DOT 1071; NOVEMBER 1951



The decline in popularity – and in frequency – of the sax-led instrumental in rock over the past two years has been one of the causalities of artistic progress.

Not that the saxophone hasn’t adapted, as now it’s being incorporated into vocal records to greater effect and has found ways to take advantage of the limited space it has in those songs to showcase a single attribute, be it sudden fury or soulful longing, rather than be forced to pull out all of the stops in one marathon two and a half minute performance.

But while that has been a positive evolutionary step for rock on the whole, using the horn to diversify the sounds across a broader spectrum, we have to admit that we miss the occasional extended spotlight for the genre’s most explosive instrument and eagerly anticipate what is to follow when we occasionally get one thrown our way.

This however is definitely not what we were hoping for.


Shuffling Along
With apologies to Johnny Otis, Dave Bartholomew, Paul Gayten, et. all, there may not be better, or at least more consistently good, bandleaders of a self contained unit in rock than The Griffin Brothers.

Their name recognition today may be next to nothing, but their musical legacy over the course of their first year in the business speaks for itself as they’ve managed to bolster the records of a wide range of artists ranging from all-time legends to those who were great in their time but ultimately forgotten, as well as some who were merely journeymen.

Yet neither brother played an instrument that was typically in the spotlight for the kind of solos that would make you stand up and take notice. Buddy’s piano anchored the sound but he rarely stepped out front for long, while Jimmy’s trombone was used far more effectively than one would ever expect for such an unwieldy instrument but certainly wasn’t going to lead to a rash of trombone solos taking over rock releases from coast to coast.

Their instrumentals to date, usually appearing on the back of a vocal record by someone else, have been modest affairs – capable, but hardly invigorating.

Add to that list Shuffle Bug, a totally forgettable record which at times sounds more like something the high school marching band would play at halftime of the Homecoming game while the parents are lined up at the snack bar and the kids are under the bleachers smoking joints.

In that scenario at least someone would be having fun with this I guess.


Buggin’ Out
As we’ve said before – too many times to count – early rock instrumentals generally followed one of two paths. They were either locked tightly into a mesmerizing groove which if done right could be an addictive listening experience, or else they went balls to the wall and tried to knock you on your ass through the sheer force of their playing – drums, crashing, saxes honking, guitars slashing and pianos pounding.

This record does neither of those things… something which is hardly surprising considering they named it Shuffle Bug. As that term suggests, this is built around a shuffle pattern carried out largely by the horns which stay stuck in second gear for the bulk of the run time while the other instruments provide an unobtrusive bed for them to walk over.

The horns that open the record have vague train imagery in their playing, especially with the drum pattern behind it, but then the sax comes in to bray awhile and send things off in another direction. It’s not a very exciting direction mind you, but it’s at least moving along at a steady clip.

The problem is it has no real destination in mind. The saxophone of Noble “Thin Man” Watts is played well, the de facto announcement of his arrival is particularly nice, but he’s confined by the others who don’t break that mid-paced gait of theirs which forces Watts to rein in his antics. He tries at times to hint at something more exciting, but when he’s unable to deliver because of the song’s structure you lose faith in his commitment even though he’s merely following the arrangement.

Meanwhile the others are hardly making their presence known, each one staying in their lane like the team players they are but in the process offering nothing to be noticed. The drummer has the most presence, yet has little to do, while Buddy Griffin’s piano has more run time yet much less drive to be noticed.

When Watts steps aside then it’s Jimmy’s turn to show what a trombone can do and in this case what it should’ve done is stay in its case because his elongated notes aren’t adding anything of value, ending the record as it began, with a collective whimper instead of an ostentatious bang, which is kinda what we prefer in our rock instrumentals.


A Ho-Hum Affair
In spite of this dour critique of their collective work here, this isn’t a BAD record, just a boring and uninteresting one.

The band play the parts they’re given well enough, but the parts are uninspiring. They’re undeniably cohesive yet they’d have been better off trying to shove each other out of the way to inject some anarchy into the song. It’s professional enough to earn an extra point, yet unambitious enough to deny them of that point out of principle.

Shuffle Bug is designed as little more than a time killer… a song to play so the dance floor doesn’t get deserted altogether… a throwaway track cut with a makeshift head arrangement at the end of a longer session just to get another tune in the can in case they needed it to put on the back of a big hit.

An anonymous B-side in other words, which is both to its detriment but also to its credit as that was all it was ever intended to be. But with so few sax instrumentals left to choose from, it can’t help but be seen as a letdown.


(Visit the Artist pages of The Griffin Brothers for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)