2020-05-15 13:01:40 UTC
Not on Youtube (Maybe Roger can remedy this)
One of the recurring themes around here is the importance of session musicians on the evolution of rock ‘n’ roll.
Because they remained largely in the background, rarely if ever getting their names on a record label, the vital work they contributed in advancing the music that would soon take over the world has often gone unrecognized by history.
Yet when we’ve gotten a few chances to delve into them on a handful of sides they cut under their own names the results haven’t always provided a testament to their abilities and so it may seem to many that their general obscurity by the larger public is in fact entirely warranted.
But that too is part of their story, maybe the defining part in fact, for in a business where the ultimate goal for most is stardom – hit records, screaming audiences and universal acclaim – session musicians seem by nature to be unconcerned, even uncomfortable, with such attention… which is probably why they became session musicians to begin with and remained destined for being forgotten for eternity.
Don’t Waste Your Thoughts On Me
Whether you’re of the belief that someone’s personality dictates their career choices, or their career choices wind up shaping their attitude, the fact remains that most front of the stage stars in music command the spotlight with all they do, whereas the ones in the shadows rarely draw attention to their playing or singing. It’s two sides of the same coin of course, the flamboyant guitarist isn’t going to be satisfied unless they get recognition which necessitates them taking scene-stealing solos, whereas the one seeking to remain anonymous is going to gravitate towards playing a supporting role.
What that meant was that even when the DID get a chance to stand out – and in fact were being paid to do so by a record label – someone like Edgar Blanchard – or René Hall, Eddie Chamblee (or fill-in-the-blank) – couldn’t quite bring themselves to do so. Their instincts as sessionists would continue to define them even when they stepped out in front on their own records it seemed. So used to blending in and taking a back seat to others, they often seemed unwilling or unable to be more assertive.
What went unmentioned yesterday when we brought up Blanchard’s appearance at The Bronze Peacock in Houston that led to its owner Don Robey offering to record him on his new label is the sheer fact that it hadn’t seemed to have been Blanchard’s goal at all. He wasn’t angling to get noticed so that big break could come his way, he was just looking to play music for a living in nightclubs rather than become a civil servant working forty hour weeks. I’m sure he was glad for the opportunity when it came his way and wasn’t about to turn it down, but was he really consumed with a burning desire to make a name for himself when he stepped into the studio?
Based on the evidence it wouldn’t seem so. While we don’t know how much time they were given between the offer being made and going in to cut these tracks – chances are it wasn’t long – the fact remains that for someone with his eye on becoming a recording act… and hopefully a star… they’d have probably had a sheaf of songs ready-to-go, just waiting for their big break, or at the very least they’d have had a clearer idea of what they wanted to showcase once they arrived.
Creole Gal Blues shows none of that self-absorbed single-mindedness, the kind that might make for an exasperating human being but often makes for a brilliant artist.
Make Sure I Stay In Shape
Because Edgar Blanchard was someone by nature who sought to get along with others it made him a fantastic sideman but not the most ideal candidate for a featured artist and that’s all too evident on the sides he cut for Peacock, which not only consisted of his own material, but also included a session he sat in on for blues harmonica act Papa Lightfoot.
On those sides he was naturally going to be taking a subservient role on the proceedings since they weren’t his records and wouldn’t be seen as shaping his career, but while understandable when Lightfoot was the focal point, what wasn’t sensible was for him to cede control of his OWN records to the same Papa Lightfoot who “returned the favor” by guesting on Creole Gal Blues and promptly overwhelms it.
As we’ve delved into too many times to count so far, the trumpet was an instrument that had a lot of trouble transforming its role from jazz to rock ‘n’ roll, as its tone, its accepted playing style and its tendency to take up too much space in an arrangement being detriments in rock which valued a tougher more streamlined sound.
Well, the same could be said for the harmonica which would be used far less in rock circles than the trumpet but would similarly have a tough time adapting to the different aesthetics this music required. Both would eventually figure it out – not surprisingly by cutting their appearances down to the quick, adopting the less is more theory that worked best for both of them – but in 1950 the harmonica was definitely prone to sticking out like a sore thumb any time it popped up on a rock song.
