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SELECTIVE 114; JANUARY, 1950

 
 

 

The music business is made up of artists and record labels both large and small. Those who find success and become household names and those that fade away and wind up being little more than faint names in a dusty ledger somewhere, known to only a few.

Oftentimes the end results of who makes it and who doesn’t seems wrong. Plenty of thieving companies become industry giants and lots of talented artists fall by the wayside.

In the latter category falls Teddy Bunn, a pioneering guitarist whose best years of his career were spent making others look good, helping them to hits while he drew piddling session fees and toiled in relative anonymity.

When he finally got the chance to step out front in a style that would seem tailor made for his particular skills he was recording for a company that was hardly big enough to propel him to stardom and consequently both Selective Records and Teddy Bunn wouldn’t remain on the scene much longer… all of which seems to confirm the pitfalls of life in the harsh unforgiving world of the music industry.
 

 

Month By Month
As befitting a company that was only a momentary blip on the radar with little impact at the time and virtually no historical resonance, this record is being slotted in January 1950 which may or may not be accurate.

Astute readers will remember we’ve already posted this review – or rather an earlier draft of it – back in December 1949, when it appeared that was when it was released. In fact it very well might have come out then and now we’re only adding to the confusion by re-slotting it here.

Normally this wouldn’t make much difference. We’ve probably put other singles in the wrong month before and we’re sure to do it again down the road. The historical documentation on independent record labels from seventy years in the past isn’t as accurate as you might think (that’s a joke, in case the sarcasm doesn’t translate to the written word very well).

Had this record appeared in the summer of 1949 – or later in the winter of 1950 – it wouldn’t be that big of a deal if we were a month off. There’s not much difference between July and August when determining historical chronicles, nor is there when it comes to January and February. But December and January is a different matter altogether because of the fact the yearly calendar changes when New Year’s Eve rings out the old and rings in the new.
 


 

In this case in particular it becomes even more monumental because we’re also entering a new decade and people tend to be rather picky about these things… was a record from the Nineteen Forties or the Nineteen Fifties, even if the difference in this case might’ve been a week or ten days.

To tell the truth I’m still leaning towards this having been issued in December but I can’t definitively prove it as there hasn’t been much research into fairly obscure instrumental tracks by long-forgotten guitarists who constantly straddled stylistic fences. There HAS however been a lot more research done by rock vocal group historians and seeing as how Jackson’s Nook came out on Selective 114 and The Flames Young Girl was Selective 113 and every single discography has that record coming out in January 1950 we merely fell in line, pulled the review for this song and re-wrote much of it to fit in a new month, new year and new decade.

Of course the music on the record itself doesn’t change no matter when it came out so luckily for us that saves a little extra work when putting this review back together again.
 

Disappearing In Plain View
As much as we’ve run into Teddy Bunn around here, both on his own records and playing with Edgar Hayes And His Stardusters, he’s still a rather elusive figure, which is somewhat strange considering his role as a pioneer of the electric guitar.

“Somewhat” strange maybe but not altogether surprising since his forays into that realm happened back in 1940 when he was among the first to pick up on the instrument and see what it was capable of adding to the sonic template of popular music. Yet because Bunn, even then, was always playing behind others on stage and record, forever stuck in the background of group photos peering around somebody’s shoulder if he were even shown at all, it means that recognition for what he was trying to do was usurped by those who had more success under their own name – Les Paul, Charlie Christian, T-Bone Walker – or those who had better press agents.

Add to the fact he then endured a long recording drought while others began to popularize the electric guitar in the mainstream and you can see how he became something of an afterthought. By the time he was back in the studio it was as an anonymous member of The Stardusters who, in spite of a hit (Fat Meat ‘N’ Greens) right out of the gate in 1949, were hardly going to be seen as cutting edge even though they were aligning themselves more or less with rock.

Maybe if they’d been named after Bunn – let’s say Teddy Bunn and His Band Of Fun or perhaps Teddy Bunn and The Bunsen Burners – it’d have helped his name recognition if nothing else. Instead it was left to his own singles, cut simultaneously for Selective (albeit with the Stardusters rhythm section in tow – Curtis Counce and Bryant Allan on bass and drums respectively) to try and make a name for himself.
 

Who The Hell Is Jackson And What Nook Has He Shoved Teddy Bunn Into?
The title of the song, just in case you’re wondering if it’s another ode to some long-forgotten disc jockey or something, is actually a nice tip of the hat to a San Francisco club that was a popular hangout for musicians at the midway point of the Twentieth Century.

Owned by an older Creole couple named Jackson who ran the restaurant, the Nook at 1638 Buchanan Street, there was a room in back where musicians would head after gigging around town at places like Bop City and invariably would have jam sessions in which the patrons were welcome to venture in and dig the impromptu shows.

Seeing as how Bunn had spent a decade traveling up and down California when Hayes’s group were without a contract despite their strong individual credentials on big selling records in the late 1930’s, you can see how a place like that would be a welcome stop for all of them and since instrumentals need interesting titles Jackson’s Nook it became.

At least they didn’t name it after Pony Poindexter who is the centerpiece of much of this on sax, for while he plays alright – sort of a rambling melodic turn that’s modestly catchy but hardly exciting – it’s a song that is merely content to lay in the shade, yawning and stretching some to let you know it’s alive but then rolling over and dozing off again. Without a more captivating hook the sleepy sounds his horn elicits are not going to be nearly enough to compete with any of the more aggressive instrumentals rock has become known for over the past year or two.

That is until Bunn leaps impatiently into the spotlight and lets rip with a solo of his own, a vigorous, aggressive, even dangerous sounding riff that gives notice that – when used properly – the electric guitar had the ability to seize your attention and demand a reaction.

For forty seconds Bunn unleashes fireworks on the fret-board, almost as if he’d had enough of watching his career float lazily down some babbling brook off the main tributary of modern music and he suddenly decided to turn the craft around and paddle furiously back to the raging waters of rock ‘n’ roll excitement.
 

Go Ahead And Stick Your Finger In A Live Electrical Socket Just For Kicks
The sounds coming out of his guitar during this stretch are furious bordering on panic inducing. Imagine someone dreaming that they were falling off a cliff and woke up screaming in bed, thrashing at the sheets, heart pounding, sweat pouring out of them and you’ll get some idea of how Bunn replicates that feeling musically in this 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 get the feeling that it was either because Bunn had blown a fuse or simply because he’d made his point and knew that it would resonate more if he allowed it to contrast with a return to the more genteel horn, piano, 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. Yet for a brief flash we get an exhilarating glimpse into the future as well as some welcome evidence as to Bunn’s brilliance on the guitar that justifies his lingering underground reputation.
 

Lessons Learned
Ahead of his time yet behind the curve when it came to promoting himself, it’s not hard to fathom why Bunn was destined for obscurity.

Already forty years old, a professional for more than twenty years with a list of interesting and noteworthy stops along the way, Bunn was visionary enough to predict the future of rock ‘n’ roll and talented enough to show how it could be done, but not determined enough to force it on you, as even Jackson’s Nook shows.

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 or 1950 the disparity between the mild horn and the adventurous guitar means that’s where it has to land with the scoring. But maybe even that’s fitting too since what he delivers here would go on to be the average sound of a lot of rock ‘n’ roll around the corner by which time Teddy Bunn was long since forgotten.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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