2020-03-16 23:45:58 UTC
For the uninitiated I’m sure the first time you see this title by this artist you may think it a joke…. and a bad one at that. What kind of a name is Doc Sausage anyway, other than a dirty one that probably loses its ability to make you crack a smile before you hit eighth grade.
As for the song’s title, though it’s not quite as ostentatious as the artist’s name it’s still pretty unusual and hardly seems a promising topic for any worthwhile tune.
If you DO have some prior knowledge of music at the midway point of the 20th Century however it’s a title you’ll probably recognize but that will hardly ease your concerns much. If anything its source will make you question its appearance in a rock history survey even by someone as brashly named as the good doctor.
But once you’re aware of ALL of the particulars of this story it will begin to make sense… or at least as much sense as a song about cleaning tools performed by an artist using a crude phallic euphemism as his name can possibly be.
Shameless Self Promotion
Though the overriding goal of this noble… extraordinary… inspiring… completely asinine project is to thoroughly document all of rock history from the very beginning – one song at a time as the heading tells us – the other goal, not quite secondary but certainly a side goal – is to put the rock songs and eras we’re covering into proper context.
After all, what’s revolutionary for 1947 sounds decidedly ordinary – if not archaic – by 1957, just as the cutting edge sounds of 1957 will be old hat by 1967 and so on and so forth.
So that’s why in addition to touching upon things tangentially related to the record in question in many reviews, we have more diverse and lighthearted Monthly Overviews which gather a bunch of far-flung events going on during that month – radio and TV shows, ads, major events and small town silly news – to try and give those of us two decades into the following century an idea of what it was like “way back when”.
Since this is a music site each month’s overview kicks off with a popular song from the non-rock world, usually pop music but occasionally country, blues or jazz. We don’t come close to doing full reviews of them, just a few lines to tell who made them and how big they were… then we have the song itself embedded with Spotify to allow people to hear them – and in the process use that to contrast with the rock songs we’re covering that month to show just how far apart this new style was from the accepted genres.
Anyway, for February 1950 the song featured will be Rag Mop, albeit a different version of the one we’re reviewing here as our final review of January 1950.
This was one of those songs that comes along every so often during this era where seemingly every record company released versions in every conceivable style, all hoping for – and many getting – a hit out of it.
Why THIS song was 1950’s most ubiquitous tune is beyond me. Originally a country song on the Bullet label written and performed by Johnnie Lee Wills a Western Swing bandleader and brother of the more famous (and talented) Bob Wills. The song was based on Get The Mop a 1940 jazz song by Henry “Red” Allen that at least had more musical merit than its illegitimate offspring.
Anyway, focusing on Wills’ rendition of this idea, its vocal hook consisted of spelling out – or rather MIS-spelling – the title in a way that was half-sung and half-chanted, all of which sounded pretty stupid, if fairly harmless even at the time when “stupid” and “harmless” weren’t quite derisive terms when it came to describing music.
Yet in spite of (or maybe because of) its simplicity people couldn’t get enough of it. The Ames Brothers topped the Pop Charts with their rendition but they were hardly alone in moving copies of it, as everyone from Eddy Howard to Ralph Flanagan had huge hits with it. Joe Liggins reignited his stagnating career with it, as did esteemed swing bandleader Jimmy Dorsey and one of the classiest jazz musicians of all time, Lionel Hampton featuring a young Wes Montgomery on guitar no less, had probably the most effective take on it, keeping the energy high while trying to instill a bit of class.
Yet no matter who cut a version of Rag Mop, the song couldn’t really be much more than insipid… which might be why a demented bandleader calling himself Doc Sausage got such mileage out of it.
How Do You Spell “Ham”?
Lucius Tyson was just shy of forty years old when he burst onto the rock scene in 1950 after a long career on the outskirts of the music industry. He’d been one of those all-around entertainers, a drummer by trade who could sing and dance and do comedy skits in between. Obviously those types of acts really need to be seen to be able to judge them properly, but I think it’s safe to say that they weren’t exactly aiming high with their material unless I’m completely misreading their intent in calling themselves Doc Sausage And His Five Pork Chops starting in 1938.
Two years later – probably owing to the continued success of jive-novelty acts (Cab Calloway being the most famous) – Sausage was purchased from a deli by Decca Records who cut one session on the crew which resulted in two failed singles in that style. They aren’t awful records by any means, just a little silly at times, though fairly infectious if you don’t make the mistake of taking them too seriously.
Apparently Decca however DID take them seriously and consequently found them lacking and so Sausage was put back in the freezer for the next ten years. When he and his new group, The Mad Lads, were defrosted in 1950 for Regal Records a new style of music called rock ‘n’ roll had been born and come of age since he last saw the light of day.
