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APOLLO 427; JUNE 1951



Nobody much cares about the occupational hazards of a rock historian trying to be true to the genre’s frequently misrepresented story. There’s absolutely no sympathy being shown to those who are dutifully attempting to untangle myth from reality, to separate fact from hyperbole and doggedly trying to present each artist with the same respect and attention, from the biggest stars to the lowliest of also-rans.

Sniffle… Sob… Sob.

Most of the time our task is made easier by following one simple rule of thumb – ignore the preconceived notions, disregard the naysayers and let the music tell its own story. What is and isn’t rock generally makes itself pretty clear… except occasionally when there are clear lines of demarcations being willingly crossed.

Usually that’s not much of an issue. The artist’s larger body of work, the aims of the record company in terms of who they were targeting and the stylistic leanings of the record itself usually give some indication of what field those releases were meant for.

Usually, but not always… like this one for instance.


Let’s Go Awhile
Over the last couple weeks few readers probably noticed – or cared – that two familiar names on the roster each had a release of theirs that were skipped over.

Earl Bostic had put out Always backed with How Could It Be You on King 4454 while around the same time Chris Powell And His Five Blue Flames released In The Cool Of The Evening and My Love Is Gone on Columbia 39407.

Of the combined four sides of those records none were rock ‘n’ roll even if we stretched the definition as far as it could stand. Because the artists themselves were frequently occupied with other stylistic pursuits – jazz in Bostic’s case, nightclub pop in Powell’s – it may have meant they were a little easier to cast aside, but even so there was still a twinge of remorse for doing so because it causes a momentary blip in their story on these pages.

The Larks though are another case altogether. We had no problem omitting their gospel sides cut shortly before they became The Larks because they hadn’t yet decided on their genre allegiance, or their name for that matter, but now that they’ve chosen to rock and will become (if they haven’t already) a highly regarded vocal group in the field, their output is of vital importance to us… even if it occasionally skirts the lines of the topic at hand.

But Eyesight To The Blind does more than simply flirt with another type of music, it fully embraces it in every way, so much so that if they’d released this under the name The Pigeons or The Turkey Vultures we’d surely leave it out of the proceedings, mentioning it in passing the next time we encountered them but otherwise treating it as a side road unrelated to the main thoroughfare of rock ‘n’ roll.

But we can’t do that very easily because this IS a Larks record and one of their more famous ones to boot, an actual hit in fact, meaning to tell their story properly we have to devote a full review to a record that we can’t possibly give a fair score to in a rock context.

Dilemmas, dilemmas!


Can You Bring Me Just Another Dose Of That Stuff, Please?
As we’ve stated time and again around here, the blues role in rock’s origins have been universally overstated for years. The basic 12 bar blues song structure is ubiquitous, yes, but the instrumentation, the lyrical perspectives and the general mood of the music is virtually alien to rock’s core foundation and it was only much later when people began to treat the tastes of the 60’s British bands as manna that this alternative history really took hold. Since they borrowed openly from the blues it led to the music suddenly being seen as having a direct impact on rock’s actual birth even though that view doesn’t hold up to scrutiny at all.

But that doesn’t mean that the blues weren’t a rich vibrant genre of its own and certainly didn’t need any ancillary connections to another style to boost its credentials. In fact, though the number of pure blues records breaking through on the charts may have paled in comparison to rock at this point, their biggest hits were every bit as potent commercially in much of the country as rock ‘n’ roll. A different audience to be sure, but one just as fervent for the time being as the younger rock generation.

The Larks hadn’t been aspiring blues artists before, but they had been gospel singers in the jubilee style which was a little more rooted in country blues, and in vocalist/guitarist Allen Bunn they had someone who would straddle blues and rock down the road under the name Tarheel Slim so they were clearly well versed in the idiom. So when Sonny Boy Williamson came out with Eyesight To The Blind the group saw a chance to hop on a well-written song and maybe draw interest from a slightly wider field than just the rock crowd.

But in their attempt to bridge the gap between genres they didn’t quite figure out how much of each style to incorporate and so they stick closer to the original blues arrangement which invariably is what cuts it off from many rock listeners who surely viewed this as some type of intrusion.

Even Apollo Records seemed to view this somewhat differently than their usual output, issuing it on the black label 400 line rather than the purple label 1100 line they had used for their first two releases.

But since there weren’t many blues vocal groups in existence and since rock ‘n’ roll hadn’t reached this far into that brand of music before, this sort of stands alone… a good record, but one which is destined to reside on island unto itself.


I Hear Ya
Bunn’s guitar is sufficiently bluesy for residency in the Mississippi Delta and when his voice takes the lead you can definitely see he’s not trying to artificially replicate the sound, as much as he simply is drawing it out of himself where it existed all along.

Were it simply an Allen Bunn record there’d be absolutely no way this would get anywhere near rock ‘n’ roll and while it might not make for a top of the line blues single either – not quite in the league of Williamson’s original at any rate – it certainly would be entirely welcome in that market.

But when the other Larks come along adding their subdued harmonies Eyesight To The Blind takes on a slightly different feel that throws your senses off just enough to make you sit up and take notice. They aren’t actually contributing much more than atmosphere (the unreleased alternate take has a slightly more prominent, smoother and thus more appropriate backing for rock, though even that’s not saying much), but it does make for an interesting sound behind the bluesy lead.

With lyrics that use some inventive wordplay to brag about a woman’s looks and prowess as a lover you can see why it had appeal to them in another setting, but because they don’t take it far enough away from the original setting it’s an uncomfortable fit here. A blues song with a slight gospel harmony feel from what ostensibly is a rock group.

The Whole World Knows…
Of course audiences are always free to look outside their dominant tastes for something else. Whatever strikes their fancy – for whatever reason – can be sought out by anyone with no explanation required and in 1951 enough of them wanted to hear The Larks blur the genre lines on this record to allow it to land at #5 on the national charts for a week giving them their biggest hit in the process.

We could retroactively try and claim that some blues fans may have simply been seeking the song by title, not by artist, and got this instead of Williamson’s record, which came out on the smaller Trumpet label. We could certainly suggest that when reporting the jukebox plays to the folks from Cash Box or Billboard people gave the song’s name rather than the specific artist or the lowly office worker at the trade papers assigned with this task did so themselves without realizing there were two versions.

But it’s just as likely that it WAS The Larks take on Eyesight To The Blind that was stirring interest and its success was well earned. This IS a good record after all and a credit to the group’s versatility that they were able to pull it off as well as they do. But viewing it strictly from a rock context it remains something of an anomaly… an interloper… a head-scratcher.

Judging this within The Larks discography it’d rate much higher, but in this setting it can’t possibly be called even average because no song this close to pure blues – or pure pop, jazz or Viennan Waltzes – can possibly be called an average record for rock ‘n’ roll.


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