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SENSATION 17; SEPTEMBER, 1949

 
 

 

One of the enduring lurid subplots in the history of rock ‘n’ roll is just how disreputable many, if not most, of the record labels putting out this stuff have been over the years.

From ripping off the artists’s writing credits to taking over the publishing, then not being satisfied with those thefts and consequently charging them for all sorts of things like studio costs and promotional records for disc-jockeys, all so that they could later claim that despite selling hundreds of thousands of copies of their biggest hits the artists somehow wound up owing the label money.

Making this worse is the fact that most of the figures responsible for such nefarious activities have been written about in glowing terms by generations of historians who were taken in by the self-serving “kindness” those plantation owners in three-piece suits showed them when they called to interview them about the “good old days” of the independent record-led rock ‘n’ roll takeover.

Of course the reason why so many artists reluctantly swallowed the shit being shoveled down their throats at every turn is because making records provided them with their best chance at making a name for themselves which in turn gave them their only real chance to make a living in this field, namely by playing live gigs for as long as that name recognition garnered from those records held out.

But that doesn’t mean they had to like the way they were treated and every so often you found an artist who attempted to outmaneuver the record labels in one form or fashion. It rarely paid off, after all there’s only so much you can do taking on the system alone, but if nothing else it probably annoyed the owners to have to deal with malcontents, especially if those malcontents were fairly popular at the time.

So here we have saxophonist someone taking a small stand against the tyranny of monolithic enterprise. Needless to say it didn’t do him much good, but that doesn’t mean we can’t admire the attempt.
 

 

Third And Long
Among the first generation of rock’s tenor sax brigade who honked up a storm and alerted the masses that there was a new brand of music poised to take over civilization was Wild Bill Moore. Both on his own records and on those of fellow sax star Paul Williams, the sound of 1948 rock ‘n’ roll could in many ways be said to be the sound of Wild Bill Moore.

Both he and Williams were cutting records for Savoy at the time, the first of the wave of independent labels of the 1940’s who’d focus on black styles of music which of course culminated in the birth of rock by 1947. Yet for all of their noteworthy achievements, in not just early rock but gospel and jazz, specifically be-bop, the label was hardly an oasis of harmony and good will. Owned and operated by Herman Lubinsky who essentially served as the role model for every cheap chiseler that would become ubiquitous in the record business over the years, it’s doubtful Moore got anything but a few pennies for the multiple (regional and national) hits he cut for the label. So he split at the peak of his popularity in early 1949, decamping to Modern Records on the opposite coast, as far away from Lubinsky as possible.

But the problem was things were no better out there, if anything they might’ve been worse, as Modern was owned by the Bihari brothers, Jules, Saul and Joe, three men who made Lubinsky seem like an innocent choirboy at times as the three Bihari banditos likely stole more writing credits than the rest of the music industry combined. Somehow they didn’t manage to grab Moore’s credits for Rock And Roll, his biggest disc for them, but I’m sure he knew what was in store for him if he stuck around and so he headed back home to Detroit where presumably if anyone was going to rip him off they’d at least have to deal with his friends and irate family throwing bricks through their windows at two o’clock in the morning.

Actually, I don’t know the real story behind all of these moves that Moore made over these last few months, but when you were selling records in the quantities that he was, there’s only two real possibilities – either other companies lured him away with much bigger deals – something I hardly need to tell you that invariably would be negated by the fine print of those contracts – or he was just label hopping to get hefty cash advances for a single session before moving on again, thereby keeping his options open and his back covered in case of any shenanigans.

So that’s how we find Wild Bill Moore at Sensation Records, his third stop during the rock era and a Detroit label we know well from their work with Todd Rhodes but who haven’t made any other significant inroads with rock ‘n’ roll as of yet. Moore very likely was their hope to try and change that.
 

Punting The Ball
Lots of cultural pursuits that once seem all-encompassing in society are actually relatively shortlived in the big scheme of things.

Once upon a time people actually were stupid enough to smoke cigarettes. In fact, forty two percent of American adults in 1965 smoked those things if you can believe it, but gradually the threat of cancer, heart disease and the fact that it’s both expensive AND disgusting rendered it less appealing to people and so by 2018 only 14 percent of adults were still boldly showing off how idiotic they were by smoking.

Various sports in America are another thing which have seen a rise and fall in popularity over the years. Boxing once was deemed the sport of kings but after years of being run like a self-serving criminal enterprise its popularity declined to the point where today few people could name even three boxers who hold a championship belt.

Football will be the next sport to fall from its lofty perch thanks to the horrors of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Essentially this means that if you play tackle football the repeated hits to the head will kill players brain cells leading to memory loss, impaired judgement, violent outbursts, dementia and suicide. There is no cure for this tragic disease and since the primary goal of football is to crash into one another at violent speeds which leads directly to CTE, it’s only a matter of time before the sport is deemed barbaric and vanishes from civilized society altogether.

