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Forgive me for asking, but what’s the proper protocol here?

Should we be happy to see our old friend Paul Bascomb make a return to the rock market after such a prolonged absence, or should we be somewhat discouraged that it takes a cover song of another rock act to entice him into stopping by almost three whole years since we last saw him?

Furthermore since it’s clear by now that Bascomb’s hardly going to make rock ‘n’ roll his permanent address, should we be a little miffed that he’s potentially drawing spins away from Bobby Lewis who is – for better or worse – going to live and die a rock act?

Or since Bascomb has been a lot of fun whenever he’s come around should we simply throw the doors wide open and say welcome back and let the best man… and the best record… win?


We Speak The Same Ol’ Way
Most veteran artists who gave this music a whirl back in the late 1940’s – either out of genuine musical curiosity or mere commercial opportunism – were easily pegged as the type who weren’t going to stick around long.

Sure, they might have an affinity for more ribald material and loose-limbed arrangements that let them shed their inhibitions, but they were far too ensconsed in a more sustainable market to ever fully give themselves over to this upstart brand of organized mayhem.

Granted Paul Bascomb might not have been a threat to make the charts very often no matter what genre he plied his trade in (too uncouth for proper jazz, not mannered enough for pop, but neither young enough nor restless enough to cast his fate to the wind with rock ‘n’ roll) yet there was always more than one way to make a living with music.

Bascomb’s best bet was club work, as he could dabble in all three of those styles while using his credentials as a respected saxophonist from the days when jazz was more of a freewheeling dance music to pull in older, better paying crowds at the nicer establishments.

Still, when he DID jump into the rock dogpile from time to time, such as with the blatantly self-explanatory Rock ‘n’ Roll, he certainly didn’t disappoint and while it wasn’t exactly cutting edge material that was going to influence the direction of the entire genre, it was more than enough to suffice for its specific time frame.

But we’re a couple of years down the road at this point and the idea of someone who made his bones in another brand of music a dozen years or so in the past, and who was never anything more than a gregarious part-time interloper in rock ‘n’ roll to begin with, somehow coming up with anything worthwhile NOW was pretty far fetched.

Yet if he WAS going to try for a comeback in this field he could certainly do worse than picking Mumbles Blues to make that attempt. The Bobby Lewis song released last month was rambunctious and goofy by nature, perfect for a label like Mercury Records, still unsure of their own level of commitment to rock, to pass off as a novelty should anyone object to throwing their hat in this particular ring.

Surely none of them, least of all Bascomb himself, figured this would wind up being the song he was remembered for well into the next century.


Just Like We Did Before
While no artist, no matter where they hail from, will get away with not adhering to rock’s specific mindset and stylistic requirements, we’re not exactly expecting Paul Bascomb to completely toe the line from start to finish…. certainly not on a major label while cutting a song that few would take seriously to begin with.

Sure enough when the trumpet squawks on and off during the intro we’re hardly surprised and yet despite its presence running the risk of sending this into another orbit, once they settle in Bascomb and company don’t actually stray that far from rock’s lane in how this is arranged and carried out.

Of course when you have a song called Mumbles Blues which makes a joke out of the way someone talks, it’s easy to also view this as a not-so subtle commentary about rock ‘n’ roll’s predilection for garbled performances, at least as viewed from the mainstream they’re more aligned with.

Yet to his credit Bascomb is never mocking the music or its listeners and using this as a send-up of the entire culture. His enthusiasm seems genuine, the band’s presentation isn’t as unhinged as those playing behind Lewis were, but that has more to do with their musical upbringing than their effort and while we can still criticize the attempted humor in mocking a speech impediment, Bascomb almost seems to be downplaying that aspect more than Lewis had in his original version even if his vocal is a little more limited in its scope.

In other words it’s a fun enough spin on the merry-go-round for what it is, though that doesn’t mean this record is a entirely deserving of its lingering reputation as a wild musical free-for-all either. The sax solos are the best thing about it – augmented nicely by the persistent bass – but even so it’s not up to date enough to really pose a challenge to the more incendiary sax-led tracks by full-time rock acts in the fall of 1952.

But it does show that with the right attitude even an artist out of the loop for a couple of years can get back up to speed just enough to turn in a reasonably credible performance and not embarrass himself as so many others might have done.


Sure Ain’t Dumb
Considering the repeated legitimate attempts Mercury Records has made to get their foot in the door of the rock market, first with an array of top New Orleans musicians at the turn of the decade, then more recently with the likes of Johnny Otis and Mel Walker, it’s perhaps a little troubling that they DID get decent enough returns on this left-field entry by a 40 year old jazz veteran, no matter how amenable he may have been to rock in theory.

Surely a major label would much rather have someone like this connect with that audience, especially with something as gimmicky as Mumbles Blues, than to have to give in and sign a horde of young troublemakers from across the tracks who’d insist on cutting tracks that oozed danger in order to make some inroads in this field.

But we can’t fault the artist for that, can we?

Essentially this belated entry from him becomes a continuation of what we said about Paul Bascomb awhile back, comparing him to the distant relative who occasionally shows up for a family reunion or birthday party… always with a smile on his face, well-wishes for everyone and plenty of interesting tales to tell about where he’s been since he last came around, but never somebody you expect to see until he knocks on the door again.

Here the last thing anybody expected was for him to make waves with this rather insignificant tune, but somehow he managed to get a few more people interested in it then as well as in the years since. Sure, we know it’s hardly essential material and definitely not a vital record for 1952 rock, but how can we begrudge him that limited recognition?


(Visit the Artist page of Paul Bascomb for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)

Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
Bobby Lewis (August, 1952)