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KING 4337; DECEMBER, 1949

 
 


Who’s my next appointment with today, Marge?

Tiny Bradshaw?!?!?! He hasn’t been around the office for what, two years or more now. Did he call before stopping in?

No? He’s probably looking for a handout. Well, he’s a good guy, he used to be a heckuva bandleader back in the day… maybe I could find him a Shriner’s Convention or something to play if he’s really down on his luck.

Tell ya what, why don’tcha send him in. I suppose I can give him five minutes or so, after all I never expected to see the ol’ guy again.
 

 

I’m A Telling You
Well look who just walked in… Tiny, it’s great to see you again! Have a seat.

We missed you these last few years, where on earth have you been hiding? Are you retired now?.. Oh, no, still at it, huh? I hadn’t heard. Like I said, I lost track of you. Well, what can I do for you? Just stopped in to say hi, I suppose?

Ahh, yeah I’m still the top booking agent in town, but jeez, Tiny, you kinda caught me off guard here. I’d like to help you out but I’m not booking many big band gigs anymore. You know how it is, the really established acts, Basie and Hampton and those guys, they’ve still got the names to play the big joints anyway, they don’t need me hustling for them. Then these new jazz cats, the be-boppers, they’re all booked into cafés and and little clubs in the village, a lot of ‘em do their business right with the owner.

I’m actually booking a lot of rock ‘n’ roll these days. It’s not quite as much of a kick for me as it was when jazz was taking off, but it’s paying the bills pretty good. I mean we’re still not playing the big theaters or anything, it’s just not that kinda crowd, but we can pack ‘em like sardines in a lotta places on a Friday and Saturday night with the kids ya know. It’s really taking on a life of its own but obviously that’s not your line of music.

You what? You mean do I have a rock ‘n’ roll gig for you? Oh… well Tiny, it’s been awhile… I mean, you were always a good reliable draw back in the day but… I dunno, this kinda music is a different animal to what you’re used to.

I know, I know, you made one good rock record already, I agree, what was it called, Take The Hands Off The Clock, wasn’t it? Yeah, good title… but that was two years ago and it didn’t sell much even then and things have… well, things have only gotten more overheated musically since then in this realm.

You understand, right, Tiny? I mean, this is a young crowd we’re talking about too, really wild acting at times… heck, most of the artists are not much older than the fans screamin’ for ‘em. Half the artists cutting hits today in rock have barely started to shave yet!

It’s not that you aren’t capable of playing it I suppose, but you’re what now, 44 is it? Ya see, it’s just that these kids, these young wild rock fans, they might not seem too worldly or sophisticated on the surface but they have an innate sense of who truly belongs and who’s just trying to scam them into thinking they can fit in. They’re a pretty rough crowd to try and win over using your old tricks too. They’ll see right through those old-school approaches and gimmicks and I gotta warn ya, Tiny, they can get kinda rough if they think you’re a fraud.

Look, I don’t mean they’ll storm the bandstand in anger if they don’t like you and hurt you, or anything, but at your age you gotta be careful… Didja hear Jimmy Liggins got half his face shot off at one of these rock shows last year.

Tell ya what, if you really need a gig I think I might be able to get you a Sunday afternoon slot playing for a book club. They usually don’t have live music but… well, I’d like to help you out and I just don’t think these rock shows are what you should be doing at this stage of your career… Besides, those people at the nursing home owe me a favor after I moved my loudmouthed mother-in-law out of there last year and I’m sure I can get you top dollar to play a set there. After twenty minutes out in the sun those old ladies start dropping like flies, fast asleep. It’ll be the easiest two hundred bucks you’ll ever earn. Whaddaya say, Tiny?…

Huh? You mean you WANT to play for the kids? A rock ‘n’ roll show?!?! Look Tiny, I’ll be frank with you… Do you have any idea what you’re getting into?!?!

Well, okay, if you insist. It’s short notice but I’ll see what I can come up with… Are ya sure I can’t talk you out of it?… Alright, I just hope your insurance is paid up… Yeah, it was nice seein’ you again too, Tiny. I’ll be in touch.

