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RCA 22-0076; APRIL 1950



We’re in the midst of a pretty strong run of songs the last month or so… following a prolonged stretch of hearing nothing much better than average… but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

With all these bright green numbers popping up – and even more to follow – we know there may be those in the audience getting a little over-stimulated by all this excitement which can be taxing on the heart and lead to dizzy spells, fainting and even – dare I say – death.

Since we don’t want to lose any readers, nor get tangled up in an inquest, maybe we should take a breather from the unadulterated thrill of reading about one great rock ‘n’ roll record after another.

With that in mind what better person to call on to let us cool our heels for a minute than Big John Greer… the affable “friend of a friend” when it comes to this music who’s always just happy that you invited him to join you for a night on the town.


Be Right Back The Next Day
Each time we’ve encountered Big John Greer we’ve said how his decision to head in rock’s general direction was one borne out of opportunity and circumstance rather than musical preference and that he was unquestionably one of the last artists to make the cut before rock’s roster was trimmed down to size.

Yet in spite of his lack of conviction in rock’s aesthetic qualities Greer has proven to be rather hard to shake free of. His easy-going nature made him far more agreeable when being asked to delve into rock than a lot of more obstinate artists who’d turn their nose up at such requests and so, ill-fitting or not, Greer soldiered on, offering up just enough rock qualities in his work to keep his membership from lapsing.

Because he’ll reward our patience with him down the road we don’t want to shortchange the path he took to finally get to the promised land, but at the same time it can feel at times like we were paying off a debt by including him for records that barely qualify as rock.

But let’s not forget that this part of rock’s story too – those artists who flirt with it but have trouble committing, or maybe more appropriately for someone as seemingly timid as Greer, someone who has eyes for a girl across the room but is too shy to go up and ask her out.

Each time Greer goes home from these dances without having gotten up the nerve to jitterbug with some comely young lass he yanks off his tie in disgust while muttering to himself, I’ll Never Do That Again and yet the next time the country club or cotillion puts on another dance he digs that tie back out, slips on his best shoes and heads back down hoping this time it’ll be different.

…Just as we do every time he offers up another record that only hints at the music we came to hear.

I Was Scufflin’
This time around we can reasonably say there’s a pretty good rock song to be made from the individual components of this record if you had the inclination to do so.

Not a great song certainly, but more than acceptable if you just broke down I’ll Never Do That Again for parts and reassembled it with a few notable changes in the arrangement. Unfortunately it’s that stodgy arrangement that Big John Greer probably felt most comfortable with – and surely RCA felt most comfortable with – and so instead we get a record that teases us with some appealing rock elements before quickly stuffing those in a closet somewhere and slamming the door so it doesn’t escape and infect the rest of their artists.

The most obvious high point is the story itself – though not an original idea by any means – which has Greer complaining about the girl he’s dating using him for money.

Now right away we can tell by how unperturbed he sounds about this revelation that Big John is just too nice a guy to be a convincing rocker. He’s making it clear, as evidenced by the title, that he’s had enough of her conniving but unlike other rock acts who’d be a lot more forceful about it, or in some cases would be over-emotional about it if they really loved the girl, Greer seems to be willing to chalk it up as a learning experience and is content to simply move on without much fuss.

His blood pressure thanks him for being so rational about it, but rock listeners want to see him bust a gasket when telling us about this gold-digger because there are some pretty good lines here that deserve a richer delivery to put across. Best of all is the verbal tongue-twister that serves as the de facto chorus that requires not just a nimble mind to get the words right, but also a good sense of rhythm to make sure they keep from piling up on one another.

But while the story is suitable and the words he spits out suffice, what’s missing is some sort of visceral emotional response from him which would enable us to really care about his plight.

That placid demeanor might make him a lot easier to get along with in everyday life than a brash egotistical boor like Wynonie Harris but it doesn’t make for the most compelling rock artist who needs to project a swaggering arrogance, or at the very least on a song like this a level of haughty disgust like Big Joe Turner might… even a measure of sly sarcastic humor that was becoming a distinctive trait of Dave Bartholomew. Really any choice would’ve made a better alternative than Greer merely absorbing the emotional blows in silence without finding some way to vent.


That’s A Lot Of Bunk
Of course by comparison to some of the musical accompaniment he’s saddled with, Greer comes across as a raving lunatic which pretty much tells you all you need to know about how the brass at RCA were couching their attempts at fitting in with the rock program.

Yet even here we find some attributes on I’ll Never Do That Again which, if emphasized more, could work fairly well. The basic melody isn’t bad, there’s some signs of rhythm embedded in the track, and the dead stop before Greer delivers the punchlines of each stanza which is then met with the drums and horns prancing with a staccato punctuation is a nice touch.

One aspect that was woefully under-utilized is a guitar that has a really nice clear tone that’s briefly brought into the mix, but aside from two stand alone notes as a lead-in to the vocal bridge they don’t find an effective role for him to play, awkwardly letting him float over the dominant melody played by the others which makes the whole track seem discombobulated when it appears.

The worst aspect though, as you surely have come to expect with these type of songs, are the pop-like sighing of the horns after the second refrain in each chorus… stretching their notes upward and in the process coming across as if this ordeal that Greer is complaining about isn’t worth their time or attention.

If his own bandmates are indifferent to his troubles than what hope is there that anyone in the listening audience will give a damn?

Therein lies the problem with pop-oriented labels taking a pre-rock outfit and trying to pass them off as legitimate rockers. Each party is naturally going to be inclined to do what comes most natural to them musically and what appears most acceptable to them aesthetically.

While all of them certainly have the technical ability to make the necessary adjustments to the arrangement, none of them intuitively can see the benefits to adding a more prominent backbeat so it struts rather than prances… or the need for harsh riffing saxes rather than lightly moaning mixed horns so that the mood is insistent rather than demure… and nobody there had any reason to question why the guitar wasn’t given some fierce accent notes and a quick slashing solo to suggest a hint of retribution instead of having it imply some sort of dreamy acquiescence to the harsh realities of love gone astray.

They failed not because they were incapable of playing the right way, but because they were unable to see HOW it should be played in order to reach a rock audience who unlike the band had no such trouble understanding what was required.

Give My Money To Other Men
Rock ‘n’ roll was different from most other styles not simply because of the precise musical elements being offered, but also the attitude of the performers who were playing it.

Big John Greer is falling short time and again due more to his overall personality than his musical ability. To fit in he doesn’t need to turn into a fire-breathing hell-raiser on record, get a reputation as a sex maniac or be the last one standing at the end of the night after guzzling a half gallon of gin (besides, if he did those things then what would be left for Wynonie Harris to do?), but Greer does need to inject a swagger in his walk a little more, not so much to convince US he’s genuine, but to convince himself before he gets in front of the microphone.

I’ll Never Do That Again shows once again that while he may have enough musical talent to make due, until he embraces a more confident persona he’s going to remain a wallflower who winds up walking back to his apartment alone after every dance.

That’s no way to go through life, Big John, and it’s sure no way to become a rock star either.


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