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RCA 20-5004; OCTOBER 1952



You’re a fly on the wall of the boardroom offices of RCA-Victor in 1952 and the topic among the executives gathered around the table is the stubbornly growing rock ‘n’ roll market and how the well-respected company is getting clobbered in this field by impudent independent labels across the country.

You listen to one grey-haired executive who tells you “this confounded excuse for music” won’t last a year… before someone tells him that it’s already been around for five years and is getting bigger every day and remind him that he’s been saying the same thing about “that infernal jazz” at these meetings for the past thirty years.

After bandying about ghastly solutions such as widescale ethnic cleansing, forced sterilization of undesirables and other methods of inhumane social engineering, all eyes turn to the mealy-mouthed 38 year old “youngster” in the room who is climbing his way up the corporate ladder and has an idea.

“It’s not GOOD music,” he says, “so how hard can it be to find some halfway competent act to give it a whirl?”

He’s promptly promoted to some meaningless Vice-Presidency position and the meeting is adjourned.


Rock Me Baby
Despite this record, which retains some faintly lingering historical recognition (mostly because its title is so similar to another more famous song we’ve heard in three versions already) information for this group, their formation and their intended musical identity is rather slim, but we’ll give you the bare essentials as we know them…

Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Michael Jackson were a rock group from…

Wait, wrong Jackson Brothers. Sorry.

These Jacksons were a rock group from Gary, Indiana.

No, I’m serious! These guys WERE from Gary, Indiana too, though a few decades older than their more famous neighbors of the same name. Though accounts of their personnel vary depending on the limited sources available, they seem to have consisted of Billy, Don, George and Wilfred giving them one less Jackson than the others at any given time.

Their focal point however was non-related vocalist Billy Henderson who is not the same Billy Henderson who was in The Spinners (see, for all those thinking we’re taking too long getting through rock history, we just mentioned TWO Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame groups from the 1970’s!).

The fact is however only George (bass) and Billy (saxophone) played on any of their records while Wilfred at least wrote We’re Gonna Rock This Joint. Don, though he’d sing occasionally in the future, must’ve been teaching Marlon Jackson how to mooch off his siblings down the road.

The group landed on the West Coast where they got signed by RCA and if nothing else give the label credit for choosing a non-veteran group who appeared to have some genuine interest in – a modest talent for – authentic rock ‘n’ roll, especially if this record is to be believed.

Granted they swiped the title from the first line of a recent noisemaker by Bill Haley, which itself was remake of Jimmy Preston’s three year old hit, so they were possibly lacking in originality or conversely excelling in marketing, whichever you prefer.

For all the jokes though, the record is no laughing matter.


I’ll Bring My Baby And A Fifth Of Gin
There’s a strange mix of new musical outlooks and some old school arranging on this song that makes it seem like rock ‘n’ roll filtered through a prism.

In its favor is the composition itself. As noted in the section headings – as usual taken from actual lyrics of the song being reviewed – this is expressing real rock attitude from start to finish. There’s no story to be found, but it’s a raucous call to arms starting off at full speed and then somehow finding another gear.

Billy Henderson’s vocals are like a person jumping on the running board of that car as it tears along the road with the foot to the pedal. It’s frantic, exuberant and maybe a little frightened at the same time. His voice itself seems alright, though at this pace you can hardly tell if it’s succeeding because of genuine skill or just plain enthusiasm. The effect is more or less the same though, which is to say We’re Gonna Rock This Joint is getting your body moving and your heart racing as well as convincing you there’s an actual party waiting – if and when the car careens to stop, runs out of gas or crashes through the wall.

Maybe this shouldn’t seem surprising. After all we’ve seen a number of these characters in rock’s story so far, journeymen singers who get their recording break and figure that if rock ‘n’ roll is what’s being called for, then they’re going to leave no questions that it was rock ‘n’ roll they gave them as they pull out all of the stops. If nothing else Henderson can’t be accused of treading lightly here, which is to the record’s benefit.

More interesting though is the band, because while it’s relatively easy to convince one singer to go all-out, it’s another to get an entire group of musicians to not only play aggressively, but to do so in a way that is stylistically accurate.

For the most part they do that here, but the arrangement has a number of counterpoints that are slightly out of place and show that someone in the room was still not convinced that streamlined rock in of itself was enough to qualify as “actual music”.

Most of this is seen early on, as the horns split into two formations with the answering group – though they’re playing a quick circular riff that is appropriate – are doing so in a manner that is not. It’s too prim and proper, too… cautious. Not so much even the playing, but the mindset of those who ARE playing. Close your eyes and you can see it on their faces in your imagination… they’re afraid to go overboard.

That continues to be a problem for awhile. The guitar’s answering lines, played well with a seemingly intentional sloppiness, have the wrong tone for this. It’s little things like that where you sense something is just a wee bit “off”.

As the track rolls along though, the band becomes more comfortable, caught up in the excitement no doubt. Ironically it’s the two brothers in the band, bassist George, who is laying down the throbbing undercurrent, and (presumably) lead saxophonist Billy who delivers a winding solo, who shine brightest.

In the end, I’m not sure I’m quite drunk on what they’re serving, but I feel as if I’ve had the barstool spun incessantly while I’m sitting there taking it all in.


Stompin’ Like Mad
I gotta admit, this is one time where the grading of this was regrettably influenced by things I would not have known at the point this came out, which runs counter to the goal of not taking future events into consideration at all when handing out marks.

But nobody wants to be fooled by anyone in life. Though there may not always be harm in getting duped, it doesn’t make the victim feel very good to realize they were an easy mark and so when we’re unsure of the intentions, we are naturally somewhat reluctant to fully approve of the results.

Though this is definitely a solid rock release for its time, especially as Henderson’s vocals become more out of control down the stretch, if We’re Gonna Rock This Joint was the only thing of theirs that ever approached this type of organized mayhem and contained actual visible rock elements, you could hardly fault us for going a bit easy on our praise. Even downgrading it a point just to show we’re not falling for their con job.

It’d still be above average – we can’t ignore what we hear after all – but we’d justify a lower score by saying that it wasn’t authentic, they were merely playing a role.

But as we’ll see on the flip side, as well as down the road when they’ll continue to churn out true rock material, they weren’t charlatans after all and so, knowing that, we’ll give this the score it earned with no asterisk attached. RCA had in fact found a legitimate rock act… and then probably sank their prospects because what self-respecting rock fan in 1952 would believe that the genuine article could actually be recording for RCA-Victor?

In this case though, take my word for it that this is the real deal. Maybe it’s not quite as organic as we’d like, but it’s hard to fault either the effort or the results.


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