KING 4577; NOVEMBER 1952



No matter how much you try and fight against the inevitable passage of time, sooner or later everybody starts showing their age.

Maybe it’s the first strand of a gray hair you notice one morning while preening in the mirror. Or it could be some unexpected soreness after horsing around outside with your friends that suggests your powers of recovery are slowing down.

Then again you might not notice any difference yourself but somebody else may drop a comment that sends chills down your spine such as referring to you as “that man” instead of “that kid”. For others the first time you aren’t carded when buying booze can be a shock to your system from which you never recover.

But surely Tiny Bradshaw, the ageless wonder of rock ‘n’ roll, was immune to this sort of thing. Though a seasoned forty-five, he was still romping around the playground like a rambunctious tyke the last time we checked.

Not anymore. Though he’s still is trying his best to keep up appearances, the wrinkles are finally starting to show even as he scores his biggest hit in over two years.


Balancing Act
Let’s not pretend that Tiny Bradshaw’s entire musical identity was wrapped up in wild, some would say demented, rock ‘n’ roll.

Not only did he get his start in the 1930’s which took him from straight jazz to big band to more ornate pop-jazz before rock ‘n’ roll came along in 1947 and gave him an unexpected second act as an artist, but even since then he’s made sure to keep his hand in poppish ballads on some flip sides while on King Records.

If that’s what the appropriately named Soft was, we’d barely comment on it. After all, Bradshaw wouldn’t be doing anything we hadn’t seen before and it’d be no reason to worry. But no, that role is taken here with the crooning flip side Strange, which in turn makes this side the one for our ears.

Whatever he was thinking, it worked. The instrumental went to #3 on the charts and kept him firmly in the spotlight, thereby ensuring that he wasn’t put out to pasture just yet as all artists getting up in years were at risk for in rock ‘n’ roll.

But while this is a solid enough rock performance in some ways, it’s also one that reaches back to past styles he dabbled in more than we’re used to seeing – or at least in different ways than we’re used to out of him, and as a result it’s straddling two worlds, or two eras, and potentially two audiences as well.

Does this mean like a lot of middle aged men he’s becoming nostalgic for what he did when he was younger, thinking back fondly to days when he had his whole career ahead of him, or was he merely taking stock of the current rock scene and realizing that the unhinged brand of music he specialized in hadn’t been giving him the best commercial returns lately, in spite of some classic performances, and so he was hedging his bets a little?

Or… and I can’t believe I’m suggesting this… does it mean he was actually… ya know… maturing and settling down?


This Bed Is TOO Hard, This Bed Is TOO Soft
We should point out that Tiny Bradshaw was no longer drumming… and hadn’t for years on record and thus on instrumentals like this he wasn’t playing a single note. But he was an accomplished songwriter and knew how to put a song together and on this one he brings together two distinctly different elements – a more modest backing and a more earthy lead – that seem to come from entirely different worlds and somehow makes sure they’re not clashing outright as you’d expect.

That doesn’t mean they compliment each other as well as we’d like, but they’re not ill-fitting in the “radio tuned to two different stations” criticism that songs of this sort often get labeled.

But as rock fans it also means that no matter how good the parts we like are on Soft, it’ll be the parts we don’t like which will be the proverbial pebble in the shoe for our listening experience.

We get confronted with that right away as the choppy piano opening isn’t very emphatic, or frankly all that melodic either, which dims out enthusiasm a little before this gets going. When that’s followed closely by problem number two, which is the nature of the upright bass which has a decidedly small club jazz feel to it, we really begin to worry. Even when the saxophone enters the picture the first passage comes across as being far too mellow for any song calling itself rock ‘n’ roll.

It gradually gets a little better, but it’s a slow transformation and it’s not until after the thirty second mark we get our first really insistent notes and they don’t last too long. At least it’s picked up a better melodic thread along the way, but we’re still not won over by it until we pass the one minute mark where Red Prysock’s playing becomes more gutsy.

This is one of rock’s most powerful sax players though and the time it took him to get up to speed makes it sound like an older car trying to turn over on a frostbitten morning. Once the engine’s up and running the car runs smoothly and we start to ignore that constant rattle of the piano and the odd thumping of the fan belt… err… the bassist that is.

But when we get on the highway the car starts to shimmy too much, as the bridge hands things back to the piano and then the other horns who are far too underpowered to even hit the speed limit.

We get another sax solo, maybe Rufus Gore this time, though I’m just guessing because it sounds different, and which is a little exotic but hardly stimulating before the rest of the horns ease us back into the garage, smoke still emanating from the tailpipe and even when the engine is shut down the frame of this car shudders as if to say it could use a trip to the garage for a tune-up.

We may have made it home in one piece, but next time we have to go somewhere, I think we’ll take the bus.


Slumber Time
When records that we don’t feel are very good become hits we tend to look for a reasonable explanation as to why it connected so broadly, such as the artist having a good recent track record which tends to lead to quick sales on a new release, or maybe a gimmicky aspect to it that makes people want to hear what everybody is talking about, even if it winds up being a let-down when you do.

In the case of Soft though, it’s not the usual things we’d expect when looking for reasons why this spent a stunning fourteen weeks in the Top Ten. Instead it’s something potentially more troubling.

Just as we talked about Tiny Bradshaw aging, so too were some of the audience. Rock fans who’d been turned on to him in 1947, or even 1950, were now a few years older, maybe settling down themselves and didn’t have the energy to bounce off the walls with his usual output any more.

Even more concerning was the idea that maybe the rock audience he’d courted hadn’t changed, but rather something like this was now bringing in a few rock fans drawn to his name and the sax playing of Red Prysock, but also was stirring the interest of an even older constituency, one who could care less about that but were looking for something a little more gritty than the pop-jazz standards of the day, without going too far into the untamed wilderness of pure unfiltered rock ‘n’ roll.

In other words this was a compromise track which we’ll see in the future will usually spell doom for the artist in question, as they start to realize it’s easier to keep old folks happy by toning things down than to keep trying to excite the younger generation who won’t sit still for long.

Not long ago, Tiny Bradshaw would’ve been one of those who couldn’t have sat still for the two and a half minutes this takes to play. Now it seems he’s resting comfortably off to the side, adding up his royalty checks and getting ready to take an afternoon nap.

Let’s hope he wakes up reinvigorated for 1953 instead of getting in the habit of turning in early every night.


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