CHECKER 755; MAY 1952



Obviously the whole idea of this site is to cover every single rock record that came out over the entire history of the genre from the very beginning, so there are few reviews here that need an explanation beyond that.

They’re rock, they were singles, thus they’ll be reviewed.

But some records that are more fringe candidates often have other reasons that bolster their credentials for inclusion.

Sometimes it’s to see what happened when somebody who HAD cut a rock song or two decides to move further away from our neck of the woods because they found living here didn’t suit them. Other times it’s to show how sometimes cynical record companies sought to take advantage of rock’s growing presence by offering up something designed to lure that audience in without necessarily giving them everything they’ve come to expect in the way of that record’s content.

Or sometimes, such as this, you’re lucky and manage to get both of those reasons wrapped in one.


Rock Of Ages
We’ve met saxophonist Sax Mallard a few times already, mostly in support of others, but more recently under his own name on a fairly good instrumental to help launch the new Checker Records subsidiary of Chess, where he’d been recording in the studio band from the start.

Though Slow Caboose wasn’t going to set the rock world afire, it did have the requisite components to be warmly accepted and sure enough, not only did the record sit on the regional Chicago charts for a solid month into late May, but it also landed on local listings in Newark, New Jersey, well away from the label’s back yard.

But Mallard, while perfectly agreeable to play this music when requested, was a jazz musician at heart and so rather than give himself over to rock ‘n’ roll wholeheartedly, he was surely going to try and soft peddle it just enough to keep his classier credentials from being questioned at the nicer clubs in town where he plied his trade on a nightly basis.

If he wasn’t entirely comfortable blowing up a storm to satiate the rowdy masses however, that didn’t mean that the Chess Brothers couldn’t suggest he was doing just that – or at least something comparable, if a little less ostentatious – by merely naming another of his more rock-influenced tracks in a manner that would draw that crowd’s attention.

Hence we get Teen Town Strut which also has the added bonus of showing how the record companies were starting to identify the youth movement that was spurring rock to its current heights.

Unfortunately we don’t have marketing reports from 1952 (I’m sure they didn’t exist for this kind of thing at the time) but if somebody DID bother to compile information on where the jukeboxes were located in each town to try and better figure out just who was stuffing their nickels into them, that information got thrown away years ago.

So what we have left are small, but telling, clues and little scraps of information to give us additional insight into the music we love.

This is one such piece of evidence as to the market and mindset of those peddling these records, because it’s obvious that kids weren’t going to be frequenting the Crown Propeller Club where Sax Mallard was currently in residency. But then Checker Records could care less about his live gigs because they weren’t taking a cut from that, just his singles.

So if reaching out to an underaged audience they felt were more inclined to buy their product would put some money in their pockets, they weren’t opposed to slapping a title on an instrumental based loosely on a Duke Ellington tune by a musician who was 36 years old in years and quite possibly a little older than that in terms of musical outlook.

Age Of Corruption
Though this obviously has a strong jazz lineage, it’s a record that does fit fairly well in rock ‘n’ roll, albeit on the more subdued side.

Think ten o’clock at a high school dance and you’ll get the general idea.

The record’s got a laid back cool vibe to it after kicking off with some prominent drums to get your attention before settling back with dueling saxes along with a guitar and piano adding rhythmic cappers to the horn lines, all of it taken at a slow but insistent pace that sort of justifies the last word of the Teen Town Strut title they gave it.

You could definitely see some 16 year olds with more attitude than experience strutting along to this down the Windy City streets after nightfall, hoping they’d be taken seriously even if they were really out of their element.

But that’s the power of music, if done right it can provide you with the right frame of mind for your illicit activities and while this song never encourages those kids to start any trouble, it also doesn’t prevent them from looking as though they were willing to mix it up should the need arise.

Obviously neither the band nor the designated kids want such a result – it’s far safer to exude quiet confidence than have to prove it loudly – but Mallard does give this just enough subtle menace in some of his lines to keep passer-bys on their toes.

The arrangement however is very discreet in how it does this, letting each of the other instruments contribute noticeably without ever stepping into the forefront, save for the mini-piano break which is the weakest section of the record before the sax comes back to the give things a more sultry aura heading into the final stretch where all the horns come together to repeat the primary riff together, which isn’t quite as captivating as the first half when it was more of a solo effort.

As a record – and certainly as a potential hit record – this is nothing special, though certainly nothing bad either, just not too commercial. But as atmosphere for kids wishing they were up to no good it makes for really good mood music and as we know in rock ‘n’ roll finding the right mood is sometimes more than enough to get by… no matter your age.

Age Of Naïve Innocence
If you were curious as to the musical direction that Sax Mallard was more comfortable with, look no further than the flip side which is class personified.

In this case the title was already affixed to the song, but if you wanted to be clever you could definitely suggest that he was stating his true allegiance with I’m Yours, telling the nose-in-the-air audience most inclined to gravitate to that kind of light elegant piece that he was firmly in their corner.

The problem was that fan base, while they may have provided him with a steady income from his club work, were not the kind to buy records in vast quantities like those preferring Teen Town Strut.

That’s the dichotomy of the respective age related markets in a nutshell.

Adults had driven the industry for years, but while records were popular in the 1920’s-1940’s they took a back seat to radio play and nightclub activity when it came to how most people consumed music. With those options adults could either listen for free to the former (thinking records were an indulgence) and hear all the music they wanted, or they could go out and get a nice night out on the town – away from the kids – when it came to the latter, dinner, drinks maybe some dancing or just listening to a band in a club, meaning the music they heard while they were out would largely be a secondary consideration. In other words, their musical investment was gauged more by time than by financial devotion.

By the time we get to the Fifties however the growing economic independence of teenagers who didn’t have mortgages, food and gas to pay for but did have an abiding interest in music that didn’t get played on the radio in rock’s early days, meant they used whatever loose change they finagled, swindled or scraped up to buy records and rapidly expand the rock market which in turn increasingly forced radio’s hand until they were compelled to play this “junk” as well because that’s where the ratings were.

When adults finally woke up and saw that everything they held dear was under attack they were too stupid to realize that trend could’ve probably been reversed within three months if parents simply held back kids allowances and instead spent all that money on Mantovani records themselves, thereby flipping things “back to normal” by taking away the financial incentive for the record labels and radio outlets to cater to the more fervent youth market.

But even so, I’m guessing someone like Sax Mallard could’ve probably adapted to that as well.


(Visit the Artist page of Sax Mallard for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)