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How do you tell that a record company is in over their head and is probably not long for this world?

Well, for starters you could take a look at the numbers of this release and the previous review we just wrote for Big Joe Turner one page back and see that they weren’t an A-side and B-side of the same single, but rather were two separate records released simultaneously.

Not only did this undercut the action for both records by forcing distributors, jukebox operators and consumers to choose between them rather than letting each one get their own moment in the spotlight, but it also depleted their own stockpile of potential hits going forward since Turner had only cut one session – four songs – for the label, two of which were perfectly suited to make headway in the rapidly expanding rock market.

Instead with their shortsighted decisions they hurt not only their own cause but also Joe Turner’s attempts to make headway in the style he was born to sing.


Daddy’s Gonna Rock
Because Turner was proficient in so many different approaches, fast, slow, bluesy or jazzy, and recycled so many songs – changing the lyrics like they were socks but keeping the same basic framework – what mattered most in making things work smoothly was his compatibility with his sidemen.

When they clashed, which lately they often have, the results were disheartening, giving the impression that time may have passed Big Joe by.

But when the band and Turner were on the same page the records seemed sent from above and to date no group had meshed so well with him as The Lorenzo Flennoy Trio.

As we speculated on their other gem, I Don’t Dig It, the fact that they were not a huge name may have helped their cause because they were content to be subservient to his wishes in terms of how to approach the material and it was clear that Turner wanted to rock out, so that’s precisely what the band let him do.

Here though they had a pretty solid foundation from which to build, as the basic structure of the song came from the remnants of Turner’s breakthrough dating back to the 1930’s, Roll ‘Em Pete, a barrelhouse performance that had featured him working in tandem with Pete Johnson on piano that wowed audiences from coast to coast at the time.

The song has been re-tooled now for Ooo-Ouch-Stop, a gimmicky title that shows they were perhaps aiming a little lower, but since the driving force of the performance remains unchanged – a churning beat and Turner’s vocal fury – there’s no need to worry about the results. This was a tried and true concept that was sure to please.

Almost Breaks My Back
Though Lorenzo Flennoy himself was a pianist and thus seemed the obvious member of the band to act as the central figure, not just because he was the boss but because he was filling Johnson’s role in the arrangement, it’s actually guitarist Lucky Ennis who’s got the featured role here and makes the most of his opportunity with some scintillating playing.

Though the guitar has yet to really set itself apart in rock songs there’s been signs that it’s ideally suited for the job as it has far more melodic and tonal flexibility than the piano and the ability to pick and choose its spot a little more than a saxophone can.

On Ooo-Ouch-Stop Ennis starts off well behind Flennoy’s piano in the mix but eases into the spotlight as the song gets up to speed until he’s essentially taking on the responsibilities of a co-lead alongside Turner, echoing his vocals, answering them and spurring them on simultaneously.

The pace behind them never slackens for a second thanks to Flennoy’s ferocious boogie and whoever is shaking the maracas being used in lieu of drums to establish the rhythm until it becomes a whirlwind of sound, like a hurricane captured on tape, albeit blowing in perfect time.

Turner’s voice is partly responsible for this effect too. He’s a force of nature, not riding the rhythm like so many great singers, but powering it so that everything else in the band feeds off him. Even in the breaks he’s guiding them with spoken interjections, making sure they don’t let up or veer off course.

Meanwhile Ennis’s solo during that stretch is absolutely perfect, his tone melting like quicksilver in the speakers, never pushing it too hard and giving plenty of breathing room for you to refocus on the piano that’s churning away before the guitar drops in with a few more notes to tickle your senses.

The entire arrangement is exquisitely judged – sparse in in that it uses fewer notes, but remaining remarkably full sounding in spite of that. They don’t make Turner irrelevant on his own record by any means, but they give him such a platform to strut his stuff that all he needs to do to make this work is not trip over the microphone or start coughing up a lung.

Naturally this being Big Joe Turner he meets their challenge and then some.


Send For The Mighty One
As with a lot of Turner’s best work the lyrics used are almost free-form in nature, plucked out of a vast reservoir of lines that he’d collected over the years, pulling them out and piecing them together as the need arose, just unified enough in their thematic intent to render the lack of an actual plot and characters irrelevant.

The ostensible focus of Ooo-Ouch-Stop, a line that appears in the song but serves no real purpose other than it sounds good, is Turner’s infatuation with a girl who churns his butter like no other as it were.

As you can probably guess the song is sexual in nature, yet never obscene… well, maybe when he tells us that this young lady begs him to “make my lolly POP!” only the loneliest shut-ins will think he’s talking about a five cent treat from the candy store, but other than that brush with vulgarity he’s implying far more than he’s actually saying. That’s half the fun though, imagining the delight he’s having experiencing these acts while admiring the way he’s sidestepping obscenity charges in the process.

Though we have to dock him a little for cutting and pasting lines wholesale from a litany of other songs, he manages to make them his own by virtue his enthusiastic delivery, savoring each and every word like he savors each kiss, moan and sigh from his girl. There’s a carefree spirit he embodies that is so engaging that you have to seriously question any record company he worked for who didn’t try to bring this aspect out of him for at least one song per session.

With these kind of rockers Big Joe Turner was squarely in his element and one listen to how effortless he makes it all sound lets you know that sooner or later he was going to rule rock ‘n’ roll just as he’d ruled the boogie woogie craze a decade earlier… if only he’d get the chance to keep cutting loose.

Feels So Good
Sadly that chance dried up for awhile longer once he moved on from this short stint with Excelsior, which considering their lack of business knowledge may not have been quite the tragedy it appeared at the time even though it’d take a long time before he found a band as compatible to work with as The Flennoy Trio.

But for the time being you need to just sit back and enjoy songs like Ooo-Ouch-Stop, knowing with the benefit of seven decades of hindsight that Turner would eventually hit his stride again in the 1950’s and would rarely make a misstep after that.

Consider these two records a sneak preview then, a reminder that the best artists will always rise to the top again no matter what seems to be holding them back.


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