KING 4383; JULY 1950



In an industry not always known for recognizing irony or acknowledging humor, let alone actively pursuing either of those things, this record has a perfect title for an an artist who constantly was trying to balance between styles.

In three years Wild Bill Moore had offered low-down rock tracks alongside high-minded jazz efforts and middle of the road pop excursions, often with no sign that either he or the many record labels he’d been signed to during that time were fully aware of the vastly different target audiences that divergent material would attract.

Here again he seems caught between two mindsets and though he pulls them together with some skill, their basic incompatibility can’t help but show through.


Maintaining Equilibrium
Any time we’re frustrated with the conflicting musical ideals of certain artists early in rock’s run and thus tempted to dismiss someone like Wild Bill Moore for not knowing which direction to ardently follow, we have to remind ourselves that Moore was one of the reasons why the saxophone became rock’s most explosive musical showpiece in the first place, as his honking interludes on fellow saxman’s Paul Williams’s early sides for Savoy in 1947 and ’48 established the template that rock instrumentals rode for years.

As if that weren’t enough of a reason to give him a pass we should recall that when Moore got his own chance to cut records (often with Williams in support) he further fueled this craze with such classics as We’re Gonna Rock, which not coincidentally helped to cement the term itself in relation to the music.

His credentials in other words are pretty solid.

But while Williams remained surprisingly committed to rock ‘n’ roll throughout his career, despite initial misgivings, Moore was far more diverse in his pursuits, as Balancing With Bill clearly shows.

Although it’s definitely a rocker at its core, the record has far more jazz components embedded in its DNA than is usually appreciated, especially at this stage of the game.

What makes this a little more unusual is that Moore is now with his third label after leaving Savoy, and of all of those companies it’s the current one, King Records, that has shown the least interest in jazz-rooted records while being more committed to rock than any of his previous stops.

Whereas Savoy had built its reputation on jazz before increasingly shifting to rock and Manor and Sensation simply took whatever they got, King had been out in front of the pack when the rock ‘n’ roll boom hit and so for Moore to be courted by King, by far the strongest of the rock labels in the country at this point, and then take a step back towards a jazzier mindset for a song like this was a little unexpected.


On The Beam
The musicians are the same here as they were on the pure rocker adorning the top side of this release, the very strong Hey Spo-Dee-O-Dee, so the differing standards applied here are by choice, not incompatibility.

But while there are concessions to a sort of light-bop jazz aesthetic on Balancing With Bill, it’s less a case of one or two concrete examples of specific jazz influences and more of a vague atmosphere that conjures up a different setting that the song creates.

Take the horn riff that forms the most identifying feature of the track. It’s reasonably bouncy, lighthearted and effervescent in its mood and sounds less like anything a committed jazz band would lay down than it does a song that jazz-reared musicians would try and use for a rock song, the baritone cappers being the more obvious concession to the latter.

In other words, they come across as trying to conform to rock without fully understanding it, which is so odd considering how clearly they “got it” on the top side.

The basic construct of the song isn’t bad, some nice drumming by Joe Harris to provide enough of a backbeat to keep your foot tapping, but it’s a shallow sound because of the prevailing thinking behind the playing.

Even most of solos – not all played by Moore keep in mind, something that is further emblematic of the jazz-ensemble mindset of this track – are sticking in the mid to upper range of the horns and emphasizing speed and precision more than passion, which as we know is backwards thinking when it comes to making an impression in rock where establishing the right attitude is paramount.

Though it’s all played well you get the feeling listening that this is something they just found enjoyable for its own sake, which is fine (everyone needs a hobby), but in terms of being strong enough to get the fan base Moore had built up to jump out of their seats and hit the floor to grind away to the riffs it’s just not going to get the job done.

All of which would invariably lead them to ask why isn’t it working well… after all, it moves at a steady clip, has a melody that’s easy enough to follow, multiple solos that are rambunctious enough to draw attention and a very carefully planned arrangement that balances the instrumental responsibility and keeps returning to the primary hook to ensure the song has a familiar stamp on it to remember.

But maybe that’s its problem, because while it’s neat, efficient and orderly, none of it is very compelling. It’s a professional performance rather than a labor of love on their part.


Though disappointing after being reminded of just how good Wild Bill Moore could be on the flip side, this is hardly a major set-back for an artist who had increasingly faded from the center of the rock universe over the past few years.

After so many other tenor sax honkers and squealers rose up in his wake and took things to the extreme even more than he’d been willing to much of the time it was no longer as crucial to rock’s success that Moore be willing and able to carry out that sort of thing any more. If he occasionally came up with something riveting, great, we’ll all be happy, but if not there were plenty of other outlets to get our fix from now.

So in a lot of ways Balancing With Bill winds up being less of a conscious effort to keep us satisfied and more of a glimpse into Moore’s thought process as an artist, revealing himself yet again as someone who didn’t want to remain fixated on one – fairly redundant – approach for long and would prefer to explore various creative paths along the way.

All of which is well and good, but he still needs to remember that when he does vacillate between styles he needs to do so with more conviction than this if he wants to pull in a new audience so it won’t matter as much if you alienate the old one in the bargain.


(Visit the Artist page of Wild Bill Moore for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)