ATLANTIC 980; DECEMBER 1952

 
 

 

Usually around here we take a pretty dim view of cover songs, re-makes or outright rip-offs and while this song doesn’t fully qualify as any of those things, it definitely places its “inspiriation” front and center.

But for once that’s not a bad thing, in part because it’s the same guy elaborating on what had been perhaps his most distinctive contribution to somebody else’s record.

Beyond that however it actually does seem to fit the dictionary definition of “inspiration” rather than using that word as a misleading stand-in for something more duplicitous.

Maybe you won’t agree, maybe even if you do you won’t care because this can’t possibly come close to matching the record from which it borrows, but if nothing else this at least shows that somebody in the music industry was aware the root of that word was inspire, and this is at least an inspired attempt at forging something new from the remnants of something old.
 

 

Side Issues
When covering the top half of this record, a decent idea for an atmospheric late night mood piece done in by the lack of any musical cohesion in Van Walls’ disjointed piano riffs, we naturally brought up his best contributions as a prolific sidemen for vocal artists.

That’s what he’ll forever be known for… his work behind other people.

But that’s not always enough when it comes to finding creative fulfillment, even though he did initially get writing credit for Chains Of Love before letting himself be bought out by Ahmet Ertegun, who had also done the same with lyricist Doc Pomus on that song.

I hope the money went for something good boys, because Ertegun’s name is now the one being brought up by uneducated people who take such credits at face value, granting him the kudos for having written a classic hit that he had nothing whatsoever to do with.

When it came to One Mint Julep by The Clovers, Van Walls didn’t even get initial credit – though thankfully Ertegun couldn’t buy out Rudolph Toombs, who DID write it. However, while Toombs was a brilliant songwriter whose fingerprints are all over its theme, the piano lick that is so damn catchy almost certainly was conceived in the studio by Harry Van Walls.

So now, having seen that song become such a hit, it’s hardly surprising that he’d want to capitalize on it himself with something he CAN get credit for… namely Blue Sender, a rather dumb name for an instrumental and one that surely has no chance of becoming a hit.

But while whatever he does here isn’t going to surpass his work on other people’s records, this is at least something that might give him some fleeting recognition, even if it’s by a grand total of fourteen people at the time who bought it and had their memories jarred by the opening refrain and its faint echoes of past glories.
 


 

You Send Me
It’s that jittery tinkling sound of piano keys that sound as if they’re made out of porcelain that strikes you immediately upon cueing this up.

Depending on how often you spin early 1950’s rock classics today, it might take a minute or two to place it, but in 1952 there’d be no delayed reaction from a devoted rock fan, they’d know instantly that it was reminiscent of One Mint Julep.

Of course in 1952, no matter how big of a Clovers fan you were, or how many Atlantic Records singles you had in your collection, you probably wouldn’t know that Harry Van Walls was the guy playing on that hit… though putting two and two together probably wouldn’t be all that difficult since he recorded for the same label.

But even if you knew it, there’s a good bet you’d be offended by it at first because it seems to be exploitative, preying upon your fondness for something done in a different context in the hopes of getting you interested in the solo offerings of Van “Piano Man” Walls. I mean, how lazy can you get, right?

If that were all they did, turn that vocal song into an instrumental, maybe you’d have a case to make, though we’re be inclined to be a little more lenient than with most cover records thanks to the elimination of vocals that would ensure it was at least demonstrably different.

Luckily for them that wasn’t all they did with Blue Sender because after that familiar intro it becomes something totally new. Not nearly as compelling maybe, but then again Van Walls doesn’t have Rudy Toombs lyrics being sung by The Clovers to help him create such a vivid scene.

What he DOES have though are his own musical instincts, a good band and a different game plan designed to give us an evocative scene in its own right, with just the remnants of something old as a touchstone to draw us in.

This is a much different record than you’d initially think it was shaping up to be as a result, something evident pretty quickly when that back and forth trade off between his left hand acting as the foundation and his right hand playing colorful fills gives way to something a little more complex, as Van Walls lets his right hand slowly work its way through a series of riffs over the first minute that are far more connected to one another than the parts he played on After Midnight.

Here the progression from one to the next gives you the sense of going someplace… so let’s map out the path for you as we go from the sidewalk down the steps of a subterranean club… then through the doors into the vestibule and finally into the club itself with the tables, the bar and the bandstand.

That’s when he lets the other musicians fill in this sound with a simple, but strong, tenor part (it’s very possible this is Freddie Mitchell) that gives the record some more heft and a whiff of late night danger. When the sax steps aside and Van Walls takes over again the song suffers for the change. It’s not that what he’s playing is bad by any means, it’s just that it’s not as moody and mysterious as what they leave behind.

Still, all things considered, this is the kind of record that Van Walls was perfectly suited for, showing off his jazzy inclinations without giving himself over to them altogether.
 


 

Overnight Delivery
To be honest, this was the far more appropriate song to be given the title used for the other half of the record because it conjures up the world of long shadows and fleeting lights the city becomes after dark.

You’d even go so far to say that records like Blue Sender aren’t even made for mass consumption, simply because too few in the marketplace are intimately familiar with the scene it sets… and frankly those who are probably don’t need an aural recreation of it because they’re immersed in it every night, so when exactly would they play it?

But when that world has disappeared it’s a good way to recreate it artificially and if it lures you in through false pretenses by suggesting something you already know, you’ll soon get over it when you realize that once they have your attention with that slight of hand trick, they’ll be keeping your attention through hard work until it ends as the morning light comes filtering through the window.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Harry “Piano Man” Vann Walls for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)