Clyde Bernhardt – Blowing My Top (1971)

“Going down to my butcher and ask him for some fat
going to bake it ‘til its crispy—it sure is good like that.”

clyde5

My search for more from this singer began with the amazing “Cracklin’ Bread” on a quasi-legal CD of obscure jump blues. It was credited to ‘Ed Barron and Orchestra’ and gleefully celebrated the challenges of throwing a house party on a budget. This was effectively the pre-internet days but eventually I found mention of a ‘Clyde Bernhardt’ playing the same tune. It took longer to sort out than it probably should have, but turned out to be one of those cases of a pseudonym being used for contractual purposes. I was pleased to find a collection of Ed/Clyde covering the years 1948-68 (though his career as a sideman began twenty years before this), but was not anticipating it to live up to the deliciousness of “Cracklin’ Bread”…

“Baby Tell Me” gets things off to a rollicking start with the familiar pleading of a man for his wayward woman to stop her “carrying-on.” I’m sure this and its flip “Jail House Blues” kept many a jukebox a-lit in 1948. Next we get the half dozen recordings from ‘Ed Barron’ (apparently two of Clyde’s middle names) in the early 50s. It’s a pretty unimpeachable run, characterized by smooth electric guitar and some mean tenor sax solos—curiously, while the bandleader may be playing some trombone on these, he never commands the spotlight. “Cracklin’ Bread” is the corker, and the high cost of living is not about to get in the way of a great party. The band chants at the start what’s on the dream menu—”candied yams” and “Virginia ham”—but the unflappable Ed cheerfully brings them down to earth with “we won’t be serving that.” I can’t say every dish sounds appetizing, but the song delivers on making the most with very little. “Blowing My Top” is about when the party gets the best of you (“drinking champagne, gin and wine; drinking everything in the alcohol line”) and approaches the good time energy of “Cracklin’ Bread.” Recording under another name is one thing, but calling a tune the “Barron Boogie” is really committing to the ruse. There are other encounters with alluring women like “Daisy Mae” and “Miss Bertha” and some no-good ones like in “It’s Been a Long Time Baby”—probably my second favorite side, featuring the meatiest of the honkin’ sax solos here from Sam ‘The Man’ Taylor.

Looking at the recording dates, I was little concerned about more than half the tunes being from 1968, imagining a Clyde past his prime, but I was really surprised by these, which capture the best after-hours vibe one could hope for (and if that’s what it takes to get a trombone solo from him…). The band cooks on an unrehearsed run through of Duke’s “Perdido”—with Monk’s drummer from the early-60s, Frankie Dunlop, who was apparently a cousin of Clyde’s. Side two is all from another informal 1968 session, with a small band and Clyde as the only horn. We even get an “After Hours Blues” with the old man astoundingly at ease with the required vocal calisthenics. “You Excite Me” is almost rock n’ roll, and not just because of the electric bass (you can’t always choose your pickup bands, and an upright bass would certainly have been preferred for a combo like this). Not sure who put him up to the then-current “Ode To Billy Joe” but Clyde dutifully gets through every damn word, which leaves no time for soloing by him or anyone else, but his tone is so warm and pleasing I’d listen to him sing 5 verses of anything. “The Saints” on the other hand is a dead horse that Clyde can play fast and loose with. Hardly essential, but an amicable way of wrapping things up.

These deep dives always lead me somewhere unexpected—like impulsively dropping $8 for Clyde’s as-told-to autobiography from 1986, the year of his death. He had a storied but largely unheralded career—from his early days with King Oliver to leading a rejected Charlie Parker session in 1945 (now of course at our fingertips and available to hear within seconds)—soon all will be revealed about this mystery man.

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