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COLEMAN 118; AUGUST, 1949

 
 

 

This is a story about researching stories and how difficult that can be.

It’s also a story about NOT researching stories and printing things which aren’t true and how that can then BECOME the truth – by virtue of someone printing it – thereby leading (or misleading as it were) future researchers into repeating the same untruths until it becomes widely accepted as fact.

You might think all of this is not worth your time if what you’ve come here for is just to read about the songs over rock ‘n’ roll’s long history, but in fact the research itself is often what determined what is available for you to read – and conversely what you were denied the opportunity to read about in other realms for too long.
 

 
 
Memories Of Days Gone By
The topic of rock history is one of the more popular of the Twentieth Century. For much of its lifetime rock ‘n’ roll was deemed frivolous, a juvenile pastime for those not yet cultured enough to realize how sophomoric it really was and sooner or later most sensible people figured it’d be something fans of it would outgrow in time. But the fact is when those fans DID grow up their tastes in music did not change, at least not in the way the previous generations expected.

For the most part the music they listened to as adults was the same music they liked at 16. The older adults couldn’t understand this. This music was worthless they thought. Beneath contempt. A reminder of the misdirection of a wayward youth. But the kids who had grown up with that music viewed it as a way to remind them of the freedom and excitement of those teenage years once those days were long since gone.

Because of that ongoing interest when they became adults however rock’s history became a profitable topic to delve into for books and magazines. But these stories of the stars and records of the past weren’t deemed by editors to be a form of historical reporting which needed to follow stringent standards of fact-checking, corroboration or authenticated original sources. Instead they were human interest stories at best, “fluff pieces” at worse, which allowed half-remembered “truths” to share space with assiduously documented facts until the two co-mingled like a sailor on shore leave and a prostitute working the docks.

Like the older generation’s views of the music itself, the publishers views on stories OF that music was rather derisive. “Who cares about what these non-musical cretins did way back when”?, they said. None of them expected what was written at the time in some magazine or newspaper that would be thrown out a few days later to be used years down the road as “source material” for other writers looking to research this stuff for yet another article or book. But that’s what happened and as a result decades of misinformation have been injected into rock’s story over the years. Because of that all it takes is for one person along the way, for whatever reason, be it laziness or incompetence or just an honest unintentional slip-up, to quite literally alter history.

So what does all of that have to do with THIS review?

Well, the prime example of this problem is found with the twisted saga of an otherwise little remembered song called Young Boy, a record from mid-to-late 1949 that has been repeatedly referred to as coming out three whole years earlier, thereby upending rock history’s entire narrative.

The reasons for this mistake are not dark and sinister as you might expect, but rather a somewhat extreme example of carelessness when it comes to the admittedly thankless role of music research. So this review is an attempt to rectify that and place the record back in its proper context in hopes that future researchers using THIS as source material finally get it right.
 

Led Astray
I don’t know where the idea that Coleman 118 came out in 1946 originated. Allmusic.com has it being released in ’46 which then got referenced for Wikipedia (which demands online sources for writing articles, even if those sources are wrong) and from there it spread much further and faster than would’ve been possible in another time. But they had to get that information somewhere and without knowing that source you can’t trace where this untruth began.

But I’m guessing its root cause was that somebody along the way reported that Joe August (A/K/A Mr. Google Eyes) was just fifteen at the time of his first record (he was born September 1931) based on a conversation with August himself – and not helped by the lyrics to this song in which he states he’s just 16. Years later August may have been not quite sure of the dates himself when being interviewed, or perhaps he intentionally made himself slightly younger when telling it to make his achievements at the time seem a little more impressive.

Whatever the case though it should’ve been simple enough to confirm or disprove simply by checking the actual dates of these events, all of which can be fairly easily verified. Instead the reporter took his statement at face value and printed it which meant people then put one and one together (or rather 15 and 31) and came up with… you guessed it, 1946!

Now that’s when your natural curiosity, suspicion, common sense and musical experience should all gang up to kick you in the ass and tell you to look deeper because SOMETHING about that date doesn’t ring true to anyone with a working set of ears and a familiarity of the era in question.

The reason for this is that when listening to Young Boy you realize that if the 1946 date was indeed accurate there’d be no question that it was Joseph August himself who single-handedly invented rock ‘n’ roll!

Needless to say that’d be a pretty big revelation to spring on the world.

You would think seeing this information would lead people to ask a rather obvious question, namely DID August really invent rock in his mid-teens or is it more likely that the release dates are inaccurate? Since the latter has an actual paper trail we can follow it means if we settle that question we can then tackle the first question, thereby solving the entire dilemma.
 

I’ve Got To Let You Go
Once you start digging deeper, even just looking at a few obvious surface attributes, the veracity of the date starts to crumble.

For starters there’s the record label itself. Coleman Records was started by a gospel group comprised of brothers in Newark, New Jersey and as befitting their own musical background the company’s initial output was very limited and confined to spirituals on their 5000 numbered line in early 1948. But they scored commercially with records by The Ray-O-Vacs starting in early 1949 (on their newly created 100 series for secular artists) and that group had releases that fell between Coleman 100 and Coleman 113, all from this period. It requires very little deductive reasoning to ascertain that 118 comes AFTER that.

Then there’s the fact that August’s contract was bought FROM the Coleman brothers by Columbia Records soon after his initial release. Since Columbia was a major label they kept far better records than most indies and we see that Joe August first went into the studio for them on November 21, 1949. It’s almost impossible to imagine a scenario that would have them wanting to purchase his contract on the basis of a record on Coleman that came out three years earlier and barely sold anything.

