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DELUXE 1176; JUNE, 1948



One of the more interesting decisions when pursuing a career in the arts is whether it is better to explore many different avenues of expression, giving outlet to all aspects of your creativity, or if it’s smarter to stick with just one task until you perfect it, trusting that the tunnel vision approach will make the results that much stronger.

Paul Gayten consistently chose what lay behind Door Number One, broadening his skill set at a much faster pace than any other figure in rock by tackling everything imaginable right from the start. In the spring of 1947 when he entered the studio for the first time he was not only writing, arranging, playing piano, leading the band and singing on his own records, but he was also handling those tasks on records by Annie Laurie as well. In time he’d go on to be an A&R director, a talent scout for other labels as well as actually being credited as a producer, something he was already doing at this point before the term came into use.

But whether those efforts to branch out into other duties was best for his OWN recording career remains to be seen.

There’s another thing to take into account when it comes to assessing Gayten’s résumé and that’s how stylistically diverse he always was as an artist.

Gayten’s hit from that first session in ’47 was True which was a pop ballad through and through. In addition the hit he cut with Annie Laurie at that same time – Since I Fell For You – was also a pop record. Normally this would all but ensure their musical paths would be set and they’d spend their careers trying to replicate that success in the pop field, but a few months down the road something else had come along to capture Gayten’s attention as well as the attention of the black audience of the era… namely rock ‘n’ roll.

He didn’t completely give up on cutting pop sides, both he and Laurie would return to it with some regularity over the years, and being from a long line of New Orleans jazz musicians he also delved into the outer regions of that genre as well as a stylized form of blues, but the majority of his output would fall squarely under rock ‘n’ roll even if maddeningly he didn’t stick to one specific style of rock, instead, as was his nature, he kept trying all sorts of approaches to see what he liked.

But while that may make for a more interesting body of work, when it comes to establishing a commercial identity it has the tendency to be something of a drawback, never allowing an audience to be quite sure if the latest release will be in any way related to the last release, or if it will have anything to do with what follows his next time out.

In a career full of stylistic starts and stops it’s fitting that with Stop he starts to get a firmer grasp on just what is required for establishing a legacy in music.

Hey Now
In another era with far more rigidly controlled releases designed to minimize risk it’s likely that Stop wouldn’t have seen the light of day, or at best it’d be consigned to a B-side of a more… shall we say… typical song.

But in mid-1948 DeLuxe Records had fewer options when it came to potential big sellers and with Gayten being the artist with the best track record to date his choices weren’t about to be questioned. As a result his efforts here wherein he upends the usual song structure wind up getting the full glare of the spotlight, even as it appeared to be out of step with what was making the most noise in rock thus far.

Call it creativity if you find it appealing, or indulgence if you don’t, but what this shows is an artist thinking outside of the box and with designs on spreading his wings as an arranger and producer as Gayten introduces spoken interludes to rock.

Though it shares a lot of the same attributes to “talking blues”, a form introduced in the mid-1920’s by Chris Bouchillon which had a very definite – and consistent – arrangement that all of those in blues, country and folk idioms who picked up on it followed, Stop is just different enough to call into question its categorization.

In the talking blues form, whether Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan in the folk realm, or to take into a later folk-rock vein The Hombres 1967 classic Let It All Hang Out, the vocals are delivered rhythmically but they aren’t sung melodically, they’re spoken instead. Here Gayten does in fact talk more than sing, but he sings more than is usually found on songs in the talking blues idiom, and he sings quite well at that.

For that reason alone it distances this from that older form, whether to intentionally disguise it (for what purpose I have no idea), or to make it more accessible to modern audiences, or just because he liked one aspect of that style but wanted to adapt it something more attuned with his strengths.

But you can’t very well say it’s completely different, not by a long shot, especially as the written structure of Stop definitely follows the same strict pattern of talking blues, with two rhyming couplets and a non-rhyming, often humorous or ironic, capper to each verse. It’s identical in nature, even if the tone of Gayten’s voice isn’t nearly as flat and intentionally one-dimensional as the talking blues practitioners invariably use.

Further muddying the waters the musical backing on talking blues songs, regardless of whether they’re blues or country or folk, remains essentially the same, a simple and repetitive guitar line whereas this song features Gayten’s piano in the forefront, and the guitar, though prominent, is not playing anything resembling the pattern it would have to adhere to if it wants to qualify as a true talking blues cut.

The best comparison to make therefore might be with John Lee Hooker’s debut Boogie Chillen, except that was a few months away from being cut. Hooker was so distinctively idiosyncratic that it’s hard to imagine he was influenced by anybody, but the appearance of a similar approach by Gayten just a few months earlier might suggest otherwise.

But regardless of what it’s legacy was in music overall, it didn’t have the desired effect on Paul Gayten’s commercial fortunes. Whether you want to chalk that up to the perceived quirkiness of the song, or just a lack of promotional clout on DeLuxe’s part and name recognition when it comes the artist, the blame for its disappointing returns can hardly be placed on the song itself for once, because all things considered this is quite good.

