A name like Doc Bagby has the ring of an insider and the keyboardist who is sometimes credited as the less-distinctive sounding Hank Bagby was the perfect studio insider, the session man's session man. A detailed account of his comings and goings would eventually have the dramatic impact of an elevator inspection certificate, but rock & roll would have never made it to the top floor creatively without him. He was the type of superb session player who makes early rock & roll and rhythm & blues oddities such a delight and he also had strong roots in country blues, even playing on some of the best records of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. If the subject is recording any of this type of genre material in New York City in the '60s, Gotham studios would have been one of the doors opening, with the imposing figure of Bagby no doubt standing behind it. In 1964, he was regularly at this 46th Street recording facility with accompanying players such as guitarist Larry Lucie and the fine bassist Doles Dickens. Bagby was cutting in the same studios where store owner Sam Goody had produced legendary sessions in the '40s before opening his department stores, an era when Bagby himself was still in his native Philadelphia, but had also already begun his involvement with Gotham. He started with the label as a piano accompanist at sessions, but by the spring of 1949 was listed as musical adviser to label owner Ivin Ballen at Billboard magazine. The real meaning was he was also working as a talent scout and A&R man, as well as the guy scribbling down chord changes while the reels of tape were being changed. Bassist Dickens was a partner back then as well, gigging and recording as a member of Doc Bagby's Orchestra. This group often backed up rhythm & blues recording artists such as Thelma Cooper and Steve Clayton. A standout Gotham session with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee in 1954 resulted in titles such as the engaging "Baby Let's Have Some Fun," the timely "Four O'Clock Blues," and a disturbing "Harmonica Rumble." The following year might have been considered to be fraught with "bad vibes," had this been the '60s. Bagby's boss Ballen had doolah problems and had to unload the company's prize pressing plants, while Bagby himself got in a legal tussle with Bill Haley over the hit "Rock Around the Clock," claiming authorship. Grown men fighting over lyrics that come from nursery rhymes was a sad state of affairs, but it's only rock & roll. While never matching Haley's popularity in the record bins, Bagby himself has a discography that would curl a hipster's hair, earning himself a place on exotica websites thanks to his appearances on groovy organ records such as the tasty 1957 "Dumplin's" or the 1959 "Doctor Rock." Other record collectors swear by the Doc Bagby Trio's 1953 single of "I Surrender Dear" coupled with " When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" on the Gotham label, of course, available in red vinyl, naturally, while jazz fans will want his sides with Eddie Davis on Bethlehem.
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