SAVOY 814; AUGUST 1951



Though the decision for saxophonist Paul “Hucklebuck” Williams to hand over the starring role on a few singles to a couple of vocalists over the past few years was a good one in terms of diversifying his output and creating songs that had potentially broader appeal since stories went with the music, he WAS still an instrumentalist at heart and as such he needed to keep his hat in this ring each time out as well.

At the moment there seemed to be little chance that instrumentals would result in huge hits as they had just a few years back, but unless you keep putting them out you’ll never know what might connect.

Actually that’s probably not entirely true… you should’ve known this one wouldn’t connect.


Time To Get Hopping
When the honking died down and the hits dried up, not just for Paul Williams but all of the sax madmen of rock’s first few years, the musicians and record labels weren’t exactly sure what to do.

The artists themselves may have been relieved to ease off the histrionics as most of them were jazz reared to begin with and probably hoped to bring their music back in line with their own more modest tastes.

Likewise record companies never seemed to intrinsically trust ANY of their artists to come up with quality original material and so a return to cutting recognizable standards, a la Freddie Mitchell on Derby, was always a sensible game plan to their conservative tastes, even if it meant they would be able to steal the writing credits or publishing on these songs.

But more than the source material, it was the style that was in flux as we got further into the 1950’s. No longer was simply being musically ostentatious going to be enough to draw interest and so each saxophonist had to figure out for themselves what areas had both commercial potential and a certain amount of musical respectability for their talents.

With Sinner’s Hop however Paul Williams was taking a wait and see approach, almost putting off making a decision by sticking with something that was intentionally modest, paying equal attention to melody and rhythm without actually emphasizing either one in satisfying way.

Maybe the only sin here was in thinking this would get you hopping.


One Part Nondescript, Two Parts… Lost?
To be fair, this isn’t a bad performance by any means, just a fairly uninteresting and certainly unexciting record for a rock act in the midst of a long commercial draught.

The fact Savoy chose this as the A-side to the single initially before seeming to realize almost immediately – if going by their many ads for the record – that it was the vocal on the flip that had the most potential appeal, tells you that nobody had much conviction in the direction this seemed to indicate they were taking.

In effect Sinner’s Hop is sort of designed to be a compromise track, giving listeners milder elements of every potential aspect that might be of interest without deciding on which to push hardest, hoping maybe their response would tell them what to focus on next time out.

That’s sort of taking market testing to the extreme but the results as a standalone record are at least tolerable as the initial group riff with Williams adding accent notes below is catchy enough.

Once he steps out front though the song becomes more of an exercise in killing time, as Williams plays a meandering pattern while the piano rattles along behind, the simplistic rhythm of his baritone keeping you from noticing there’s no riveting melody to latch onto and thus no hook to get you coming back for more.

His playing itself is fine but largely inessential by nature because there’s no tension, no build up to anything that will stick in your mind. The band is hardly window dressing, the record is leaning on the full group arrangement to fill in the picture around Williams, but in no way are they standing out. Their individual parts are relatively bland while collectively they’re merely scenery.

Because of the unusual writing credits, which read “Paul Williams and Co.”, you wonder how Sinner’s Hop was dreamed up. That would indicate a jam session with musicians trading riffs back and forth until a reasonable outline took shape, but this sounds like the antithesis of that process. For starters there aren’t any riffs outside of Williams and even his is constructed in rather rudimentary fashion.

Lee Anderson gets the other soloing spot on piano but he sounds like he’s taking cues from the tinny parts most often found on Freddie Mitchell instrumentals and though he never quite reaches the extremes of those, his section is certainly not adding anything worthwhile here.

The fact that this was just half of the original performance – you’ll note the “Part I” on the label – makes this release even more curious. The second half was never released and usually the two halves are simply split over both sides of a single. This one fades out so it definitely was a longer take cut down to size rather than two separate recordings, but if this was the better and more interesting half then why would you admit publicly that there was more of it?


More Unforgivable Sins
The periods of rock when certain styles of the larger whole were in flux are usually not given much historical attention other than to point to the stretch as the very reason why the next big thing was so important… to distance itself from that preceding dry spell.

In the saxophone wing of rock ‘n’ roll however the glory days – at least in terms of standalone records – was already over and while there’d be a few more hit instrumentals over the years, the horn was still in the process of figuring out a new role, one where it’d be unleashed in shorter increments to bring instant excitement to vocal records.

The formula wasn’t quite worked out though, as Rockin’ Chair Blues on the other side shows full well, as it was the vocals that tried knocking you over while the horn break slowed things down again.

Still, that was a better approach than the bland mediocrity of Sinner’s Hop, a misleading title if ever there was one.

While admittedly that shows how you can’t necessarily take such things at face value, on this same date they cut a song entitled – I kid you not –
Big Dick

There was no one playing on the session with the name Richard so you have to assume that it was given this title for more sinful reasons or more likely as a joke to poke fun at the idea of this music being sinful.

Whatever the reason behind it though I think we can all agree that lost side would at least have one more thing going for it than this one does when it came to piquing your curiosity.


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