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On paper Andrew Tibbs had the potential to be one of rock’s first superstars. Gospel-trained, blues educated, backed by jazz professionals who were capable of cutting loose in a more unhinged style, he seemed to have all the requisite musical attributes to score hits at will.

He was also young, good-looking and had already proven to be a strong writer his first time out with both Union Man Blues and its flip side, rock’s first protest record, Bilbo Is Dead. Though the latter suffered from the realities of the day in which a black artist had to cloak the community’s true joy over of the demise of a racist Senator by using a faux maudlin approach so as not to upset the powers-that-be in an America struggling to regard all human beings equally, his intent was unassailable. Both it and “Union Man” were solid efforts and exceedingly well-sung with understated power and command.

So with the notoriety gotten from his debut still fresh in the public’s mind expectations were high to follow it up with something even more impressive and to take the next step to joining his admitted role model Roy Brown at the forefront of rock ‘n’ roll as we headed into 1948.

Instead he took a huge step backwards.

Makes You Feel This Way
Like Tibbs himself the components of this record looked good on paper but that’s where it should’ve stayed because this is one script that needs not only a re-write, but new casting choices, a different director and yeah, definitely a new title.

Though this record credited to Tibbs as its writer the song was actually done first a year earlier on the Melodisc label as “Ink Splink” by Buddy Banks, a saxophonist from L.A. who was doing the kind of uptempo material that bridged the gap between jazz and the early foundations of rock ‘n’ roll, though in his case leaning back more than looking forward.

That “Ink Splink” was sung by Marion Abernathy in a remorseful tone as she drowns away her sorrows over the loss of a man, and its lyrics reflect that mindset. Tibbs uses the same basic framework, almost an identical chorus, but his is more exuberant with different lyrics in the verses to highlight his more upbeat outlook. Inspiration or plagiarism, the songs are in the very least close cousins if not siblings and so while its originality is in serious question, its intent was different and thus the responsibility for its specific content falls back on Tibbs, though in this case the band who took the underaged kid out to the bar sure aren’t helping matters.

Once more we’re back to critiquing the horn section for a song’s failure to launch and again, as with the songs that made up Tibbs’ first release, we’re inexplicably deprived of Tom Archia, who though at the session sits things out for the entire day. Instead on Drinkin’ Ink Splink the sax is played by Dave Young, a more traditional jazz player who was not nearly as rambunctious in his approach as was required to properly sell this sort of song.

Young’s playing on the intro is far too jazzy to convey any wild shenanigans going on at the club Tibbs is describing. It’s full of musical curlicues rather than raunchy and sweaty honking and while not nearly as laid back as Banks had been, Young’s skill set is still much closer to their point of view than Tibbs and rock ‘n’ roll, which means most thirsty patrons would bypass this pub’s door if they heard this wafting out in the night.

But here they are all the same, undercutting the vibrant mood Tibbs strong voice is trying to get across. They’re the musical equivalent of being “slightly toasted” as opposed to “stinking drunk”. By the first break, at which point they should all be well over the legal limit, they’re only just getting a buzz on and even then it’s with watered down liquor. Worse yet is the fact the solo goes on FAR too long and yet sounds almost like someone who’s been drinking Shirley Temples all night pretending to be gassed to try and convince their compatriots that they’ve been downing the real thing right along with them, but unless you’re Dean Martin that’s a much harder gimmick to pull off than you think and it just doesn’t work here. The horns are a detriment at best, a millstone at worst.

But they’re hardly the worst component of this arrangement as long as the piano is being mic’ed, for the dainty playing of Rudy Martin drags this whole affair down every time he’s heard, which is far too often. Both of Martin’s hands seem to be made of delicate porcelain as they tinkle away when what is desperately needed is a left hand of concrete to give this song some gravity.

Maybe this was the last straw as Martin was replaced within the month in Young’s group, but that does little to console Tibbs who was forced to suffer for Martin’s lack of urgency. Since the drums are barely audible for much of the song and the bass of course is still acoustic and only plunking out a basic rhythm, the piano has to pick up the slack on the bottom end and he fails miserably. Thus we have two strikes on the first two pitches and poor Tibbs is already in the hole before he even opens his mouth.

Standing On The Corner
When he steps in he shows he still has it in him to possibly make up for all of that and then some. His voice – as always – is supple, expressive and possesses the perfect tone for the job at hand. It’s a voice you WANT to hear, especially singing about such a promising topic, but that’s where Drinking Ink Splink strikes out without taking the bat off his shoulder because the juicy topic barely is delved into with anything resembling lyrical competence. To wit:

Sittin at the bar both night and day
Sippin and toasted feeling mighty gay
Drinkin’ ink splink

You get the distinct impression that nobody involved ever had any actual experience with the hard stuff, be it music OR drinking (to that end, keep in mind that Tibbs was just 18 at this point and his father was a prominent preacher around Chicago who probably frowned upon such debauchery, so perhaps that WAS the case if Tibbs did in fact write it without first sampling the goods for himself to understand what a night of serious drinking with your pals could do to you).

Whoever wants credit – or blame – for this job it’s fair to say the lyrics are trite and the descriptions are as shallow as a shot glass filled with nothing more than the lukewarm water of the dishwashing suds at the end of the night. The call and response effect, which can be many a song’s salvation, here just waters things down even more, as those voices aren’t in Tibbs league and only detract even more from his presence. He’s given so little to work with, then so little to do with what’s left for him, that he’s almost an afterthought on his own record.


Left Me In An Empty Bed
By now Tibbs has to be looking around the tavern and wondering what kind of an excuse for a drinking establishment this place is. The bartender looks like he should be pouring strawberry sodas at the drug store, the patrons are sipping tentatively from their glasses rather than knocking them back and the only ones passed out on the barroom floor are the audience from boredom. Tibbs tries to inject a little life into the place but he’s hardly given the chance as each time he opens his mouth for another belt he gets seltzer water squirted down his gullet by the intrusive horns after each refrain.

The best instrumental break coming about halfway through just means that somebody woke the drummer up who obviously didn’t expected to be roused and so he accidently knocked over the kit, which in turn startled the horns into a more frantic, albeit slightly confused, riff of their own. It works itself into as much of a frenzy as they’re capable of but it’s like a teetotaler after one Screwdriver, they think they’re a lot more wasted than they really are and act like a total fool. It’s more entertaining than their earlier squawking for sure but that’s hardly saying much.

At this point everyone involved, the listener foremost among them, knows full well the drinks aren’t potent, the mild buzz is wearing off and the bar bill is shaping up to be outrageous for the swill they were served. Good thing Yelp didn’t exist in 1948, otherwise this establishment would’ve been shut down quick once the patrons spread the word to keep away from this dive.

Tibbs gives it one more shot to pull this out and tries launching himself into the coda like a drunk diving after his last half dollar as it falls from his hand and careens towards an open storm drain in the gutter, but the way this is going we know how it’s going to wind up… with Tibbs probably getting his hand stuck in the grates and the band’s car being towed for parking illegally.

I’d tell you that I’ve run out of descriptive drinking adjectives and analogies so we can get to the end of the review but really I’ve just run out of interest. Some nights when your friends ask you to go out for a few you really need to just stay home and get your rest and this is definitely one of those nights.

Despite all of this I STILL think Andrew Tibbs is one of the better vocalists we’ve come across so far in terms of both his stellar voice itself and his ability to use it. Even here he’s not the problem at all, but on Drinking Ink Splink it’s a case of a singer far outdistancing his material and his band.

He deserves much better and hopefully will get the chance to prove it or else risk fading into oblivion.



(Visit the Artist page of Andrew Tibbs for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)