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MODERN 20-791; DECEMBER 1950



Few people have had quite as big of an impact on rock’s first few years as Maxwell Davis, but few of those with comparable levels of input into its sound have had so few records of their own to show for it.

Arguably nobody in all of rock had more on their plate than Davis, producing records and playing on sessions for virtually every single Los Angeles based label operating in 1950, a list that includes Aladdin, Specialty and Modern, for whom he was now cutting some sides of his own.

Because he’s such a good sax player and bandleader you should hardly be surprised that the results are more than adequate, but because of how little time he must’ve had to work something up after fulfilling all of his other duties, you also aren’t surprised he’s taken a few shortcuts along the way.


Happy Go Lucky Sounds
One of the dirty little secrets of music is how much of it is stolen from other music.

A nick here, a lift there, a wholesale hijacking every now and then when the perpetrators get particularly bold, it’s a form a creative recycling that connects one style to another just as it links one era to the next.

The rock instrumental movement as led by a cadre of sax stars was at the forefront of this absconding with melodies and riffs and re-purposing them for their own nefarious means. Hal Singer poached a number of songs, mixed the riffs together, and wound up with Cornbread, a Number One hit, paying for his crimes with a multi-year sentence as a rather reluctant rock star.

Big Jay McNeely borrowed the ticky-tack drums that open The Deacon’s Hop, another chart topper, from a Glenn Miller record of all things, then borrowed further ideas from a Count Basie record and turned the dials to eleven and came away with a groundbreaking rocker.

The biggest rock sax hit of them all, Paul Williams’s The Hucklebuck, came directly from jazz legend Charlie Parker whose Now’s The Time formed the basis of the song that reigned on the charts for fourteen weeks and gave Williams his eternal nickname in the process.

Now along comes Maxwell Davis, a songwriter of renown for others, with some sticky fingers of his own to come up with the key components for Boogie Cocktails, a great title that nevertheless probably isn’t enough to earn a songwriting credit since he mixes and matches general concepts taken from a wide variety of sources.

But at this point in the game they all knew – the ones doing the taking and the ones being taken from – that there was no riff, no melodic thread, and no grand idea that was immune from being pilfered by someone somewhere along the line.


The first generation of rock sax stars were all jazz fans at heart. Many of them were jazz veterans who’d forsaken that style when the opportunities in this new style called rock ‘n’ roll were far more prevalent. Maxwell Davis though was somebody who didn’t settle for this against his wishes like some, he actually liked the chance to show his creativity in a field that was wide open, even if on this he’s reverting back to jazz aesthetics at times.

The usual reference point for this song is actually one that will be coming out two years from now, Jimmy Forrest’s Night Train, but that of course was a combination of Johnny Hodges’ That’s The Blues Old Man from 1942 and Duke Ellington’s expansive 1946 two part record Happy Go Lucky Local, most notably Part Two.

That’s also where some of Boogie Cocktails is based, though not in quite the same way, as this is faster and more emphatic in what it’s laying down.

But where a lot of this stems from is none other than rock act Jimmy Liggins’s Homecoming Blues from 1948 which Davis did NOT play on (he did play on lots of later sides of his) but which he may have produced. Certainly he was aware of it simply because a good producer would go back and listen to the recent records of the guy whose career was now going to be placed in his hands and it’d be hard not to miss the structural similarities between the two.

Both feature the train motif being carried out by the horns, something Ellington did as well, albeit with trumpet, not sax. So too though did lots of others in jazz, as for starters all of those guys were traveling across country a lot and sitting on trains for hours on end tends to give you some musical ideas related to the sounds you’re hearing as it chugs down the track.

In any event, Davis starts out with a full horn section, including Jake Porter’s trumpet, playing that kind of siren blasting sound while the piano lays down the repetitive bass pattern that’s pretty addicting.

Davis’s sax has only one early spotlight right after the intro before ceding to the others and while their extended run-time is pretty good cycling through that riff, they sort of bring things to a halt by letting Red Callendar get a bass solo with some incidental drumming and piano… nice jazz club interlude but hardly the most effective use of time on a rock record.

When the horns return Davis is out in front and kicking up some dust. As always his tone, his melodic instincts – now avoiding the connections to past records – and his intensity are all first rate.

He eases back, the others step forward, rising in unison and letting it build to a decent climax down the stretch. Hardly earth-shattering, but enjoyable all the same.

Two For One Special
These were the kind of records Davis could’ve made in his sleep. The band behind him were all battle tested veterans who’d been his primary studio cohorts for the last few years as well as being proficient on their own. They were steeped in jazz, blues and rock, had the same backgrounds and probably much of the same musical taste.

Their versatility was key, as on the flip side, Belmont Special, they low-keyed it for the most part, a jazzier song riding the same basic progression at a slower pace with fewer fireworks, topped by a warm Davis solo with Porter’s trumpet providing intermittent counterpoint and a lengthy solo spotlight of its own.

Neither side was going to burn up the charts, set trends or blow minds, but of the two Boogie Cocktails was the more reliable rocker for getting a party in gear.

But naturally he wouldn’t have much time to enjoy that party because tomorrow he had write songs or work up arrangements for a studio date the next day where Maxwell Davis would be back producer’s chair, trying to turn somebody ELSE into a star, all while his own star remained shrouded.

His sound however was heard everywhere you turned.


(Visit the Artist page of Maxwell Davis for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)