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ARISTOCRAT 409; JANUARY, 1950

 
 

 

What do you if you find yourself in the midst of something that’s not really your cup of tea?

Do you simply turn around and leave whatever club or social event you’ve unwittingly been drawn into, or do you try and stick it out and get acclimated to the scene over time?

Now let’s say you’re a music group who finally got a chance to cut some records but were asked to do so in a style you didn’t fully grasp. Knowing how rare these opportunities to be heard are do you suck it up and try your best to give them what they want?

Or do you really take a chance and subvert their intentions by giving them something you’re more comfortable with instead?
 

 

Didn’t Leave No Letter
Grateful though they may have been for the chance to record, The Dozier Boys were fish out of water from the very start at Aristocrat Records where they were essentially drafted to become a rock group when the label’s star, Andrew Tibbs, required a backing group for a session.

That they acquitted themselves so well on In A Traveling Mood seemed to bode well for their chances moving forward, especially when they were granted a label credit alongside Tibbs for their efforts, a somewhat rare – but in this case entirely earned – bonus.

They then got credited for the same job on two more Tibbs’ sides, only one of which they actually appeared on however, and parlayed that into their own records, the first of which, Big Time Baby, was definitely compromised stylistically but showed enough promise to not be that far out of place in rock circles.

It might not the direction they’d chose to pursue if it were left up to them, but it at least piqued our curiosity to see where they might take it next.

Unfortunately they take it here – She’s Gone, a record that might not be completely impossible to justify its inclusion in a roll call of rock releases, but unless you’ve been following along to the proceedings around here and simply jumped into the reviews as we started 1950 then you’d have a hard time figuring out why it’s being reviewed at all, because this is about as far away from the pure rock sounds we want to focus on as we’d ever like to get.

But since the goal of this site is not just to tell rock’s story as a whole but also the associated stories of the artists who contributed to it, that includes telling why certain artists didn’t stick around permanently.

In The Dozier Boys’ case it’s not hard to figure out – they were from a different musical background to begin with, a club act that specialized in classier fare that typically wasn’t the focus of independent labels like Aristocrat where they landed. Given those different objectives it was only a matter of time before their time ran out and they were shown the door.

But here’s the kicker to the story, and the OTHER reason why we included this mild tune in our reviews… down the road The Dozier Boys would be granted a second chance by another up and coming Chicago label, United Records, who apparently were following the same game plan Aristocrat had when they were starting out by trying to recruit any and every professional act in the Windy City. Just like they’d done with Aristocrat a few years earlier The Dozier Boys consented to cut some songs that fit better in the rock community before once again moving away from it down the road.

So the question arises, was this foursome deceptively clever opportunists who used their ability to authentically replicate a rock group to get themselves record contracts they otherwise would’ve been hard pressed to receive… or were they simply malleable journeymen capable of playing many parts, but none of them well enough to ever graduate to a starring role?
 

Gone Far, Far Away
Just so I don’t close out both of the first two sections by leaving you hanging with unanswered questions, I tend to go with the latter explanation, though if they WERE actually pulling the wool over the eyes of multiple record labels, good for them!

But no, I doubt that was the case. The Dozier Boys were a group who were required to have some versatility to keep working in the clubs as it’s not as it any of these records garnered them enough publicity to pull in customers who’d come out on a cold Chicago night in February just to see them do a set. But if you happened to already be out some night and wandered into a club they were performing at, then their ability to keep you interested enough to stick around for an extra hour was reliant on them mixing things up stylistically, giving you different sounds to make you pay closer attention rather than let it all blend together inconspicuously.

Truthfully, that approach would’ve been well served on record as well, because both sides of this single are cut from the same cloth, making neither one stand out. We could’ve likely gone with the other side, All I Need Is You and written pretty much the same review, just changing the specific description of accompaniment and lyrics but otherwise the general impressions are pretty much the same no matter which you chose.

She’s Gone might have a slightly better theme for our purposes however which gets it the nod to show how The Dozier Boys quickly went from remotely promising group in rock to a complete afterthought in the course of a few short minutes.
 

Sad And Lonely
The piano and guitar intro starts off with some definite promise, the keyboard delivering the heavier sound while the guitar slinks and slides its way through the cracks. It might not sound too aggressive as rock tracks go, but it unquestionably has some allure… which promptly is abandoned before the voices even come in, easing off into some ill-conceived supper club doodling that does nobody any favors.

At least we know it wasn’t one of THEM performing that, as they were supplemented here by a studio pianist (not Sonny Blount, a/k/a Sun Ra, who had played with them in the past) while the rest of them were allowed to play their own instruments as they did nightly in the clubs. But their bread and butter was never their virtuosity as musicians, but rather their stellar voices and harmonies which at least remain intact here, even if their delivery takes them well away from our neck of the woods for most of it.

When they sing in unison, letting their voices blend, holding some notes with a light touch, cutting others short with cool efficiency, they sound really good but they don’t sound like a rock act. Their entire technique is pulled straight from the pop handbook, even in those few moments where Minor manages to give off a little more “warmth” in his lead vocals (I’d say “heat” but even that would be stretching things).

In other words, they’re essentially a pop harmony quartet.

But when Benny Cotton’s bass voice comes in unadorned for the middle eight the concept is much more in line with rock vocal groups which could turn things around, yet as good as he was in limited opportunities when they worked with Tibbs, within his own group when he’s given a bigger role he consistently shows he doesn’t have the chops to handle it. Here his voice loses resonance within a few notes leaving him almost struggling to get any sound out at all. Some lines start off really well but he can’t for the life of him hold onto them for more than a second or two before dissolving into a strained wheeze, in the process robbing the song of the power it desperately needs to make a better showing.

She’s Gone certainly contains a few moments that you can pick out as evidence of their potential to make the grade in a rock setting – the sudden stop-time bridge at the 2:22 mark is fairly effective and there’s a really nice blend they use around 2:40 when Cornell Wiley (I assume, since he’s the group’s other tenor) lets his voice float above theirs for just a few seconds that’s sublime. But even there they go ahead and ruin it by their straitlaced harmonizing that immediately follows it which sounds as if they were auditioning for a soap commercial or something.

Truthfully, maybe they missed their calling. Commercial jingle singing might not lead to much notoriety but there’s plenty of work to be found and you can keep at it for years and years and still have your weekends free to play golf or go fishing. Listening to them struggle to convince you they’re sincere in their efforts to connect in rock you wish somebody back then had the sense to tell them this.

Oh well.
 

Say So Long
So much of rock centers around the word “authenticity”, both in the minds of the audience who can smell a charlatan from a mile off and has no patience for their continued presence, but also in the eyes of the artists themselves who – if they’re looking to make it big in rock – understand they need to look the part, act the part and most importantly LIVE the part.

Rock ‘n’ roll is not a part-time job, a casual pursuit or a passing fancy for those who perform it. In order for it to work it needs to be something close to an obsession, encompassing everything from their attitudes to their appearance and their overall worldview.

If you do any of it half-ass, if you just go through the motions or don’t believe fully in what you’re doing then you’re going to be exposed and ridiculed for your middling efforts.

Though The Dozier Boys had just enough musical talent to pass for rockers if the light was bad and you didn’t get too close to the stage, they gave themselves away by never truly believing in what they were doing.

And if they don’t believe in rock’s merits why should we believe in them?
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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