Sunday, 6 August 2017

Flamingos # 17: Get With It & I Found a New Baby

The Flamingos had a larger backing band than usual for two numbers in their final session for Al Benson's Parrot Records. The website devoted to the Parrot and Blue Lake labels notes:
They had been recently performing with Paul Bascomb's group at Martin's Corner on the West Side, but Al Benson preferred to use a studio band led by Al Smith on the date. A four-horn front line (Sonny Cohn, trumpet; Booby Floyd, trombone; Eddie Chamblee, tenor saxophone; and Mac Easton, baritone sax) lent a big-band atmosphere to the two uptempo numbers: "I Found a New Baby," which was held back from release, and "Get with It."
There is no mention of Red Holloway who, it may be remembered, was present, according to the same website, on the other two numbers from that session:
On "Ko Ko Mo" and the ballad, "I'm Yours," the group was accompanied by just Red Holloway, with Horace Palm (piano and organ), Quinn Wilson (bass), and Paul Gusman (drums).
Did Holloway also contribute to the two big band-style numbers?

The website also notes:
[Get With It] features a long solo by Mac Easton, festooned with his trademark corny quotes.
Those include The Campbells Are Coming and Stormy Weather, which reminds me of Humphrey Lyttleton's thoughts on musical quotations when analysing one of Art Tatum's recordings of Tea for Two:
One can best justify them by pointing to the conversational aspect of jazz improvisation and drawing a parallel with the often enlivening use of phrases from Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Damon Runyan or Groucho Marx in casual talk. If overdone or inapposite, they are a bore and, I am bound to say, apropos Art Tatum's injection here (and elsewhere) of 'The Campbells are coming, hurrah, hurrah', that I would have preferred it if the Campbells had remained where they were. 
Despite these nods to jazz Get With It is described by Robert Pruter as "a pure rock'n'roll jump that the group made a standard in their stage shows to raise the excitement level." The arrangement sounds conceived with live performance in mind as the section where the band is riffing under Easton's saxophone solo allows time for some spirited dancing along the lines of Jump Children (as seen in Go Jimmy Go) which would doubtless have been extended in live performances until such time as the house had been well and truly got.

But where Jump Children, especially in its original Chance incarnation, is redolent of the swing era the arrangement for Get With It is indeed "pure rock'n'roll": more urgent, propelled by bass and drums reinforced by Easton's honking sax.

In fact, despite the fuller instrumentation, this could be seen as a companion piece to the session's ballad, I'm Yours, discussed earlier: both are beat-propelled. There is a moment near the end of Get With It when the other instruments fall back and we only hear the pulsating bass and drums: the engine room, as Philip Larkin once described a similar spot in a jazz recording.

It can't really be said that the lyrics of Get With It aspire to poetry but that sense in Jump Children (written by Johnny Carter) of blues phrases from the common stock idly strung together has been replaced by lines which are rather more coherent - and direct:
I'll make your heart go ting-a-ling
Make you holler, wanna scream
Scream, holler, hold me tight
Love me baby, all night 
Al Benson has a cowriter's credit for the song though I don't know whether he actually contributed anything. Maybe the deathless:
A little bit of whisky, a little gin
A little bit of lovin' now and then
was a favourite maxim of his.

Below is what sounds to me like an alternate take of Get With It although there is no reference to it in the session notes on the Parrot and Blue Lake website. The two versions are very close, but small differences in sound balance and the words spoken near the end give it away. On the take below Nate Nelson (I presume) says at the end: "I love you, love you - don't stop".

That first verse may not leave much to the imagination but its delivery, accompanied by actual screaming, gives the introduction at least a semblance of wit, akin to the Dominoes' 1951 hit Sixty Minute Man. Could it be that Nelson's last line on the take below was felt to be just  a little too direct about the song's subject matter? Or were the recordings so close that the alternate was released in error at some point?

The Charly CD I'll Be Home (on its budget label Instant) contains this take. Mac Easton seems to be playing more or less the same solo on both - but if his "corny quotes" were a "trademark", that may be neither here nor there; strong similarities between the two performances could simply be testament to the professionalism of all concerned.

Anyway, let that stand as my one - possibly - original contribution in this series of posts, though I can't believe it hasn't been noticed before. (In all else which has passed here, I acknowledge my infinite indebtedness to the industry of Messrs Pruter and Goldberg.)

I Found a Baby has the same backing musicians as Get With It but the arrangement is more jazzy, swinging,  less urgently propulsive. This time the front line shares top billing, as it were, with the Flamingos, who are mostly singing in unison, though individual phrases are given to Nate Nelson and Jake Carey. If the lyrics are worth mentioning (and they're probably not), one could point out a tension between romantic aspiration - "This time it's for real" - and more physical pleasures: "She wiggles when she walks, it makes me feel okay ... She will do anything I say" ... Problems ahead in that relationship, methinks. But as with Jump Children, it's more about revelling in the overall sound, the combined clout of group and band.

