A question that I’m sure is raised from time to time (that is if anyone actually takes an interest in this dizzy affair we’re undertaking) is with so many records to cover spanning more than seven decades of rock ‘n’ roll, why are we bothering with so many irrelevant ones by non-essential artists?

Wouldn’t it make more sense to skip a few hundred of these lesser entries so we can hit all of the high points before the sun burns out and extinguishes life on planet earth?

If that was the goal, yes, it would make more sense, but as stated so eloquently in the About page, the history of anything important is best explained by covering not only what succeeded, but also what failed.

The failures are what validate the successes. It’s only when trying to figure out what separated the hits and misses, beyond just the quality of the musicians and the compositions itself, that you really learn anything.


Beating Eggs
Just because we ARE covering it though, doesn’t mean we have to go overboard with it or anything, and in fact we can dispense with the flip-side and sort of touch on that one too while looking at this side.

Neither one made much of an impact and on the surface you might think that it signaled that rock instrumentals might not be best led by a drummer since it’s not a melodic instrument.

That theory would seem to hold up over rock’s history too, for while Sandy Nelson and a few others from time to time had some hits from the drummer’s stool, the majority of instrumental hits were led by a sax player, guitarist or an organist.

Yet Scrambled Eggs has two of those things featured prominently and it still came and went without a trace.

So given that you’d probably think to place the blame on the song itself or the arrangement being well below par, or the record label being too small to get any of their releases distributed enough to make the charts, or it just being indistinguishable from everything else on the market and thus got itself lost in the crowd.

Yet none of those things are true either. But that doesn’t mean this is some uncovered gem either, in fact the most notable aspect of it comes thanks to the organ which gives it a weird lounge lizard vibe that’s not always for the best.

Some would say that might make it almost unlistenable, but as one of the only rock tracks to date that tried to incorporate an organ into the arrangement, however clumsily at times, it stands out from the pack for that reason alone making it an historical curiosity.

Then again, maybe that’s also why it took a bunch of years for the organ to get its footing back after this failed first step.


With Saxophone Juice
Though Panama Francis is the credited artist, the star of this is saxophonist George Kelly, which considering this was cut at the tail end of 1949 makes perfect sense as sax based instrumentals were still big business last year.

The track starts out strong, not to mention fairly interesting, thanks to the horns having sort of a buzzing sound to start with as they play in unison. The organ humming in the background works well to give the intro a different feel but as the song goes on that organ becomes a little too intrusive.

Kelly though is determined to make sure you don’t notice the organ much as a half minute in he gets a lonnnnnnng solo in which he starts off playing a melodic groove but the more it goes he gets progressively hotter even as the organ tries horning in far too much. By the 1:25 mark Kelly sounds as if he’s had enough of that and really cuts loose and then after his outburst pauses so Francis can get a brief drum solo which is quite good. From there Kelly just keeps blowing up a storm, taking it to the finish line in fine fashion.

When focused on just that aspect of this, you’d have an average record, maybe even a notch or two above average. But we can’t simply focus on the good when we have that organ to discuss, because while not much has been written about Scrambled Eggs over the years, when someone HAS mentioned it the organ has not been treated kindly… for good reason.

Vital Organs?
The problem isn’t the organ’s presence per say, but rather how omnipresent it is throughout the song, transforming this from something that would’ve worked great as a small supplemental sound but instead becomes overwhelming in the fashion its being applied.

The intro and outro are good examples of how it can discreetly add flavor to the record in small doses. Even Doc Bagby’s left hand during the first part of Kelly’s solo is bringing something interesting to the table, but his right hand is the offending one because it’s distracting us from the main course. By the second half of the record he starts to get really pushy about it – and to be fair, the organ was overdubbed later on and so Francis and company had no say in its inclusion or how it was being played – and things turn into a battle for instrumental supremacy.

They tried a different tactic on the flip side, Honey Blues, substituting an off-key piano for the organ which turned out to be just as bothersome even as the band behind them played as well as always with a more stately melody that featured quite soulful work by both Kelly and Danny Turner on their respective saxophones.

This side was the more notable one though for that ill-fated organ which is why we focused on it instead.

In spite of its obvious flaws I still like the idea behind it. After all, Francis was gone from the label by the time this came out so you can see why Gotham felt it’d be worth trying. By late summer 1950 sales expectations for sax instrumentals had fallen precipitously and with Francis’s career no longer their concern you had nothing to lose and everything to gain if the organ – an unusual instrument to hear in MOST commercial music at that time – gave Scrambled Eggs an identity it wouldn’t otherwise have had.

Furthermore, Bagby was still on the label and thus if it stirred some interest you could work on figuring out how to feature him more in the future. When it failed to connect they abandoned the plan, though Bagby himself didn’t give up on it and by the 1960’s was playing organ on a surprisingly wide array of hits, showing that the instrument wasn’t at fault here, just the awkward way in which it was included.

…And Toast
Though Panama Francis would cut rock sessions over the years when called upon, he mainly stuck to jazz from here on in. While this record as a finished product might not make his absence from the rolls seem like too big of a loss the underlying song shows that he would’ve been a welcome presence in the field had he met with the kind of commercial success that would’ve convinced him to stick it out.

That’s the value of examining songs like Scrambled Eggs when it comes to comprehending rock history. It was a good song at its core made slightly less appealing by a post-production decision, yet also in a way made more interesting thanks to that decision, at least in an historical sense.

Maybe it’d help to think of it this way: When Hal Singer consented to give Savoy Records some storming rock instrumentals in 1948 his entire career path was changed when Corn Bread became a #1 hit. To his evident dismay he had to say goodbye to his jazz dreams and was stuck cutting a succession of rock songs for years which paid well and kept him working consistently throughout the fifties before he finally had enough and moved back to jazz – and moved to France where he’d be free to play it.

But rock thrived on that sound during those formative years and a large part of the reason the genre took off was because of him and those like him making as much noise in as crude a way as possible.

Of course Singer didn’t think much of that performance but the audience did and ultimately they had the final say. He could’ve ignored them, he could’ve gone right back to playing jazz for less money, less acclaim and had more satisfaction getting polite applause for a technically difficult solo rather than getting wild screams for an ostentatious one, but in the end the lure was too great for a working musician to pass up and a reluctant rocker he became.

Panama Francis may very well have ended up in a similar predicament had this record, or one like it, succeeded. His musical tastes wouldn’t have changed, but his music would’ve.

Rock ‘n’ roll is a series of seemingly unrelated incidents that add up to an unstoppable narrative. If one record hits and another doesn’t it changes the game in ways we don’t always fathom until we try and identify and study those tipping points in retrospect.

If this one scored maybe it means Panama Francis would’ve become rock’s first “name” drummer. Or maybe it’d have meant that Bill Doggett wouldn’t be the one immortalized for bringing the organ to prominence in rock.

But since it failed some people think it’s a waste of time to contemplate the alternative history when it’s that alternative history that in many ways makes the actual history even more fascinating for all the “what ifs” it raises along the way.


(Visit the Artist page of Panama Francis for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)