… Marge? Has ahh, Mr. Bradshaw left yet? He has? Good. Umm, could you have my black suit pressed, call up the florist and order a flowered wreath and then get in touch with my cousin Paulie and see if he’s working Saturday night and if not tell him I’ll need him to borrow the hearse from his funeral parlor and have it gassed and ready to go by seven. I’ll call him later with the address of the club once I get the gig lined up for Tiny.

Oh, and Marge… nothing too fancy with the flowers. I mean, I like Tiny Bradshaw, don’t get me wrong, he’s a nice guy and all, but I was just his booking agent, it’s not like we were family or anything.
 

All Aboard!
As I’m sure you can all tell the return of Tiny Bradshaw to the ranks of active rock ‘n’ rollers at this juncture is pretty unexpected and frankly it’s got the potential to be disastrous, if not quite as comically tragic as that previous scene makes things out to be.

But while he might not be facing death at the hands of a stampeding crowd of rock fans who think he’s a charlatan, if you’re wondering about his chances at having a commercial OR artistic revival in this style let me introduce you to two fellows who’d beg to differ, Slim and his brother None. After all one look around and you can see there aren’t many rock stars who are in their mid-40’s who haven’t even stepped foot in a recording studio in two years, and though he may have had a long and fairly successful career on the bandstand as a second tier live act over the years it’s worth remembering that his career began in the Coolidge Administration! Just to save a you a trip to your history books I’ll let you know that was three Presidents ago and Roosevelt alone served more than three full four year terms during that stretch!

So if you were taking bets on whether Tiny Bradshaw would become a lasting presence in rock ‘n’ roll at this stage you wouldn’t find many takers no matter what odds you laid out.

Yet here he is all the same.
 


 

You gotta hand it to him, he’s got guts if nothing else.

But then again Tiny Bradshaw DOES have something else going for him, the same “something else” he always had in abundance… he’s got enthusiasm for his job. Now that might not seem like much but in music sometimes that alone is worth more than everything else combined, especially in a field like rock ‘n’ roll, where excitement and energy are so necessary to connect with audiences and yet is almost impossible to be convincingly faked.

As he’d shown on Take The Hands Off The Clock two years ago Tiny Bradshaw had been fully committed to the music from the get-go and wherever he’s been lurking in the years since, he’s still got that unholy gleam in his eye that makes you think he could actually pull this off after all.

Back then, in 1947, he’d been on Savoy Records, which wasn’t a bad spot to be when rock was starting out considering they’d soon release some of the first genuine rock hits with Paul Williams and Wild Bill Moore, but for whatever reason Bradshaw left just as the style was starting to fulfill its early potential. Now Bradshaw returns under the auspices of King Records, an even stronger label for rock ‘n’ roll and one with a much better track record with vocal records than Savoy had.

Even so there’s still the question of how well Tiny Bradshaw can adapt to things at this stage… at this AGE… and whether rock fans will take him seriously as he bounces off the walls with his out of control exuberance on Gravy Train.

If they don’t… well, if they don’t they really should, because once again, in spite of the odds being firmly against this old man being able to convincingly perform in this style, Tiny Bradshaw does just that and then some.
 


 
 

Ain’t You Glad?
Though Bradshaw would prove he was a solid writer over the years, he’s taking no chances on his debut with King – or more accurately, King Records is taking no chances with him, as veteran producer and former Lucky Millinder trumpeter Henry Glover serves up his own composition (under his Henry Bernard alias) for Bradshaw to get off on the right foot with and whether Glover wrote it specifically FOR Bradshaw, or whether he wrote it with the intent on giving it to whomever was next in line in their rock sessions who needed a surefire single, there’s little doubt that Tiny was the ideal recipient for just such a song.

Gravy Train of course is a term that signifies being in the right place at the right time and riding that train for all its worth, which is precisely what Bradshaw intends to do. But rather than simply being an eager passenger on the trip into rock stardom, Tiny has already put on his conductor’s cap and has elbowed his way up through the cars to the engine where he has little trouble convincing Glover to let him take the controls.