At times the unison singing resembles an instrumental riff, as though this is actually an old big band arrangement with a few parts rubbed out and the group filling in for the absent musicians ("I found a new baby ... She's my kind of baby ..."). Which reminds me that much of doo wop - indeed, the phrase "doo wop" itself - is about the imitating of brass sounds: the opening of Dion and the Belmonts' I Wonder Why mimics a reveille trumpet and Gerald Gregory's immortal opening to Goodnight Sweetheart Goodnight is a bass saxophone (even though Gregory maintained he was simply keeping the group in tune).

The recording of I Found a New Baby - perhaps because it wasn't sufficiently forward-looking? - wasn't released by Parrot, nor was it reprieved by Chess when the masters from Benson's label eventually ended up there in "the last quarter of 1956" and  it would languish in the company's vaults for another twenty years. Get With It, on the other hand, was released on both Parrot and on Checker.

The last trace of Walter Spriggs' activities which could be detected by Pruter, Campbell et al on the website devoted to Parrot and Blue Lake was in 1974, so I can't say for sure whether he was around to witness his song's resuscitation in 1976, nor whether he was aware of the extent of its afterlife. In the early eighties I Found a New Baby, sung acapella, was a highlight of the live act of the young New Jersey group 14 Karat Soul, and the song sounded plenty good without any big band trappings, due in no small part to the charismatic bass singer Reginald "Briz" Brisbon, whose attack was linked to earlier experience as a drummer: the beat again, you see.

14 Karat Soul's version of the song is not available on youtube at the time of writing. A studio recording can be found on their album That's Doo-Wapp Acapella!! [sic] though memory insists this is a poor substitute for the live performance I witnessed several times during a never-to-be-forgotten week-long residency at Glasgow's Mitchell Theatre. It also appears to have been one of the songs they performed on Saturday Night Live on January 24th, 1981.

Oh, and a further thought about musical quotes: The Campbells Are Coming can also be heard during Tiny Grimes' guitar solo on the Crows' 1953 hit Gee, recently singled out by Little Anthony, in conversation with Spencer Leigh, as the first side to register with him as a truly new sound with a more pronounced beat: it was blues and it was something else.

The record also shows that the close relationship between early doo wop and jazz was not limited to Chicago's Chance Records: Tiny Grimes had been a member of the Art Tatum Trio.

A more direct connection to the Flamingos can also be found in that interview, a fuller account of which can be found in another post (link below); it was Golden Teardrops, said Little Anthony, which made him decide he wanted to be a singer.


Having covered all the Chance and Parrot sides this will be the last in this series about the Flamingos' early recordings. Once again I acknowledge my debt to Marv Goldberg, whose R&B Notebooks page on the Flamingos is only one of many highly readable and informative pieces making sense of the tangle of label-hopping and personnel changes common to doo wop groups. Details about his book More Than Words Can Say: The Ink Spots and Their Music, published by Scarecrow Press, can be found here.

Robert Pruter's book Doo Wop: The Chicago Scene, published by University of Illinois Press, has been my constant companion when writing these pieces, and the websites he maintains, along with Armin Buttner and Robert L Campbell, on the Chance and Parrot labels are an invaluable and unique online resource for doowop and blues fans. There is so much more to enjoy, and learn from, in Mr Pruter's book than has been quoted in these posts; it's my experience that some doo wop writers are better on the research than on the writing itself but that's most emphatically not so in Mr Pruter's case and I recommend his book unreservedly.

Leafing through it again just now, a sentence in the Afterword leapt out. Art Sheridan, owner of Chance Records, is quoted as saying:
Vocal groups were the transition from rhythm and blues to rock'n'roll.
It's that transitional phase I'm most interested in, which is why I'm not going on to cover the Checker recordings, much as I enjoy them. Some sketchy notes can be found elsewhere on these pages about the Flamingos' sides for Decca, the company they were signed to between Chess and End Records. These recordings aren't exactly masterpieces but this is a lesser-known period of the group's career, only recently made available on CD, so I may expand what I've written at a later date. In the meantime and the inbetween time, as Clarke Davis, who introduced me to the guitarless Golden Teardrops, would say, I hope you have enjoyed this attempt to explore and celebrate the Flamingos' earliest work.

Other posts in this series here.

Doowop: the Chicago Scene by Robert Pruter
Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebooks page on the Flamingos
The Parrot and Blue Lake Labels (website) - Robert Pruter, Armin Buttner and Robert L Campbell
Spencer Leigh interviews Little Anthony

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