No tags :(

Share it

SAVOY 814; AUGUST 1951



One early rock star who never seems to get much credit for his achievements or for his surprisingly deep musical influence is Paul Williams.

Maybe it’s because he was sax player not a singer, maybe it was because he actually had to be coaxed into honking up a storm when he started out, or maybe it’s just because there’s hardly any mainstream credit for artists from this era to begin with and he got nudged out of the way by more flamboyant names, but his legacy shouldn’t be lacking in any way and yet it is.

Even around here at times.

So here’s an attempt to remedy that by pointing out just how this reluctant rocker kept on churning out solid records long after he might’ve been compelled to give it up and do something else.


When I Get To Rockin’
The Paul Williams story – which actually covers a lot of ground – can be summed in a fairly concise way:

He was one of the original honkers, releasing the first sax instrumental in rock, scoring the first hit and later the biggest hit, even if he – like a lot of aspiring jazz musicians who turned to seedier pursuits to pay the bills – was never all that thrilled to be doing so.

Yet when the rockin’ instrumentals began to cool down in the marketplace once the vocalists became more experienced and figured out how to match the fireworks while adding far more variety to the musical spectrum in the process, it’s important to note that Williams did not try and trade in rock for something more polite and respectable.

In fact, he – more than most sax men- sought to change things up by bringing in singers to give his records something new. Joan Shaw turned in a great performance on He Knows How To Hucklebuck and Connie Allen nearly matched her on What’s Happening. Even when his original band packed their bags and left over time, he simply brought in new members who were often just as good and just as committed to rocking and rolling as he was proving to be.

Though the hits weren’t coming anymore and there were some unimaginative efforts thrown in, you still had to admire the effort he made to stay fresh.

Now with Rockin’ Chair Blues he tries again for a vocal hit, this time with a rambunctious and slightly crude Danny Cobbs handling the singing.

Cobbs may not be the right man for the job, but Williams has got the right idea here at least, which is to try and keep up with the times and whip up the excitement his instrumentals used to do all on their own.


Rock All Day And Rock All Night
Which you notice first when this record kicks off says a lot about if you’re a glass half full or half empty person.

The half empty ones might cringe at Danny Cobbs’ gangbusters delivery. For starters he doesn’t have a great voice, just an ample amount of projection which he surely hopes will overwhelm any complaints about his higher pitch and strained tone. He’s enthusiastic, which is good, but needs to be put on a tighter leash so the vitality he brings is restrained enough that when he does let it fly at key points there’s an actual difference to be heard… a jolt of energy to lift the record up rather than let it go on unabated and batter the listener senseless.

But the glass half full crowd – at least those in the present day – might be intrigued to notice a few things that sound familiar to their ears, such as lines that were, if not cribbed by Jesse Stone, at least obliquely referenced in his 1955 classic for Big Joe Turner, Flip, Flop And Fly.

Of course the fact that Cobbs is not Big Joe renders even the best lines somewhat stillborn, but give him credit for never deviating from what he believes is his most effective line of attack and as it goes on there are moments where you see his point. The way he holds a few notes until they’ve been stretched to their limit shows he has a good instinct for the big payoff… if he just had the discipline to see that it’d work better if he held that in reserve until he needed it and dialed it down the rest of the time.

But Rockin’ Chair Blues does at least give him a good song to flex his muscles on, as aside from the Stone comps it’s got the kind of loose structure filled with lyrics that are more statements than story, an attitude reduced to a handful of generic statements that work because they’re so direct and unambiguous… the very things that rock ‘n’ roll made its name on.

The backing vocals chanting “Gonna rock, rock, rock” might not come close to matching his vigor, but they at least keep the song pointed in the right direction in the hopes the band can match the frenzied assault when they take over.


Have A Party
The short answer is… no, not quite and the longer answer is… maybe that’s a good thing.

Paul Williams is a baritone sax player, though he’d prefer playing alto, but neither are the kind of rough and raw horn the tenor sax is and so his options are fairly limited unless he’s got someone like Wild Bill Moore or Freddy Jackson (his former associates at various times) in tow and is willing to cede the spotlight for the type of balls to the wall solo you’d expect on this.

But once again he’s breaking in another band, this time with Curtis Porter handling the tenor, and apparently he doesn’t feel as if he’s ready for the spotlight because Porter doesn’t factor in much at all, other than playing a simple riff behind Williams who gets the solo.

It’s not a bad solo though, even if it is pretty confined due to the nature of the horn. The baritone just doesn’t have the range or flexibility to break away from the core riff and so he’s got to be more insistent than dynamic about it.

He does that pretty effectively for the most part on Rockin’ Chair Blues and after Cobbs’ manic delivery in the vocal department it’s not the worst decision to get this back on track. Whoever the guitarist is adds just enough melodic wrinkles to keep the song interesting and both Lee Anderson and Joe Booker are earning their paychecks with strong turns on piano and drums respectively.

But in the end the entire band, whether they like it or not, are simply along for the ride here as Cobbs’ lead foot and reckless handling of the vehicle always threaten to end up in a ditch, bouncing off a light pole or weaving between a Greyhound bus and a cement mixer at 75 MPH, yet somehow manages to keep it on the road until they get where they were going.

Or simply ran out of gas in the middle of the street.

Rock Most Anywhere
Though this would have been a better record with a more skilled vocalist, it’s not a record that’s penalized as much for not having one, simply because his primary job is to create a commotion and sound as if he’s genuinely enjoying it.

Danny Cobbs clearly was enjoying this and so, maybe in spite of your better instincts, you may enjoy Rockin’ Chair Blues too… in the right circumstances anyway.

While that generally infers a party situation, it also might mean more specific circumstances like say this point in Paul Williams’ career, where he needs to draw some attention to keep Savoy interested in issuing his records without verifiable hits to show for them.

This is his first release since last December, so obviously they were losing faith in his ability to make it worth their while. The company itself had already transitioned from their instrumental heavy early days in rock, so Cobb’s presence here might have had something to do with the heavy push Savoy gave this one.

It didn’t help much, the record just slipped into one regional chart for only a week, but the flurry of ads and the virtual guarantee that no one who heard it would walk away from it without feeling as if they’d been roughed up a little – and yes, it did “jump, hop, rock and roll” – may have been all Williams needed to keep at in this line of work going forward.

That’s something I guess.


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