaining constituents from your last extended residency, in Bascomb’s case that would be jazz, who eventually will stop thinking of you as somebody who plays music with any relevancy in regards to their tastes. Once that happens you won’t have much chance to go back a few years later, hat in hand, spouting mea culpas and hope that they welcome you with open arms.

All artists of course want each record they release to become a hit but in someone like Bascomb’s case it was more imperative for his long term viability that one of these first few rock efforts was successful enough to leave no doubt this was the route to follow. If they bombed altogether he could quickly move back into what he’d made his reputation on to begin with and pass these sides off as a momentary lapse in judgment and nobody would really make a big deal out of it.

But that became less likely once Bascomb had delivered a killer rock record a little over a year ago with the definitively titled Rock And Roll, which was as exhilarating as anything he’d ever cut. The problem though was it hadn’t helped HIS career much because it had come out under the name of the singer who performed on the OTHER side of that single, Manhattan Paul, thereby sort of obscuring Bascomb’s role in it even though he did receive a secondary label credit for his efforts.

While it wasn’t a hit there was no question it was exceptionally good and so Bascomb had to be curious to see if he could match it again, if not improve on it. That’s the sort of artistic peak that musicians often spend their entire careers trying to reach. But continuing these excursions put Bascomb in a tricky position vis-à-vis his jazz credentials, for if he still didn’t get the reception in rock he was hoping for, yet he continued to do well enough creatively to want to carry on a bit longer, that put him at greater risk of having no home to call his own. Rock fans ignore him while jazz fans turn their backs on him for abandoning them. A no-win situation.

So what’s a guy to do?

Unfortunately, as evidenced What Did Sam Say?, the default answer to that question seems to be… to sort of hedge his bets.
 


 

Take Me Out To Boogie Lou’s
I don’t know how Bascomb landed on the British label that had only just recently begun to issue records in America. Maybe someone there was a jazz fan and knew Bascomb from his days with Erskine Hawkins. Or maybe the Brits were more advanced in their long-distance evaluation of the American market than we give them credit for as London Records released a bunch of songs in this vein over the next few years, clearly aiming at the rock audience but doing so with a collection of slightly ill-fitting, often older, artists.

Bascomb though became their one fairly notable signee in this regard, just not for this particular record which is something of an admirably creative mishmash of styles and ideas all thrown together in hopes that something worthwhile might emerge.

Though we sort of lightly made fun of the title in the open, What Did Sam Say? is actually one of the more intriguing aspects of the record. Not only is it more than your usual run-of-the-mill name for a rock record, which allows it to at least stand out some, it also provides a plausible reason for checking it out… if only to find out who Sam is, what he’s got on his mind and by extension why we should care about what he said.

Unfortunately the answers to those questions aren’t nearly as interesting as the premise.

Though not intentionally misleading, the fact is this is basically a rhetorical question Paul is asking, which means there’s no real mystery to untangle as the title suggests at a glance. Essentially Paul simply didn’t hear Sam’s utterance and is left wondering if he missed something important. Unfortunately though we never DO find out who this Sam character is or why he’s being singled out, but the gist of it is that Sam is eager to go a club called “Boogie Lou’s” for a good time (I’m assuming it’s spelled that way because it’s presented as a proper name and it’s precisely the kind of thing that a club owner named Lou WOULD do to be clever, which it sort of is so we won’t begrudge him).

The club, as you might’ve guessed, is a happening nightspot where there’s drinking, dancing and dames galore. Once Paul finds out their destination he seems equally enthusiastic to to go himself if the fervor of his singing and playing is any indication. As on the other side, Ain’t Nothin’ Shakin’, his voice is a little underpowered to give his excitement the weight it really needs, but once again we can’t fault his effort, only mother nature, or his own mother more pointedly, for not passing along to him a more stentorian vocal tone.

