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KING 4469; AUGUST 1951



It’s taken awhile, hasn’t it?

We last got to hear a new record from Todd Rhodes ten months ago… and it’s been almost two full years since King Records attempted to filch Rhodes from Sensation Records only to be thwarted by the courts who forced the pianist to live up to his deal with his hometown label.

He did so – reluctantly maybe – for there were times where he seemed more interested in using his remaining releases to expand his palette with classical material, jazzy instrumentals and wayward pop releases, almost seeming intent on not giving Sensation anything too marketable. Finally he sort of compromised and issued a few records where he let local acts from Detroit handle lead vocal chores to fulfill his contract while he patiently bided his time.

Now at last Rhodes is free to disembark to King Records where he will spend the rest of his career. But at 51 years old and more than two years removed from his last hit, was he still going to be in demand in a field that moved as quickly as rock ‘n’ roll?


Papa’s Friend
Even when he wasn’t intentionally sabotaging his own commercial potential for rather petulant reasons, there were times that Todd Rhodes, a bandleader who’d first cut records back in the 1920’s as a member of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, seemed to be at risk for falling out of step with the latest style he’d found himself enrolled in.

It should hardly be surprising, especially since he’d moved into this field partly by chance after his early instrumentals for Sensation were picked up on by the nascent rock audience and he realized that was his best bet for improving his commercial potency going forward.

Even so it was always a precarious position he held in the rock pecking order. As tight as his band was and as skilled of a writer, arranger and bandleader he may have been, how difficult was it for him to keep his finger on the pulse of a style where the average artist was half his age?

Apparently not very because while it’d be reasonable to think that his extended sabbatical from the recording studio as he waited for the legal okay to join King might have made him stale, or worse yet taken him away from the scene for too long to be cognizant of the changes taking place during that period, clearly he spent his time productively, as Gin, Gin, Gin is as up to date thematically as anything he’s released so far.

Of course when it comes to rock ‘n’ roll it generally helps to remember that singing about boozing it up at parties while saxophones grind away in the shadows is never a bad idea. Then again there’s a difference between just knowing that and being able to lead the band while shouting encouragement to all of the youthful degenerates he’s hanging out with as he does so effectively here.

By refusing to act his age he proves beyond any doubt that this is where he belongs.


Open Up The Bottle And Take A Swig
In many ways it helps that Rhodes was working with a pretty stable band, guys he’d played with for years, all of whom were comfortable under his command and had proven themselves over time to be able to credibly play whatever style of music he presented to them.

But while none were quite as old as Rhodes, their backgrounds – like his – were in jazz and the further away we get from 1947 when rock emerged and began shedding its jazz trappings in the arrangements, the more dubious it was that they’d be able to keep pace.

In other words, you tend to fall back on what you know when the light is on and even if the arrangement was meticulously worked out in advance – as it surely was – the WAY you play those notes can and often DO change depending on circumstance and surely their first “official” session for King after waiting so long to make this move was bound to manifest itself with a little more self-applied pressure on their part.

To be sure there are a few hints at older mentalities in the group horn charts, not enough to derail the boisterous spirit of the record, but just enough to notice if you’re looking for it.

Luckily they don’t give you too much chance to notice because Gin, Gin, Gin features shouted group vocals that open the song and pop up in between the extended instrumental breaks and while none of them put “singer” down as their primary occupation on their taxes, they surprisingly sound better than a lot of artists whose only job is to sing.

Their full-throated lustiness is completely authentic and that’s not an easy thing to fake. It’s far more likely guys like this would ease back on the volume, the energy and especially the racy intent than it is they would sound as if they were college kids on spring break, yet believe it or not they’re utterly convincing at every turn.

The lyrics are more about setting this decedent scene than telling a story, though they may be making a subtle joke about Rhodes, by obliquely referencing his age, calling him – or whoever the main character is supposed to be – “papa”. The rest of the time though, the old man and his cohorts are too busy playing to be doing much drinking.


Burns Like Fire
As always Rhodes is very democratic in handing out parts. His own piano factors in the overall melange of sounds, but never steps to the forefront. Instead he lets the horns take all of the standalone spots, then goes one step further by switching up the solos each time through so nobody is left out.

Tenor saxophonist Lefty Edwards gets the first solo and the best single line thanks to his digging deep into the guts of the instrument to rip out a screeching note that embodies everything the horn is known for… and everything that rock values in the process.

Veteran freelancer Teddy Buckner, recently on board, gets the next solo on baritone and while it’s slightly surprising he doesn’t hit the lows his horn is capable of and deliver some crude passages, he’s typically solid throughout this as the other horns offset him with higher parts.

The final instrumental passage on Gin, Gin, Gin is a group effort but alto Hal Dismukes and trumpeter Howard Thompson are out in front, playing off one another in a way that is far more gratifying that a lot of rock records that rely too heavily on horns in that range.

Nothing here is out of place, from Huestell Talley’s slamming drums to Rhodes’ own piano filling in the cracks. It’s a tight, hard driving song, never relenting on the solid beat and making sure that each component from vocals down to the last instrument are judiciously deployed.

By this juncture in rock these kind of topics and forceful musical assaults are hardly anything surprising, but they’re always welcome when they’re carried out by such capable hands as these.

Until I Tell You When
Give King Records owner Syd Nathan credit – after first criticizing him for having absolutely no ethics in his attempted abduction of Rhodes to begin with – for waiting for Rhodes to get free and still signing him despite the fact that his chances at commercial success had grown dimmer with every month that passed.

Give him even more credit for sticking with Rhodes even after it played out that way with some good records over the years – like Gin, Gin, Gin – that didn’t make a dent on the charts

In 1949 when he’d first tried to grab Rhodes to add him to his stable, the independent record field wasn’t very deep, well organized or well financed and so artists like this were ripe for the picking.

Nathan had snatched Earl Bostic from Gotham around the same time and it was clear that if King Records could corner the market on viable rock acts it’d have a ripple effect that would cause other labels to go under, thereby giving Nathan a much greater share of the pie, even if it meant that some of these newly recruited artists – or those already under contract – would lose hits as a result, simply because it’s doubtful one label could ever get all of their records stocked in jukeboxes by trying to crowd out everyone else.

But by 1951 that outcome was no longer possible. Rock had proven so popular that other labels were springing up every month and making the entire field much deeper and ever more competitive.

Though we’re loathe to say much nice about any of these figureheads, especially someone as conniving as Syd Nathan, he ultimately did right by Todd Rhodes and kept him active long past the time where Rhodes could do him much good.

But as this record shows, he could still make good music and that’s what matters most to us.


(Visit the Artist pages of Todd Rhodes for the complete archives of his records reviewed to date)