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NATIONAL 9099; JANUARY, 1950

 
 

 

The value of a college education in life is something that can’t very well be disputed, after all the numbers speak for themselves.

In 2018 if you had less than a High School Diploma you’d earn, on average, just over $25,000 a year if employed full time – hardly enough to make ends meet. If you graduated High School that number goes up ten grand a year to $35,000 and some change, better but still not enough to really get ahead in life. But once you get into college your earning potential rises considerably, an Associates Degree will get you more than $41,000 a year while holding a Bachelor’s means it jumps to $59,000 and with a Master’s Degree in your portfolio your average annual income is nearly $70,000.

The reason why “Invest In Education” is such a popular term is obviously because the payoff is substantial.

Sadly for his future earning potential Big Joe Turner never even made it to high school, though he was certainly a graduate of the school of hard knocks. They don’t give diplomas to hang on the wall for that of course, but based on his records – the musical ones that is – I think it’s pretty clear that somewhere along the way Big Joe Turner earned a Master’s Degree In Philosophy.
 

 

A Lot Of Misery
Joe Turner may not have been schooled in a traditional sense in life but he was in no way a stupid man. He composed the majority of his own songs – he “wrote” them in other words, without being able to actually read OR write – and his insight into human behavior, both examining his own inner feelings and those of others, was remarkably insightful.

On Nobody In Mind Turner offers up a poignant view of the pitfalls of love and once again is on point with his commentary.

Turner revisited his own material countless times over the years, changing up the mood, the arrangement and his own delivery to suit the times and the accompaniment as he saw fit. This is his third wack at the song, one he first laid down in July 1941 for Decca with our ol’ pal Sammy Price on piano. Turner took the song at a meandering pace while Leonard Ware’s guitar solo actually treads even more cautiously than Price’s stabbing piano work making it a somewhat weary and reflective piece.

Using that approach as a basic model Turner tackled this again six years later for Aladdin, adding Jack McVea’s mellow saxophone to the mix but otherwise using the same basic instruments, albeit with different musicians at the helm as Pete Johnson reclaims his piano bench from Price and blues guitarist Pee Wee Crayton takes Ware’s place. Though like its predecessor it’s very well done, this one is even more downhearted, placing Big Joe on the brink of utter despair.

All of which brings us to THIS version… ironically one that had been cut just three weeks after the last one, in November 1947, but was sat on by National Records for more than two years. You’d think that would mean Nobody In Mind would follow closely to what he’d already done and as a result be way behind the curve when it finally got released, especially with how rapidly rock was advancing by the day now, but somehow Joe Turner found a way to make it work fairly well in this future setting all the same.
 


 
 

A Line Of Jive
If you’re expecting something radically new in the arrangement don’t get your hopes up TOO much, they don’t shake this up nearly as much as they might’ve had they cut it a few weeks before the 1950’s arrived, but there’s definitely a noticeable shift in his mood combined with a more spry backing that reshapes this considerably.

The biggest change though isn’t found on the musical side of the equation, but rather in Turner’s point of view. No longer is Turner completely morose and despondent, he’s got a little bit of a gleam in his eye now, a faint smirk on his face even as he details the ups and downs of relationships, a topic which is money in the bank for someone like Big Joe.

The lyrics Turner uses to illustrate his points are obviously the same as he sang the previous two times he did this song, but since we didn’t cover those – and because they’re so good – they deserve attention because while they lay out what are fairly basic complaints in any crumbling relationship Turner adds plenty of depth and color by how he phrases things.

Give a chick a dollar
Next time you gotta give her five
Well the chicks ain’t out for nothing, boys
But a line of jive

Though I’m sure women will protest that generalized accusation, keep in mind you could find an equally broad – yet pointed – criticism of a lotta guys too. In both cases it might not be a universal truism but they’d likely both contain enough truth to resonate, at least from the perspective of someone down on their luck with the opposite sex, where everything you try to do to gain their interest winds up in failure.

