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MGM 10321; NOVEMBER, 1948

 
 

 

Do you remember that kid growing up who always promised something spectacular if you’d just go along with him on whatever cockamamie story he was eagerly confiding to you, and then never delivered?

He (or she) generally wanted you to stick around despite there being no sensible reason to and they assured you that if you’d just trust them there’d be some magnificent payoff… which depending on your age (and gullibility) could be anything from untold riches to the appearance of someone, or something, completely out of the realm of possibility on this or any other planet.

You never really believed them, in fact you may have even been scoffing at them the whole time, mildly taunting them knowing their promises were blatantly untrue, which probably only got them to insist they were true while making ever more outlandish claims. But you stuck around all the same, if only to prove them wrong when nothing actually happened.

Well, I’m beginning to feel like those hapless kids who were so desperate for companionship they told the tallest tales imaginable in the hope you’d stay friendly with them and would somehow wind up having so much fun in the process that you’d forget all about the big event they promised that invariably never came.

It’s an episode of Leave It To Beaver in the making and here I am stuck in the role of Larry Mondello.

Honest, Beav, I betcha anything that Big Joe Turner is going to be one of the best rock stars in the world soon. You’ll see!
 

 
Thus far on Spontaneous Lunacy we’ve encountered Joe Turner four times and for the most part the results have hardly been promising.

Oh, he can definitely sing, there’s never been any question about that. Even if we weren’t aware of his song catalog dating back to the tail end of the 1930’s and the pioneering work he laid down that ignited the national boogie woogie craze during that time we’d have to be deaf AND dumb to not see that he possessed a mighty set of pipes and the intuitive sense of how to use them.

But there’s a big difference between merely having a treasure map and actually collecting the treasure itself and basking in its riches and to date in rock ‘n’ roll Big Joe Turner is still scuffling by on public relief.
 

What In The World Is Wrong With My Mind?
Much of this failure has been due to the musical accompaniment and the presumed mindsets of those arranging the sessions. But as stated with Mardi Gras Boogie from back in September with the same musicians as he features here, this stylistic schism is hard to comprehend when you realize that two of horn players are Maxwell Davis and Dootsie Williams whose rock credentials aren’t in question.

Our last review for Messin’ Around was particularly vexing because Turner and company actually DID do everything required to effectively sell the song, but it’s just that the way they sold it was a little out of place for rock’s marketplace, kind of like selling prayer shawls at a strip club or serving frozen daiquiris at a kindergartener’s birthday party. The merchandise might be of high quality but it wasn’t quite the right setting for it.

With just one exception to date (Low Down Dog) we’re at the point now where Big Joe Turner, based strictly on the output we’ve covered and its fit within the larger world of rock ‘n’ roll’s evolution, is shaping up to be a minor figure at best, a borderline irrelevancy at worst. Yet I keep insisting that Turner will wind up rewarding anyone who believes in him in spite of all of the evidence to the contrary and am straining credibility by asking you… BEGGING you even… to keep giving him another chance.

And another and another…

But if you’re so kind as to give me the benefit of every doubt once again in the hopes I come through for you at last, you’ll be promptly rewarded for your patience by being told with his latest release, So Many Women Blues, that the results are…. misguided and completely underwhelming, despite a cast full of characters made up of A-list actors and a top notch director (presumably Davis, who was one of the best producers in rock history.).

And, once again, after bemoaning the missteps along the way I STILL won’t be ready to concede Turner’s time is through even though there’s absolutely no credible evidence that he’d ever be able to find his mark again.

So you’ll be entirely pardoned if you ask in agonized frustration, What in the name of Lumpy Rutherford is going on here?
 


 
 

Can’t Tell The Difference From Time To Time
The trumpets and piano that kicks this off provides a somewhat welcome respite from the hand-wringing explanation that preceeded the actual review, giving this a palpable sense of modernity that previous singles of Turner barely hinted at. It’s not cutting edge by any means, as Maxwell Davis’s muscular sax takes a back seat to Dootsie Williams’ trumpet, always a sign of lagging behind the curve when it comes to rock, but at least it’s energetic and even vibrant and when the piano comes into the picture hammering away on the treble keys you think that maybe the sun is going to peak through the dark clouds hovering over Turner’s head lo these many months.

Sorry to break the news, but get out your umbrellas because here comes the rain again.

