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SAVOY 681; DECEMBER, 1948

 
 

 

For all the criticism shortsighted record companies and their stubborn, stingy owners have gotten thus far – and will continue to have heaped upon them for their cheap and exploitative actions over the years – there ARE occasions, rare though they may be, when they’re actually due some credit.

After all it was these men who opened the door to rock ‘n’ roll in the first place, recording artists the major labels wouldn’t deign to sign to contracts for risk of sullying their exalted recording studios with their uncultured music.

Now of course it wasn’t exactly altruistic on the part of the independent labels, a form of defiant social righteousness designed to give the middle finger to the establishment for their high-minded elitist (and obviously racist) attitudes.

Hardly.

When you come right down to it the reason for the opportunities offered to black artists was simply business. The indie labels needed to find an untapped market to sell their product to and they weren’t going to be able to compete with the power, the prestige and the popularity of the white stars the major companies featured and so these small time hustlers in the independent field looked elsewhere and landed on, among other styles, rock ‘n’ roll.

But whatever their reasons and whatever they themselves thought of this cacophonous brand of music personally, they provided the opportunity for it to be made and for it to therefore be heard and for that they have to be given credit.
 

 
However even though this development was long-lasting and mutually beneficial to both record labels and artists that doesn’t mean the company owners didn’t bitch and moan plenty along the way. They could usually be counted on to question the creative advances of their artists whenever it threatened to take them away from what already proved successful. They mostly struggled to grasp the changing and continually expanding market as time went on, at least until they suddenly realized the greater potential for income it afforded them and then they immediately tried catering to it in a shallow and insincere fashion by abandoning the established fan-base in the quest for some bigger prize.

Then of course there was the constant lack of ethics when it came to paying their artists royalties without deducting every possible expense right down to the electricity used to light the studio and power the microphones, which always seemed to leave the acts owing them money, or so they claimed.

In other words if you’re looking for people to admire at a record label you’d be wise to focus on the janitors emptying out the trash cans at night and stop there.
 

I Must Be Dreamin’
Of all of the independent label owners of the 1940’s and 50’s who’ve collectively been given credit for the takeover of the record business the one who usually stands as the epitome of the cantankerous cigar-chomping cheapskate is Herman Lubinsky of Savoy Records. Now the fact that it was Lubinsky who actually beat his competitors off the line by starting his label way back in 1942 doesn’t seem to count for much. Part of this is because he had most of his success in jazz and gospel rather than rock ‘n’ roll and was largely finished as a commercial entity in that field by the time it began crossing over in the mid-1950’s and found its biggest audience.

The other reason why he tends to get used as the human piñata for the ills of the indie record business is because he DID embody all of the negative stereotypes the image calls to mind. In fact there’s a good chance they became stereotypes in the first place because he himself pioneered the offensive behavior and turned it into an art form!

On first glance this record would seem to confirm all of the unscrupulous behavior that went into crafting such an enduring image. The A-side, I’ll Always Be In Love With You, was hastily recorded by an ad hoc group thrown together on the spur of the moment in order to undercut a local competitor’s soon-to-be-released single by The Ray-O-Vacs. Savoy beat them to it and essentially swiped their entire arrangement and then tried to confuse record buyers by slapping the name The X-Rays on this single which was designed to mislead people as to which record was which, thereby nearly costing The Ray-O-Vacs, making their recording debut no less(!), and tiny Coleman Records which was owned by a gospel group (just in case anyone needed any additional help in designating which were the good guys in this shady act), a hit record in the process.

But as we said in that review, what Lubinsky did – underhanded though it might seem – was standard operating procedure for the era. All companies, large and small, did the same and nobody thought any less of them for doing so. Pop records were covered the day they came out by a dozen or more big stars, all of whom were desperately hoping to take sales away from their peers and you never saw any badmouthing of each other in the press for these actions, nor heard wild rumors of sweet Margaret Whiting spray painting graffiti on Bing Crosby’s house for taking her song.

The Ray-O-Vacs story ends well in spite of this bump in the road when starting out, as they did in fact wind up getting a hit of their own with the song in spite of the unwanted competition. Furthermore since there really WAS no X-Rays group to begin with, just a collection of unaffiliated session musicians backing vocalist Milt Larkin, the unusual circumstances surrounding this release give us an opportunity to examine an important musician outside the context of his own independent solo career.

That would be saxophonist Hal Singer, he of the monster hit Cornbread from last summer, who takes center stage on the B-side, the whimsically named Teddy’s Dream, a typical rock instrumental that shows Savoy knew which side their musical bread was buttered on.
 

Nightmare
I’m not sure Lubinsky had anything to do with the naming of this side but here’s where we’ll give some of that aforementioned credit which often is lacking when it comes to these characters, because whoever it was in the office that came up with the title hats off to them because it shows not only creativity but also a much needed sense of humor.

The “Teddy” in question isn’t any of the musicians lest you were wondering, but instead refers to producer Teddy Reig who famously prodded the collection of saxophonists under contract to Savoy over the past year to “honk” and then honk some more, which is what launched the rock instrumental craze with Paul Williams, who like the others found all of this honking to be somewhat crass and undignified.

