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SELECTIVE 114; DECEMBER, 1949

 
 

 

At a certain point in one’s career you come to realize that you probably aren’t going to win a Nobel Prize, an Academy Award or even Employee Of The Month. No matter how hard you toil in life the success that you might’ve hoped for and even believed was inevitable just isn’t going to come.

You may be perfectly serviceable in your position, even valued by those who have to come to rely on your professionalism and dependability in the trenches, but you aren’t going to be getting any glory for it, nor any big promotion or raise in pay. You’re a worker bee in a field where all of the acclaim goes to the queen.

Or in the case of guitarist Teddy Bunn you’re a musician whose best years of your life have been spent making others look good, helping them to hits while you draw your piddling session fees and toil in relative anonymity.

But wanting to take one last shot at stardom you throw your hat into the ring in a fairly new field called rock ‘n’ roll which hasn’t yet fully established their hierarchy and where even the ground rules of the idiom haven’t completely been set in stone and in this largely unsettled realm you hope that good fortune might finally smile upon you.

It won’t. We know that just as surely as Teddy Bunn knew it going in and so he’ll soon drift back into the peaceful obscurity of a career as a supporting player. Before he does though he’s at least earned the right to try and bend our ear once more and give any curious explorers of some noteworthy guitar players of the first few years of rock a little more to chew over.
 

 

Disappearing In Plain Sight
If ever there was a figure who was destined to be forever on the fringe of being widely known without fully crossing into the ranks of a household name it would be Teddy Bunn.

Bunn was among the pioneers of the electric guitar and therefore his name will pop up from time to time in books and articles that touch upon those early experiments of the 1930’s and 40’s, thereby keeping him from being completely forgotten. But unlike other pioneers like Charlie Christian, Les Paul or T-Bone Walker who scored commercially with their efforts at the same time and thus were elevated to prominence as a result, Bunn was always stuck in the background of those group photos, his face peering out from between two or three others if not having half of his body cropped out of the picture altogether for space considerations.

That his most notable work at the time came on acoustic guitar in the 1930’s before he made the switch to electric in 1940 upon which time he faced a long recording drought before re-emerging mid-decade when the instrument had already gained considerable traction is apropos of his cursed fate.

When he did finally start notching some hits in rock ‘n’ roll he was further hampered for recognition due to three additional factors, the first being that the records were credited to Edgar Hayes And His Stardusters, the group he’d been playing with for a number of years. Had they been named Teddy Bunn and His Band Of Fun or Teddy Bunn and The Bunsen Burners, then maybe he’d have gotten the credit due him.

The second reason why his successful run with Hayes didn’t result in much long term notoriety is because rock ‘n’ roll of the 1940’s and even early 1950’s fell upon deaf ears in white America, which unfortunately due to their population numbers and the accompanying stranglehold over the publishing enterprises of the past century meant that Bunn and this period of rock in general never had the type of in-depth study that was its right.

As for the third reason why he still remains something of a shadowy figure even with those who WOULD be interested in learning more about early rock and its best practitioners – a group I’m optimistically assuming includes all of you – is because the guitar itself had yet to fully grab hold of the music and shake it up, putting its distinctive imprint on it in a way that the tenor saxophone was doing during this same period of time.

So while Bunn’s best efforts with Hayes such as Edgar’s Boogie showed what he was capable of he still wouldn’t commit to drawing all of the attention to himself in order to make his case for why the electric guitar should be given a greater role in the music overall, something which continues to be the case even when performing under his own name on record with Jackson’s Nook. It seems that no matter how much it might benefit him to be a little more greedy when it comes to seeking acclaim, Teddy Bunn can’t help but politely defer to others, a sideman’s mentality to the end.
 

Who The Hell Is Jackson And What Nook Has He Shoved Teddy Bunn Into?
Maybe it was Selective Records, a small record label doomed for irrelevancy from the start, who urged Bunn to try and come up with an instrumental that highlighted the horn-driven arrangements that had dominated the early rock instrumental field.

Or maybe it was Bunn himself who – good soldier that he was – figured this was the best chance for success and since he was a session musician at heart he’d be perfectly content to take a back seat on his own record as well.

But if either of those were the case what they forgot to consider was that generally speaking the horn-fueled instrumental HITS in rock to date were a lot more interesting and exciting than much of this one.

Jackson’s Nook is a somewhat sleepy – if well played – record which only contains one stretch in which Bunn gets to rev things up and that only comes along halfway through the record, about the time which most listeners hearing this in passing have sort of zoned out if not lost interest altogether.

Once again the band here is a mixture of Bunn’s follow Stardusters – Curtis Counce and Bryant Allen on bass and drums respectively, who also get songwriting credit – and rounded out by saxophonist Pony Poindexter and pianist Jerome Parsons. Looking at that lineup it’s not hard to envision how this session took place, as Bunn probably got an offer from a small label and recruited some of the guys he was already working with and then just called up some friends to join them, or perhaps the others were simply part of the house band for Selective’s roster.

