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Of the hundred thirty or so reviews thus far there have been 25 solo male singers featured. The peaks attained by the likes of Roy Brown, Wynonie Harris and most recently Amos Milburn would indicate, with alarming accuracy, which of them would wind up leaving the biggest impact on rock history. Someone like Cousin Joe who joins them with high marks has his absence from the roll call of immortals more easily explained, due to his more advanced age when rock began (nearly 40) as well as the fact he was so versatile stylistically that rock was just one small part of his repertoire.

But without knowing what the future held for any of these men, if I were around back then and laying bets on which artist would wind up as the greatest from among these and all other candidates I am pretty certain that I’d have chosen Andrew Tibbs to outshine them all in the long run.

And of course I’d have been completely wrong.

But I still insist it’d have been the smartest choice, even if you also threw in all of the rest of the rock brigade – sax honkers, vocal groups and the ladies – as well.

Tell Me What You’re Putting Down
It’d be hard to bet against Brown and Milburn, two who did in fact go on to be the cream of the early crop of rockers. Harris, who would join them in that rarefied air, would be easier to discount at this point due to the fact he was older, far less versatile and following his undisputed earth shattering platter – Good Rockin’ Tonight – the previous winter, he’d been vastly underperforming ever since. But although he generally requires a certain type of song to best utilize his unique strengths when he does Harris breathes fire and that’s never wise to bet against.

But when assessing their credentials, while Milburn and Brown had the versatility, uniqueness and composing skills to make them the best bets to continue their success and the youth to have plenty of time to add to that, Andrew Tibbs may just have had them beat in some of those regards.

To start with Tibbs was youngest of the three and possessed a voice that while not quite as dynamic as Brown, had plenty of understated power, control and a vibrant tone to make him Roy’s closest competitor. Yet at the same time he had mastered the emotional nuances that Milburn had shown such an affinity for already, giving him the versatility to compete with him as well. Though not quite the songwriter as either of them he’d nevertheless shown with his sides thus far that he was more than capable of turning out varied compositions on his own without being reliant on outside source material. Oh yeah, he was working out of Chicago, which at the time was the second largest city in America with a huge black populace to help propel him to fame thanks to local performances, AND of the three he was the one with the closest to matinee idol looks that would draw in the women.

After writing all of that and seeing it in print I’m inclined to double down on my bet, sure that somehow history got it wrong and I’ll wake up tomorrow to find Andrew Tibbs was rock’s first unquestioned superstar after all.

But of course it wasn’t to be and I’ll be damned if I know why.

Sounds So Much Like Mine
The first twenty seconds of Same Old Story may start my reconsideration, as Christine Chatman’s piano intro sounds like you wandered in on some stuffy high class hotel cocktail lounge and not a rock ‘n’ roll session featuring a good band (Tom Archia’s rugged crew returning to the fold) and the young hot-shot singer we just got done crowing about.

But then Tibbs opens his mouth and all doubts as to just what we’re hearing disappear as he once again stakes his claim as a front-runner in the rock sweepstakes. Cutting through the dreadful acoustics that were fast becoming an unfortunate Aristocrat trademark Tibbs’ voice soars with effortless power, reminiscent of Roy Brown, sure, but with tighter control and restraint, especially in his lower mid-register. The two are inexorably tied stylistically, and of course we know which one went on to lasting fame while the one we’re focused on now was destined for also-ran status historically, but listening to Tibbs sing with such command you can’t help but wonder what failed connect consistently with audiences while Brown was hot as a firecracker in much the same styled approach at the exact same time.

Therefore, knowing the eventual outcome, you’d think it probably comes down to material and that the one with the better tunes will win out in the end. But thus far that’s not the case and certainly isn’t here as Same Old Story has all of the requisite components to make it click.

The storyline is right up his alley – bemoaning the tangled mess of love gone wrong. It could use an extra verse to expand the particulars of the plot rather than rehash it a second time, but overall the concept is solid. The instrumental support is okay following a too mannered horn chart early on, as Archia steps in with a rough and tumble sax solo. Best of all is Tibbs’ enthusiasm, specifically at the 2/3rds mark when he urges the musicians on by clapping a rhythmic accompaniment of his own while shouting “Go! Go! Go!”… not just leading into the break as might otherwise be expected, but keeping it up with zealous passion throughout the entire affair.

When he returns to singing he eases back on the energy, dropping down in tone which draws you in closer before soaring on the final notes in an ending that is the equal in concept to anything we’ve seen thus far, when oftentimes even the best songs seem at a loss for how to wrap things up.

