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KING 4508; FEBRUARY 1952



Which do you prefer in your artists? Showing stylistic versatility or someone putting a personal stamp on all of their material?

The former displays a more diverse musical outlook at the expense of maintaining a consistent sound, while the latter means you’ll always be familiar to audiences but may risk growing repetitive.

But sometimes it’s not an either/or question. Artists can expand their vision while not having to give up their unique personality in the bargain, which is something Dave Bartholomew attempts to do here simply by hoping his voice alone will render this instantly identifiable even if the music surrounding him sounds as if it is coming from another region of the musical spectrum.


What Can I Do? What Can I Say?
Though the scope of any genre of music is rarely so narrow that they can be defined by merely one attribute they contain, there ARE certain sounds which signify their allegience to one that is pretty hard to shake free of if that trait is prominently featured.

A steel guitar generally suggests country music, an accordian has always been most identifiable in polka while steel drums are the signature of calypso music for instance.

Yet all of those instruments are found elsewhere even if they remain in somewhat limited use outside their home musical territories.

The guitar is definitely not an indigenous to any singular type of music. Every genre from gospel to folk, jazz to country, flamenco to rock have utilized it in one form or another, making it the ultimate bastard child of the music kingdom. But while the instrument has many homes, the language that it speaks varies greatly from one to the next so that when you hear it played a certain way the image it conjures up is instantaneous.

On I’ll Never Be The Same the guitar is blatantly channeling the blues, which is interesting considering Dave Bartholomew was a rock artist with a jazz background whose instrument of choice was a trumpet.

Yet in 1952 the blues was a commercial force of its own… not quite as profilfic on the upper regions of the charts maybe, but certainly far outpacing jazz-derived songs in Black America by this point.

So whether this was Bartholomew himself – who wrote it and generally arranged and produced his own songs – or Todd Rhodes whose band was working behind him, or if it was someone at King Records, probably another ex-jazzman turned producer Henry Glover, who came up with the idea, the thought here was to try and bridge the gap between genres, pulling in fans of both styles by throwing each of them a bone.

As we’ve learned far too often however, that kind of stylistic compromise rarely satisfies anyone.


I’ve Got Myself To Blame
Listening to his voice, weirdly chipper even when recounting sad situations, you would never think to slot Dave Bartholomew in the blues. Of course he was hardly a typical rock or jazz vocalist either, but at least those genres have slightly more idiosyncratic exceptions to this rule.

Yet when the record kicks off and the blues guitar takes center stage you do a double take. Where are the New Orleans horns, the rolling beat, the overlapping rhythms?

Normally this would be where we’d talk about Todd Rhodes and his long-serving band of ex-jazzmen turned rockers but the wild card here is that guitarist. Normally that wasn’t an instrument he used, but a few days earlier while backing Bartholomew, occasional sessionist Willie Gaddy sat in for just that one date.

In his place today steps John Faire formerly part of The Counts And the Countess with bassist Curtis Wilder and female vocalist Alma Smith in the mid-1940’s.

Though Faire would never settle in as King’s go-to guitarist, he’d keep his hand in their development somewhat sporadically over the years for three extended stretches. From late summer 1951 through spring 1953 he was on nine dates including Bull Moose Jackson, Todd Rhodes, Little Esther, The Royals (twice) and Bill Doggett… Then after a three year sabbatical he returned from the fall of 1956 through the end of 1957 including one innocuous session behind James Brown.

Finally he had a flurry of nine more studio dates from May of 1959 to right before Christmas that year including two with Hank Ballard & The Midnighters and one with Little Willie John.

Artistically speaking his total contributions over the years were hardly noteworthy which makes his prominence here rather surprising. In fact this would appear to be his first session at King and maybe nobody told him he should keep a lower profile because he’s quietly in your face playing a slow drawn out blues intro – quite well too – before adding subversive accent notes that are designed to stand out the rest of the way.

Their role is to add a downcast veneer to I’ll Never Be the Same even as the presence of the horns is gradually increased leading into the solo. Those aren’t very vibrant however and with Bartholomew’s misery-infused lyrics you can see how they did indeed intend this as a blues-leaning track.

But Dave just can’t sing blues in a convincing way, not that he even really tries here. His odd tone, his herky-jerky delivery and his tendency to write melodies that go up the scale rather than down all bring him much too far away from the blues idiom for this to be anything but a weird sort of hybrid.

‘Til It Runs Dry
Though there’s nothing about the playing that doesn’t sound professional and there’s no moments where the parts are clashing (Rhodes’ band is too skilled for that) it’s just not the best marriage of styles and certainly a fair distance from the core of rock ‘n’ roll in 1952 to draw the interest of that constituency.

Bartholomew, as his his want, is rather charming at times and then again can be quite frustrating in equal measure. The way he pronounces “baby” the second time through, almost stuttering it and cutting short each of the syllables in the process, is a hoot, but later on he screws up the traditional verse about not missing your water until the well runs dry, which in Dave’s hands becomes rather muddled as he claims you don’t miss the well itself until it runs dry.

That said maybe if you eliminate genre expectations I’ll Never Be The Same might get a slight bump, still under the midway point but at least signifying it was a little more tolerable than we’re suggesting.

But in fact we’re not saying that listening to this is going to cause you any distress. Rather, its presence within the confines of rock just comes across as a little off-kilter and so, since all of our scores are judged in relation to the average rock release of that era, this takes a small hit in that regard.

Still interesting for sure, if only to try and discern what they may have had in mind going into the session, but ultimately not anything you’re going to get much out without knowing the answer to that unusual stylistic question.


(Visit the Artist page of Dave Bartholomew for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)