Then there’s August’s own testimony who states unequivocally that Roy Brown, Paul Gayten and Annie Laurie had all been cutting records for DeLuxe long before he ever got signed by Coleman. Since Gayten and Laurie first recorded in the spring of 1947 and Brown in the summer of ’47, that meant that August couldn’t possibly have recorded in 1946.

Lastly there’s the record Young Boy itself, which has its sounds so squarely in the styles of 1949 that it’d be virtually impossible to claim it came out three years prior to this (one last point will be made with the content of the flip side of this record, which we’ll get to tomorrow which will provide the final giveaway as to the dates).

If any ONE of these things were known, but not the others, it’d still point quite obviously to the record being a 1949 release, but when ALL of these facts are uncovered and added together then it’s really inarguable. Whoever first attributed this record to 1946 was flat-out WRONG! Using August’s claim as to his age, something prone to be exaggerated or merely estimated when looking back, as the way to date the release of what would’ve been a revolutionary record is the epitome of sloppiness. Perpetuating this inaccuracy – as so many others have inadvertently done – has far-reaching effects, not the least of which is distorting rock’s entire story because this record is without any question 100% rock ‘n’ roll.
 

When I Was Selling My Papers I Was Doing Okay
So now that we’ve settled the timeline question we mercifully don’t have to consider the possibility that Joseph August invented the entire style before he was old enough to shave. The real story is much less unusual, but also much more sensible, in that he became an immediate fan of the music when Roy Brown created it and at that point, like any impressionable teenager confronting something new and exciting, he had dreams about joining the movement himself.

The influence of Brown is evident right away by August’s vocal inflections, as he uses an exuberant melodic shouting technique that Roy had featured to great effect. August’s voice is nowhere near as pure as Brown’s however, his limitations are evident as he is unable to hold notes in the same dynamic way as his idol, but his enthusiasm and determination are infectious as he wails away without restraint.

Young Boy, however many years off his lyrics are, is nevertheless an appropriate theme for him to be tackling, since for a kid just about to turn 18 years old his travails with the opposite sex are the ideal fodder for the audience of rock ‘n’ roll. That said August doesn’t delve very deep into the particulars of his problems, it’s a character sketch more than it’s a exposition.

Essentially this is a humble-brag set to music as he presents himself as a modest kid who’s earning money selling newspapers but the girls won’t leave him alone. His excitement, or at least his interest in their affections, wanes however when they prove to be more problematic for him than a source of enjoyment. It’s all delivered with the proper enthusiasm but the abbreviated storyline doesn’t quite make sense really, something evidenced by the fact that somehow he winds up catching a cold in the bargain. For all we know that could be a euphemism for a venereal disease which frankly would make his dismissal of these love-seeking young gals far more understandable.

But while August might not be up to matching the best rockers in either the lyrics or even the slightly derivative one-note vocals, where this record stands out is in the accompanying music. In that area Young Boy not only competes but excels.
 


 
 

Everything about the backing track is exhilarating. From the barreling piano intro played by Paul Gayten to the riffing horns behind August in the verses the momentum is infectious and it rides that rhythm for all its worth.

But it’s during the instrumental breaks where this really takes off. The guitar of Edgar Blanchard leads things off, playing a winding solo that sounds as if the guitar was strung with barbed-wire. It’s a dangerous sound, one that in mid-1949 is still somewhat rare for rock ‘n’ roll, and it creates a sense of mounting tension that reveals far more about the underlying conflict that the lyrics only awkwardly address.

The tension explodes when Lee Allen’s saxophone takes over with a reckless no-holds barred solo of its own. It starts off in the extreme, squealing as if its tail was stepped on before downshifting and while it’s far shorter in duration than the extended guitar solo the interesting aspect of this is when August returns for the next verse the sax doesn’t stop playing, nor does it even slip back into playing something modestly riffing to keep the song comfortably in the pocket. No he just keeps soloing, ripping off lines without seeming to notice that the kid is back at the microphone. Though the horn is mixed slightly lower it still seizes your attention and keeps you in its grip throughout the rest of the song, particularly when he starts squealing away again.

At this point it’s sheer anarchy for the most part. The two sides, August and band, are pushing each other forward, both determined to be the one you focus on and as they ramp things up you just hang on for dear life, enjoying the ride, thankful that nobody had the good sense to stop the tapes and ask them all to please try and control themselves.
 

Put Me Out
If rock ‘n’ roll has a negative stereotype through the years it’s surely that it is a noisy uncivilized music where making a racket seems to be a more vital component than making sense.

Guilty as charged.

Joseph August, Mr. Google-Eyes himself, never claimed to be aspiring to do anything MORE than making a racket and Young Boy shows that from the start he had his priorities straight. This is a record designed to blow the doors off the studio and while he might not yet have the experience to make sure every aspect of the song contributes towards that goal, he’s definitely got the basics down pat.

If this HAD come out in 1946 there’s no question it’d have launched rock ‘n’ roll, maybe not with the same sharp-eyed focus as Roy Brown would a year later, but perhaps with even more of a big bang for the amount of ruckus it creates.

Of course had he done so in a landscape where there was nothing else of a similar nature to fit in with as there is now in 1949, then it’s a fair assumption that Joseph August wouldn’t have been making records by the time we DID reach 1949… he’d have been locked in a padded room with any other young boy who was deemed a menace to society.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Mr. Google Eyes for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)