Truth in advertising is one of those phrases that everyone knows and nobody knows precisely what it entails in a legal sense.

In essence it means that you can’t make claims that are not accurate in an attempt to sell your product. You can’t claim cigarettes are healthy, can’t insist that drinking grape juice will make you irresistible to the opposite sex or that horse de-worming pills will cure of you of potentially deadly respiratory diseases.

But in music the only area that would technically fall under this broad definition is that a record has contain some sound on it. Music, like art, is often in the eye of the beholder and so if we can’t agree on quality we probably can’t agree on much else.

Yet if the statute of limitations hasn’t expired yet on a record from late 1950 I’d request that The Federal Trade Commission delve into Savoy Records for intentionally misleading consumers with the title of this record, because while it unquestionably qualifies as music, I’m not so sure that “rock” would be the genre it belongs in.


Under The Shell
These are the records we just got done claiming we’d be doing away with reviewing in our effort to speed up our endless trip through rock history.

The borderline songs, even by big name artists, were taking up time that might be better spent delving into more appropriate material coming down the pike and so in an attempt to get to the music of the Twenty-First century before we’re in the next one, it was decided that these kind of records would be jettisoned.

You know the types I’m talking about… the ones like… well, like Turtle Rock, a song with only the slimmest connection to rock ‘n’ roll even if it was being done by one of rock’s most stalwart acts.

Since we hate to skip over a release by such an important figure there seemed to be an easy remedy to this conundrum as surely we could just flip the record over and use the B-side as the designated entrant, making just passing mention of THIS song when explaining why, despite the title, we weren’t reviewing it.

Then we listened to Blues At Daybreak which, like this song, is a misleading title to say the least. It’s not blues in any way, shape or form and is in fact even further from our neck of the woods than the one about tortoises.

Which meant we were either going to just pretend that Paul Williams went on an extended sabbatical for the winter or we were going to go back on our word and review a record that – all things being equal – really has no business being here.

Crawling Back
First thing’s first… just so we can spare Paul Williams a little bit of dignity here, let me tell you that this record as being dragged out of mothballs almost three YEARS after it had been cut.

It was in March 1948 when, violating the recording ban that was in effect then, Paul Williams went into a studio in his hometown of Detroit and laid down this side.

At the time rock ‘n’ roll was just about six months old – on record anyway – and while Williams had scored already with the first hit rock instrumental, Thirty-Five Thirty, he, along with the rest of Western Civilization, were hardly sure this style would last another six months, let alone another seventy some odd years and counting.

So it was entirely understandable for him to deviate from that formula. Admirable even. After all, diversity is never a bad thing in any walk of life and in music your ability to play different types of songs for different audiences might ensure you remain a working musician rather than a frustrated furniture salesman who once played in a band when they were younger before giving up on their dreams to earn a respectable living.

Besides, Williams WAS cutting rock songs still… great ones at that… and when The Twister came out later that spring it showed them all that this kind of music might not be just a passing fad and may even be worth pursuing more ardently. As a result this milder side from that same session was put on the shelf and forgotten… until Savoy was cleaning house and stumbled across it, came up with the bright idea of misleading their loyal customers by naming it Turtle Rock – as instrumentals generally did not have titles applied until late in the game anyway – and threw it onto the market just before Christmas when sales usually lagged thanks to the holidays.

What this tells you, aside from living up to the low reputation of record companies in general, is that the term “rock’ had officially entered the pantheon of surefire selling points in the industry… or at least this part of the industry. The fact that Williams was an established star in this field didn’t hurt its cause either, as audiences would be more likely to buy it because they trusted his reputation.

Of course after hearing it that reputation wouldn’t be nearly as infallible going forward if what you expected was something that actually… ya know… rocked!

Slow And Easy
So having explained its origins and its subsequent marketing deception, let’s explain why the record is so unsuited to its name, even if it’s not completely removed from the idiom.

The one “good” thing about this belated release is that we get to hear Williams with his original first rate band. That means you not only have Williams blowing the baritone but also Wild Bill Moore on tenor, giving them two top notch saxophonists to share the duties of getting you moving and grooving.

Or as it were, sitting and snoozing.

The one aspect of the title Turtle Rock that is accurate is the reference to the slow moving reptile because this is ponderous and deliberate in everything it does. The main riff which starts things off and is reprised again later could probably be called “prancing”, as it does have a little sashay to it that is fairly catchy. Everything else though is taken at a crawling pace.

But that doesn’t mean it’s BAD, just inappropriate for our needs. In truth the record is a fairly easy listen, moving from one section to another with grace and skill. We get all of the horns – Phil Guilbeau’s trumpet rounding them out – working in unison during that initial riff, then Williams’s baritone getting a modest solo, warm and resonant, unhurried of course, even if what he’s playing is hardly very ear-catching.

The second spot has the three horns overlapping, each playing their own parts but not trading off in the strictest sense. Williams plays higher than usual, but you can still hear Moore’s tenor behind him so you know it’s him out front.

Meanwhile of the rest of the band only Floyd Taylor’s piano is noteworthy and he’s just adding color in the cracks. Herman Hopkins bass never wavers while Reetham Mallett (still the leader in the clubhouse for having the best musician name) just barely keeps the beat going, seemingly without using both hands on his drum kit.

Everything is well thought out though, it builds to a few mini-climaxes and wraps up in nice fashion. Enjoyable as background music, but not as a rock record where you can’t help but feel let down for its lack of vibrant colors and more assertive parts.

Turtle Soup
So what do you DO with something like this record? It’s a quality recording by a crackerjack unit in a style that is neither fish nor fowl.

Saying it’s not advanced enough for jazz and not simple enough for rock might be overstating it, but as criticism it’s not that far off either. Title aside, Turtle Rock just doesn’t seem to have a home in any style.

But that’s where you come back to the all important context to try and justify a lower grade than the actual aural reception to the record’s content would suggest.

As a record in late 1950 this was so far behind the times for rock – if it ever would’ve been appropriate for it, even in the spring of 1948 – that it is completely irrelevant to the genre’s evolution. If THIS somehow caught on in a big way then rock as we know it might even be set back when others tried to tone down their own ideas to fall in line with its thinking.

In other words records can sound fairly good but be bad business for the movement itself.

Secondly, there’s Paul Williams’s career to think about. Despite a few decent efforts this year he was having enough trouble keeping his fans satisfied with those more recent cuts – zero hits among them – and this positively ancient recording was not going to help matters any.

So while there’s nothing wrong with this strictly as a performance, there’s still more than enough wrong with it as a late 1950 rock release to be tolerated and like it or not that’s the bar all records have to clear.


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