Tags

No tags :(

Share it

SELECTIVE 111; NOVEMBER, 1949

 
 

 
With only a few more records to go before we get to the 1950’s we’re going to take some time to add in a few 1940’s songs we either overlooked or intentionally avoided for various reasons when first covering this ground. It won’t take long and hopefully will paint a more vivid picture of the first era of rock as we head into the second era in the next week or two.
 

 

Yesterday on our first meeting with this group of enthusiastic teenage rock instrumentalists we talked a lot about classical music, probably the most refined brand of music the world has yet known.

While we’d obviously protest anyone claiming that rock ‘n’ roll was completely without class we’d probably go along with the idea that among its many charms is the fact that rock can be proudly unrefined.

But today we’ll focus on one of those instances where even the most ardent defender of the musical merits of rock would have difficulty arguing that there aren’t times when it can be rudimentary, sloppy and downright crude… and for once it’s not something the artists or fans were necessarily proud of.
 

 

Cutting Class
Because we spent so much time on setting up the review yesterday by delving into the hit parade of 18th and 19th Centuries we sort of skirted the edge of the story of the group at the focus of that review, The Rhythm-Riffers, who I suppose deserve some credit for being not only one of the first self-contained groups in rock, but also one made up of kids still in school.

Though this name was probably given to them without their consent it suited them well and since they were being afforded this opportunity to cut a record on their own rather than backing up vocalist The Great Gates, which was their main duty, they probably can’t complain.

This being their first shot at establishing themselves on their own they took full advantage of it with a better than average effort with Fandango, a rolling instrumental that featured each one of them taking a turn at the helm and contributing something of value to a song that was tightly arranged and yet had a feeling of loose exuberance.

It probably shouldn’t be surprising that high school aged kids who could pull that off – not to mention having already proven their worth by backing Gates on a national Top Ten hit in the spring – would go on to have long careers in rock ‘n’ roll as the two sax players, Marvin Phillips and Emory Perry would lay down their horns to sing as a duo in the mid-50’s and score some nice hits along the way, while pianist Richard Lewis would be a steady presence on live scene backing a lot of acts around town while also cutting a few records of his own.

In fact though all three would take a back seat in terms of major commercial success to others of their generation they were the ones who actually got the L.A. teen rock scene off the ground and considering the city would probably have the most success of any metropolitan era in America when it came to youth led rock, not just in their own era but virtually every era to follow from the 1960’s with The Beach Boys to the 1980’s with N.W.A, that makes these guys sort of the underage fathers of the youth rock movement.

But the one thing about youth we have to keep in mind is that while there’s plenty of enthusiasm and confidence to be found, not to mention usually possessing a better sense of what tomorrow’s sounds will be than any adult in the biz, there’s also a lack of experience that can’t help but curtail their advances at times.

This is no permanent condition mind you, no obstacle that can’t quickly be overcome, and since it’s doubtful the group had much advance notice that they’d get this chance in the studio to lay down their own tracks we can hardly blame them for tripping themselves up. In fact considering the other side was so good it’s actually still pretty impressive they batted .500 their first time out with no safety net beneath them in the form of an experienced frontman to take some of the pressure off.

But then again, when you’re a professional band, whether 18 or 81 years old, what counts in the end is what sounds you come up with and on Holiday Hop those sounds tend to be in conflict with one another.
 

Christmas Spirit
It doesn’t take a keen detective’s eye to figure out the title of this record was conceived to capitalize on the time of year when this was being released, somewhere in mid to late November which naturally means it’s leading into the Christmas season.

But instead of calling it something generic like Holiday Hop to suggest a connection with the upcoming festivities on December 25th, they’d have been better off focusing on the holiday which preceded it, Thanksgiving, and called this Leftovers, because musically that’s what it seems to be – a lot of cold food thrown together on a plate and wrapped in wax paper just to keep it from spilling on the ride home.

The joint riff by the horns that leads this off isn’t too bad. It’s hardly exciting but it is fairly catchy, albeit in a monotonous way since there’s nowhere to take it but in circles and even then they make one too many loops around the track before seguing into the next section.

But here’s where their inexperience shows because what follows isn’t only an example of sub-par playing or a bad musical idea, which happens to even veteran artists, but this can be chalked up to having absolutely no clue about putting together a coherent arrangement.

Now wait a minute, anyone reading yesterday’s review – or earlier in this essay for that matter – knows that one of the things we praised the most about Fandango was how well arranged it was and it’s the same guys playing the same instruments in the same studio on the same day who make a mess of things here. So what gives?

Youth.

Not that being young is a fault by any means, but it is a prime cause of inconsistency. Whether we’re talking sports or school or picking up girls, youth and inexperience will lead to the kind of uneven results you’ll tend to rid yourself of once you get a few reps under your belt. When everything is going well at that age your confidence soars and the task becomes easier, but when you meet with an obstacle and things start to fall apart you generally don’t know how to recover in the moment, to regain your balance and take a step back and let the situation settle down before you try again.

Those with experience generally know the problems they’re facing aren’t insurmountable and so if they just take a break and study the situation they’ll see a readily apparent solution staring them in the face. It still might not turn chicken shit into chicken salad, but it’ll at least be something edible.