Here Lightfoot’s presence alters the entire feel of what otherwise might’ve been a decent attempt by Blanchard who again gets to display a fairly pleasant vocal tone in addition to his guitar playing. But that harmonica doesn’t even wait a full second after Blanchard’s guitar kicks this off before jumping in and forcibly taking over.
Let it be said that the harmonica, by virtue of its unique tone, practically requires it to be the lead instrument on any song it takes part in. Sometimes this can be alleviated by only allowing it a short solo and having it sit out the rest of the song, but if it’s going to be featured throughout the tune then it invariably will come to dominate it.
As a result this record sounds completely out of place in rock despite the rest of the arrangement being reasonably suited for the style. Lightfoot’s chromatic wheezing on the harp gives it a backwoods flavor that stands in stark contrast to the urbane figure Blanchard cut on She’ll Be Mine After Awhile and even though we usually advocate changing your approach from one side of a single to the next, here you’re changing it to something that you not only won’t be able to replicate on stage unless you hire your OWN harmonica whiz, but you’re also changing the perception of you as an artist to something that isn’t nearly as appealing in the rock landscape.
Say A Little Prayer
As unfortunate as this development may be, we can’t credibly claim that Lightfoot’s inclusion rendered an otherwise great song impotent. Though its subject may be appropriate for Blanchard’s upbringing in Louisiana, the story he’s telling is pretty shallow and since it’s lacking any real color it isn’t going to make much of an impression even had he booted Lightfoot to the curb.
Creole Gal Blues has the appearance of a song conceived more as a title that might be appealing to the local constituency than a fully developed song. It’s really nothing more than a basic character sketch devoid of any cultural authenticity in its lyrics. We know she’s Creole only because Edgar tells us she is, but had he instead informed us she was an Eskimo and not changed a single other word of this we’d have no reason to doubt him, that’s how lacking in details it is.
Now there are a few halfway decent lines thrown in, but those too are generic by nature, adding nothing in the way of personality to either the subject herself or to the song. His enthusiasm for her seems forced if not altogether lacking thanks to the steady monotonous pace that doesn’t allow him to ramp up his excitement much outside of a pretty standard stop-time interval which he delivers in the same measured tones.
Since Blanchard was a singer only by necessity we turn to his more celebrated skill set, that of his guitar work which is a steady presence here but hardly an invigorating one in this case. Because the harmonica gets all of the solos, no matter how out of place they are, Blanchard is reduced to laying down the droning rhythm that never lets up, but it also never changes gears to shake the song from its doldrums.
His low fuzzy tone is fine, even prone to being a little menacing if it had been accentuated more, but he’s given so little to do that essentially he’s reduced to taking a supporting role on his own record! Lightfoot on the other hand is wailing away out front, sending rock patrons away by droves while Edgar grimaces in silence in the background, hoping the check Robey wrote him doesn’t bounce so at least he can get out of this with something to show for it.
When I Need Understanding
We know that the record industry as a whole never exactly made it easy to stand up for yourself as an artist as they constantly promoted the idea that they were doing musicians a favor by recording them, but this is one of the more egregious examples of that backwards mindset we’ve seen so far.
If Don Robey was interested in Edgar Blanchard as an artist then it was Edgar Blanchard he should’ve taken pains to spotlight in his only session, not have him in a subordinate role to someone from an entirely different field on a song that was Blanchard’s first opportunity to try and establish himself as an artist worth watching.
While it was certainly true that even if it had been unadorned by any outside musicians Creole Gal Blues would hardly have made a compelling case for Blanchard’s potential as a headliner, but at least it would’ve been HIS skills that were responsible for its reception or lack thereof. Instead he’s forced to sit around and watch his chance for notoriety slip out a door that was being held open by those who were telling him they had his best interests in mind.
None of this should really be surprising though, for as good as Blanchard will prove himself to be in the company of others – or with far more supportive and sympathetic visionaries overseeing his solo efforts – he was at heart a session musician, someone who needed a more passive temperament to be comfortable subjugating himself to the ideas of others. So when he was the one in front of the mic and needed those around him to subjugate themselves to him instead, he – like so many other sessionists – found it to be something he just wasn’t equipped to do.
Sooner or later everybody learns what their limitations are in life and I suppose for Edgar Blanchard it was in his long term best interests that he found this out now so he could start down the road to reach his preferred destination.
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT: 2/10