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OKEH 6862; FEBRUARY 1952



Decisions… decisions… decisions.

Most of them around here are fairly easy and require no internal debate whatsoever. This is the History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll after all, so if it’s a rock single it gets reviewed when we come to it chronologically.

But every so often there are mitigating circumstances that need to be taken into account. Sometimes we stretch the definition of the term to include a song bordering on rock if it’s done by an artist who usually is fully committed to rock ‘n’ roll… sort of showing the other options they had, but quickly discarded, at the time.

Then there are records that are rock in all but name cut by artists who are otherwise pure blues or jazz or pop acts… those who are merely dabbling in this field in other words. In those cases we’re going to exclude them because while it’s interesting to see the allure of rock to outside acts, their possible inclusion threatens to confuse the issue if someone sees a lone B.B. King record covered, or some wayward attempt at soft rock down the line by Barbra Streisand or somebody equally unlikely.

Red Saunders, if he were better known to general public, would likely fall into that latter category and thus this record would also be left out, despite being a hit. Yet the mitigating circumstances surrounding this one allows it to just be able to squeeze in through an open window.


Have You Heard?
Okay, first thing’s first… just who was Red Saunders, you ask?

He was a jazz drummer who primarily made his living in clubs in and around Chicago throughout the 1930’s and 40’s, eventually settling at the famed Club DeLisa for years with a top notch band and was considered by the musicians on the scene to be the top drummer in the Windy City for decades.

By the mid-to-late 1940’s he began a simultaneous career as a studio musician. His first session was behind white jazz bandleader and clarinetist Woody Herman in 1944, while his second a few months later found him playing with blues legend T-Bone Walker, so obviously he had no qualms about whatever style of music was called for which made him an ideal sideman.

Along the way he cut records with rock acts like Big Joe Turner, Clarence Samuels and LaVern Baker in the late 1940’s and then after today’s record came out he’d re-engage with rock by cutting sides behind The Great Gates, The Spaniels (their first session resulting in their first hit as well as the first session overall for a just launched Vee-Jay Records) and reunited with Big Joe Turner for a famed Chicago date in 1953 that resulted in the Top Ten hit TV Mama with blues guitar king Elmore James sitting in.

But that’s the full extent of his rock output and as you can see, while not inconsequential, it’s hardly a deep enough résumé to have Red Saunders be considered a rock act himself, especially since he wasn’t the lead artist on any of them… any but this one that is.

Hambone complicates matters because clearly it is rock in nature, as well as having a notable connection to what will follow in the genre thanks to the presence of three kids on the record, one of whom, Delecta Clark, would go on to score a number of huge rock hits as Dee Clark in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

So while Red Saunders is responsible for the record being made and gets label credit, if not for the kids involved this might’ve been a side that would be easier – and less complicated – to leave out altogether.

Kid Stuff
This was thought of by everyone in the industry, from the label to the trade papers, as a novelty record.

Maybe it is, but what exactly is the reason for this? Is it because the lyrics are essentially a nursery rhyme… the fact that it’s being sung by kids… or is it because Red Saunders is a respected name in jazz and Hambone is an off-the-cuff rock styled song that musical elitists feel is beneath him and thus in order to explain his recording it they need to slyly put it down by suggesting he wasn’t actually serious about the song?

The answer is all three actually, but the latter is the most pertinent because it speaks to the cultural divide that rock was continuing to expose more with each passing day. When the music is being done by those in the same community it can be more easily explained and segregated, but when someone with some artistic credibility to the more respected music community is recording it, that’s potentially troubling.

Far more relevant to whatever novelty aspects of the record you can find when assessing its popularity is the winsome charm of the kids’ vocals, clearly wound up with nervous excitement at being in a studio making a record. The original release (an alternate take was re-issued in the early 60’s so be careful which you hear) finds the private eye line cut a little short because of their exuberance.

That gives this a very loose rambunctious feel, but their enthusiasm, though genuine, doesn’t necessarily translate to the listener. It’s more like a spirited amateur night contest… applause worthy, but not bowling you over with their vocal talent.

The lyrics are easily identifiable for anyone who’s heard Charlie & Inez Foxx (or later James Taylor and Carly Simon) hit Mockingbird and that makes for interesting comparison, but in 1952 that’s obviously not relevant, so depending on your upbringing you may remember it from chanting the same silly things when you were little or else may think it was just gibberish conceived on the spot.

Where the record should be expected to shore up the ragged nature of the singing is in the arrangement, considering the band are all first rate musicians, but actually it’s still the kids themselves – slapping their thighs, chests, stomping their feet and making popping noises with their mouths – who provide the lion’s share of the infectious sound here.

They have a great sense of rhythm – ably supplemented by Jimmy Richardson’s warm bass notes – which propels the track, but considering Saunders is getting lead credit and is a percussionist by trade, his presence is surprisingly muted, relying on light cymbal work other than on the transition to the alto sax solo by future star rock arranger Riley Hampton, though even that is marred by too many extraneous horns.

As a result the song, while maybe not deserving of the novelty tag, is not all that deep musically, vocally or lyrically. Enjoyable once. Cloying twice. A little aggravating the third time. Downright annoying after that.

No wonder the mainstream music industry took notice of this of all songs falling under the rock banner.


The Ol’ Hambone Wouldn’t Last
You’ll notice that the connection to the Bo Diddley beat which everybody brings up when referencing this song, is almost non-existent. There’s a faint trace of it, and maybe if the kids weren’t so amped up it’d be more prominent, but when referencing this record specifically it’s one of those urban legends that should be debunked.

That said though, it’s the kids – not the professional musicians – who are the one and only draw on Hambone. Their vocals are revving too fast but they’re actually laying down a much more complex and propulsive groove than most rhythm sections we’ve heard lately.

This do it yourself mindset, albeit within the confines of a professional studio environment, would continue to set rock ‘n’ roll apart over the next seven decades and counting, whether it was harmonies being worked out on street corners, kids jamming on instruments they barely knew how to play in suburban garages or crate diggers combing through old forgotten records in search of a perfect beat to freestyle over.

Though the veteran musicians are the ones who get credit here – and will continue to provide assistance in studios for recording sessions for years to come – their influence is already starting to wane as the children who grew up in a world where rock ‘n’ roll was omnipresent begin to take over.