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There are few sights quite as pitiful as someone lamenting over an ex.

It’s one thing if the breakup just occurred, maybe came out of the blue, leaving the one who got dumped in a state of utter shock, blindsided that their significant other left them for someone else. In those cases you’re allowed to have a bit more sympathy and let the person moan about how they were done wrong just to get it out of their system. But even then after awhile you need to tell them to get over it and move on.

But what do you do short of changing your number and moving to another town when someone you know doesn’t STOP talking about their former squeeze, and not in a vindictive way either, bad mouthing them at every turn as you might expect after being shown the door, but rather talks about them in glowing terms, reminding one and all that they once had been a couple and almost seeming to brag about that person’s latest activities as if they were still together?

I suppose all you can do is to steer clear of them until they can find the proper psychiatric care, but every once in awhile, such as when you’re forced to review records of the departed because it’s your job on a music blog, then you need to face this odd occurrence head on and not pull any punches in the process.

So Savoy Records, who were the ones unceremoniously dumped in this case, are about to take yet another scolding for clinging to the delusional belief that they are still a factor in their ex-artist’s life.

The Beginning And The End
When rock was just starting out in 1947 Savoy Records were among those who helped elevate its profile considerably thanks to their employment of two saxophonists who they may have originally signed earlier that year in the hopes they could both somehow fit into the jazz sax realm the label had explored with good returns in the previous few years, but upon the arrival of rock suddenly they steered them in another direction altogether.

Savoy producer Teddy Reig urged the two men to “honk” in ostentatious displays of musical crudity, something neither of the musicians were likely pleased with, but Reig knew that in jazz circles which valued technical precision these two guys would be at something of a disadvantage, at least compared to the likes of Lester Young and Charlie Parker and other titans of the instrument who Savoy had under contract. But there was this new music which seemed to celebrate more boorish styles that relied less on precise technique and more on enthusiasm and grit.

So, like it or not, the two did as they were told and were promptly rewarded for it when Paul Williams, an alto player who switched to baritone, scored with the very first rock instrumental hit, Thirty-Five Thirty in late 1947. Joining him on most of his releases, as well as getting singles of his own, was tenor sax man Wild Bill Moore, who’d make perhaps the most emphatic statement as to the viability of this new music with the genre defining hit We’re Gonna Rock in the summer of 1948, firmly establishing both the wild honking sounds and the name that would forever be attached to this music in the process.

The two men appeared on each other’s records and in truth probably had a lot of their respective releases given to one or the other by the label based as much on who was next in line for a single as to any more concrete reasoning. Williams wound up getting more hits, including the biggest instrumental smash of all-time, one of the first “crossover” records in rock history with The Hucklebuck in early 1949, but Moore did fine on his own wracking up some good sellers along the way including some additional regional hits.

Yet it was Moore who became the first to leave Savoy’s stable when he was lured across country to record for Modern Records in the spring of 1949. Though they still had Williams in the fold, and thus should’ve been content to ride him for all he was worth, Savoy was piqued about sustaining yet another loss of a sax player, as their budding star Big Jay McNeely, whom they’d signed in late 1948 and who had cut only two sessions for them, had already departed for the West Coast label too.

With McNeely, who was now getting as much buzz in rock circles as anyone thanks to his first two Savoy releases, Wild Wig, a Top Ten entry, and the #1 hit The Deacon’s Hop, the record company released his remaining sides in judicious fashion over the next few months until the well ran dry.

But Moore’s departure presented them with a different set of circumstances to wade through because who was to say which of the songs he played on were “his own” and which could simply be issued as by Paul Williams, who’d played baritone on them. Why not just stiff Moore altogether and put the remaining sides out under the name of the guy who HADN’T left them for greener pastures?

Considering how underhanded Savoy Records could be when it came to every other decision having to do with money and credit the fact they went ahead and released Rockin’ With Leroy as a Wild Bill Moore record is rather surprising, even though they might’ve felt they had little choice since he was the songwriter as well, but that’d hardly stop most companies since they were surely already screwing him when it came to royalties.

Who knows, maybe because the recording was already nearly two years old they thought they might embarrass Moore by suggesting he was out of touch musically, since of course no record buyer, disc jockey or distributor would have any idea that it had been recorded in the waning days of 1947 when the company was scrambling to get as much down on tape as possible before the recording ban hit the first day of 1948.

So maybe the bigger surprise isn’t that Savoy issued it under Moore’s name after all, but rather that the results of this show that all of them, Moore, Williams and the band, were ahead of their time back then because this one truthfully doesn’t feel all that out of place in the home stretch of 1949.


Start Off With The Basics
We need to keep in mind the musical landscape in December 1947. Rock ‘n’ roll was all of four months old at the time and had a grand total of zero songs that had actually entered the national Billboard charts. A few that had been released, including the aforementioned record by Williams, would soon crack those listings but the commercial prospects for rock were still largely unknown when these guys went into the studio a week before Christmas to cut some more sides.

