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SAVOY 721; DECEMBER, 1949

 
 

 

Yesterday we went into a long drawn out introduction to lead into the fact that while the side of this record we covered first was indeed the A-side of the release, and therefore a sensible pick as to which song to lead our reviews of the latest Paul Williams single, it was actually a conflicted choice because it was cut a month after today’s side.

Normally that wouldn’t be a very big deal, after all who really cares what dates the two sides of a record were laid down in the studio unless they’re a year or more apart, but in this case there was a reasonable debate as to which of the songs should be covered first because this record marks the start of Williams’s run with a new band.

Since today’s song was recorded the first time they entered the studio together THIS would seem to be the more logical choice to lead off the coverage of Savoy 721 with, if only to introduce the new participants at the same time Williams himself got to meet them, but obviously we went with the A-side which had been cut just a few days before this record got released.

Most of the time our pedantic reasoning for such pointless decisions might not be that interesting for those who only care about the songs themselves, not the particulars of who, what, where and when, but in this case it actually WAS the songs themselves that decided which got first billing… the more explosive one, the better one.

But that doesn’t mean this side isn’t worth revisiting also, especially since we’ll get to see what they brought to the table at the very beginning and thus maybe it will allow us to better understand what they came up with down the road.

 

 

Chugging Cranberry Juice
I know I’m making too much of this but bear with me because I had a reason for it and that reason was somebody who deserves more historical recognition, namely tenor sax stalwart Freddy Jackson who made his recording debut at twenty years of age at these Paul Williams sessions.

Though Jackson plays on both sides of the record it was his rip-roaring solo in the second half of Cranberries which provided him with his best moments and that in turn provided us with the better platform to formally introduce him.

That might not seem like too big of a deal, after all both of these songs are being covered a day apart, chances are if you read one review you’ll read the other and the same glowing praise for Jackson will be absorbed, maybe just in a different order.

Okay, fair enough, but one of the aspects of this site that has proved to be more potentially rewarding than anticipated (for me anyway, I can’t speak for any of you) was the opportunity to shed some light on a few people, be it artists, sidemen, songwriters or producers, who generally get left behind in the bigger stories, that is if they’re even mentioned at all. Paul Williams, though not as widely known today as he deserves to be for launching the rock instrumental craze in the first place, still is at least a fairly recognizable name in the Twenty-First Century, at least among more astute music fans.

But the same can’t be said for Freddy Jackson, something shown by the mere fact that despite recording for more than a decade behind some pretty big name artists, even getting a Chuck Willis single named for him – Blow Freddy Jackson – along the way, he remains fairly obscure. It’s tough to even find a photo of him outside of those taken when he cut his lone solo album in 1962.

Considering that Williams’s has had more than a dozen reviews on these pages already, many of which were rated better than average, very good or great, the always popular “editorial decision” settled the matter on just which of these sides would get the first slot in the lineup. We went with Cranberries because it was the one in which Jackson was more of the featured player and his introduction was well worth making a big deal about.

But it was Juice Bug Boogie where he actually earned money to blow his sax on a recording session for the first time and though less compelling from the standpoint of what he’s asked to do, he shows that he knew what he was doing from the start.
 


 
 

Get The Bugs Out
Unfortunately though the same can’t be said for the others here. I don’t mean that Williams and company, including veteran producer Teddy Reig who was the one most responsible for shifting Williams from middling jazz to honking rock in the first place, were exactly falling all over themselves in the studio on this early November day, but let’s just say their initial intent with the song was a little compromised.

The reason for this malady isn’t surprising to anyone who’s been following along these last two years, for once again the culprit is found in the arrangement as they harken back to a full horn chart to open Juice Bug Boogie making it sound like a stale leftover from a few years earlier.

Old habits are indeed hard to break and when the band’s only holdover besides Paul himself is trumpeter Phil Guilbeau you probably are right to expect that he’ll get too big a featured spot to do the song much good. Sure enough that’s what happens, though at least the other horns, all played by selfless men no doubt who don’t mind sharing the spotlight, gallantly join in on that intro so Phil doesn’t have to shoulder the entire blame himself.