Tibbs’ powerful performance drives this song home, bringing to it an authenticity that wins you over. He delivers it all with an effortless panache, knowing he’s got the song in his hip-pocket from the moment he steps to the microphone, confident without being cocky.

So what went wrong? How did such an exciting talent, a kid from a good family who had a head on his shoulders to boot, and in possession of all of the ancillary attributes besides his voice to further guarantee his success, fail to fulfill his promise?

Why wasn’t Andrew Tibbs a star, let alone an immortal?

Gonna Leave You Baby
For once I’m inclined to blame the record company as much as anyone or anything other than chalking it up to merely the fickleness of the public… or of fate.

Aristocrat, soon to be Chess Records, is almost unassailable in historical achievement but they clearly dropped the ball on Tibbs, even though it was he who was the means with which Leonard and Phil Chess themselves got into the record business in the first place. At this point they weren’t in charge (though Leonard was already heavily involved), but everybody with the company seemed to be utterly clueless as to how to make records.

To start with Same Old Story might be the worst sounding master we’ve reviewed to date. What I alluded to in the musical segment of the review only touches upon its problems. The sound is so distant and scratchy that making out Tibbs’s lyrics at times becomes an exercise in lip reading by a blind man. You’re left groping for lines, wondering what the specific circumstances of the plot are in between the words you can pick up. It’s like listening to a faraway conversation in crowded restaurant while roadwork is going on right outside the open window. Whoever was cutting this at Universal Recording Studios must’ve been pulled out of the drunk tank at the local jail and given the job as a public service.

The hazy aural shroud that envelops this drags it down considerably, making listening more of an agonizing chore than enjoyable, despite Tibbs’s stellar performance. Maybe we can pass this off as a modern inconvenience because his work hasn’t been properly collected in the digital age which presumably would scrub the grime from the tracks, but even the handful that were issued on multi-artist sets don’t sound very clean so it’s a good bet the original masters at the time weren’t much better.

Even if the original release in 1948 had no surface noise issues they can still be faulted for adding to the problem as the drums and piano are mic’ed too hot and the vocals are too low which makes following along to Tibbs’s voice that much harder.

Their issues went far deeper than the sound of the record however, they just didn’t seem to have a modicum of professional know-how when it came to their attention to detail and their larger business decisions at this point and that’s something which can’t be passed off so easily.


I Won’t Be Back…
We’re starting to see the limitations of well-meaning record companies without the finances, ambition, technical know-how and common sense to really compete in what is a cut-throat business like music.

Aristocrat Records may have had some advantages, such as operating out of a huge city that had relatively little competition for local talent, but they were increasingly blowing it with bad decisions, such as Andrew Tibbs’ last time out when they issued a terrible take on Married Man Blues which found Tibbs and the band struggling to figure out their parts, obviously just running through the song, unaware that it’d be the one that got released.

Sadly that was all too emblematic of the label’s foibles at this point. Further compounding their problems was the mere fact they couldn’t even decide on how to credit Tibbs on record, having sides issued as by Andrew Tibbs, Andy Tibbs (this one), and as we’ll soon see as a vocalist appearing with (and credited alongside) an already formed group called The Dozier Boys. There was no media at the time for rock ‘n’ roll to keep audiences abreast of such things so just a little consistency in how the artist is credited would help ensure that listeners didn’t miss their next release.

But Aristocrat couldn’t even manage that right. Their business acumen was non-existent. Hell, they couldn’t even steal their artists writing credits competently like most thieves in the business, instead having different names altogether appearing on the label itself and the copyrights and oftentimes names that were not even names! Their numbering system for releases was so confusing that any attempts by a fan of their music to try and ascertain what had been put out and when would end with that fan jumping from the top of the Wacker Building just to be put out of their misery.

Years later when researcher Bob Porter attempted to go through Aristocrat/Chess files in the 1970’s he proclaimed them to be by far the worst and most incomplete he’d ever seen.

Eventually when Leonard Chess took over they got their act together, but by then it was little consolation to Andrew Tibbs who had it in him to be their signature star, one of the shining lights of the late 40’s rock scene, and instead saw his career come to a grinding halt before he was old enough to even buy a drink to drown his sorrows away.

Rock history is overflowing with bitter artists who claim they were never given a fair shake by their label, that each record was zooming up the charts when the companies would pull their promotion or get into a legal hassle that would cause them to stop distributing it. The veracity of these claims are usually below that of the 3rd grader who insists the dog ate their homework. Tibbs, as far as we know, never made such a charge.

It’s no wonder, because if he allowed himself to think of what might’ve been had the record company been more on the ball he’d have wound up going on a rampage that would’ve wiped the entire populace of Chicago off the map.

Another good effort wasted.


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