As we’ve seen the last couple times out with Williams, the band he had employed for the bulk of his hits was now breaking apart, but of course back in late 1947 they were intact and that makes a huge difference because they were a very cohesive unit. T. J. Fowler on piano would soon go out on his own as a primary artist and he’s released some good sides since then, in particular the scalding Red Hot Blues an instrumental that can hold its own with anything either Williams or Moore released themselves, while the rhythm section of Herman Hopkins on bass and Reetham Mallett on drums were a rock solid unit. The only one still with Williams in late 1949 was trumpeter Phil Guilbeau, so this belatedly issued record is one of our last chances to go back see the unit which basically set the standard for rock instrumentals in the early days.

The other thing you have remember is when they were laid down most of these songs probably didn’t have titles. Maybe someone came up with a name on the studio floor, but those weren’t carved in stone and if a better idea came along down the road then it could be easily changed.

I’m guessing that’s what happened with Rockin’ With Leroy, a song “dedicated” to Detroit disc jockey Leroy White, who despite his surname was one of the few black disc jockeys on the air at the time. White spun rock ‘n’ roll on WJLB and the band itself was from Detroit so even though Savoy has a long history of this sort of pandering for airplay with their instrumental titles in this case at least it was more understandable.

Besides, the important part of the title isn’t the name affixed to it but rather the “Rockin” that precedes it which looks to take full advantage of the term that has come to define this music in the two years since they cut this side. If nothing else it shows that Savoy was not just throwing this away without hoping to grab a few listeners pulled in by the song title.

Now obviously two years is a long time for something as fast moving as rock ‘n’ roll and in particular the sax instrumental approach had become much more fine-tuned than a lot of the early experiments in the form. The increasing prominence of a more adventurish tenor in the lead with the baritone adding raunchy replies, and the corresponding scaling back of the lighter sounding alto sax and trumpet are the primary shifts. But there’s also the gritty textures and more direct approach that sometimes eschews melodic invention in favor of an all-out rhythmic attack to consider.

As you might expect Moore and company lean towards the former as emblematic of when this was actually recorded, but they’re definitely not tied to it and actually show a good deal of prescient thinking when it comes to just how much they emphasize the rhythm in their playing.

It starts off with a winding lead by Moore that’s exciting enough to keep you focused. The others join in with riffing backing before long, fast paced but not really urgent in their playing. Williams seems removed from the equation to a degree, or at least isn’t making his presence known here, which hurts it slightly in how much it can grab you without his heavier sound pulling you in, but Moore is making up for it with a spirited lead.

Early on he even seems to throw in a subtle line from Jingle Bells without it being too heavy handed (remember, this was cut exactly a week before Christmas) and it all gallops along like reindeer in the sky.

But this was also the days long before GPS and so their direction isn’t entirely focused. They seem to be flying around in circles, zig-zagging around, doing a few loop-de-loops like inexperienced reindeer who can’t believe they’re actually airborne and are showing off with no real purpose.

Even so it never lags in energy and while you won’t necessarily be able to follow along since you have no idea where the destination is, you’ll be reasonably happy to go on the ride.

Time To Move On
What’s surprising, and what sort of undercuts my excitement over getting to hear this fine-tuned ensemble at their peak, is the others don’t really get much to do. There’s no real trading off here, no spot for Williams to take a rudely honking solo, no chance for Fowler to stretch out on the keys or Mallett to play a few skin-rattling fills. They all just stay in tight formation and are pretty content to let Moore improvise over them.

You can’t say it’s not modestly effective in that way… I mean you aren’t losing interest in their rather basic approach or anything, but since Moore himself is left with all of the creative choices, and since he’s obviously got no well-thought out game plan in mind, your enthusiasm starts to wane the more he goes along.

This was a sign of their inexperience with creating the types of records rock was just starting to call for back then, not quite knowing how to build suspense into an arrangement. Had they just let the others get their spots to shine, varied the sound with a few different solos, maybe slowed the tempo to a crawl mid-way through before raising the roof again, then it’d have worked far better. Part of this failure to deviate from the main horn probably has to do with the fact that none of them had seen much in the way of audience response to any of this, either on stage or on record, so they were told to cut loose but weren’t quite sure of which methods would get the biggest response in this idiom.

The other obvious reason why this feels a little unformed, like Jello taken out of the fridge before it got a chance to fully harden, is because of the rushed circumstances they were all dealing with to get as many tracks down before they’d all have to take an extended vacation from studio work… though as it turned out, Williams and Moore were among the first to violate the recording ban before the winter was even out.

Two years down the road listeners had long forgotten those events and were not going to be comparing Rockin’ With Leroy to other songs cut in late 1947, but rather with records being issued in late 1949. In that environment the audience was going to be much more unforgiving for anything that falls short.

Because of that shift in context this does fall a little short of average for 1949 rock instrumentals, but not by that much, certainly not by as much as we’d have guessed knowing the convoluted path from studio to record store this one took.

Putting this out now might not have done Moore’s career any favors, nor was it intended to, but it certainly didn’t hinder him any either. As for Savoy they just wind up looking like the pathetic spurned lover, standing in the stag line at a dance bitterly complaining to the other wallflowers that they once dated the strapping sax player who now has lots of other suitors around them out on the floor.


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