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APOLLO 1181; APRIL 1951



There were a number of artists in the late 1940’s who were able to temporarily align themselves with the outer reaches of rock ‘n’ roll for a song or two, surely hoping to reap some commercial benefit from the association while not ever giving themselves over the movement wholeheartedly.

Maybe if it had moderated its more extreme musical tendencies, toned down its image in a move for mainstream acceptance like so many other styles over the years had done, then groups like The Rhythm Kings might’ve been happy to pursue it more ardently.

Instead rock pushed further into uncharted waters and unable – and unwilling – to try and keep up many of these borderline artists swam back to the safety of shore.

But now, a few years later, it was becoming obvious that the type of music they felt more comfortable performing, which had provided them with steady club work and some recording opportunities along the way, was no longer really profitable and if they wanted to continue their careers they might just have to reconsider how much rocking and rolling they were willing to do.

In this case it may not have been much, but then again it was a lot more than they had been doing of late.


I’ve Got News For You…
The inclusion of this record falls primarily under the categories of “Checking In” with past acts who’ve graced these pages as well as the aforementioned contextual reset of the scene to show how powerful the tractor beam of rock ‘n’ roll was becoming as time went on.

We’re not trying to fool anybody here and claim The Rhythm Kings matter in rock. They don’t, nor did they really try to matter.

But they’re not altogether an irrelevancy to rock’s history either because of how they were forced to contend with it on rock’s own terms in an ultimately doomed attempt to remain viable as time went on.

The fact that they failed in those attempts means they’ve been erased from the pages of its history, but editing them out of the narrative altogether distorts the larger story which is how rock affected those artists who didn’t have a stable genre of their own to fall under… jazz, blues, gospel, country or pure pop.

Had they been white The Rhythm Kings surely would’ve headed to the pop field and never considered anything rocking unless compelled to by their label in a misguided effort to capitalize on what they all surely hoped would be a temporary fad. But because they were black – and not jazz, not blues and not successful enough for the fringes of pop – they occasionally looked to rock with songs like I Gotta Go Now, hoping that their faint recognition of certain elements of rock ‘n’ roll would be enough to stave off the inevitable a little longer.

It wouldn’t be of course but then again isn’t that an important part of any conquest of the magnitude of rock?… the casualties along the way.

I Like To Linger
A few reviews back we mentioned the presence of Bill Doggett who was in a transitional phase between being one of the most important sideman and arranger for some of the biggest stars of the pre-rock styles of the 1940’s and his own career as the headliner of the tightest instrumental groups of the late 1950’s and beyond where he brought the organ to the forefront of rock ‘n’ roll.

Yet on that record, Doc Pomus’s Give It Up, he was playing piano, which is simply a roundabout way to lead into the fact that this record by The Rhythm Kings was the first in rock to prominently features an organ but not the first of theirs to do so, as at the end of 1950 they’d released a two-sided Christmas record from the same session where that instrument played by Isaac Royal was a major part of its sound.

Those sides weren’t rock by any stretch of the imagination, though they aren’t bad either if you want to expand your Christmas collection beyond the usual suspects. So we’d have to wait until I Gotta Go Now where we get to hear just how different instruments are going to play an increasing role in shaping rock down the line.

Though the addition of any new element to rock’s sound palette is somewhat important long term, its presence here, while interesting and sounding good on the intro, isn’t going to elevate this much. The far bigger story is how The Rhythm Kings are trying to incorporate more proven aspects of rock into their poppish vocal delivery but which only serves to highlight the musical and generational rift at play.

I Better Hit The Sack
Their primary means for adapting to rock is a sound one in concept as they’ve added a steady beat via hand claps to suggest excitement – a faux-gospel concept that makes sense, but because they carry it off without any genuine feeling to convey the emotions inherent in that approach their attempts fall well short as you would expect.

Still, the idea on I Gotta Go Now is a good one. Rock acts spanning Roy Brown introducing the form at the very start back in 1947 to The Dominoes who were poised to become the genre’s most notorious act in the coming months had appropriated gospel technique while twisting and perverting it for their more earthly purposes and it rarely failed to deliver some passion to a record. But The Rhythm Kings merely borrow the framework without concerning themselves with a deeper commitment to its form and as such it rings hollow.

There’s too much innocuous cheer in their voices, an almost minstrel-like quality of smiling throughout a song to take away any troubling connotations for an audience that would be naturally resistant to their message. It’s easy to see their backgrounds showing through in this performance… afraid to offend white patrons by expressing any genuine sexual urges while singing in a supper club even though the song explicitly mentions heading home at night to dream about a desirable woman.

Dream about… not fantasize about. That’s a BIG difference too, as the former is a pop approach while the latter is one that all but defines rock ‘n’ roll.

Though we can’t fault their overall skill as singers the record struggles to consistently find its footing. The roller-rink organ solo is a little cheesy but it’s followed up with a more appropriate guitar solo and by the second half their vocals are more freewheeling than what they started out with… even the quieter descending vocal tag is at least semi-creative, but when you look across the rock vocal group landscape of 1951 this is barely a blip on the radar.

It’s Gettin’ Kinda Late
The Rhythm Kings’ story is fairly representative of the changes taking place in music over the past four years as they were faced with a movement they had no real desire to take part in yet were unable to completely steer clear of if they wanted to keep working.

When we first met them back in 1949 on Night After Night they soft-peddled their attempts to fit in and as such they sounded two years behind the curve and it did their careers no good. Though they’ve updated their sound here they didn’t do so enough to bring them into 1951, instead I Gotta Go Now is something that ironically would’ve fit in better on 1949’s rock scene. Two years behind yet again… in 1953 they’ll probably finally sound more suitable for 1951.

Whenever you don’t truly believe in something there’s only so much you’re willing to concede even when trying to stay relevant and as a result they’ll never catch up and nobody will notice when they finally stop trying, content to live anonymously in the recent past with the rest of those who can’t fathom why time won’t stand still.


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