It’s doubtful that Wild Bill Moore had anything to do with the naming of Football Boogie. Like most instrumentals the title was probably decided upon long after the musicians left the studio, though why a Detroit based label would name it after a sport in which their local team, the Lions, finished in last place the year before and had gone thirteen straight seasons without a playoff birth is beyond me. Who knows, maybe the label owners were suffering from CTE themselves.

Anyway, it doesn’t really MATTER what the song is called. What matters, as always, is what it sounds like and whether this release will help Sensation Records gain traction in the marketplace. Any rock release by a recognizable artist certainly wasn’t going to hurt in that effort, but sad to say this particular record wasn’t going to help that much either.

The flip side of this release, Blue Journey, might give some insight into Moore’s mindset at the time, as that is pure classy pop, something rapidly becoming less viable for him to include in his set lists as long as he was drawing crowds for his rockers, but something he surely wanted to keep his hand in should the rock ‘n’ roll caravan lose a wheel or snap an axle as many musicians who came of age during the early 1940’s probably hoped was imminent.

Though Moore never seemed to be disgruntled with his career path – after all he was writing songs that celebrated rock in no uncertain terms – his focus did seem at times to fluctuate, easing back too much on the hard-driving sound that he excelled at and which brought him the most acclaim. Though stylistic diversity is generally an asset as an artist, if your approach varies TOO much, wildly swinging between pop, jazz and rock ‘n’ roll, you’re bound to see your impact on any one of those areas start to diminish in time.
 

 

Revise The Playbook
The record starts off strong however, squarely in the rock vein… call it a good kickoff return if you want to tie this in with the Football Boogie theme, with Moore unveiling a gutsy sound before the drums jump in and the piano follows. But as soon as the offense takes the field and lines up for the first play from scrimmage the team suffers from consistently bad play calling.

For starters the quarterback, that’d be Moore, is far too tentative. He dials things down and blows cool and easy when he should be steaming it up and trying to air it out once or twice. It’d be one thing if he had a seductive melody to toy with, pulling the defense in by pounding the line of scrimmage and then going long down the sideline with a wild solo, but instead he sort of wanders around, running misdirections, laterals and other schoolyard plays that impress no one and wind up with a lot of three and outs and costly turnovers.

This leaves the others in the lurch. When they’re on the field they’re holding their blocks as long as they can but Moore is just scrambling, going sideline to sideline rather than up the field. When he finally turns the corner just over fifty seconds in and rips off a nice little riff they get their only first down of the quarter. But once they’ve moved the chains they practically take a knee, almost running out the clock, first with a bass solo, then a slack guitar part and what sounds like an alto that gets dropped for a loss to close out of the first half, but in fact is Moore playing so soft and weak that you think he must be nursing an injury.

If a song was like a football game this would have you looking forward to the commercials.

Maybe there was a good halftime speech with lots clipboards being thrown around the locker room or something because Moore comes out of in the second half looking slightly reinvigorated. He’s given up on the short passing game and is trying to work the clock and chew up some yardage with stronger runs up the middle, but while he controls the ball and time of possession he’s not scoring many points with this type of ground attack. There’s no big plays, no real offensive threat being shown, nor even any ill-fated, but at least entertaining, trick plays.

If you’re looking to the sideline for someone on the coaching staff at Sensation Records to call a time out you won’t have any luck, as they’re busy checking out the cheerleaders or have taken their headsets off altogether and are standing in line for another beer at the concession stand. So after Moore hands off to the piano with the seconds ticking down as they’re 14 points behind the clock runs out and they’re left to face a lot of questions about the ill-advised game plan in their post-game interview.
 

Sacked
All in all this was a pretty desultory loss for Wild Bill Moore. He doesn’t embarrass himself by completely ignoring the basic concepts of a solid rock instrumental altogether but the components are spread far too thin to be even mildly captivating.

What’s most inexplicable is how this approach seemed to be intentional on his part, almost as if he was content just to briefly touch upon the necessities of rock ‘n’ roll rather than accentuate those attributes and build upon them as he goes along. Every once in awhile he’ll sense things slipping away and resume some mildly inspired blowing but he can’t reel off a couple of big gains in a row before he fumbles the ball away again.

Maybe he knew that Sensation Records wasn’t going to be able to get him a hit since they were still confined mostly to regional distribution, so either he didn’t want to waste a more fleshed out idea on them or he figured he’d indulge in something purposefully non-commercial just to get it out of his system before moving to a platform where he’d have to be much more cognizant of the national tastes again.

But that won’t get him a pass here. Uninspired records like Football Boogie are going to count in the standings whether it was a small independent company team he was suiting up for or if he were playing in front of full stadiums each Sunday with widely promoted records on major labels. It’s the musical results that matter and putting up nothing more than a field goal won’t keep you in the starting lineup forever, not when there’s plenty of other players who are itching to take the field themselves before the brain damage sets in and sends all of these headbanging rockers to the sidelines for good.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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