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DECCA 28092; APRIL 1952



At a certain point you’d expect those artists on the fringe of rock ‘n’ roll, especially those who seemed to be rather cynically cast as rockers at the behest of a major record company, would more or less implode under the weight of this charade.

If they were lucky maybe they’d just fade away quietly into oblivion, or better yet come to realize they were fooling no one and happily head into a field more appropriate for their tamer musical styles.

To be sure there have been those along the way who’ve done just that and we’ve bid them adieu and rarely thought of them again, but one act that is still hanging around are The Blenders. This despite the fact that over the past year and a half the rock vocal group field has exploded with some of the most revolutionary acts of this era while these guys have gotten more and more entrenched as a lightweight pop act still trying to masquerade as rockers.

Which brings us to the glaringly obvious question sitting before us: Is this shaping up to be their ignominious last stand before the inevitable towel is finally thrown in and they mercifully call it day?

Don’t look now, but the answer might surprise you.

No… actually it might shock you.


Your Troubles Would Be Mine Too
Any way you looked at it The Blenders were on the shortlist for forcible removal from the roster of acceptable rock acts, since they were probably classified more as “tolerable” rather than “acceptable” from the very beginning.

For starters they had shown no real originality from day one when they rose out of the ashes of rock’s first vocal group, The Ravens, after being formed by a one-time member of that group before hitting it big.

Because The Ravens were able to parlay their “gimmick” of having a bass lead Jimmy Ricks into being treated by mainstream outlets as something of a novelty act, they gained entry into classier nightclubs and bigger paydays. There they supplemented their act with pure pop songs handled by high tenor Maithe Marshall which attempted to quell any concerns that after their set they were going to knock over the cash register at these swanky places they were playing.

As they were able to make a career out of that dual existence – rock songs hitting on the charts, pop songs soothing the adult audiences in live venues – it made sense there would be imitators as the major companies would try and use that model to get their foot in the side door of rock ‘n’ roll.

But even there when they had the perfect template to follow, The Blenders could only provide the palest of imitations, capturing none of the dreamy resonance on their attempt at Count Every Star, a song the former group had shown their consummate skill on a month earlier back in the spring of 1950. Their output since that time had sunk even lower as they continued to pull further and further away from rock’s core attributes.

Now as Just A Little Walk With Me hits the streets, two more years have passed and the vocal group style has moved on to such an extent that it’s even threatening to leave The Ravens themselves in the rearview mirror, what hope was there that The Blenders could do anything to prove they belonged here?

During that stretch the charts have been full of racy uptempo numbers, slinky suggestive tracks and dreamy close harmony ballads by the latest generation of rock vocal groups, none of which The Blenders had shown an inclination for even at their best, so who in their right mind would believe they’d try and pull an about face now and show that they shouldn’t be given up on just yet?

Not me, that’s for damn sure. Yet here they are doing just that.


You Wonder Why I’m So Concerned
If ever a record deserved to be called schizophrenic, it’s this one.

Usually however when two disparate styles, pop and rock in this case, are – pardon the obvious pun – “blended” together on a record, there’s some space between the two. In these instances we’re used to seeing a soulful vocal get upended by something totally artificial by the others. Or perhaps a good overall vocal performance by the group has an ill-suited studio band provide dreadful accompaniment full of blaring brass that dominates the instrumental breaks and saps the energy the singers had worked so hard to build.

But on Just A Little Walk With Me the two elements constantly overlap, bumping up against each other with both elements squeezing their way into the smallest of spaces at such a rate that you lose track of what’s working and what isn’t until – thankfully – the good simply overpowers the bad and wins out in the final analysis.

It’s never easy however as the record kicks off with the guitar of Napoleon “Snags” Allen cutting loose with some quick changity-chang licks that are either a send up of rock ‘n’ roll or the real deal in need of amplification. Before you have time to settle that matter the voices come in with a rapid nonsensical patter that is too gimmicky to be taken seriously, yet provides enough harmony and vibrant energy to cast doubt on your aspersions.

When James DeLoach – back with the group after a long absence – comes in with his rolling bass voice you allow yourself to get caught up in the vocal frenzy even as the rest of them are hardly distinguishing themselves as rockers with their “Ooh-Wah” chants that are at once too square to be taken seriously, yet too enthusiastic to be passed off as a joke.

What DeLoach is singing might be called into question, as he seems to be both trying to seduce this girl and show he’s a nice guy who puts her first, not exactly a winning formula but he’s doing his best to have you overlook his tactics by trying to use his voice as a melodic battering ram. It’s still not nearly as weighty as Ricks could manage with The Ravens, but he’s not pulling back to try and impart any pop sensibilities either which is to their advantage.

When the hand-claps start up behind them to add to the rhythm and the others begin echoing him in the chorus your hopes rise until the bridge squashes those with a vocal by Ollie Jones that puts a little too much air into the lines.

And so it goes. In the end the positives outweigh the negatives in terms of impact on the song, although if keeping tally they probably even out when simply adding them up on a scoresheet. Like I said, schizophrenic, but seemingly sincere in the attempt which coming off their recent misfires is a moral victory if nothing else.

I Will Set You Free
You’d love to ask any of the people involved with the group back then – all of whom are dead and buried by now of course – what their hopes really were with this record.

Did the people running Decca Records really expect them to be viable in the ever more competitive rock vocal group market at this stage? If so, were they all delusional or could they just not hear the brilliance of the current crop of records being issued by their “competitors” because their heads were too far up their asses?

Likewise, what was going through the minds of the group members themselves? Were they looking around the current rock landscape and thinking they could actually beat The Dominoes, Clovers, Five Keys, Four Buddies or Three Amigos for that matter at their own game?

Or did The Blenders merely realize that unless they made a more concerted effort to embrace the rock values which were now in vogue there’d be absolutely no reason for Decca to keep them on board and so it was with that in mind they turned in their liveliest performance in years on Just A Little Walk With Me in hopes of convincing their label to keep them around?

We can’t possibly know those answers at this late date and yet we DO have more questions starting with the one fact we know – even without peaking ahead at the charts this wouldn’t crack – that no matter how much better this was than their recent fare it was not going to be enough to get them on the radar of rock fans. With that being the case would they now turn back to cutting more demure records again while they waited to be put out to pasture?

Or would they be galvanized by the show of life they exhibited here and try to surpass this the next time out, still clinging to the hope that there might just be some life left in them after all?

The good news at least is the answers to those questions will be revealed when we hear them again, but for once when it comes to them, we actually have a modicum of hope.


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