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FREEDOM 1540; JULY 1950



After such a great start on Freedom Records where Big Joe Turner completely turned his career around, finding a renewed sense of creative purpose with a compatible band, both of whom gave themselves over to the power of rock ‘n’ roll completely after Joe had spent the last few years only sporadically flirting with it, we find that it may have been something of a mirage.

Not that he didn’t hit new heights working with this company… and as always with Turner he was fully committed to the style and the material in the moment… but rather that Freedom Records actually had him record a wide array of stuff and then simply chose the best of it – the rock sides – to release first, giving the impression that he’d finally turned the corner after years of wandering in the musical wilderness.

As a result this release sounds like a definite throwback after such advances in his outlook the last few months, but in fact that’s only because of when we got to finally hear it.


Take Me Away From You
There’s nothing wrong with Big Joe Turner in this setting… or really most settings where he and the band are on the same page, even if in this particular case we aren’t exactly enamored with the band’s arrangement.

But that’s always the deciding factor when it comes to music, for he same song in the hands of two different bands – or the same band utilizing two different approaches – will result in an entirely different impression, even can wind up with the song being suited for an entirely different musical genre altogether.

Feelin’ Happy has very strong pre-rock feel to it thanks to the way the horns are presented. Aside from just which of them are being focused on, with the trumpet right out front, there’s also the manner in which they’re playing with a swinging chippiness that is nowhere near rock’s wheelhouse.

That shouldn’t be surprising though, for as we tried detailing on Just A Travelin’ Man back in May, Turner cut two sessions for Freedom within days of each other in December 1949 (don’t believe the December 1950 date some places give) and this one featured an entirely different backing unit that were not part of Freedom’s Conrad Johnson led studio band.

Instead we get Joe Bridgewater on trumpet, along with a second trumpeter and a trombonist which is exactly the kind of lineup you’d get at a jazz-based club from 1946. They’re trying to match Turner’s enthusiasm, but they’re over-matched on those instruments. He requires a lustier deeper sound than they can possibly give him and without it they dig Big Joe a pretty big hole to have to climb out of.

He does try his best though and considering who were dealing with here, that’s often good enough.

Now We Start Jumpin’ Children
Give Joe Turner a rollicking rhythm to ride, even if the musical vehicle he’s in has mismatched wheels and bad steering, and he’s going to have some fun hurtling along and if you jump on his back you might have some fun too, at least before you crash by the end as the car breaks down.

That’s the mindset you need going into Feelin’ Happy where you’re advised to focus on Big Joe while mostly hoping the band doesn’t get in the way TOO much to derail your journey.

As with almost everything Turner did there are bits and pieces taken from songs all over creation that went into this, maybe the most notable being a few lines from Count Basie’s Do You Want To Jump Children from the late 1930’s featuring the great Jimmy Rushing on vocals, one of the few guys who Turner couldn’t simply out-muscle vocally.

Because of its cobbled together construction there’s just a loose narrative being formed here but it’s easy enough to follow along to the overriding message because the song is more of a highlight reel of spirited uptempo sentiments anyway, all of which are easily relatable. Big Joe is in fine form throughout, his booming voice cresting multiple times before dropping down some to confide in you as it eases back into the station.

As gregarious and enthusiastic as Turner is however, he can’t help but suffer some due to the outdated arrangement. Though the musicians are full of verve in their playing, it’s got such a different feel to it than the rock songs dominating the landscape at the time that you can’t help but almost question its authenticity, which extends down to Turner too.

It’s almost as if you feel as if you’re being sold a bill of goods with this record that’s not as advertised even though much of it, at least that which Joe himself controls, is perfectly acceptable… even really good all things considered.


Yours, Mine, Somebody Else’s Too
Let’s face it, if you’ve been following along around here from the beginning, looking at how rock unfolded chronologically one record at a time, you probably have noticed there are fewer records being included as of late that have dual citizenship… and when one like this slips through it’s almost always because the artist themselves – Peppermint Harris, Floyd Dixon, Gatemouth Brown, Earl Bostic – have an ongoing relationship to rock that requires keeping up with their careers, meaning we have to at least touch upon the momentary diversions.

Feelin’ Happy may still have gotten into the party even if the name on the label wasn’t Joe Turner, but it wasn’t a sure thing thanks to the musical backing. By this point in rock’s journey the kind of bandstand preening these guys are doing is so alien to rock that it stands out as being completely ill-fitting.

This isn’t 1948 when there were fewer artists and fewer records to choose from at a time when all of them were still in the process of feeling out the emerging form and determining what worked, what didn’t and what would make it different enough, and appealing enough, to keep pursuing. Today you need to deliver the goods musically and hope the vocalist is up to matching that.

Turner’s participation here is obviously what ensured it’d be included, but even his vaunted reputation can only go so far when assessing the relative value of overall record, or indeed even when it comes to which compromised tracks of his does get looked at, as we’re not reviewing the flip side, You’ll Be Sorry which goes a little too far outside the boundaries to keep this project credible.

That Big Joe Turner does well IN those other styles is a testament to his prodigious skills, his versatility and – to be fair – the quality of those far-flung styles in their own right. This site has never been about suggesting that rock ‘n’ roll is the only worthy music, even if it sometimes seems so to those bemoaning how quick we are to knock points off a song for straying too far from rock’s core attributes.

To that end, if you want to view this record as a good entry in Turner’s overall catalog you wouldn’t be wrong… but if you want to try and put it into the context of advancing his standing within rock ‘n’ roll itself then that same record will not have the same impact.

Still a strong performance, but simply on the wrong stage.


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