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OKEH 6804; JUNE 1951

 
 

 

It was way back in 1947 when we first met The Trenier Twins, Cliff and Claude, two madcap singers who had consistently upstaged Jimmie Lunceford during their stint with the swing legend on stage, making themselves a popular draw in live venues for hipper crowds over the next few years.

On record however their music didn’t quite translate. Rock ‘n’ roll seemed on its surface to provide them with the best opportunity to get across what made them so exciting in person, but the mindset of the recording industry at the time was against such unbridled showmanship in their studios and so their recording careers languished with just a few singles, none of which really hinted at their appeal.

Maybe they just weren’t cut out for this means of music dispersal after all. Maybe they just were too far ahead of their time a few years back and now have fallen a few years behind the curve in the interim. Maybe they’d even miss the boat altogether, important stage performers destined to be forgotten by history due to a lack of enduring recorded output.

Orrrrr maybe not.
 

 

If You Ever Go To A Session
For modern audiences… heck, for audiences that only caught on to rock ‘n’ roll in the mid-50’s for that matter… The Treniers are probably a somewhat curious group to have others point to as being important in rock’s rise and eventual takeover of the musical galaxy.

While their records from their stint at newly revived OKeh Records were generally fairly good, they were rarely great and usually pretty atypical for what else was going on in rock at the time and as a result don’t seem to hold up nearly as well as those of their peers from this era.

In spite of that The Treniers’ legacy remains widely known due largely to their broader impact on helping rock get noticed by a wider community than its core audience. Their stage show was mind-blowing in its frantic energy, with the twins jumping around like acrobats while the band cut loose behind them, bringing a visual appeal to the music that made it hard to resist.

Because of this they became the means for a subversive infiltration into mainstream venues. Jackie Gleason was wowed by their performances and while he had no love of the music – this was the guy who released a string of big selling orchestral instrumental albums as “conductor” after all – he understood the reaction they got from crowds and booked them on his TV show. Ed Sullivan was another who fell prey to their showmanship, as did Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Suddenly, whether they realized it or not, middle America was being exposed to rock ‘n’ roll in their own living rooms.

It’s easy to see that as being sellouts maybe but they didn’t tone down a thing in the process, but they were so over-the-top it allowed the white populace to not be frightened by them, thinking it all must be a put-on. They were wrong of course and not for the last time.

As good as they were on stage however they still needed a platform to push individual songs so the message had a better chance to break through and this was their chance. Even though Go! Go! Go! stuck to a more old-school concept of the music in structure, their energy and over the top musical displays were hardly what respectable establishment outlets had in mind when granting them this opportunity.

Yet it turned out to be OKeh’s first chart hit – albeit The Treniers’ last hit – and as the subsidiary of a major label with reservations about their commitment to this brand of music, their early success paved the way for others to be given a fair shake there as well.
 


 
 

Turn ‘Em On!
Trying to ascertain the mindset behind The Treniers work is never easy because of how they earned their money – a whopping $1,200 a week performing in Los Angeles when they were signed to OKeh – and thus unlike other artists looking to make a name for themselves just to have a career, The Treniers already had a unique and thriving career underway and were merely looking to keep it going.

Now factor in their age and experience in the business – a decade already – and you can see why they were never fully dependent on rock ‘n’ roll to sustain their livelihood.

But they WERE enthused by it and so, maybe with a mind on not radically deviating from their live audience’s expectations, or perhaps mindful of Columbia’s preferences for something more rooted in the past, they place Go! Go! Go! in a weird place between two eras to start with.

The opening is looking backwards as after an intriguing alto sax opening we get handclaps to propel this along as the pair sing in a manner that seems as if it’s trying to coax an unconvinced audience to clap along and get into the rhythm. No doubt that’s where it originated, as the first night at a new club they’d encounter unsuspecting patrons who were not used to the theatrics they brought to the table and they needed to try and get them involved without scaring them off in the process.

But like a musical Trojan horse, once the crowd is engaged in keeping the rhythm and are focused on the stage act rather than their dinner companions or the hatcheck girl they think is giving them the eye, that’s when the band would jump in to try and knock their socks off. Sure enough that’s the tactic they try on record as Don Hill’s saxophone starts swinging while the hand-clapping keeps the rhythm going to build excitement.

The Treniers return to deliver some perfunctory lyrics, sort of an overview of their game plan, before Hill takes over again while the twins start shouting the title in earnest and it really takes off.
 

The Band Will Really Knock You Out
The first minute and a half is fairly non-essential stuff for rock. It’s well done and there’s plenty of energy being displayed, their voices are always good to hear and the sax work is nice, but it’s sort of a mainstream interpretation of rock ‘n’ roll more than the genuine article.

That changes down the stretch as Hill starts blowing with increasing fervor and the cries from the brothers become equally determined to get every last member of the audience to drop their inhibitions and give in to the music.

Between Hill’s impassioned squealing – while admirably remaining in tune – and The Treniers demented yells of Go! Go! Go! behind him while the drummer echoes their demands with piston-like emphasis on the skins, the closing is an injection of pure adrenaline and excitement to convert any non-believers out there.

In some venues they might risk being booked for inciting a riot, or maybe brought up on charges of violating some anarchy statutes that hadn’t been used in decades, yet on record or on stage this was the thing they measured their effectiveness with.

If people just politely clapped along, even if they were modestly enjoying themselves in the process, you failed, but if they suddenly got up and shook their asses and acted in ways they hadn’t in years then you had your confirmation that you won them over.
 


 

With The Beat
Though it will be through their work on OKeh that The Treniers will become a steady and welcome presence in rock ‘n’ roll for the next few years, they were always entertainers first and committed rockers second.

To that end we can never forget their records were secondary in that importance, more often advertisements for the real show which remained on stage.

Not that they couldn’t produce on record… the flip of this, Plenty Of Money, is actually the better side, genre categories be damned, a fascinating and intensely heartfelt jazzy melodramatic ballad that is as brilliant in its own way as it is unclassifiable and shows how they could’ve conceivably brought a thrilling new wrinkle to more traditional styles of music if they chose.

But we’re glad they chose to rock instead even if Go! Go! Go! was more of a warm-up exercise put to wax than a proper record. If nothing else it showed that far from being easily tamed in more respectable settings, the excitement stirred when groups started rocking was never going to be easy to control.

With that in mind maybe instead of being excited by the sales this got the Columbia executives who okayed OKeh records should’ve barred the door before more musical revolutionaries stormed the gates and blew their staid community all to hell in the process.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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