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KING 4547; JUNE 1952



When we say something is generic it tends to come across as an insult, or at least a backhanded compliment.

Usually those accusations are true, but not here.

Here “generic” simply means this is a record that attempts to bring together all of rock’s most explosive attributes and blend them into one heady performance. Because there’s nothing original about it you’d be hard-pressed to call it creatively inspired and thus it leads you think the generic tag must be criticism.

Instead this shows that the word can mean something else altogether as long as you have really talented people determined to maximize the formula they’ve come to know so well over the past few years.


I Mean Business!
Be honest… no matter how much of a fan of early 1950’s rock ‘n’ roll you are, this title didn’t jump out at you on first glance, did it?

You had wrack your brain to try and remember its content, more than likely had to go look it up to hear it for yourself, something you almost certainly wouldn’t have to do for Tiny Bradshaw’s more notable records, like the 1950 hit Well, Oh Well or his immortal original version of The Train Kept A Rollin’. Those records are more or less embedded in your memory, easily accessed in your mind’s personal jukebox just by seeing the title.

But not this one. Not for you and not for me either.

When you DO cue it up however, that’s when your built-in skepticism and natural reticence to declaring something not very well known to be a lost classic starts to crumble, because Lay It On The Line is everything we like about Tiny Bradshaw and rock ‘n’ roll itself.

Wild, uninhibited, shamelessly gleeful in its musical debauchery and unapologetic about all of it.

Yes, it’s constructed out of stock materials, so the generic label fits in a strict interpretation of the term, but somehow they managed to pull all of the best components off the shelves while leaving behind the extraneous parts and distilled each one of them down to the essentials, leaving absolutely no fat anywhere on the record.

You hear fans talk in glowing terms about artists or records or even entire styles, be it garage rock or punk, which perfectly embody the so-called “rock ‘n’ roll attitude”.

Much like those styles which also could be said to lack creativity, this record definitely has attitude to spare to make up for it. Luckily it’s also got a whole lot more than that to keep you entertained.


How Long Will You Hold Out?
Okay, so you’re probably saying before you reacclimate yourself with this recording that there’s only so much an overly enthusiastic, wild-eyed, quasi-singer like Tiny Bradshaw will be able to do to win you over, in spite of anybody’s glowing testimonial.

He was rather a one-note performer after all and with so many rip-roaring tracks featuring his cracked vocals already clouding our memories, one more – even one where he’s been shaken and stirred more than most – probably isn’t going to make too much of an impression, especially if we’re not instantly familiar with the lyrics or at least the verbal hook.

Fair enough, but maybe you’ve forgotten that at his best Tiny Bradshaw’s vocals, not to mention the particulars of the story he’s telling, are merely accoutrements, not the main dish.

Here those things DO add flavor, especially as the message of Lay It On The Line is readily apparent in the title and focuses on Bradshaw’s intention on getting the most out of every situation, which seems to be centered mostly on enjoying himself in life’s endless party.

There’s not much more to it than that in terms of content, he’s anxious to get out on the town and live it up and is tossing out generic commands to his girl, imploring her to speed things up so they can get going. But while the directives themselves are standard issue, the conviction he has in selling them is first rate and yet even that remains merely a colorful sideshow to the main draw here… the music.

We know Bradshaw’s primary talent was as a bandleader and here he – and producer and co-writer Henry Glover – get the most out of his crack unit, letting them run wild while still keeping them tightly focused so this can pack an even bigger wallop in the process.

Everybody here gets their chance to Lay It On The Line, even if only briefly. From Willie Gaddy’s slicing guitar licks that opens this, to the horn blasts that emphasize the rhythm laid down by drums, bass and piano, this is as tightly constructed an arrangement as you can find. Even though we’re not surprised when the horns take center stage, we’re duly impressed by how they’re used – overlapping their parts while giving each a distinctive role to play – which allows it to stand out.

Jimmy Coe’s early alto solo is really good, coming close to getting a tenor’s power out of the horn, but it’s lifted even higher by the baritone’s sneaky melody behind it. The later tenor spot by Rufus “Nose” Gore is propelled by Bradshaw’s crazed ad-libs and by the time we’re drawing to a close Calvin “Nab” Shields is slamming the drums as if he caught them taking liberties with his underaged sister, putting an exclamation point on the musical decadence they’ve unleashed on the world.

It’s a slam bang track from start to finish, none of it distinctively memorable on its own, but worth every ounce of sweat you’ll expel keeping up with it.


Are You Gonna Come Across?
There’s a moment in here where Tiny Bradshaw lets loose with a shrieking “Wooooo!” that may not seem all that unusual after listening to seventy-five years of rock ‘n’ roll in 2023, but had to appear somewhat shocking coming from a forty-four year old man with a long pedigree of respectable music contributions dating back decades before losing his mind five and a half years ago when rock ‘n’ roll came along.

That’s the thing we keep trying to get across with all of this… how rock ‘n’ roll had the power to change people, to reinvigorate them like it did an old timer like Bradshaw, or inspire the ones who were half his age who were just starting out.

Other styles of music had done this in the past, certainly jazz was one that had a similar effect on its practitioners during its own first decade or so, but along the way it got tamed… not musically so much (it remained creative as hell for a half century at least), but rather in the way it presented itself.

The wild histrionics of The Jazz Age was refined, streamlined and packaged to sell to a broader audience.

The same would be true of rock ‘n’ roll to an extent as well, after all anything that can make lots of money is bound to be corrupted. But where rock differed is that its musicians continued to find in it the means for expressing the things that couldn’t be watered down effectively… their hedonism, their restlessness, their need for self-expression.

Arguably in rock’s entire history nobody embodied that more than Tiny Bradshaw who always sought to Lay It On The Line with everything he did.

He wasn’t rock’s best singer, or even a very good one in a technical sense and he was so far out of his element from a generational standpoint that he always was at risk to become a caricature.

But dammit, he absolutely meant every shout, every squeal, every cry and every yelp that came out of him. He was a rocker by choice and that, more than anything else, is what made him and the genre itself so potent.


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