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REGENT 1025; NOVEMBER 1950

 
 

 

Considering how unbelievably successful Johnny Otis had been throughout 1950, wracking up double digit Top Ten hits in a single calendar year with a variety of vocalists, you wondered when Savoy Records would get to this.

I’m referring of course to their pairing of his band with an artist on their label who was not otherwise connected with Otis’s vast assemblage of singers and instrumentalists.

You knew it would happen eventually, the only surprise was that it took as long as it did.

But here’s one time where it was well worth the wait.
 

 

Ready To Roll
One of the things we’ve tried stressing around here is how singing or playing music to fit a particular genre is about intent rather than musical upbringing.

In other words, rock ‘n’ roll was what it was not just because of the structural qualities of the songs on paper but because of how the performers delivered it. The vocalists had to emphasize the right attitude and convey the proper soulfulness in their deliveries for it to qualify and the musicians needed to focus on ensuring the rhythm or groove never let up and to find a way to instill excitement in their solos.

There are exceptions to every rule of course, ballads had different requirements than uptempo party songs for instance, but basically any singer from Bing Crosby to Doris Day COULD HAVE conceivably sung rock ‘n’ roll had they been so inclined and faithfully followed its stylistic demands, just as Ruth Brown could’ve sung pop torch ballads, Ivory Joe Hunter could’ve been a country crooner and Amos Milburn could’ve been a cocktail blues singer had they conformed consistently to those fields instead of rock ‘n’ roll.

Marilyn Scott is the artist today who, presumably of her own volition since she also wrote this, was the one being tasked with completely overhauling her usual approach to sing rock ‘n’ roll. She mostly sang gospel under the name Mary DeLoach, yet under her own name was a blues singer – they even billed her as The Carolina Blues Girl – and the flip side of this record was far more blues than rock, making this her only appearance in this field.

All of these conflicting sides came out on Regent, in fact one release before today’s record was issued she’d done Straighten Him Out b/w Another Woman’s Man, both of which sound downright primitive musically compared to anything Otis was involved with at this time.

Her gospel sides that book-ended the secular sides could be a little more uptempo than the country blues tracks, but still had a much older stylistic framework around them, including two she recorded with the Otis crew on this very same day.

Which is why hearing her cut loose on the unbridled rocker Beer Bottle Boogie makes you do a double take, wondering if this was indeed the same woman.

It was, but that’s what happens when you consume too much of this stuff at one time – beer and rock ‘n’ roll – it tends to make you lose control of your senses.
 


 
 

If You Feel Like Shoutin’
Scott hadn’t shown the ability – or rather the inclination – to rock out like this before. She played guitar in addition to singing and was good at both. My guess is they were hoping to turn her into a Sister Rosetta Tharpe like figure, another who blurred the lines between genres when not blatantly hopping over those lines altogether, but for some reason Scott never caught on.

Apparently because not enough people heard Beer Bottle Boogie which is like a drinking that lightning being caught in bottles that everybody talks about.

With Devonia Williams’s barreling piano kicking it off as Lorenzo Holden’s sax falls in behind her, Scott wastes no time in getting up to speed, launching herself at the song as if she had a personal vendetta against it.

Not against the topic of drunkenness mind you, she’s fully on board with that, which sort of makes you question how devout she was as a gospel act if she’s shotgunning beers after singing the Lord’s praises, but we could care less what commandments she’s breaking as long as she doesn’t break the beer bottles before we help her empty them.

Scott sounds terrific here. Her voice has a whine to it like a finely tuned racing engine and she’s hitting top speed right as the flag drops, the band straining to keep up with her rather than the other way around. They soon are in perfect sync and feed off one another as Scott sings what could serve as the national anthem for college age parties from coast to coast as she wails about “getting high fast” and complains about pouring it too fast – foam of course – and then claims she’ll “drink a barrel and go home”.

A barrel?!!! Well at least I’m glad to see Wynonie Harris will have someone to hook up with the next time he’s in town.

After a sax break that I’m sure she used to have another beer or two to refuel for the stretch run, Scott comes roaring back with a stop-time section that drives home the kind of degenerate crowd she’s mixing with featuring lyrics that will bring a smirk to your face, assuming you’re familiar with this sort of debauchery yourself (and if not, may I direct you to the classical music blogs online which may be more your speed).

During all of this carousing she never once lets up, her energy is high from start to finish, yet vocally she remains under control – which is probably more than you can say for anyone trying to keep up with her in the drinking department – making this one performance that is so relentlessly invigorating that you’ll be calling for another round as soon as it ends.
 

Beat Out The Rhythm
As we’ve alluded to before, sometimes Johnny Otis had arrangements that tried to incorporate too many divergent sounds to pull all of his own interests together. That, combined with a predilection for slower material to take advantage of the strengths of vocalists Little Esther and Mel Walker, plus the addition of his own vibes into the instrumental lineup after his injured hand prevented him from drumming, meant that Otis’s records sort of stood out compared to a lot of the best rock tracks of the year.

This was good in terms of diversifying the overall sound of the genre, but when he and the band were so superior to most outfits when it came to locking in on an uptempo groove and riding it like a runaway freight train, you wished they’d do more of it.
 


 

On Beer Barrel Boogie they do nothing BUT go for broke as every extraneous instrument has been jettisoned to make sure the band is as streamlined as possible while still retaining all of its power. Williams gets to show why her boogie piano, which had highlighted so many early Otis tracks before being sidelined by the more downbeat sides this year, was so effective as she tears into the opening before sliding back into a supporting role that keeps the pace frantic.

Holden’s tenor sax is the only horn here for once, handling the atmospheric touches behind Scott’s vocals and then getting a solo that he wisely keeps in low gear to avoid having to compete with the energy Scott brought to the studio, a battle that he may theoretically be able to win but knowing it would surely hospitalize him, if not kill him outright, decides discretion is the better part of valor and simply lays down a platform for her to launch herself from in the next section.

The second solo is credited to Pete Lewis, the guitarist who was an anchor of Otis’s band for a decade, yet it doesn’t SOUND like him at all even though it definitely is, for despite Scott’s ability on the instrument it sounds even less like her other work we’ve heard.

This is a thinner boogie-like approach that we haven’t heard much from out of Lewis as he generally features a much different tone with his bluesy stinging sustained notes, but he has occasionally hinted at this in the past – Blues Nocturne for one – so we won’t deny him credit even if just for the sheer ballsiness of it alone we’d like it to be Scott herself.

She doesn’t really need the added kudos for that however, because this whole package is as exhilarating as rock ‘n’ roll gets.
 

The Beer Bottle Boogie Will Thrill Your Soul
How can a bandleader with almost forty credits to his name in this year alone, including ten national Top Ten hits, three of them chart toppers, have arguably his best moments come backing someone he barely knew who was a gospel singer first and foremost, a blues singer as her secondary occupation, and was only dabbling in rock ‘n’ roll this one time on record?

Is that even POSSIBLE?!

Yeah, you’re damn right it is. With Otis back behind the drum kit for this session, he and the slimmed down group (just the three others already mentioned plus Mario Delagarde on bass) were bound and determined to show that when it comes to this brand of rock ‘n’ roll they might not feature it often, but they were still more than capable of tearing up any group who dared challenge them.

But if they didn’t have Marilyn Scott just as ready, willing and able at the microphone to lift the excitement they generate to even higher levels with her knockout performance then Beer Bottle Boogie might’ve been flat.

There’s no chance of that with this one. In fact this is so potent you might get drunk off just one sip.

Someone call me a cab, after hearing this on endless repeat I’m in no shape to drive home.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist pages of Johnny Otis for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)