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ARISTOCRAT 1104; OCTOBER, 1948

 
 

 

One of the obvious benefits to looking back at rock history from a vantage point far in the future, yet covering it in meticulous detail as it evolved step by step, is we already know the eventual outcome to most of the issues at hand. That allows us to look for the reasons that led to those outcomes, something which may have gone completely unnoticed at the time when nobody involved knew what the future held.

But there are also times where that knowledge becomes potentially risky when it comes to properly putting these records into context as it can cause us to search so hard for explanations to questions which may not actually have a sensible answer.

That very well could be what’s shaping up with a few of the obviously talented artists whose commercial returns never seemed to match the quality of their output, such as Andrew Tibbs.

Despite his historical obscurity Tibbs was by no means a totally overlooked figure at the time. In the fall of 1948 he was riding high, especially in his hometown Chicago, as his debut from last winter Union Man Blues had spent eleven weeks on the Cash Box territorial charts taking them well into spring, while his follow up I Feel Like Crying would sell consistently all summer and fall, eventually making the national Billboard charts in early winter.

So if this project we’re doing here was contemporaneous rather than an historical retrospective we’d have a much different outlook for Tibbs’s future prospects, something that I tried conveying yesterday when I declared that based on various factors ranging from the quality of those records already released and the talents they’ve exhibited to the peripheral, but hardly extraneous, personal attributes he possessed, meant he should’ve been destined for superstardom.

But it’s not 1948 as this is being written, it’s 2017, and so because of that we know full well that stardom, let alone superstardom, wasn’t in the cards for him. In fact Tibbs’ peak was just about ending and truthfully even that peak wasn’t very high, at least commercially speaking.

Artistically though was another matter which is why much of the last review for Same Old Story was spent delving into the potential reasons why he failed to reach his career potential.

That makes for a rather tricky balance to maintain – treating the reviews as stand alone evaluations of the record in question while at the same time trying to project what should’ve happened all while knowing what actually DID happen.

What remains fairly evident though, whichever perspective you look at it from, then or now, is that Andrew Tibbs, a dashing teenager with a voice from the heavens, had the potential to rise to the top of the rock world, yet very shortly the upward career arc expected of him would find itself Going Down Fast.
 

When You Have To Walk Alone
The massed horns that lead things off are still far too old-fashioned, a drawback that continues to pull down otherwise good ideas yet one that seems stubbornly hard to shake just yet. But thankfully they take a more subdued role once Tibbs comes into the picture, as the horns just sort of lightly prance in the background during the verses.

The rest of the instruments aren’t going to help matters any, as they’re given little to do other than keep time and even then, aside from briefly emphatic drumming at the start, you barely know they’re around for the most part.

All of which leaves the fate of Going Down Fast up to Andrew Tibbs, which I suppose isn’t a bad person to cast a record’s lot with.

After making his presence known with two exultant shouts to announce his arrival Tibbs drops down in volume as his voice aches with despair and sets the tone to follow. The throbbing horns now add to rather than take away from the mood, giving it almost the sense of hearing stifled sobbing from the next room.

His voice is alternately breathy and soaring, worrying his lines in the best tradition of gospel at times, at others shifting down to convey the depths of his anguish before reaching into his highest range when he’s just too emotionally overcome to do anything but cry out to the heavens to vanquish the pain. It’s another textbook example of the range and skill he possesses, fully understanding just how each song needs to be delivered in order to connect emotionally with the listener.

But as good as he is the record is done in to a degree by the arrangement and once more there’s really nothing shocking about this. Rock still was busy shedding it’s earlier skin that was held over from the pre-rock era where trumpets and alto saxophones lightly swung rather than gloriously honked and squealed like the tenors and baritones were in the process of doing by now.

One was dainty and elegant and the other gritty and somewhat dirty. It’s not at all surprising that nobody involved, and by that I mean the record labels and the horn players themselves, quite understood that dirty wasn’t a sin, that in the right setting, and make no mistake about it rock ‘n’ roll was the perfect setting, it added immensely to the performance.

But here, as with so many other early rock sides, the old standards are still being clung to and it has the noticeable effect of sapping the vitality out of it. The rather unusually constructed solo, all the horns joining hands and passively traipsing along together, is sickeningly dreadful, clearly designed for another mindset entirely than the one Tibbs inhabits in the song.

Because it sounds so artificial we start to subliminally question the authenticity of everything else – the vocals, the sincerity of the lyrics, the commitment of the entire production and wonder if they think they’re about to put one over on us. If so we can’t possibly let that happen, not if we want to keep our card-carrying membership in the burgeoning rock fan club from lapsing, so we wind up dismissing the entire thing, which may just be what happened to this when it was released.
 

You Can’t Hardly Last
That’s not fair of course either. We can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and Tibbs is brilliant in his role, yet once again he’s let down by those he’s counting on for support and so the resulting fallout from their shortcomings will land hardest on him.

Tom Archia, who’s shown he was more than capable of rocking out when needed, won’t, or can’t, reign in the rest of the brass section which has the unfortunate consequence of undercutting much of the song’s power. That this was written by Sax Mallard, one of the horn players, means he was most likely in charge of the arrangement and his choices in that regard are poor. They’re playing mild and discreet when what it calls for is to aurally express the ravaged mindset of the singer.

