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GOTHAM 163; SEPTEMBER, 1948

 
 

 

As the summer of 1948 winds down we’re introduced to a group that you wouldn’t think belongs in the rock idiom yet slip into the mix all the same.

The summer in question began rather cool with somewhat dreary releases back in June that had us wondering if the sun would ever come back out in full force. It finally broke through the clouds in July and brought with it a wider variety of sounds, among them a startling debut that was – if we’re to keep this analogy going – a glorious picture postcard type of day. Clear blue skies, lush green grass and trees, bright multi-colored flowers in full bloom, warm and sunny… the kind of day you hope greets you if it’s that week you chose for your vacation (or holiday if you’re from the British isles).

Then things really heated up in August… The dog days of August as they’re called, the temperature rising and the humidity along with it. The records that came out that month were a string of sweaty sax instrumentals that did little to cool you off, especially when you were grinding away to them in an overcrowded club, the body heat caused by all of this sensuous gyrating making it feel like a sauna.

With big hit following big hit the excitement level reached a fever pitch, but it suddenly became a little TOO hot for comfort. Day after day there was no respite from the heat. You could see it shimmering off the pavement in the distance and without a cloud in the sky to bring any momentary relief from the glare you almost thought it was too much sun during the day and too many sticky sleepless nights to endure.

Yes, you’re certainly happy to have these records on the scene, especially after some extended colder than anticipated spring… but considering the steamy conditions outside they’re contributing to you’re probably hoping for nothing more than a cool breeze to blow across your cheek, even for just a moment or two.

Which means for once you actually may welcome September and all it entails – heading back to school amidst shorter days and cool crisp nights. So here, rising to meet you as you enter the month are The Dixieaires, bringing you a cold drink and inviting you to step into an air conditioned room for a breather from the sweltering temperatures you’ve endured these last few months.
 


 

Turn The Night Time Into Day
The group acting as the welcoming committee is one we’ll be meeting just briefly (well… in a way) because frankly this is a bit of an anomoly from them. However coming when it does this also perfectly shows just what influences were being added to the evolving rock ‘n’ roll formula AND which of those that got thrown into the blender would stay in the recipe as it moved forward (did I just switch analogies into a kitchen? Oh, well – it must be the heat).

The Dixieaires story starts with another group called The Jubilaires, a gospel outfit fronted by J.C Ginyard who had good success in that field for a number of years. But when the group added Bill Johnson from the rival Golden Gate Quartet in 1947 tensions between them led Ginyard to depart and form a new group, The Dixieaires made up of established gospel singers from lesser known groups.

This was a fairly standard practice in the gospel music world. Surely most rock fans know, or should know, how Sam Cooke was recruited from The Highway Q.C.’s to join The Soul Stirrers, titans in the field, when their lead R.H. Harris departed in 1950, and then, a few years down the road when Cooke left gospel for rock ‘n’ roll, how Johnnie Taylor took HIS place coming from none other than the same Highway Q.C.’s.

That type of minor league farm system as it were enabled singers to get valuable experience before moving into the major leagues with the bigger groups. It was a proving ground that ensured there was always new talent to be offered and it served all in question quite well (ironically something that was in danger of being diluted as rock grew ever more popular and more young singers followed Cooke’s lead and forsook gospel for rock without even stopping over in the spiritual music world themselves).

In the case of The Dixieaires appearance on the scene they were like the equivalent of an expansion team – a new group, but one immediately on par with the other major leaguers by virtue of Ginyard’s track record with The Jubilaires. He was a star and as a result the ones he brought with him were afforded opportunities they wouldn’t have gotten with smaller regional groups they began with.

Opportunities such as the number of labels which The Dixieaires soon were cutting records for, even doing so under different names to sidestep contracts (apparently singing about the Bible doesn’t require following its teachings down the line… but I digress… and for the record I approve of this underhandedness wholeheartedly, lest there be any confusion).

The group had some good sellers along the way, which of course meant they continued to get offers from other labels and they continued to accept those offers.

Yet when they entered the studio to cut sides for Gotham Records – a label which certainly was prolific in the gospel field, as their roster over the years such featured luminaries as The Dixie Hummingbirds, Clara Ward, Professor Earl J. Hines and The Harmonizing Four – the label did a rather strange and unexpected thing. They cut them doing decidedly more secular material and then, as if to emphasize this shift even more emphatically to record distributors and the public, they released the group’s records not on their gospel line (which was numbered 600-800) but rather in their 100 series which featured their mainstream present and future rock stars like Earl Bostic and Jimmy Preston.

In other words, Dixieaires, you are now leaving the company of angels to go party with the devil in rock ‘n’ roll. Have fun!
 

Hurry And Sign Your Name
Starting off with some crisp drumming establishing a steady backbeat, tight soulful harmony vocals falling in quickly behind it, rhythmically chanting the title – Go Long – as if in a trance, and topped by a wailing, squealing tenor sax that sounds like the doors to an all-night party have been thrown open, this is precisely the atmosphere all of the swinging devils, demons and imps in rock ‘n’ roll hang out in. For servants of the Lord though it was a decidedly alien environment.

