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DELUXE 3177; JULY, 1948



Though he couldn’t have known it at the time, this was the ideal title for a song which Paul Gayten would revisit twice.

It’s also a perfect way to look into the working mind of an artist as he navigates a still uncertain musical terrain, while his own future – and rock ‘n’ roll’s for that matter – is still largely up in the air.

But while his ultimate destination at this juncture was still not set in stone, we can see that once he made the decision to push all of his chips into the center of the table and make his bones as a rocker, he’d be dealing from a position of strength.

Back To The Start
It’s worth remembering just what the environment was when this was recorded. Of all of those who were joining this ragtag movement Paul Gayten was one of the few who’d had verifiable success prior to rock’s emergence in mid-1947.

He had scored right out of the starter’s block months earlier with a pop song called True and then matched that achievement when he backed his group’s female vocalist, Annie Laurie, on a pop-styled hit of her own at the same time.

These feats – though seemingly well outside of our focus as rock enthusiasts – had far-reaching benefits for rock ‘n’ roll itself, starting with the fact that those records commercial returns helped to establish DeLuxe Records as a viable independent record company. In turn it gave the labels owners, David and Jules Braun out of New Jersey, a pipeline to New Orleans where Gayten was from and where these records did so well. That led, somewhat indirectly, at least in the sense Gayten himself wasn’t involved, to DeLuxe signing Roy Brown in July 1947 and recording the song that would launch rock ‘n’ roll when released in September.

You might think that would put Gayten in a bit of a defensive position, for while his recent hits were indeed bigger sellers than Brown’s Good Rocking Tonight, at least initially, it was a different story when it came to local clamor for what Brown had laid down.

For those in New Orleans who were hip to the cultural changes brewing Roy Brown had offered up a musical manifesto for the sound of tomorrow which suddenly made anything else, no matter how popular, seem old hat. For Gayten who was poised to be the next big star in the Crescent City just a few months earlier his time at the top of the musical pecking order now seemed in jeopardy.

But rather than feel threatened by this new challenger – one recording for the same label no less! – Gayten was more intrigued by the opportunities Brown had presented. Let’s not forget that he himself had presaged a lot of the musical innovations that Brown brought to light, with Your Hands Ain’t Clean had adorned the B-side of Gayten’s hit from the spring and was about as close as you could get to calling anything from that gestation period rock ‘n’ roll.

So while both he and Laurie continued to release pop-sides to satisfy those who’d given them their initial success, Paul Gayten began to explore rock in earnest as soon as he went back into the studios that fall.

Thus far the results have been very promising – if often very quirky – and Back Trackin’ is no exception in either of those assessments.

The Wrong Track
One of the self-imposed requirements for this project which attempts to review music more than a half century old is to not look ahead much, if at all, when critiquing each record’s strengths and weaknesses.

That’s easier said than done of course because what came next is usually widely known. We can’t help but be aware of what routes rock music traveled and what excess baggage they discarded along the way and knowing this gives us insight that consumers, producers and artists of the time were oblivious to. But it’s imperative that you not use the standards that followed to assess the results, you have to judge things in the context of their own time. By treating the era being reviewed as if it were the present you keep the future at arm’s length.

But it’s another thing entirely when you’re confronted with a record in 1948 that would be re-cut by the same artist a year later, in the process shoring up its weaknesses, tightening the arrangement and adding components to give it a much fuller sound.

When THAT version becomes the one that is far more easily available ever since its release, and in fact oftentimes is never even referred to as being a remake to begin with, then uncovering the truth and finding out this earlier take on it was what was first heard puts you in a quandary… namely, how to pretend the updated version we know much better doesn’t exist.

In that case don’t you need to point out the differences, to highlight the improvements, to show the evolution of the idea itself? Or do you wait until the later version is reviewed and focus on those aspects then? Is it even possible for the two records be treated as entirely separate entities once both are in the public domain, no matter what ground rules we set for ourselves?

So let’s just start by acknowledging there are two records that are the same song by the same artist and point out that THIS, the original version, was just known as Back Trackin’ and came out on DeLuxe in the summer of 1948 and features a much more sparse sound than Dr. Daddy-O (Backtrackin’) released a year later on Regal Records and then do our best to ignore the latter from here on.

