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REGAL 3245, DECEMBER, 1949

 
 

 

Over rock’s first two years there have been a number of shameless tie-in records that we’ve skewered in good fun.

It was a common trend to name instrumental records after an influential disc jockey in order to curry favor and get them spun on the air in that market, something which often did as much harm as good because they were dedicated to only one dee-jay at one station and thus the rest of the disc jockeys working for other radio stations avoided those records like the plague, something which labels should’ve been savvy enough to realize was inevitable. After all, who in their right mind would promote the competition?

But record company owners were rarely savvy about anything, including the record biz, and so one after another of these “tributes” followed. Whether you view them as smart business maneuvers or merely sleazy attempts at coercing spins, even the most hardened cynic would have to admit they were essentially harmless at the time and somewhat quaint decades later when we in the Twenty First Century can’t imagine anyone in radio being worth courting to begin with, let alone immortalizing in song.

In case you hadn’t guessed we’re encountering another one of those records today, but this one comes with an interesting catch to it… a benevolent one even.

I know, I know, that’s the last thing you expect to come across when you’re reading about rock history, which is precisely what makes this record so unusual and so interesting.
 

 

Second Time Around
Regal Records, you surely remember, was the second label started by the Braun Brothers of New Jersey following their more successful DeLuxe Records, the pioneering company which just so happened to launch rock ‘n’ roll itself with their release of Roy Brown’s Good Rocking Tonight back in September 1947.

But it was with pianist Paul Gayten earlier that year that they became involved in the New Orleans scene to begin with, scoring a hit with him and another with his female vocalist Annie Laurie in early summer of that year. With the subsequent signing of Brown in July DeLuxe began to corner the market on the rapidly expanding pool of rock artists based in The Crescent City, scoring hits with a number of them over the next year or so.

But when the Brauns were having cash flow problems they turned to King Records’ Syd Nathan who bought out half their company and then forcibly took it over in short order. The Brauns took him to court in a desperate effort to regain control of their interests but in the meantime they started up Regal Records and took Gayten and Laurie along with them, plus bombshell Chubby Newsom and other New Orleans stalwarts from DeLuxe whose contracts were conveniently up with them to form the foundation of their new record company. They lost Roy Brown in the deal, which is who Nathan was most eager to snatch up, but Syd was also hoping to get Gayten in the heist… err, in the bargain, so chalk one up for loyalty on behalf of the Brauns.

David and Jules Braun, despite their professional Louisiana ties, were New Jersey boys and it was in that state and surrounding areas where they now focused building their new label’s reputation. One surefire way to do that of course was to get in good with the local disc jockeys and in 1949 few were any bigger than Bill Cook, who broadcast over WAAT out of Newark.

Normally this is where we have a few guffaws over the clumsy titling of an otherwise innocuous instrumental to woo the man who controlled the airwaves where they hoped to have their records played. It’d be a shallow transparent gesture which may in fact work for awhile, if the disc jockey allowed himself to be bought so cheaply, maybe use the record – if it was any good – as a lead-in to his show, but before long that record would be replaced by one that was paid for with more long green bills, which tended to speak louder than any instrumental record possibly could.

No harm done, we’d say, even as we’d scoff at their blatant desperate grab for a few spins.

But Bill Cook was a different type of person. Not that he would’ve turned down a few dollars I’m sure, but he already HAD a theme song, Duke Ellington’s Caravan, and he was a pretty hep cat to boot.

We’ll be meeting Cook a number of times along the way on Spontaneous Lunacy and he’s somebody who always seems to be a pivotal figure at certain moments in rock history. In other words he was somebody who had bigger aspirations than just hosting a radio show, even though it was the most popular show in the region. So while the Brauns attempt to get on his good side may have been typical crass record business hucksterism at its core, they actually picked a pretty notable figure to sidle up to even if their choice probably had as much to do territorial logistics than anything else.
 

Charity Begins At Home
Whether or not we cast a cold eye on their attempts to woo Cook, we have to admit they went the extra mile and then some on this one… far beyond merely naming a record after him and calling it a day.

We don’t quite know how this came about, whether they approached him or he came to them, but what happened was that Regal recorded Cook doing two Christmas cuts for charity that came out this month and were re-released each of the next two years, making their commitment more than just a shallow gesture designed for their own benefit. The proceeds for Cook’s holiday-themed record went to a Cerebral Palsy League and the Community Hospital Fund so Regal was getting some good publicity AND doing Cook a favor of sorts (oh, and they were also helping sick people if you only want to look at the “charitable” aspects of the deal!).

So what better way to double down on the feelings of goodwill you just ensured with your magnanimous gesture by also playing to someone’s ego in the process by naming the latest Paul Gayten record Cook’s Tour.

Who knows, maybe this was even part of the charitable endeavor, perhaps Cook was touring area hospitals to drum up attention for the cause and if so far be it for us to call their motives into question. But the fact remains that this record WAS being sold nationally and Gayten was a pretty big name star so those who’d have bought this if it had been called “Book Tour” or “Look Poor” or “Schnook’s Floor” were primarily interested not in the title but in the music contained within.

Of course they could play dumb if they wanted too, not that anyone in the know would believe their cries of innocence, by saying that the term “Cook’s Tour” was also a well-known colloquialism named after Thomas Cook, a British missionary who essentially invented the entire tourism trade in 1841. But because he also perfected the commercial rip-off his tours involved little more than quick stops in a multitude of popular spots leaving no time for actually enjoying them. The term therefore is more of a put-down than an honor, even if it kept Thomas Cook’s name from fading into oblivion.

