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DELUXE 1098; OCTOBER, 1947



When something entirely new comes along, what happens to the old?

It doesn’t cease to exist. I mean it’s not completely discarded and tossed out in the trash, is it? No, change comes slowly in all things, even when the moment of the new arrival is a big event and seems to suddenly take over the narrative the old way of doing things is still around, they just kind of gradually recede and fade away over time, but it always takes awhile.

Look around you, I’m sure you’ll come across those who are still using flip cell phones, while older people never jumped off the Facebook bandwagon even after it got systematically replaced by more cutting edge forms of social media, many of which (Twitter, I’m looking at you) themselves soon became the exclusive realm of the hopelessly out of the loop as well.

So it was with music too.

It Ain’t No Lie
Of course this was obvious in the larger divides between genres. Pop music was different than jazz which was different than blues which was different than country which was different than gospel which was different than opera and so on. But it was also evident in the evolution of those individual styles. Dixieland, big band and bebop were all forms of jazz but distinctly different from one another. The common elements they shared became more disparate the further along in they each got in their respective evolution. The same held true for rural country blues, urban electric blues and cocktail blues. Or jubilee forms of gospel and more modern sanctified gospel.

But what was rock to begin with? It had no established genre it belonged to. It certainly borrowed liberally from quite a few, but it wasn’t a decedent of any one of them specifically. If anything it was an off-shoot of a popular, though unnamed, style of black music that thrived in the 1940’s led by Louis Jordan. But Jordan himself was jazz-rooted with a dash of blues in the lyrics and structure. Others like Roy Milton had mined similar musical veins to make it enough of a style unto itself, but it never formally set its boundaries, took on a widely acknowledged moniker or seemed separated enough in artistic or audience mindset to be thought of as anything more than simply a current trend.

Besides, while rock took on elements of that brand of music for sure, it added so many other components right from the start that it was hard to say it derived from just that one source. Where were the precedents in Jordan’s style for the exuberantly shouted holy-roller vocals that Roy Brown featured? Maybe Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a gospel artist, but surely not Louis Jordan. How about The Ravens exuberant group harmonies? What about Tiny Bradshaw’s cracked enthusiasm? Or even Paul Williams saxophone workouts?

Sure, they all had some historical roots, but they were hardly all coming from the same garden. As noted 19th Century philosopher Tuco Benedicto Pacifico Juan Maria Ramirez said in The Good, The Bad & The Ugly – “You want to know whose son you are? You’re the son of a thousand fathers… all bastards like you!

And that was rock ‘n’ roll.

You could try in all earnestness to trace the family tree farther back but you wouldn’t get far before it’d all end with gnarled roots in shallow soil.

So when it DID arrive there were bound to be elements of various outside sources in much of what came out. Some of this was the result of producers, musicians and record labels who were unwilling or unable to grasp the full impact of the new sound all at once, while other aspects of songs that seemed held over from another time were probably due as much to the artist in question having not come up with a suitable new theory to try out in its place.

In fact while it’s certainly somewhat of a drawback to our rock-bred ears to hear the old outdated passages mixed in with the new, that’s also what makes the exploration of early rock as interesting as it is. We get to see for ourselves just what the holdovers were, how different attempts to modernize it came about and which of those were picked up on and which got set aside in search of something even more fitting. Sometimes it’s a slow process and occasionally (such as with the trumpet) it seemed that there might NEVER be a suitable solution short of outright banishment, but then, suddenly and often quite unexpectedly, somebody figures it out and you wonder why nobody thought of it sooner.


I’m Telling You It’s No Doubt
Roy Brown can probably never get enough credit (not that he’s in any danger of even getting a reasonable amount of credit) for inventing rock, or consolidating certain ideas that existed in a dim hazy aura on the outskirts of the musical realm, but even he was someone steeped in earlier traditions and while he more than anyone of rock’s first year or so abandoned those for the prospect of what lay over the horizon, he still retained just enough touches of something more time-worn and familiar to not seem completely alien to listeners.

Often this wasn’t his doing, for the musicians he was assigned hadn’t been given the proper primer on what he expected or needed from them, but in a way their lingering allegiance to the recent past might’ve made the transition for audiences just a little easier to digest.

Though not a hit, not really even remembered today for that matter, Woman’s A Wonderful Thing is emblematic of that stylistic rift between the eras.

The intro, acoustic guitar and out of tune piano joining forces, sounds downright primitive, not just for rock ‘n’ roll even at this early stage, but also for any existing form of popular music at that time. It’s almost got a demo-quality to it, an early run-through to see what parts will get written out and which will be dropped entirely before they get down to finalizing the arrangement and cutting the record.

Maybe this isn’t surprising as it was recorded just as Good Rocking Tonight came out yet before that record had gotten any appreciable reaction, so Brown had to either soft-peddle his desires for charting a new course, or perhaps had no further ideas that warranted such a big jump into the unknown, and so they were all still sort of stumbling around looking for something suitable for what was already shaping up to be his most notable attribute – an emotional vocal quality that was all but unheard of in secular music at the time.

Thus the question in what was still ostensibly a non-rock world becomes simply: How does one DO that?

Well, it’s not this way, that’s for sure. The backing here is ramshackle and trite sounding. It’s both too haphazard and too florid, almost as if they couldn’t decide which direction to head. The piano is played almost exclusively on the treble keys until it sounds almost like a player piano rather than a human being – at least a human being with a working left hand.

They manage to slip in a guitar break after the piano winds down after the nickel deposited runs out, and its arrival might have unsuspecting listeners from the future anticipating some hint as to the possibilities that instrument would have down the road, but one bar in and you know that’s not the case. Though competently played the single string tone again sounds like something overdubbed onto a silent film reel of prospectors in the 1800’s, even though its amplification lets on that it was indeed recorded after the advent of electricity.

In other words the entire musical track isn’t just a year or two out of date as you might expect, but a century out of date!


Believe Me Now When I Say
All of this means there’s nothing Roy Brown can possibly do to rescue this from historical oblivion, right? Well, granted he can’t turn water into wine but how about turning it into at least some seltzer water… something with a LITTLE bit of fizz.

For starters even though the theme is pretty simplistic and without much bite to it – a vague ode to females, sidestepping any of their… umm… more obvious attributes and unique specialties – he does manage to craft the song well. Particularly winning is the unlikely scene he sets where he relates the valuable assistance of a good woman when it comes to providing contraband for prisoners!

When you do wrong and they throw you in jail
The little woman stands your bail
Slips nickels and dimes in the jailhouse mail
For cigarettes, soda pop… never fails

It’s actually pretty funny, though I don’t think Roy intended it to be, he sounds sincere as all get out, but it draws a smile nonetheless and the melodic inventiveness of the passage and his light touch vocally makes it the most memorable – and enjoyable – aspect of it all.

I guess that’s what it shakes out as too – a harmless, inoffensive little ditty that works just well enough to keep your interest as well as allowing Brown a chance to showcase his flexible tenor, work on his songwriting a bit, and get more comfortable in the studio.

Woman’s A Wonderful Thing doesn’t have any chance to draw much attention on its own, it’s certainly doesn’t have the potential for revolution that his debut possessed, but even with its conflicted attributes there’s something reasonably pleasant about it, slightly charming even, that will get you curious as to what Roy Brown – and by extension whatever musical genre he’s inventing or affiliating himself with – comes up with next.


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