Tags

No tags :(

Share it

ATLANTIC 920; SEPTEMBER 1950

 
 

 

They say time flies when you’re having fun… or if you’re a frog, time’s fun if you’re having flies… but fun wasn’t the only thing that made time seem to race forward at breathtaking speed.

In music, particularly the formative years of a new style, time definitely moves quickly because so many untested ideas are being thrown out there to see which ones work well enough to pursue further and as a result listening to records made in mid-1948 side by side with those made in mid-1950 can be a jarring experience.

The best records from the earlier time still hold up alright but that’s because it’s those records which set the trends that will follow for the foreseeable future. But even if you were to come up with something very good for its day there was little chance that two years down the road it could still hold its own when going up against the new sounds that had emerged since then.

Tiny Grimes and company were apparently the exceptions to that rule.
 

 

Past, Present And Future… Or Sax Meet Guitar
So much has been written about the guitar being rock’s primary centerpiece that it’s often obscured the fact that the saxophone was the first show stopper in the instrumental lineup with the guitar confined to not even a first seat supporting role.

In August of 1948 when this record was cut, the sax was atop the rock mountain as the defining instrument in its ascent to the upper reaches of the charts, yet for some inexplicable reason – brain damage most likely – Atlantic Records did not release this at the time despite still being in search of their first legitimate hit, one which they got that fall when Midnight Special, a song Grimes recorded at the same session as this, achieved that feat.

But by 1950 the guitar was starting to make its presence known a little more… not necessarily in a lot of tracks, but the ones which used them did so with increased awareness of what it was capable of.

Maybe they figured it out by listening to older Tiny Grimes records where he went head to head with bandmate Red Prysock, one of the most potent sax stars in rock, and showed how they could compliment each other and how at times the guitar might even get the best of it in a duel.

The key for the guitar, as shown on Flying High, was not to try and overpower the brawnier sax, virtually impossible considering the latter instrument’s capabilities no matter who was playing and multiplied even more when Prysock was wielding the horn, but rather to make more calculated strikes, raise tension with your playing and let the guitar’s more flexible sounds shift enough to keep listeners off balance.

Think of it like fighting with a club and a knife. If the club – the saxophone – lands cleanly with full force you’re gonna get bruised for sure, possibly concussed and maybe knocked out completely but a knife can make lots of small incisions until you bleed to death.

Grimes was the knife fighter here and would have to make his attacks quickly, stealthily and with accuracy to hit all of the vital organs if they were going to be made to count.
 

Wild And Free
Epic throw-downs between two equally matched instrumentalists are always fun to watch, kind of like a fight in the junior high school cafeteria to break up an otherwise boring lunch period, but in order for the actual record it’s contained on to be more than just a little heated pushing and shoving before the teachers wade in to break it up, there has to be some actual structure to let the song take shape.

That’s where you’d think Flying High would go wrong and as this starts out, after some initial jazz-leaning sounds with drums and horns riffing as if on strict diet of coffee and amphetamines, it nearly falls prey to that tendency.

Grimes comes in playing some sizzling licks on his guitar, the kind of which wouldn’t become de rigueur in rock for another… well, eight years at the time they cut this, and then, apparently unwilling to let his cohort get all the attention, Prysock jumps in and they battle back and forth, trading riffs with a dexterity that only comes from lots of woodshedding together – answering each other’s lines, sometimes butting in and finishing them, but always with an eye on the bigger picture.

But as well played as it is through the first thirty-five seconds of furious back and forth action, it almost seems as if they’re going to wear themselves out before the song has a chance to take shape. It’ll still be exciting enough to recommend, especially since Grimes is breaking out every tone he can squeeze out of the six strings he has to work with, but they’re really just throwing haymakers at each other and that can’t last forever.
 


 

Just when you’re resigned to just hanging on for dear life they ease back – just a little – and allow this workout to morph into a real song. Somewhat surprisingly perhaps, considering it’s his name on the marquee, it’s Grimes who cedes control to Prysock who rips through some melodic lines, a few guttural riffs and then some combination of the two while Grimes just tosses in a few responses well in the background, not even getting as much attention as the hyper-kinetic work on the drums by Jerry Potter.

What this does however is focus the song – and the listener’s attention – as well as placing Flying High squarely in the saxophone sweepstakes which were dominating rock during the time it was laid down in the studio, long before it ever saw the light of day.

Once that’s accomplished however Grimes is itching to get back in the fight and starts showing his impatience with some harsher sounds behind Prysock while everyone is yelling for them to go at it some more.

Finally, seeing that Prysock isn’t going to let him back in, Grimes tries elbowing his way in and the two make their disparate sounds mesh perfectly, almost doubling each other’s lines to the point where you’re straining to figure out which instrument is most responsible for what your hearing.

By now they’re all playing completely out of their minds, yet the song somehow retains its shape through all this and keeps on track right to the frantic drum solo at the end, completely wearing you out in the process but providing more than enough action for it be worthy of having Don Dunphy call it for Friday Night Fights.
 

Tomorrow Never Comes… In Time
The fact this record somehow didn’t make the charts in 1950 is almost hard to believe. Maybe it was just that the market for sax instrumentals had slowed and the one for guitar instrumentals was still eight years away from reaching a peak, or the fact that Atlantic wasn’t going to put quite as much effort into promoting the record of somebody no longer on their roster when they had two stars climbing the charts on their way to the top.

So be it.

But what’s more amazing – and inexplicable – is that they didn’t release Flying High in 1948 when it would’ve really blown people’s minds and when the flailing company desperately needed something to announce their presence to the world.

Instead the really explosive tracks of this nature were left to Big Jay McNeely a few months down the road while Grimes, maybe frustrated at Atlantic’s ineptitude, would leave for what he hoped were greener pastures a year later.

It didn’t turn out that way and he eventually made it back to Atlantic where he would be much further down on in the pecking order now that they’d finally extracted their collective heads from their asses and built a roster capable of delivering the best rock ‘n’ roll had to offer.

But this record still served as irrefutable proof that before the rest of them had even learned to walk, Grimes and Prysock were already running at top speed.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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