KING 4409; OCTOBER 1950



Despite a number of groundbreaking records, both under his own name and in support of fellow sax star Paul Williams, the career of Wild Bill Moore has never been able to gain consistent traction.

He’s bounced around from one label to the next, sometimes coming up with really good records but just as often missing the mark entirely.

In need of some focus and direction he headed to King Records, the top rock label with the best infrastructure going thanks to producer and former horn player Henry Glover. If ever there was a place where Moore was going to start churning out the kind of songs that would have a chance for relevancy each time out this would surely be it.

Yet here we are eight months later and the same pattern has emerged – some good sides mixed in with others that show no real signs of progress… not in ideas and not in execution.

This one falls into the latter category but as always it’s the hows and whys it fell short that makes for interesting speculation.


Stale Bread
The first clue we get that this one is just going through the motions is the title itself.

When this habit of naming songs after soul food staples began with Hal Singer’s Cornbread it was a welcome nod to black culture that was in the process of making rock ‘n’ roll such a commercial force, but as that trend took hold with countless instrumentals titled after similar dishes there was always the realization that eventually they’d turn it into farce.

Anyone for some Burnt Toast?

I know, I know, titles to instrumentals mean virtually nothing… and yet they mean almost everything too, at least in terms of where their minds are at because it’s not just the name that’s uninspired, it’s the music behind it that’s lacking imagination.

But this was always going to be the case when it came to instrumental records, particularly those with sax leads. It’s not that the horn is unqualified to be the focal point of a record, but rather that the sheer number of singles an artist is going to be required to produce – each with two distinct sides – means that the good ideas will run dry and there’ll be a lot of filler that gets issued just to make the quota.

All of which is a shame because Bill Moore was a good sax player and he’s got talented people around him here but they can’t seem to figure out how to bring out the best in each of them. With this record it’s not so much what’s being played that’s the problem, but rather that none of it seems to be working in conjunction with what else is being played to make it all fit together smoothly.


The Setting’s Too High
As soon as we hit play we’re met with another problem as this record doesn’t seem to have a proper start to it, but rather it drops us into the middle of something that’s already ongoing and expects us to catch on and catch up immediately.

The horns are clearly trying to play a mesmerizing pattern, vaguely Middle-Eastern in concept – or at least a stereotyped Americanized impression of what that might sound like – and maybe you’d say that’s not the worst idea to try and hook people right away.

Unfortunately though the horns are playing too high causing their tone to be grating rather than inviting. Tate Houston’s baritone sax is all but inaudible and without that getting more of a role it’s left with no bottom to anchor the song just as there’s nothing else to off-set those other horns in the arrangement.

Actually there is, but they too are struggling to find their footing. Ted Sheely is flicking away at the piano’s treble keys behind them and we have a very rudimentary back-beat being provided Leonard Christian’s drums, but all of it’s got a whiny sound rather than a gritty one and you start to wonder if someone messed with the control board because it’s decidedly off-putting and not something you’d expected would be tolerated on the studio floor.

Emmit Slay, whom we met playing (and presumably singing) on Beulah this summer, gets a featured spot in the arrangement with his guitar and while he plays fine his parts aren’t exactly meshing well with everything else. Like a radio tuned to two stations it’s distracting rather than serving to tie these distinct elements together.

Finally almost a minute into Burnt Toast we get Moore stepping out in front but not doing much to improve our impression of any of this. For starters he’s hardly playing anything compelling, using very simple riffs that aren’t very catchy. He too is venturing into the upper end of the horn’s range more than is advisable for the meat of a song’s melody while the other horns, Louis Barnett on a second tenor and Russell Green’s trumpet aren’t doing nearly enough to pull him back.

There’s also nothing being done to justify his “Wild” Bill moniker with all this and while everything’s locked in well enough you find yourself wanting to turn down the volume to spare your ears from the tinny reverberation they’re giving off.

Kept It In Too Long
Things improve ever so slightly two-thirds of the way through when the horns attack a repetitive hook with a little more focus but it’s immediately followed by even more atonal bleating from the sax which sends you retreating from the speakers again.

So let’s assume that this wasn’t a poor remastering job in the CD era, or even a bad mix-down back then and as a result the Burnt Toast on our plate today is the same that was served back in the studio when they cut this in August of 1950.

If that’s the case the fault lies in the fact they chose too high a key for it to make an effective groove. These things have to be built from the bottom up, not the top down, which means the drums need a little more polish, the rest of the rhythm section has to actually be let in the studio doors to contribute something reasonably swinging while the horns have to be pitched lower to reach you in your gut as they play. Without these adjustments it’s not sufficiently qualified to be called a true groove even if the types of patterns they play suffice that regard on a purely structural level.

On the other hand if they were trying to create excitement with these higher horn lines they needed to have a much more frantic song than this to do it, preferably something that starts in mid-range and spirals upward with squeals galore before dropping back for the honks to make sure the balance doesn’t get upended.

Instead this is too mundane for that approach while not deep enough to work as a groove, thereby missing badly on either of their prospective goals.

I’ll Just Have Juice For Breakfast Today
There’s plenty of blame here to go around. Producer, arranger and songwriter Henry Glover should’ve been able to discern that there was no beef to the song even if the basic concept was alright on paper.

Moore himself may have been tiring of the deeper honking he’d been asked to do so much in the past but if you’re going to try something different it still needs to retain an appealing sound, something this just doesn’t have.

Lastly King Records, though flush with talent that made creative and commercial misses like Burnt Toast easier to ignore, still had the option not to release it and go with something else instead (two cuts from that date remain unissued) or to send them back and give them more specific orders as to what sells best.

But maybe the real answer lays with the growing realization that all of rock should’ve been coming to by this time, which was that while sax instrumentals had been a welcome presence in rock as it was taking hold, the qualities they best provided had been overexposed in the mad rush to find another hit the last few years and the well was running dry. Guys like Moore didn’t have to be put on the sidelines by any means, but just given them a bit of a break when it came to carrying the the entire load on record.

It might’ve been smarter to ease them out of the spotlight for awhile and use them as glorified sessionists behind a wider variety of vocal acts. Considering that Moore’s best record of the year – Hey Spo-Dee-O-Dee – essentially did just that (though he got lead artist credit) it showed that he could be more effective in smaller roles while spreading the responsibility around.

But by contrast releasing this kind of irrelevant exercise for its own sake sure wasn’t doing any of them any good.


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