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SAVOY 761; SEPTEMBER 1950

 
 

 

With a string of stellar records to start his career and with some big hits still on the horizon, it’s probably to be expected that this comparatively modest single got obscured by the releases surrounding it in Billy Wright’s discography.

Oftentimes less successful – and thus lesser known – records are modernly obscure for a good reason but while this single may not have been among his elite sides it was hardly something that deserves to be mostly forgotten either.

In fact, as “misses” go, this actually kinda hits its mark in a rather surprising way, which means maybe the ones who missed it were the rock fans of 1950.
 

 

Change Your Town
Since there’s no way around the fact that his vocals clearly are going to always get the bulk of the praise Billy Wright earns, that fierce tenor that can shred a speaker cone with one well-placed cry, his other attributes tended to be overshadowed by that voice and his dynamic delivery.

But here, where there’s not any new levels reached on the intensity of his singing, nor any notes being held “for show” or even a particularly intoxicating melody to focus on, he shows once again that he knows how to ease you into a song in a way that – if you didn’t know its source – would leave you pretty surprised by the end.

Because Savoy Records credited Wright – along with producer Teddy Reig, who surely was responsible FOR assigning those credits – with songs he had no hand in writing, it’s always best to have a deeper knowledge of past music when it comes to his catalog.

Whether it was Wright himself who pulled these songs out of the recesses of his memory, as I’m guessing he did with his most brilliant record to date, You Satisfy, a Jesse Price song that he surely heard by way of Dinah Washington’s rendition, or if it was Reig who mined the long-forgotten catalogs of other artists in other styles when looking for material, the result of these revivals was surprisingly fresh and modern, something seen perfectly in ’Fore Day Blues, a song first done way back in the 1920’s by blues queen Ida Cox (written by pianist Jesse Crump, who was also her second husband) as ‘Fore Day Creep

The song contains some great lines that paint a very colorful picture of relationships and by extension reveals a lot about the character in the song, at least as portrayed by Wright… insecure, suspicious, resourceful and a little unhinged in a humorous way.
 

Have You Ever…
With an intentionally amateurish choppy piano intro leading into Wright’s somewhat subdued vocals over a bed of soft horns this gives the feel of a fairly standard cut for the times, yet it’s not quite something we’ve heard on his records before.

In the past he’s run the gamut from dramatic openings to rousing ones and more recently some melancholy sounding lead-ins, but once the piano gives way to his voice this has the feel of something familiar.

In that regard its reception at the time was probably not helped by the fact that the story takes its own sweet time to set up, which is admirable in theory but maybe a detriment when it comes to capturing people’s attention on the first spin. With ’Fore Day Blues there was a chance you’d lose interest and your mind would wander before he really got into the meat of the song because the set-up is fairly predictable.

He’s complaining about the risks of overstaying your welcome, both with women and locations, and it comes across like a generalized sentiment that isn’t going to have any personal relevance to him as there seems to be no story to get hooked on and thus no pay off to make it all worthwhile.

But on the second stanza we get the first hint regarding the humorous bent in store for us as he warns you not to lose your mind… an off-handed comment, sure, but one that is very prescient because of what follows.

The plot twist comes at the end of that section when this fairly sweeping advice gets narrowed down considerably as he tells the men listening that if they lose their own women to keep away from HIS!

Therein lies the point of all this and with the modest instrumental break that follows – a fairly innocuous sax playing a rather sleepy solo – you think that it’s going to be wrapped up in similar fashion with wide-ranging counsel about personal responsibility, behaving well and not overreacting when things don’t go your way… stuff we’ve all heard from our mothers a few thousand times over the years.

Instead when he returns he shows that the one person who didn’t listen to those helpful suggestions was Billy Wright himself.
 

I’m Gonna Tell You Somethin’
It might be difficult to convince anyone that just two stanzas at the end of a two and a half minute record can drastically change your opinion of said record, but while the first part of this was shaping up to be an average, or even a slightly below par offering from Wright, the last third of the record elevates it considerably in ways you don’t expect.

The turnabout comes in his own outlook, for while he began this tale as the level-headed friend dispensing advice, his motivation was selfish because he has reason to expect others seeking to score with his girlfriend and is trying to ward them off.

That early clue now comes to fruition as he tells us with a straight face that he’s going to “Gonna buy me a bulldog to watch my woman while she sleeps”!

So much for behaving responsibly!

The funniest thing about this – and no, it’s not laugh out loud funny, but it should consistently bring a smile to your face when you think of the implications each time – is that he’s not angry when he’s saying this. He comes across as completely rational, as if guard dogs were originally bred with the express purpose of keeping your decidedly shaky love life intact!

The questions this “solution” raises are just as humorous as getting Butch or Spike or Fido to watch over her in the first place, namely does he think another man is climbing in his bedroom window and getting it on with her while he’s (presumably) sleeping soundly alongside of her, or more likely is she waiting until Billy’s asleep and then getting out of bed, creeping stealthily downstairs and out the door for a late night rendezvous with some guy down the street?

Either way that’s a pretty tall order just for some nookie.

He concludes this part by claiming all girls are “crooked”, a wonderful – and underratedly funny – word that says a lot more about his warped mindset than the females who have to put up with his Inspector Clouseau routine as he’s resigned to the belief that men and women are cheaters by nature and therefore such steps are merely sane precautions that everybody would be justified to use.

Needless to say he may be slightly off base here, but hearing him try and give good reason for his wild delusions is ultimately worth the ticket price after all.
 


 

Don’t Mess With Mine
You can certainly see why this one failed to click with audiences despite his glowing track record which included five hits (two national hits and three others high on various regional charts) in just a handful of releases, as this has a fairly innocuous musical track and less impact vocally than what we’re used to with him.

But as a song that allowed its plot threads to slowly wind their way around your senses ’Fore Day Blues packs a more solid – if subtle – punch that makes it a good change of pace for him.

Ida Cox’s original, a fine and stylistically typical blues record from that era, has the same lines but lacks the humor because she’s so straightforward about it from the start. Her vocal inflections are mostly devoid of irony and as a result she takes the role of a far more cynical, yet practical, woman dealing with adultery, a theme and a perspective (especially for women) that defined the blues of the day.

Wright’s modern take on it removes it from those trappings and becomes funnier in part due to the naturally different circumstances of the era and the musical style, but also in no small measure by his vocal choices which brings out elements in it that won’t fail to make you smile even today.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Billy Wright for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)