RED ROBIN 107; JUNE 1952



They say timing is everything and while they may have a point, it doesn’t mean that timing is the ONLY thing that matters in life, or in music.

Followers of that theory, as well as defenders of this record, would say its failure to make any kind of commercial dent could be chalked up to it being a few years past the peak interest in sax-led rock instrumentals, ignoring the fact that it also came out on a relatively new label with less robust distribution and promotion and was by an artist who had no real name recognition despite working with bigger acts over the past few years.

But I say that while better timing certainly wouldn’t have hurt its chances at drawing interest, what would’ve helped even more was if this had been a more invigorating record.


Code Red
As this daffy project has repeatedly shown, there are countless rock artists over the genre’s first five years who’ve released great records and yet are all but completely unknown to the general public… not just today, three quarters of a century or more into the future, but were largely obscure even at the time they were releasing those records in the first place.

Red Prysock, despite never scoring a hit, isn’t one of those who’ve been obliterated from the history books, even if he’s not necessarily a familiar name to the broader populace. But among rock aficionados of this era, Prysock still has a strong reputation… helped by the fact that raucous sax instrumentals as a whole remain fairly enduring when looking back on the era in question.

Yet oddly enough it’s his solo efforts like Wiggles, his first release for small Red Robin Records out of New York, which remain among his more familiar calling cards rather than his better work behind Tiny Grimes, or even Tiny Bradshaw on bigger labels like Atlantic and King Records.

Considering the sheer unlikeness of any non-vocalist without hits to his name whose prime was in rock’s pre-crossover days remaining at least moderately recognizable is exceedingly slim, I suppose we should happily take what we can get in that regard.

But for those who tout this record as a reason to promote his being deserving of even greater recognition, maybe this is where you should stop reading… or at least go back to check the reviews for his vastly superior work behind others.


Controlled Excitement
To say there’s nothing glaringly wrong about a record, even praising the main artist in the process, but then calling it decidedly average might seem contradictory.

Surely the overall quick pacing of the song, the decent rhythm it contains and Red Prysock’s stellar tone and gritty lines are all well appreciated but they can’t altogether mask the fact that the overall arrangement here is, if not quite out of date, at least behind the curve.

The real problem we have with this is the complimentary instruments here are essentially given only one basic task – maintaining forward momentum. That means they jump right in at a steady clip and keep that up unilaterally throughout the record without actually adding much of value beyond that simple duty during the entire run time.

Furthermore, the makeup of the band is lacking in firepower, most evident in the fact the other horns are blending together without distinction. Part of this is clearly to allow Prysock’s own horn to stand out more, especially since he has the ability to use his tenor in ways that suggest a baritone at times, thereby eliminating the need to feature an actual baritone in the band as a counterpoint horn as Big Jay McNeely always does.

But by ensuring that only Prysock’s sax is contributing anything with appropriately rough textures to Wiggles it only makes everything else seem weak and ineffectual by comparison. These kinds of songs can’t rely on just one horn to cause a ruckus, everybody has to push each other further so the whole thing seems ready to explode.

This doesn’t even try as the other instruments, including a decidedly light piano as the main melodic component, are innocent bystanders to whatever it is Prysock is doing. His lines are decent enough but even they aren’t all they could be if he just had someone kicking him in the ass to make it more exciting. Though Red gets more into it as it goes along, he seems to know that if he pushes too hard it’ll leave the others hiding their faces in embarrassment for not being able to keep up.

Then again Prysock himself wrote this, they were probably his own bandmates, or at least friends from the New York studio scene, and if he’d instructed them to challenge him then this might’ve really taken off. Instead it’s more of a warm-up act for the main event, except the main event will have to be performed by the next act on stage, which is something we never thought we’d say about Red Prysock.


Another Time, Another Place
By mid-1952, though we’ve had a few more recent instrumentals take off, the most recent being the slow-grind strip-tease anthem Night Train, the bulk of rock’s sax workouts to have earned hit status are a few years in the rear view mirror. We won’t get a true resurgence in instrumentals until the late 1950’s, a change which came about in part due to the increased scrutiny and censorship of rock lyrics, something instrumentals obviously could get around rather easily.

As a result of this, the early to mid-50’s were somewhat devoid of widely known instrumentals as the vocal side of rock took on greater importance and was becoming more and more outlandish, once the role that the tenor sax seemed to have to itself.

With that in mind it’s hardly surprising that the reputation of something like Wiggles might be slightly overinflated by fans of that style in retrospect, if only to fill the gap chronologically speaking.

At the time however, there’s plenty around which served this same purpose, as some of the hottest and most incendiary vocal rock performances of all-time were huge hits – Have Mercy Baby – which aside from the vocal fireworks also featured instrumental passages within them that did what this purely instrumental record could not, or rather WOULD not, do.

So while we’re delighted that Red Prysock is now going to get more opportunity to make records of his own, and we’re always happy any time a talent of his magnitude is given respect by people multiple generations removed from this era, the fact is that in the big scheme of things this side is a mere footnote in his career and, though more in line stylistically with what he did so well, may not even be the best side of the single.

A modest display of his playing ability in other words, but hardly essential in rock’s bigger story to date.


(Visit the Artist page of Red Prysock for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)