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KING 4497; DECEMBER 1951

 
 

 

When you hit your creative peak on one side of a single, what do you put on the flip side?

Something that tries to be just as ear-catching, taking the chance that no matter how creative it is the song may still be ignored altogether if the top side grabs everyone’s attention?

Or do you simply issue a mere throwaway knowing it won’t be listened to much anyway and that no matter how unambitious it is you aren’t going to be negatively affecting sales by giving people something so mundane?

Tiny Bradshaw took neither of those routes here, going instead for something situated midway between those two diamterically opposed options by releasing a song that is simple but eminently competent, timeless but fairly predictable, suitable but hardly cutting edge.

A good record that has absolutely no intention of trying to be great.
 

 

Peepin’ Through The Cracks
There’s a negative connotation when you say something isn’t ambitious, but that’s not a criticism, just a reality that has to be acknowledged.

Most sandwiches aren’t ambitious, but they taste fine, fill you up and aren’t too expensive or hard to make. Who complains that they use the same few ingredients?

In music, as in lunches, it’s hard work to try and knock someone out with each new offering, for the well of originality is only so deep and eventually you run out of water.

In Tiny Bradshaw’s case he’d been been going back to that same well for awhile now, taking the remnants of an older song and overhauling it with new lyrics and more muscular arrangements to fit into a new style of music and meet the demands of a younger audience.

That approach had reached its commercial peak with Well, Oh Well in mid-1950, but that song wasn’t quite looking forward enough stylistically and as good as it was for its day it didn’t have much legs beyond that time period.

On the top side of this single however he reached the apex for that game plan with The Train Kept A Rollin’, checking off all of those boxes and yet at the same time pointing the way to the future with both the arrangement and the lyrics. It was a truly inspired performance and as time has proven it is the song that will keep his musical legacy alive.

By contrast Knockin’ Blues is not aiming for those creative highs. It’s a much more basic song, likewise rooted in the past with its bluesy structure, yet not trying to reinvent the wheel in the process.

The ceiling for this kind of song is naturally not going to be all that high, but a good band with an enthusiastic leader can still get a lot out of it if they put their minds to it.
 


 
 

Lots Of Room Inside
There’s nothing memorable about this song, almost by design. It’s a collection of musical and lyrical clichés, but those clichés are drawn from a long history of similar records without cribbing directly from them.

Because of this there’s a familiarity to Knockin’ Blues that makes it easy going down, from the beat heavy mid-tempo backing of the band to the vocals which Bradshaw manages to deliver with urgency despite never pushing the pace.

Everything about this speaks to the professionalism of Bradshaw’s outfit. The compact six note horn responses between lines in the chorus are neat and orderly and there’s some subtle guitar work weaving its way in there as well, while Calvin Shields’ relentless thwacking punctuations give the whole song its drive.

Be aware that the widely available rendition – including on Spotify above – is edited down from the original single that clocks in at 2:46, robbing the song of some high points yet also omitting a solo that is marred ever so slightly by the clashing of the two lead instruments as Willy Gaddy’s guitar thrums have Red Prysock’s sax enveloping it like a cloud.

Another minor complaint is the band’s vocals with their atonal “Knock, knock, knockin” lines, but Bradshaw’s casual ad-libs and the ease with which he handles it all manages to offset those issues without much trouble.

Granted there’s not much story here and what we do get is somewhat contradictory in nature, as he’s complaining his baby has left him and thus the blues are knocking at his door, window, ceiling, etc., yet it’s framed as being a party where people WANT to get inside to have fun.

No, it doesn’t make much sense but the mood is an inviting one and if there’s one thing we know about suffering with the blues, it’s that things never seem quite so bad when your friends are around to lift your spirits.

This isn’t the song to get the party started by any means, it’s too methodical for that, but once everyone gets there and the drinks are flowing and your troubles are floating away with the bubbles in your glass, the song poses no danger of snapping you out of the temporary respite from your troubles.
 

How Come Y’All Can’t Get In?
A perfectly conceived B-side (pay no attention to the A designation, the AA on the flip indicates that’s the one they were pushing), one that highlights the strengths of the artist without wasting an innovative original composition in the process, is one of the more misunderstood devices in modern times when looking back at the singles era.

Tiny Bradshaw and King Records weren’t aiming to knock you out with this, only to keep your attention and reward you with a solid front to back performance if you happened to pause your celebration of the more rousing top side by giving Knockin’ Blues a chance.

To that end it serves its purpose well. You get a really good vocal performance on a song without any witty or clever lines… some nice playing without any standout parts… a perfectly listenable song that had no chance of being a hit.

Its simple structure may be routine by this point, but there’s a reason why that model endures… it doesn’t get stale.

Reliability in of itself might not be considered worthy of praise, but there are worse things to be as an artist and if nothing else when the other half of the record is rightfully getting all the glory, you need something that can ease you back down from that high without causing you to crash.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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