Though on the surface he didn’t seem cut out for something skewing much younger with a far more aggressive edge to it, circumstances sometimes makes for strange bedfellows and though they’d already released one record for Regal before this that didn’t hint at rock ‘n’ roll, when they jumped on the Rag Mop bandwagon they steered it in the one direction no one else was taking it – straight to rock.
Somewhat surprisingly, though it can’t help but suffer greatly from its limited concept, they pulled it off about as well as you could hope, all things considered.
I Said M.O. (Modus Operandi, That Is)
For those not in the know, the basic structure of the song no matter who did it was as a recital. You can easily picture this nonsense being done in Kindergarten class with its sing-songy pace and simple – inane – lyrics with the kids sitting in a circle on the floor… or you could picture it being done at a Senior Center gathering to keep the blue-haired crowd engaged in life while wasting away to nothing behind closed doors.
The selling point of Rag Mop was that sing-along spirit it tried to engender whether or not a whole group of people were singing it on record – as with Wills, Flanagan, Hampton, Liggins and the Ames Brothers – or just one voice as Doc Sausage performs it.
The musical hook comes between chanting the title and features a very simple riff designed to mimic the voices that preceded it. This could be adapted for whatever instrument the artist in question specialized in, such as steel guitar in Wills’ recording; piano and horns in Liggins’ and Hamp’s, and an accordion on the Ames Brothers monster hit.
Sausage’s crew gave this task to Charlie Jenkins’ guitar and there’s really nothing special about his performance. Jenkins is using a light tone, in a sense trying to keep it closely aligned with Deacon Anderson’s steel guitar on Wills’s original, and though he plays some sharp stinging notes they’re still just placeholders in the arrangement, no better or worse than all of the other renditions in their various guises.
Meanwhile Sausage, who has a fair enough voice for a journeyman, a little nasal but with good projection and a radiant tone, is taking a slightly different approach vocally than everyone else. Not only is he handling it alone whereas everyone else uses group vocals, but he’s tackling it in a surprisingly serious way. In other words he’s intentionally stripping it of the wink and a nudge humor aspect and refusing to pander to the juvenile mindset it practically demands.
You’d think this would be its fatal flaw, after all the ability to convince the listener that you’re actually enjoying singing this childish nonsense seems like the key to it having work, though admittedly most of the artists managed to do only after downing multiple shots of bourbon.
But Sausage, despite his silly moniker that would cause you to believe he more than any of the other acts tackling this would lean into the joke, instead shoots from the hip, focusing on the rhythm of the lines without even seeming to acknowledge the nursery rhyme lyrics themselves. It might not be as boisterous as Liggins or Hampton, who poured on the enthusiasm while probably envisioning the dollar signs in front of their eyes to justify the gusto of their deliveries, but Doc’s unusual decision is at least fairly effective.
Besides, he was smart enough to leave the drumming up of the enthusiasm to his right hand man in the horn section.
Maybe its predictable that an artist named Sausage has a sax player named Johnson, but while this has occasionally been credited to jazz sax player Lem Johnson it is more likely that it’s Earl Johnson who was a journeyman himself, a tenor sax player who later showed up with a similarly odd quasi-rock outfit a few years past their prime called The Jive Bombers in the late 1950’s. But here he earns his stripes with an energetic, yet economical, performance that – in what undoubtedly is the worst pun I’ll ever write on these pages – cleans up the other renditions of this Rag Mop.
A minute in Johnson jumps into his solo while backed by Sausage’s own clattering drums, Jenkins darting guitar and Charles Harris’s piano filling in the leftover spaces. Though Johnson’s sax never tries to tear the roof of the place it still manages to give the lightweight song much needed gravity, spinning or spiraling upwards after featuring a nice tone on the longer held notes that he kicked it off with.
It’s invigorating rather than electrifying but while the effect doesn’t exactly transform the song, it definitely places it in the rock sphere and provides the most memorable aspect of it. Because it’s still not a very good song to begin with we can hardly justify recommending it overall, but since this tune was so inescapable during the winter of 1950 the fact that rock fans had a version to reasonably suit their needs, reluctant though they might’ve been to join in the sophomoric hub-bub, was about all you could reasonably ask for.
Ironically in the decades since for a myriad of reasons from the demise of the traditional pop style that rendered the square Ames Brothers dusty relics by the next decade and thus removed their version from circulation, to the fact that more serious jazz fans who kept Lionel Hampton’s memory alive were wisely focusing on his more challenging material… and I suppose thanks in part to the unusual name of Doc Sausage which continues to draw curious souls to check out his limited number of recordings… this is probably the more frequently heard version of this song in the Twenty-First Century.
Whether it should be heard at all when there are so many better songs in rock’s past to uncover is up for debate, but considering that without this the man christened Lucius Tyson would be forgotten by everyone outside of his immediate descendants by now, I suppose it’s not the worst thing in the world for Doc Sausage to have as a legacy.
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT: 4/10