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All the legendary artists in the history of rock had different strengths to draw from… There were those whose versatility were their calling card, the ability to tackle songs from disparate sources using a wide variety of approaches to make each one distinctive. Others meanwhile concentrated on simply perfecting one specific style, leaning hard into its dominant traits and maximizing the interest from one subset of the audience.

Big Joe Turner was capable of excelling in both of those areas, but where he truly set himself apart from the rest of the immortals was in how he could mesh perfectly with any band who were willing to cut loose so that no matter their experience level, no matter their personnel, no matter their familiarity with him or his material he’d be able to make it sound as if they’d been working together for years.

Sometimes when these fly-by-night pairings worked so well you sort of wish they HAD stuck together longer because when their first outings sound so good you wonder what they might’ve been capable of once they actually learned each other’s names.


Up On The Hill
In April 1950, fresh off rejuvenating his career with Freedom Records in Houston, Joe Turner started playing a long stint at New Orleans’s famous Dew Drop Inn, headlining the nightly show and soaking up the atmosphere around town.

It was only natural then that Imperial Records which was just starting to establish itself as the primary proponent of the New Orleans sound under Dave Bartholomew’s direction would get the now-unaffiliated Turner into the studio for a session.

It was just four songs, two singles, of which this is the second – apparently released right on the heels of the first no less – but Turner was in top form, as was Dave’s crack band. Nameless though they were (which is surely one reason why they’re not given nearly as much credit historically as Motown’s Funk Brothers or Los Angeles’s top sessionists The Wrecking Crew), there were few studio bands as tight, proficient and well-drilled as Bartholomew’s outfit and given the opportunity to work behind a singer as propulsive as Joe Turner was a match made in heaven.

Though the material was comprised of a grab bag assortment of frameworks and random themes and lyrics from his long history, Turner never churned out mere carbon copies of past songs but instead used the familiar components merely as a foundation to build something new on, tailoring it to the abilities of the band if at all possible.

On Love My Baby he does just that with a true collaborative effort, one shepherded by Bartholomew who adds yet another impressive notch in his producer’s belt and earns that fairly prominent label credit he and the band got for their efforts, but one which was made possible by the prodigious skill of Turner who eases into their grooves like it was a second skin.


Running For A Solid Mile
This song is defined by what can only be called a “rolling groove”, the kind of sound that seems as if it has the inevitability of a ball careening down a hill.

Though the opening horn flourish is a little unfocused, once it settles in it quickly gets into high gear and doesn’t waver in its momentum for a second after that, each instrument woven together with a remarkable facility and each one adding unmistakable character to the proceedings.

The band was stocked with stellar musicians of course, but two of them get showcase roles on Love My Baby, the first being trombonist Frog Joseph who adds the tantalizing slide note that caps the horn riff laid down by the saxes and Bartholomew’s trumpet.

It’s such a distinctive feature that for many it will be the first thing that comes to mind when they think of the song, but it’s not just that small part which makes it so alluring, but rather how seamlessly they all work in tandem, a New Orleans specialty, with three interlocking horn lines that come together beautifully.

The sax break both continues the overall groove and gives us the first slip up at the same time, as Herb Hardesty and Clarence Hall each contribute parts. Both are on tenor but one takes the low notes normally reserved for a baritone and though it’s not an abnormal concept, it doesn’t quite work here, whether the horn was wrong for the part, or the part itself wasn’t fleshed out enough beyond the shock value of those notes, it comes across as artificial or forced and derails things for just a few moments.

Luckily that’s the only real flaw in the arrangement and after another rousing turn by Big Joe we get the second musical highlight of the record when Fats Domino delivers a solo that starts off as a boogie before switching to a more delicate sound, replete with his famed “teardrop” riff.

Though the whole thing never lets up it never comes across as too frantic. They stay locked in so tightly from start to finish that you could easily remove Turner’s vocals from the track and still have an instrumental record worthy of being a hit.

That it wasn’t a hit even with Big Joe Turner is something that defies explanation because he matches the band step for step.


Make A Preacher Lay His Bible Down
Considering that Turner’s reservoir of lyrics was expansive enough to fill a library’s bookshelves it’s telling that he returned to certain ones with impunity when he was paired up with a band like this who could handle him running on the high octane fuel those familiar words seemed to provide for him.

Here he’s raving about his woman, one apparently shaped much like him – let’s hope without the mustache to go with it – and his joy for her is evident, not just in the words but in the way he delivers them. Though it probably goes without saying that any song entitled Love My Baby is going to exhibit a fair amount of fondness for the subject, in Turner’s hands that feeling he conveys sits halfway between romantic love and physical lust, never tilting one way or the other but embodying both of those feelings in unambiguous fashion.

The fact that she’s not completely devoted to him may actually help in this regard, ensuring that he won’t take her for granted. Because she hasn’t quit him entirely though also means he’s determined to make her more committed to him by lavishing her with praise for how she makes him feel… though perhaps she won’t take kindly to his critiquing her shape in such a public fashion.

He means no harm by it, his description of her finds him with stars in his eyes as he talks about her and the inflections in his voice reveal just how carried away with her he really is. As a result we can’t help but find her equally appealing, not that we’ve seen her but rather we’ve seen her through his eyes, or his heart, take your pick.

That plainly evident joy he has while singing about her is so genuine that we need no further explanation as to why he’s so hung up on her, and why despite the uncertain outcome between them he’s willing to bet that he’ll make her his own before long. After all, if this kind of love isn’t going to be rewarded then what’s the point of having such feelings in the first place?

One Of These Days You’re Going To Learn Love Me Too
Though Joe Turner was coming off his most sustained commercial hot streak in a number of years, his Imperial output marked a slight drop-off in terms of sales from what preceded it and what would soon follow elsewhere.

Jumpin’ Tonight had been a small regional hit but Love My Baby somehow missed connecting with people and since Turner’s stay with Imperial lasted all of three hours while he cut those four sides, they felt a little deprived when his popularity continued down the road, so in a rather underhanded maneuver they took those four cuts, chopped them into pieces and spliced the two uptempo sides together and did the same for the slower songs, re-configuring them in the process to hide their origins and issued them under new titles down the road on the hastily contrived Bayou Records imprint.

This wound up having the Domino piano solo kick off the “new” song Blues Jumped The Rabbit, before leading into verses taken from Jumpin’ Tonight. From there they recycle that piano solo again and segue to the start of THIS song and finally close it out with a third reprise of Domino’s solo with a more prominent fade, eschewing all horn solos in the song.

Though it didn’t make the charts it’s just as good as the source material and the splices are surprisingly well executed. Considering how often Turner used the same lyrics and basic structure I’m sure lots of people – then and since – were unaware of the chicanery.

This single is the way to hear it as it was laid down in the studio of course, and the only “version” we’ll be covering for obvious reasons, but whichever one you get your hands on it’s going to be something that can’t help but bring a smile to your face, something that was hardly a shock anytime Big Joe Turner and a band as good as this one teamed up together.


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