So Regal Records, looking for a way to celebrate the disc jockey did so with a title that might be seen as a backhanded compliment if anyone cared to really analyze it. Nobody did… at least until the preceding couple of paragraphs written in 2019, and so all of them – the Brauns, Gayten and both Cooks, Bill and old Thomas who because he was born in 1808, wasn’t around to hear this record – were let off the hook when it came to scrutinizing their actual intent.
 


 

Around The World
In a way it’s too bad Thomas Cook died in 1892 because he might’ve enjoyed this as it marks a welcome return to the rock instrumental field for Paul Gayten who once again reminds us why he was so highly regarded as an arranger.

Cook’s Tour is a busy record, one brimming with a lot of different ideas crammed into only two and a half minutes. Not all of those ideas work but even the ill-fitting aspects of this are still interesting and hardly diminish the overall mood or take away from the impact of the better attributes it contains.

One thing it doesn’t contain much of however is Gayten himself, not prominently anyway. His piano playing is certainly part of the ensemble but he’s taking a back seat in the arrangement and seems low in the mix on top of it, but in every other way Gayten’s fingerprints are all over this record.

Essentially this was conceived as a way to highlight his top notch band, at the time still probably the best in the city of New Orleans, though Dave Bartholomew’s crew might beg to differ. Gayten though had slightly more experienced guys and it’s telling that when Bartholomew needed to shore up his band he wound up raiding Gayten’s and taking some of them away, so yeah, I’d still say Paul was running ahead at this point.

In spite of it being written by Gayten’s guitarist, Jack Scott, the focus of this is undoubtedly the horns and a lot of horns there are too. We get the rather shrill clarion call opening on the higher register brass, then the deeper saxes take over with a rolling riff that locks it into place and gets you squarely in a groove which they’ll ride for all it’s worth.

Backing them is a solid rhythm section, with Gayten’s piano filling its role in this ensemble, but more or less letting the drums handle the heavy lifting with a rather insistant, though simple, backbeat which sounds as if it was mic’d in a dry way which gives it a somewhat crude echo enabling it to stand out more in the process. The bass meanwhile has its head down resoutely doing its job and not looking for any credit along the way, just adding to the bottom. Scott’s own guitar oddly enough seems to be missing, though it’s hardly missed, an important distinction to make because if he was determined to contribute it’d be tough finding a space for him to breathe, let alone stand out.

The reason for this is that fusillade of horns that dominate the record, handing off parts to each other, keeping the energy level high and the pace moving at a steady clip. The tenor and baritone saxes not surprisingly are going to get the most praise, not just because those horns are the most representative of the current rock sound in 1949, but also because whatever two guys are manning the instrument – probably Lee Allen on tenor, though don’t hold me to that – are playing with resolute grittiness throughout their stretch in the spotlight.

The tenor’s lines are focused and to the point, stretching out only as much as need be without completely upending the song. The baritone that follows (unless it’s the same tenor played exceedingly low since I don’t hear a baritone in the full horn section), is more rudimentary in what it plays, but there’s still a certain welcome crudity to those lines which ties in with what preceded it.

None of that is earth-shattering, nor is it really trying to be, but it gets the job done for sure, keeping your shoulders grooving and feet moving as long as they go on.

Unfortunately they’re not alone in the brass department…
 

Next Stop: New Orleans
You have to actually admire Gayten’s slight misstep here when he hands the ball off to the higher register horns for a decidedly Dixieland-styled break. It doesn’t go overboard with the connection to jazz but trumpets and altos have a way of suggesting jazz even when they’re playing rock and here, as they were New Orleans musicians steeped in Dixieland, that becomes more evident as the trumpet wanders around the melody without picking a firm spot to land. He comes awful close to losing the key once or twice, holding onto it by his fingernails, and when the others come in to revive that early fanfare they don’t exactly grab hold of anything solid themselves.

But the attempt at bridging the two isn’t the worst thing to encounter. For starters you could argue that it suits the original definition of Cook’s Tour, wherein they’d make a brief stopover in the New Orleans of past years – and true to form their interlude lasts only about twenty-five seconds and the tenor briefly rejoins them to provide a call and response in the last eight seconds of their spot so even the weakest segment finishes strong.

Then it jumps right back to what we bought our ticket for, the tougher sounding horns backed with a more emphatic workout on the skins. You might wish they’d stuck with that, or better still – if only to give it more variety – let Jack Scott contribute a quick twenty-five second guitar solo in place of the wayward trumpet (or Gayten could step to the forefront for a funky workout on the keys for that matter), but even as it is you tolerate the intrusion of the other horns because they keep the energy from flagging and soon lead back into what works best, easing it back into port with the sax in front where it belongs.
 

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety-Jig
I suppose you can be cynical and say that Gayten and Regal Records gave Bill Cook a serviceable instrumental but not anything that was really going to shake up the system and be something that audiences were clamoring for, which could also be taken to suggest they weren’t be very charitable by perhaps saving something more explosive for their own needs down the road.

But you could also say that they certainly didn’t mail this in and hand over something that would’ve otherwise been left to collect dust on the shelf. Cook’s Tour might not be the equivalent of a week long vacation on a tropic island resort but it’s hardly an overnight trip to some out of the way alligator farm in the Florida panhandle or a $3 tour through a rinky dink wax museum either.

In the final analysis of any vacation if you can honestly say when you return home that you had a good time and didn’t spend a fortune then it was a trip worth taking and whether it benefited a charity or just a disc jockey in the process, you probably shouldn’t complain.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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