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OKEH 6873; APRIL 1952



It wasn’t a hit but it was validation if that counts for anything… and when it comes to record labels, especially those that are a subsidiary of a major company like Columbia, it damn well does count for a lot.

Right from the start OKeh Records had at least shown they were making an honest effort to treat rock ‘n’ roll with the respect it deserved by signing tried and true rock acts rather trying to pass off pop aspirants as something they weren’t. But good intentions only go so far when trying to bring legitimacy to a new endeavor and let’s face it, for all of their importance in getting this music off the ground The Ravens were a little long in the tooth by the time they landed at OKeh and were hardly going to be able to anchor the label, while Chris Powell & His Five Blue Flames were similarly compromised in that regard.

Meanwhile more recent additions Larry Darnell, Paul Gayten and Annie Laurie, had also made their biggest splash in the late 1940’s and were not exactly poised to jump back ahead of the creative curve now. As for The Treniers, well they may have indeed gotten the label their first rock hit last summer but stylistically speaking they were a niche unto themselves in rock circles and not someone to build an entire company’s reputation around.

Which left it to Chuck Willis to earn the label their credibility. Though he was still waiting for his first chart entry, his releases have already become the much anticipated highlights of the entire line and with this he delivers yet another winner, thereby assuring OKeh Records that they would be taken seriously.


I Took You Out To Give You A Ball
It can never be overstated how much Chuck Willis the songwriter ensured that Chuck Willis the artist was not only able to fulfill his potential, but to also guarantee there were no missteps created when the record company got one of their not-so-bright ideas when it came to material.

Though others at the label, The Treniers and Paul Gayten specifically, were also accomplished writers, their backgrounds and desire to reach slightly different listeners at times made their output fall just outside the main route rock ‘n’ roll was now on.

Chuck Willis on the other hand was most definitely cruising at top speed down the middle lane of that highway and as such his music was in tune with every listener who was headed in the same direction. There was no generational disconnect to contend with, no stylistic aberrations to endure and no misguided commercial aims to overcome with his compositions.

Not only was Willis a rocker through and through, and the perfect age with the right outlook to connect with the dominant audience, but songwriting was his first love, giving him the means with which to stand out while shaping his own destiny.

We’re still at the point where those who write their own material lag slightly behind those who use mainly outside writers, but it was guys like Chuck Willis who really started the pendulum swinging in the other direction, which was vital in making sure the genre never became creatively stagnant over the years.

Though some artists before him wrote a fair share of their own stuff, Willis wrote almost everything he recorded and still had enough left over to give to other artists in need of material. Loud Mouth Lucy in fact was soon covered on Federal Records by the immortal Pigmeat Peterson (actually Eddie Mack moonlighting… and giving himself away by stealing half the writing credit), while Willis’s future guitarist Roy Gaines also recorded a version of this down the road.

Nobody though could sell it like its author, who shows that while the pen may indeed be mightier than the sword, his voice was always a potent weapon unto itself.


You Thought You Were Smart
How many songs have we had about cheating men in rock’s first four and a half years?

More than a few that’s for sure, but while it’s a promising topic – unless you’re the woman being two-timed of course – since it can encompass everything from the lengths each guy goes when it comes to stepping out on his partner, or the ways in which he tries to conceal it, and after inevitably failing at that, how his sweetie goes about getting revenge either by doing the same to him or dumping him in the gutter… and of course every once in awhile we even get some hearty endorsements regarding these extracurricular activities from Wynonie Harris who makes a practice out of flaunting his peccadillos – most of the songs are told in a fairly straightforward fashion.

Guy has girl, guys wants other girl, guy slips out on first girl to be with second girl… you get the idea.

Chuck Willis more or less does the same thing with Loud Mouth Lucy and he too gets caught. Where this song differs greatly from the rest however, is in the telling of the story as he places the blame squarely on the shoulders of the girl he’s cheating with who can’t keep her big mouth shut about their affair which naturally leads to his steady girl finding out about it.

It’s such an ingenious twist to offer because of how it reframes the entire subject, removing the spurned girl and her feelings from the equation entirely, as well as never admitting to his own misbehavior for what happened. Though Willis shifts responsibility to the girl he was seeing on the sly, showing perhaps how devious he really is, he still manages to make everybody involved come across as likable in the process. It’s an ethical contortionist act but one which he pulls off with relative ease.

Now just so there’s no confusion here, we certainly don’t approve of his actions and hope his regular girl throws him to the curb as he so rightly deserves, but my guess is that even if that were to happen somehow he’d find a way to be let off the hook in the end because clearly if given enough time this guy can talk his way out of anything.


Tell The World About It All
Despite being the one who’s done wrong, Willis takes on a slightly bemused, slightly incredulous tone as he recounts the ways in which Lucy “told on herself” and revealed their liaisons to her friends which in turn made it back to the one woman who they needed to keep this from… Chuck’s main squeeze.

The lines aren’t laugh out loud funny, but they aren’t trying to be. Instead they’re wry observations, brimming with details, wit and – dare I say – charm, along with some exquisite wordplay all of which is delivered with an effortless flow to his vocals that makes it sound as if Willis is shaking his head in wonder as he runs down all of the missteps Loud Mouth Lucy made along the way.

Throw in the rousing horns that clearly are taking his side in this tête-à-tête including a compact tenor solo following Chuck’s fading cry as he backs away from the microphone – which sounds as if he’s recoiling as his girlfriend comes into view – and it’s clear the arrangement itself would make for a good record even without the fireworks of the plot.

He actually has the nerve to come out of the break exasperated by her lack of common sense, going so far as to claim “a woman like you will get a good man killed” and because he’s so sympathetic in his telling of this drama you’re forced to remind yourself that he’s the guilty party in this whole affair and most decidedly not a good man in this song at all.

But he is a great man when it comes to crafting colorful story, a catchy melody and winning performance. Let’s hope for his sake he’s also great at coming up with a plausible an excuse for his actions so he doesn’t wind up out of action in the studio for any length of time nursing a broken jaw.


(Visit the Artist page of Chuck Willis for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)