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Music isn’t exactly like sports where young prospects play in the minor leagues before getting their call-ups to show, but sometimes the comparison is not that far off.

The difference of course is that unlike sports there are far more major artists who come out of nowhere to become the hottest act in all of rock the minute the step onto the stage with their first release without any advanced scouting reports to tip us off that a future star is on the way.

But other times we do get to see arduous climb up the ladder one step at a time, never quite sure they’re going to make it, but taking an interest in their progress all the same.

When one of those acts does happen to break through however, those who were aware of them toiling in the bush leagues tend to take an inordinate amount of satisfaction in their arrival.


Makes Me Feel So Fine
Of all of the artists of whom that description could be said to fit in rock’s first five years, Marvin Phillips best embodies it.

We first heard him playing saxophone with friend and pianist Richard Lewis, both on Lewis’s own record and when the two of them were working behind The Great Gates in 1949 while still in their mid-teens. Though interesting it was hardly the kind of moment where you’d point to and say… “That kid’s going places”.

What was notable about in comes only in retrospect in that it was our introduction to some of the figures who would figure prominently in the tidal wave of young artists who’d transform the 1950’s Los Angeles rock scene, all of whom seemed to know each other and were very casual about singing and playing together on each other’s records, officially or not.

His next leap came when he and Lewis joined up with the most talented kid in that galaxy, Jesse Belvin, to sing on Big Jay McNeely’s non-instrumental sides as Three Dots And A Dash. Though it was Belvin who stole the show on All That Wine Is Gone, he soon left and Phillips handled a few leads himself before the group fell by the wayside and McNeely resumed honking away with fewer vocal songs to break up the flow.

But now we’re about to get a double dose of Marvin Phillips as he gets his first solo release and, this very same month, will get his first hit when he and Jesse Belvin team up as a makeshift duo on a song cut at this same session, proving once again that in L.A. in the 1950’s these kids traveled in packs like coyotes on the prowl for action… music and otherwise.

The “otherwise” largely centered around the same things they do today for kids that age… getting into mischief with booze and weed and girls while discussing big dreams in the small settings of their teenage lives.

It’s hardly surprising then that his first single under his own name would be Wine Woogie, a record that sounds… well, that sounds exactly like the circumstances it was probably conceived in.

You know that scene well I’m sure, you and your boys driving around town, or hanging on a corner if you have no wheels, passing around a bottle or a joint (or both) and while alternately joking around, commenting on the attributes of various girls and putting each other down, they work up a catchy vocal riff and fill in the details with the subject at hand… or in this case the subject IN their hands before they drink it all down.

Most of those of course never get heard by anyone outside their immediate circle in the very moment they were created. Here’s one that did.


Like Nobody Else Can!
What’s notable about this record is who’s NOT on it. Though cut in Los Angeles where some of the industry’s best session musicians were in constant demand, they’re all absent from the studio here, replaced by the kids themselves who more and more will start taking up key positions on the records coming out on the West Coast.

Though they won’t exactly put people like Maxwell Davis and his tried and true core group of talent out of business, they’ll definitely supplement those established names over the next few years and frequently be used by labels looking to either cut costs or get a more loose-limbed natural feel to their releases.

That’s what fuels on Wine Woogie, an enthusiastic hang-on-for-dear-life style of playing that perfectly reflects the idea of them getting their chance to shine on a record made by one of them standing alone in the spotlight rather than merely a few of them lurking in the shadows behind older, more “professional” artists.

Right around the corner Marvin Phillips’ solo career as a singer would be subsumed by his work in duos, the most prominent of which was Marvin & Johnny with the Johnny “role” being taken by a variety of others from his circle of friends, the most lasting of which – though the final one to be granted the position ironically – would be Emory Perry whose saxophone takes the lead here blasting out of the speakers like an air-raid siren before Marvin jumps in with his perpetually fog-shrouded baritone demanding to be served his drinks.

The noise is rounded out by old friend Richard Lewis who lays down a simple piano boogie to set the groundwork while Jesse Ervin’s guitar tosses in a few licks to add to the cacophony, but it’s the unnamed drummer who is both the most crude and the most effective as he’s bashing away without a care in the world, keeping the rudimentary beat but mostly just creating a racket. Ted Brinson, who also ran the studio, is laying down a thick bassline while there’s definitely a second horn buried in there somewhere in case you want to dive in and try and get the name of the guy blowing it.

But it’s Perry’s solo, after Marvin calls out to him by name, that is the centerpiece… rambunctious for sure but almost sounding controlled in a way after the aural assault of the group as a whole. He’s keeping up the pace and the energy just fine though, while at the same time giving the track a bit more focus than it had leading up to it.

All of that commotion though is precisely the kind of support that Phillips needs to sell what is essentially a textbook example of someone who’s had “a little too much”.

Not quite drunk yet, but definitely not sober, Phillips is looking to rectify the former condition by insisting he’s an experienced drinker to the bartender who’s been around long enough to know better. When Marvin starts reeling off different flavors to get his Wine Woogie on, you just sit back and smile at the way in which so many novices feel the need to try and pass themselves off as experts to mask their nervousness.

But that’s what makes it so endearing too, capturing that moment where you’re technically an adult but still thinking of yourself as if you’re not. Kind of like the artist himself.


Come On In
Though we’re getting ahead of ourselves just a bit here, this is the better venue to talk about Marvin Phillips’s somewhat aborted solo career.

So often around here we’ve criticized the record industry for not caring at all about the artists themselves, only in securing hits. Though that remains true enough, here’s the point in the narrative where the artists are guilty of the same shoddy attitudes regarding their career prospects.

When Marvin was joined by Jesse Belvin on a pair of songs at this same session it presented something of a dilemma for Specialty’s owner Art Rupe. Those sides were equally marketable but clearly not something you could bill under just Phillips’ name alone, or even designating Belvin as one of the Men From Mars, the creative moniker he’d come up with for the band featuring his buddies.

Because of that Rupe issued his lone Jesse & Marvin single at the same time as Phillips’ solo debut, and when that one took off nationally it quickly obscured Wine Woogie.

That wasn’t Rupe’s fault, but as a result of it scoring big however he naturally asked for more duets, but since Belvin just got drafted it forced Marvin to find another singing partner which curtailed whatever prospects for a solo career he had.

Ultimately that may have been for the best, as he was someone whose vocals could be better in moderation, and it wasn’t like Marvin was bitter about it. In fact, all of L.A.’s artists of this generation behaved the same way for years, looking at each release as a singular entity rather than part of an ongoing career continuum.

Though it makes it frustrating for us of course, and it didn’t always do them much good either when it came to building a wider audience who were now unable to easily keep tabs on their output under different names on different labels, we did manage to get one solo effort from Phillips as he came of age at least. While it’s rough and unpolished, that’s hardly the worst thing in rock ‘n’ roll.


(Visit the Artist page of Marvin Phillips for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)