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JUBILEE 5054; APRIL 1951



If you were a neutral observer in 1951 who was keeping tabs on musical developments, particularly outside the mainstream market, it would be no later than April of that year when you stopped and said… “Something is happening here”.

It may have dawned on you a little earlier of course but by spring there was no way to ignore how many vocal groups were springing up with a much broader array of stylistic wrinkles than had been seen before.

If the mere arrival of one more group on the scene wasn’t enough to draw your attention unto itself, the content of their debut seemed designed to ensure that you’d sit up and take notice.


Back In Town
For an act who will get just two releases to their name The Sultans have a surprisingly complex web of connections with acts past, present and future in rock.

They also are indicative of the changing influences which are now dramatically shaping the rock vocal group scene, pulling it further away from the Ink Spots derived prototypes that were exemplified by The Ravens, Orioles and even to an extent The Robins (in that they were conceived as a response to The Ravens, albeit with a bluesier edge at times) and taking it in a direction that was not roughed-up pop derivatives but rather secularized gospel music distorted through the lens of sin and perversion.

The Dominoes were doing this most overtly, which is ironic since their organizer Billy Ward was the most pop-aspiring figure in this realm, but the singers themselves, including Clyde McPhatter on lead, were gospel trained and brought that same passionate improvisational technique to their records and completely transformed the game with their first release, Do Something For Me.

But they weren’t the only ones. The Larks had been a gospel act originally, albeit of the jubilee variety, where the manner of singing featured tighter group vocals rather than the lead going off on his own, which is what The Dominoes featured.

Now we have The Sultans, who not only were like The Larks in that they too were a fully functioning gospel act – the Selah Jubilee Singers – but in fact that group had once included two members OF the future Larks, Allen Bunn and Thermon Ruth.

The remaining group consisted of Clyde Wright, his cousin Nappy Brown (future solo star), Jimmy Gorham, Melvin Coldten and Junius Parker and they recorded a pair of gospel singles under that group’s name for Jubilee Records before Brown left and was replaced by another singer who has been lost to time.

It was at this point that Jubilee Records, so successful with The Orioles but unable to break another act consistently, turned to The Selah Jubilee Singers and asked them to sing rock ‘n’ roll under an assumed name.

Apparently they not only didn’t have any objections to this, but the newly coined Sultans even wrote Lemon Squeezing Daddy to kick off their secular career, another of those songs that is hardly about the benefits of fresh fruit, or for that matter anything you might hear in a Sunday morning sermon.

Learned The Lessons That I Use
Maybe the gospel music circuit in the late 1940’s made a lot trips to Florida or California where they developed a love of fresh citrus… or maybe those groups weren’t nearly as pious as the image they presented on stage would suggest… but you’ll remember that those same Larks, under the name The Four Barons, released a song back in November on their first secular recording session called Lemon Squeezer on Regent Records which has basically the same concept, with lemons acting as a juicy stand-in for a woman’s breasts.

Now the Sultans in THEIR first secular session are doing the very same thing. In fact this one actually shares the most salacious lyrical refrain as that one, though it is definitely not the same song.

For one thing Lemon Squeezing Daddy is much faster paced. Whereas The Four Barons crept along in the darkness looking to squeeze some girl’s lemons, The Sultans are tripping over themselves to grab every pair in sight.

Secondly though the primary euphemism is the same, the rest of the details in the “story” – or “sexual assault” as it will read on the charges brought against them – have changed considerably. Lastly, owing to the uptempo delivery the group is much more involved here, rolling along with an eager horniness that won’t be denied.

It’s a less deliberately structured song, meaning it’s not relying as much on the nuances of its construction to make its impact, but the demented enthusiasm more than makes up for it and certainly allows you to be more easily captivated by the sheer manic intensity of their performance on first listen.

As you would expect the thematic concept is fairly crude as is the basic musical thrust of the song, as over a hammering piano and steady drums the group comes in rhythmically chanting the chorus consisting of the title line with one of them responding with a wordless refrain before the tagline of “Out in California where they grow so big and round”.

There’s not much detail between that however. We get a backstory about the bass singer’s upbringing in school, then we hear the tenor cribbing the second stanza from The Four Barons before we flash forward in time apparently as the bass returns on his knees in a graveyard, not repenting for picking so much fruit as it were, but instead is busy swiping the flowers off the graves to bring to a girl.

None of it links together, it sounds more like a mission statement for those perennially on the prowl for ripe females to pick, but it isn’t the words – beyond the chorus which is where the payoff clearly rests – which defines this, but rather it’s the vocal patterns and melody which are clearly just lifted from the aforementioned Dominoes song from last December, Chicken Blues.

It’s not quite as good, either the singing or the musical touches, but it’s not a bad attempt either, certainly its fun, exuberant and just racy enough to please everybody who doesn’t have a citrus allergy.


Take The Rose From The Grave
What’s so interesting is not the willingness of gospel groups to shed their spiritual trappings for the Devil’s music without the least bit of protest, that’s something we can use as further evidence that religion was always more of a social institution than a sacred one, but rather the telling story is that the record industry was now coming around on the value of producing rock ‘n’ roll that wasn’t even attempting to straddle the line between this music and the more genteel pop stuff.

With Jubilee’s cornerstone act, The Orioles, there was always the belief that should rock music’s popularity start to wane the label and the group would try and ease into something more respectable… some would argue that they’d done that far too many times already… and it wouldn’t require much of an adjustment stylistically.


But with The Sultans, not only did they corrupt them, changing their entire approach as well as their name to appeal to the rock crowd, but they were going out of their way to make clear this wasn’t aspiring to be anything other than a ribald rocker. They were no longer hedging their bets at any rate (of course the flip side, You Captured My Heart, is sickening pop music, far worse than anything The Orioles did in a similar vein).

Presumably if Lemon Squeezing Daddy failed completely the group could in fact return to gospel under their original name with people none the wiser, but this wasn’t ever going to be able to be presented as a lighthearted pop novelty.

That they got an X-rated song from stealing stylistic cues from the divine only hammered home the point that rock ‘n’ roll was increasingly willing to break from convention because the music’s track record of success was now tangible enough to make it worth their while, no matter what criticism they might receive.

The floodgates had already opened with the arrival of those other groups last winter, but now that they were wide open what was starting to pour in sure wasn’t lemonade.


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