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DELUXE 3301; JANUARY, 1950

 
 

 

WARNING: Some readers… err… listeners… may find the following content objectionable. Discretion is strongly advised!

On the surface words like that are designed to act as a deterrent for unsuspecting consumers, cautioning them that the material they might be contemplating buying contains racy material.

Yet the mere fact that the item is having attention called to in such a way as to HIGHLIGHT that off-color content means that those who’d otherwise have absolutely no idea as to its risqué nature are now fully aware of it…. even anxious to see if it’s as salacious as it’s implied to be.

Incidental or intentional, the upside to this should be fairly obvious. In a business that relies on word of mouth any sensationalistic response to dirty records can only work to their advantage.
 

 

Hackin’, Whackin’ And Smackin’
Way back in 1749 a book by John Cleland came out in Great Britain that did little to hide its sexualized content, calling itself Memoirs Of A Woman Of Pleasure, a title that was changed to the name of the protagonist – Fanny Hill – when it made its way to America in 1821.

In both countries the book was banned for its subject involving a prostitute looking back on her scandalous activities – including orgies, bisexuality, S&M and adultery – without any sense of guilt or shame. Not only were there graphic descriptions of sex throughout the book but the character in the end isn’t made to suffer for her “sins” but instead finds happiness and wealth which was too much for the upholders of virtue to allow. Even centuries later it was still being banned in the UK and US as late as 1963 and it was only thanks to highly publicized court cases in each country that finally permitted it to be published and sold without legal censure.
 


 

What this shows is that this yin/yang duality of human beings when it comes to illicit material has been present as far back as you want to trace it. The first book burning in America took place more than a century before the Declaration Of Independence was signed (nothing like getting your priorities straight!!!), yet throughout history there was never a shortage of racy smut being churned out no matter the public outcry simply because people have hormones that respond quite naturally to such titillation.

Music would prove to be no different and rock ‘n’ roll, more than most genres, seemed to excel at highlighting debauchery, something Butcher Pete, a two-part saga involving rampant sex and perhaps even necrophilia, takes great pleasure in proving. No wonder Billboard magazine in the course of their review, which gave the record surprisingly high marks, explicitly warned: Not For Airplay.
 


 
 

From Sunrise To Sunset
Though the full range of “crimes” committed in the song are still somewhat murky decades later, or at least open to interpretation, the primary euphemism the record relies on is pretty clear. The key word in all of this is “Meat” and its shifting usage when it comes to sex. In today’s world it is a frequent stand-in for the male genitalia, which seems sort of obvious I guess, but in the past – at least going by its appearance in a few notable X-rated songs – it was non-gender specific, meaning it was a common term for the female genitalia as well.

At least that’s the way Roy Brown is framing it in Butcher Pete as he pulls absolutely no punches when describing the protagonist with his “big long knife” who goes around chopping women’s meat for them.

Obviously the story itself is pretty crude, as he just recounts all of the women ol’ Pete defiles every day, but it also fits the other definition of crude, meaning simple and rudimentary, because there’s no sign of any true inventiveness here. Even the concept of singing about a sexual deviant isn’t new, as Mack The Knife, written in 1928, is basically the same character study, albeit told in a far less vulgar fashion than this.

Here though each line is more of a headline, devoid of any subtlety, nuance or details, something which is further emphasized by Brown who practically shouts it rather than sings it with any melodic touch.

If Brown was ranting this way about the evils of sex, or drink, or any of the so-called social vices, you could see him as the fiery Pentecostal minister crusading against immorality on the back of a flatbed truck, stirring up a crowd in the town square, but since he’s wailing away in such a hellbent manner while enthusiastically playing up the perpetrator of these crimes he comes across more like the town crier, a wild-eyed big-mouth who is overjoyed that he has some salacious news to spread to draw attention to himself.

The fact he’s aided in this cause by a chorus of fellow gossipy blabbermouths who apparently are burning off their own pent-up sexual frustration by lasciviously chanting “he’s hacking and whacking and smacking”, obviously aroused by Pete’s conquests even as they feign disapproval, makes this even more boorish.

And yet… it’s still pretty entertaining, provided you keep your distance that is and observe their antics with amusement rather than join in and try to get your own rocks off vicariously through someone else.
 


 

You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet
But if you WERE to throw caution to the wind and try to follow Pete’s lead that’s where you’re going to regret it. Aside from any venereal diseases you’re sure to acquire as he chops his way through all the women in town, we have the payoff to the story to contend with, something potentially even more perverse which sort of upends this theory about Pete being nothing more than an oversexed maniac.

