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PEACOCK 1597; MAY 1952



This is the last side of Andrew Tibbs we’ll come across for another four years… which may very well take longer than that to get to depending on our pace around here.

For most this won’t seem like that big of a loss. It’s not as if Tibbs has been a steady presence on the scene at any point in the 1950’s and while he was one of rock’s most talented artists of the late 1940’s, we’ve left so many of those stylistic traits in the rearview mirror that it seems like another musical lifetime ago.

But whether you were a devoted fan or someone who barely had a passing acquaintance with his records, it’s never a good thing to see such a great voice silenced before his time should be up.

Though Andrew Tibbs will go to a long life ahead of him, his musical life is just about over with this side which appropriately is one filled with pain and remorse.


I Caught That Freight Train
Way back in 1947, 18 year old Andrew Tibbs started his professional music journey with the help of his mother. The one side of his debut, Union Man Blues, stirred some local action in Chicago and had been co-written with his mom.

Now, just five years later, she is ostensibly the subject of his last real shot at glory on Mother’s Letter, a song that Tibbs wrote, as he did many of his best sides, which seems based on the limited information we have and a good deal of speculation to be based at least in part on real life.

Tibbs, you surely remember, was born Melvin Andrew Greyson, the son of a Chicago minister and when he went into music professionally used his middle name and took the surname Tibbs as a way to not bring shame on his pious father by singing something as tawdry as rock ‘n’ roll. Obviously his mother wasn’t as concerned with that if she helped aid and abet his career at its start.

On this he sings about her sudden passing and his father sending for him to return home for her funeral and while we don’t know if this was something that had already happened to him, it does give us one last chance for quite awhile to hear Tibbs’ sterling voice on an original composition that may have meant more to him than we’ll ever know.

That’s The One I Love
Andrew Tibbs was always at his best on ballads… they allowed his supple tenor voice with its dramatic phrasing and subtle gospel techniques to be presented in all their glory while giving him the ability to convey both introspection and emotion, two things often seen as being at odds with one another in many songs.

Maybe that’s one – of many – reasons why he hasn’t been widely praised in the years since. Ballads, especially with stark instrumentation from the early rock years, don’t tend to stir excitement in listeners the same way a rollicking utempo cut does with horns blasting, guitars slashing and singers shouting all over the place.

But when broken down and examined for the quality of their parts we find Tibbs was just as good at his specialty as the more acclaimed rockers were at theirs. Horses for courses and all that.

On Mother’s Letter the structure of the song is ideally suited to Tibbs’s strengths as an artist. He drags out each line as if it pains him to say them aloud… he looks inward at every turn to contemplate the ramifications of the events emotionally and he gives himself over to the remorse the song calls for in its message until he’s practically wrung himself dry.

The tune is a little bluesier than most of his sides however, though this is likely more noticeable because of the muted guitar that answers Tibbs since certain segments of rock’s ever-changing stylistic palette hadn’t caught up to the changes found in other types of rock and modified their arrangements accordingly. As a result for the time being the solo male vocalist singing about non-romantic heartache hadn’t yet hit upon a way to bring the sound more up to date as they would in a few years time.

But in spite of this Tibbs is effective throughout the record, projecting real vulnerability which adds a lot to the story which has him about to return home after receiving a letter telling him his mother has passed away. The details are a little murky, but the emotion as he gets home and “falls down on my knees” is powerful stuff, crying out in pain over the loss.

You can’t help but read more into it than he gives you, at least if you know Tibbs’s story, but regardless of what was real and what was simply acting, the projection here is first rate and shows that he still had the ability to move you with that voice.

The band on this side, Cherokee Conyer’s group, is much better suited for the material than on Rock Savoy, Rock where they weren’t quite up to the task of rocking hard. This is definitely not the typical arrangement however as the intertwining horns in the break is… umm… “interesting” to say the least, but their work behind Tibbs vocals packs enough of a punch to keep this on course.

While it may not have the makings of a hit record, it’s nice to hear that Tibbs himself hadn’t lost his fastball as a singer.


Come On Home
Over the course of tracking rock’s first five and a half years you tend to get used to seeing artists who were a steady and welcome presence on the scene fade away but because there are so many others taking their places we tend only to make note of it when we realize that a particular release is their last single, or in the case of Andrew Tibbs when we’ll see him just once more in the next dozen years.

Then inevitably we think back to his better records, some featuring breathtaking vocals, and we stop to wonder how someone that talented could fail to find sustained success in music.

It’s not always fair, it’s not always logical, but it’s also not supposed to be. Sometimes an artist catches all the breaks and still fails to make an impact and other times they seem to be cursed with bad luck and yet somehow find an audience that keeps them afloat. Life is funny that way.

Andrew Tibbs leaves behind an underrated legacy of which Mother’s Letter may only be a small part of, but it’s an emblematic one, showcasing the gospel influence in rock vocals and the emotional investment in a song’s story that he helped pioneer in rock ‘n’ roll.

The good news is that unlike his mother in the story, we weren’t losing Andrew Tibbs the person, he’d live until 1991, but since this is the only way in which we ever got to know him and we’ll be saying goodbye to him as an artist for awhile it makes parting sweet sorrow. He deserved far better.


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