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DECCA 48211; MAY 1951



In the future a lot of veteran rock artists with plenty of hits to their name but who’ve aged out of the dominant demographic for influencing the current sounds, will ease into a more middle of the road style of rock, holding on to certain elements of their past sounds while making it more palatable for those former fans who’ve grown up, gotten married and had kids and can no longer rock out until they’re unconscious.

The truth of the matter is rock is a young person’s domain and for listeners this can be hard to take when you’re no longer young yourself and feel everything new is nothing but noise. Unable to admit they’ve morphed into their parents they turn to a handful of acts who have toned down their music but can still theoretically be called rock, allowing them both – fans and artists alike – to delude themselves into thinking they still matter.

Sometimes an artist like The Ray-O-Vacs decide to beat the rush and head right for that exit from the start and welcome anyone who’s feeling a bit overwhelmed by the more exciting and authentic rock acts to follow them in the slow lane.


Follow You Across The Desert
Naturally this kind of mindset coupled with their mild performances of non-threatening material have placed The Ray-O-Vacs on the extreme edge of the rock territory from the start and there some who will say – not without some merit – that it might be just as easy to cut them off and send them packing.

Heck, they almost seem to be anticipating this with a title like If You Ever Should Leave Me, contemplating what will become of them if they’re left without a home to call their own.

Maybe they’re onto something there, a realization that they are more or less inconsequential to rock’s ongoing success. Sure, their earliest hit helped to show this music’s commercial potential when two versions of I’ll Always Be In Love With You both made the charts and since then they’ve managed to come up with a few interesting arrangements – Bésame Mucho – that would have some influence down the road, but they’ve long since been surpassed by countless artists with more far reaching ideas. Maybe it would be for the best to cut them loose, maybe give them a gold watch for their service and stuff some money in their hand for bus fare to the retirement home.

Well the reason we aren’t doing that just yet is because for anything that has somewhat vague and ever-changing definitions to maintain an identifiable form you need boundaries and rock is no exception. Naturally those on the perimeter are going to be less essential than what exists at its core, but slicing away that part only means the next in line are going to be the new boundary and they’ll soon be at risk for getting excised as well. Do that enough times and what are you left with?

Besides you need to have someone to serve as the answer the question… how far out can we go from rock’s essential components and still be considered rock?

The answer is probably found in this record.


I’ll Be Right Behind You
As with almost all of their songs it’s as much saxophonist Chink Kinney’s show as it is vocalist/drummer Lester Harris, at least when it comes to what makes it work as well as it does… for starters that is.

The sax winding its way around the melody in the opening is Kinney’s specialty – a slinky breathy sound holding back just behind the beat, unhurried but not quite lethargic or lazy, and which always serves as the ideal accompaniment for Harris’s laid back vocals.

Anything more energetic would leave Harris behind, but anything more bright and poppish would make Harris’s smoky tenor seem woefully out of place and so Kinney was the guardrail for every one of The Ray-O-Vacs songs. Some work better than others of course and they didn’t have much to work with for the most part, their material was never lyrically challenging, to say nothing of the monotonous pace they always adhered to, but at their best they created an atmosphere of weary resignation with just a glimmer of hope in Harris’s delivery to lighten the mood.

If You Ever Should Leave Me takes that view to the extreme, as his girl apparently has been hinting around that she’s ready to hit the bricks but he’s not going to let her leave him behind. Some rock acts might forcibly tie her down, while others would wail in misery or become near catatonic shells of their former selves, haunted by memories and drain themselves of every last emotion in their bodies while singing away their pain, but Harris is simply announcing that he’ll just pack up and follow her wherever she goes.

Is this an early stalking anthem? Maybe, but not the dangerous kind if that’s any consolation. He’s more the willing doormat, happy to be walked all over provided its her feet doing the stepping. Somehow he even manages to make it sound noble in a way, singing with a noticeable lilt in his voice that’s helped by Flap McQueen’s steady bass plucking away behind him.

While none of that is the kind of attitude most rock acts like being associated with, it does provide cover for other artists who may want to ease off the more aggressive side of their personas without being called out for being too wussy.

Of course the wussiness shown here isn’t just in the declarations of eternal devotion in the face of complete dismissal of a girl, but rather – surprisingly – in Chink Kinney’s underwhelming sax solo.

Rather than increase the soulfulness to show the extent of his bandmate’s desire for this girl, he takes it in the other direction instead and lightens the mood far more than is recommended. It’s melodic enough not to be completely off-putting, but it untethers the emotional stakes and lets the record sail off into the abyss without protest.

Struggle And Strife
The fact The Ray-O-Vacs were occasionally successful with this low key style, not just with the random hits every now and then but also finding steady work on the nightclub circuit, meant that they were not going to radically alter their approach which makes their catalog tough to slog through even if there are a few sides well worth the time to hear.

Finding an audience for this watered down style, mellow-rock if you want to give it a name, shows that the music in all of its forms did have the potential to infiltrate the American consciousness in more ways than many thought possible.

Songs in the same vein as If You Ever Should Leave Me could never become the primary means for exposure if rock wanted to retain an ambitious, experimental and rebellious identity in the face of placid pop music of course, but as an outlier to test the weaker underbelly of the mainstream audience it had its place.

The Adult Contemporary Charts – music for aging former non-conformists who ultimately waved the white flag and meekly conformed – was still a decade away from being instituted… ironically because rock music DID eventually take over the mainstream youth culture, pushing the milder forms of adult pop lower down the Top 100 until their desire for official recognition convinced Billboard to throw them a bone… but The Ray-O-Vacs certainly gave a sneak peak at the kind of songs that would eventually make their home there.

Pleasantly non-challenging with just a hint of rhythm among other faint traces of the music that once shook up the world for those who weren’t quite ready to switch their allegiance to Guy Lombardo or Mantovani. It may not be the best legacy for a group to claim but they’d surely tell you it was better than leaving behind no legacy at all.


(Visit the Artist page of The Ray-O-Vacs for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)