SAVOY 857; AUGUST 1952



On the day this goes up it happens to be America’s Independence Day… a national holiday where one typically encounters patriotic yahoos wearing the flag in ways that violates all known tastes in fashion, many of whom are also missing a few fingers from blowing them off while lighting fireworks.

Most of the rest of society who don’t have the misfortune of falling into one of those two categories is likely to be drunk before noon and passed out by nightfall.


So it’s hardly coincidence that the song being reviewed on this day involves drinking, the unofficial pasttime of a nation.


The Real Stuff
According to the always accurate internet, the first wine cooler – the drink which combined white wine, various citrus flavors and carbonated soda water – hit the market in 1981.

Obviously a record by this name which was released thirty years earlier kind of refutes this claim, even if the mixology behind it was slightly different.

The fact is wine was a common mixer with fruit flavors… listen to All That Wine Is Gone by Big Jay McNeely with Three Dots And A Dash and it’s like perusing the shelves of a Southern California liquor store in the early 1950’s.

In other words, whatever it was “officially” called, these flavored wines were cheap, easy to obtain, perfect “starter” drinks for younger kids… which not surprisingly turned out to be the case in the 1980’s when wine cooler’s popularity peaked in 1987, largely because underage drinkers adjusted much easier to its taste, lower alcohol content and probably less stringent adult disapproval of it than beer or hard booze.

The market for it was destroyed by a huge bump in taxes on wine in 1991 which meant wine was no longer a viable means for flavored drinks to get a mild buzz and was replaced by Hard Lemonade and malt derived fruit flavored drinks.

T. J. Fowler had nothing whatsoever to do with any of this of course. For all we know he didn’t drink and even if he happened to be a fall-down drunk in real life chances are he didn’t name this instrumental Wine Cooler himself.

More than likely that was probably a decision made by someone at Savoy Records when looking for a catchy title that had natural appeal to the primary rock audience as well as giving listeners some vague indication of the type of record this was before they deposited their nickel for a jukebox spin or plunked down 89 cents for the single.

In that regard they chose a pretty good name for it. Lively fizzy music with lots of different instrumental flavors to choose from which are strewn throughout the run time, all of which display just enough of a bite to get you a little bit buzzed without risking much of a hangover in the process.

It’s Wet And It’s Dry
Where do you feel like heading during this night on the town?

With the scintillating guitar that opens this with a snarl, you think this is a hyper-aggressive track looking for a rumble on the docks.

When the horns immediately displace that by playing a jazzier economical riff you are hurtled into a classier club across town where you are discouraged from sitting at table with open wounds that might stain their carpet.

As the sax solos come in we’re back across the tracks at a dance being held in a cheaper gin joint or tobacco barn where as the heat in the room rises the clothing on the backs of the participants drop from their bodies.

And so it goes.

Wine Cooler is all of those things, yet none of those thing exclusively, making it a little harder to get a firm grip on than you’d like.

That’s not to say it’s not effective. The arrangement manages to incorporate these disparate sounds in a very natural way where the shift from one to another doesn’t clash and make the entire record seem like an exercise in musical schizophrenia. But because it never holds onto one dominant mood throughout it also doesn’t captivate you like it should.

It’s still a good dance record. All of the parts are churning along nicely, the pace remains constant no matter which instrument is carrying the load at any given moment, and the musicianship itself is pretty stellar. Calvin Frazier’s guitar stands out most, not just because of the skill with which he plays but also because the harsher tone he uses sets it off nicely against the warmer and more welcoming sound of the horns.

They manage the sometimes difficult feat of finding proper roles for the non-rock brass – John Lawton’s trumpet – which plays those aforementioned jazzier hooks with the alto backing him, though it’s still Walter Cox’s tenor, which at times drops down for baritone-like honks, that remains more of a focal point throughout the record with a good solo to remind you of when that sound dominated all rock instrumentals not that long ago.

But that said the riffs of all of the leads at each juncture of Wine Cooler are pretty decent, yet the fact that they’re so varied may work against it being truly memorable even as it shows them to be more creative in the bargain.

We haven’t even mentioned T. J. Fowler himself yet in terms of the playing, but his piano solo is hardly a let down even if it doesn’t lift things up any higher either and even when he’s not in the spotlight his work on the keys provides the vital rhythmic lynchpin to the whole performance.

Mostly this is what you’d call a tightly constructed arrangement designed to suggest a loose jam session and while it succeeds in that aim, the concept itself has limitations in that it never gives itself over to the wild improvisations that would define a true jam session.

You sure won’t mind this as it plays and you’re out on the floor grooving with your partner, but you also won’t remember much about it by the time you stagger back to your seat for another drink.


And We Thank You For Your Support
When issuing this just a few days after cutting it, Savoy Records chose this – the more uptempo song – as the A-side, a decision which on the surface makes perfect sense.

Usually the more energetic a song is, the more likely it is to draw notice. The fact that this has guitar and tenor sax taking the majority of the leads falls right into line with the current sonic landscape too.

But they might have come to a different decision had they been able to see into the future and studied the rapid rise and fall of the Wine Cooler which shares this record’s name.

Those drinks were a short-lived fad that benefited from the novelty aspect of having alcoholic beverages with a soft-drink’s image and which were bolstered by great marketing campaigns.

As a result the market got flooded and every company tried to capitalize on them while the tide was high, putting out so many different flavors hoping to appeal to each and every niche taste thereby ensuring that no single one became firmly established. It couldn’t sustain its sales and the industry turned its back on it as the bottom fell out.

Kind of like the trajectory of the rock instrumental from 1948-1952, wouldn’t you say?

This record is like that drink circa 1990 or so… no longer the hip thing which forces them to try to make up for it by attempting to mildly satisfy each narrow disparate taste without settling on really convincing any one taste that this was the drink – or record – for them.

If you get your hands on one it’ll still go down pretty easy, but when you and your buddies are binge drinking this holiday this kind of record isn’t going to make the fireworks going off over your head seem more colorful.


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