When recounting this information in the past Turner seemed hurt by the realization his gal was a gold-digger, but here he seems resigned to it, shaking his head with a certain amount of bemusement over the games that play out every night between would-be couples, each one of them trying to gain the upper hand through subtle manipulation. He lets his voice swell much more than he did before and while he still sounds on the verge of giving up on love, this time it’s not resulting in abject misery, but rather it suggests that being free of those hassles might in fact be liberating.

Now I’m sure a cute girl coyly smiling at him as she walks by might change his mind pretty quickly but as always when he picks a mood and sticks with it throughout he’s convincing in the moment and you can’t help admire him for embracing this new perspective.

What helps him immeasurably in his ordeal is the band who mesh with him beautifully from start to finish.
 


 

Sleeping With Somebody Else
Turner finds himself working with a rather indistinguishable set of musicians here, at least when it comes to broad name recognition compared to some of the cats he’s used to playing with, as the only name that really stands out – at least to me – is Riley Hampton on alto sax and that’s only because of his later role as one of Chicago’s premier arrangers of the 1960’s, most notably for The Impressions.

This session being cut in the Windy City I imagine it was just another instance of the label needing some competent musicians, then putting out a call and taking what they got and making the best of it.

But on Nobody In Mind that turned out to be more than good enough as they seem perfectly content to let Turner’s vocals guide them while they merely follow his lead, something which always bodes well for any record he’s laying down.
 


 

The mournful sax that opens this up sets a fitting mood for Turner’s voice to ease into, sounding warm and comforting by nature, before letting the unknown pianist take the primary supporting role, playing at a rather prancing pace behind some of the verses while throwing in some tasty fills – at times weepy and yet at other times rather spunky – and yet it all fits together perfectly, providing something that catches your ear without stealing the spotlight from the singer.

Ike Perkins chips in with some delectable guitar lines that toy with the concept of time, drawing some notes out like a rubber band before snapping them back into place, giving the music plenty of character while wisely avoiding falling into any stylistic boxes to be pigeonholed in. His playing is bluesy but not pure blues, jazzy but not strictly jazz, and since rock’s guitar pedigree was far from being established when this was cut it’s also not confining itself to any dominant image in that regard either, all of which allows it to be fairly malleable and keeps the listener’s interest as it shifts tactics in support of Big Joe as he rises and falls with unerring emotional accuracy.

So often praise is handed out like candy canes at a Christmas parade when it comes to raving about showy musical support – a blazing guitar solo or a honking sax – but while they’re definitely appreciated in the right context what’s more important is how suitably chosen the additions are to the song in question and here these otherwise mostly obscure musicians provide stellar – if somewhat discreet – support for a singer who rarely needed more than that to deliver the goods.

The result is both poignant and classy, the best rendition of this warhorse that he delivered on record to date.
 

Tough Enough Already
As good as this sounds in a vacuum however we know that all records are impacted by their context at the time of their release and unfortunately this is no exception to that rule. Had this come out in the first weeks of 1948 instead there’s little doubt it’d earn an extra point since Turner is at the top of his game vocally and it’d fit in better with the still unsettled emerging rock landscape that existed at the time.

But now almost eight hundred days had passed between it being recorded and being released and in that time rock went from being in its infancy and still looking for its first legitimate hit on the charts to being the most popular form of black music in the singles market. Ideas were tried and quickly discarded, audiences embraced certain experiments and rejected others and over those twenty six months the genre took shape and became fully modern in every way.

Nobody In Mind isn’t outdated yet, but it isn’t up to date either and as such there’s no way that this can compete on level ground with something more current.

Even though no rock fan would be disappointed if this was the Joe Turner record they pulled off the rack in the early days of 1950, in a matter of weeks he’d be releasing sides that would be as cutting edge as anything on the scene and then by comparison this record would seem like it belonged in a history class rather than a jukebox stocked with the latest hits.

Rather than let that happen – and because the themes contained here are too timeless to be confined to an ancient history lesson – we’ll change up your college schedule and stick you in a philosophy course instead where this song’s subject is much more suited.

After all, what young rock fan wouldn’t want to walk into class one day and see Professor Turner at the podium about to give such an insightful lecture on life as this? Consider it our modest contribution to higher education.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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