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RCA 20-5037; NOVEMBER 1952



Good artists who missed consistent mainstream acclaim, at the time or in the years since, have a tendency to be called underrated.

Those who weren’t appreciated for being ahead of their time are more likely to be called historically undervalued.

Obviously those who flew under the radar completely are ones you say are criminally unknown when you discover them down the road.

But those like Big John Greer who occasionally got hits and sustained a little interest over time but never came close to being stars are more aptly called underappreciated… sort of a banal mea culpa ideally suited for somebody who rarely drew attention to himself.


Oh I Miss You So, More Than You Could Know
Just how far John Greer’s reputation has fallen since his heyday in the early 1950’s when he scored one huge hit while serving as RCA Records’ most consistent sacrificial lamb on the alter of rock ‘n’ roll while simultaneously holding down the tenor sax chair – and occasional lead vocalist – for Lucky Millinder’s band, as well as doing the odd sideman gig for others, is easily seen by how few of his releases are available to hear today in any form but the original 78’s.

He had a few CD collections come out back when that technology was actually a thing, but most were hardly doing more than skimming the surface of his output, not pretending to be completist in nature. Consequently in the years since there’ve been few online or streaming sources for his work either, as the fan uploads tend to come from those CD’s, or every so often the vintage 78’s, while Spotify’s selections for him are skimpy enough that he might as well be on the witness protection program.

As a result we’ve missed reviewing a good deal of his singles, leaving sizable gaps in his discography. Then again it’s reasonable to say that if any of them were unbelievable rockers I’m sure they’d be a lot easier to find so you could make the argument we probably haven’t missed too much.

But that’s not the right way to think about it, and surely we don’t want to ever justify dismissing somebody’s life work with the wave of a hand like that, so upon meeting up with Greer again we’re left to ask what he’s been up to Since You Went Away From Me.

For once the answer isn’t a non-committal shrug of little interest to anyone, but rather as we get into this song it’s something which has us wondering what other intriguing sides like this we might have missed along the way.

All The Folks I Meet
One of the unofficial sidelines in trying to cover each rock artist’s releases chronologically around here, is to also see how various songwriters and producers are faring as they too progress over time.

Among the more frequent contributors in those roles are Howard Biggs and Joe Thomas who’ve gotten a lot of work primarily because they were employed by major labels, like RCA, who tend to sign the kind of artists who either aren’t creative enough to come up with their own material, or who frankly aren’t trusted enough to come up with something suitable for the toned down rock-lite market the company wants to attract with these records.

As a result we’ve complimented them at times for their professional polish while coming up with decent subjects and some pleasant melodies while at the same time criticizing their tendency to pull back on the racier elements, both lyrically and musically, that might make them a lot more enjoyable to our ears.

Here on Since You Went Away From Me they have similar conflicts but it’s one where the good slightly outweighs the bad in large part due to their rather obvious inspiration, which is another mild-mannered rock act, Ivory Joe Hunter.

Right off you can see the melody is built upon the enduring foundation of I Almost Lost My Mind, though the melodic deviations they employ from Hunter’s record are small but telling. They wisely avoid the strict rise and fall progression which had the effect in Ivory Joe’s song to offer hope that was quickly dashed each time through, ending each line with a pessimistic note, choosing instead to leave the outcome more ambiguous by never dropping back down the scale all the way. The effect this has is to allow Big John Greer to maintain a modicum hope in his voice, even though lyrically his prospects are far more dire than Hunter’s were.

You can certainly say that the two should’ve switched stories to better match their respective outlooks, but the melodic adjustments here are nice enough where you don’t mind the incongruous plot, especially because it adds a much needed element of optimism to the proceedings. By doing so Greer’s plaintive voice, which is as endearing as ever, may even get you to believe that it’s not the girl he’s trying to win back as much as it is the listener eavesdropping on his sorrow.

Meanwhile the construction of the song by Biggs and Thomas, adding small additional touches each time it cycles through – Bill Doggett’s piano, followed by baritone and then tenor sax, even an annoying trumpet in the bridge – shows that they were at least putting legitimate effort into the arrangement.

Obviously the fact the record’s primary identity is largely swiped from a much better three year old song means it’s going to take a hit in the originality department, otherwise what’s the point of coming up with new songs if the old ones can always be recrafted? But while this is derivative by nature, it’s also a pretty fair reflection of the better technical qualities of the participants and since we were starting to wonder if any of them still had it in them, that alone makes it reasonably worthwhile.


All I Do Is Sigh
Even if this was a pleasant diversion and didn’t exactly hurt Big John Greer’s standing in the rock sweepstakes by being completely out of step, it wasn’t doing anything to elevate him above the middling position he already held, nor was it giving RCA anything which could conceivably move them closer to the lead independent labels.

That was always going to be the problem with the major companies, not to mention with the less creatively ambitious artists – and writer/producers – they tended to hire to try and get their foot in the door of rock ‘n’ roll.

Big John Greer and records like Since You Went Away From Me were “safe choices” by design… things to just keep them in the race rather than attempt to win it. More than anything though it probably confirmed they were merely biding time while hoping that someone would come along and shut the race down altogether, maybe declare rock ‘n’ roll illegal, so they could return to a music they understood better.

Until they prove otherwise it seems they were far more afraid of letting somebody cut loose completely and risk scoring a legitimate hit that would draw the rock audience to their doorstep, expecting more of the same and tainting their carefully constructed image in the process.

To their way of thinking it was far better to make calculated overtures to rock listeners with milder songs like this so that nobody would think that anarchy reigned and the inmates had finally taken over the asylum which is what RCA feared most.

By contrast at least guys like Big John Greer, Joe Thomas and Howard Biggs would never try and incite a riot and overthrow the company.


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