SAVOY 734; MARCH 1950



Change is hard. Human beings can eventually get used to most things in life, good or bad, but it’s when those things suddenly start to change without their consent or contributions that we see pushback, even when those changes are for the best.

Call it stubbornness or fear the end result is the same, the establishment clings to what they know precisely because they already know it, they’re reasonably comfortable with it and they’ve learned how to navigate that terrain. By contrast anything new is bound to cause them distress due largely to the uncertainty of it all, that lack of safe, secure familiarity that everybody has become accustomed to.

Whether the instigator for change are political protests seeking to upend a thoroughly corrupt and repressive policing system that terrorizes communities with absolutely no legitimate oversight, or whether it’s a musical system that has suddenly become outdated and unfulfilling for a new restless generation of listeners, two things are absolutely certain… there will be widespread resistance to that change by the entrenched defenders of the status quo… and just as certain it is inevitable that the past standards will be forcibly toppled in time.

You can’t hold back progress no matter how hard you try.


Set Up Camp
Paul Williams certainly was aware of this fact of life as much as any rock artist, for he was actually sort of in both camps – the old guard and the young turks.

When Williams appeared on the nascent rock scene in the fall of 1947 he was still struggling to make a name for himself and while he’d come up under the old system of jazz music with their orderly sense of structure and their exacting standards he was looking into a future which didn’t necessarily hold to those same ideals.

Spurred on by producer Teddy Reig, who understood that a new movement was afoot, Williams unleashed his horn and consented to “honk” in order to stir the bristling restive feelings bubbling under the surface of the music fans coming of age and he was rewarded when Thirty-Five Thirty became rock’s first national instrumental hit as 1948 was ushered in.

Since then Williams sort of fluctuated between pushing ahead and giving that audience everything they craved – such as with The Twister – and pulling back as if he were still a little bit wary of moving forward too hastily. But as stated at the beginning the one certainty in any popular groundswell movement is that the more you hold back the more likely you are to be left behind and sure enough as other less conflicted sax players came into the picture Williams’ status as the leading light of the movement began to diminish.

But Williams was no dummy, nor was he a pig-headed obstructionist determined to try and hold back the musical tides, and so whenever he seemed at risk for slipping into the early stages of irrelevancy with a string of subpar releases he’d come out with something that placed him back in the center of the storm, reconfirming his commitment to the rock movement.

But other recent arrivals in his orbit were not quite at that stage yet, something shown on Camp Meeting Bounce, a song written and arranged by Maurice King featuring too many elements of a sound of the past which shows just how far some people still had to go in order to be comfortable in the ever evolving present.


King Of Rhythm? Not Yet
Just who was Maurice King? Well he was an alto sax player by trade who had risen to some level of acclaim overseeing the all-girls band The International Sweethearts Of Rhythm.

Yup, once upon a time all-female bands had to be presented almost as a novelty attraction – if you’ve seen Billy Wilder’s classic comedy Some Like It Hot with Marilyn Monroe that was a similar concept… the idea that men AND women wouldn’t take female musicians seriously on their merit and had to be convinced it was a cute gimmick instead to come and listen.

In spite of the societal snickering The International Sweethearts Of Rhythm were in fact a very good band. King himself was a solid musician and he’d eventually make the transition to rock ‘n’ roll quite nicely, playing a major role at Motown and in between heading up the house band (The Wolverines – pictured) at the legendary Flame Show Bar where a lot of talented Detroit stars emerged from, but at this point he still apparently needed some convincing as to rock’s merits.

He was brought in to write and arrange for Williams for an extended December 1949 session which produced Cranberries (a co-write with Paul) and the top side of this release What’s Happening, both of which showed he was agreeable to trying a rougher sound than what he was used to.

But you know that while guys like this who came of age in another time may have been capable of adapting to rock aesthetics if need be, they’d probably prefer sticking with something more demure if they had their choice, which is why Camp Meeting Bounce is so conflicted.

