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REGAL 3230; JULY, 1949

 
 

 

Well, well, what do we have here? It seems we have an artist who put one record label (DeLuxe) on the map two years earlier now jumping ship to follow that label’s owners to a new port in the storm after they were ousted from the company they built and who then set sail with a new company (Regal). We have that artist then revisiting a song he’d already released on that first label, re-arranging it in the process and then re-naming it to boot, in the process honoring somebody who gave this music called rock ‘n’ roll some of its earliest exposure even though he himself was initially – and forcibly – kept in the background.

That’s a lot of ground to cover in just one song, so let’s not waste time.
 

 

For those readers who’ve been with us from the start, surely you remember Paul Gayten’s role in focusing the burgeoning independent record scene on the fertile New Orleans market, the undisputed birthplace of rock music (sorry Memphis, though you often get wrongly credited by those outside the loop, you won’t show up in earnest until rock’s fourth birthday party or so… be patient, we’ll get to you).

Gayten’s hits – both for himself and longstanding cohort Annie Laurie – in the spring and early summer of 1947 planted the flag of commercial potential in New Orleans which soon led the company he was recording for, DeLuxe, to sign more acts from the Crescent City, most notable among them Roy Brown whose debut for them, Good Rocking Tonight launched this whole rock phenomenon a few months later. The owners of DeLuxe, Jules and David Braun, soon had to sell controlling interest in their label to King Records to alleviate cash flow problems and were now in the midst of a protracted battle over the rights to the company, which they’d eventually lose, and so they started Regal Records and took Gayten and Laurie with them.

Though now a certified national movement by the summer of 1949 rock still likely had its heaviest interest where it began. The musical spirit of that city is truly unlike any other in America, flowing through the streets and emanating from nearly every open window, every bar and club, pouring out of each jukebox and radio within the city limits until the sound is omnipresent.

It was the radio in New Orleans where rock’s growing commercial power led to significant change in the structure of dispersal. Enter, Dr. Daddy-O… but not right away, first we gotta do some Back Trackin’.
 

 

Or Sidetrack?
I know what regular readers are thinking, that we’ll have to endure a long meandering sidetrack before we discuss the record at hand. Not so this time, here it’s the music that forms the sidetrack to the larger picture we’ve just alluded to, so without further ado we’ll get to the record right away for a change and then double back to talk about the context that led up to it.

In July 1948, exactly a year ago, he released Back Trackin’ on DeLuxe, a quirky instrumental featuring Gayten’s piano and Jack Scott’s guitar locked in a somewhat jazzy back and forth duel, but sparse enough in its construction to seem as if it were almost a crude demo rather than a polished recording fit for release.

It turns out that description was oddly prescient in a way, for here – a year down the road – we have Gayten the rock architect back for another go-round, revisiting the same song with a new arrangement that fills in the blanks and winds up with something decidedly more accomplished.

The basic patterns are the same, on both he offers up a quirky ambitious instrumental with stop-time sections building upon one another, slipping in a melodic riff to catch the ear, but doing so almost off-handedly. But on this version he builds a far more elaborate construction, one designed to appeal to hep musicians even more than the casual listener, even though in the end it does both.

Its individual components of Dr. Daddy-O are impressive any way you look it at though. The drums in particular are riveting, slamming out a rhythm that is jarringly immediate, sounding as if the gods are stampeding down the heavenly stairs to raise hell for a change. Robert Green steals the show on the skins each time the spotlight shines on the instrument while also establishing the rather unusual structure of the piece that finds each instrument taking a stand-alone spot in response to the primary melodic refrain played by Lee Allen’s sax. Neither of those instruments, or musicians presumably, were present on Back Trackin’ when it came out on DeLuxe last summer, but their addition here transforms the song.

Green and Gayten are the primary beneficiaries of this new arrangement in the “verses” (verses? – I don’t quite know how else to describe it in familiar terms, needless to say this isn’t your standard approach to songwriting). Gayten’s piano follows suit to Green’s drums the second time through, playing a discordant riff, but from there on out it’s basically a well-controlled free-for all that’s a musician’s dream and a nightmare for anyone who likes to follow along logically to what’s coming out of the speakers.

Each member of the group gets their chance to show off throughout this exercise in musical idiosyncrasy. Allen’s sax wails, especially in its own solos that show even at this stage of the game why he’d become one of the primary instigators in that instrument’s dominance over the next decade of rock recordings. Seventy years later and he’s still one of the Top Three (five at the very most) sax players in rock’s illustrious history. The man could blow!

