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KING 4508; FEBRUARY 1952



We’re at the stage of the career of one of rock’s most important multi-talented figures where his future is in limbo.

A trumpeter (and singer by default) early on, he scored a national hit in 1949 but quickly drew attention for his skills as a bandleader on stage and was hired to oversee Imperial Records full-fledged move into rock ‘n’ roll, which marked the second phase of his career – writing, arranging and producing in addition to acting as the talent scout responsible for bringing in lots of budding stars.

After a contract dispute he left the label and went back to being mainly a performer for hire, which is where we find him now, trying to position himself as every bit the commercial equal of those whose careers he nurtured.

It was an unlikely gambit, one sure to be hampered by his quirkiness as a singer, and yet even as these records didn’t play to his greatest strengths – creating dense rollicking tracks bursting with excitement – there’s still something captivating about him that continually defies prevailing wisdom.


What’s The Use Of Being Sober?
Like different types of mixed drinks, some singers are an acquired taste.

The ones with great voices, the Roy Browns, Clyde McPhatters, Big Joe Turners, Billy Wrights and Ruth Browns of the world require no delineation of their appeal. They could sing the proverbial phone book and still captivate you with the power and beauty of their voice.

Those who were more of what you’d call “stylists” were defined by how they used those voices. The laid-back soulful croon of Amos Milburn, the bold lusty shouts of Wynonie Harris, the introspective musings of Percy Mayfield and the sassy vivaciousness of Margie Day were vastly different from one another – and the rest of the roster in rock ‘n’ roll – but it wasn’t hard to see they’d each mastered their particular approach. You may appreciate one style more than another, but their skills in those departments were readily apparent.

But then there were those who didn’t have the same technical gifts and needed to find a delivery that suited their limitations in a way that might connect with an audience. Whether it was the fuzzy-headed dreaminess of James Wayne, the mousy coyness of Little Esther or the cracked yodel of Professor Longhair, these artists put their technical shortcomings front and center and often made them irrelevant simply by offering you something decidedly different.

Dave Bartholomew was another story altogether. Never a comfortable singer with his pinched reedy tone that was oddly lacking in resonance, he compensated by trying to vacillate between speaking in rhythm and singing, giving records like In The Alley a conversational patter that was nothing if not interesting.

Yet whereas he was a taskmaster when it came to overseeing other artists recording sessions, making sure each detail was perfect, he was frequently so lackadaisical with his own performances that even the ones like this which might’ve found some takers fell on deaf ears.


Let’s Have A Ball Tonight
The one thing that always stood out with the tracks released under Dave Bartholomew’s name as a performer and those he merely produced for others was how he tended to create punchier and more commercial arrangements when he was working behind the scenes.

His own records tended to either have slight callbacks to his jazz roots in the horn arrangements or, like this one, go easy on the backbeat and not be as complex with overlapping parts.

You’d think that this would be where he’d WANT to show off, since there’d be no mistaking who was responsible since his name was the most prominent one on the label, but instead he was inclined to simplify things when he was taking the lead.

Maybe in this case though the reason is more understandable. It wasn’t Bartholomew’s band playing behind him, but rather Todd Rhodes who, like Dave, was a guy used to overseeing things. Who knows who told who what to do here, but it definitely doesn’t have the New Orleans feel to it that Bartholomew specialized in.

It starts off with loud brassy horns flying in tight formation… solid construction maybe, but lacking the deep bottom that would give it more of a gut punch. Once they recede into the background however you have to really concentrate to hear the small touches like the sneaky guitar, loping bass and some end-around runs on the piano keys, all of which get mostly obscured by the steady pulsing horns and drums that are front and center.

It’s a tightly efficient sound for sure, but not a captivating one on its own, meaning that it’s up to Bartholomew the singer – and songwriter – to make In The Alley memorable.

He sort of does, but not necessarily in the way you expect. Although the story itself is very promising, taking a positive look at inebriation for sport, his wording can leave a lot to be desired, such as how he tries rhyming “again” with “friend”, which on paper barely qualifies, but coming out of his mouth sound as different as night and day because of how he pronounces “again”, drawing it out and never pushing the “n” at the end.

Once he gets past that however his overall spirit is commendable, touting the fun side of booze in a way that is so shameless he might as well be working for a liquor store. He’s too loud as usual, shouting to imply drunkenness I suppose, but without showing any other sign of impairment in his speech it comes across as a little grating… then again, at every party you go to there’s always one guy who’s like that, isn’t there?

Even though the song goes around in circles thematically, just one long advertisement for harmless drunken fun, he’s so damn unrepentant about his condition that he somehow wins you over in spite of its shortcomings. In fact, he might even win you over more because of them.

If nothing else the way in which he announces his ultimate destination – the title, in case you’re slow to catch on – is a delightful twist sure to bring a smile to your face.

Maybe he’s right at that… the ride to perdition might as well be a joy ride.


Really, Really Great When You’re Out With The Bunch!
Songs this quirky aren’t seen as prospective hits… and not surprisingly this didn’t bring Dave Bartholomew much attention as an artist.

But it also didn’t seem intended to promote him to his new employer, King Records, as a potential producer. Though well played and structurally sound, there was not anything dynamic or inventive in its arrangement and chances are his contributions in this area were minimal at best and perhaps non-existent at that.

In spite of these questionable actions, In The Alley does do one thing of note which is to highlight just how unusual an artist Dave Bartholomew actually was.

That might not have been for the best when it came to putting him in high demand to cut his own records, but there’s no question this stands out when compared to almost everything else being issued in rock ‘n’ roll at the time and when it comes to this brand of music, individuality is a virtue unto itself.

Maybe it’s a little too off-the-wall for some to appreciate, but if that’s the case take his advice and listen to this one after you’ve had a few drinks with your buddies and see if your mind doesn’t change.

It’s still not anything resembling a hit or even a subversively influential record, but there are worse ways to spend a Saturday night.


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