No tags :(

Share it




It’s doubtful in 1950 – or at any time since for that matter – that someone’s “favorite” artist was T. J. Fowler. I’m not even sure it’d be a good bet to say that he was the favorite artist in the Fowler household!

But as mostly anonymous also-rans go, T. J. Fowler has proven over rock’s first couple of years to be a surprisingly good and fairly reliable figure, whether backing Paul Williams on a few early sides or later moving out on his own where his singles haven’t stirred much commercial action but have at times proven to have been better than many big hits by far more legendary names.

As such there’s that tendency among those who’ve found some unexpected thrills in the best of his songs to believe that Fowler was a devoted rock practitioner with an unquenchable thirst for this kind of music. But as we’ve come to learn with most artists, the truth is a lot more ambiguous.


Everything’s Clicking
Like so many other musicians of this era Fowler was someone who was proficient in many different styles depending on what the situation called for. He was steeped in jazz, conversant with pop and hardly averse to rock, all of which had made him an ideal session musician which translated to opportunities to record under his own name when a certain new style of music began to draw considerable interest commercially.

Because of the shifting Black music scene of the late 1940’s and the needs of the independent record companies to find musicians capable of playing (and writing) songs to reach a surprisingly booming market, Fowler delivered plenty of rock ‘n’ roll and proved very capable at it, sometimes, as with Red Hot Blues or his last release Midnight Clipper, far exceeding anyone’s expectations for a one-time sideman.

So those who are devoted to rock ‘n’ roll tend to slot Fowler firmly in that camp and view any attempts by record labels or producers that take him away from that style to be an affront to his talents.

Which brings us, rather uncomfortably, to Hot Sauce a record which only tangentially can be housed in rock ‘n’ roll and which, if we’re being perfectly honest, very well might’ve been a better fit in the more compromised hybrid style he would’ve been equally, if not more, comfortable in all along.


Nothing Will Do For A Good Barbecue
Everything about this song is just a little bit off for any easy categorical slotting. There’s definite jazz leanings here but not for this specific era. In fact for the jazz scene of 1950 this was not just passé but almost looked down upon as too low-brow and blatantly pandering to mainstream non-jazz tastes and trying to be hip in an outdated fashion.

But even that description makes Hot Sauce seem like it’s aspiring to something noteworthy when actually it’s got no such lofty aspirations at all. In truth this is little more than a lackluster attempt to convince listeners not used to going out on a Saturday night that they’re in the midst of some uninhibited good times, but actually is the type of non-essential bandstand filler you’d find at a club that never can attract a full house.

The problem is found in its generic nature, which combined with a mindset more suited for the waning days of 1946 means the song never gets its feet under it. The opening horns have a cinematic fanfare that comes across as artificial if not outright pretentious and hardly the type of thing that would even sound good coming out of a jukebox, let alone at some wild club scene.

Though it quickly scales things down after the band repeatedly chants the title to set the rest of the song up, giving us a more suitable grinding riff in the process, it’s only the first few bars that has any appeal, then it just becomes ordinary and awkwardly two-dimensional. It’s almost as if it’s feigning the mood they’re trying to convey and as a result you’re left to be an outsider looking in on the proceedings.

The arrival of squalling trumpets as the first notable stand-out instrument hardly helps matters and when the band starts to prattle on about the benefits of Hot Sauce on barbecue dishes it can’t even whet your appetite. Not only do the lyrics have no spice, but the singing is third rate, which isn’t surprising considering they’re not professional vocalists, just musicians. They manage to stay reasonably in key but their vocals are sort of muffled because they – and the producers or engineer – have no idea how to mic them properly.

For starters they shouldn’t all be singing in unison, especially without clearly defined parts (tenor, baritone, etc.) to create a full distinct sound. Instead they’re all roughly in the same range and thus blending together too much, something which is hardly helped by the fact they’re chanting more than singing and so intent on not screwing up that they don’t add any flavor to the dish and I say this as someone who would gladly take really good hot sauce intravenously.

In this case though you’d rather go hungry.

You Better Stick With It
The musical side of the ledger is just as devoid of any tangy bite. Aside from Clarence Stamps on drums none of them are bringing much to the table.

Lee Gross kicks things off in the break with a solo on his alto sax and while it’s not bad, there’s also nothing about it that would even get you to turn your head to listen more closely. He’s sticking with a pretty simple groove that in most songs would lead to someone else taking it into the stratosphere after he hands things off. However when Walter Cox on tenor takes over he sticks to the low end of the range in the absence of a baritone and as a result there’s no chance for any explosiveness, wild runs or squealing crescendos.

Where’s Fowler’s piano during all this, you ask? Well, he’s there, but sticking well to the background, meaning Hot Sauce was designed to be a band showcase all along. It’s admirable I suppose that Fowler would give them an entire record in the spotlight, but then again considering what they do once they’re IN that spotlight you almost wonder if he was getting them back after losing a bundle to them playing cards after they stacked the deck on him because nobody is leaving this song with their reputation intact.

In many ways they do far better for themselves on the flip side, the poppish instrumental Blue Lullaby, which is genuinely well played with a hint of jazz in Fowler’s piano lead all of which houses a really nice melody and arrangement.

But of course that’s even further away from rock than this uninspired mess is and so we can’t even get excited about that and are left to wonder if this single – leftover from a year or so ago though it may have been – is a sign that T. J. Fowler and company were about to move on from rock ‘n’ roll and become a nondescript club band in a run-down joint twelve miles outside of town.

Try Not To Quit It
We’ll chalk this up as leftover food hauled out of the back of the fridge to fill their stomach in a pinch but it really shouldn’t have been committed to wax in the first place. Eventually T. J. Fowler was going to discover that if you wanted to move the masses the best way was with unbridled rock ‘n’ roll… something this record most definitely isn’t.

For song calling itself Hot Sauce there’s absolutely no heat coming from this at all. The music is competent for the most part, but considering everything else about the record is forgettable at best (and leaves you desperate TO forget it at worst), then these guys need to do a whole lot more than simply go through the motions to get your interest up.

Though this release might not have anything to do with it, for the next two years Fowler will be taking an extended leave of absence from recording, but while we don’t know exactly what he was up to during that time, we can let you know that when he DOES return it will be with a brand of music far more suited to these pages than this weak sauce that’s far too mild to get a rise out of us.


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