Meanwhile Wallace Davenport’s trumpet seemingly goes off on its own during its solos, distinctly New Orleans in nature with its tone, but seemingly aimless in its intent, yet delightfully whimsical all the same. Jack Scott’s guitar cuts loose with some futuristic boogie-based riffing before calming down some and keeping the whole track from flying off into orbit, a smaller role than he had the first time through this song but far more effective in how he approaches it. Gone are the meditative jazz licks he featured last time out and in their place are sizzling licks that point towards tomorrow in both style and attitude.

Soon however it turns into a slug-fest as Allen and Gayten take off their gloves and battle it out one on one for supremacy. Though the saxophonist loses the credit for the victory on record to Gayten, whose name obviously adorns the label as featured artist, Allen unquestionably comes out on top with the seasoned fight fan with some frantic blowing that is the highlight of the jam session. Then, and only then, do they all return to the structure (such as it is) that started all this, wherein Green returns to the forefront with another thudding workout on the tubs before it wraps up quite abruptly, as if everyone involved had used up their bag of tricks and exchanged grins at the musical anarchy they’d just created on a lark, probably before settling down for the REAL song they came to work on.

What had been only hinted at in its original incarnation now receives a drastic makeover. Like a black and white movie that abruptly switches to Technicolor, the effect is startling when listening to them in contrast. This comes across like a pre-historic funk track with the rhythmic components subjugating the melody making it seem somewhat “off-center” to ears more attuned with European-based ideals, but vibrant and alive in ways the earlier rendition couldn’t hope to deliver.
 

What A Difference A Year Makes
Which brings us back to Dr. Daddy-O.

The song in question is of course essentially the same as Back Trackin’, but you’ll notice this label doesn’t include those words at all. Yet virtually every single modern release of it in the CD era, and later the streaming era, have both titles affixed to it, though it’s always THIS version they feature.

But while Back Trackin’ certainly is a rather fitting moniker for a tune that seemed to stop and start as much as find a forward progression to latch onto, and now one where they essentially DO back track to return to the same idea, the new title is crucial in understanding the changes that have taken place across music in the year after that first rendition was released.

Not only did the Brauns get ousted from their own record company, forcing them to start anew and taking Gayten along for the ride, but the music that in July 1948 was only beginning to show commercial dividends – we mean rock ‘n’ roll of course – had taken off in the black community across America, scoring a string of chart topping hits the latter half of that year and then all but dominating the charts in the first half of 1949.

For most listeners rock ‘n’ roll was still most frequently hard on jukeboxes or at clubs catering to this type of thrill-seeker. Radio didn’t play much black music unless it was the mainstream jazz outfits like Hampton and Basie, or vocalists with the white stamp of approval like Nat “King” Cole, Sarah Vaughan, The Ink Spots and Ella Fitzgerald. That hardly seemed destined to change with music that was far more outrageous than anything any of them had ever dreamed of doing.

But in and around New Orleans it was a different story and believe it or not rock ‘n’ roll was actually starting to get spins on radio thanks to a single individual who broke down barriers like few men of his era.
 

Jive, Jam And Gumbo!
Though located in a region far most hostile to blacks than many places that wouldn’t touch this type of music, The Crescent City had been quite progressive in a backwards sort of way when it came to playing black music over the air, not due to any altruistic reasons, but out of sheer economic potential that became too big to resist.

The city was home to a sizable black populace that placed music on a plateau usually reserved only for necessities in life, such as food, shelter and sex, yet these potential listeners interests were not being served by radio, meaning their purse strings were closed off entirely to advertisers who increasingly didn’t care what skin pigmentation handed over their money as long as that money was green. That in of itself was enough of an incentive for radio stations finally begin to look to tap into that market for themselves, but of course being in the heart of the segregated south they couldn’t actually let a black man on the air to play their own music for their own people!

Enter Vernon Winslow, a college educated northerner who’d moved to Louisiana to work for Dillard University where he first encountered the odd-radio confluence of whites playing music for blacks, in this case jazz a few years earlier, and he got the idea that he might be able to do so better himself if he could just get the opportunity. Yet when he applied to various radio stations, many of which assumed he was white, either because of his decidedly professional letters of introduction which they couldn’t conceive a black man was capable of writing, or by talking to him over the phone where his Chicago enunciation befuddled their images of the Nawlins creole accents they expected all blacks to possess, he found himself stymied when they learned the truth, that Winslow was indeed black.