So be it, but the blame only gets spread around then because while the pace and energy they play with is fine, the overall tone which their massed horns create is not. I need to just cut and paste the same diatribe each time we come across this vexing issue but basically it comes down to the fact that higher range horns, like the aforementioned trumpet, are either not a) aggressive enough, b) dirty enough, c) exciting enough or d) all of the above.

The correct answer is of course D and because of that flaw the record – though not falling on its face out of the gate – is stuck trying to run uphill on a waxed surface wearing sneakers with no tread… they keep slipping back.

Who knows, maybe someone spilled some of this juice on the floor and that has them lacking traction, though usually juice tends to be kinda sticky so we’ll just keep blaming the trumpet, it saves time.

As a result of this outdated lead-in the song isn’t going to be able to compete with the top side, nor any recent hit instrumental that has long since tossed the trumpet players in the closet, or at least pushed them further away from the microphone.

It doesn’t help either that Paul Williams has switched from baritone to his original instrument the alto sax which takes the lead on Juice Bug Boogie. Don’t get me wrong, he plays it well and with a fair amount of grit too, but when the song is already hamstrung by those riffing 1947-styled horns you really need a deeper more obscene sound to offset that and since that’s the primary role of the baritone sax – even when backing a tenor lead – then you wish somebody had reminded them all of this before they started.
 


 

Moving Forward While Looking Backwards
The presence of Freddy Jackson here doesn’t add much, mainly because he’s not asked to DO much, nor is the other tenor horn played by Cranford Wright. They’re just part of the ensemble, hitting the right notes but not standing out. The new rhythm section is likewise doing just enough to make their presence known without trying to be really noticed. This could’ve really used a sudden dropping out of every instrument, then a kinetic drum solo in a herky jerky stop-start style, maybe with a honk or two from a horn, or a flashy fill by the pianist, just to shake things up a little. Then if Williams comes back in for the end around run he might score a little easier.

Instead the arrangement is simplistic, though at least energetic, starting off fast and never changing speed, making it rather monotonous for something that was designed to be exhausting.

Because this was their first time in the studio together I’ll cut them a little slack maybe for not really being aware of what they had to work with, though considering they cut just three songs, not the standard four, two of which (including a first attempt of Cranberries) went unissued, that means they probably had more time to try and work something better out for Juice Bug Boogie.

Had they turned the second half into a duel between Williams and Jackson that could’ve been interesting, though truthfully if I put my producer’s hat back on for a second time in one review, it’d have worked better if they let Paul play alto in the first half, then after that drum led bridge I cleverly devised he could’ve switched to baritone for the back and forth war of the saxes with Jackson.

But all of that is of course an ex-post-facto suggestion and Teddy Reig – not to mention Williams himself – had enough experience in these things where they shouldn’t need an outsider’s help to craft a more effective song.

I’m sure Williams was anxious to show off on alto again after honking so many crude lines on baritone, and to be fair he does a good job, but the song itself, or rather the unambitious arrangement of the song, lets him down in the end.
 

 

Regrouping
The month away from the studio that followed was apparently time well spent, for when they returned they didn’t hide Jackson away in the shadows, they brought his horn into the light and were better for it.

Juice Bug Boogie winds up being merely okay for what it became – the decent, if underwhelming, B-side to a better performance, but more importantly in retrospect it was simply a chance for a new group of young musicians to get their feet wet in the studio and work those butterflies out, get used to the overall atmosphere and the process of cutting tracks while the clock ticks and expectations are high. Don’t forget they were working with an artist who has basically carried the flag for the instrumental record in rock, and for Savoy’s place in the parade, for the past two years so if they were feeling some pressure it wouldn’t be too surprising.

Now that those Williams had shared the responsibility with are gone from Savoy, namely his fellow sax honkers Wild Bill Moore and Big Jay McNeely, the burden for keeping this sound thriving on the label falls back on Williams who thankfully for him, not to mention us, has found someone in Freddy Jackson who can take some of the load off his shoulders if he’s allowed to do so.

Here he wasn’t quite allowed to try but the fact he’s on board going forward is a good sign for them all. Considering the last two bands Williams had led wound up doing just fine it is a pretty good bet that this one will turn out to be worth the time we’ve spent here letting them get their feet under them. That won’t get them quite a passing grade today but that’s why we focused on their best effort first, leaving this as merely a footnote to what hopefully would be a run of solid work still to come.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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