2020-02-25 15:33:41 UTC
There’s an odd habit among people who are headed someplace to begin an eagerly anticipated new chapter in their life…
They stop for a moment and look at what they’re leaving behind.
Whether it’s sentimentality for what we’ve come to know or one last pang of indecision for what we’re about to undertake, it seems to be a universal affliction from which nobody can escape and so there’s always that wistful parting glance over your shoulder as you pull away from the curb into the unknown.
For the styles that preceded rock ‘n’ roll as the dominant sounds in black America during the bulk of the 1940’s their days on top were essentially over. A few holdouts remained of course but their careers were rapidly losing steam by the dawn of the 1950’s as rock became ever-more ubiquitous.
Yet that didn’t stop some from pausing in their tracks, a faraway distant look on their faces as they gave one last thought to all they were going to miss once they set out to meet the sounds of tomorrow.
With an inexplicable mixture of sadness and guilt they turned and looked back at the images fading into the mists of time before lowering their heads and resolutely marching forward all the same.
When The Clock Struck Ten
One of the things we’ve tried to do here on this time traveling adventure of ours is not ONLY focus on rock ‘n’ roll – though that’s the only music we’re reviewing – but at the same time try and give some recognition to the pioneers who set into motion a new musical reality but who never made the transition into the music that followed.
Of these figures none is more important than Louis Jordan. Without Jordan there is no rock ‘n’ roll even though he himself never was a rock ‘n’ roller.
It was Jordan who effectively stripped down the big band format that had been dominant before him and got just as much energy and excitement out of a smaller unit while popularizing the shuffle rhythm that formed the basis of much of rock music. He also didn’t bend over backwards to court white approval as was the accepted practice of those hoping for wide appeal yet he got it just the same, often by subverting stereotypes of black America in a way that flew over the heads of the melanin-deprived while his own community were in on the jokes and took pride in his audacity.
No artist in any era – that includes Elvis Presley in the 1950’s, The Beatles in the 1970’s and Michael Jackson in the 1980’s – had such a dominant run within their targeted market as Louis Jordan throughout the 1940’s.
Then rock ‘n’ rollers took the lessons he taught them and promptly jacked them up on steroids by removing much of the lyrical ambiguity he used while doubling down on the rhythms and adding the right amount of aggression to go with it to reflect the growing urgency and demand for transformative cultural change, in the process shedding him like a prom dress after the dance.
As the calendar turned to 1950 Louis Jordan’s time on top was all but over. He announced his temporary retirement in January due to exhaustion, breaking up his legendary Tympany Five and effectively ending an era.
Though he’d return to the scene a few months later after his health improved and in the fall would score the last of his amazing 18 #1 R&B hits, it was merely a sentimental encore for a passing era. By the following spring he’d never crack the national charts again.
But while rock ‘n’ roll could certainly trace its DNA to his doorstep, it had already grown far beyond anything that resembled Jordan’s more quaint origins which might be why on Waiting And Drinking Calvin Boze, a trumpet playing bandleader who had made the jump to rock ‘n’ roll after being raised by Jordan’s music, couldn’t help but to offer one last look back at the style as it was about to disappear forever… albeit with a few necessary updates to make sure he wasn’t tossed out with yesterday’s newspapers himself.
Why Don’t You Come On Here?
The first sign that this record is not quite cutting edge comes right out of the gate as the piano and horns that open this are four or five years out of date. It’s still an infectious sound however, one designed to get you lightly grooving in place to prepare you for the vocals which are ripped directly from the Jordan playbook by Calvin Boze.
The root of Jordan’s appeal was found in the reassuring warmth of his vocals, their good-natured conversational tone that made it seem as though he was conversing with you rather than singing at you. It’s easy in concept maybe but tricky to pull off because it can’t very well be faked, it happened to be Jordan’s genuine personality which made it sound natural rather than stilted.
Calvin Boze has a similar personality and though he never rose to Jordan’s level of popularity, or matched the wit of Jordan’s songs for that matter, he manages to give off a similar welcoming vibe on his records that makes up for whatever lack of vocal prowess he had as a singer.
