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The tie-in. A longstanding roundabout way to try and ensure airplay and ongoing congenial relations with certain key figures in music promotional circles, usually broadcasters of some renown. Oftentimes it was done by giving a powerful dee-jay a cut of the publishing, perhaps even a songwriting credit, both of which meant the dee-jay would have a financial incentive for pushing the record.

A bribe in other words. Payola.

Everybody’s Doin’ It
I mean, let’s not get TOO polite about the practice, it’s not as if the record industry was the home of saints and angels helping little old ladies across the street in the pouring rain while sheltering stray puppies under their coat and dropping their spare change in Salvation Army buckets on the corner with their free hand. Mostly record people were simply well-organized hustlers, a little more well-heeled than those plying their trade on the street by dealing three card monte to the dimwitted saps who passed by, but essentially the two were brothers under the skin. The ones who got off those streets and into the record business did so simply by being a little sharper than most and having a bit more ambition, but a large part of their hustle along the way was buddying up to those who could help them. The ones who could help them the most were whoever could get the record heard by the most people. Initially that meant jukebox operators, but as radio began to slowly open up to more varied types of music then their attention shifted to the dee-jay.

Soon it became standard practice for a bottle of good scotch to be hand delivered by a record executive as they swung through town on a promotional trip, maybe a suit of clothes given as a thank you for breaking the last record they put out… and of course taking them out to dinner was all but mandatory for any label owner when they were in the vicinity, replete with all of the back slapping and ass kissing they could muster without throwing up.

You wonder what these men thought of such practices. The image of the label owners of the era remains greasy little men chomping on cigars and counting pennies, and Herman Lubinsky who ran Savoy Records was often cited as the epitome of this stereotype, but they at least were running a pretty involved operation – signing artists, recruiting musicians, arrangers and producers, dealing with pressing plants and record distributors and needing enough of a legal mind to find loopholes in whatever contractual dealings they undertook so they could rip off those artists, musicians, arrangers and producers down the road. It may not have been a glamorous life but it was decidedly more complex than simply spinning records on the air that somebody else (namely them) had sweated over making… or so they must’ve thought.

So just what went through their minds when they were reduced to slobbering all over a disc jockey just to entice him to do his job and play their latest records? Was it just seen as part of the job description of owning your own label or was it resented?

The Art Of The Hustle
And what of the disc jockey themselves? The best of them, those who had the choicest time slot on the biggest stations in each town and thus were the beneficiaries of these bribes, hadn’t gotten that assignment by sheer luck, they’d had to work for it. Hustle if you will.

Most had started off small, at the far ends of the dial on remote whistle stop stations that went off the air at sundown, struggling to build up an image only to have to abruptly switch formats when they hopped to another station, jumping from classical music to hillbilly to light pop to jazz and back again, each stop requiring a new on-air persona that needed to be crafted and honed, before these men eventually found their niche in the burgeoning rock ‘n’ roll field.

But there was no assurance that this organized chaos they spun each night was going to last a year let alone long enough to retire on. If not for them and their shows which drew big audiences thanks in part to their nonsensical patter they added to the proceedings then none of this noise would likely ever be heard by enough potential record buyers to allow the record companies to stay afloat.

A disc-jockey wasn’t the most glamorous of jobs to begin with. Most of them were earning modest salaries and were usually forced to spend their hours off the air recruiting advertisers, treating THEM to dinner to get them to buy some ad time on their show, and then when they had a night off, instead of being home relaxing and enjoying the blessed silence for once more often than not they’d have to emcee a live show which would supplement their income enough to pay the note on their flashy car or suburban ranch house. The celebrity aspect of the job was largely an anonymous one, as listeners knew only their voices in the dark, and even the most faithful listener could pass them on the street or stand next to them in line at the drugstore and not recognize them.

But their role was vital in spreading the gospel of early rock ‘n’ roll to listening audiences and in the process fattening the bank accounts of the record label execs who made the music.

Surely THEY were entitled to some of the riches and glory too, weren’t they?

The Old Swingmaster
We’ve already met Paul Williams many times on Spontaneous Lunacy and while he can be given a good deal of credit for inventing the rock instrumental with Hastings Street Bounce and then bringing the newfound form its widest attention to date with Thirty-Five Thirty in the process also elevating the saxophone to prominence in the emerging musical kingdom, nobody likely ever asked him what HE thought of all of these backroom shenanigans between record companies and on air personalities.

What did he know anyway, he was just a musician. Someone who probably was seen as just lucking into this rock ‘n’ roll movement in the first place, who hit upon an approach, a sound, that seemed novel to listeners at the time and they – both Savoy and the dee-jays – would ride that sound for as long as it paid off in silver dollars. Whenever its appeal stopped and audiences moved on to something else, Williams would either have to adjust quickly or be replaced by someone else who could deliver the goods on whatever new came along.

But in the winter of 1948 Paul Williams was hot. He was riding a strong hit at the time and in the process helping to elevate this musical mongrel child to a position of prominence, and both he and Savoy presumably wanted MORE hits, however they could get them. Therefore he was both a commodity and a tool, something in demand for the time being but also something that those in positions of power to expose that record could demand something from in exchange for that exposure. One hand washes the other and all that.

Chicago disc jockey Al Benson was in just such a position of power.

One of the first black dee-jays of note in the country, Benson reigned supreme over the tastes of the Midwest’s largest city. It wasn’t just the music he played, but the fact that, unlike many of the other early black jocks, Benson didn’t try and “sound white”. He spoke in a natural language filled with slang that connected him immediately with the community he was aiming at and made him almost a deity to that populace. For eight years running, 1946-1954, he captured the title of unofficial “Mayor Of Bronzeville” in the yearly contest run by the town’s black newspaper, The Chicago Defender.

