Friday, May 19, 2006:

The Roots Canal: I Surrender! I Surrender!

Calvin Boze -- Safronia B
One of the all-time great songs. The ultimate one-hit wonder of the early R&B era. Think Louie, Louie. Dirty Water. But with class. Lots and lots and lots of class.

Calvin Boze was a Louis Jordan wannabe of the late 40s/early 50s who somehow put it all together for one near-perfect song. Only near-perfect, because of the really, really silly falsetto refrain of "I surrender! I surrender!" that makes you laugh out loud with incredulity when you hear it for the first time. Then you listen over and over again, because you love the rest of the song so much and you almost convince yourself it's not actually stupid but really kind of cool and fits in the context of the times and you write it off to the esthetics of another era when people weren't as, well, sophisticated as they are now so they might have thought it was cool then, too. But no, you finally realize it must have sounded just as stupid then as it does now, and you're just going to have to overlook it because the rest of the song is perhaps the greatest single exemplar of that jumpin' moment when jazz met blues met boogie-woogie met gospel and they all had a bastard daughter who grew up to be rock'n'roll. Like that famous photo of the sailor kissing a girl in Times Square to celebrate the end of World War II. A fading snapshot of ephemera.

Calvin Boze was an unlikely conduit for such a magical moment. He was a journeyman trumpeter from Houston (his high school band included Illinois and Russell Jacquet and Arnett Cobb, and his college band included Charles Brown), who was part of the LA scene that produced so much great R&B. He recorded a few songs under his own name in 1945, but really flowered in a three-year period from 1949-1952. Safronia B was his only big hit, in 1950, although he had a few other memorable songs. He did a version of Lawdy Miss Clawdy a year before Lloyd Price, and also a great song called Looped in 1952 that immediately spawned several covers. And that was it. He was pretty much never heard from again. Safronia B was re-released a few years later but was already too "old-fashioned" for the teenagers who had taken over rock'n'roll.

[The Complete Recordings, 1945 - 1952]
Calvin Boze served a tour of duty in the US army in the special services during world war II. He lived out his life with his wife and four children in Los Angeles. He continued to play music at jam sessions around L.A. and played awhile in the Jeep Smith band. His old band teacher, Percy Mc David from Prearie View College, who also taught Charles Brown, Illinois Jacquet, etc remained fast friends. Like many black musicians of his era he was unable to make a living with his first love-music. He became a social worker and a public school teacher. He was an intelligent, thoughtful, and honorable man. Plagued by ill health, he died and early death at the age of 53 in 1970.

Thanks, Pouchy. It sounds like you knew him. This whole era of music is as forgotten as the musicians who made it. Thanks for the comment! Much appreciated.

Good to read some info on Mr Boze, I recently discovered him and would like to say that Safronia B is the #1 tune in my house at the moment. Also listen to his working with my baby, all to be found on the complete recordings on Blue Moon CD

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