2020-03-04 22:56:53 UTC
What do you do when you’re a record label just trying to find their footing in rock ‘n’ roll after establishing yourself with other styles, most prominently with gospel, prior to this?
Well, in 1950 you gave everybody a bottle of booze, opened the doors to the studio and let all of the assorted riff-raff that wandered by come in and let the tapes roll until the crowd got too drunk to stand and people threw up on the furniture and the rest just passed out on the floor.
In the five minutes or so between the first keg being tapped and the first fight started over somebody’s girl you hoped to get a song down on record that would capture that exuberant scene.
Shockingly with this cut Apollo Records were able to do all of that and then some.
Raise A Ruckus
The hosts of this after-hours party might not have too much experience in throwing these shindigs but honestly it’s not all that difficult to figure out if you’re in the right frame of mind.
Eddie Mack was a recent convert to this brand of music but he hadn’t yet made a name for himself in any other field and so shifting his approach to suit rock wasn’t quite as hard as it would’ve been had he a well-established persona to contend with. Though there was probably a limit as to how convincing he could be when competing with younger singers who had invested themselves in rock from the start, Mack had shown pretty good instincts his first time out on Kind Loving Daddy a few months back.
We’re still a little unsure about Apollo’s designated bandleader, jazz saxophonist Bobby Smith, however, who as we saw a few entries back on his own attempt to enter the rock sweepstakes as a featured artist with Bess’s Boogie, he may have been willing to try but was still lacking the right instincts to know just what the difference between “technically good playing” and “aesthetically convincing playing”.
The former he has down pat as Hoot And Holler Saturday Night shows, with Smith leading the horns in a tight formation – loud and fast paced in the intro before easing into a background role for the verses while still providing a very definite presence that’s felt more than heard.
In other words, the jazz approach… an ensemble mentality where instruments of all sorts come to the forefront and recede again over the course of a song, their precision and adherence to the arrangement’s strict demands being their calling card. Smith does that quite well… if that’s what you like.
But if you’re a rock fan, or for that matter a rock artist, a rock songwriter and a record label desperate to cash in on rock ‘n’ roll, that’s not quite what you’re looking for out of him and the rest of the band.
Don’t give up hope though, because everything else about this record is sure to bring a smile to your face.
A Bagful Of Tricks
We’ve already met songwriter Rudolph Toombs a few times here over the years, but now that the 1950’s are underway he’s going to be a regular presence so you better get used to his style and his preferred topics which more often than not center around drinking, sex and other uninhibited good times to be had by all.
Topics like that were not exactly new in music of course and rock had indulged in those pursuits plenty before we entered the 1950’s… as a matter of fact Wynonie Harris is sleeping off any number of such wayward nights still… but Toombs brought to those subjects a gift for vibrant, infectious melodies and rhythms which were every bit as memorable as the off-color stories his songs told about.
On Hoot And Holler Saturday Night the scenario is laid out pretty clearly in the title alone… at the end of a long hard week the narrator is on the prowl for a decedent good time. Women will be involved, as will prodigious amounts of alcohol, but the real allure he speaks of isn’t found in the specific methods of living it up but rather in the spirit he embodies as he – and most of the listeners who are in similar circumstances in life, whether working or still chained to a desk in school – where you simply want to shake free or responsibilities one night a week without repercussions.
That’s the attitude a song like this needs to capture, for while the colorful lines about booze and broads can draw a grin on their own, they’ll be far more effective if they reflect the state of mind those who seek escape from the drudgery of life have each time the weekend rolls around.
Toombs doesn’t disappoint in the least, for his lyrics are not only memorable for their world play alone…
“I don’t care if they charge a dollah
For that whiskey by the swallah!”
…but he then manages to tie it up in a perfect bow by showing the underlying intent “I’m gonna get real drunk and wallow Saturday night”.
At the same time he’s doing this however he’s giving a glimpse into the type of people he’s referring to who need this respite from a life of endless toil…
“I’m gonna drink myself a whole quart of gin
And let the good times roll until the cotton comes in”
Though not elaborated on further, that’s clearly a Southern sharecropper’s perspective – those who rent land and a small shack on that land and work it from sun up ‘til sundown with the majority of the profits going back to the white landowner while the black family doing the labor keep pennies on the dollar and are expected to consider themselves lucky.
With that being all you have to look forward to the rest of your natural life of course the idea of letting loose one night each week takes on an out-sized importance, which is why it’s a shame that experience was alien to the Northern musicians who frame this in a little too classy of a manner to connect fully with that more unsophisticated outlook.
Do Some Knocking Down, Maybe A Little Dragging Out
Eddie Mack has no such trouble and thankfully he takes center stage for most of this, delivering each line like a man who’s lived it. He’s slightly glassy-eyed already, his breath reeking of whiskey, his fanciest clothes dusty and worn, but his joy irrepressible all the same and he’s riding this rhythm for all he’s worth.
During the sax solo – the best, and most authentic, playing found on the entire record – Mack is screaming in the background, urging them on, at least hoping that they’ll match his enthusiasm if nothing else.
Though he falters ever so slightly after the break, just briefly reverting back to a more artificial sound before the next shot of whiskey hits and he cuts loose again, Mack is giving every indication that he’s got it in him to be a legitimate star in the rock universe. Maybe not a first-teamer, but if you compare him to the likes of Crown Prince Waterford or Joe Swift, guys who employed a similar hard-charging persona, he’s got them beat with relative ease.
His voice carries well without showing any defects, his full understanding of the storyline means he can impart each lyric with the right effect to heighten its impact and despite the rather over-the-top nature of Hoot And Holler Saturday Night there’s never a moment where Mack is in danger of descending into caricature.
In other words, this is someone who can do what Wynonie Harris does, certainly not with quite the same power or sly devilment that Harris embodies, but who may be a sightly better judge of moderation when it comes to putting songs across. Since rock music is never going to run out of parties it also sort of helps to have more than one or two guys at a time who can ensure that the drinks never stop flowing, the women never stop grinding, the pace never slackens and the concerns of the impending Sunday morning never encroach on the fun of Saturday night.
If Eddie Mack is going to be throwing these types of parties, you’ll eagerly set aside one night a week to go (and then another day to rest up and recover from it).
Make Sure That You’re Dead
There’s so much here that is top shelf, from the witty lines and overall mood provided by Toombs to the uninhibited joy displayed by Mack… even the sax solo by Smith will suffice… but it still suffers from the split in the participants real-life experiences that can’t help but undercut its effectiveness just a little.
How much you want to focus on the negatives, including a few rhymes that… well… don’t actually rhyme, and the backing music that, while spirited is too refined for its own good, is up to you.
But when it’s Saturday night and you’re feelin’ fine you probably won’t notice its shortcomings. That’s the thing about rock ‘n’ roll, it’s meant to uplift you and make you forget your troubles and have you eager for these carefree nights while they last.
For the primary audience of this record who had yet to reach adulthood and face the hardships that form the underlying context of Hoot And Holler Saturday Night they might just want to party for partying’s sake and who can blame them? After all, they were in the process of making rock music the voice of their generation and at that age they think there’s going to be no end to the Saturday night parties.
But as for the slightly older participants that form the subjects of the song, as well as those making the record itself, they’re a bit wiser on this subject and know all too well that there aren’t as many of these parties left to enjoy once the real world responsibilities have you in their grip.
That’s why they have even more reason to get all they can out of this night – and this record – because soon it’ll be Monday morning again and they’ll be forced to get back to work and leave the hooting and hollering to somebody else.
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT: 8/10