KING 4556; JULY 1952



Whenever an artist who had their start before rock ‘n’ roll came along in 1947 there’s always the risk that they revert back to a prior musical identity for a record or two along the way.

Sometimes it’s obviously intentional, maybe a form of protest over the changing times they might feel uneasy about, or a way to keep in touch with their own artistic roots, while other times it’s merely an involuntarily reversion to the mean, something they may not even be consciously aware of doing.

Since Todd Rhodes was born at the turn of the century and began recording professionally in the 1920’s that tells you he’s got decades worth of touchstones to draw from, yet here – even as he hints at certain bygone eras – he admirably never fully gives in to them, choosing instead to try and ensure his career doesn’t come to a sudden halt in the 1950’s after a quarter century at the helm.


Past, Present And No Future
This is exactly the kind of side where musicians reach back in time for something more comfortably familiar… an instrumental B-side where their style doesn’t have to conform to a vocalist with other ideas… though as we just saw with The Griffin Brothers who undercut Margie Day, an attempt at modernity is no sure thing even with a forward thinking singer on the record.

But for Todd Rhodes and company, they have their chance to define this song the way they see fit, for while it was written by producer Henry Glover, the band themselves were the ones fine-tuning his arrangement on the floor.

Keep in mind too that Glover’s background as a trumpeter in the pre-rock band of Lucky Millinder means that he might be inclined to let them get away with something a little outdated – and thus uncommercial – especially if he felt that the rest of their output that day had potential hits scattered among the tracks they had just laid down.

Luckily though, while there are moments where it may conjure up the past, particularly in the tone of some of the horns, the overall groove of Snuff Dipper remains pretty solidly in the present.

That doesn’t mean this is hit material by any means, nor even a really good under the radar sort of instrumental to keep the party going, but it’s not going to get you to skeptically put Todd Rhodes’ credentials under the microscope and recommend revoking his membership to our club.


A Nasty Habit
Let’s start with the title, for even as most instrumental titles are essentially meaningless they sometimes give insight into the market the artist and label hopes to reach.

Smokeless tobacco, like all tobacco, is one more sign that human beings only managed to crawl up the evolutionary ladder thanks to the ways in which their knees and elbows bend and the presence of an opposable thumb used to grab the rungs… not because their brains were more evolved than the garden snail or common housefly.

Dipping involves taking a pinch of moist loose tobacco and putting it between the lower lip and gums allowing the nicotine to be absorbed through these unprotected areas until it gives you cancer and you die.

Fun times!

Oh yes, before sweet death wraps you in its warm embrace, your gums recede and your teeth fall out, but by then no girl would want to kiss you anyway because it always looks as if you had just gotten punched in the mouth and it was starting to swell up.

Yet in spite of these gruesome failures when it comes to personal hygiene, there remain a lot of people who call themselves a Snuff Dipper… ball players, farmers and those who wear mesh baseball caps without a hint of irony.

Apparently that was Todd Rhodes’ intended market.

Maybe they’d like this more than those of us who know the value of a good smile, for while this record won’t get you to frown or clamp your lips together to avoid revealing all those little brown specks dotting your teeth after a dip, it probably won’t induce a lot of ear-to-ear grins either.

Mostly it’s a decent horn riff at the bottom end played by the tenor and baritone saxophones with a more grating one running counter to it played by the alto and trumpet. Even though the tonal differences dilute the power of the riff, the construction of it remains solid and it’s got a nice enough groove to it with steady drumming anchoring things.

Meanwhile Rhodes’ piano solo finds him skittering across the keys without enough emphasis, even as the horns churn behind him in a more forceful manner, adding nothing but taking little away from what’s already there.

None of this is bad, even if none of it is all that memorable either. It’s a decent space filler and time-killer, the type of song leading into the first break of the night on the bandstand when the crowd is busy filing to the bar and those at the bar are filing to the bathroom in the endless circle that exists in those settings.

It’s suitable for that, which might not seem like much of a compliment, but it’s better than if the song had them all heading out the door instead to have some dip and spit all over the sidewalk.


A Public Service Announcement
More and more the instrumental sides of Todd Rhodes’ band had this kind of objective in mind… something interesting but hardly essential, a way to stretch out a set on stage where keeping the audience’s rapt attention wasn’t the main objective, while on record these kinds of songs were only meant to serve as B-sides to more dynamic vocal cuts on the top half.

In that regard Snuff Dipper works alright. If you stumble across it, you probably won’t turn it off, but then again it’s doubtful you’ll cue it up voluntarily as a way to excite the masses.

That’s not much of a recommendation, and maybe not much of a review, so we’ll close it out by offering a friendly warning about the dangers of tobacco.

Don’t do it. The drool hanging off your lip and the brown juice splattered all over your shirt and shoes is only announcing to the those around you that you’re both stupid and sloppy and are someone to be avoided at all costs.

Smoke a blunt instead.


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