The horns that follow now revert to a trite passage that would be better served in a swankier club that rock will never be allowed to set foot in, thereby undercutting all of the (admittedly slight) momentum and returning us to the state of “What in the hell are we doing here?”.

But Joe Turner himself is not so easily deterred.

Here at least he’s got with him a storyline far more appropriate for rock’s clubhouse than much of what he’s offered before this. So Many Women Blues is precisely what it promises in its title – a rather egotistical tale of a ladies man who is so swamped with female admirers that he can’t keep their names straight and so thematically at least this is one song that has legs – multiple pairs of legs by the sound of it.

The problem is those legs aren’t attached to a body, for the lyrics used are far too non-specific, lacking in any quality details that would have us cracking a smile or maintain more than shallow interest in what is to come. They’re a mere generalization, a synopsis of the story stretched out to cover for the lack of a well-written full-length script that should rightfully be teaming with colorful characters, juicy details, some interesting conflict and lots of vibrant scenes.

Instead this is a fourth grader’s attempt at churning out a story in five minutes so he can go outside for recess. A few stick figure stand-ins for three dimensional people.
 

 

Have A Drink Or Two
Along the way we’re introduced to a variety of ladies, but there’s no differences in them outside of their names – and even that’s conflicted by the fact he amends a “sweet” to each of their names – “Sweet Lucy” “Sweet Adeline”, etc. We don’t get to actually MEET any of the girls, or even ONE of them, to get some sense of character, they’re just names on a call sheet, without so much as an attached a head shot to let us get a mental picture of their various attributes. They’re not even fleshed out enough to rightly call them “character sketches”, nor even character doodles. As such we have no interest in them at all aside from whatever yearning Joe himself manages to convey on such flimsy testimony.

Turner’s also singing it from a strange perspective, one that doesn’t really jibe with the song’s premise. Throughout this he sounds almost put upon by his popularity, weighed down by it somehow. If it’s possible to be melancholy about the burden of getting laid by a different eager gal each night that’s precisely how Turner sounds and as a result it loses even the voyeuristic appeal such a song would seem to advertise.

Imagine Wynonie Harris tackling this subject… you’d have to hose him down by the first chorus so his erection didn’t stab listeners in the eye and blind them! THAT’S the ribald attitude the narrator should be using to capture your full undivided attention. Turner by contrast seems to almost regard these nightly bedroom romps as a penance for some unnamed sin in a previous life.

Luckily the horns are under no such moral restraint once the soloing commences, for here’s where the song shakes free of its conflicted intent and aims straight at the loins, pulling it out of the fire where it was about to be fully incinerated.

Of course, it’s still not enough to escape without being singed a bit. Davis isn’t about to be locked up as a sexual deviant by any means, but at least he’s showing a healthy libido in his playing. But unfortunately it only starts a minute and thirty-eight seconds into the proceedings and twenty-three seconds later it’s all over. (Girls, feel free to use whatever jokes spring to mind about their lack of… umm… endurance in the sack).

By this point even Turner shows signs that he understands he’s letting everybody down with his lackadaisical approach, from his musical (and carnal) playmates to the listener forced to endure this awkward attempt at half-hearted groping in the dark, as he declares on the next line – “Sometimes I wonder what in the world is wrong with my mind”.

So do we, Joe. So do we.
 


 

Wind Up All The Time With…
Here’s a case where not even I’m going to try and convince anybody that there are extenuating circumstances to be considered when evaluating this. Or to urge readers to look for the bright spots on the dark horizon by trying to point out the strength of his voice, because it’s not really strong here at all, at least not what we’re used to with him. Frankly it sounds lethargic (maybe he’s suffering from some venereal disease he contracted on his spin through his female rolodex and that’s what sapped his strength).

So this time I won’t make excuses, won’t ask for a continuation without finding, won’t beg for another chance. You probably wouldn’t give it to me anyway and I wouldn’t blame you. There comes a time when all of the earnest insistence someone can muster will fall on deaf ears and I’ve clearly reached that point. Ward and June have every right to send my sorry ass upstairs without supper for telling such boldfaced cock and bull stories about Joe’s artistic merits.

As of this moment my ongoing claims as to the vast potential of Big Joe Turner as a rock singer have about as much believability as Eddie Haskell’s smarmy loud-mouth boasts.

So you’ll be excused if you think all this time I’ve just been giving you the business.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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