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Looking back at rock’s storied past from a vantage point seventy years in the future it’s far too easy to second guess decisions made at the time when the events that would soon come to pass were still uncertain and difficult to predict.

Yet there also comes with this perspective a clarity that is impossible to fully divest ourselves from when considering things that seem all too obvious to us now. We hear what sounds the old guard clung to based on previous trends, many from pop or jazz sources, and we hear what was discouraged, or at least hardly championed and in some cases passed over altogether, and wonder if everybody back then had trouble hearing what excitement was brewing in unbridled rock ‘n’ roll.

Here’s such a case. A recording that was finally saw the light of day in the winter of 1952, almost a full year after it was cut, and while owing a debt to that which came before it, still manages to sound slightly ahead of its time in other ways despite the delay.


Rock Me ‘Til The Break Of Dawn
It’s sad to say, but The Sultans weren’t long for this world… as a self-contained rock group that is.

Whether the inept practices of Jubilee Records had anything to do with that unfortunate fate, or if the drafting of one of their members into the Army was the reason for their breakup isn’t quite certain, but one thing you can bank on is that if Jubilee was on the ball and issued this record soon after it was laid down and promoted the hell out of it, bribing all the right people and getting it some airplay in New York where the biggest disc jockeys were in Jerry Blaine’s pocket, well… let’s just say the record wouldn’t be so obscure today if nothing else.

But Jubilee had their vocal group stars in The Orioles… whose own ongoing commercial decline was due to management decision to keep mining the same thematic vein… and so as promising as The Sultans were as a former gospel group clearly undeterred by singing blatantly sexual material such as Blues At Dawn, their potential went largely unfulfilled as they recorded just that lone session and vanished into the night.

Over the years, despite some intriguing connections to other recognizable names of ‘50’s lore (two of their original members later went on to join The Larks, including Allen Bunn whose solo effort The Guy With A .45 we just looked at… and Nappy Brown, another member who departed before their visit to the studio, wound up gaining fame in the mid-1950’s as a solo act) nobody really talks about The Sultans as a fascinating “What If”.

Yet as this record proves, they definitely had what it took to not only be stars in 1951/52 when these were recorded and released, but also had they managed to stick together they clearly would’ve fit right into the rock scene of the next couple years as well without needing to change their approach in the least.


Really Have Fun
If you were looking at the title of this, not recognizing the group but aware of the vintage, you might think this was going to be a bluesy affair.

Not so, thankfully.

That misleading word in the title aside, this is a song that sort of defines why the music is known as “rock ‘n’ roll”, the emphasis here being “roll”, which it does with aplomb.

From the guitar and piano working in tandem on the intro to get things in motion, to the wordless group harmonies that are deep and resonant yet still remain buoyant, this has a natural effortless flow to it that never slacks off.

The vocal camaraderie – for lack of a better term – shown here is the cornerstone of the uptempo vocal group cuts of the next few years with its slightly lecherous undercurrent that contrasts with the ebullient gospel-derived delivery of the lead, makes this a truly infectious sound.

To tip you off as to wait awaits you they definitely could’ve used a more appropriate title than Blues At Dawn even though it technically describes the situation they’re faced with as they girl one of them is seeing ushers him to the door before morning comes, after which she apparently is getting satisfied by some other means… if not “other men”.

I don’t think she’s seeing someone else (though who would put it past any girl in a rock song where that sort of double-dealing thrives?) because he admits he’s getting it on with her at other times of the day, but apparently spending the night is verboten.

My guess is she’s masturbating once he leaves, which if you want to look at it one way might even confirm how much she likes him since I’m sure she’s envisioning him during her solo activities. But you can understand his frustration at being shown the door, whether for reasons of preserving her chaste image to the nosy neighbors or landlord, or just to make sure he doesn’t claim too much of her heart before she’s ready.

Regardless, his performance complaining about this hits the right… ahh… spot, if you will, as he’s burning his tires while forced to stand on the brake. The others though are firmly in his corner by the sounds of it. The bridge is clearly Ravens-inspired, yet it’s got a more effervescent feel to it, something explicable by the passage of time since The Ravens ruled the roost.

Though you could certainly wish for a saxophone solo to take this to another level, the record doesn’t suffer from a drop in energy without it because the back and forth vocals in the bridge while the pianist is hitting the treble keys like a man fighting off horseflies on a steamy day, changes the melodic textures enough to keep it interesting.

Even the straining high harmony they close it out with is engaging in its own right, making this a song where none of the individual elements might seem startlingly great on their own, yet when combined as seamlessly as shown here it ends up being a record without a noticeable flaw.


Always After I’m Gone
Most artists need some time to get acclimated to the recording studio, maybe get some shows under their belt, have their first experience with groupies after a concert and feel the sting of being denied royalties to really get comfortable with being an active recording group… yet the only time we get to hear The Sultans on record is when they were absolute novices.

In spite of that lack of experience they’ve been consistently good on the two sides we’ve looked at thus far with nothing to show for it.

Blues At Dawn came and went without a trace and by the time it came out the group was no more, which is particularly sad because you always want to know how a talented act will evolve over time.

Instead these guys are preserved in amber, a hopeful group with an engaging sound that at the very least should’ve sustained them through the mid-1950’s as the vocal group era really took hold.

I guess they were right all along as it turns out… they didn’t make it to dawn after all, for when the sun rose on their style their career had already been put to sleep.


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