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As Mr. Swing with Bobby Plater’s Orchestra


BULLET 327; JULY 1950



If life is a series of stops and starts nobody in rock history embodied that truism more than Rufus Thomas Jr.

Possibly the only enduring rock star who had a full time job outside of music for much of his career, two of them in fact, Thomas downplayed his musical abilities but he was blessed with unerring rhythmic sense, a flair for performing dating back to his work on stage and as a radio disc jockey and the drive and perseverance to keep at it until finally breaking through… more than once.

This wasn’t one of those times, but already he was showing signs that he was destined for bigger things.


All Hepped Up
With the boogie of the title emphasized with a heavy handed piano from the opening bell, this is the kind of record that isn’t trying for much creatively, but instead relying on the familiar to sell it to a receptive audience.

Everything from the rhythm track to the subject matter is right up the alley of rock fans in 1950 and Rufus Thomas – or Mr. Swing as he was being dubbed for some inexplicable reason on Beer Bottle Boogie – seems to have firsthand knowledge of this scenario.

Never mind the fact he was a family man whose full time job tending to boilers all day before changing clothes to spin records on WDIA left him with little time for enjoying the nightlife, his comfort level with relating this tale makes him the perfect guide through the seedy back alleys the song traverses.


Though he didn’t write this one himself there’s plenty of his personality conveyed in the lyrics about a guy who faces a string of minor misfortunes thanks to tying one on at night. From losing his money in a card game to getting locked out of his house, decked by his wife and unable to stay upright on his own, this has plenty of self-effacing humor that makes you sympathize with him to a degree rather than deride him for his transgressions.

In most songs about drinking the character is doing so to have fun whereas in Beer Bottle Boogie – despite his attempts – Thomas is not having any fun whatsoever and yet it never moralizes against booze, but instead uses this as a way to reveal the character’s lot in life.

He was somebody that everyone in the listening audience more or less knew in their own community which is what makes the song relatable. He was playing a good-natured guy who might not always the use the best judgement but wasn’t the kind who was bound for skid row, he was simply beset with bad luck more than anything.

Because his drinking is presented more as a one-time overindulgence as opposed to an ongoing problem there’s no reason to look down on him and with his voice projecting a sad sack demeanor when recounting his troubles it makes his more enthusiastic delivery when recounting the cause of it all in the chorus that much more enjoyable.

Fell Off Of My Stool
Since we’ll have a hundred or more opportunities to discuss Rufus Thomas over the course of his lengthy career, we should take some time to talk about the only guy credited by his own name on this record – Bobby Plater.

The consummate sideman, Plater was an alto saxophonist whose primary work came in jazz… and in some pretty impressive bands to boot, starting off with a pre-rock Tiny Bradshaw and then playing for years with Lionel Hampton before spending the last two decades of his life in Count Basie’s Orchestra.

But while he contributed plenty of arrangements and a few notable songs along the way, Jersey Bounce among them, Plater was the kind of musician easily overlooked. A solid contributor but not a scene stealing showman, he got only one chance to lead a band when he cut this session for Bullet Records in Nashville, but rather than jazz he had to back an aspiring rock ‘n’ roller.

Perhaps because of that he doesn’t acquit himself too well on Beer Bottle Boogie, at least when he gets a chance to play. For starters it’s the pianist who gets the early spotlight and leads the primary rhythm assault that defines the record and when the horns do get a chance to offer brief responsorial parts they’re not out of place but hardly adding much. But it’s his soloing opportunity where he comes up short as he’s competing with the other horns on parts which haven’t been worked out that well. At times they clash something awful and neither entity is playing that great individually either.

Had they come up with something muscular here this might’ve been a record that overachieved in its limited aims, but because they fall short the entire record nearly does as well and it’s only Thomas’s good cheer and strong acting ability which save it.

Things improve the less we hear of the horns ironically as the final interjection has a nice punch to it but this was a record driven by the piano boogie and Thomas’s vocals telling an amiable story… just another example of how even when he was being given a chance to stand out, Bobby Plater was more at ease in the background.


The Door Was Locked And I Couldn’t Get In
Though his own name wasn’t anywhere to be found on this release, Thomas comes across quite well on this where his personality gets a chance to shine through.

, his personality more than his voice shining through.

Given the nature of the recording though Beer Bottle Boogie wasn’t going to do much for Thomas, nor for that matter was it going to help Plater, albeit for reasons of his own making.

I suppose we should feel sorry for Plater because this had to be a major let-down for him. Not only does he not get to play the music he excelled at, but when he does get an opportunity to cut loose he fumbles his chance which might be why it’s hardly surprising that he’d be back with Hampton before the sun went down.

Though it’s hardly anything that would indicate Rufus Thomas was on his way to a major career that would last decades he’s still the one here who shows he’s got a good deal of natural musical charisma which is something you either are born with or not.

As history constantly shows us it’s never smart to bet against those kind of artists coming through in the long run.


(Visit the Artist page of Rufus Thomas for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)