No tags :(

Share it

SAVOY 758; AUGUST 1950



Time is the ultimate trickster. It tempts you with promises that it has no intention of ever keeping.

To wit:

Live in the moment.

Yet as soon as you do you’ll often find that time has passed you by.

Paul Williams, who just a year ago was sitting on top of the rock world, was now seeing that his chance to shape the music he had originally helped to define was all but over before he even had time enough to enjoy it.


Dukin’ It Out
In rock’s first three years Paul Williams was one of its biggest stars. He was the first to score a hit with a rock instrumental and with his honking baritone he did as much as anyone to establish its parameters. On his own records and guesting on others Williams was the most consistent selling member of that fraternity, peaking with the cross-cultural phenomenon The Hucklebuck… upon which his commercial fortunes begin to plummet.

Maybe it’s because nothing could live up to that song in people’s minds, or maybe it’s just because the honking sax instrumental craze in rock had crested and there was no place else to take it, but it had to have been rather alarming for Williams when he found that he went from sizzling hot to ice cold in the blink of an eye.

Yet during that fall from the top he didn’t do anything wrong. Though his consistency from single to single had always been a little suspect, he released some of his best sides over the next year to no avail.

So by this point you have to wonder what he was thinking. Does he double down on what got him this far or does he pull back and try something else, maybe make a belated return to try and establish his jazz credentials.

In fact he did both… or tried to at least.

The A-side of this was a rendition of the Duke Ellington jazz standard Jeep’s Blues played totally straight, as if he were disavowing his rock past entirely. Well played though it may be, this is 1950 not 1938 when Duke and his legendary saxophonist Johnny Hodges wrote and recorded it (releasing it under Hodges’ name) and so it’s uncertain who Savoy Records thought would be interested in a throwback record like this in a style far removed from the one for which Williams was known.

Maybe it was just a favor for Williams for all he’d done, as it gave him the chance to play alto, his preferred horn, rather than the baritone he was stuck with on most of his rock sides, but it was too late to turn back now, he was a rocker whether he liked it or not.

And so that left the B-side to pick up the slack and maybe to reassure him that this music was what he was going to be connected to for the rest of his career they even named it Paul’s Boogie in case he got any more bright ideas about leaving behind the genre he had such a vital hand in creating.

Unfortunately going by this compromised effort nobody would’ve protested much if he took a longer sabbatical because this one doesn’t seem to be aware what year it is either, or which side his bread was buttered on.


So Where’s The Boogie, Paul?
There’s a jazzy feel to this one that it never shakes, though at least it never fully gives itself over to that form, ironically thanks to Paul himself. By the sounds of it though everybody else on the session were under the mistaken belief it was 1946.

Actually, to be fair, this WAS cut in the Nineteen-Forties, albeit the last month of 1949 and finally hauled out of mothballs nine months later. But don’t let that wait fool you into thinking it would’ve been better received right after it was cut either, Paul’s Boogie was destined to be behind the curve no matter what month of rock’s odyssey it appeared in.

Lee Anderson’s piano that kicks it off seems as jumpy as a mouse dropped into a snake’s den. Though nimble in its playing it’s not very compelling, nor is it achieving the stated purpose of the song’s title – to establish a boogie beat.

The horns that follow take it even further away from what we expected, the full fusillade – trumpet, two tenors and perhaps Paul doubling on alto – are playing with almost cinematic flair, albeit a big budget crime melodrama in which the good guys predictably win out over the evils of the world without getting their hair mussed or suits dirty.

There’s some faint New Orleans touches to this however with Phil Gilbeau’s trumpet line which I suppose is interesting to hear them try to incorporate but not compelling enough to really care, primarily because it’s out of date too, though in this case we can safely say it’s the other horns that are most at fault for this. Rather than emphasize the rock feel of the Crescent City this takes us back a few years and having left that era behind we have no desire to revisit it now.

As such the track is shaping up to be a combination of disparate sources… glossy studio sheen meets Bourbon Street by way of moldy big band charts… and not a honk or squeal, let alone a grinding riff, anywhere in sight.

Thankfully that’s when Williams jumps into the picture wielding his trusty baritone, determined to restore a sense of mayhem to this far too orderly charade.

A Trip In (And Out) Of The Gutter
Let’s start off this part of the review by separating intent and execution and admit they are two different things, often unrelated to one another.

Paul Williams’s intent on his solo is unimpeachable. He wants to create the excitement and rescue the song from the stomach churning stench of decaying flesh it was emitting through the first half of its running time. Essentially he wanted a song called Paul’s Boogie to be a positive reflection of Paul – that would be him – as well as something reasonably relatable to the term “boogie”, just so nobody held it against him for misleading us, not to mention failing miserably to achieve any semblance of competency in a rock setting.

His execution on the other hand is not all it could be, despite a yeoman effort on his part to obscure the deficiencies of the written song with a lot of noisy blowing.

His first notes are obscene in a gastrointestinal sort of manner, if you catch my drift (and if so, stand downwind to avoid the lingering smell). What follows though is merely a series of mostly aimless short riffs, almost atonal at times, delivered with appropriate conviction but leading nowhere special. The best we can say is that it’s noisy and crude and appears to have rattled the pianist into actually pounding away more fervently, but otherwise don’t try and find much of a tune here.

Basically Williams is just creating as much of a racket as he can for fear that if he lets up even a little the others will come back and try and bring us back in time for another trip around the bandstand and he has to know that’s not going to fly, so he keeps honking away – perhaps hoping to drive the others off in the process.

But this band is a stubborn bunch and they make their re-appearance far too soon, giving us a blaring crescendo in tight formation, smiling at themselves because it’s been planned out so well, unable to realize that such formalized arrangements are an anathema to what’s supposed to be a wild hedonistic rocker.

Pity someone didn’t tell them that.


These May Be Trying Times.. But Try Harder Next Time
Surely Paul Williams and company haven’t completely forgotten how to rock, but somebody – him or the company – seems to have forgotten that you need to go all-in on whatever style you’re trying to connect with.

As disconcerting as it was to see Williams revert to pure jazz on the A-side, at least his intent there was completely unambiguous. Rock fans of the day without a better awareness of song titles to know its origins might’ve been disappointed if they picked it up and expected a rocker, but at least they’d get a song that had a single goal in mind, even if that goal was to please their parents instead of them.

With Paul’s Boogie however we can’t be so tolerant. This was built around Williams’s fierce blowing and thus was designed to be a rocker. That his parts weren’t as creative or functional as he might’ve liked is disappointing for sure, but something that happens from time to time.

What’s not forgivable is the fact that the rest of the band were hell-bent on playing something belonging to another style in another era altogether and that isn’t going to ever work no matter how competently both sides carry out their roles.

Since Williams’s effort is the best thing going here we’ll spare him a trip to the red numbers – barely – but that means our leniency this time around will come back to bite him the next time out if he’s similarly compromised. Then it won’t be an anomaly, but a trend and those can’t be excused if he wants to remain in our good graces.


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