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Lots of things change over the course of a decade… from fashions to fads nothing stays the same for long and the world of yesterday often bares little resemblance to the one we’re immersed in now.

In 1941 when Joe Turner first cut this song the musical landscape was radically different than the one he finds himself in today as the Fifties are taking shape. That was a world dominated by jazz and mournful blues, this is one being fueled by rock ‘n’ roll.

But rather than getting stuck in the past Big Joe has kept up with the times, allowing him to revisit old songs while giving them face-lifts that change their appearance in ways that are appropriate for any era and the styles that define them.


When I First Met Lucille…
If you were familiar with the original Decca recording of this song you wouldn’t think it was something that was ripe for being re-interpreted in such a manner, one that not only changed the musical outfit it was adorned with but also the entire impression it was giving off in the process.

The first time around with Lucille the record featured him in his most downcast mood and the backing musicians suited this perspective. The legendary pianist Art Tatum was actually the credited artist (with Joe receiving “vocal chorus by”), while Oscar Moore, who’d go on to play with Nat Cole, handled the delicate guitar fills and the brass and reeds consisted of just Joe Thomas’s trumpet and Edmond Hall on clarinet.

That lineup pretty much tells you the kind of record it was without you needing to even hear it, a respectfully maudlin affair in which Turner views his sadness as simply his lot in life, grieving over his failed relationship without putting up any struggle to break free of that misery.

After tackling it again in late 1947 that kept the same overall perspective while updating the feel of it with a bluesier guitar and slightly more uptempo arrangement in a version that went unreleased at the time, he decided to see what a new musical language could do with the song as the Fifties dawned, in some ways making her all but unrecognizable when comparing it to those more solemn interpretations.

This Lucille finds him backed by Dave Bartholomew’s band with equally proficient musicians in tow. Instead of Tatum on the keys we have Fats Domino while the horn section has three saxophones, plus trumpet and trombone giving this a much deeper arsenal to deploy.

The song is still framed by sadness, the lyrics haven’t changed after all, but there’s an undeniable sense of hope and optimism coursing through its veins as is befitting rock ‘n’ roll.


Every Kind Of Patch On My Pants But A Greenback Dollar Bill
Though the outlook has changed, it’s still not euphoric by any means and you can even make the argument that this isn’t the right mood for the song’s lyrics.

Turner would undoubtedly quibble with that assessment because he’s simply choosing to focus on a different aspect of the mindset he has when it comes to this woman who’s broken his heart.

In both cases he’s dealing with someone who lords over him, expects him to withhold judgement for her flaws and who frankly treats him pretty badly at every turn. Whether it’s making him walk from Chicago to New Orleans – a pretty long hike, over 900 miles – or if it’s her lack of skills in the kitchen, he’s got very few things to recommend her to us.

Yet he KNOWS this and he never hides the fact that Lucille is not worth the trouble, but that doesn’t stop him from admitting that despite all of her shortcomings he’s still in love with her.

In the first rendition it’s the sadness over his inability to break free of this unhealthy relationship that dominates the mood. It’s also probably the perspective we’d have if forced to contend with such treatment ourselves.

But on this telling of the story, while he makes the same critiques of her, he’s not trying to convey the hardships by how he sings it, but rather to give some justification for why he sticks with her in spite of all that and though it’s not the ideal way to frame the song he’s fairly successful in expressing the feelings which overwhelms his better judgment.

He doesn’t tell us nearly enough about her good traits, assuming she has any, to get us to see his point from a logical standpoint, but we can hardly doubt his sincerity (or his sanity for that matter) because he’s emotionally convincing when recounting of their relationship.

Part of that of course is thanks to Turner’s endless supply of vocal inflections to express every nuance of his character, but that task is also helped inordinantly by the band who by showing they buy into what he’s saying, convinces you to give him the benefit of the doubt too.


Cooked The Cabbage
Speeding up the pace of a song while trying to still convey an accurate reading of the downbeat contents isn’t always the easiest trick to pull off but Dave Bartholomew manages to do a good job of it by parceling out the duties judiciously.

Fats Domino’s piano kicks it off much differently than Art Tatum’s music box rendition from 1941, but he’s not pounding away on the ivories here to mark the contrast. Instead he uses a staggered riff that gives it a surging feel without actually taking it off the leash. As a result it appears more energetic than it actually is which is a clever way around the problem… changing the impression of something without altering the intent too much.

The horns take over behind Turner on the bulk of the song, moaning in sympathy as he spins his tale of woe that forms the basis of his predicament without sounding as if they’re about to break down and cry. As Joe starts to throw in some compliments about this lady the horns respond in kind, going up the scale to suggest hope but never going so far as to ignore the obvious conflict that lies underneath.

The two entities trade off in subtle ways after that, Fats laying back and playing only some treble fills when the horns take the lead to add just the faint whisper of good cheer, then as the horns step back and the mood becomes a little more upbeat Domino accentuates this with some crisp triplets and his right hand shift to the middle keys to give what Turner’s saying more heft.

By the second half as Turner is recounting his entire tragic arc in one final stanza, taking him from the heady days when they first met and all was right in the world to the present where Lucille has left him penniless in the streets, the horns are right alongside him, putting on a brave face to the world, their tone full of renewed vigor because Joe himself is undaunted by these setbacks.

It may all be based on a misguided belief in a person who has done nothing to earn it, but the music reflects that belief, not the actions of the person at the heart of it, which is what makes it modestly effective in spite of your more level-headed reservations.

A Boot And A Shoe
Both renditions – and even the middle take on it from ’47 – all sound fine, fitting comfortably in their respective era and the styles at hand, but none of them stand out as really good records that we’d want to return to over and over.

The truth is the story itself is uncomfortable no matter how it’s being framed which means we’re forced to contend with the psychological implications – and the questions those raise – more than we might like in a song.

If Joe was our friend we’d undoubtedly tell him to get over Lucille, to stop being hung up on somebody who never loved him properly to begin with. We’d understand his conflicted feelings and respect them because feelings do not always make perfect sense, but we wouldn’t indulge those feelings very long because we’d know that our friend needed to move on.

So while we’ll compliment the technical aspects of this we’ll also get out the matches, help Joe gather up her pictures and light them on fire and then take him out to get drunk and hook up with some woman who will call him a cab instead of making him walk home from New Orleans.


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