OKEH 6908; AUGUST 1952



In the early history of rock ‘n’ roll there have been a lot of very skilled artists who’ve been shortchanged by the record industry at the time, either dropping their contracts and having no one else pick them up, or going far too long without releases, even things such as changing how they’re billed on the labels, none of which was conducive to sustaining a career.

Though Paul Gayten didn’t suffer from any of those impediments, he nevertheless has to rank near the top of the list for those who were done wrong by the business he was in, as few acts were more well-rounded as he (songwriter, pianist, singer, bandleader and talent scout), and yet despite some great records he seemed to be taken for granted with his own records often treated as an afterthought.

This is one that, while a bit notorious, is something that frankly was beneath him… even though he’s the guy who wrote it.


Down On The Farm
When moving pictures were created near the turn of the previous century, among the first things to be filmed were naked women engaged in deviant acts.

In other words, human beings are perverted by nature and like things which are a bit naughty.

So it’s hardly surprising that slightly risqué – if not obscene – records came along once companies could get away with releasing them and while they weren’t exactly causing anybody any harm, they were still frowned upon which made ones which slipped the off-color bits past the censors destined to be remembered.

Recently we saw Dave Bartholomew do this with My Ding-A-Ling, using a children’s nursery rhyme concept to talk about male and female genitalia. It was successful enough to show that this sort of thing would always have an audience if done by talented artists.

So Paul Gayten, who for years now has sort of been Bartholomew’s quasi-rival as a fellow New Orleans bandleader with his hand in every aspect of making records, wrote They All Ask For You (Down At The Zoo)), something reasonably similar in that it’s using body parts as the source of humor but which on PAPER doesn’t seem dirty – or much good – at all.

However the key to making it effective is in how it’s delivered, as each time Gayten is recounting all of the animals “asking” about this person, he drops the “k” off the word, thereby changing its meaning.

Yup, in 1952 “ass” was a profanity and this was bound to get straitlaced people up in arms, or perhaps blushing with embarrassment, or – if they were lacking inhibitions and deprived of a more highly developed sense of humor – rolling around the floor in hysterics.

…by hearing about a giraffe’s ass!

Caldonia’s Mother’s Jackass
They called these things “novelty” records to try and take some of the onus off them, but it’s not the perceived raunchiness that they should be ashamed of, it’s the song itself and the fact someone thinks it’s funny or sinful or both.

Like the aforementioned Bartholomew original, this too has the kind of structure that is what we like to call “sing-songy”… you know what I mean, things that four year olds drive people crazy by singing on long car rides or in crowded restaurants to annoy their parents.

But those songs tend to lose their appeal when you’re about seven, to say nothing of when you reach puberty or adulthood and might actually have the money to buy a record like They All Ask For You (Down At The Zoo). By then anyone with a modicum of self-respect will refuse to do so for fear of being implicated as an idiot with no musical taste.

To his credit, or everlasting shame (take your pick), Paul Gayten approaches this task with the right frame of mind if it is to work at all, which is with impish enthusiasm, hopefully spurred on by a few quarts of gin or some really potent weed.

The lyrics are designed with one aim in mind, to use potty humor as its hook, as Gayten is telling somebody – man or woman it probably doesn’t matter, though I imagine its an ex-girlfriend who spurned him – about going to places where animals are locked up (farm and zoo) and having all of them individually “asking” for this unnamed person, the inference being they’re “friends” and that’s supposed to be a put-down of the human being.

Frankly after this display I’d rather be friends with a goat than a Gayten since the latter thinks it’s actually humorous to merely roll call these animals one after another, as in “the chickens ass… the hyenas ass… the donkeys ass”, which when sung or spoken makes you think the apostrophe has been removed from each individual animals and… and oh dammit, you can figure it out yourself.


What’s NOT yucky though is the one saving grace of They All Ask For You which is our first appearance of the heavily distorted electric guitar in rock. Forget the more famous sides with Johnny “Guitar” Watson or Paul Burlison playing such things down the road, because this beat them to it by a couple of years and must’ve been shocking to hear at the time even though it’s only a few notes in response to the other musicians.

Actually the sax solo which is far more prominent, is almost is good and the overall rhythm track is pretty relentless, probably to drown out Paul trying to think of more animals to malign, as he’s clearly ad-libbing their names.

The idea that OKeh Records – a subsidiary of Columbia, no less, the most stuck-up of all the major labels – would deem this as an appropriate release is incomprehensible, but even more so is that Gayten himself was the ass responsible for it in the first place.

The fact that the band laid down a track worthy of everything truly depraved in rock ‘n’ roll is actually sort of disappointing, because to hear it that means you have to force yourself to listen to a song that should never come out of the mouth of anyone who no longer has their baby teeth.


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