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REGAL 3270; JUNE 1950



The odyssey of the Braun brothers, David and Jules, is one of rock music’s most vital, if under-publicized stories.

They were in effect the midwives of rock ‘n’ roll thanks to their owning the first record company to ostensibly be built on the music itself starting 1947, and then following the hostile takeover of DeLuxe soon after they endeavored to do it all over again with Regal Records, taking with them an assortment of talent they’d cultivated on their original label.

Along the way they’d had plenty of hits on both – big hits too, not just middling records that popped up on a regional listing for a week or two – and moreover they seemed to have a true sense of what made a good rock record aesthetically as opposed to merely using past commercial successes to guide their future releases as most companies tended to do.

But it wouldn’t last. With some of their past hit makers cooling off and with a more aggressive style of rock beginning to take hold, Regal was now looking for newcomers who they hoped would take them back to the top. The artist making his debut today never did pull off that feat but it sure wasn’t for lack of effort on his part.


How Would You Love Me, Baby?
The usual information regarding Sammy Cotton is… wrong.

Somehow, probably because he was paired in the studio and perhaps for awhile on stage with, Paul Gayten’s band, Cotton was reported in later years as being from New Orleans, but one listen to him and you don’t immediately think of the Crescent City… he’s far more raw, a little more bluesy and a lot more forceful than your typical Nola vocalist.

In fact, Cotton came from Atlanta where he was signed by Regal producer Fred Mendelsohn and while he may have been playing with Gayten, who needed another male vocalist now that Larry Darnell was a big enough star to tour on his own, he was someone who was a real departure for Gayten’s smoother style of rock.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing either as Gayten’s diversity, while an admirable quality to have as a musician, wasn’t something that always best served a record label seeking rock hits. With Cotton there wasn’t much chance of him prettying up Cool Playin’ Mama by slowing the tempo and wrapping it in some bows and ribbons.

But while it’s Cotton’s rough attitude laden vocals that drive this track, it also provides Gayten a chance to show he hasn’t lost the knack for providing plenty of musical muscle behind someone who sure isn’t trying to win any good conduct medals with the type of brazen singing he specialized in.

Plays So Hard
It’s Gayten’s pounding piano that kicks this off in energetic fashion as horns respond in kind, letting everyone know what to expect when Cotton comes barreling in moments later, his nasal voice sounding excessively ragged but irrepressibly unhinged in a way that’s galvanizing.

In spite of that flamethrower voice though it’s hard to call him “excited” about this girl he’s singing about… more like frenzied and out of control. That may not matter too much to those who are just appreciative of any rocker who doesn’t hold back, but without any nuance Cool Playin’ Mama is going to rise or fall on being able to keep up that aggression so you don’t notice its deficiencies.

In that sense they do a pretty good job of it, much of this thanks to Gayten’s arranging skills which after setting the scene to properly introduce such a high octane performer manages to downshift just enough to retain some sense of control over the song. The drums keep up a solid, though slightly muffled, backbeat while the horns are steadily riffing behind Cotton, full sounding but certainly not throwing lighter fluid on the blaze.

The tactic seems to work in making sure Cotton is somewhat reined in during the verses. He’s bearing down hard on each line still but because the rhythm is so repetitively soothing in a way it all but forces him to stay in the fold.

But Gayten’s wise enough not to completely neuter things as he uses the sax break to fan the flames a little more, the tenor ripping off a solo that is wild enough, formless enough and gritty enough to raise the temperature some more. With the drummer stomping that beat throughout you never have much chance to breathe and considering who’s waiting to jump back into the fray, that’s probably a good thing.

Night And Day
In the future Sammy Cotton’s approach would be fine-tuned a good deal… not exactly smoothed down exactly, maybe just polished up a little.

At this stage though he’s has no regard for dynamics, his voice is at full tilt from the minute he opens his mouth and it’s doubtful a single syllable that he utters came from his diaphragm rather than the back of his tattered throat. He’s shouting more than singing, but as shouters go he’s not awful.

Or at least the song itself is fairly suited for such a delivery as Cool Playin’ Mama is a collection of floating verses borrowed from a thousand and one other songs, stitched together with an overriding theme that’s centered on lust and sex, hinting at dirtiness if you want to read between the lines but hardly stirring up too much voyeuristic arousal for hearing him bellow about her attributes.

If you were trying to use nothing but the song itself and how it sounds to compile a character sketch on Cotton you’d say that he’s probably middle aged, not so good-looking and after years of futilely searching for any woman willing to give him her charms, he’s finally found someone who was drunk enough, desperate enough or deranged enough to provide him with what he wants and he’s so overwhelmed with horniness and happiness over this event that he’s losing what’s left of his mind.

After the sax break his excitement gets the best of him as he slurs the first few lines before running out of breath on the last line just as he comes out of the verses into the chorus. It’s sloppy, sure, but kind funny picturing him with his eyes bugging out as he frantically tries unzipping up his fly without doing any damage to himself before his sure-to-be no more than five minute roll in the hay.

Yet that image, as colorful as it is, would be completely wrong. Cotton was in fact young and fairly good looking and while we can’t comment on his luck with the ladies in real life it’s hard to believe with those qualities, combined with singing on stage in clubs with lots of booze flowing through the audience, that he couldn’t get laid every once in awhile out of sheer random luck if nothing else.

As a result you chalk this up as either a good impersonation of someone not altogether worthy of being in the spotlight, or you revert back to the old adage about not judging a book by its cover and hastily move on before he gets too close to you and your date.

Always Use Your Head
Rock history tends to judge these kind of unrestrained efforts a little better than they usually deserve, the feeling being that since one of the cornerstones of the genre is its boisterous attitude and so if you can effectively convey that image in your work then you must be worth a lot more than the sum of the rather unruly parts.

But that’s an all-too easy trap to fall into because true excitement in music isn’t just about raising the volume while conversely lowering the decorum, it also comes down to being able to harness and control the exuberant feelings you’re singing about and channel them into something that can be universally accessed by others who might not start out in the same wild state of mind the singer inhabits.

That’s where Cool Playin’ Mama falls a little short and ironically where Paul Gayten, a guy who sometimes laid back TOO much, manages to lift this record up by virtue of his organizational skills. The guardrails he affixes to the track are all that keeps Cotton from hurtling over the cliff and yet it’s also Gayten’s more focused arrangement that provides the most efficient musical animation that makes it worth hearing.

When the keg is almost dry at three o’clock in the morning few would find any fault in Cotton’s balls to the wall approach, but the same record played a few hours earlier at that party would ultimately be met with a slightly different response.

In those cases it’s best to take a more measured approach and compliment the high octane fuel being used while at the same time taking your foot off the pedal to ensure you make it around the next bend in the road rather than crashing into a telephone pole because you didn’t realize the difference between uninhibited fun and reckless danger.


(Visit the Artist page of Sammy Cotton for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)