Benson truly earned the claim of The Godfather Of Black Radio and as such it can be safely assumed that he already had a well-stocked liquor cabinet, a closet full of nice suits paid for by other record men, and his social calendar for the next month was crammed with dinner reservations as label execs came through town to break bread with him as they pushed their wares on him over appetizers and drinks. So the question arises, what do you get a disc jockey who seemingly has it all?

Why not give him his own song?

More Bounce To The Ounce
You have to admit, Bouncing With Benson had a nice ring to it, though surely it was named without Paul Williams’s official blessing, or quite likely without him even being aware of its new moniker when it hit the streets.

It was an instrumental after all. A song without lyrics and thus a song without a ready-made title built in. It didn’t particularly matter what you called it, as long as you called it something so that buyers could find it in the stores and on the jukebox and so radio listeners could request it by name. But why waste time with the latter and wait for them to request it by calling the station? Why not have the station play it each and every night as the lead-in to their most popular show? Sort of saves time, doesn’t it?

So Bouncing With Benson it became, a gaudy, and very public, tribute to the man who could potentially do it, and the label, the most good. Ingenious, isn’t it?

Lubinsky congratulated himself on avoiding picking up another dinner check, Al Benson got the prestige that went along with having your own theme music made by a popular artist, and as for Williams… well he likely wasn’t getting paid more than scale for this anyway so what the hell did he care? As long as it got played and boosted his profile in the process, that’d have to suffice.

As a result the record is heard every night over the airwaves in Chicago and gets them an armful of sales around Illinois …But what about Baltimore? Or Philadelphia? And New York? What about the south and the west coast? Surely those areas had radio stations that played records too, didn’t they? And those stations reached audiences that presumably went out and bought the records they heard and liked the most, right? Hell, what about the rival stations in the Midwest itself? What were THEY getting out of this cloak and dagger deal? Those stations didn’t employ Benson. Those stations had their own dee-jays with their own shows and their own clever monikers and they’d be damned if they were going to play a song named after a rival and then have to ANNOUNCE it with Benson’s name prominently attached besides!!!!

All the bottles of scotch, all of the sharp suits of clothes and all the fancy dinners Lubinsky could offer them wasn’t going to get it airplay anywhere else now.

So much for this idea.



Back To The Drawning Board
Ahh, that’s okay. Those dee-jays didn’t miss out on much here.

The record’s charms are rather routine by now. The riff even sounds familiar without sounding exciting. Insistent, but not frantic. Melodic, but not memorable. It wanders around fairly aimlessly, acoustic bass plucking away underfoot in search of a destination. It’s the musical equivalent of a tipsy reveler separated from the crowds, staggering about in a daze, blissfully unaware of his surroundings, trying to find his way back to the party but never quite getting there and never really caring much one way or another, content to find some park bench to curl up on and drift off, not harming anybody.

It’s not awful, it’s just old hat. Run of the mill. A pleasant groove, but none too deep. Gently rolling rather than grabbing your attention. No honks, no squeals, no passion or fury, though Cash Box declared “it rocks all over the place”, at least providing a sign that the intent of this music wasn’t being lost on listeners. But it isn’t pushing the envelope any in that regard either. It’s not old fashioned as much as it’s just sort of lethargic, doing absolutely nothing to force you to pay attention to it.

Actually, what’s it’s good for is exactly what it became – the theme song of a radio show where the dee-jay spends most of the time talking OVER the record, trumpeting his own next live appearance at a dance that Friday night that will put more money in the deejay’s pocket than his salary for that night’s program will. As the song continues he’ll segue into crowing about the latest sponsor to sign on to the show, touting their hair tonic, foot powder or white-wall tires as the undulating saxophone riffs churns on under his endless spiel. Finally as the record winds down Al Benson will do his patter about the great show he has in store that night for all his loyal listeners, rattling off a few names of those who sent in telegrams and asked to hear the latest record… by someone else.

He’ll then spin the next record… on a different label… by a different artist… its spin bought and paid for by that record company in cold hard cash. As that song plays Benson takes Williams’s Bouncing With Benson off the turntable and puts it back on the shelf, pours himself a glass of scotch given to him in appreciation by another label for playing the record that he’ll cue up next, without any jive spoken over it to obscure the music. Then over the next three hours he’ll play a half dozen records from whatever company paid for the suit he’s wearing as the fluorescent lights reflecting off it casts a sickly blue tint on his sallow bronze cheeks.

Sometime during the course of the show as those records play one after another he’ll take a call from Lubinsky who tells him he’ll be coming through Chicago in about a week and how he’d sure like to see him, take him out to dinner and show his gratitude for all Benson has done for him in the past… and all he hopes he’ll do for him in the future.

Benson will smile and tell Herman he’d be glad to get together with him and go bouncing around town, and all the while each of them will be silently tallying up what that visit will be worth to them.

At the same time all of this takes place, somewhere far, far away in the hinterlands of America, Paul Williams will play another show on a bandstand in some dingy club. At some point during the night he’ll play a song with a title that perversely celebrates such sleazy goings-on and at the end of the gig he will collect maybe all of 65 dollars from the gate, splitting it with his band members who will drink or gamble it away later that night. Then, exhausted from playing for hours on end with barely a break, Williams will try to go to sleep in the back of a cramped station wagon as they roll through the desolate night to their next stop on tour.

The record industry though never sleeps.


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