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Time never stands still… and other shocking revelations… are continually revealed to shocked readers on this website as we make this chronological trawl through rock history, finding as we go that songs recorded at a distinct point in time tend to connect best IN that time.

The longer they’re held back for release the more out of date they become.

This is fairly obvious and thus it’s easily avoidable, yet for some reason record labels felt it was a perfectly acceptable business practice to withhold music past its expiration date before unleashing it on the world, thereby virtually ensuring that it would benefit nobody… not the artist, not the record company and surely not the consumer who wondered why they were being asked yet again to return to a time they’ve already put well behind them.


You Don’t Have To Pretend No More
The decision on whether or not to include completely outdated records in this ongoing story is thankfully coming to an end soon.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be records in the future that get held back from release for five or six years from time to time and will be reviewed no questions asked, but soon there’ll at least be none leftover from the period where rock itself was just beginning to emerge from the ground as both sides of this record can claim.

In fact, this record just manages to slip in the door because it was cut at a session in November 1947, just two short months after rock itself hit the streets for the first time and so in a way this gives us one more belated opportunity to see how drastically things have changed in the time since then, as Turner has since emerged as one of rock’s most potent forces, yet here he offers only glimpses of what he had to offer in this realm.

Now of course Turner was proficient at far more styles of music than simply rock ‘n’ roll and had it never come along he still would’ve had a really good career overall, though it may very well have been on the wane by 1950 without something new and vital to throw himself into. As such we’re not including the flip side of this, Empty Pocket Blues, cut at the same session but with much fewer nascent rock touches to examine.

Yet Back Breaking Blues qualifies – albeit barely – on certain elements that would be emphasized down the road and whether or not Turner and the band were all that cognizant of what else was happening in this field back in the fall of ’47, they at least had some instinctual urge to explore similar ideas as they were taking shape.

So while we’re definitely not asking you to forget all you’ve heard in the ensuing three years, we are hopeful that you’ll keep in mind what the landscape was back then when they walked into the studio for the first time in a world where rock ‘n’ roll actually existed on record to see if they might be able to keep pace.


So Long Pretty Baby, I Guess I’ll Be On My Way
The band assembled to back Turner here included some of his old favorites like Pete Johnson on piano as well as other veteran musicians who’d get experience on the outskirts of rock in due time, such as saxophonist Jack McVea – who ironically we just met on yesterday’s borderline inclusion, I’ll Do Anything But Work by Ray Charles.

It was a good, professional band in other words, capable of bringing to the table whatever Turner and Aladdin Records felt he needed.

Unfortunately they don’t seem entirely convinced of what he needs on Back Breaking Blues and so while their basic game plan is solid musically, it’s still a little mild in its choices.

Pete Johnson starts it off with an interesting piano figure but it’s hardly assertive enough, something which stands out all the more once Big Joe rolls into the picture exhibiting far more power than seemed imminent after hearing that milder introduction.

The interaction between them is good – these guys had been playing together for almost two decades by now so they knew each other like an old married couple – but they’re not quite on the same page. Johnson clearly should’ve played with a heavier hand and driven the rhythm more which is where Turner excelled, or failing that Joe could’ve eased off the vocals just a little and let the gentle flow of Pete’s cascading notes carry him along.

Instead Turner seems intent on pushing the artificial limits being placed on him, even throwing in a swear word (gasp!) which for 1947, not to mention even 1950, was still pretty risqué all things considered.

Meanwhile the horns are softly blowing a very content riff behind him, trumpet and alto sax winding around his vocals like a silk scarf, something designed more for appearance sake than warmth unfortunately.

Yet it sounds perfectly fine… just not for rock ‘n’ roll three years after it was recorded and that’s the problem. Aladdin Records seeing Turner’s recent success with pure rockers on Freedom and Imperial, found they had a few leftover tracks of his sitting around collecting dust and decided to try and cash in by releasing them as if they were brand new. Yet nobody buying them would be fooled for a minute and though it’s deceptive, at least we have the company to blame rather than slandering Big Joe Turner’s good name when calling them out on this subterfuge.


Won’t Be Long Before Day
Though it’s clearly not suited for the modern listener’s tastes (circa autumn 1950), it’s not completely alien to their experiences either, particularly as the record comes down the stretch. The sax solo, though hardly invigorating by 1950’s standards, is at least following the basic concept of rock even if it pulls up short in its execution.

Rabon Tarrent on drums has a few good moments where he seems to be anticipating what is around the corner while Turner is itching to break free with his delivery even as he’s professional enough to restrain himself so he doesn’t upset the song’s more tranquil atmosphere.

Unlike other songs he recorded – and released – during this late 40’s stretch for other labels however, there’s no out and out clashing between the components to be found here. He and the band may not have the same concept in mind, but they aren’t fighting against one another on Back Breaking Blues which allows it to go down easy in spite of its slightly archaic presentation.

While the lyrics are of the mix and match variety, taking a few well-worn phrases and pasting them into a fairly simple story, it never completely loses you along the way and does manage to contain one line that reveals the situation Big Joe found himself in as 1947 wound down and rock simultaneous took off.

“I’ll plant you now and dig you later” may have been just a clever way to sum up his uncertain romantic relationship in the song, but it stands out as much more prophetic statement as to his overall position in the music world at the time… a period where he knew where he wanted to go while the music he required to take him there was now out in the open, yet there still remained plenty of people he had to convince along the way to let him explore it without restraint.

This wasn’t it of course, but it’s got just enough insight into what he was capable of in a better setting to make it a brief and somewhat interesting detour back in time all the same.


(Visit the Artist page of Big Joe Turner for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)