Waiting And Drinking is going to need all the help it can get in that regard even though the theme itself is a durable one – that of a guy who is stood up by a girl and winds up… well, you can read the title yourself and figure it out I suppose… as the hours pile up.
Boze isn’t crying in his beer, or his jug of wine that he gets when the beer runs out, though he is reasonably sad about being deceived by this woman, but whether it’s the effects of the booze or just his genial outlook in general, he’s still willing to have her join him for a nightcap if she’s so inclined. Of course considering he began drinking sometime just past lunch and by the time he reaches out to her it’s nearing closing time I can’t imagine he’d make for good company since he’ll probably be passed out by the time she arrives.
Since the story isn’t much deeper than a shot glass it takes all of Boze’s charm to keep this from tasting flat. He succeeds in that to a point… primarily because he’s not asking for our pity. Instead he’s sort of taking this indignity in stride, leading you think it’s not the first time it’s happened to him.
But because the plot takes us nowhere other than the liquor store and back and because even as amiable as Boze may be, he’s still hearkening back to an era and style we’ve left behind us, this is shaping up to be nothing more than a fading snapshot stuffed into a shoe box in the back of your musical closet.
But that’s what blazing tenor saxophones are for, to rip that closet door from its hinges.
Hurry Up, Mama!
If you bother contemplating the basic discographical information that kicks off each of these reviews in larger font bold type, you may already know who is likely to be striding through that door, sax blaring at the first opportunity.
If not, let’s refresh your memory a little. Aladdin Records had in its employ one Maxwell Davis, the first rock producer of note and one of the greatest tenor sax players in the field. If Calvin Boze’s instincts were to lean backwards, Davis’s were to look forward and therein lies the saving grace of what was shaping up to be an adequate, but largely forgettable, record.
Though perhaps we could fault Davis for not modernizing the rest of the track with a more cutting edge arrangement, he may have realized that to do so ran the risk of throwing off Boze’s vocals, forcing him to adjust on the fly to keep up with something just outside his comfort zone.
So instead Davis confines the rock attributes to the sax solo, giving it the gritty textures it needs to take it from the bandstand to the roadhouse while never forsaking the melodic requirements Waiting And Drinking needs to stay on its feet. He’s not reinventing the wheel here by any means, it’s a pretty straightforward solo for rock, but it’s also not skimping on the details any, as he makes sure to hit all of the basic requirements for our sensibilities as rock fans by giving us a coarse tone, a stuttering rhythmic progression as well as some notes that drop to just above a honk and others that come up just short of being squeals.
Maybe the best way to put it is that it’s a well-judged interlude for the record. Had Davis gone overboard then the song’s identity would be transformed too much for Boze to feel as though he belonged, yet had he instead delivered a milder solo – one that might’ve appeared a few years earlier on a Louis Jordan record in fact – then it’d have kept this far too outdated to make much headway in the current market.
By balancing the two ideals he allows it to be appreciated more by rock fans seeking something to fit their perspective while not alienating those who feel increasingly out of step with this newer rowdier music that sent Jordan and his ilk packing.
Oftentimes compromise in the realm of art is a backhanded compliment at best, and an insult at worst, but here Maxwell Davis correctly assessed the needs of Boze AND the changing market and found a happy medium.
Don’t Do Me Too Bad
Of course that hardly means Calvin Boze is going to get a seat at the head of the table in rock ‘n’ roll and because he doesn’t have a long track record with an established constituency to fall back on he is going to have to learn to appeal to the more vibrant growing market if he wants to stick around these parts much longer.
Waiting And Drinking doesn’t quite fulfill that need because it IS too reliant on past concepts that he embraces, but it also doesn’t fail completely because of what Davis brings to the table. If nothing else it gets Boze another round served up.
That may not seem like much in the big picture but it’s the difference between being seen as irrelevant in the modern music scene and being considered someone with outside potential. For Calvin Boze that’s about all he could reasonably hope for going into a decade that was shaping up to be far, far different from the decade he came of age in.
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT: 4/10