In 1948 WJMR invited him to meet with them to discuss a position under the belief he must be white and upon meeting him and seeing his light-skinned, but decidedly “Negro” features, asked him in no uncertain terms, “Are you a nigger?”. When told that he was indeed a Negro they said they could never put him on the air, they’d all be lynched, then added as self-assured justification, “Besides, niggers don’t want to be announcers!”.

Ahh yes, of course not. What a silly notion!

The station did however find the idea of a more authentic voice over the air to pull in the powerful black constituency to be appealing and so Vernon Winslow was indeed hired by the station… to coach a white man in phrasing, dialect and slang – “sounding black” in other words – not to mention also buying the records that the audience would want to hear AND coming up with the name the white announcer would use over the air to “sell” this charade as authentic!

Thus Poppa Stoppa was born and he rapidly became the most popular “black” disc jockey in the south. That he was actually white seemed to matter not, because like a modern day Cyrano De Bergerac, Winslow was feeding the him the lines he’s using to woo the desired audience.

Then one day it all fell apart for the man behind the curtain as it were. The white announcer had stepped away from the microphone, the record ended suddenly with him still out of the room and a station update needed to be read over the air. Winslow felt he had no choice but to do it himself, for the good of the station no less.

He was promptly fired for his audacity.

Months later Winslow was contacted out of the blue by an advertising firm representing Jax Beer, the most popular locally brewed beverage, who were looking to reach the black community and they hired Winslow who’d done just that (reach the black community) in his brief time behind the scenes at WJMR, to be their new “consultant”. Among his duties was to come up with another radio personality to sell their wares.

The advertising firm was working with a hefty three million dollar budget to push this product to that specific audience and the way they wanted to do it was via radio. They’d buy the time on any station they wanted (who could hardly afford to turn down the money they were offering) and the station would simply provide the studio and engineer, while they would supply everything else – the program format, the ads, the records AND the announcer… this time none other than Vernon Winslow himself… now dubbed Dr. Daddy-O on the air.

Just like that, the color line on radio in New Orleans was broken.
 

Back On The Air
Winslow, as Dr. Daddy-O, became an immediate local institution in the black community, viewed more as an idol to the masses than a mere salesman or radio announcer, for it was he who’d done the unthinkable.

To hear an authentic black voice over the airwaves was inspiring to the audience who never dared dream that such a thing would happen in their lifetimes. He soon added a newspaper column that further advanced the cause, filmed short features on the many musicians in the city, all while still remaining fully engaged in the corporate side of the advertising agency that had hired him, writing reports and attending meetings in that capacity as well.

The remaining 8 minutes of the day presumably is when he slept.
 


 

Winslow’s presence on the air coincided with the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, a decidedly New Orleans creation itself, and in fact Winslow said that his go-to record when he began was Roy Brown’s Good Rocking Tonight.

This marked a new era as black music now had a different, more modern way to reach the masses than had been the case just a short time earlier when it had been restricted to clubs, bars and jukeboxes. This advance in mass communication for a populace previously cut off from such outlets helped to popularize this new unproven music just as it was being born.

Among the first beneficiaries of Dr. Daddy-O’s groundbreaking radio shows was Paul Gayten, who saw his records promoted in ways that previously would’ve been impossible to conceive, and so in 1949, a year after Back Trackin’ had been released, he entered the studio with Regal Records to re-cut it and changed the title to honor of the man who helped make all of their careers possible in a way – a belated thank you in the form of Dr. Daddy-O.

Rock ‘n’ roll’s thanks to Vernon Winslow has yet to be similarly documented. Shamefully he’s never been considered for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame, nor has he even been inducted into the Radio Hall Of Fame, yet it was Vernon Winslow, the creator of Poppa Stoppa (who, ironically, despite the early subterfuge remained a New Orleans institution with both blacks and whites for years himself) and who then became the one and only Dr. Daddy-O on the air himself, a groundbreaking pioneer who helped propel rock music to its lofty heights by bringing it to those who never went to a club or put a nickel in a jukebox but whose lives were changed by their exposure over the airwaves to the music that would rule throughout the rest of the century.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(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:
 
Back Trackin’Paul Gayten (July 1948)