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KING 4457; MAY 1951



The tipping point.

It’s a phrase that can be applied to many things, all meaning more or less the same thing wherein beyond a certain juncture things will change that can’t be held back or reversed.

Age has a few tipping points… once you go from a dependent toddler to a mobile kid, the tipping point being when they learn to walk… and then run away when overly persistent parents try reeling them back in to curtail their fun.

A late stage tipping point comes to where you come back into the fold of family or caretakers where you no longer can cope on your own years after retirement age when illness or feeble-mindedness sets in.

But in between those events comes another tipping point that the person themselves have more of a say in determining… specifically, when are you forced to become a responsible adult? After leaving college and parties reluctantly behind you? Upon settling into a career, getting married and starting a family?

Or in the case of Tiny Bradshaw is it when your valiant efforts to remain young in spirit can no longer fool everybody?


The Things You Used To Do You Can’t Do No More
As we’ve slogged our way through rock history over these past few years, one of the unexpected joys of this madcap odyssey has been seeing Tiny Bradshaw gallantly defy Father Time for as long as humanly possible.

Forget about how as he hit his early forties he already looked twenty years older than that, pay no attention to the the fact that his musical career began at the tail end of The Roaring Twenties and the first Jazz Age, and for goodness sake ignore the nagging little voices in your head telling you that rock ‘n’ roll can’t thrive… may not even survive… having someone THIS ancient as one of its current headliners.

Listening to Tiny Bradshaw gleefully losing his mind each time out was always worth whatever conflicts you had with the inappropriate nature of it all. In many ways his presence here was proof that the music’s defining characteristic was found in its worldview and artistic intent every bit as much as in its birth certificate.

But while his energy and enthusiasm were impressive for someone even half his age, there’ve been a few signs that he couldn’t keep this up. No matter how defiantly he pressed on, demanding we join him at the next party, eventually we’d reach the tipping point and soon his act, heartfelt and authentic though it may be, would fail to resonate, the illusion of eternal youth would fall by the wayside and the kids at the party would look at each other querulously and ask, “Who’s the narc?”

Once that happened, the gig was up.

Walkin’ The Chalk Line isn’t quite that moment but if you’re a friend of his, if you care about his feelings and want to see him keep his dignity, maybe it’d be a good idea to discreetly pick up his coat and hat and sidle up to him while everybody is doing bong hits and their attention is focused elsewhere and quietly tell him it was time to go.


Tryin’ To Do Things Right
As rock songs go this is still perfectly acceptable in mid-1951. There’s nothing woefully out of date about the song itself nor its performance by Tiny or the band. It’s a lot more modest than many of his past rave-ups but that’s fine, you can’t be doing keg stands all night without feeling the effects, so it’s always a good idea to dial things down as the night goes on.

But while Bradshaw’s certainly effective with this slower pace and more meditative outlook, there’s a hint of weariness in his performance that’s hard to miss. Frankly, there’s also some pretty telling hints within the song itself that this teenage lifestyle he’s been pursuing is beginning to catch up to him at last.

For starters there’s the title itself, which may or may not be coincidental on the part of the song’s writer and producer Henry Glover who was fourteen years younger than Tiny and yet much more mature. Walkin’ The Chalk Line refers to acting with proper decorum and that’s something Bradshaw clearly has not been doing since being bitten by the rock ‘n’ roll bug.

Once upon a time he was a more restrained bandleader crooning love songs but inside him was always this horny devil waiting to burst out and once it did there was no holding him back. So to even acknowledge these actions were abnormal and scandalous was a huge admission on his part, let alone his agreeing to try and modify his behavior for someone else’s sake was a shocker.

Even his opening declaration starting off with his trademarked “Welllllll” sounds a bit lethargic and that’s BEFORE his “baby called me in” to lay down the law with him regarding his wayward activities.

The gist of the plot – or at least Bradshaw’s preemptive excuse for slowing down at this stage of the game – is that his girlfriend is insisting upon him acting more responsible. I believe the term she’s probably used off the record was “act your age!”, but of course he won’t admit that was the ultimatum even if we’re compelled to bring it up.

He’s not really protesting this edict, though he’s insisting it’s only for her benefit because he loves her, but this IS the same guy who was dancing naked at the luau last summer with three hot twenty-something girls so his promises tend to ring hollow. He sounds sincere enough but knowing Tiny we’re waiting for him to start twitching uncontrollably the minute he tries to put a tie on and suddenly jump out an open window and run down the street screaming like a banshee in search of the next shindig.

Instead he remains seated in the easy chair, legs crossed, hands folded neatly in his lap, a blank look of resignation on his face.


It Just Ain’t Right
Though Bradshaw’s performance here fits the song to a T, there’s still something disconcerting about hearing him so subdued. It’s kind of like watching lions in a circus who’ve been cowed into submission through months of training with whips and chairs… they may still technically be kings of the jungle but it’s hard to act that way under a multi-colored big top in Altoona or Dubuque.

Surely Tiny would insist he’s just playing along, that this is all an act… he’s a performer after all and Walkin’ The Chalk Line is just a song, one which requires him to take on a certain persona in order to sell it.

That may be true but that’s never stopped Tiny Bradshaw before. He may LOOK harmless and docile but normally it wouldn’t be long before he started to roar… or let his band’s saxophones roar for him. Yet here they all stay in orderly formation, obediently going along with the program. The horns are quiet, the drummer is just playing brushes on the cymbal, only the pianist is trying break free of these constraints in the instrumental break and when he finds none of the others storming the gates behind him he too throws in the towel and admits defeat.

Through it all Bradshaw sounds… content. He’s in good voice, he’s admirably embodying the character he’s been presented with portraying and as always he knows how to casually ride the rhythm, mild though it may be, and make it seem effortless.

It’s a pleasant song, a fine performance, an effective job by all involved… and a sad day for those who came to believe in the power of rock ‘n’ roll as a bottomless fountain of youth, a working time machine and quite possibly the key to immortality itself.

Don’t Quit Now!
The fact that time moves on whether you’re ready for it or not is undoubtedly the surest evidence that there are no gods, there is no heaven and life is but a cruel and unjust sentence for unspecified crimes committed in your wildest dreams.

Tiny Bradshaw was the leader of the revolt against this harsh reality and while it is all but certain that others will pick up his mantle down the road – Mick Jagger is still carrying that banner in 2022, creeping up on almost the twice the age that Tiny was in 1951 – it’s still not easy to see Bradshaw reaching in his pocket to pull out the white flag that he’ll soon be forced to wave in defeat.

On one hand Walkin’ The Chalk Line is a relatively graceful way to cede the position he’d worked so hard to earn, but on the other hand you’d have liked to have seen him carried out on his shield after bursting an artery wailing away at the top of his lungs in front of a delirious screaming mob of fellow reprobates.

After all, that’s the rock ‘n’ roll ending. But failing that we’ll take what we can get from now on with Tiny Bradshaw, always a welcome guest at any party even if he’s finally taken the lampshade off his head.

But then again… this IS rock ‘n’ roll we’re talking about and if anyone is likely to have a second – or third, or ninth – wind in him, it’s surely Tiny Bradshaw. Tell ya what, we’ll leave a light on for him just in case he starts acting wild again.


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