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Throwing caution to the wind sounds nice in theory and might make for a good slogan to slap on a coffee mug or t-shirt, but in life where there are consequences to every action sometimes it pays to embrace caution a little tighter rather than jettison it for the endorphin rush that chucking it away will give you.

After all, once the sheer thrill of being reckless in the moment passes you often are left utterly exposed and defenseless against whatever backlash may occur from your rash decisions.

But then again in the annals of music the ones we remember are rarely the timid and so when given an opportunity to go all-in on something exciting but unproven maybe it pays to jump in with both feet and hand “caution” its walking papers.


Started At The Bottom
By the fall of 1949 there wasn’t much doubt anymore that those who were attempting to ply their trade in rock ‘n’ roll but who were still overly tentative in just how far they’d push things were bound to be left behind. There’d now been two full years of increasingly positive returns on those who bet big on rock at its most unrestrained to remove any lingering uncertainty as to its commercial viability and if you were still somewhat reluctant to fully give yourself over to the movement as an artist, well, there were plenty of others to take your place.

But the same hadn’t been true in the waning days of 1947, before any of this noise had penetrated the charts or shaken up the system. So at that point for those who were trying to peer into the future and guess the outcome of the stylistic crapshoot taking place the decision on just how far to take things was a little more cloudy. Yes, you’d like to think that musicians could sense the building excitement found in unfiltered rock ‘n’ roll and would be willing to bet that it’d be too addictive for audiences to resist once they heard it, but as we know every musical and commercial edict in existence then warned against such impetuous gambles.

So just how critical can we be of those who hedged their bets just a little in that period, especially after having already taken things further than was deemed acceptable at the time with their other sides cut around the same time… the very songs that helped rock gain its footing.

Moreover, how harsh can we come down on the last of those songs from late 1947 to be released now that it’s nearly two full years later, another lifetime practically when it comes to musical evolution? So much has transpired in the 23 months since they were recorded that it’s hardly fair to use the standards of this point in time to judge something cut when rock was in its infancy.

Yet that’s the dilemma we’re faced with today, trying to acknowledge the context of when this record was actually made while at the same time forced to deal with it in the context of when it finally got released. Hardly an equitable deal for Wild Bill Moore any way you look at it. But when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade and that’s what we’ll do here, because if nothing else this gives us one more chance to look back to a time when the future of rock ‘n’ roll was far from certain and examine the ways in which some of its pioneering artists attempted to keep just a little bit of caution in their back pocket while giving the impression elsewhere that they were in fact throwing all of that caution to the wind.

Topping Out
It’s important to remember that Wild Bill Moore had almost no experience cutting rock styled songs when he laid this record down. In fact prior to this he’d had just one session that would produce the decidedly mild hit Bubbles (in November), which was actually a split session with Paul Williams, his fellow sax blower on Savoy, in that they each played on one another songs.

More likely neither of them had any idea which songs would be released under which name and since it was Williams who’d already released the first rock instrumental back in October with Hastings Street Bounce and was poised to follow it up this month (December 1947) with a record that would become the first actual rock instrumental HIT, called Thirty-Five Thirty, this session (Moore’s first alongside Williams) was probably a way for Savoy to let Moore try and hop on the bandwagon as it started rolling.

It turned out to be a rather important date for both of them as it marked the beginning of their short-lived, but productive, partnership that would result in a string of solid sellers for them both as they traded off lead artist credit for the songs they cut together for much of the next year.

But by the end of 1948 Moore was on the move, first to Modern, then briefly to Sensation, and later even smaller labels, while Williams stuck with Savoy but the band he and Moore had used was breaking up. Williams, the bigger name with the bigger hits to his credit, managed to actually score the biggest hit of all rock artists, not just instrumentalists, with The Hucklebuck during this stretch but it was something of a last hurrah as his sales started to level out and since Savoy had lost both of their hit-making tenor players over the last few months in Moore and Big Jay McNeely, the label was left with few options if they wanted to still try and capitalize on the rock instrumental sweepstakes.

So combing through their unreleased masters they found two cuts from way back in December 1947 when Moore and Williams first teamed up and decided to put those out and hope for the best.

It should go without saying though that if Top And Bottom had been deemed a good bet for a hit then it wouldn’t have been the last of those sides to see the light of day two whole years after it was cut.


Bottoms Up
We keep harping on the two year gap between recording and release date but that’s really the story of this record far more than the actual content. Or rather, the content can best be explained by pointing to that what happened in rock music’s acceptance during that two year period.

Top And Bottom is a record that gives little indication that anyone involved had a good deal of confidence that the early positive response to rock ‘n’ roll was something worth doubling down on. They aren’t completely pulling back on things maybe, but they’re taking a decidedly cautious approach at any rate.

But taking a tentative approach is the least of their problems, at least to start with, as the far bigger problem is how Moore wanders off-key for the much of the first thirty seconds, like a a guy emerging from a corner bar after one drink too many. He may think he’s walking a straight line down the sidewalk but he’s veering back and forth and at times seems about to stumble off the curb and into traffic.

Paul Williams isn’t much better, though he’s got both feet under him his problem isn’t his legs but rather his mind, as in he’s not quite sure which direction to go. Do we head uptown or do we really want to go back downtown? As a result he’s taking choppy steps, stopping and turning around to get his bearings rather than striding with a definite purpose and destination in mind.

The two of them are a sorry sight and you’re just hoping neither one gets behind a wheel and attempts to drive in this condition.

But the night air apparently does them some good and both of them start to rapidly recover their sense of balance and sober up around thirty five seconds in. Moore starts to blow with more assertiveness and while he may be merely steadying himself by pausing at the corner and leaning against a stop sign waiting for the light to change the song gets it footing at least and gives them a chance to perhaps make it home without being run over by bus.

Williams picks up his game too, coming in just after the minute mark with some more emphatic two-steps riffs, simple but effective in shifting the tone. The piano of T.J. Fowler is still the most clear-headed of this brigade as they wander aimlessly down Woodward Avenue, but when Moore catches up they’re all finally traveling at the same pace in the same direction without any of them lurching ahead or stumbling and falling behind as happened earlier.

At this point they’re all still a little lightheaded, not really making too much sense with the conversation but not really bothering anybody either. Moore’s meandering lead lines in the second half are pleasant enough I guess but they aren’t anything that will grab your attention and so they all keep heading down the street, disappearing into the darkness without causing any harm.

Top Down
That’s hardly a very hearty endorsement of a record – innocuous sounds that blend into the night – but considering they almost were on the verge of tripping over their own feet and tumbling to the ground in a tangled heap when we first spotted them a few blocks back I suppose their navigating the city streets without falling down an open manhole can be considered a mild achievement.

But while we may be grateful they didn’t wind up in protective custody, or worse yet in the hospital or morgue, just remaining upright is hardly reason to celebrate, especially since this wasn’t exactly an difficult journey for them to make on paper. Top And Bottom was emblematic of a 1947 song that had absolutely no premonitions about what 1948 would bring, let alone how by 1949 the feat of just walking a straight line from point A to point B on a rock instrumental was hardly notable anymore.

Though we might cut them some slack for having an outlook that was reasonable for when they cut this but did them no favors when this finally got dug out of the archives, we can’t be too generous in that regard. After all, it’s not like this would’ve been competitive with the better of the sax-led rockers that came out in late ’47 and early 1948.

The fact is on a lot of their early efforts they were overly cautious even for the time and in music, especially in rock ‘n’ roll, we know full well that it’s always best to aim for the top. Then if you fall flat on your face at least you’d have an excuse for it.


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