Friday, March 17, 2006

Odd Spin 3/17: Jazz Score From Shotgun Slade

The Original Jazz Score from Shotgun Slade
Stanley Wilson and his Orchestra
Musicians uncredited
Composer, Arranger: Gerald Fried
Label: Mercury

The run-down: The jazz P.I. concept worked for Peter Gunn, why not adapt it as a western? The formula worked quite well for Peter Gunn, starring Craig Stevens as the suave detective, who met his clients at Mother’s jazz club and dated a jazz singer played by Lola Albright. Although the plots were simplistic, of necessity at a twenty-four minute running time, the stylish noir look and legitimate jazz performances are still entertaining. Johnny Staccato starring John Cassavetes was a darker, less successful attempt to duplicate the jazz P.I. concept. Shotgun Slade (syndicated 1959-1960) was an attempt to transport the jazz P.I. to the old west, with Scott Brady playing the Denver-based private detective. Hollywood veterans Gerald Fried and Stanley Wilson (who had collaborated with jazz legend Benny Carter) produced a big band crime-jazz soundtrack, totally at odds with the shows old west setting, but that’s not a bad thing.

While they are occasional twangs thrown in for effect, this is respectable LP (not available on CD) of big band crime jazz. The show was less satisfying. One notable episode did feature vocalist Monica Lewis guest starring as a respectable saloon singer, as you could probably guess. In a departure for the show, she sings a rousing rendition of the “Shotgun Slade Theme” over the end credits, which is not included on this LP.

Jazz and country: two styles seemingly poles apart. Jazz began as the musical expression of African-Americans, primarily in urban centers like New Orleans, Chicago, and New York. Country music was the soundtrack of poor rural whites from Appalachia and the Southwest. Still, one of the earliest cross-genre fusions involved country and big band swing.

Fiddlers Bob Wills and Spade Cooley led so-called Western Swing bands, which augmented western style fiddles and guitars with swing oriented big band brass sections. They played swing based arrangements, and at least in public performance, gave respectable solo space to featured musicians.

Interest in western swing bands waned in the 1950’s, as it did for all big bands in general. Western swing’s fortunes were not helped by the notorious and tragic private lives of its best known leaders. Wills and Cooley both battled alcoholism and severe financial troubles when their careers stalled. Cooley was also engaged in a bitter separation from his wife Ella Mae, a former back-up singer in his band. One night Cooley beat his estranged wife to death in front of their teenaged daughter. Cooley spent the rest of his life in prison.

Wills’s career had its ups-and-downs, but he continued to perform into the early 1970’s. Despite his influence on some future jazzmen, very little cross-fertilization would take place between future jazz and country artists during the waning years of his career. Notable attempts included sessions led by Gary Burton, Chet Atkins, and arguably this album.

The Bottom Line: While somewhat scarce, when it does turn up this LP should go for $10 or less.