KING 4554; JULY 1952



Four and a half years later and they’re still seeking to replicate their breakthrough, the biggest rock hit of all in 1948, a two-part instrumental classic that by now must be long forgotten by the current younger crop of rock fan.

Do we praise their persistency or criticize their lack of confidence in exploring other avenues?

Well, we can do both can’t we?


Long, Long Gone
Let’s start with the criticism first because that’s always more fun.

First the obligatory refresher course in a nutshell, because if you don’t know it by now you’re either clueless about rock history in general, or are suffering from dementia and I’m not equipped to cure you of it over the internet, you’ll have to come into the office for that.

Sonny Thompson never wanted to be a star performer, he was just a musician who got roped into cutting instrumentals in late 1947 by Miracle Records where he was working as the bandleader for their sessions. They wanted more material to get them through the upcoming Recording Ban that would last the bulk of 1948 and they came away with a winner when his two part slow groove instrumental Long Gone became the runaway smash of the season. He scored another chart topper the next summer and was now more or less resigned to trying to be a headliner.

But piano players who didn’t sing rarely were suited for such things and so his commercial returns began to suffer. King Records swooped in to pick him up, as he was still a big name and could at least be put to work in the studio backing others, and he continued to draw blanks, even with some fairly nice sides strewn among them.

Then he met singer Lula Reed and they scored a huge hit with I’ll Drown in My Tears last spring and so you’d think his new course was set, but here he is again with a two-part slow groove instrumental, trying to relive his past glories. If not for the knowledge that he actually recorded this the first day of February – BEFORE his comeback hit with Reed was issued – we’d really take him to task and call this a pathetic attempt to perform CPR on a corpse.

But now the praise, couched though it may be… which is Real, Real Fine might not be the most confident of career moves to come up with at any point, but that doesn’t mean it still can’t be a decent song well executed and perfectly suitable for certain rock settings in 1952.

We can even say that because it’s been so long since he rose to fame with that same type of record his intent here might not have been to recapture the old fans with an old game plan, but rather to see if an old game plan might work on a new audience.

We WON’T say that because this is the record industry where that kind of integrity is non-existent, but we will say that all things considered this is at least a record that won’t impinge upon your personal ethics to give a spin and find something nice to say about it in the end.


The Still Of The Night
It’s not just the younger generation of rock fans who will be new to this approach, it’s also the band itself, for Sonny Thompson’s original crew – The Sharps And The Flats – are (pardon the obvious phrase) long gone themselves by now.

Instead he’s got a new unit with Lloyd Trotman on bass being maybe the most recognizable name if you’re one of the many in this world with a peculiar fetish for cataloging the comings and goings of session musicians, as he played one of rock’s most familiar basslines a decade in the future on Ben E. King’s Stand By Me.

Meanwhile Bill Johnson on tenor, David Brooks handling the guitar and Les Erskine on drums are the ones joining Thompson on this slow walk through a rather mild instrumental that sounds at times as if it’s a Ray-O-Vacs record sans vocals as Johnson employs the same dusty sounding sax early on as their records seemed to have.

The buzzing solo by Trotman is by far the most unique thing about Real, Real Fine, as it almost sounds as if he’s augmenting it with a kazoo. It’s certainly the longest bass solo we’ve heard in rock, but there’s no chance it’s going to be in the running for most exciting when all is said and done.

For the most part though, Part One (which typically Spotify doesn’t have) is a sleepy sort of song, the kind of thing that is played after the patrons have filed out the door and just the staff remains behind dumping out ashtrays and clearing the drinking glasses off the tables and bar. There’s nothing invigorating about it, yet it’s a nice enough way to help you unwind from a long night on your feet.

You’d hope Part Two might provide something with a bit more pep so you make it home fully alert, but it merely changes the instrumental focus after a trade off between Johnson and Thompson it’s Sonny who takes the majority of the run time, playing well as always but not stirring much excitement in the process.

Johnson takes over midway through and likewise is perfectly acceptable in his role but by the time Thompson returns for another run on the keys the lights have been dimmed, the waitstaff is mumbling their goodnights to each other, sticky dollar bills from tips stuffed in their pockets, and as they drift out onto the street you can still hear Johnson blowing lazily into the darkness, another uneventful night into the books.

Turn Out The Lights
You can’t really take issue with Sonny Thompson for working something like this up – he was probably sick of playing his big hit each night he went on the road and perhaps thought this might have the same effect while allowing him to not lose his mind – nor can you call out King Records for putting it out now (not the fall as most online resources have it being issued) as they had two Thompson records still stirring interest, one released just last month.

In fact, maybe it was actually smart on their part, as now that Sonny Thompson’s good name had been revived by his recent smash there was much more reason to think that audiences would pick up Real, Real Fine on that basis alone.

Sure they’d probably be disappointed – especially since Lula Reed isn’t around (unless that really WAS a kazoo and she was playing it) – but this kind of sleepy instrumental still serves a purpose in rock, even if it’s simply as a way to tell any stragglers that the party is officially over.

For Thompson though it’s not over. He got his reprieve with Reed and from now on will look to capitalize on that, which sort of makes this one last look back at what got him this far to begin with.

Not much to get worked up about for good or bad really.


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