In the story he’s arrested for his actions – though I’m not a lawyer I believe the charge is called “rape” – but since at least some of the women quoted by reporters here claim to WANT him to carve up their turkeys as it were, maybe he’ll get off through a loophole in the laws involving aggravated sexual assault. Yet once behind bars his carnal appetite is so strong that the prison guards find him “chopping” his cellmate, who I assume is some male vagrant arrested for drunkenness who wakes up and finds Pete astride him in a manner most unbecoming recent acquaintances.

But we’re not done yet… not by a long shot, for Part Two, which is the weaker of the two sides even though it barrels along at the same clip, has Pete chopping on the pulpit in church, on a ship to China and then after society tried to fry him for his various crimes against common decency he somehow “chopped down” the electric chair itself.

The question of course is, did they suddenly switch the meaning of the knife – which Roy claims they gave back to Pete when they released him from prison the first time – to one that has a sharp blade and handle in order to sidestep the questions regarding sex, or did he simply use his impressive penis to lay the chair to waste?

Honestly, I don’t think even they know the answer to that. Butcher Pete is so convoluted you get the feeling they were basically winging it, that it was something they came up with on the road to entertain themselves on the long trips from town to town and in that environment, swigging wine and trying to make each other laugh by saying the most outrageous thing they could think of, all of these far-fetched lines would more than suit their purpose.

But within the confines of a structured performance it’s too directionless to be followed, too crass to draw a smile, too repetitive to be fully appreciated and much too frazzled to even be understood.

Yet – to their benefit – it is also too frantic to actually mind a lot of its shortcomings and that credit falls squarely to co-writer and producer Henry Glover and Brown’s own Mighty Mighty Men for providing a musical attack that was every bit as lethal as what the song’s narrative described.
 

Gave Him Back His Same Old Knife
For those who could care less about lyrics, other than the vocal punch they they pack, I’m sure this record will be judged a lot better than those who actually pay attention to what singers have to say.

Though we take both components into account equally, in the case of Butcher Pete those who lean strongly to the music’s power to sway them have a pretty good case to make because this never lets up for so much as a single second, hitting with incendiary power that almost obliterates the message and leaves it under a pile of smoldering debris.

Though the basic energy during the vocal sections comes from those vocals, the musicians aren’t completely irrelevant here, particularly the drums which slam away to provide a steady backbeat while the horns and piano alternately provide a hint of melody to latch onto.

But it’s the multiple instrumental breaks where The Mighty Mighty Men show off their prowess. The horns are naturally the focal point and rather surprisingly the three horns – tenor and baritone saxes and trumpet – not only don’t step all over each other, but mesh brilliantly together, each one working in unison, carving out their own space while contributing to the forward momentum of the track as a whole.

Both Johnny Fontenette on tenor and Batman Rankins playing baritone on this session take turns on lead, Batman taking the first solos in both Part One and Part Two while Fontenette handles the second solo in each half with the other in a supporting role along with the trumpet. They play with barely controlled fury, ripping any lingering decorum to shreds as if they were the ones wielding knives and their dueling performances make for the record’s most notable highlights.

There’s enough dynamite in all of their horns to keep this on the verge of exploding and that tension they all ride – combined with Brown’s hyper-kinetic vocal delivery – almost allows you to overlook its shortcomings.

Almost, but not quite.
 

Don’t Know When To Stop
There’s no question the record’s notoriety plays a factor in its lasting reputation and when the track itself is bursting with so much energy it’s hard not to get caught up in it. Toss in a few good risqué lines and it’s easy to see why Butcher Pete has such an underground reputation, even seven decades later when such topics would hardly raise an eyebrow in all but the most strict of households.

But often times reputations are built on things that don’t hold up quite so well under scrutiny and – for me anyway – that’s the case here as well. Though the excitement is palpable you get weary listening to the redundancy of it all.

Even if you were to forget about the fact there’s no set-up, no building up to a… ah-hem… a climax, no real plot twists, no variance in the drama or the pace and absolutely no three dimensional characters to be found, there’s also no room to breathe for the listener. It’s the musical equivalent of a heart-attack.

Of course maybe even that’s fitting because surely the guardians of society at the time were having heart attacks of their own when they heard this and cautiously peered out their window, sure they’d see ol’ Pete hacking away with his knife on whoever, and whatever, was close by. No wonder they decried this music… listening to this crazed performance who could blame them?
 


 

Rock ‘n’ roll would go on to have lots of warning labels affixed to it over the years but this was the first release that truly deserved one. Although far from being a great song in any analytical sense, it’s still a better record than it it has any right to be thanks to the sheer musical and lyrical audacity of it all.

Whatever grade you hand out for this, whether higher or lower, it could be plausibly defended and probably needs no explanation. With something this wild any score you give it makes perfect sense… and no sense at all.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Roy Brown for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)