KING 4527; APRIL 1952



Sometimes all the proof you need that something was a good idea is to take a look at the most viable alternative approach had that idea not come along.

In the case of Sonny Thompson that would mean pursuing his age-old game plan of releasing a wide variety of instrumental tracks – some delectable grooves worthy of hit status, but mostly disposable experiments, quirky in nature but decidedly non-commercial in this day and age.

Case in point we have… this song. The throwaway flip side of his creative reinvention and comeback hit.


One Clang
Most skilled professional musicians, no matter how simplistic their biggest achievements may have seemed on the surface, have a sense of artistic pride that they want to express.

They may be fully aware that the songs that connect with the public, whether the lewd honking of the first generation of rock sax stars or the relentless hypnotic groove of Sonny Thompson’s successive instrumental hits, might not have that much in the way of extensive creativity but those were likely songs they considered outliers rather than their primary pursuits.

Yet when left to their own devices their primary pursuits tend not to be nearly as attractive to mass audiences as the things that have actual HOOKS in them, or wild riffing or mesmerizing rhythms.

In other words, simple sells while complex crashes. (Feel free to put that on a bumper sticker or coffee mug…).

For Sonny Thompson a song like Clang, Clang, Clang, despite it’s silly title, was another attempt to show off an idiosyncratic musical mind with jazzy playing over broken rhythms with overlapping textures.

If this were a music class composition we might hand out a better grade for something like this that clearly shows he and the band put in a good deal of work on the arrangement. It does indeed speak highly of their skills in those areas.

But this isn’t a classroom, it’s the free market system where we could care less about such things which tend to work best in a sterile environment. What we care about is whether or not this record will compel us to invest a nickel in the jukebox to play so we can dance… rumble… or even daydream… while the music serves as the perfect backdrop for those activities.

Unfortunately for Thompson, like most classroom projects this record may be an ideal backdrop for dozing off while the professor drones on.


Two Clangs
We have to say that since he’s been on King Records and working closely with ex-trumpeter turned all-star producer Henry Glover, the instrumentals of Sonny Thompson have rebounded in quality.

The excessive pop ornamentation that marred his last year on Miracle Records has been mostly put behind him and he’d returned to the more addictive tight arrangements that led to his first flush of success back in 1948, even giving him his first hit since that period with Mellow Blues this past winter.

So it was obvious that they knew what worked and what didn’t… and yet on Clang, Clang, Clang they went with what didn’t.

Okay, so maybe they were just making it easier for prospective disc jockeys and jukebox lurkers to chose the side they were pinning their collective hopes on – I’ll Drown In My Tears – by pairing it with something that was technically nice and musically proficient but at first glance was as dull as a Sunday morning.

Or maybe it was Glover paying off his end of the deal they’d agreed on awhile back to let Sonny have a few opportunities every now and then to indulge in some futile studio exercises to keep him and the band in shape in between the more commercial – but less mentally strenuous – attempts at crafting compact rock hits.

Then again maybe they just brought in some recording equipment to the local club Thompson’s group was playing in the midst of a blizzard in New York the first day of February when all of three people braved the elements to sit at the back of the club and get snozzled rather than stay in the apartment with their pregnant wife and her overbearing mother.

Actually in that setting, just before midnight, snow piling up outside while you’re sitting in a dark nightclub this might not be a bad way to wile away the hours until you pass out or stagger back home. The interplay between the instruments in the opening – the buzzing quality Lloyd Trotman’s bass and David Brooks’ sax have with Thompson’s piano acting as the intermediary is sort of intriguing.

Even as that spell is broken when Sonny takes over with a fairly indulgent piano solo as drummer Les Erskine is using the brushes just to stay awake, it’s hardly off-putting by any means. Brooks’ hazy sax interlude that follows is sort of nice, giving you the effect of the buzz just starting to hit you from downing the last drink a little too quickly.

Undoubtedly the most interesting part is what comes next as it almost sounds like a cello with some electronic distortion thrown in. What this is, whether Bill Johnson’s guitar, Trotman’s bass (maybe the most likely choice since he wrote the song), or some weird production trick to completely change the sonic qualities of Brook’s saxophone, I don’t know, but consider me fascinated by the possibilities.


Three Clangs, You’re Out
Now all of that still doesn’t add up to a good rock single by any means, even if it is a well-constructed and nicely played song.

The real thought-provoking exercise with this side is to contemplate a few alternative scenarios Sonny Thompson might’ve had to face if he hadn’t hooked up with Lula Reed and remained strictly an instrumentalist for the foreseeable future, or if the quirkiness of Reed’s nasal high-pitched voice had rendered her too inaccessible for most consumers and consequently otherwise great songs might’ve died a quick death instead of reviving Thompson’s commercial prospects.

If either of those had been the case would we have gotten a string of records like Clang, Clang, Clang… clang, clang, clang (there must be an echo in here).

If so, there’s one possibility that we haven’t considered which might’ve enabled Thompson to remain marketable almost in a niche unto himself, and that would be to follow the same path as labelmate Earl Bostic – a guy who could play any sort of music with the utmost skill where he was valued for his musicianship more than his ability to score hits.

Nobody at King Records cut more sides than Bostic and his records – and later his albums – always sold well even if he only rarely managed a hit thanks to a loyal following that belied the chart numbers while allowing for endless experimentation in the studio.

Thompson had the potential to do that, especially if he kept a band like this together, and who knows, along the way they might’ve had a stray hit among his rock sides even if they’d be more likely to release things like this that left you scratching your head in confusion but faintly smiling at the results just the same.


(Visit the Artist page of Sonny Thompson for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)