KING 4509; FEBRUARY 1952



Though this entire convoluted project is the equivalent of a musical time machine, as from our perch in the Twenty-First Century we look back roughly seven decades into the past to see how rock ‘n’ roll evolved, we purposefully don’t jump around and cherry pick songs from various points along the way.

Instead we methodically approach every song as they were released in strict chronological order… nice and sensible, easy to follow, fun for the whole family… tell your friends!

But today we do get to go back in time in a sense, at least further back from where we stand now in the winter of 1952, as Todd Rhodes revisits one of the first rock instrumentals, one of the first rock hits and one of our first few dozen reviews just to remind us of how far we’ve come in a relatively short time.


Last Night, Or The Night Before
Generally speaking sequels are an act of commercial calculation/desperation, depending on who is making the decision.

If it’s the company (movie studio, book publisher or record label), they’re banking on what they consider to be a sure thing based on name recognition and a sense of the familiar, banking on a warm reception from the audience who liked the first effort without any need to sell them on something entirely new.

For filmmakers, writers or musical artists who choose this course of action it’s often a sign their confidence is lacking, a nagging feeling they can’t possibly come up with anything better than what they already have done and rather than take a risk that likely will fail anyway, they’re seeking to replicate the endorphin rush – and the money and acclaim – that they’d gotten for their breakthrough years earlier by crassly revisiting a proven idea in the hopes of eliciting the same response.

It rarely works.

In 1952 Todd Rhodes was in a position where he’d feel that Red Boy Is Back was not only a good idea, but a necessary one.

His deal with King Records having finally been allowed to go through after the label fought (and lost) in court to steal him away from Sensation Records where he scored a hit with Blues For The Red Boy (released in late 1947, though scoring with it in mid-1948 thanks to King Records who distributed it nationally), that same song was now being heard every night across Ohio as the theme song to disc jockey Alan Freed’s Moondog House show which spun the hottest rock ‘n’ roll hits of the day.

Of course Freed had slyly renamed the tune after himself, calling it “Blues For The Moondog”, so it’s actually surprising that Rhodes didn’t follow suit and somehow cram a dog into the title – since it’s an instrumental, he could’ve used barking dogs as a surreal backdrop I suppose, but since Freed was doing that too, maybe it’s for the best he didn’t try.

But a lot has changed in five years and the atmospheric late night groove of the original which seemed so haunting and mysterious when rock was just emerging from the womb might not have the same bite to it now that everybody knows what rock ‘n’ roll was, is and can be.


Evening Casts Its Shadow
It’s admittedly jarring to hear this song amidst more forward looking material that litters the sales and jukebox charts in the winter of ’52 and therein lies the problem with going back in time when popular culture isn’t fond of slowing down, much less looking back over its shoulder to days gone by.

The stark piano of Rhodes that leads into the twin saxophones of Halley Dismukes’ mournful alto winding its way through the dim lights like cigarette smoke while tenor Lefty Edwards rises and falls sounding as if it’s got a stuffy nose sets a rather grainy picture.

In a world that has suddenly switched to Technicolor, Red Boy Is Back is a scene filmed strictly in black and white, a sea of gritty faces cloaked in shadows and avoiding eye contact, their masks a series of stubble and sweat and desperation as the camera pans by. There’s no dialogue in this shot, only clinking glasses, distant murmurs and disembodied scuffles floating in from off-screen.

Because of this you could argue the song is both too long, in that it seems like it should be a prelude to something more exciting, and at the same time you could say it’s far too short because atmosphere like this needs to be dwelt on at your leisure to fully envelop your senses.

Obviously it’s not a hit sound, there’s no hook, it lacks wild solos and a memorable beat, meaning it’s a record designed to be played in the background, preferably late one night after the booze and weed have left most at the party balancing precariously on coma’s edge, yet still vaguely cognizant of the world they’re about to drift away from.

Yet even that description that probably makes it sound TOO alluring for where we’re at now in February 1952. The kids who were jamming to the latest rock hits were too young to have heard the original source material this was drawn from and while that circular horn refrain the last third of the record still is alluring, it’s no longer addicting.

Time has passed it by. What had once been perceived as too edgy, too dangerous, too weird for jazz back in 1947 which is what allowed it to find a home in – and to help shape – rock ‘n’ roll then, is now apt to be viewed as too square, too mild and too jazzy for the rock of the present day in 1952.

It’s still well played, it’s still hauntingly constructed, it’s still interesting, but it isn’t vital anymore.


The Morning After
In the waning days of 2022 as this is written, I’m sure it seems to some readers that making a big deal out of a five year difference in records that are more than seven decades old is kind of pointless.

If you like the sound of Blues For The Red Boy then why on earth wouldn’t you feel the same for its de facto sequel which features the same instrumental mix performing a similar mood piece?

Well, because that’s not what we’re doing here. These reviews aren’t intended to be about which records still sound good to modern ears, or which will appeal to those wayward souls who fell into a musical rabbit hole of history along the way and unearthed these years after they were first released. No, this is about discerning which records were setting the creative pace for the era in which they came out, defining the music of the time and setting the course for the immediate future.

Rhodes did that in 1947 and was rightly credited for it, but revisiting that exact same sound on Red Boy Is Back a half decade later doesn’t qualify on either count. The future that he hinted at back then has already passed by 1952 and now it, like so many other sounds from the recent past, are filed away, their legacies secure perhaps, but their relevance long gone.

Context is everything when it comes to history. Todd Rhodes was discovering that firsthand now and like so many others before him – and like so many to follow – his decisions from here on in would dictate his current standing. He could keep trying to re-invent himself and if not get ahead of the curve, at least catch up to it and keep his career rooted in the present. Or he might decide that he’s already had his moment in the sun and now that his sun may be setting he might as well lay back and take it easy, reminiscing about his past until darkness fell once and for all.

It’s not always the easiest decision to make, but eventually it’s one everybody, whether in music or in life, will have to face. Do you look back and take comfort in the inherent safety of yesterday, or do you stare into the uncertain abyss of tomorrow and boldly press on?


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