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It’s rare for those firmly in the background to make the leap to the forefront in rock ‘n’ roll. It happens just enough over the years that those who get their foot in the door thanks to their work supporting somebody else always feels if given the chance they’d have what it takes to become stars as well.

For The Dozier Boys, a vocal harmony group who’d done so well in the waning days of 1948 when backing Andrew Tibbs that Aristocrat Records brought them in the studio for their own session, hoping they could give the still struggling label another viable rock artist to make some headway in the ever-expanding market.

It won’t of course, but that doesn’t mean the attempt itself was without some merit and sometimes in life you learn more by studying those that missed their chance at the brass ring than by focusing only on those who grabbed it with relative ease… at least that’s the hope heading into this review.


Running Back Home
This is actually The Dozier Boys’ second attempt at laying down Big Time Baby, as Aristocrat rejected the first effort that had been cut just a few days earlier with a different set of musicians.

For this second session they were paired up with familiar faces in Eugene Wright and His Dukes Of Swing. Familiar to them that is, not to us who are meeting them for the first time here on Spontaneous Lunacy.

Wright was a bassist who would go on to be in the acclaimed jazz quartet of Dave Brubeck, the only non-white member, which is where his legend was made. But everyone has to start somewhere and his somewhere was with The Dukes Of Swing (“Senator” Eugene Wright is still with us as of this writing at the ripe young age of 95 and his work in jazz should be known by all, but start with Brubeck’s immortal Time Out album and go from there)

The Dukes – who were conversant in swing but not tied to it by any means – were the house band at the Beige Room, a basement club at the Pershing Hotel where The Dozier Boys had gotten noticed earlier that fall by bassist Willie Dixon who brought them to Aristocrat. At the time Wright led the eleven piece band that played there and The Dozier Boys became their vocal group as needed.

It’s interesting that Aristocrat, a label that couldn’t necessarily spare the dough at this point, would pay for another session, telling you that they thought this song had some promise and were hoping that the band with whom the Doziers were more comfortable working with might bring something more out of them. The first run-through of the song a few days earlier had them backed by Sax Mallard’s group – and in fact it was Mallard who wrote Big Time Baby – and they were a solid outfit who recorded quite a lot. But since they’re replaced on this released take of the song by Wright’s group you can draw your own conclusions as to whether Mallard’s band was what the label took issue with, but Wright and company – which includes the soon-to-be-notorious Sun Ra on piano – deliver just what is needed to pull this off.

That’s not to say that the song itself, the vocals OR the band are a seamless fit in rock ‘n’ roll. There’s still some compromises that stick out right from the start as The Dozier Boys’ group vocals that lead this off are oddly being delivered in an airy tone that recalls pop far too much for our comfort… but maybe was more comfortable for them which could spell trouble for this being able to connect.

But fear not for once Bill Minor’s lead takes over he gets things on track with an elongated and soulful ”Welllllllll” leading into the story that has all of the requisite rock-related topics covered and which, for a change, results in the singer taking charge and bettering his situation.

Gone Baby Gone
Minor’s bemoaning the fact that his current gold-digging girl is demanding a Cadillac even though he’s already bought her a car (just a Ford, though let it be said they weren’t exactly giving those away at dealerships in the late 1940’s either). Rather than merely bitch and moan to us about it, then bite his lip when he returns to her each night, figuring his nightly rolls in the hay with her are the trade off for such high-end financial expectations on her part, he decides to ditch her altogether and return to his old girlfriend from back home.

Now of course this leads to two rather obvious questions, the first being why should we expect his old flame to take him back after he presumably dumped HER to move up in the world with somebody else. The other question is if this one was so generous in her displays of love to begin with, as he boastfully claims now, then why did think he was upgrading when he started seeing Parasite Patty in the first place?

Alas we’ll never know, but he’s not the first ungrateful dolt who had his head turned when he got to the big city and he sure as hell won’t be the last.

Though Minor’s voice isn’t on par with someone like Andrew Tibbs, he’s got decent pipes and manages to inject his delivery with some – forgive me – “minor touches” that are quite notable.

We’ve touched upon some of the differences between singing in a pop style and a rock style and one of the areas that best illustrates the respective styles is how notes are held. In pop of the 1940’s vocalists had a tendency to let their elongated notes “drift down”, like a leaf gently falling to the ground. They’d sing in full voice and then gradually let up on the projection of it to soften it before it landed. Listen to Dick Haymes, Perry Como or Vic Damone, all of whom had huge hits in 1949, for plenty of evidence as to this technique.

But rock singers weren’t so passive, they’d alter their tone, their pitch, their intensity… anything to keep you off balance and keep them emotionally invested in the song’s message. Some, like Tibbs, would throw in melisma until it was dripping from the grooves, but Minor goes easy on this yet still manages to make it distinctive. Listening to how he downshifts on the line “She knows how to treat her ma-annn” is like a sneak peak into the dominant form of rock group singing from five years in the future.

The others don’t always pull their weight, and increasingly as the song goes on they’re entrusted with carrying too much of the load. Most disheartening is the under-powered bass vocals of Benny Carter, who’d been a revelation behind Tibbs on In A Traveling Mood, but here sounds as if he’s been laid up with a case of pneumonia for a month and can’t muster the power to really make his presence known.

Call it a tale of two vocals – Minor is first rate, the others merely passable, and even that might be generous considering the far-too buoyant refrain ”she can do that, she can do that” that gets tired after about a half a line.

Cuttin’ Out
The same tale of two cities critique befalls the instrumental backing as well. Though Wright himself was the bassist and entrenched as the bandleader, Sun Ra was the arranger, still under the name Sonny Blount, and unfortunately there’s a split in the aims here that make the end results a little disconcerting.

The horn riffs that open are decent enough, nothing great but serviceable enough with some nice fills by Blount on the keys, but the horn solos that appear in the first break are a case of being good in concept but bad in execution. The baritone’s initial honks are the sound of a goose with a head cold and the tenor which follows suggest that whichever musician was manning the instrument – Bill Evans or Melvin Scott – was asthmatic, as no notes are held long enough or played strong enough to make a positive impression.

So to recap the first half of the record contains far and away the best vocals courtesy of Minor, yet the weaker instrumental backing. The second half of Big Time Baby reverses that, as the tenor saxophonist without the breathing problems seems to take over for the stretch run. He’s not delivering the most consistent of performances, as it ranges from quite good to quite unusual in the span of a few seconds, but at its best the lines have some grit and urgency to them that elevates the proceedings enough to keep you reasonably satisfied, even as the group vocals dim your enthusiasm somewhat.

In the end The Dozier Boys do a good enough job to be welcome on the scene, especially one that was still in dire need of more vocal groups to off-set the solo singers and instrumental groups that were dominating the roll call of releases. That this record was cut almost a year before it got released hurts it in comparison to the now current trends in the field, dragging it down from what might’ve been an average rock release in the waning days of 1948 to one a little behind the curve entering the home stretch of 1949, but it’ll suffice.


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