I’m Not So Good At Giving Out A Hint
The story finds Gayten mildly chiding a girl who apparently has resisted his date requests in the past and he’s giving her another chance to be with him, something he seems to think is rather benevolent of him. He doesn’t come across as egotistical though, at least not as judged by his vocal attitude, and there aren’t any wild boasts to be found in Stop either. He actually seems rather patient, calmly anticipating that sooner or later she’ll give in and they’ll be together and she’ll come to realize he was worth it.

We don’t know how long he’s been at this, how often he’s called her on the phone and whether or not this is bordering on harassment, but if pestering a girl unwilling to go on a date can be amusing rather than annoying then this certainly qualifies.

Much of this has to do with the way Gayten acts out his part. He’s not at all desperate for her response, not grasping at any glimmer of hope to bolster his confidence, not growing at all frustrated by her lack of interest. He sounds as tranquil as a new father coaxing his baby daughter to eat her mashed up carrots or beets. If anything he’s amused by her reticence and that good natured outlook comes across as he makes his case. His mood doesn’t change, he takes on the same tone throughout this, imagine the vocal equivalent of a smirk, whether lightly admonishing her for saying no in the past or telling her how much she’ll enjoy what he has planned for them tomorrow night.

We never do get to hear the girl’s reply, my guess is because there wasn’t any, she’s probably told her mother or her roommate to keep saying she’s not home, or else she’s gone to the phone company and had her number changed altogether. Along the way he says something about his New Year’s Resolution so he’s probably been after her at least six months now and it’s not far-fetched to think he might have even been hounding her since they were twelve years old! If that’s the case then if she was smart she’d be packing her bags and buying a ticket for the West Coast or hopping a train to head up North just to get away from him.

If you want a visual to go with the audio, try any Pepe LePew cartoon from this era, as the amorous skunk cheerfully pursues a beleaguered cat who wants nothing to do with him, yet his persistence knows no bounds. Pepe might be a little more forceful about his desires than Paul is, but in both cases the guys are oblivious as to how any female could NOT want to be with them when they are so charming and sincere.

Laideez… jest for zee record, I do not approooove of zis be-haiv-ior.

I’ll Treat You Right
As restrained in his verbal come-ons as Gayten is, which goes a long way towards taking off whatever stalker-like edge this may otherwise have attached to it, the perception of this as being more benign than aggressive is helped mightily by the music which is appropriately quirky in its stop/start progressions, as well as decidedly jaunty in its melodic construction.

Not quite as bouncy as Pepe LePew’s familiar backing music as he hops along in pursuit of his beloved, oblivious to her terror, the musical interludes of Stop nevertheless have a similarly disarming quality to them, lazily creating a pleasant trance-like quality that lulls you into letting down your guard.

As Gayten speaks in that distinctive New Orleans drawl he’s backed by Jack Scott’s guitar, playing melodic curlicues and a few sharper fills that are somewhat seductive, causing your eyelids to droop. But if you think this means that he’s a particularly ruthless sexual predator who’s not above using every trick at his disposal to get his way, even if that includes hypnotizing you, that theory comes to a rather abrupt halt when he transitions into the sung chorus by way of a thumping three beat drum break which snaps you out of whatever dreamy state you were about to enter if you listened to the mesmerizing prelude just a little too intently.

Also, in his defense, this IS just a song and even in the song he’s decidedly unsuccessful in his attempts with this girl, so I’m much more comfortable saying the arrangement is more atmospheric than it is sinister.

Gayten accompanies his sung vocal choruses with his work on the keyboards, offering nothing fancy but effective all the same as he dances back and forth across the ivories, just momentarily, like adding a dab of cologne before heading out on the town. He does take a solo mid-way through however where he gets to stretch out a lot more while backed by a warm sounding stand-up bass and it comes off rather well. Gayten is more focused on dexterity than intensity in this section, keeping his left hand to a minimum, but it works well within the song, which has stuck consistently to a mid-tempo groove that sounds even slower than it really is thanks to the languorous manner in which his vocals accent everything.

When it comes to a rather sudden… errStop, using that word as its send-off you can’t help but be impressed, even if you were never quite floored by what it contained.

Sometimes “clever” is a backhanded compliment, a way to draw attention to the fact someone was overthinking their work. If it comes across as cloy then the inventiveness backfires and its creator is seen as too calculating. Yet if it seems natural and effortless, as this does, the same skills that were drawn upon to write, arrange and perform this in such precise fashion to achieve that goal are usually going to be heavily praised.

We won’t go that quite far, it’s almost too odd to be anything more than an amusing diversion to more urgent rock releases that were busily trying to shape the future, but as brief sideline efforts go, this one will bring a smile to your face.


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