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DECCA 27403; DECEMBER 1950



This is a story about perception… about who wants you to be what to whom.

It’s a story with no heroes, plenty of villains, most of whom don’t even know they’re doing anything wrong… though they probably wouldn’t care if they did figure it out.

Most of all it’s a story about how a once promising rock vocal group allowed themselves to be re-shaped into a mediocre pop vocal group, still good singers but ones left without an identity.

They gave up who they were, or at least who they might’ve been, to become something different in an effort to appeal to an audience who frankly couldn’t give a damn about them no matter how much they groveled for their attention.


Your Eyes Don’t Shine Like They Used To Shine
Let’s recap since we might be jettisoning the output of The Blenders from here on in, with a few exceptions, treating them like The Four Tunes – a pop oriented group that occasionally dabbles in rock on the outskirts of the genre, rather than a rock group that every so often tries to cross into pop without ever fully relinquishing their status as legit rockers.

When they got their start on National Records they were imitating The Ravens, whom they were clearly modeled on, not the best long term game plan since you don’t need a junior varsity squad when the varsity is still churning out great records, but it was at least a good prototype to follow before they found their own niche.

But once they signed with Decca, a major label with no respect for rock ‘n’ roll but needing a way to shallowly exploit it, the immediate repercussions were that they steered them towards what the company knew best – mainstream pop. Notice the huge ad for this release in the trade papers the last week of the year – heralding two pop tunes and touting them as a “new” group, even though they’d been around for more than a year with some actual verifiable success… albeit in a different market than what Decca cared to delve into. In fact, this release finds them in their “Pop” line, rather than their “Race” line showing just how determined the company was to have them become “respectable”.

But let’s say (I’m Afraid) The Masquerade Is Over – or its even worse flip – meets with a flicker of genuine interest from the bland white middle class record buyer. It picks up some sales in the early weeks of 1951 and even a little airplay in one region of the country and then all of the other major labels jump onto the record – already a standard they were well familiar with – and with bigger names tackling it either steal enough attention to kill The Blenders record, or, like most cases, the wider attention causes them all to cancel each other out.

Is that same bland white middle class record buyer who recently has been propelling drivel like Bushel And A Peck (with four versions sitting in the Top Thirty) and Thinking Of You (three versions on the charts) into widespread popularity, really going to seek out the next couple of releases by The Blenders, a black group with a rock pedigree, hoping to find something else to their liking?

Hardly. Yet instead of trying to cultivate their rock audience and in the process expand the market for their company as a whole, they have the bright idea of trying to force them into a market that wants nothing to do with them because to Decca Records that’s the only thing they consider true success.

The Thrill Is Gone
As stated from the jump, The Blenders problem isn’t that they can’t sing well, it’s that they aren’t being allowed to sing in the manner that would allow their specific talents to shine.

What set the group apart from… well, every single pop group in existence in 1950… was the fact they had a bass singer who could actually be heard over the din of aircraft landing, as well as a soulfulness that was, let’s face it, slightly more convincing than The Ames Brothers cheery optimism.

All of those skills would seem to come in handy for a song like The Masquerade Is Over where they’re coming to grips with a breakup, asking themselves – and by extension their soon-to-be former partner – how this could’ve happened.

They aren’t mad, aren’t making excuses over the split, but seem hurt and bewildered and are really trying to process it all before moving on.

Decca promptly eliminates most of the weapons at their disposal to convey this in convincing fashion and replaces most of the group with a starched white choir who haven’t bothered to first remove the giant redwoods stuck up their asses before attempting to sing.

In fact, I don’t think what they’re doing actually qualifies as singing, instead it sounds so condescending that you can envision them in the studio – probably not the SAME studio, because that would require them to breathe the same air as Negroes – rolling their eyes when told who they would be backing. After a quick huddle they came up with this intentional travesty.

If they were bound and determine to make The Blenders look like buffoons, congratulations, mission accomplished. I’m sure all of these people are dead and by the sounds of their impassive singing the men were all impotent and the women frigid so they have no descendants, but if they DID somehow reproduce then legitimate rock fans should form a posse, track them down and whup their asses for the heinous crime their ancestors committed in desecrating what remains a well-written song and… believe it or not… a fair interpretation by the remaining Blenders themselves.

Now They’re Just Routine
With its dainty piano, a drummer who is contractually forbidden from even remotely suggesting a rhythm, the bulk of the job of carrying the song naturally falls to the singers.

We’ll put aside the Dread Chorus – as historian Marv Goldberg derisively called these sort of aggregations – and focus instead on The Blenders themselves.

Lead vocalist Ollie Jones may be going far too easy on the emotional undercurrents of The Masquerade Is Over – surely by the label’s decree – but he handles the melody with a subtle touch, riding it as if he were gently flowing down a stream in mid-summer, in no hurry to get wherever he’s headed. Because the song is so recognizable we don’t need directions to follow along, we’ll hop on for the ride as well.

Unfortunately the group’s stellar bass James DeLoach had left the group just weeks before this was cut due to health issues (did Decca poison him and fellow group member Tommy Adams for trying to eat in the commissary?) and he was replaced by Raymond Johnson, who brought Dick Palmer, a tenor, with him from The Beavers to replace the departed twosome.

Johnson’s not quite as resonant as DeLoach but he’s at least allowed to provide an audible bottom during Jones’s lead which provides a faint heartbeat for those still seeking some life in this musical carcass.

When the pale riders who butcher the bridge beyond comprehension vanish over the hills, Johnson is actually permitted to close out that section, although here his own shortcomings become more apparent… yet we almost are prone to overlook that because of how bad the Klan approved singers sounded by comparison.

Are the other Blenders here? No, not on your life. They were told the session was at a run-down warehouse in Hackensack, New Jersey and spent two hours peering in windows at the dusty boxes inside, wondering where the others were and if they’d be let in to sing.

Decca Records ladies and gentlemen.

My Heart Says No, You’re Not The Same
So here we come to the part that all of you should see coming but I’m sure many of you will find indefensible all the same. The score.

Aside from the standard disclaimer that these scores – mine as well as your own, which should differ most of the time anyway – don’t mean a thing other than to sum up how one person views the release in question, the inevitable discussion on “context” has to be included.

In case you haven’t guessed this one is getting the lowest possible, not because Jones and Johnson are bad, but because Decca Records told us to fuck off in no uncertain terms. They told us – or our great-grandparents actually – that our money wasn’t green enough for them. That our interest in the group wasn’t worth their time or attention to cultivate. That our tastes were irrelevant to their business AND to the evolution of popular music as a whole.

(I’m Afraid) The Masquerade Is Over is further evidence that the major labels and those in the white middle class who they were courting, found black music like rock ‘n’ roll to be artistically “illegitimate”.

In short they were out to kill it. In the process they were also out to kill the rock fan’s ability to make relevant meaningful music that embraced and reflected their own experiences, to make music to satisfy their own tastes and to represent their cultural legacy.

If rock ‘n’ roll never rose to the heights it did in the years to come… in other words if polite pop music of this era was allowed to continue unabated… would any of the major labels have been bothered by the loss? Would they have decried the lack of a broader cultural representation in their music and taken steps on their own to correct that?

Or would they have happily washed their hands of it all and held a victory dance to the pleasant docile warbling of… Don Cherry?

Nah, that’s ridiculous, you can’t dance to that. I’m sure they’d have just found some indie label releases to burn in a giant bonfire instead.


(Visit the Artist page of The Blenders for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)