Just one moaning sax solo, a spiraling note of despondency heard wafting through the night air at 3AM as Tibbs bemoans his fate, would tie this all together perfectly, conveying a sense of utter desperation that would get the listener to ache along with him.

That was the role of session musicians after all, to compliment the artist by delivering something distinctive which aided the overall impression he was striving to make. But here the dichotomy between Tibbs and the band is so great it hinders the effectiveness of the entire production to a degree. The horns merely settle for something designed to mimic a sad tone without investing any genuine feeling in their performance.

In the rock field where artists were only now beginning to discover for themselves that the fatal flaw in connecting with an audience was being too restrained, that it was far better to go down swinging by ramping up the emotional content, whether elation or despair, than to be accused of blandness, and the lack of that necessary element among the musicians on Going Down Fast – where Tibbs lays his soul bare with his vocal delivery – makes this sin all the more noticeable.
 

 

You Told Me That You Loved Me
An artist’s window of opportunity to carve out a national reputation was always a relatively limited one owing to many things from the musical landscape they best fit in to having a shared perspective with an audience that in time would be replaced by a new audience with new perspectives which didn’t suit you quite as well.

It also had to do with that always difficult to harness thing called “momentum”.

The enthusiasm, inspiration and originality any artist brings to the table is likely to be strongest at the start of their career, the period where they feel they can take on the world and are too naïve to know just how difficult their dreams really are to achieve.

They ride that optimism and determination for all its worth though and in time they begin to add experience to the mix and with it the final piece of the puzzle falls into place, giving them know-how to see that their creative ideas become a reality.

But the bridge between those two points of their careers almost always has to be a level of verifiable success, something to keep them heading in the right direction at a steady clip, feeling confident of each ensuing move.

Without that they have a tendency to become indecisive heading forward, no longer sure of themselves leading to them, or their record label, making reactive decisions that are focused more on changing direction to correct perceived missteps, their goal now on reversing their fortune rather than pursuing their vision.

That’s the fate that befalls most artists in history, even most talented ones. The legends, the ones we remember and celebrate decades later, hit all three stages with amazing precision in most cases and their career arcs reflect this. The early ambitions are easily seen in their first offerings and with their first successes they become bolder in their aspirations. What follows is usually their creative highpoints, a rapid advancement in creativity as well as output. They become so full of ideas that need an outlet they practically live in the studio and are writing and imagining new possibilities every waking moment. No idea is too audacious to try it seems and their cockiness alone often gives them the ability to focus and harness those ideas to make them work.
 

Yes, You Told Me But That’s A Lie
But the ones who DON’T become immortal, who oftentimes are barely even remembered, likely started off with the exact same ambitions. Yes, talent will always be the ultimate factor in fulfilling those ambitions, but hardly the only one.

As we’ll see over the years here plenty of artists who’ve been barely remembered also had talent to spare and yet before they could get to that third stage where everything coalesced they suddenly, sometimes inexplicably, fell out of favor – with the public, with the record label and ultimately with themselves, as failure and missed opportunities have a way of corroding the soul.

Tibbs was approaching that second stage as we speak and his ultimate fate would be largely determined by finding that success in this tenuous period which would provide him with the subsequent opportunity, freedom and overriding confidence to see his most creative ideas through to fruition. His ability was evident, his goals were suitably lofty but within reach. Yet now, just as he appeared to be reaching them he stumbled, or Aristocrat Records stumbled, or the public stumbled and missed something they should’ve gravitated towards, and once that momentum slipped away he was never the same because his perspective was never the same.

The kid with unlimited potential was suddenly at risk for becoming the kid with unfulfilled potential. A can’t miss prospect whose releases had been met with increasingly stronger returns became someone who missed with one release and eventually another and another. When that happened the assuredness of his direction began to dissipate, the artistic decisions may have been increasingly taken from him, or at least questioned by others, the priorities of the label shifted when Leonard Chess, ironically the one who’d brought Tibbs to the company as a way of getting his own foot in the door, took over completely by the next spring and Tibbs saw his position as the shining light at Aristocrat usurped by Muddy Waters and others who had more recent success.

It all happens in a blink of the eye.
 

Life’s A Lonesome Old Road
Despite its quality Going Down Fast failed to connect to the same degree that his two earlier successes had and with it Tibbs faced his first real hurdle of his career.

His momentum had stalled and while it didn’t stop completely by any means he was now seeing others in rock gaining momentum and so instead of setting the pace going forward, of establishing the ground rules others would need to play by to compete with him, he was now the one forced to scramble in order to just keep up.

On the surface it hardly seems fair… Sudden fame, sudden downturns, higher expectations and greater disappointments when they’re not met, all taking place at a rapid pace amidst a barely professional environment at Aristocrat Records whose own participants were struggling mightily to get their feet under them, each of them trying to reach an audience which itself was young, impatient and totally unpredictable. Yet everyone in rock ‘n’ roll faced the same cold hard reality which was you could be on top of the world one minute and then a moment later it could all be gone.

Heady stuff for a 19 year old to come to grips with.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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