The Right Track
Instrumentals to this point in rock have been largely sax driven (and would remain so for quite awhile… there we go, “predicting” the future again). Of the two instruments featured on Back Trackin’ neither is a sax, or any horn for that matter, which is a little strange simply because of how New Orleans music of all stripes regularly showcased the brass section.

But Paul Gayten himself is a pianist and so it’s hardly surprising that he gets such a prominent role on this, leading it off with a very simple progression that sounds like something a first-year piano student uses for warm up exercises.

It’s anticipatory by nature, climbing up the scales, then going back down, leaving you hanging waiting for the payoff. Surely Gayten is going to start bashing the keys, or maybe playing some fleet-fingered runs to show off his talents at any moment. But instead he hands over the lead role to the OTHER featured instrument – the guitar.

This is quite unexpected frankly, though entirely welcome. We haven’t heard much out of the guitar yet in rock… umm, assuming we will in the future, which is no sure thing as of July 1948 so forget I mentioned that it might go on to be more prominent down the road.

The guitar’s increasing flexibility as an instrument, playing lead or rhythm in a variety of sonic textures, is something that bodes well for its continued spread now that technology has given it greater resonance with the solid body electric models and the ability for the sounds it produces to be carried more thanks to better amplifiers.

Here Jack Scott (who in fact wrote the song) delivers his line with sharpness, albeit with something of a thin reedy tone that harkens back more to jazz outfits. At his best here he keeps this more aggressive in his approach, slashing rather than picking, while taking full advantage of the subtle rhythm churning underneath to give it an edgier sound.

When that backing is stripped down however he mellows out considerably, taking it into the jazzier realms with more of a dreamier feel to his solo. It still works within the parameters of the song, but the edginess it might’ve been building towards is lessened as a result. Again, in 1948 this approach was considered sound. Jazz had used guitars in this way with enough success that it probably wasn’t considered something that had to be drastically re-imagined for another style of music.

Yet it’s the moments that hint at something different, a harsher sound, a more assertive role, that make it stand out on Back Trackin’ and when Scott lays back it becomes routine.

Gayten for his part doesn’t do much to offset this. He gets a solo of his own but it’s even more laid back than the bulk of Scott’s work on guitar. He’s not quite playing a supper club arrangement, there’s still a little bit of a bounce to it, but for the most part this is music best suited for the background to be heard only intermittently amidst a steady buzz of voices at a party.

Double Back
Even without knowing that Gayten would revisit this a year from now, Back Trackin’ sounds like something of an unfinished demo. A dry-run, a rough cut of a song that was gestating in his mind and he’d yet to figure out the means with which to best unveil it.

Many of the familiar Gayten touches are present already however, the choppy rhythm, the quirky stop/start construction, the trading off between instruments, yet it’s all done in somewhat crude form. The two most notable pieces missing that might’ve turned this idea around are a more emphatic beat to give the song something to keep locked in and some horns to at least provide a melodic bed to alleviate the sparseness of the arrangement.

On the whole this comes across like Gayten had some time to kill in the studio, grabbed a few guys hanging around and sketched it out quickly just to be able to hear what it sounded like. Then upon assessing the results, rather than flesh it out to fill in the obvious gaps, they turned their attention to something else entirely only to see this get released as if it were something they’d worked on for days rather than maybe twenty minutes or a half hour.

Of course we don’t know for sure if that was the case, or at least we wouldn’t have known in the summer of 1948 when this was released, but a year later when he did return to it and made many of those changes on his own it gives some credence to the idea this original was merely Gayten experimenting in the studio.

Like many experiments – musical or otherwise – there’s no end to the tweaking of the formula if you have enough time and in his case a new record label willing to indulge in revisiting something to try and get it closer to perfection.

Since it’s rare in the era before bootlegs and studio session boxed sets to have the opportunity to hear an artist refining their work over time, the two versions of this one composition released a year apart shows us not only the evolution of the artist in question, but also it would turn out, shows us the ongoing evolution of rock ‘n’ roll itself.


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

Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
Dr. Daddy-O (Backtrackin’)Paul Gayten (July 1949)