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DELUXE 3213; APRIL, 1949

 
 


One of the undeniable benefits of covering rock ‘n’ roll’s history one song at a time as opposed to a single overstuffed book that tries desperately to cram in every pertinent fact by reducing them all to mere footnotes, is being able to zero in on important, but usually overlooked, moments where the first signs of something on the horizon come into view.

We’re not talking the big picture changes that have been over-analyzed for more than a half a century already (Gee, you say this Elvis Presley character appearing on the national scene in 1956, hips-a-swiveling, lips-a-sneering, was a major event? Thanks for the update! And those shaggy haired British chaps arriving in America in the dead of winter in 1964 created a bit of a stir? That’s good to know! And what of this television network in the 1980’s that actually played music like a radio, except they added elaborately filmed video montages to supplement it? That went over well, did it?).

Instead the really fascinating moments come where a key figure down the road arrives and offers something new but not quite so revolutionary as to be remarked upon by anybody, yet in time the changes they bring about are every bit as transformative as the landmark moments known by one and all.
 

 
New Orleans Record Man
In late 1947 we met such a figure, though nobody (including us if we’d been around then) would’ve ever guessed his importance based on Dave Bartholomew’s first two records as a recording artist, both of which (She’s Got Great Big Eyes and Dave’s Boogie Woogie) were decidedly underwhelming, even for that time when nothing much about rock was very advanced.

The fact we then went more than a year without a single sighting of him during which time he was hardly missed as rock ‘n’ roll took off both artistically and commercially, coalescing into a rapidly expanding musical and cultural juggernaut, tells you that his initial forays into rock were probably all you’d wind up hearing from him, his career over before it really even began.

In truth it was just getting started and while he would go on to make some great records as an artist, including one big hit under his own name, his greatest achievement was in establishing the role of producer as a true creative and artistic force in rock rather than just some stuffed shirt calling out the number of the take in the control booth while eating a ham sandwich.

He wrote, arranged and produced so many hits – and so many more landmark records that weren’t officially hits – that there’s a good case to be made that he, more than anyone else in rock history, was the greatest behind the scenes talent the genre has ever known.

This was where that creative reinvention began, on New Orleans Lover Man, a side that even the most ardent rock historians and Bartholomew enthusiasts have overlooked when tracking his career arc, for while he wasn’t officially credited as producer here that’s surely the job he was doing here with Chubby Newsom.

 

 

I Got A Man Who’s Every Woman’s Dream
Ironically enough Bartholomew’s Dixieland affinity makes itself known on the very first notes, which would be one of the things he’d soon cast aside when surveying the landscape and realizing that it didn’t fit in rock’s bold new frontiers. But for a song distinctly referencing the joys of New Orleans it’s entirely appropriate all the same.

Since he was probably assigned just as the leader of the backing band for the session it’s not surprising to find that it’s Dave himself on the trumpet and while the resulting sound of the extended intro is anything but cutting edge it’s merely to set up the appearance of Newsom, who herself comes in wearing a new persona, one which positions her quite unexpectedly as a dreamy love-struck woman which contrasts nicely with her more typical role as a sensual woman on the prowl.

This Chubby Newsom embodies certain traits we never thought we’d hear from her when listening to her thrust her hips and stick out her breasts at us in Hip Shakin’ Mama or Back Bitin’ Woman. Here Chubby is tender and sincere, starry-eyed and vulnerable and the amazing thing about it is how convincing she is as the somewhat inexperienced ingénue.

But what allows us to believe this turnabout isn’t just the lighter breathier tone she sings with (though that helps) but rather the subtle touches in how Bartholomew frames her vocals by diversifying the sounds typically heard, or shading them differently than they’d been used before.

Earnest McLean will likely get even less recognition for his status as an all-time great guitarist than Bartholomew will as a producer but McLean was one of the masters of early rock, possessing a light touch and perfectly played fills, which were all most guitarists were called on to do in those days. But each line he plays in response to Newsom’s plaudits of her dream man give this a hazy effect, something akin to how directors in old Hollywood would have a thin coating of Vaseline applied to the lens in order to produce a similar dreamy look for actresses in black and white films.

The result here is something that becomes wistful in Newsom’s reading, even though she’s not referring to a distant memory from her past but rather her current infatuation. Bartholomew’s muted trumpet behind her adds just the right touch, suggesting she’s in a crowded room where all the sights and sounds fade into the background as she thinks of the guy who’s won her heart.

But since this is Chubby Newsom we’re talking about – a girl who’s reputation rests on her sexually carnivorous reputation – Bartholomew employs multiple stop time bridges to let her boast about what this fella does to her when the lights go out, adding after the first: “You girls know what I mean”… which makes sure that what was implied leading up to it isn’t lost on anyone. In the end though, at least to satiate the rabid and horny male fan base she had earned, that concession to her dominant image wasn’t quite enough.
 

Everything Is Fine In New Orleans
To say this provides all the evidence you’d need to predict Bartholomew’s eventual stature as a rock producer would be patently false, but when studying it you definitely can see the start of his ascent to that position in how he tackles the job. He’s not using the existing blueprints of Paul Gayten who’d already achieved success with Newsom (among others), instead Bartholomew is venturing out on his own, trying his hand with different techniques, going by instinct and letting the results tell him how much further he needs to adjust his approach. If it’s possible to see a producer’s mind at work just by listening to a song as he attempts to learn on the job New Orleans Lover Man gives you that opportunity.

He makes some missteps for sure, the featured horn solo is much too modest to really connect and is even a bit old fashioned sounding. But that’s not because of its construction as much as it’s due to its choice of sonic textures. Like so many others Bartholomew is still working out which instruments, and by that I mean which horns, are best for delivering the greatest musical impact while still conveying the requisite passages to convey the proper mood. He nails the latter but misses the former, the outdated sound soon to be replaced wholesale once he was able to gauge the reaction.

But while the record itself falls a bit short in doing all it needed to continue Newsom’s strong commercial run, it does expand her potential for a more varied approach in the future, as well as dealing with the issue of just what components can be used in all of rock music going forward and how to best utilize them in that stylistic context. Most of all throughout this you can sense Bartholomew’s intelligence and restless creativity formulating solutions to problems that others hadn’t even begun to address.

That of course doesn’t help Newsom much here, for while she offers up an excellent delivery that shows her in a new light the absence of her most defining attribute probably had some fans shying away from this and without a more obvious musical detonation being employed it wasn’t going to win back any disaffected listeners.
 

 

It’s funny in a way that Newsom was the one who’d been so forward looking when we first saw her and now she was at risk for being left behind because she was tied to that one successful image and therefore any changes to it – no matter how well done – were bound to be rejected.

On the other hand we have in Dave Bartholomew someone who was busily plotting how to take the next step musically and making some notable changes that would usher in the sounds of tomorrow, yet here it’s the slightly outdated sounds that hold this back.

The shifting landscape in any creative evolution is never an easy one to traverse and even here, with two highly skilled practitioners, the footing was still a little unsteady. But they were headed in the right direction with the confidence required to make it to the other side. That fate would intervene and sever their partnership before it had a chance to gel would ultimately cost Newsom her chance at long term viability and as such she’d remain a beautiful monument to the first stage of the rock civilization now reaching its apex.

Bartholomew on the other hand would soon lay the plans, establish the architecture and build the structures that would define the second stage of rock’s growing empire just coming into sight over the next horizon.

The unfortunate casualty of such a fast-moving transformation is that these two figures representing those initial stages of New Orleans rock wind up missing their connection in the station.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Chubby Newsom for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)