SAVOY 843; APRIL 1952



Homecomings are one of those things that sound better in theory than in practice, especially when it comes to business.

For starters, nobody really gets that sentimental over where you earn your living. When it comes to sports where fans primarily follow teams rather than individual players, there’s a certain sentimentality to a star coming back to finish out their career with the club they started with years before, but in most walks of life who really gets misty eyed if the pharmacist returns to the same drug store they worked at a decade earlier?

In music circles, while certain labels have higher quality production to appreciate, what matters most is the artist themselves. Their output, especially if it’s self-written, shouldn’t be significantly different no matter who signs their paychecks before they bounce.

Yet with the steady stream of defections from the roster of Savoy Records over the past year or two, at least one person, owner Herman Lubinsky, had to be glad to see someone coming back IN the door for once, rather than running out that same door screaming to be set free.


No Name Brand
Maybe if you’re one of those who catalogs ancient rock artist’s releases like other people commit recipes or old baseball statistics to memory, you’ll be wondering how pianist T. J. Fowler is “returning” to Savoy Records when his only releases as an artist came on National and Sensation records.

Well, he got his start with Paul Williams’s band, another Detroit-based musician who is about the only rock artist on Savoy who hasn’t fled for better working conditions… like say mining coal or scraping barnicals off battleships in freezing waters.

After appearing with Williams for his run of early hits, Fowler went out on his own and though he hasn’t scored any hits of his own during that time, his work has included some really great efforts such as Red Hot Blues and Midnight Clipper which show he knew how to put together a song.

Of course by 1952 the market for tight combo instrumentals is not what it once was, even Williams has added vocalists to try and return to the charts, so the idea that someone like with no name recognition will be able to score with a song called Fowler’s Boogie is pretty far fetched.

But maybe by now with the loss of their biggest stars, Savoy Records is desperate enough to take what they can get, hoping that an innocuous instrumental made for dancing might draw enough mild interest to keep them in the game for awhile longer.


Well Done Vs. Done Well And Other Vagaries Of Music
You can’t say that a record like this is bad. It features good playing of a decent arrangement with very clearly drawn sections that highlight the various band members.

Then again you can’t say that what they play is anything great. Nothing here will turn your head, open your eyes or bend your ear. It’s workmanlike, professional and entirely competent stuff, but also lacking imagination and doesn’t display enough sheer technical virtuosity to make up for the rather pedestrian composition.

But that probably makes Fowler’s Boogie sound like something you should avoid altogether, which isn’t true at all. There’s an admirable balance between a tight arrangement and a loose playing style that comes through right away with the back and forth exchange between Fowler’s piano and the horns on the ascending intro that builds anticipation nicely.

What follows isn’t exactly a resounding payoff to that build-up, but it’s not a let down either as the horns play a succinct riff over a solid backbeat by drummer Clarence Stamps who is rock solid throughout. That the horns aren’t pulling you in enough, perhaps due to sticking with the higher end which doesn’t have what it takes to grab you by the guts – or more precisely a little lower than that – is a drawback, but you see the point of their decision when the Walter Cox’s tenor finally come in for a solo near the midway point while Lee Gross switches during that section from alto to baritone.

That’s where this is at its best because dance music, at least this kind of dancing as opposed to waltzing around the floor with your nose in the air, is centered around the deeper rhythms… you know, something that gets your hips moving rather than your feet mincing around the room.

Even when that section ends and Gross moves back to alto they at least keep the same spirit alive because the mixing balance has shifted more to the rhythm section, even though the horn riff that started the song has returned. You could criticize the engineer here I suppose but at least it was done for a reason that does make perfect sense… on paper that is… which is the horns at the beginning were setting the stage for what follows, whereas when they return down the stretch now they are purposefully taking a back seat to that rhythm, more intent on adding shades than dominating the scene.

The problem is that while on the whole it works to show the band’s cohesiveness as well as displays a very good understanding of how to put a record together, the songwriting itself – and by extension the performance of the song as written – is somewhat disposable.


Back To Front And Back Down Again
Sometimes you wonder what artists who are used to being in the background are thinking when they head into the foreground.

Do they have a trunkful of thoughts, dreams and creative ideas itching to be released and can’t wait to show the world what they can do when the responsibility falls entirely on them, or do they still inhabit the same mindset of a backing musician where it’s never about drawing attention to yourself, but rather just fitting in and doing a professional job no matter the content?

Fowler has done both in his few attempts as a solo draw, with more ambitious attempts followed by things that are more run-of-mill, making him not that much different than guys who’ve been in the spotlight from the very start.

The difference is on something like Fowler’s Boogie the fact that he succeeds at highlighting the band in a cohesive way might actually make you notice the more pedestrian song they’re offering, whereas a sloppier arrangement of a better song could overcome the technical imperfections with sheer enthusiasm.

Either way though, it’s doubtful Savoy Records was going to be able to turn their sinking fortunes around with anything T. J. Fowler and company came up with, no matter how good it was.

In 1952 a tight band, though vital as can be for the overall sound of a record, aren’t going to be the stars anymore and until the label gets some singers who can capture the public’s imagination their days as a leader in the rock field might just be coming to a rather quiet and ignominious close.


(Visit the Artist page of T.J. Fowler for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)