No tags :(

Share it

MODERN 20-818; MAY 1951



Having just passed 1,400 reviews of virtually all of the songs released over rock ‘n’ roll’s first three and a half years of existence, the careers of its most acclaimed practitioners during this time have been fairly thoroughly documented.

Some of them had records that pre-dated rock of course which we lightly touched upon in their stories here, but for many artists their entire output was concentrated in rock and so we get to follow them from the very beginning to see how they evolve.

But then there are others who will go on to be major players on the scene in time but who got their starts on the periphery of the music, lurking in the background, working their way up to assuming lead roles in the production.

Here’s where some of those pieces start to fall into place as this record brings together a lot of the key figures that would dominate the Los Angeles rock scene of the 1950’s.


When I First Met You…
Though most of the names involved here had yet to be known to the public, the credited lead artist here was one of the very first figures we met in rock’s story when he was just in his mid-teens and signed to Imperial Records as Dick Lewis where he cut some piano rock instrumentals. None of them sold well and he disappeared for awhile before resurfacing as a member of the band backing The Great Gates which is where he met saxophonists Marvin Phillips and Emory Perry.

Those three became the nucleus of the teenage rock brigade in Los Angeles at the dawn of the 1950’s and their ranks soon included vocalist Carl Green, who takes a co-lead on the flip side of this, along with songwriter and part-time drummer Jimmy Huff and, towering above them all, Jesse Belvin, the best singer, songwriter and a pretty fair pianist in his own right.

Music addicts of the highest order they rehearsed together constantly at Lewis’s or Perry’s house, worked out material and began seeking recording opportunities of their own.

Imperial might’ve been the obvious landing point since Lewis had cut for them in 1947 and later was the one who got Belvin, Phillips and Huff together, along with Undine Harris, to serve as Three Dots and A Dash singing for Big Jay McNeely on Imperial this past winter.

In between that he, Perry and Phillips cut sides for another L.A. label, Selective, with Gates for the past few years. The wild card was a Chicago label, Mercury, that somehow Belvin had landed with to play piano on some sides back in December.

So of course it was none of those who brought all of them together on record for the first time, but rather it was Modern Records who provided them with the opportunity to see what they could do without taking a back seat to a more established name.

The ironic thing however was that it was Lewis who got the lead credit on Forever even though it’s Marvin Phillips who is singing.

Though the results are somewhat raw, those with the ability to see into the future – or in our case into the past – might be able to get some idea of what will eventually come to fruition once they all get a little more experience under their belts.

Say You’ll Be Mine
Because of the popularity of much of his later output, usually as part of duos with Belvin, Green or Perry all serving time as his partner, we know the idiosyncratic style Marvin Phillips sang with… a distinctive hesitant, almost stuttering approach that found him frequently breaking words in two, doubling down on syllables for added emphasis and creating a unique language centered around a quirky sense of time that brought a lot of offbeat rhythm to what were essentially slow melodic variations on a theme.

Because he tends to be overshadowed by Belvin when looking back on their work together as Jesse & Marvin, it might be easy to assume that Jesse was the main progenitor of their material, shaping the songs to his own vision and that it was Phillips who tagged along for the ride.

That’s not true though, as should be evident by Phillips’ later work with Green and Perry (and occasionally Belvin again) all under the moniker Marvin & Johnny which shows that it was Phillips who crafted that odd-ball style full of stops and starts in the vocal pattern either because they rarely practiced with anything other than simple piano accompaniment or simply because that’s how his mind worked, seeming almost as if he were tentatively reaching for the next word or line in the moment rather than reading off a lead sheet.

This record proves that concept of song construction and singing style was in place from the start as Phillips establishes his patented delivery from the very first line, stretching the word Forever by adding a drawn out vowel at the end which is not found in the spelling, yet making it work all the same. He then proceeds to repeat words, sounds and add meaning where there was little to be found in the words on paper, almost as if he were wrestling with some form of internal conflict in expressing these thoughts out loud.

His voice is a touch higher than he’d sound a year or so down the road and as such it doesn’t quite have the resonance that it really needs, but it’s still an endearing sound that’s helped by the others (Belvin, Lewis and Huff) providing wordless backing vocals that are almost a blueprint of the kind of nonsense patter – “sha-na-na-no” – that would be used by vocal groups over the next decade for providing support without lyrics.

While their blend falls a little flat in some instances (Lewis and Huff were not good singers) and there’s a few instances where Phillips himself misses a note and it comes across as a little ragged, the overall sound they create is never less than engaging and the final line shared by the others is truly sublime.

Besides, it’s not often you get to actually witness the start of a movement that would become so ubiquitous in time.


I’ll Be True Forever To You
Because this was such a different approach by virtual unknowns there wasn’t much chance of it making an impact at the time and it’s even possible that the loose slapdash style presented here might’ve been confusing to listeners expecting something more polished.

But then again that’s often the case when encountering something new.

On the other hand hand looking back from the present, when we know where all this led, it might be TOO easy to embrace, ignoring the progress that had yet to occur by conveniently jumping ahead to the point where the qualities found here would make their first inroads.

So that kind of leaves Forever stuck in the middle. It’s a good first attempt at a sound that still needed to be worked out a little more. The talent is definitely there but it hasn’t quite come to fruition yet.

The prevailing wisdom in the record industry would suggest they need to eliminate the casual makeshift nature of this kind of performance altogether and aim for a tighter smoother sound, but thankfully they would resist that urge and instead they figured out how to accentuate the informal atmosphere… in essence professionalizing their amateur image itself.

It’d take a little while to achieve but they were definitely on their way.


(Visit the Artist page of Richard Lewis for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)