Or was it?

Gospel, more than any other style of music, is what informed rock’s vocal approach from very the start. We saw it first with Roy Brown and we’ll go on seeing it with the likes of Clyde McPhatter, Little Richard, Elvis Presley and James Brown in short order. Gospel possessed a spontaneous enthusiastic freedom in its delivery designed for celebration, which is what uptempo rock was all about, the only difference was WHAT was being celebrated in rock (sex, booze and fun) which are the very things that were repented for during church and preached against in gospel music. That the two sides lasciviously danced an erotic boogie together, the secular stealing the spiritual’s robes yet not claiming its soul in the process, is what makes rock ‘n’ roll history such a fascinating field to plow. Musical miscegenation at its finest.


Go Long was written by none other than Rudolph Toombs, a name who will start showing up quite frequently on these pages over the next decade who specialized in lyrical odes to drinking and screwing which made him one of the early 50’s most consistently popular rock songwriters for hire. I’m guessing he met The Dixieaires while he was at the church for confession and the litany of sins he had to unburden himself of took so long that when he finally emerged choir practice was already underway and he probably offered them a drink and one thing led to another…

In other words, it’s a bit strange to hear Ginyard jump in the fray here – amidst a musical backdrop that is heading down the road to perdition – with a lead vocal that retains some of the more precise older jubilee styled gospel phrasing, which was a bit LESS influential on rock’s DNA than the more uninhibited types of gospel we’re referencing.

Ginyard doesn’t wail uncontrollably but instead sings with a restraint that lends gravity to the proceedings. The lyrics themselves are tied at times even more strongly to gospel, speaking of driving the devil out – and later changing it to Satan to confirm this – so surely they must’ve been convinced this was gospel, or at least didn’t put up too much of a protest if someone at the label tried convincing them it was religious in nature. But while they storm along, holy crusaders or horny hell-raisers, it sounds as if they’re being taunted by the devil whose floating voice is chipping in with various exhortations that are lending mayhem to the scene (it’s not REALLY the devil, at least I don’t think it is, but rather one of the singers simply acting devilish).

When they hit the bridge Ginyard’s vocals have shed the more mannered delivery and the entire group morphs into what is now poised to become standard rock vocal approaches, with the backing members open throated cries and emphatic “bop-bop-bops”. This is the sound and the style that would dominate rock vocals in coming years and it’s all present and accounted for here, save a deep bass churning out nonsense syllables that would come into vogue a few years later. Everything else though is clearly defined.

Yet because of the group’s lineage, and due to the lyrics that could be about Satan himself, or simply a secular stand in for ol’ Scratch, it’s stuck halfway between the two forms, supposedly on opposite ends of the spectrum, yet intentionally crammed together here and all the better for it.

Normally it’s reason to cringe when we think of what the results have been when other disparate styles have been merged – such as big band horns clashing with rock vocals, or the pop vocal leads which waters down a more soulful harmony behind it, and the lingering jazz motifs that threaten to sink all of the rock structures they’re artificially attached to. Yet here, in a song that I’m sure The Dixieaires themselves considered a gospel tune in theory, the brazen rock accompaniment brings out the best in them vocally until it sounds as if these men of God are about to be pulled in to an orgy of sin and depravity while enjoying every minute of it.
 

 

You’ll Be On The Stand
Eventually they did get pulled in, or JUMPED in… Voluntarily no less. At least Ginyard did.

Though he was already in his late thirties when cutting this, and though The Dixieaires under his lead would distance themselves from such tawdry excursions as this in due course and after a few more songs that straddled the divide between heaven and hell they’d return to the safe confines of gospel exclusively, the pull of the flesh had apparently turned his head if no one else and a few years later he’d form The Du-Droppers, a pure secular group which we’ll be meeting down the road on a string of solid rockers that they scored hits with.

This was a hit though too. A legitimate Top Ten hit on the Race charts, something that was not impossible with pure gospel but exceedingly rare.

Yet even at this point with far less of a track record to go on and with a much more recent and thus more unpredictable fan base to draw from, rock ‘n’ roll had no such problems making the charts.

In fact rock was starting to dominate those charts more and more and even with something like this – which wraps a possibly spiritual message with the vestiges of wickedness – it’s easy to see why the allure was so strong for those listening. It’s exciting and danceable, sinful and proud of it, the sound of an endless Saturday night and if Saturday night is indeed endless, why do you have to clean up your act for a Sunday morning that will never come?

Maybe the group themselves would like you to believe this was gospel at its core, maybe the label reassuringly (if not disingenuously) insisted to them it was too and maybe even some of those who bought it told themselves that was indeed the case. But the devil is nothing if not a liar and no matter what any of them said to placate The Dixieaires or the gospel community as a whole, the fact of the matter is Go Long succeeded to the extent it did because it was a rocker through and through.

Amen… and pass the wine, the sinners and I want another drink.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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