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DECCA 48165: AUGUST 1950



Here’s your dilemma if you’re Decca Records in 1950, major label now facing the rapidly shifting tastes in the black community, a music market you had more or less dominated throughout the 1940’s.

The rise of the smaller independent labels who took chances on younger black artists not beholden to more traditional styles have fueled the rise of rock ‘n’ roll over the past three years.

Unlike pop and jazz which was carefully constructed beforehand and where tight arrangements were played with precision to produce smooth professional results, rock is a brand of music where spontaneity and improvisation are assets and artistic authenticity is vital in connecting with an audience who aren’t even situated in the mainstream outlets your company has cultivated over the years.

Furthermore you have no executives working at the label who intuitively grasp this music’s appeal, or even could accurately explain it, and thus you can’t seem to find younger untested artists to sign and build into stars.

What you have are a few older versatile acts like Cousin Joe who had unique individual traits that fit no prescribed definition, but which – if left to their own devices – could in fact deliver the goods in rock ‘n’ roll.

The question then becomes… do you let them? If so, by this point in rock’s development will it even matter?


Stayed Out The Whole Week Long
In regards to latter question, will it matter that Decca allowed Cousin Joe to rock out pretty effectively here, the answer is no, it won’t make any difference to Decca’s half-hearted attempts to penetrate the rock market, but the fact that they DID seem to be encouraging it to a degree is promising.

Of course when it didn’t pay off commercially they’d largely pull back on even these modest attempts and for the most part give up on rock for years, hoping it’d run its course and things would eventually return to what they considered “normal”.

We’ll let you know if that decision pans out for them… but don’t hold your breath.

So in the meantime what we get is an aging artist with good instincts finding his records met with a sea of indifference by everyone involved.

That’s a real shame too because with Looking For My Baby Cousin Joe takes a standard rock theme and welds it to his most streamlined track in quite awhile. It may not be anything cutting edge but it’s also not anything that is at risk for falling behind the curve, making it a rarity from a major label in 1950 – a rock song that couldn’t be called anything BUT a rock song.


Took A Trip Around The World
With its slow churning boogie piano creating a sold rhythm, the record starts off full of promise but as Cousin Joe starts to sing those rhythm elements take a back seat, the fills become a little too whimsical for its needs and the musicians seem to be more concerned about not making a mistake than they are in finding something that would really bring the song to life.

This is the problem of a company like Decca. They may have had very skilled musicians but they just weren’t attuned to this brand of music and thus were bringing nothing to the table of their own, instead they were merely reading the lead sheets and delivering competent but hardly exciting accompaniment.

The person to credit, or blame, for this was Joe Thomas… not THAT Joe Thomas, the saxophonist who’d successfully moved into the rock field as an artist for King Records over the past year, but rather a different Joe Thomas who was hired to head up Decca’s efforts in this – and related – fields going forward.

Though he was also well versed in black music as a vocal coach for The Ravens and Blenders (who, not coincidentally, had been signed to Decca along with Thomas this year), he was not equipped to construct the type of records that the company needed to compete with the indie labels, nor was he perfectly suited to provide Cousin Joe with the necessary pieces to bolster what otherwise was a very good song.

Because Looking For My Baby was a co-write between them – and because the lyrics are so clearly by Cousin Joe whose style is inimitable – then it’s obvious the musical track was put together by Thomas and we can see that he’s taking no chances whatsoever here, constructing something very basic so he can’t be blamed if the record bombs.

There may be nothing out of place here, no jazzy interludes or supper club piano or anything hearkening back to another era, but there’s also nothing about it that screams to the listener to pay attention to what’s being done. Even the sax solo is pulling its punches, never displaying the kind of full-throttled intensity to match Cousin Joe’s vocals which have been getting increasingly more urgent as the song goes on, as he and he alone is determined to give us what his lethargic backing band will not.

Down Below Somewhere
Though the basic plot of this song is hardly anything out of the ordinary – a guy seeking his missing girlfriend, an affliction that seems far more common in rock ‘n’ roll than in everyday life, leading one to believe that maybe singers don’t make for the best romantic partners if their sweethearts are actively fleeing them and taking on other identities to keep from being found – the way in which Cousin Joe seems affected by this news is definitely something to appreciate.

He starts off Looking For My Babyerr… looking for his baby that is… in a rather straightforward manner. He sounds pretty determined from the start and he begins by telling us a little about her, although the image of a girl with “a face like an angel and a body like a bottle of Coke” is a bit disconcerting if taken too literally.

Yet as he goes on his state of mind starts to unravel a little, both with what he’s saying (comparing her to a mermaid, then saying he misses the way she used to “wrap her hair” around him – how and why I’d rather not know), as well as in how forcefully he’s putting this information out there.

It’s almost as if he’s growing frustrated that his helpful descriptions of her – which truthfully might lead a normal person to start looking for a bottle floating in the ocean – is getting him no place and he’s losing patience with us, with her and certainly with the band who are merely going through the motions behind him.

Coming out of the sax break Cousin Joe ramps up his delivery, his voice sounding as if he spent the previous 37 seconds gargling with a cocktail of broken glass, masonry nails and barbed wire and he presumably downed some nitroglycerin as a chaser because he’s soon breathing fire.

Now things really heat up as he searches high and low for her with increased desperation. When he can’t find her here on earth he dials up heaven who promptly re-directs his call to the bottom floor of their establishment and he discovers that apparently she booked a room in Hell just to get away from him. No matter, he informs us he’s going down there himself to kick the Devil’s ass and bring her back with him.

The last stanza alone is worth the price of admission and while we honestly should be more concerned for the girl who’s gone to such lengths to avoid him, the fact of the matter is after hearing his fury only begin to percolate we’d rather not tangle with him once it boils over completely.

I Swear It Ain’t No Joke
Even when blessed with an artist as creative as Cousin Joe, whose commitment to his material regardless of style is always beyond question, the limited vision of the major record labels can’t help but hamper their output to a degree.

If we chose to focus on how those in Decca’s orbit fell short on this by skimping on the arrangement and soft peddling the musical performance, to say nothing of their lack of promotion, you’d be right to call this basically average… certainly good enough to be heard, but not anything that could serve as a blueprint for them to advance their cause in the rock field going forward.

But that’s giving too much weight to them and not enough credit to Cousin Joe, who fights off their Satanic influence over his music (to keep his lyrical insinuations intact) and manages to come away with a performance that when taken in isolation is damn good and makes Looking For My Baby one of his better records to date.

Could it have been better still with a more sympathetic producer and record label? Of course, that goes without saying, but while we hesitate to give out a score that at glance might give the impression that Decca Records was catching on to what they needed to do in order to make a dent in rock ‘n’ roll, we can’t let that deter us from congratulating Cousin Joe for essentially beating the Devil with one hand tied behind his back.


(Visit the Artist page of Cousin Joe for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)