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Though this sort of thing was commonplace in jazz, where songs were stretched out to showcase various musicians in addition to a vocalist as opposed to condensing the material for a concise radio friendly hit, the realities of the singles market in rock ‘n’ roll – a style that relied on the jukebox trade – meant we rarely got to see much flexibility in how their songs were presented.

Two part records were one way around this but they were still relatively rare in rock and those that split the sides between vocal and instrumentals even rarer still, so this is a welcome sight if for no other reason than to see if the creative abilities of the artist match the somewhat creative instincts of idea itself.


Just You Wait And See
The evolution of popular music since the dawn of the record generally tends to focus on musical styles rather than musical structure, even though the two are intrinsically tied to one another.

When we look more closely at how songs were constructed we see how prevalent the jazz aesthetic was in the first few decades of the recording era where the music, not the vocal, was the centerpiece of much of popular music. Right up to the dawn of the 1940’s pure pop music featured “vocal interludes” where a second-billed singer would step in to what appeared to be a sweet instrumental performance by the band who was the true featured performer, singing just a snippet of the lyrics before the music took over again.

Rock ‘n’ roll, as you surely know, basically flipped this with the vocals dominating while the band got an instrumental break, though they weren’t the first to do so. Blues had been doing that from the start because they generally had fewer musicians playing simpler patterns and were more interested in telling stories which naturally required the focus to be on the singer.

Pop followed suit in the 1940’s when the first of two musician’s union strikes that decade meant that the only new recordings that could be made were vocal, usually with chorales behind them to flesh out the sound in the absence of instrumentation, and that, along with the increasing reliance of records – rather than live bands – on radio, sped up the shift to more condensed performances where vocals took precedence over instrumental elements.

What any of this has to do with Stick McGhee who was a rock act might not seem obvious but on Wee Wee Hours it could be argued that he sort of melded those two mindsets together with a two part record in which the first half was vocal and the second half was purely instrumental.

While the two sides are disparate enough where it’d probably make more sense to review them separately, doing so would deprive us of the chance to see how they tied together even if in the it was almost certainly not cut as one long extended performance.

Here’s What I’m Saying
Though he’s not credited on the label, other than getting a co-writing credit, Brownie McGhee joins his younger sibling Stick to make the first side of this record essentially a duet between the two, which frankly is it’s problem.

Now Brownie McGhee was a great blues artist, both singing and playing guitar, and was a frequent studio partner of his brother from the very beginning, so we know they can work well together, but not here where his harmony vocals on the choruses only accentuate what was already a somewhat grating vocal performance by Stick who is hampered by the slow pace they wrote this in.

You can definitely see what they were hoping to do on Wee Wee Hours Part One, where McGhee is trying to paint a picture of loneliness and desolation after his girl has left and he’s wide awake thinking about her in the middle of the night, but with that draggy tempo he doesn’t have enough room to expound on the situation beyond just setting up the basic plot. When Brownie comes in they struggle to stay in step with one another because of how deliberate the words need to be sung and consequently the droning vocals they use to achieve this are hardly very inviting.

Musically it fares a little better thanks to an edgy sounding guitar intro with a horn tag before descending into the vocal slog that follows. Yet even behind him there are some interesting choices made, such as how they have the drums serve to accentuate the marching pace as if they were Stick’s footsteps as if he’s pacing the floor all night.

With Harry Van Wall’s contributing some twitchy piano lines over the slinky horns it keeps it just lively enough so that the tempo problem is not as apparent if you ignore the vocals… which may be why they decided to focus entirely on that aspect when they flipped the record over.


My Imagination Of This Situation
The prospect of the same creeping instrumental track taking center stage without vocals or a story to offset it might not sound particularly appealing on the surface, even if those aspects were the better components of the top side, but where this excels is in how they fill it out to compensate for the lack of any singing.

The basic ingredients are indeed the same. Electric guitars playing a harsh methodical melody, piano chipping in with rapid fire fills to keep you from getting drowsy while the sax plays the kind of gently swaying lines that were such a feature on slow dance rock tunes of the decade, not that Wee Wee Hours Part Two was that kind of song as its next section showed.

They switch to a back and forth trade-off between guitar and sax which finds the latter playing a trance-like five note pattern while Stick’s guitar answers with a variety of brief riffs keeping it interesting. Notably this also alters the mood just enough that you stay focused on what they’re doing rather than letting yourself drift away.

The sax solo that follows is the highlight, a perfectly judged, mid-paced striptease performance over a a baritone sax base that takes the record to the finish line with the increasingly jittery work of McGhee and Van Walls adding to the increasingly restless ambiance that tells us the night the title refers to is finally about to heat up.

Unfortunately that’s precisely when they send us to bed, albeit with a smile that they were able to give us a distinctive atmospheric mood to pull it out in the end.

I Just Got The News
Though the record itself is certainly flawed, the dual approach concept is still interesting enough to admire, although you wonder if they’d not been tied down to a format that required two roughly equal length halves if they might’ve re-worked it to fit the old school jazz-pop prototype.

Probably not, the two McGhee brothers were hardly well versed in that style, though of course having lived through that era and being music fans they certainly might’ve appreciated it on a personal level, but it is interesting to ponder how it could’ve worked.

Open with the first half of the second side, then segue into the vocal section to relate the story while curtailing the choruses which drag everything down, before switching back to the second half of the instrumental side starting with the sax and letting that play out longer to come to a satisfying conclusion. That might’ve been really worth hearing.

But it was 1952 not 1937, and it was rock ‘n’ roll rather than a mixture of two far more melodic genres, so we get instead Wee Wee Hours, a two part single where Part One might do just enough to earn a (4) thanks to decent standalone vocals by Stick and the underlying musical bed.

Meanwhile Part Two would easily get a (6) thanks to a much more consistent and appealing sound from start to finish and because it contains the highlight of both sides which is the extended work of the sadly anonymous saxophonist.

Maybe combining the parts here isn’t the fairest way to evaluate them but it’s not often we get a chance to see how these things come about and whatever your opinion on the respective qualities of the two sides, they’re best compared to one another rather than to be left to fend for themselves.


(Visit the Artist page of Stick McGhee for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)