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SAVOY 813; AUGUST 1951



Certain themes tend to appear in rock records for extended periods after which they’re rarely heard from again.

Train travel was a prominent form of transportation in the middle of the Twentieth Century and so trains naturally factored into lots of songs. With the rise of interstate highways and air travel throughout the 1950’s trains were soon phased out.

Similarly in the early days of rock there was the common sighting of church deacons appearing in songs and it was never to sing their praises.

Though in 2022 it’s probably piling on to point out the utter hypocrisy of organized religion in many of the positions they take, let’s just say that when a bunch of rock acts seven decades earlier – a time when any criticism of the church was strictly off-limits in society – are gleefully talking trash about these so called holy men it can’t help but be a welcome sight.

Since time has shown those wildly humorous and scandalous charges to be largely accurate… well, it turns out that you CAN learn more from a three minute record than you ever learned in (Sunday) School after all.


Where He Belongs
So just for completion sake, way back in 1949 The Orioles released Deacon Jones which was a continuation of a story that dated back to Wynonie Harris when he was with Lucky Millinder about a Deacon who enjoyed his nips to the point he got so drunk the congregation thought he was dead.

A great record with some excellent – and atypical – singing from Sonny Til, tapping into (or perverting) gospel techniques for the first, and thus far only, time. But by 1951 that titlating plot was actually somewhat tame compared to what followed.

Earlier this year we saw The Dominoes pair up with Little Esther on The Deacon Moves In where the bar was raised (or lowered depending on your point of view) because in this story it wasn’t just a deacon’s personal failings when it came to indulging in his vices that hurt no one but himself, but rather THIS Deacon was sexually assaulting an underaged girl while being cheered on by other male church members peeping them from the closets and cupboards. Even though Esther was eventually corrupted by this behavior, it’s still a criminal offense, not to mention something usually frowned upon in that over-sized behavioral pamphlet they used to store in hotel room nightstands.

So there’s a good legacy to build from when it comes to Tommy Brown’s Double Faced Deacon, which thankfully doesn’t disguise its criticism behind a vague and ambiguous title.

Though the actions of this man of the cloth fall are less severe than the forcible rape of a teenager that we saw last winter, he’s determined to make up for the lesser “quality” of the offense with quantity instead.


Leave That Stuff Alone
Before we get to the litany of charges against this joker, we should start off by saying that the record is digging itself an unnecessary hole with the weary horns in the arrangement by the usually stellar Griffin Brothers.

They fell prey to this same outdated approach on the top side – V-8 Baby – which is rather surprising considering that at the same January session they cut two other tracks that showed no timidity in their concepts of how to rock out. Maybe they felt it was best to dial things down to offer variety, but the songs themselves should dictate the arrangement and both of these songs call for more visceral playing from the horn section.

Not only that but even if you did want to ease back a little, the way to do it is not to use charts that were left over from late last decade, but rather find new and innovative ways to create parts that are less raucous while still being able to add something vital to the record.

So while the arrangement is going to drag this down a bit, the main focus of the record is still on the events that Brown sings about which are constructed with some care as he first presents the Deacon flirting with women from the pulpit, then issues a diatribe against gambling to the congregation before going out and rolling craps in an alley himself. He follows this up by bad mouthing booze in a sermon after which he hits the bottle until he passes out and has to be carried home.

None of this should be surprising of course, morality is often seen as a one-way street unfortunately, but Brown admirably holds him accountable saying flat out that ”He shouldn’t preach no more”.

However we also need to take issue with Brown himself… not for any moral failings of his own, but rather his failure to convincingly sell this in a manner that will best present the song, a trait he shares with the band here and which makes this record fall short of its rather promising content.

A Sin And A Shame
One of the jobs of a singer is to also be an actor. They’re telling a story after all and so HOW they tell it matters.

Of course singing it well is always the first rule and doing so can make up for the shortcomings of someone who’s hardly a candidate for Stella Adler’s class at The Actor’s Studio, but the two often go hand in hand as they do on Double Faced Deacon.

Brown’s position here is that he’s someone who is upset by the Deacon’s behavior, suggesting he either is religious himself and takes offense to the violation of whatever ethical code they live by, or – as is suggested in the one example when Brown himself is the one who loses his watch and chain to the Deacon while rolling bones – he’s expressing his anger over that via the song.

Either one I suppose is a fair response, but they’re not working to the song’s advantage because it sacrifices too much of the humor for outrage and the lines are clearly meant to be funny, so the delivery should accentuate that fact by moderating his vocals appropriately.

It’s not hard to do either, simply recount the offenses in a more easy-going, almost conversational, manner while giving no hint to the punchline which follows where he’d then be free to express either surprise or disgust at the Deacon’s actions.

Not only would the sound of the record be far more varied, easing into more declaratory vocals while the music builds, but it’d be more interesting to see the different emotional reactions he’d have to these set pieces. Instead his unchanging demeanor makes the plot seem far more one dimensional and the revelations themselves less shocking.

Throw in the underwhelming support and the biggest crime contained within the record isn’t the actions of the Deacon, but rather the failure of the participants to have the performance live up to the theme.

Take It Back
Considering Tommy Brown was making his studio debut after presumably just hooking up with The Griffin Brothers on the road (probably serving as a local opening act when they came through Georgia) and the rest of his first session was good, you can’t get too frustrated that this isn’t quite up to snuff.

Of course audiences who’ve encountered Brown on record a few times on two labels since this was cut back in January and been impressed enough to give him a pair of hits certainly wouldn’t know that and to them the relative disappointment of Double Faced Deacon might be a little more of a let down, especially considering the topic was ripe for a juicer reading than this.

Ironically the ones who don’t mind the slightly subpar performance turned out to be the cadre of devilish deacons all over the land who were thankful they didn’t have to answer publicly to these charges now that the record passed unnoticed with the judgmental parishioners who kept tabs on rock ‘n’ roll in order to have something to decry in the next Sunday service.


(Visit the Artist page of Tommy Brown for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)