Meeting Over Yonder
The song has so many touchstones of past styles at the start that at first blush you might think this inadvertently slipped in through a side door or something because surely it doesn’t seem to fit in rock with its declarative intro, a prancing melody setting the scene and the blaring response of the full horn section that make this little more than a refugee from the last days of the swing era.

King both wrote and arranged Camp Meeting Bounce and while he left his alto back at the hotel he’s the one to blame for its outdated approach. Though there’s nothing wrong with it musically – it’s well conceived, in tune and has a sensible structure – it’s completely out of step with rock ‘n’ roll in 1950.

In fact the entire first minute, even the slightly rousing circular loop forty seconds in, would’ve been behind the curve for rock way back in early 1948 just as Williams was first breaking through and artists can’t afford to go backwards from where you’ve already been if they want to remain relevant.

Luckily it’s the man whose name adorns the record itself – Paul Williams – who best understands that and takes pains to ensure that all of his hard-earned gains over the past three years don’t wind up being for naught.


An Ounce Of Bounce
Just when you’re ready to give up on this Williams gets his chance to step out and while baritone saxes aren’t going to give a suitably lusty tenor a run for its money as the ideal soloing horn in a band’s arsenal, it’s still got the power and the suggestiveness to get across a lot of what this song needs to shed some of the “culture” the song has unfortunately been saddled with.

Williams gets right to honking, almost like he were a doctor who saw the patient turning blue and didn’t want to waste time checking vital statistics. He knows what this needs is an adrenaline shot to the heart of some kind and his horn’s most fervent raunchy tones are all that can save it following the trumpet lead-in which almost caused Camp Meeting Bounce to flatline.

Once Williams gets some much needed oxygen flowing through the song’s veins with a series of strong bawdy honks he starts to ease off, stretching his notes and giving them almost a bleating tone at times before getting into a back and forth with the tenor, though even that doesn’t quite sound dirty enough for our tastes.

Williams’ appearance isn’t long, it lasts all of about 45 seconds and much of the last twenty seconds in the background to boot, hardly enough to turn the tide but at least it kept the record from being shipped off to the morgue altogether.

The rest of the song’s run is given over to the other horns, including Williams on alto, a far less muscular sounding instrument, and while they play with some genuine enthusiasm these parts are completely devoid of the grungy melodic attitude that sets rock apart.

Future Motown kingpin Benny Benjamin is the one who is providing the real power to the rest of the track, slamming away on the drums with dogged determination, maybe the only one there who knows just what audience will make or break this record and who is all too aware that it’s in the process of being broken by the collective mindset of everyone else involved.

The Meeting Is Adjourned
It’s been stated around here often enough that in the singles era with two sides to each record it was never a bad bet to give listeners two different approaches on a release.

Since the top side was a vocal record with the appropriate fire to warm the hearts of rock fans then you could conceivably let up on the pressure a bit on the B-side and appeal to someone a little bit different, thereby keeping those who may not be as gung-ho about the more gaudy sounds of rock somewhat placated.

The problem is Camp Meeting Bounce doesn’t do that. Though it’s far too dated stylistically to have much appeal for rockers it contains just enough rock attributes in Paul’s baritone spot and the prevailing backbeat to ensure that it will still be housed in this department. Yet because those aspects aren’t emphasized enough it will fail to be appreciated by that constituency.

So to offset that you’d have to go even further towards the jazzier big band approach that this seems to favor early on even if by doing so you’d piss us off to no end.

Instead Maurice King seems to have envisioned a compromise wherein some facets would recall the past while others would make tentative concessions to the demands of the present.

Yet that will never work, for the only thing those types of compromises do – whether dealing with social unrest or musical tumult – is merely put the important decisions off for another day.

But time won’t wait and those pushing for REAL change will need to be even more determined to overthrow those holding back these changes, tear down the old structures and wipe the slate clean then start over so we can make some truly transformative progress.


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