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REGAL 3281; AUGUST 1950

 
 

 

All of the characteristics that Paul Gayten normally used on his own records which he’d cast aside for the hit side of this single are back with a flourish here, making this a far more typical offering from the singer, songwriter, pianist and producer, yet also a less accessible one for casual fans.

Therein lays the enduring dilemma for multi-talented individuals whose eccentricities define them… should they conform to a more commercial approach in an attempt to score hits to satisfy their record labels or do they follow their own winding path in an attempt to satisfy only themselves?
 

 

Fine And Healthy
A few records back we pondered the challenges that another budding rock music titan from New Orleans was facing with his own career as a recording artist and how his recent success as a songwriter, producer and arranger for Imperial Records may have been daunting to live up to when releasing his own records.

In Dave Bartholomew’s case it would appear that he’d intentionally steered himself away from pursuing hits under his own name by coming up with off-beat material and accentuating the unusual aspects of his vocal delivery in his songs, perhaps stemming from a fear that if presented straight his failure to match the likes of Fats Domino and Smiley Lewis would make his efforts seem futile by comparison.

Though Gayten ostensibly followed a similar path when it came to highlighting the quirky side of his musical persona, he did so with a much more focused mindset than Bartholomew seemed to.

That’s rather strange because as a producer of others Bartholomew was a stern taskmaster who didn’t tolerate mistakes, whereas Gayten tended to be laid back and easy going in the producer’s chair. Yet whereas Dave’s own records frequently sounded slapdash – if not half-assed – Gayten’s off-the-wall performances like Ooh La La were fine tuned and polished to a shine and so the oddities they contained were merely part of the overall vision.

 

Do You See What I See?
As a pure vocalist Paul Gayten was much more talented than Dave Bartholomew, possessing a better voice, broader range and far more nuance, soulfulness and stylistic versatility, yet like Dave he tended to favor semi-spoken patter in the songs he sang, something which might suggest it was a distinctly New Orleans trait since both possessed it except that very few others from the region adapted for themselves.

But while Bartholomew’s songs delivered in this manner seemed to be recited off the top of his head, one long ad-lib that often resulted in him tripping over himself, Gayten’s parts were all exceedingly well drawn out beforehand and the difference is striking.

On Ooh La La there’s no shortage of nonconformity in his vocals, but even while he sounds as if he’s simply having a conversation with his pals in the dark corners of a bar while his date powders her nose before they leave together, this is a true performance in every sense of the word.

The structure of the song is vaguely reminiscent of Hey La Bas Boogie, which Bartholomew had cut with Fats Domino recently but which is based on a far older and more pervasive song that everyone in New Orleans seemed to be born knowing, but it’s not a direct appropriation of that tune by any means, just something that shares a few rhythmic elements.

Gayten’s band is stuttering their way through this with all of the appropriate instrumental tics that you’d expect out of them for such an endeavor… the riffing saxophones playing a soft but suitably head-bobbing refrain… the wayward trumpet trying to be let into the dance… the intentionally off-beat percussion, as in literally off-beat… all anchored by Gayten’s drunken piano patterns that weave, bob, slip and slide with a smirking flair.

None of the backing musicians ever gets pushy about their parts, in fact they’re not only playing discreetly but Gayten’s pushed them back in the mix to boot, but in doing so he allows them to contribute the vital atmosphere without overwhelming the track because it’s obvious right away the centerpiece of this is going to have to be the charm and charisma of Paul Gayten’s vocals if it’s going to work.
 

Come Down In Front
And work it does… Okay, okay, so it’s not an Oscar-contending performance, but Gayten IS pretty convincing as the central figure in this drama… a musician who spots a hot girl in the audience during a show and wrangles her into a date with a combination of “talents” that walk a fine line between alluring and sleazy.

He’s obviously a cocky guy, probably used to bedding random women who are fans of the music, but he’s not quite arrogant about it as he describes this which tells me he probably doesn’t have nearly the success rate as he’d have you believe. In other words he’s a little too excited in revealing his good fortune with Susie Mae to his friends to think this outcome was entirely expected by him which takes him off the hook just enough to tolerate his boasting.

After the extended piano and trumpet break, which confirms his eagerness, he tells us of his plans as the girl returns from the rest room (or perhaps paying her own check!) and he promptly starts off their exchange with a rather crude and suggestive hints about what he intends to do with her behind closed doors until morning but which technically doesn’t veer into anything he could be prosecuted for.

But then, just as you’re ready to offer to pay for a cab ride home for this poor girl instead so she won’t be accosted by him as soon as they’re alone, Paul reveals it’s probably just his giddy excitement over getting someone beautiful to actually accept his offer and chances are that if it does get that far between he’s probably going to be… ahh… crossing the finish line as it were before his pants are even off, thereby sparing her the indignity of an overeager slobberer (by the sounds of it) in bed.

All of this is basically a snapshot of a very realistic, though not always admirable, scene that young musicians – then and now – encounter on a nightly basis. Their talents draw interest from ladies which, if they play their cards right, they hope to be able to use to their short-term advantage by blurring the line between being admired for their musical abilities and being desired for their other abilities.

Because Gayten paints the picture accurately and with good humor you take Ooh La La merely as a piece of colorful fiction and since he doesn’t go beyond the basic set-up you have no reason to find much fault with his actions… but nor do you have reason to really get excited about the song beyond that basic admiration for its performance.

In other words, this is one show where you won’t be crossing that line between fan and groupie after it’s over.
 

Gonna Have A Ball Tonight
Despite having very little chance at widespread popularity because of how unconventional it sounds, as a record this manages to convey more about Paul Gayten the artist than a more traditional record ever could.

If nothing else Ooh La La shows Gayten to be somebody whose creativity was one of his strongest attributes. Though he could sing, play, write and produce in any one of a number of vastly different styles, all of them effective for their aims, he seemed to always be most comfortable when he was stepping outside the usual expectations and throwing audiences a curveball just to keep everyone off balance.

Not too many average records sound as odd as this one, but then again very few artists whose job required them to more or less deliver what was expected of them in a variety of important roles ever enjoyed subverting those expectations as Paul Gayten did and that’s what makes his career so admirable in the end.

Aw, heck, if the girl was willing let’s hope he did get lucky that night after all, I guess he earned that much.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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