But it was exactly what was needed to set apart this style of music from the more sedate and melodically intricate jazz sax musicians that many of them aspired to be. Now Savoy certainly wasn’t no stranger to those loftier pursuits, as they were the label on which Charlie Parker had risen to fame over the past couple of years, and they also had among their stable of jazz sax players the likes of Lester Young, Ben Webster, Dexter Gordon, Charlie Ventura, Don Byas, Illinois Jacquet and Coleman Hawkins – a veritable all-star team of legends in their own time.

So their decision to split off the less accomplished up and coming sax players like Paul Williams, Bill Moore and Hal Singer to tackle a different, less proficient style such as rock ‘n’ roll was an astute move on their part. It wouldn’t quite be fair to call this decision “separating the wheat from the chaff” but essentially that’s kind of what they did (at least in terms of reputation) and they chose the perfect time in which to do so, just as jazz’s commercial appeal was slightly on the wane and as rock was angling to replace it in the singles market.

As stated though not all of the sax players shuttled off to this minor league style were happy about their demotion, least of all Hal Singer. But he seemed far less compromised when called upon to perform in a rowdy and rambunctious manner as a sessionist, as his work backing Wynonie Harris for King Records had shown.

So here Savoy gets their chance to exploit his more freewheeling exploits without further risking Singer’s ire for demanding he honk and squeal under his own name, but rather as part of the fictitious X-Rays.

That they then named the record itself after Teddy Reig who instigated this musical trend in the first place by derisively calling it Teddy’s Dream, poking fun at his constant calls for musical anarchy by the horns, is the perfect ironic touch.

On Savoy’s subsidiary Regent Records where this was either scheduled to be issued before switching it to Savoy, or else was re-issued later, this was mistakenly put out under the title “Teddy’s Green”… or else Lubinsky had a REALLY wicked sense of humor and was mocking Reig for some perceived slight. Either way it’s probably fitting.
 

I Can Dream, Can’t I?
Creative though the title may be the record itself is a strange mixture of components, all seeming as if they’re coming from a different perspective.

The most unique feature is the distinctive stop-time opening which sounds as if it were lifted wholesale from a cartoon in which the dimwitted star was about to be set upon by a collection of creepy characters in a haunted house. The set-up is admittedly inventive and credibly executed but when it doesn’t launch right into a hair raising display of squealing and honking by Singer the effect is greatly diminished.

Instead when the main section of the song commences we’re met with a somewhat genteel passage that not only seems alien to what we’ve just heard but also to what we want to hear. As reasonably melodic and well played though it may be it hardly works to stimulate the rock audience’s more demanding sensibilities, nor does it provide a suitable resolution to the prancing taunting intro which then returns for a second go-round immediately following this section.

At this point you’ve all but given up on Teddy’s Dream being anything more than a poorly conceived throwaway, a bunch of conflicting ideas tossed into a blender and given a whirl to see what comes out of it. You’ll tolerate it maybe, but you certainly won’t seek it out in the future.

As Singer returns for his next standalone spot your impressions haven’t changed much. He’s laying back for the most part, blowing a pleasant melody in search of a more definitive statement. But as your mind wanders, perhaps thinking of what goblin or witch infested cartoon the opening conjured up for you to seek out later on, Singer starts to get inspired and bears down harder, roughening up his tone and taking the sheen off the smooth surface he started with until it takes on a different appearance.

It’s not altogether transformative, that’d be asking too much I suppose, but it does start to win you over a little more. Singer begins to hold notes, switch tones, dropping low and then lifting off again, digging down for some coarse notes and seems to show a genuine commitment to convincing you that he means it.

Of course we KNOW he can do even better, as anyone listening to Cornbread can attest, which is why we’re prone to being frustrated here because even when he ramps up his playing there’s still a sense he’s not fully cutting loose.

To that end there’s too much order and structured sensibility here. The drums and piano provide some flashes of inspiration and certainly keep this from ever descending into lightweight parody, but they’re not given enough to do. It’s obvious the creeping open – which also closes Teddy’s Dream out – is the gimmick they were hoping to hook you with and though it DOES make this more memorable than it’d be otherwise they blow their chance to be anything more than sufficiently passable here.
 

Wake Up Call
I suppose that’s about all you can expect considering it was a mere B-side to a vocal number from a one-off group that didn’t really exist in the first place. In fact it’s possibly even slightly more than you’re entitled to expect for one conceived under such convoluted circumstances.

That they didn’t simply churn out something generic speaks well of them, particularly Teddy Reig whose role in overseeing their studio work can’t be understated. If all of them weren’t exactly enchanted with the idea of cutting rock tracks Reig was the one who held their feet to the fire and at least got them to warm up to the idea enough to make the results somewhat credible.

They may not have been breaking new ground anymore and they weren’t all that determined to set the world on fire with their playing maybe, but they put forth an honest effort and came away with something that reasonably fit into the larger picture of rock circa 1948.

For a record company that often fell short when it came to understanding the market and treating its employees, including a string of top producers who were gypped of remuneration and left in a huff, Teddy’s Dream stands as one moment where everybody seemed to be enjoying the process of making records.

That might seem like a backhanded compliment, a knock against the industry that viewed its stars as chattel and their music as “product”, but if you can get one of these self-deprecating tongue-in-cheek records every so often that’s a dream come true even if when you awake there’s not much left of it to get excited about.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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