It’s among life’s little ironies that some of us are lucky enough to cross paths with individuals whom we see as regular-ol’-people-like-us, only to discover that under their unassuming exterior, they’re quite remarkable or noteworthy. That happened with the team at Wick/Daptone; they had long been working with mastering engineer John Golden when they stumbled upon some of his earliest work.
Now, when Wick’s Mikey Post met Golden, the latter was already well known as a mastering engineer par excellent. His skills have been applied to recordings by everyone from Black Flag to The Fifth Dimension. But as Post explains in an introductory essay printed on the inner sleeve of this new LP, as Johnny Golden, the young Ohio musician had made recordings with his band Johnny’s Uncalled Four. And while these previously unheard tapes don’t qualify as the legendary great lost rock album, they are an authentic and engaging slice of what Post succinctly calls “post-Elvis/pre-British Invasion, unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll.”
The Uncalled four were at their best when digging into twangy instrumentals like Duane Eddy’s “Moving ‘n’ Groovin.” With Golden on lead guitar – and with stellar production values – the quarter ripped it up. Cut juat months before the Beatles stormed our shores, the band traded very much in that particular style of the era. The band was solid, but Golden was the chief talent, singing lead on tunes like a cover of Buddy Holly’s “Maybe Baby” and then – with seeming effortlessness – shifting to lead guitar, then back to vocals.
Singer, guitarist…songwriter. Johnny Golden composed a number of tunes in those days, and while “Why Do I Wonder?” is pretty standard stuff, there’s a guilelessness about the tune s that makes them a delightful retro trip. “Daydream” is a stock instrumental a la “Sleepwalk,” but it too is nice in its own way, especially seeing as it’s the product of efforts by youngsters. The stomping “Please Say,” on the other hand, is a nice slab of proto-garage. The lyrics are a bit on the tame side, but the arrangement has a whiff of teenage snarling petulance that makes it a winner.
I’m mentioning it now so as not to end the review with a discussion of it: A cover of Gershwin’s Summertime” is a bit listless, but then that quality isn’t miles away from the feel the song’s supposed to have. Unfortunately, it’s easily the weakest (in fact, only weak) cut on the whole LP, and a dubious way in which to conclude a delightful album.
So let’s back up and dig in: A reading of the DC5’s “Glad all Over” is pretty ace, and doesn’t shamelessly ape the original. Link Wray’s “Jack the Ripper” is delivered in manic style. A twangy, Shadows-styled take on “House of the Rising Sun” works surprisingly well. A swooning cover of Johnny Otis’ “Every Beat of My Heart” would have been a necessary slow-dance number in the Uncalled Four’s live set. Golden’s original “Exhibit A” has a Del Shannon flavor and features some highly accomplished lead guitar work.
Nailing it on 13 out of 14 tracks is a high standard for any artist, and doing it as a bunch of kids in pre-Beatles America (and then releasing it to a discerning 2023 audience) is a supreme achievement.