BIOGRAPHY AND DISCOGRAPHY

 


The prototypical rock frontman in every way – a good looking sexually charged hell-raiser with a voice to raise the dead, a master showman and a memorable character.

Harris was one of the few rock stars to pre-date the idiom with notable success as a singer for Lucky Millinder’s band. By the time his “Who Threw The Whiskey In The Well” hit #1 on the Race Charts in 1945 he’d already left for a solo career. Despite scoring two quick follow-up hits in the months to come he soon was creatively adrift, jumping from label to label and style to style, while the quality and success of his output diminished with each move. Though Harris was initially offered “Good Rockin’ Tonight” by its writer Roy Brown, he turned it down only to see Brown himself score with it soon after, launching the rock era in the process. An undaunted Harris promptly covered it for the bigger hit which cemented rock’s place in the music world and revived his own fortunes, placing him at the forefront of the new style.

Over the next five years he was one of rock’s biggest stars with a succession of bold and bawdy tunes celebrating loose women, potent booze and rock music itself in the most explicit of terms. As Harris stated unequivocally in regards to the appeal of his music, “I deal in sex”.

When rock music began being discovered by a younger whiter audience by the mid-1950’s and crossing over into the pop market Harris was forty years old and unable and unwilling to tone down his notoriously ribald style, making him far too threatening a presence to make headway with the next generation of rock fans. However his legacy as a performer lived on in that era, as producer Henry Glover stated, “With Elvis Presley you were seeing a mild version of Wynonie Harris”.

His later years found him lavishly spending what was left of his money, recording sporadically and drinking heavily, all but forgotten as time went on. When he died in 1969 at the age of 54 few in rock even noticed, though without him they wouldn’t have had careers.

Despite possessing a rather limited style his records were never less than entertaining and his legacy as rock’s first bad boy remains strong well into the 21st Century.
 
 

WYNONIE HARRIS DISCOGRAPHY (Reviews To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):
 
 
BIG CITY BLUES
(Aladdin 196; September, 1947)
A slow, tedious and uninspiring song by a rock artist who’s yet to discover he’s a rock artist. (2)

WYNONIE’S BOOGIE
(King 4202; January, 1948)
Aside from the sly attitude Harris projects there’s nothing much going on, you can tell he wants to break free but doesn’t quite feel he’s able to. (3)

ROSE, GET YOUR CLOTHES
(King 4202; January, 1948)
Aside from a promising title there’s not much of note here, as a sleepy Harris plods through an uninteresting come-on to a nameless girl as the musicians dutifully keep pace with him until they all fall asleep. (3)

HARD RIDIN’ MAMA
(Aladdin 208; February, 1948)
Racy if not quite dirty song with sexual euphemisms galore, what sets it apart is the gleeful abandon Harris sings this with. (5)

YOU GOT TO GET YOURSELF A JOB, GIRL
(Aladdin 208; February, 1948)
One of Harris’s best efforts lyrically, dealing with his lazy girlfriend who’s using her skills in the bedroom to keep Wynonie from kicking her lazy ass to the curb, making this an amusing situation for the usually fully in control singer to find himself in. (6)

GOOD ROCKIN’ TONIGHT
(King 4210; February, 1948)
With the first rock record to top the charts Harris establishes the swaggering attitude that would become rock’s calling card as the doors to the blast furnace are ripped from their hinges and in one fell swoop the tentative rock narrative suddenly becomes set. ★ 10 ★

GOOD MORNING, MR. BLUES
(King 4210; February, 1948)
An off-the-cuff composition that fares poorly due to a lack of direction that would’ve been smoothed out in a more formal writing session and is further hampered by the slow pace which makes its flaws all too noticeable. (3)

LOVE IS LIKE RAIN
(King 4217; April, 1948)
A desultory song aiming at the waning interest of those stuck in the recent past, Harris may give it his all but the band merely goes through the motions resulting in a career misstep after such a promising revival of his fortunes the last time out. (3)

YOUR MONEY DON’T MEAN A THING
(King 4217; April, 1948)
A blind drunk Wynonie Harris embarrasses himself in his second studio date for King Records who responds by releasing this hot mess possibly to embarrass the egotistical, incorrigible troublemaker now that he was back on top. (1)

LOLLIPOP MAMA
(King 4226; May, 1948)
The best of three versions of this racy song to be released in the nine months since rock’s birth yet still not all it could be, nor quite up to the standards of Harris’s breakthrough from earlier in the year. (6)

BLOW YOUR BRAINS OUT
(King 4226; May, 1948)
An improvised throwaway but surprisingly one of the more creative ideas of Harris’s first round of sessions with King Records in which the singer takes a back seat to the dueling tenor sax workouts of Tom Archia and Hal Singer, spurring them on with his contagious enthusiasm. (5)

BITE AGAIN, BITE AGAIN
(King 4252; October, 1948)
Seemingly ad-libbed song left over from 1947, now brought out of mothballs to serve as an A-side thanks to King Records adhering to the recording ban, making this release by their top artist decidedly behind the curve despite his usual enthusiastic delivery. (4)

GRANDMA PLAYS THE NUMBERS
(King 4276; February, 1949)
After a year out of the studio Harris comes back with a vengeance, his lusty shouting the best attribute of this otherwise very shallow song, a record that sounds better than it really is. (6)

I FEEL THAT OLD AGE COMING ON
(King 4276; February, 1949)
An entirely new and unlikely persona for Harris, that of a worn down beaten man coming face to face with his mortality and giving his most affecting vocal performance in the process. (8)

DRINKIN-WINE-SPO-DEE-O-DEE
(King 4292; May, 1949)
An unnecessary cover version of an already perfect song but not one without some charms of its own, as Joe Morris’s moonlighting band spurs Harris to match their delivery in the second half to get you reasonably tipsy. (6)

SHE JUST WON’T SELL NO MORE
(King 4292; May, 1949)
A good idea that almost seems content to leave it at that, never delving too deep into the more colorful possibilities the topic provides, but Harris, along with Joe Morris’s band behind him, sell it well enough to work. (6)

ALL SHE WANTS TO DO IS ROCK
(King 4304; August, 1949)
A return to form for Harris who wrote an unambiguous song to state his case to remain in rock’s upper echelon and then delivered it with fire breathing intensity to leave no doubt he belonged there, and even as he’s let down somewhat by Joe Morris’s band it topped the charts and validated his legacy. (8)

I WANT MY FANNY BROWN
(King 4304; August, 1949)
Another Harris cover of Roy Brown which finds him using a more full-throttle delivery which strips the song of the nuance Brown featured but somehow Wynonie makes it work, aided immeasurably by the rousing backing of Joe Morris’s band. (7)