The others in the band take a bigger role in the vocal arrangement, setting Paul up in some sections and responding to him in others, and they too would’ve been better sticking with their instruments. This is another example of the common jazz group mentality where instrumentalists often pitched in with vocal refrains. Since songs in that style of music had far more emphasis on extended musical workouts this occasional chanting of some lyrics was more acceptable, but in rock the expectation was for singers to sing and musicians to play and when non-singing musicians began to sing it often wasn’t a good sign.

Here they don’t completely derail things but they also don’t add anything of merit with their voices which means their primary role – that of going wild on their instruments – was going to have a greater burden to make up for it.
 

You Can Boogie All Night
The music really takes up a lot of this record, nearly two full minutes of a record that clocks in ten seconds short of three minutes, which ostensibly is a wise decision on their part since singing was not appearing on the first line of Paul’s résumé.

In fact, the structure of the song is its strong point, at least from a conceptual standpoint, because it shows they knew which side their bread is buttered on and thus they cut themselves off a big hunk of bread with which to spread that musical butter on.

The first solo totals a minute and ten seconds, which not surprisingly is the best stretch of What Did Sam Say? thanks to some stellar work on sax by Bascomb himself. It starts off rather basic and the backing horns get much of the attention in the early going – playing well, but fairly unimaginatively – before Paul starts to ramp things up.

Once he’s off and running the song has a chance to hit high gear and get this off the ground completely but rather than really cut loose he keeps it under control, almost so he doesn’t leave the others in his dust as seemed likely to happen when he started putting more brawn into his solo. But when he eases off ever so much it’s like a drag racer pulling his chute, suddenly they decelerate too fast and we lose the feeling of excitement mixed with nervous anticipation that we get whenever a tenor sax stops caring about playing it safe.

After another brief vocal interlude – not out of place by any means, but nonetheless another emotional downshift – the horns come back for the extended coda. The rest of the gang get the spotlight briefly which is the one part that makes it sound five years out of date even if they’re only playing a simple shared refrain, but then Bascomb comes roaring back in at full blast and we’re once again ready to stomp on the gas and get back up to speed but alas we never get the chance as it last just twelve seconds before the nitro fuel runs out and we’re left with another drag chute flapping behind us as the other horns bring us to a predictably safe – and thus uneventful – finish.

We get out of the car safely, legs and arms still in their proper sockets, so I suppose we should be grateful, but a wild crash into the hay-bales at the end of the track might not have been the worst thing when it comes to creating an exciting and far more memorable day at the track.
 

Where Everybody’s Welcome
The good news – for us as rock fans at least – is that Bascomb seems committed to sticking this rock experiment out until the end. Even the slightly old-school arrangement on What Did Sam Say?, which reflected their jazz background in how the vocals were merely incidental to the instrumental showcases, doesn’t reveal a creative conflict so much as it shows a need for the other musicians to just get slightly more aggressive to match Bascomb, if not push him even higher.

It still works well enough to be mildly admired for its precision and energy if nothing else and it’s highly doubtful that any jazz fan from the old days would listen to this and be placated by what he heard and think that Paul was having second thoughts about venturing into rock.

But for the rock fan, while they may be pleased he’s not giving up in his quest to fit in with us, they also know that Bascomb is not quite taking enough risks to really leave his mark. He’s shaping up as of late to be merely sufficient for the job requirements at hand. Talented yes, enthusiastic for sure, but largely interchangeable with a host of others when it comes to their output.

If we could get Sam’s ear for a minute we’d urge him to say to his buddy Paul that while they have the right idea in what they’re playing they need to push down even harder on the gas, maybe cut the brake line altogether, and see how much horsepower they can unleash hurtling down the track. It might be reckless to try and could easily result in a fiery crash that leaves them all maimed, but those are the chances you need to take when trying to make the jump from yesterday to tomorrow in this winner take all musical race.

Oh, and by the way, Sam, she’s not interested in you… when she asked me for my number earlier I just happened to mention in the course of conversation that I was glad to see you back on the town after being laid up for so long and that you really didn’t look too bad for a guy who had just gotten over syphilis.

Sorry, pal, it was nothing personal.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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