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BULLET 338; OCTOBER 1950

 
 

 

Though it’s been just over one year in rock’s history since we first met – and last heard from – Memphis’s top bandleader of this era, bassist Tuff Green, that review actually went up on these pages – gulp! – in October 2018… three years ago.

I guess it’s true what they say, time flies when you are trying to cover EVERY rock record ever released!

So it’s nice that we get to make their acquaintance one last time before we bid them adieu.
 

 

When Payday Comes Around
For those who’ve forgotten the details of Tuff Green’s career over the past three years… we can hardly blame you, a lot has happened since then, both in the real world and in the full year of rock history we’ve meticulously covered during that span.

So for those seeking a brief refresher course Green was the leader of the top club band in all of Memphis, renown for their ability to play anything from jazz to blues to country and pop, and yes, now rock ‘n’ roll as well.

What hurts their cause for greater historical acclaim is that for all of the praise they got at the time, the recorded output of Tuff Green’s Rocketeers is pitifully skimpy. They simply felt they had no NEED to waste time making records when their dance card was full each and every week for years on end. Their reputation around town was so beyond reproach that there was nothing a few regional hit records could’ve done to boost their rates or get them more gigs than they already had.

But time is a bitch and as a species we require some documented evidence as to somebody’s abilities. When the people singing their praises – from B.B. King on down – began passing away we were left with those quotes and nothing much of substance besides that to place them in the proper historical context.

Which is why She Ain’t No Good is such a vital document in bolstering their case for some lasting notoriety… even if it doesn’t manage to blow us away entirely in the process.
 

Would Be If She Could
We should keep in mind this was cut at the same session that produced their first record – Let’s Go To The Liquor Store – an idea that was much better than its execution. Because of its vintage we know today’s record is not going to have any of the stylistic advancements that have taken place across the rock universe over the past 14 months or so, which is naturally a pretty large obstacle to overcome for making any kind of impact at the time unless we almost treat this as if it were a 1949 record that slipped through the cracks.

If that were the case She Ain’t No Good would rate a little higher. Still not a landmark recording by any means, but something comfortably in vogue with the rock landscape of last year.

But not QUITE this year, even though it’s still certainly good enough to be worth hearing.

For a crew that was known for its smoothness and professionalism on the bandstand there’s an admirable crudity to this which firmly states their intentions to adhere to rock’s conceptual mindset and in some ways point to the future. The choppy piano and the ensuing transition were slowed down, cleaned up and then lifted more or less intact in a few years time by The “5” Royales for Baby Don’t Do It and the loping bass-line and elephantine horns add a disjointed stateliness to the track that’s infectious.

The story is pretty rudimentary with a common theme that’s pretty much summarized in the title but the details are more than serviceable and Billy Taylor’s delivery accentuates the attitude behind them. He’s slightly angry about this girl’s many relationship offenses but also hurt by them as it’s clear he wishes she was more faithful because he really digs her. As long as we can get a sense of what’s going on in his heart then the plot, no matter how many times we’ve encountered the same basic theme, is going to hit home with us and his voice is strong enough to connect even if you’re the type who tends not to care about such “trivial details” as lyrics and plot.

Since this checks all of those boxes it’s up to the vaunted band themselves to carry this home and show that they were just as effective in the cold confines of a studio as they reputedly were playing before a crowd of enthusiastic patrons on a Saturday night in Memphis.
 

Always Calls Your Name
Though it’s often the showy attributes that collect the most raves from music lovers – and to be fair are easier to get enthusiastic writing about – the key to a good band is finding a song’s pocket and sticking to it, making sure the individual parts contribute to the whole rather than overwhelm it in an attempt to stand out.

Never let it be said that Tuff Green’s Rocketeers didn’t live by this credo and while it’s true that we’d love to see them have a song where cutting loose was the entire point behind their playing, we can’t criticize them for adhering to a more restrained game plan when it helps the record as much as this arrangement does.

There’s nothing fancy about what they do on She Ain’t No Good. The rhythm is established early and held firmly throughout the entire track. The horns are both accentuating the rhythm with their trance-like riff, but are also doubling as the primary conveyors of the melody in the process.

The one criticism is the sax solo is a bit of a disappointment. The decision to go with an alto rather than a tenor is questionable (unless it IS a wheezy tenor), robbing it of the gut-punch ability it needs, but also there’s the fact that sax solos are designed to work outside of the rest of the more orderly arrangement and to not take advantage of that makes it seem like a missed opportunity.

It’s played well enough to admire the skill level and there’s a judicious use of space to build anticipation, but the culmination of that is hardly enough of a payoff for what we’ve come to expect… and even demand… from rock songs of this nature.

Other than that though you’re going to get to hear a top notch band providing modest but proficient support with subtle touches like the piano fills and the drums of Phineas Newborn Sr. who along with Tuff Green’s bass provide a solid foundation for the horns who work well in tandem, something that often was a detriment in rock’s early years when a jazz mentality prevailed, but here they keep churning nicely and you appreciate the low-key groove they provide.
 

Ain’t Nothin’ In This World Too Fast For Them To Do
Clearly Bullet Records, who waited a year before issuing their second of two singles on the group, were not looking at Tuff Green as a long-term investment any more than Green was looking make a living cutting records.

For starters he let three different people take a lead vocal on those sides and seemed to treat this as a way to give his band a chance to cut their teeth in a studio setting for a change and maybe pass out copies of the records as Christmas presents to prove they were bona fide musicians.

But of course anyone around Memphis didn’t need records to verify their credentials, not even a pretty good record like She Ain’t No Good. Instead all they needed to do was go to any one of a number of clubs – classy or low down, it made little difference other than the brand of music they were expected to play – and once you entered the door you’d know you were in the presence of a group whose validity was evident in everything they played.

Here they played rock and did so quite well. Not enough to be stars in the record biz, but to hold their own at least and considering that they cut this as a side gig it probably is safe to say that had they put more time and energy into this facet of the music business we’d be talking a lot more about them in the future rather than sadly bidding them a fond farewell already.

Around town they’d keep playing to great acclaim for years but since most who enjoyed them in person on those endless string of shows are long gone it’s left to the scant few records they DID make to serve notice that they actually existed and so for no other reason we’re glad they didn’t let us down by keeping this from us altogether.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Tuff Green for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)