June 12, 2006

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.


Blogger J Epstein said...

It was 2:30 AM, and I was riding shotgun on a reefer run down Sunset. The top was all the way down on the Camaro and halfway on the blonde driving one-handed.

A couple of cans rattled in the back seat. "Benny? Is that you?" I shouted over wind noise and the loser's lounge jazz on the radio.

As if to answer, Benny sat up and puked over the side, his hair matted with sweat, beer, or I-didn't-want-to-know-what.

"That was a Plas Johnson platter called "Downstairs," cooed the night jock. "Pick it up at Tower today."

I didn't know which day she was talking about.


5:57 PM, June 16, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Yeah, J. You kind of spilt the difference between the 50's and 60's fantasies - but you got it.

8:09 PM, June 16, 2006  
Blogger J Epstein said...

Been listening to a little bit of Earl Bostic lately, for much the same reasons.

This track fits in just fine.



6:00 PM, June 17, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Earl's version of "Harlem Nocturne" is a personal fave o' mine.

11:19 PM, June 17, 2006  
Blogger John Paul said...

Dan, I got here after googling up sunbeam Mitchell. I was looking for something historical bout the oldtimers I played with. Seems all roads lead to New Orleans huh ? Now I'll try to read those funny letters or I won't be able to post. Why That ?

10:38 PM, June 18, 2006  
Blogger John Paul said...

Dan I have lots of music and could upload you something if i got

10:42 PM, June 18, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

JP, the 'funny letters' prevent automated spam programs from posting ads in blog comments. It got to be such a problem that Blogger gave us the 'word verification' option. It works - so far, no mo' spam. But, it is one more step to go through to comment. So it goes....

And, thanks for the offer, but I've got more than enough music to post. What I need is TIME! Never enough of dat.

12:22 AM, June 19, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i saw plas at the ponderosa stomp in '05 in nola. i found the capitol singles lp that day at a french quarter lp shop and asked him to sign it which he gladly did.he then asked if i had another because he didn't have one!!

10:12 AM, June 22, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

It's amazing how many older artists don't have copies of their earlier music. I think it would be the decent thing to do for any commercial compiler/re-issue label to make every attempt to contact the artist(s) and send the re-issue(s) to them.

11:44 AM, June 22, 2006  
Blogger jazzfan360 said...

Stumbled in here while searching for info about the song after hearing it on Youtube. Man...this tune is MAJOR. Thanks for the info!

11:55 AM, January 27, 2009  

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