KING 4409; OCTOBER 1950



After criticizing the unimaginative title of yesterday’s top side, we at least have a more humorous one to contemplate today.

But whether the “goon” refers to Wild Bill Moore himself, a member of his band or you the listener for buying his records without demanding a greater effort at coming up with something a little more inspired is probably one of those questions that will never be answered.

Never let it be said we won’t give it a try though.


Fit Like A Glove
Since we’ve spent plenty of time praising the skills of King Records’ resident producer, arranger and songwriter Henry Glover in the past it’s only fair to spend a little but of time tweaking that praise when he makes an occasional misstep.

These two sides with Wild Bill Moore qualify in that regard, not so much for any technical flaws or terrible song ideas, but for trying to take the current rock aesthetics and drag them a little back in time to a period when Glover was earning his keep playing trumpet in Lucky Millinder’s crack band of the 1940’s.

We’ve seen this happen countless times in rock’s first three years and it’s hardly surprising that it was still occasionally rearing its ugly head, but it’s perfectly understandable. Both Glover and Moore had cut their teeth in those styles and while both had made brilliant rock records in their respective capacities, there had to be some occasional longing for something more in line with their upbringing from time to time.

On Goon Blues those throwback ideas don’t overwhelm the track, but definitely hold the record back and prevents it from even making a legitimate stab at full-fledged rock acceptance. It’s not so much a hybrid record as it is one that’s simply lagging behind the times.

That in of itself might be somewhat excusable when they’ve been asked to come up with so many new songs over the past few years, but what we can’t excuse as easily is the fact that they appear to be perfectly content in looking backwards.

Goonies Aren’t Good Enough
The opening melody, sort of a lazy cigarette swirl of notes rising upwards, is somewhat interesting, certainly nothing that can’t be made into a compelling rock track if they simply focused on making sure the proper instruments were carrying it throughout the intro. Instead after a decent start the usual offenders in the horn section – trumpet mostly – elbows its way in and right away the already tenuous appeal it was building begins to crumble.

Yet again we’re forced to explain that while the trumpet is a fine instrument in the right circumstances, generally speaking rock ‘n’ roll is not that circumstance. The tone, the drawn out notes, the piercing qualities it has tend to dominate the sound, even when surrounded by more robust deeper horns, and so letting them play in the manner they’re used to in jazz or even pop circles is bound to cause problems when it comes to finding the proper balance in a rock song.

Eventually they’d learn – and some, like Dave Bartholomew, a trumpeter himself, was already figuring it out – as the key was using it in quick bursts, clipped notes and keeping it brief in more vigorous songs. Others, like Ivory Joe Hunter, were effectively applying it in achingly slow ballads by having it replicate crying.

But Goon Blues does neither which is the problem. Not only does it get too much of a focus in answering the saxes early on, but midway through it gets a standalone spot which only deepens this generational divide. What’s being played isn’t awful by any means as Russell Green delivers a siren-like pattern, but anything that reminds you of the compromised textural issues this record already has isn’t for the best.

The saxophone of Moore is hardly doing enough to offset it either, as he’s playing a meandering part for most of the song and never gets the kind of gutsy solo that might turn this around, almost acting more as a supporting player to a lesser instrument on his own record.

The best sax found here ironically is the baritone played by Tate Houston… not that he gets much to do mind you, but he’s at least prominent enough in the background to give it some heft while providing a decent foundation for the others to build upon if they so chose.

They don’t choose to do so however as the others are also not given enough to do with only pianist Ted Sheely drawing even cursory notice playing in between the cracks. The arrangement is entirely focused on the horns and just the tenor and trumpet at that, ensuring that there’s no unexpected twists and turns – no guitar interlude, piano solo or some cracking drum fills – and without Moore or fellow tenor man Louis Barnett getting a chance to bring some thunder you’re left with a song that doesn’t have a good enough melody to make up for the lack of any explosiveness.


Goon Squad
Records like this – and the qualities they reveal – are generally left out of most rock discussions for obvious reasons. Neither ambitious or successful they’re easy to skip over because the belief is they don’t show anything worth noting.

But that’s a mistake because every rock record reveals something about the genre as a whole and when you have one of the best producers of its first decade and a proven hitmaker who has been ahead of his time on certain singles who combine here to cut something as meaningless as Goon Blues it’s a sign that even the ones who’d made the transition from one era – and style – to the next were still slightly ambiguous about their direction. The thing is of course that even in the pre-rock jazz scene they were mildly recalling here this record would be pretty roundly ignored.

In the current rock universe it’s going to be utterly dismissed so for us anyway – and hopefully for them as well – it served one purpose which is to reconfirm the need to stop looking backwards if you want to get over in the present and live to see the future just around the bend.

That may not seem like the hardest lesson to learn perhaps but it’s one that constantly proves harder to sink in at times.


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