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KING 4470; SEPTEMBER 1951

 
 

 

Adjustments.

We all have to make them eventually.

In a playoff series when the other team comes up with a game plan that catches you off guard and leads to an upset, you have to adjust for that the next game and do something to counter their revised strategy to negate the advantage they had in the last contest.

If you’re the kind of guy who tosses your dirty clothes on your bedroom floor all the time and your new girlfriend is going to be spending a lot of nights there from now on, maybe it’s time to invest in a hamper.

If you’re a rock musician who rose to fame with some huge instrumental hits and now you’re facing a landscape in which those are no longer as successful, not to mention losing the sax player who helped make them such big hits in the first place, you need to make an adjustment… like getting a singer.

Just not necessarily THIS singer.
 

 

Have You Lost Your Lovely Touch?
We’ve said it before and it’s worth saying again… as important as he was in helping to establish the commercial viability of rock as well as showing the importance of creating a rhythmic groove in songs, Sonny Thompson never set out to do any of it.

He was bandleader and session musician, not an aspiring star in his own right and it was only a series of interconnected events that thrust him into the spotlight as a headlining artist when an imminent recording ban necessitated the stockpiling of songs for which instrumentals were ideally suited.

Pairing him with saxophonist Eddie Chamblee gave them a much more diverse sound than they’d have had otherwise and the hits soon followed but throughout it all, while Thompson couldn’t have been upset by this turn of events, he wasn’t exactly thinking of how to keep it up once those circumstances changed.

His musical palette was much wider than those churning grooves he specialized in and yet the public – not to mention record companies – were less receptive to more complex ornate songs and so once he shifted to King Records he continued to try and give them what they expected and failed at it miserably.

Some records along the way weren’t bad, but they weren’t hits and to a label anything that wasn’t a hit had to be bad, so he began to look for atypical solutions.

Paul Williams, who scored rock’s very first – and separately its biggest – instrumental hit has been faced with the same problem and turned to singers to try and give the people something new to consider. While a few of these met with our subjective approval, Joan Shaw most notably, they too fell short of commercial expectations and so he’s still testing out new singers as we speak, all while surely not wanting any ONE singer to succeed and become seen as more vital to that success than the bandleader.

Which brings us back to Sonny Thompson and his underwhelming Blue Piano… a fitting title for the predicament the pianist finds himself in, but also one that shows that just sticking a vocalist on a track and handing him a few lyrics to warble does not intrinsically make a record more appealing… there has to actually something of merit in what’s being sung.

What a novel idea! Too bad they didn’t think of that before pressing this up and selling it to the public.
 

Are You Trying To Keep Me Crying?
Let’s dispense with those lyrics and vocals right off the bat, like they should have during the first run-through, because they just don’t work.

The gimmick this uses is to have the lines being sung TO the piano, an inanimate object, as if it understands him. Now this is not a completely outlandish device provided the singer can internalize the lyrics, singing it to themselves as a vehicle for dealing with their own hurt but addressing the lines to the piano which seems to taunt them by playing such melencholy music all the time.

Doris Day might’ve sold this really well, but of course she was a great actress and so it’d be easier for her than for Royal Brent, who, let it be said, is lucky he’s got his kingdom to fall back on because as a vocalist he can’t sing his way out of a paper bag.

The tone of his voice is alright and he’s not out of key or anything, but my god he’s singing as if he knew four languages and English wasn’t one of them. There’s no recognition of the sentiments he’s crooning, no thought going into his phrasing, no impact on his psyche that the story should be conveying. Instead he’s sleepwalking through it, following the trance-like rhythm without paying the least bit of attention to what he’s saying.

Then there’s the guy behind that Blue Piano whose name is still adorning the label. Rather than use this to show off a few varied moods, as if each stanza was addressing a different song that piano was playing, Sonny Thompson is barely contributing anything, a few stray notes here and there but all of it nonessential. The guitar gets a bigger showcase and that’s atrocious for the most part, sounding as if he’s auditioning for someone else’s band, while the rumored sax on this session is again nowhere to be found, just like on the flip, Sunshine Blues, which as boring as it was looks like sheer musical genius compared to this.

The one and only bright spot here is the loping bass line which you’ll surely recognize from lots of 1950’s film noirs and hard-boiled TV shows, all of which seemed to share it like The Rat Pack shared a tailor.

Otherwise this record is like a veneral disease, to be shared only without consent.
 


 
 

Am I Asking For Too Much?
If you wanted to make the argument that Sonny Thompson was purposefully sabotaging his own career as a headliner so he was free to move back behind the scenes where he was more comfortable I wouldn’t have any reason to dispute you because this single is not only awful but awfully boring as well.

The adjustment he’s making to backing singers again was not a bad one, but on Blue Piano he chose a bad singer to sing a bad song – which is the fault of the usually infallible Henry Glover.

In recent months Thompson had again been sitting in on a handful of sessions for other name artists and that was where his heart seemed to be, but Syd Nathan had signed him as a headliner, not a sideman and occasional songwriter. Something had to give soon.

Luckily for him it would and with it he’d get a second life as an artist, but for now you’d be excused for thinking this dismal record might be his epitaph.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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