Plas Plays It Pulpy
"Downstairs" (Shanklin - Harris)
Plas Johnson, Capitol 4251, 1959
Another day, another instrumental, completely different from the last. No funk here; but this well arranged and produced period piece from sax giant Plas Johnson is heavy on the atmosphere.
Although I’ve got a few of Johnson’s singles from the 1950’s and a re-issue LP and CD of his Tampa releases of the era, I hadn’t heard “Downstairs” until I found it on the above pictured French album, which compiles many of his Capitol sides from 1957 - 1959. I picked it up in San Francisco back in the early 1990’s on a momentous sojourn where I made it to nearly twenty record stores in the Bay Area in five days (but still missed a few). I’ve loved it out there since my first trip (!) in June, 1967, the Summer of Love (when record collecting was - cough, cough - not my top priority). Since then, I’ve made it back about once a decade. There were some pretty good vinyl shops in the Haight and environs on that last excursion; and I hope they’re still some left next time I go.
The single, “Downstairs” b/w “The Loop”, was recorded in Los Angeles, where Plas Johnson was already well-established as a first call session player, having relocated from the New Orleans area early in his career. You can look at his extremely impressive discographies by genre at his website to see how much of him you’ve probably heard without realizing it over the years. On “Downstairs”, the players are among a number of regulars who, with Plas, made plenty of LA recording dates in those days: Ray Johnson (Plas’ brother) or Ernie Freeman on piano, Red Callender on bass, Louisiana-born Rene Hall, Irving Ashby, or Bill Pittman on guitar, and New Orleans native, the mighty Earl Palmer on drums. Palmer’s beats are fat and prominent on this number; and you’ve got to love that breakdown he shares with Plas, whose playing is incredibly hip and fluid throughout.
This swingin’ rocker hits me like the theme song for some lost TV private detective series or grade B film-noire, inspiring pulp-fiction Fifties fantasies. The pop music production lines cranked out plenty of great sax instrumentals during the decade; and Plas Johnson was well in for his share. I count “Downstairs” as one of his best.
Note: The only CD comp containing "Downstairs" I could find is Hip To The Jive.