Unfortunately The Rhythm-Riffers are not at that stage yet and so they do what all kids do, they press on, knowing full well they’re losing their hold on the moment but determined to force it to work all the same.

It rarely does.
 

Gift Returns
Unlike the flip side which was written by Lewis and Phillips, this song was penned by Perry and John Blackburn, who owned Selective Records. Somehow I doubt he had much to do with it since I’m pretty sure he wasn’t a musician and since there are no lyrics the most he could’ve done was come up with the title… which we’ve already decided (with no evidence other than gut instinct!) that he did.

This means the blame falls to Emory Perry, which is a shame because he’s one of those guys who probably deserves more recognition than he got – I mean, he rarely even received credit under his given name as he had to adopt the name “Johnny” in the future after his pal Marvin Phillips used Carl Green as his “first” Johnny when pairing up to form a vocal duo after Jesse Belvin, with whom he scored a #2 hit in 1952, was drafted into the Army. Johnny sounded close enough to Jesse and so he used that even though neither of the guys he sang with under that name was a Johnny. When Green left and Perry came in he became “Johnny” as well.

In fact – and we’re getting WAY ahead of ourselves here – when Belvin was discharged from the Army two years later he actually sang with Phillips on a few sides using the now well-established Marvin & Johnny name… and Perry, who never really was too keen on singing to begin with, was able to merely play the sax on those records as he’d have preferred doing all along.

So to single out Perry for the failure of Holiday Hop seems almost cruel but it’s also fairly obvious he’s gotta take the brunt of the criticism, not only because he wrote it, but because he’s playing one of the two saxophones that is clashing with the other the entire time!

Where this song falls apart should be pretty clear to anyone with ears… we have two saxes playing different melodic lines at the same time. This is certainly something that can be done in a variety of ways with some success. Think of a baritone laying down the basic rhythmic bottom while a tenor (or an alto) improvises on top. There are also many instances where one horn is blowing a melodic counterpoint that tends to be more sparse than the lead line.

Here they’re sort of combining the two ideas yet utilizing neither properly. It’s more rhythmic by nature yet because it’s another tenor there’s not enough distinction between the two. As a result it just sounds sloppy as hell because the lines blend into one another too much. When the lead pauses you tend to hear the other in that space still playing. Now you KNOW they’re different horns but since it’s the same tone your ears aren’t able to separate them enough in your mind to make sense of it.

They clash in other words. In fact, they clash badly.

The primary line itself should be the focus of the record, and I’m assuming that’s Perry since it’s the showier part, but while what he’s playing on its own certainly isn’t bad – there’s some good riffs, a few different textures thrown in and a nice loose feeling to it all – the other horn is a constant distraction.

In other cases you’d call this intentional sabotage, as it would’ve been had Phillips been mad that Perry was taking the lead and set out to undermine his work, but that’s obviously not the case. They worked it out this way intentionally and while it certainly might’ve been acceptable had they used a baritone instead which would’ve changed the nature of the arrangement, the wrong instrument playing that SAME arrangement sends the entire record into chaos and disorder.
 

Slaying Songs Tonight
The problems however don’t end there, as it seems this was probably something that was a lot more haphazardly tossed together by the group than the writing credits make it out to be. The reason for this is I don’t think Perry wrote out the charts for the rest of the band, it was a head arrangement, and so each of the other musicians are coming up with their parts on the initial run-through and Lewis, who was so good on the top side, is lost for much of this, providing neither melody nor rhythm behind the horns for much of it, but rather just intermittently pounding away. When Perry tosses in a Jingle Bells quote Lewis comes along and does the same a few bars later making the whole thing seems as though it was ad-libbed at the end of a drunken night on the bandstand.

Of course this was probably cut in the studio at midday and they were all too young to drink so that excuse doesn’t fly.

By the two-thirds mark they regroup and lay down that same repetitive underwhelming riff they opened the record with. But whereas then it sounded rather mundane and uninteresting now that same riff brings a welcome sense of order back to the proceedings, grounding it in something safe and sane… relatively boring still, but at least you end things with your head screwed on right, your eyes focused and your senses intact.

The sad thing about Holiday Hop is there was a halfway decent record to be found in it had they just had the wherewithal to stop and think it over after the first few takes and jettison what didn’t work and simplify the parts the others were being asked to play.

Perry’s lead is fine, both what he plays and how he plays it. I’d like to hear it when it’s not being dragged under by everything else however to be sure it’d hold up under more scrutiny, but it seems like it’s got the right idea for a instrumental B-side at the very least. So keep that as is but find a baritone sax for Phillips to play, or failing that, telling him he’s mostly sitting this one out unless you want to give him the lead in the second half.

You can have them speed up the intro and play it together with some more force and emphasize that by having Lewis pound away furiously behind them before he drops out altogether or merely plays triplets behind Perry during the main stretch. Less is more though which is something you tend to learn in time and so we can understand how they began handing out parts to everyone, not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings by giving them a smaller role to play.

Instead what they hurt were their own chances to make a better impression… as well as with hurting our ears by having to suffer through this.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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