Notice though that none of them are named Jackson, which doesn’t necessarily mean anything except it’s another oddity to have to consider. It very likely might be the name of a disc jockey (Hal Jackson is the best bet, though he was an East Coast guy not a Los Angeles radio personality where Selective Records was operating out of), but as we’ve seen before those types of secret handshakes between label and dee-jays rarely in lieu of payola resulted in any significant boost to sales so they’d have been far better off naming it after the primary artist, or just calling it something catchy, if completely irreverent.

At least they didn’t name it something silly after Pony Poindexter who gets the lion’s share of the first half of the song. He’s an alto player however which as we know is not the preferred horn of degenerate rockers who prefer the tenor, though Poindexter plays his alto with a little bit of grit along the way to try and compensate for the horn’s higher tone. But while he’s certainly tolerable for rock it can’t help but also conjure up images of the lighter fare played at the jazzier club on the corner.
 

Lessons On The Fine Art Of Sticking Your Finger In A Live Electrical Socket For Kicks
The song is shaping up to be no more than a moderately soothing trifle, even when Bunn makes his first appearance it’s subdued and mellow and gives no hint as to his stellar reputation on the instrument.

It’s the kind of song that no matter how close attention you’ve paid to it during the first minute and twenty seconds your mind is bound to be wandering by now. Jackson’s Nook is merely a time filler on the bandstand, a way to plug a hole in Selective’s release schedule and a magnanimous gesture by Bunn to “reward” his pals Counce and Allen with a songwriting credit – not that a record like this would garner enough sales to make their royalties pay for coffee and donuts the next morning.

But finally at the 1:24 mark Teddy Bunn has had enough of watching his career float lazily down some babbling brook off the main tributary of modern music and he decides to turn the craft around and paddle furiously back to the raging waters of rock ‘n’ roll excitement.

The sounds his guitar emits now are furious bordering on panic inducing. It’s almost as if he had been dreaming that he was falling off a cliff and woke up screaming in bed, thrashing at the sheets, heart pounding, sweat pouring off him. Its sudden arrival comes out of the blue and while he eases back pretty quickly, he still manages to walk that tightrope between stealthy menace and violent attack as well as any guitarist we’ve seen over this thirty five second blitzkrieg assault on the senses.

This is the Teddy Bunn we’ve been waiting for and this is the role those of us from the future have been anticipating in the rock story for quite some time now. Yes, the guitar has gotten far too much credit as rock’s primary soloing instrument in the history books and in public perception but you gotta admit that when its wielded so powerfully it does hold a certain allure.

When he bows out and lets Poindexter take this to the finish line you sense that it was either because Bunn had blown a fuse or simply because he’d sufficiently made his point already and knew that it would resonate more if he allowed it to contrast with a return to the more genteel horn, piano and bass interplay that opened things.

Of course, as invigorating as it is to hear Bunn cut loose the song itself remains something of a patchwork quilt of ideas, neatly sewn together maybe but hardly forming a seamless spread of musical cohesion.

Nothing clashes outright, which is always our main concern, but rather than coming across as a natural progression of sounds, one thing building to a crescendo before handing off to the next instrument to carry out the thought in a different dialect as it were, what we get instead is kind of like flipping back and forth between two related, but contrasting, presentations. Like going from the witty verbal radio shows of 1949 to that year’s television hits with their overuse of showy gimmicks and wild visuals that defined the early years of the medium. You might get something worthwhile out of each but they hardly go hand in hand together.
 

Lessons Learned
Teddy Bunn’s gift and curse were one in the same – he was ahead of his time. That means he has to be viewed as a musical trendsetter, the kind of figures we generally like to heap credit on for the innovations that went on to shape the sounds of tomorrow. But because he WAS ahead of his time he never got to bask in the glow of the widespread acceptance of those sounds from the grateful masses.

Already forty years old, a professional for more than twenty years with a list of interesting and noteworthy stops along the way, Teddy Bunn was probably seen as something of a crazy old codger in the rock game, a guy who kept insisting that he had discovered some valuable secret that he was willing to share with the world but nobody took him seriously enough because he seemed to be outside of their insular world due to his age and experience.

When others finally did catch on Teddy Bunn was already kicking around in the hinterlands again, playing different styles of music for smaller audiences and nobody really bothered to take the time to examine where these cacophonous licks and tricks stemmed from.

Though hardly an “average” sounding record for 1949, the end result of these dueling aims winds up landing on that score, which in a perverse way might be fitting since the techniques he shed light on here would – in time anyway – go on to be the average sound of a lot of rock ‘n’ roll around the corner when Teddy Bunn had long since been forgotten.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Teddy Bunn for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)