We’re happy to say that they’re on solid footing from the very start, with a rolling boogie carried out by piano and horns playing in tight formation with no allusions to big band sweetness found within. Glover plays up the train motif in the chorus where the horns execute their one throwback riff meant to conjure up a train’s whistle, something that had been done with slightly different effects in Jimmy Liggins’ Homecoming Blues, a year ago. In both cases it’s not necessarily at the forefront of rock’s horn mindset but it works well for the setting.

Gravy Train in every other way is right in line with the dominant sounds of rock as we close out 1949, not pushing the envelope by any means, but aimed squarely at the right market right down to a stop time vocal mid-way through by Bradshaw to give more impetus to what he’s saying.

But it’s HOW Bradshaw is saying all of this which cements his standing in the rock universe.

As we talked about two years back upon meeting Tiny, he wasn’t exactly the most skilled vocalist in any field of music. A reformed drummer turned bandleader, he was really more the master of ceremonies on stage but which in a studio setting, unless you wanted to be like Lucky Millinder who never played an instrument at all and just waved a baton around, you had to do something to let audiences know you were actually taking part and so Bradshaw stepped to the mic and warbled and shouted the best he could, having a blast leading the party.

His tone actually isn’t that bad, he’s doing about as much as humanly possible with the limited range and abilities he’d been given and letting his good-natured enthusiasm do the rest. He’s helped in this regard by the basic lyrics Glover came up with, alluding to other songs and singers – most notably Wynonie Harris’s version of Good Rockin’ Tonight, cribbing the roll call of guests and then throwing in Harris’s nickname, Mr. Blues, for good measure, as by doing so Glover is clearly hoping to establish Bradshaw as yet another slightly older artist who might be accepted by the younger rock crowd like Harris has been.

Whaddaya know, it works too! Bradshaw is never less than convincing in his role. He rides the rhythm like a pro, hitting the downbeats like a hammer, his voice squeezing every ounce of soul from his body that it can, and when he’s joined by others – be it the band, Glover himself, or various layabouts in the studio – for each cry of “RIDE!” the spirit becomes infectious.

About the only real drawback, though it too was done with the right frame of mind, is the sax solo which is a vital component to establishing authenticity and sure enough the tenor sax of Rufus Gore, a/k/a “Nose” (three guesses as how he got that name) comes along at just the right time with just the right pulled-out-of-the-alley-sound it needs to get the mood across. But in the midst of it they try just a bit TOO hard to emphasize the wild attitude they’re attempting to project by having him squeal as high as he’s capable of and it loses its musicality. The key to this trick working, as they haven’t quite learned yet, is to not take it entirely out of the melodic range of the horn. But while that proves to be a stumbling block they manage to somehow land on their feet anyhow and take this to the finish line in fine fashion.

Not a hit maybe, but the equal of most records that were hits as 1949 closed out. Who would’ve ever believed it?
 


 

Why Don’t You Get On Board?
Marge? I never heard from my cousin from the funeral parlor about the show Tiny Bradshaw did over the weekend. I’m almost afraid to ask, but ahhh… how did it go?

…You don’t say? He really went over well? They bought his act, lock, stock and barrel you mean? He actually had that young unruly rock crowd dancing, shouting and having a good time?!?! Encores too, huh?!?!

Of course I never doubted him for a minute… I knew all along he still had it in him!

Now listen here, Marge, draw up a long-term contract for Mr. Bradshaw with us as his exclusive promoters, standard commission… actually, bump it up another 2% and if he asks about it tell him that there’s still some skepticism about someone his age actually being acceptable for these kind of gigs and we might have to twist some arms to get a few places to take his show. Then let’s get him as many nights on the road as we can milk out of him at that rate before he realizes he had it in him all along to be a rock star.

Oh, and ahh, those flowers I ordered for his funeral if this last gig went bad… umm, just take the Condolence card and black ribbon off the flowers and get a Thinking Of You card, sign my name to it and have the flowers delivered to my wife.

Thanks, Marge, that’ll be all.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Tiny Bradshaw for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)