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RCA 20-4293; SEPTEMBER 1951

 
 

 

“Image” is a strange thing. Though it may be accurate more times than not in life, it’s also a lazy shortcut when it comes to truly making a fair assessment of somebody.

Case in point: John Greer, or Big John as he was frequently billed.

His bespectacled bookish appearance and light modest voice suggests someone distinctly out of place in rock ‘n’ roll and so when he made the move to this field a few years back to capitalize on its growing popularity he did so by using his tenor sax skills to try and stir up excitement that way with fair to middling results.

But he stuck with it and the more vocal records he released the more ill-fitting he seemed, his ballads were too lightweight and his racier numbers sounded forced.

His image was all wrong in other words.

But here he finally shows that there was a middle ground that suited him best, one that provided him with a suitable rhythm for rock’s confines without needing to go overboard in the process and best of all one where his personality – that malleable image that bedeviled him – could be taken advantage of rather than undercut his effectiveness.
 

 

Wasn’t Doing Right
Though no artist with any ambition could possibly complain about having too much opportunity heaped on his plate, John Greer at times could certainly find fault with having to lead a double life as a musician as a result of this.

His work with Lucky Millinder’s band required him to be a demure vocalist and a restrained instrumentalist, only occasionally delving into something with a little more vitality to not let the current music scene get too far ahead of the group who still longed for the tranquil environment of the mid-40’s scene.

Yet as a solo artist he was often being required to shed all decorum and act in a manner not befitting a mature responsible adult of his stature. When he tried to mellow out and croon love songs though he risked being rejected by rock audiences altogether.

That’d be fine by him most likely, after all there was still a sizable fan base of older black music lovers who supported that milder style, but anyone with their pulse on the market could tell the ability to secure hits with that approach was lessening with each passing month as rock became more and more entrenched with the most sizable demographic.

So just to ensure he didn’t lose his tenuous grip on that audience he’d try and give them something more to their liking but with sax instrumentals on the wane his options were becoming limited, which is why Have Another Drink And Talk To Me is such a good compromise.

Now the word compromise, much like the word image, is fraught with different connotations, mostly negative in this instance, but which when taken literally is actually something to strive towards because it allows you to give props to something just outside your comfort zone while not selling yourself out just to do so.

In big John Greer’s case that calculated compromise ensured that he was finally able to find a fitting voice for this brand of music, one that was perfectly suited to his persona without betraying rock’s image in the process.
 

I Ain’t Lookin’ For No Trouble
If you were casting John Greer in a rock ‘n’ roll production, this is the role he was meant to play. Clever and calculating, yet something of an outsider on the scene.

Sound familiar?

The story gives us a deep and gradually unfolding plot in which Greer learns that his girl has been seeing someone else and he’s determined to get to the bottom of things. It’s not clear if she’s been sleeping around, or just flirting around, but she’s been seen having drinks with another man and going on the premise of where there’s smoke, there’s fire, Greer needs to track them down to gauge the situation and decide whether confront them.

In someone else’s hands this would be ripe for an alternative reading. Someone like Ivory Joe Hunter would moan about it to himself alone in a darkened room, then swallow his pride when she staggered home insisting she was out “with friends”. Wynonie Harris on the other hand would retaliate by getting two, if not three, girls in response and go to the bar his girl was at, flaunting his catches in front of her and perhaps suggest they all go back home to have an orgy just as a capper to the night’s festivities.

Somewhere in between those two extremes sits John Greer, someone who is not going to take this lying down, but not prone to overreact either. What stands out about him compared to most of his brethren in the rock field is that he’s smart enough to go about this methodically by recruiting an informant to help him piece together the story.

It’s the informant, a drunk at the bar with an eye on his fellow patrons, who he is directing the line Have Another Drink And Talk To Me, plying him with additional rounds to learn the details of this alleged affair he may have witnessed.

He’s essentially playing detective here and as he works on this drunk to garner information he’s tossing in asides like “I guess you know I trust my baby” before digging for more dirt, essentially trying to convince the mole he’s got no bad intentions himself while also making himself look better to the listening audience.

It’s a masterfully written song, filled with drama, intrigue and conflict, both internal and external, but told with wit and charm in a way that flows so naturally (and melodically) that it actually sounds like a one-sided conversation between him and the barfly.

Because it plays to Greer’s strengths as a modest unassuming everyman there’s no posturing for effect here. He comes across as someone who truly DOES have a vested interest in finding out if he’s being played for a sap and is trying to keep his emotions in check until he gets the information he needs to make a firm decision on the relationship.

While the lyrics are virtually flawless, the music is only reasonably effective at best, slightly underwhelming at worst, particularly the horn section behind him which at one points almost veers into movie soundtrack syndrome with a panoramic musical vista scene but quickly course corrects and later gives us a pretty decent sax solo to compensate. Meanwhile the rhythm section is first rate with bass and drums being frequently supplemented by hand claps which along with the band serving as vocalists answering him during the refrains makes this an easy track to simply hop on board and coast downhill to the finish.
 


 

Get Yours And I’ll Get Mine
Because John Greer was not the kind of artist to knock you off your feet he was easy to dismiss even under the best of circumstances. Of course when he fails to provide the requisite attributes of the best rockers when he vacations in our neighborhood it’s not too hard to poke fun at him for being in over his head.

But while that may be warranted at times strictly when evaluating his output as it pertains to rock ‘n’ roll, it’s easy to see why Greer had the opportunity to try his hand in this field while sustaining viable career in another at the same time which is the fact he was always doggedly competent in what he did.

Not everything suited his specific talents but he didn’t embarrass himself trying because he took each role seriously, never condescended to the material and gave a honest effort each time out.

When he DID find something that meshed well with his image, like Have Another Drink And Talk To Me, he pulled it off with effortless grace, nailing every nuance right down to the beautifully devious clinching argument to his unwitting accomplice that ranks as one of the better individual lyrics when considering story context of any record in rock’s first four years.

Maybe it’s not a pounding assault on the senses or an achingly soulful vocal performance to leave you in awe of his abilities, nor does it have the excitement or musical virtuosity of so many more celebrated records. Even if it was well received it still wouldn’t have what it takes to make him a star.

But in terms of sheer craftsmanship this is a great performance in creating a three-dimensional character in the midst of a tawdry tale which gets better the more you listen and for once he gives us a record that perfectly fits his enduring image.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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

 
Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
 
Peppermint Harris (October, 1951)