DELUXE 3227; AUGUST 1949



After writing somewhat effusively about the importance of rock’s litany of session musicians who helped fuel its rise and sustained its proficiency for multiple generations until self-contained bands became standard in the field, we consider the flip side of that argument for greater recognition… namely, shouldn’t such talented musicians have more opportunity to cut their records under their own names so they won’t have to be reliant on largely anonymous studio work to maintain a fruitful career?

Though there’s no question that every talented musician deserves at least an opportunity to break out of anonymity and excel under their own name, history has shown time and time again that when given the chance these studio habitués typically fall well short of justifying those attempts.

This is no exception.


The Route From Notes To Noise
If you were to be told after listening to this convoluted mess that pianist Ray would go on to be a widely respected jazz musician in time and that younger brother Plas would be among the four or five most prolific saxophonist of the next few decades, handling the lead on some monster hits that remain universally known a half century or more down the road, well, I don’t think you’d believe it.

The problems with Our Boogie boils down to two things, it’s unfocused and uninspired.

Those are fairly big holes to climb out of and it becomes apparent right off the bat as you can see that the idea behind this song doesn’t have any traction. For starters there’s no strong riff or hook on which to build a song around and without that kernel of inspiration to form a sold foundation they’re left throwing all sorts of things into the mix, hoping that something may be of some interest. Instead the song collapses under its own weight.

As soon as it kicks off with Ray’s piano sticking to the higher end of its range you know you’re in trouble, for that decision ends up depriving it of the solid rhythm that could’ve anchored the track. Instead it sounds unsure of itself and when the horns come in on his flank they too are situated far too high to grab you in the gut and the consequence of that is the song is screechy rather than powerful.

If that was their only misstep there’d be plenty of time to overcome the poor first impression they make but things get decidedly worse from there as the trumpet gets the majority of the focus once they settle into the meat of the song. Not only is the instrument itself ill-suited for rock as we know all too well by now, but the manner in which its played here only exacerbates that defect, tootling along as if gasping for air.

As inauspicious debuts go, this takes the cake and we’re not even halfway through the song and already we’re about to give up on it. But since Plas Johnson hasn’t made a solo appearance yet we’ll refrain from turning the record off altogether and wait until he arrives before passing final judgement.

Unfortunately when he does consent to drop in after an extended solo by Ray (which is about the only redeeming feature we’ve encountered thus far) we realize we could’ve saved ourselves a couple of minutes of our lives by sending this to the reject pile a lot earlier without anybody feeling as though they were deprived of anything important.

Intestinal Fillings
Up to this point the song has been mostly a haphazard collection of conflicting sounds. Even when supposedly working in tandem the horns have clashed from the outset, with different tones, notes and mindsets mingling together without any cohesive game plan. The combined effect of these competing performances is nothing short of maddening, a chaotic performance that seems unprofessional at best and intentionally irritating at worst.

Plas Johnson surely was one the guilty parties in that stretch, which when considering his later résumé seems almost impossible to believe as he’d go on to be one of the most reliably proficient horns in the business, but we start to hope that maybe he was merely led astray by some bad seeds.

Nope, he was fully complicit in this act of aural assault as he proves beyond any doubt once he steps into the spotlight himself in the latter third of Our Boogie, his alto wandering around the scale like a drunken stevedore.

He proves himself completely incapable of locating an agreeable key, following a sensible progression or at the very least exuding a reasonable musical attitude with his playing. Instead he does his best to replicate the dying sounds of a stuck piglet on his way to the grinder to be made into sausages for tomorrow’s breakfast and to tell you the truth I might be inclined to sign the piglet to a recording contract before paying Plas the 40 dollar session fee for his work here.

Only in the final twenty seconds does this rag-tag collection of musicians figure out which way is up, tightening up their presentation and all pulling in the same direction for once to get this over the finish line with a mock triumphant refrain by Ray’s piano…

We can only hope he was being facetious.

Sweeping The Floor
Of course one record, no matter how disheveled their appearance on it, does not render their future prospects kaput, though it might give an early indication of why they, like most talented sessionists, were not always well suited for creative control of their recorded performances.

The ability to conceive of a song and the ability to play one are two distinct skill sets and while they share the need for an awareness of the technical side of music they don’t necessarily utilize the same methods for expressing that skill.

A gifted composer or arranger sees the big picture with a sharp focus that can take into account all of the musicians and each of their roles and intuitively understand how they are best used to compliment one another. There’s also the fact that creativity when starting from a blank canvas doesn’t even necessarily require the ability to play, only the ability to imagine what you want to hear.

But what Ray and Plas excelled at was the execution of those ideas when presented to them by others. They could coax the most moving sounds from their instruments and interpret the composition to maximize its melodic and emotional nuances, all of which place them near the top of the heap for those who’ve taken up their instruments professionally.

But as Our Boogie shows, when left to their own devices they fell well short in conceptualization and perhaps since those who excel at that task can get people like Ray and Plas to carry out their edicts in the studio for them and make them look even better in the process, it shouldn’t be surprising that those who struggle to create songs from scratch are going to be reliant on the abilities of others to make names for themselves.

Ultimately the fact that both Ray and Plas did so through their playing alone shows how good they were, but if unfortunate enough to hear this in the summer of 1949 you’d be forgiven if you predicted that they’d both be working in that butcher shop selling sausages before the new decade rang in.


(Visit the Artist page of The Johnson Brothers’ Combo for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)